House of Commons
Wednesday 15 June 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that since 2015 the Government estate strategy has ensured that running costs have fallen by £750 million. We have raised some £1.8 billion in council receipts and reduced the estate size by nearly a quarter. This is a huge achievement and in terms of space it makes the UK Government one of the most efficient organisations in the world.
I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate him and his team on the work they have done. Given that the estate has been reduced by nearly a quarter since 2010, is it not crucial that as much of this land as possible is used for new housing, especially given that quite a bit of it is going to be brownfield?
The Government are getting on very well with it: the number of civil servant buildings in central London has gone down hugely. We have created hundreds of thousands of jobs all over the country— 95,000 new jobs in the last year in the north of England alone—and what matters is what kinds of jobs we are creating and how many people are being employed.
Boycott and Divestment Guidance
We have received a wide range of representations about boycotts in public procurement. The Government’s position is very clear: public sector organisations should not use procurement to run their own independent foreign policies.
Does the Minister agree that people who stand for election to local authorities and who then serve as councillors perform an important role in communities the length and breadth of these islands, and does he further agree that they should be trusted to make political judgments for themselves? Will the Government abandon the boycott and divestment guidance in favour of supporting local democracy?
Yes, I think councillors do an excellent job at what councils are meant to do, but councils are not meant to set foreign policy, and attempts at local foreign policies that are discriminatory are potentially illegal, and we make that clear at every opportunity.
Where a national boycott is in place and where a national decision has been made, local authorities should of course follow that, but these decisions are rightly for the Foreign Office and not for local authorities; the country cannot be run by having hundreds of different foreign policies.
I think that, not for the first time, the Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Rather than try to prevent local authorities from taking ethical and environmental considerations into account when making decisions, surely the Government should, as the Scottish Government do, encourage local authorities to do so—or does the Minister really believe that council tax payers’ money should be used to prop up oppressive regimes and support unlawful activity throughout the world?
I find it surprising that the Scottish National party engages in and supports discrimination of this kind. We should trade with the world, except where a boycott decision has been made at a national level. The idea that we should discriminate against companies with which we otherwise have a good trading relationship is wrong.
Permanent Secretaries: Diversity
I am afraid that following an outstanding permanent secretary’s move from Whitehall to become chief executive of Ofcom there are no permanent secretaries from BAME communities at present. However, 20% of permanent secretaries are women, which is higher than the figure for 2010 of 17.5% and much higher than the figure for 2005 of 8%, but clearly it is still considerably too low and we have a great deal more work to do to make sure we are drawing on a talent pool that reflects the nation as a whole.
In 2011, for the first time, 50% of permanent secretaries were female. Since then, and since the Prime Minister took control, the glass ceiling has been painstakingly reassembled. If he cannot be trusted to appoint women, is it not about time we introduced some positive discrimination?
The hon. Lady refers to a brief moment during which, because of appointments already in place and new appointments being made, there was a spike, and we would very much like to see that replicated on a long-term basis. We have appointed a range of women permanent secretaries in the past few months, and I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Lady that we are doing a great deal to ensure that the pool from which we draw the permanent secretaries—directors general—is improving significantly, in that 37% of our directors general are women. We are seeking to move that further forward, and we need to see this happening throughout the senior civil service.
According to Leonard Cheshire Disability, only 4.5% of senior civil servants are disabled. What are the Government doing to ensure that disability is not impeding disabled people in the civil service from reaching the highest levels? Will the Minister review the Government’s policies and keep the House updated on his efforts to improve the employment prospects of disabled people in the civil service?
The hon. Lady is right. As a matter of fact, the situation is even slightly worse than she suggests. The percentage of disabled senior civil servants—or, at any rate, of senior civil servants who have registered themselves as disabled in staff surveys—is only 3.4%. That is much too low, and it reflects the fact that we have not yet been able to remove all the barriers that we need to remove. I am sitting next to the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has shown that it is perfectly possible for someone who suffers from a significant disability to reach the highest level in politics, but we need that to be true throughout our public administration because we need to draw on talent from wherever it comes.
As the Minister confirmed, since the Prime Minister gave himself the power to appoint, 80% of permanent secretaries are men. In the spirit of open government, will the Minister commit to publish the shortlists from which the Prime Minister has made appointments?
I will go back and talk to colleagues about the methods by which we publish what happens under that procedure. I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesman—[Laughter.] I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesperson that we draw permanent secretaries from the pool of directors general. If we are to draw on that talent, we have to encourage more women to be directors general. As I have said, I am glad that the percentage of women directors general is now up to 37%. We would like to get up to 50% or beyond, and as we do so we will have the talent from which to draw into the permanent secretary ranks, which is obviously where we want women of talent to end up.
Government Offices: London
The Government’s direction of travel is ensuring value for money for the taxpayer and value for money overall. The Government Property Unit is working closely with the Departments to reduce the Government estate from around 800 buildings to closer to 200 by 2023. The number of Government offices in London has fallen from 181 in 2010 to just 54 today, and we will seek to reduce it to about 20 by 2025.
If I did not know my hon. Friend better, I would think that he was bidding for IPSA’s headquarters to be located in Northampton South. All I will say to him is: be careful what you wish for. I note that Northamptonshire has led the way by being the first area in the country to announce plans to bring its police and fire services together in a shared estate.
The Minister mentioned the value-for-money approach. Does he agree that it would be better if Government offices were spread across the United Kingdom? Given the value-for-money approach we take in Northern Ireland, would he consider Northern Ireland as a location?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a policy on rebalancing the civil service between London and the regions across the United Kingdom. The civil service already has a significant presence across the United Kingdom, and he will know that many civil servants are employed in Northern Ireland. We are looking to extend this further and to create multi-occupancy offices in key locations around the country.
13. I am happy to make a bid for the relocation of Government offices. As my right hon. Friend will know, coastal communities have many advantages, but they face serious challenges. Does he agree that as the sunniest town in our fair United Kingdom, with a thriving cultural scene and buoyant chamber of commerce, Eastbourne might be just the place for such a relocation, as might East Sussex in general? (905421)
My hon. Friend, as a former teacher, is a brilliant MP for her area and a key component of compassionate Conservatism in Eastbourne. I note that Eastbourne chamber of commerce said the town is one of the 10 happiest places to stay in the UK, and it might be a good place for all of us to go after the European Union referendum—whatever the result.
The conduct of the boundary review is, rightly, a matter for the independent Boundary Commissions. The Boundary Commissions for England and for Northern Ireland plan to publish initial recommendations this autumn, and the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and for Wales plan to do so later this year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to state, first and foremost, the principle that all votes, no matter where in the country they are cast, should have equal weight, and that constituencies must therefore be more equal in size. Ward-splitting has for some time been part of the Boundary Commission’s work in other parts of the country, but I can confirm that it expects to be able to introduce it in constituencies in England as well.
The number of democratically elected Members of this place from Scotland will be cut by six, but are plans afoot to cut the number of unelected Lords, who are able to make laws affecting Scotland and the rest of the UK?
I think the hon. Lady was supporting the principle that votes should have equal weight no matter where they are cast in the country, and I welcome her support if my reading is correct. I cannot confirm plans to alter the size and composition of the Lords, although I understand that discussions at that end of the corridor are going on fairly continuously.
10. I welcome the consultation period that will follow the Boundary Commission’s recommendations, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to ensure that people are aware of the consultations so that they can make their views known? What does he intend to do to publicise the consultations? (905418)
My hon. Friend is right: it is vital that people are aware of the consultation period. It is being advertised on the Boundary Commission website and will be advertised further to make sure that everybody can comment, but it is up to political parties from all parts of the House to make sure that their supporters and organisations are galvanised and submissions can be made.
The number of registered voters has gone up massively since December 2015—in some constituencies, the equivalent of two extra wards have been added. Will the Minister therefore reassure us that he cannot possibly use the December figures to redraw the boundaries—or will his Government go back to using voter registration for their own political gain once this referendum is over?
I am intrigued that the hon. Lady thinks she knows what has happened to individual constituencies’ electoral rolls, because the final versions will not be published for another week or 10 days. Whatever the outcome of that publication, it cannot be right that we carry on with the existing political constituency boundaries, which are based on the electoral rolls from 2001 or, in some parts of the country, from 2000. They are shockingly out of date and we absolutely need to update them. I can, however, reassure her that there will be updates every five years, rather than every 10, and that constituency boundaries will be more up to date and accurate than they have been in the past.
This Government and this Prime Minister have taken a global lead on tackling the scourge of corruption. Each delegation at the anti-corruption summit signed up to the commitments set out in the communiqué. In addition, 42 countries and eight international organisations issued statements setting out further measures that they will take.
In April 2014, the Prime Minister said:
“I believe that beneficial ownership and public access to a central register is key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion.”
Will the Minister explain why the Government are no longer calling for public registers of beneficial ownership in the British overseas territories?
We are calling for them. The Prime Minister was absolutely right then, and we are delivering on that now. Later this month we will publish the beneficial ownership register for the UK. All the overseas territories have signed up to beneficial ownership registers, and we urge them to make them public.
11. In the run-up to the anti-corruption summit, leaders of charities and faith groups around the world were calling on the Prime Minister to insist on the same levels of transparency in our overseas territories and Crown dependencies as we have here in mainland UK. Why did the Prime Minister ignore them? Was he unable or unwilling to stop the facilitation of corruption in our tax havens? (905419)
We have made huge progress in ensuring that we have registers of beneficial ownership in the overseas territories. We are also publishing the beneficial ownership register for the UK. The progress that has been made in the overseas territories is the greatest under any Government in history, which perhaps is one reason Transparency International said that the summit had been a good day for anti-corruption.
The Panama papers have shown how illicit finance robs the very poorest countries of the world. Malawi, for example, loses about $130 million a year through such finance. Will the Minister explain why the Malawian company Press Trust Overseas Ltd cannot have its tax affairs scrutinised because it is in the British Virgin Islands? Should not the summit have come to an agreement to force such overseas jurisdictions to publish central beneficial registers?
If the hon. Gentleman cares so much about the matter, he might have congratulated us on the progress that we made at the summit. He will be delighted to know that the British Virgin Islands has signed up to have a beneficial ownership register and to share that information with the UK Government. We are making progress in tackling the scourge of corruption, about which previous Governments, including the one he supported, did too little.
Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012
It is important to begin by acknowledging that, thanks largely to my hon. Friend’s efforts, the social value Act came into force in January 2013. He can be proud that the Act has unlocked a range of public benefits from the procurement of goods and services. Lord Young reviewed progress in 2014 and reported in 2015. His findings inform our current work to quicken the pace of implementation. As part of that work, we will publish a paper this summer that will give examples of how central Government are driving forward the social value Act and what further actions we will take.
The social value Act has been seen to benefit commissioners, service providers and the wider community. What progress has been made in ensuring that government, both local and national, applies the Act to their procurement processes more widely and consistently?
We reviewed central Government’s progress on the Act and found increasing awareness of it and a clear willingness and commitment to implement it. I will publish an appraisal of central Government’s commitments to the Act later in the summer, which will set out the steps being taken and the plans for the future. In preparing for that, I have invited a panel of external social value experts to review and critique current plans and practice. That process is helping to ensure that central Government’s aspirations for social value are being stretched.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency and reform in government, transparency, civil society, the digital economy and cybersecurity to deliver the Government’s agenda.
Will the Minister confirm that, whether appropriate in the Government’s view or not, it is still lawful for public bodies to refuse to award contracts to companies for reasons other than nationality, such as human right records, compliance with international law or a connection with trades such as the arms trade or fossil fuels?
As I said earlier, the boycott of, and discrimination against, countries is potentially illegal. The guidance that we set out was designed to make it absolutely clear that these decisions on boycotts against countries need to be taken at a national level, and it is inappropriate for local authorities to try to set their own foreign policies.
T3. The National Citizen Service has been a wonderful success in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. What more can be done to make sure that even more young people in Yorkshire can find out how to access this transformative experience? (905441)
My hon. Friend is right that the National Citizen Service around the country and in his own constituency has made a huge difference. There were 467 people who went through it in 2015 in Kirklees, the local authority in which his constituency lies. We are determined to increase that number. There is a new marketing campaign, and I am glad to say that 8 million hours of volunteering have so far been contributed by National Citizen Service participants. I hope my hon. Friend will see in his constituency a proportion of that effect coming through in the next year.
Cyber-security is incredibly important, especially as we increasingly deliver digital government. The national cyber-security strategy ran up to 2016. The new strategy is underpinned by investment of £1.9 billion—almost double the funding—and we will publish the strategy later this year.
T5. The backward steps in gender inequality at the top of the civil service are unacceptable. Will the Minister release the gender breakdown of those who were shortlisted for the role of permanent secretary so that we can have further transparency on this important issue? (905443)
As I said to the House a few moments ago, we will take that serious suggestion away and come back with a view about whether it is possible to release those data without compromising individual sensibilities. I am absolutely with the hon. Lady that we need to see more women joining the ranks of the permanent secretaries, and as I mentioned to her, it is of great importance that the directors general are now much better distributed in a gender balance.
My hon. Friend is right. There were 312 people in Cornwall who participated in the National Citizen Service last year. We want to see that number rise significantly. Already 486 people have signed up and we hope to see more come through during the coming year. We are spending £1 billion over the four years to increase the proportion of young people who can do National Citizen Service, which I think will have an enormous effect on, among other things, social cohesion—80% of those who went through National Citizen Service said at the end that they had a better view of people from other backgrounds than they had before they joined it. [Interruption.]
We just had this question a few minutes ago, and the answer is very clear: the alternative of using figures from 2001 or 2000 is completely unacceptable. We have, in fact, made the process more frequent, not less, and we now update the register for the purposes of writing the boundaries every five years, not every 10.
T8. What steps will the Secretary of State take after a resounding victory in the vote to stay in Europe next week to get all Departments working harmoniously and well again after the disruptions we have had over the last month? (905446)
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his implication: actually, the fact is—I see this day by day—that the Departments of State have functioned smoothly and effectively throughout this period, as have members of the Cabinet. I am glad to say that we intend to continue doing so to fulfil the manifesto commitments on which we were elected.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will join me in sending our profound sympathies to the family and friends of the 49 people who died in the horrific attack in Orlando on Sunday. This was an evil attack of terrorism and homophobic hatred, and we utterly condemn both of them. This attack, along with the callous murder of a French police couple on Monday, is a stark reminder of the challenge we face to defeat the poisonous ideology of Daesh, both online and on our streets, but I believe that, together—with our friends, with our allies and with our common values—we will prevail.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I share the sentiments and sympathies the Prime Minister expressed to the victims and their families and friends in Orlando.
The Australian parent company of Sealite United Kingdom Ltd see Europe as a major market for expansion, but it has put on hold its plans to build a factory in the enterprise zone at the South Lowestoft industrial estate. Lowestoft has enormous potential as a centre serving the European maritime market, but does the Prime Minister share my concern that this opportunity would unnecessarily be placed at risk if the UK leaves the EU?
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern. I well remember visiting his constituency and seeing what a thriving business location Lowestoft is. He is right that many companies come to Britain and invest in Britain for many reasons, but one of the most important is access to the single market of 500 million customers. Next week we have the opportunity to put our place in that single market beyond doubt, and I hope that we wake up on 24 June knowing that businesses are going to invest more in our country, create more jobs in our country and see more growth in our country, because that will help the families of our country. The unemployment figures today show another welcome fall. We can see continued progress—let’s keep our country moving forward.
I concur and join with the Prime Minister in his remarks about the terrible deaths in Orlando. On Monday I joined a vigil of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Soho, in London, to mourn the deaths of those 49 people. We say thank you to all those all over this country who attended vigils on Monday night to show their concern and their horror about what happened. Quite simply, we defeat such atrocities through our love and solidarity, and we need to send that message out.
Three years ago, there was a cross-party agreement for the implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to proceed with Leveson 2 once criminal prosecutions were concluded. The Prime Minister will be aware that today there is a lobby of Parliament by the victims of phone hacking. He said a few years ago that
“we all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch”.
Well, some of his Tory Brexit colleagues are certainly cosying up to Rupert Murdoch at the moment, but will he give a commitment today that he will meet the victims of press intrusion and assure them that he will keep his promise on this?
First, let me echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Orlando bombings. In terms of the Leveson issue, we said that we would make a decision about the second stage of this inquiry once the criminal investigations and prosecutions were out of the way. They are still continuing, so that is the situation there. I have met victims of press intrusion, and I am happy to do so again. Right now, people can accuse me of many things, but I think that cosying up to Rupert Murdoch probably is not one of them.
My question was, “Will the Prime Minister meet the victims of phone hacking?” I hope he will, because they deserve it, and he promised that he would.
A major funder of the leave campaign has said:
“If it were up to me, I’d privatise the NHS.”
The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has said:
“If people have to pay for”
“they will value them more.”
Both he and the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) are members of a Government who have put the NHS into record deficit. These people are now masquerading as the saviours of the NHS—wolves in sheep’s clothing. Did not the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) get it right when she rejected the duplicity of this argument in the leave campaign and decided to join the remain campaign?
I was delighted with what my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said about changing her mind, which is a brave thing for politicians to do, and saying that she thought that the NHS would be safer if we remained inside a reformed European Union. I believe that very profoundly, because the key to a strong NHS is a strong economy. I think there cannot be any doubt, with nine out of 10 economists, the Governor of the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and all these other organisations saying that our economy will be stronger, and it is a strong economy that delivers a strong NHS.
Last week, the Prime Minister gave a welcome commitment to the closing of the loophole in the posting of workers directive. We will hold him to that, but we are concerned about the exploitation of migrant workers and the undercutting of wages in this country as a result. On that issue, will he today commit to outlawing the practice of agencies that only advertise abroad for jobs that are, in reality, jobs in this country?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman and I absolutely agree about the evils of modern slavery. That is why this Government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, with all-party support. We have doubled the fines that can be put on companies for exploiting labour in this way. We have strengthened the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which has commenced and carried out a number of prosecutions, including in the east of England, where I was yesterday. We will continue to take action on every level to make sure that people are paid the wages that they should be paid and that protections are there on the minimum wage, and now on the national living wage. All those measures are vitally important, and we will continue with all of them. I want people to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
My question was about outlawing the practice of advertising by agencies only in other countries.
Tens of thousands of EU migrants work in our public services and do a fantastic job. Many people in Britain, also, are concerned about the impact of immigration on their local communities. Surely what communities need is practical solutions such as the migrant impact fund set up Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister to deal with extra pressure on housing, schools, and hospitals. Will the Prime Minister now concede that it was a mistake to abolish that fund, and will he work with us to reinstate it as a matter of urgency to give support to those communities that are facing problems with school places and doctors’ surgeries?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In answer to the question about employment agencies that only advertise for overseas workers, we are looking at that to see—we have announced this already—if we can ban that practice, because we do not believe it is right. Of course, the answer to so many of these questions is to make sure that we are training, educating and employing British people and getting them the qualifications they need to take on the jobs that our economy is creating. Today’s unemployment figures are another reminder of that.
In terms of funds to help communities impacted by migration, we have a pledge in our manifesto that we are looking forward to bringing forward, which is a controlled migration fund to make sure that we put money into communities where there are pressures. Of course there are some pressures and we do need to address them, and I am happy that we will be able to work on a cross-party basis to do that. As I have said many times, there are good ways of controlling migration, and one of them is the important rules we are bringing in so that people do not get instant access to our welfare system, but there are bad ways of controlling immigration, and leaving the single market and wrecking our economy is certainly one of them.
Today a flotilla of boats is due to come along the Thames campaigning on fishing quotas not going to the domestic UK fleet. I have been looking out of the window and I have not seen them come yet, but presumably they are on their way. The Prime Minister will be very well aware that reforms that were made three years ago actually put the power back into the hands of member states, and it is the UK Government who have given nearly two thirds of English and Welsh fishing quotas to three companies, thus excluding the small fishing communities along our coasts. Will the Prime Minister stop blaming Brussels on this and tell our small-scale and sustainable fishing communities what action he will take to allow them to continue their work, and indeed go further out in collecting fish?
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for speaking about the reforms we carried through in the last Parliament; my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) was absolutely crucial in delivering those changes. We have seen in the last five years an increase in the value of the UK fishing industry of something like 20%.
The point I would make is that we export every year about £1 billion-worth of fish to the EU. No country in the world has a trade agreement with the EU that does not involve tariffs—taxes—on the sale of its fish, so there is no way we would get a better deal from the outside than the deal we get on the inside. Working with our fishing communities, working with our fishermen, keeping that market open and making sure that we manage our fish stocks locally and appropriately are very much part of our plan.
The Prime Minister’s Government still did hand quotas over to three very large companies at the expense of small communities around Britain. I hope that he will reflect on that.
With just eight days to go before the referendum, the Labour position is that we are going to be voting to remain because we believe it is the best way to protect families, protect jobs and protect public services. We would oppose any post-Brexit austerity Budget, just as we have opposed each austerity Budget put forward by this Government. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to condemn the opportunism of 57 of his colleagues who are pro-leave—these are Members who backed the bedroom tax, backed cutting disability benefits and backed slashing care for the elderly—who have suddenly had a damascene conversion to the anti-austerity movement? Does he have any message for them at all?
There are very few times when the right hon. Gentleman and I are on the same side of an argument. For people watching at home, when the leader of the Labour party—and, indeed, almost all the Labour party—a Conservative Government, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the official Ulster Unionists and the Scottish National party all say, “We have huge disagreements, but on this vital issue for the future of our country, the best option for Britain is to vote to remain in a reformed European Union,” that really says something.
The truth is this. This is a huge choice for our country, and choices have consequences. If we wake up on 24 June and find that we have remained in, our economy can continue to move forward. If we vote out, the experts warn us that we will have a smaller economy, less employment, lower wages and, therefore, lower tax receipts. That is why we would have to have measures to address a huge hole in our public finances. Nobody wants to have an emergency Budget. Nobody wants to have cuts in public services. Nobody wants to have tax increases. But I would say this: there is only one thing worse than addressing a crisis in your public finances through a Budget, and that is ignoring it. If you ignore a crisis in your public finances, you see your economy go into a tailspin and you see confidence in your country reduced. We can avoid all this by voting remain next week.
Q3. Having recently undertaken a real ale tour of some my constituency’s finest public houses, and having sampled some of the finest ales that anyone is likely to taste —many of them brewed locally in Derby North, which is recognised as the real ale capital of the UK—may I ask the Prime Minister to join me in acknowledging the virtues and massive benefits to local economies from small and medium-sized breweries up and down the country? (905425)
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. Having spent last week at Shepherd Neame in Kent, and having spent yesterday at Greene King in Bury St Edmunds, I agree with her that a large quantity of real ale is one of the best ways to get through this gruelling referendum campaign, and I would recommend it to everybody. The British beer industry is in good health because of the duty cuts made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Because of the micro-brewers tax regime, we have a lot of craft ale coming through in our country. It is an industry in a good state. The brewers that I am talking to and going to see want the single market open and they want us to remain in.
On Orlando and on the deaths in France, we on the SNP Benches join in the condolences that have been expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
We are now only a week away from the biggest question that the UK has faced in a long time—continuing membership of the European Union. Exports of goods and services from the Scottish economy are massively important: hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on them. Meanwhile, our public services, including the NHS, are supported by many hard-working people from elsewhere in the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that if we want to protect jobs and if we want to protect our public services, we must vote to remain in the European Union?
I believe that the most important argument—there are many arguments people make, but this is the most important—is about the future of our economy. It seems obvious to me: you can listen to the experts, or you can just make a common-sense argument. Today, we have full access to a market of 500 million people. For an economy such as Scotland’s, which is such a big exporting economy, there is no way we would get a better deal on the outside of the single market than we get on the inside, so if we left we would see our economy suffer, we would see jobs suffer and we would see people’s livelihoods suffer. That is just plain common sense. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that for jobs and for livelihoods, we should remain in. There is a consequence for the public finances, because if our economy is doing less well, our public finances would be doing less well, and that would have consequences for Scotland, too.
May I raise that issue with the Prime Minister? Today, we have learned from a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer and a former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer that there would likely be £30 billion of cuts to public services or tax rises were there to be a Brexit vote. What impact would that have on public services in Scotland? Please can we learn now, before we vote, what impact that would have on the budget in Scotland, which pays for the NHS in Scotland, for our schools in Scotland, for local government and for all key public services? Is that not yet another reason why we must vote to remain in the European Union?
These figures are not based on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying; they are based on what the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research are saying. They are talking about a £20 billion to £40 billion hole in our public finances if Brexit were to go ahead. Those organisations are often quoted across this House—many times against the Government—because they are respected for their independence. Clearly, if that is the impact on the public finances, decisions to cut public spending in the UK Budget do have an impact, through Barnett, on Scotland. To anyone who says, “Well, these warnings could of course be wrong, or they could be inaccurate”, I would make the point—it is perhaps an uncomfortable one for the right hon. Gentleman—that there were of course warnings about the oil price before the Scottish referendum, and it turned out actually to be worse than the experts warned.
Q4. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, many of my constituents are worried that remaining in the EU increases the risk of terrorism, fears exacerbated by the disgraceful comments of people such as Nigel Farage. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that our security services are helped, not hindered, by the EU? (905426)
I would say very directly to my hon. Friend that I have done this job for six years and, working with the Home Secretary, I have seen how closely our intelligence and security services work with other services around the world. Of course we keep ourselves safe by investing in anti-terrorism policing and of course we keep ourselves safe by the way we work with the Americans and the “Five Eyes” partnership, but I am in no doubt that the increasing extent of information exchange and intelligence exchange that takes place through the European Union is of direct benefit to our country.
It is not just that you need a border; you also need information and intelligence to police that border properly. We are now seeing an enormous amount of exchange about criminal records, terrorist records and passenger name records. Of course, outside the EU, we could try to negotiate our way back into some of those agreements, but right now we are in them, we are driving them and we are making them keep people safe in our country.
Q2. Knowsley is expecting to receive £10 million in EU funding over the next three years. EU funding has helped attract businesses to the borough, including QVC, which created 2,500 jobs. Is it not the case that that important funding from the EU could be lost if we vote next week to leave the European Union? (905424)
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. All the independent economic reports say very clearly that there is no financial saving from leaving the EU. The Institute for Fiscal Studies put it like this:
“we conclude that leaving the EU would not…leave more money to spend on the NHS. Rather it would leave us spending less on public services, or taxing more, or borrowing more.”
I would argue that there is a big dividend from remaining inside the EU, which we would start to feel next Friday, as companies would be able to see that Britain had made a decision, and the job creators, wealth creators and international investors would know that Britain meant business and they would invest in our country. There is no saving from leaving. That is what the experts agree.
My hon. Friend is right that the most important thing we can do for parents in our country is help them to get a job, earn a living and provide for their family. In our life chances strategy, measuring worklessness and school attainment will be really important in helping to ensure that we continue to lift children out of poverty.
Q6. Thomas and Elke Westen live and run their businesses in Kirkcaldy, but, as Germans, they are denied a vote next week. They are hurt by the portrayal of immigrants in the EU debate. They leave for France on Sunday, and are considering leaving permanently if we exit the EU. Will the Prime Minister join my call for them and others in a similar situation to stay, as they are highly valued? (905429)
Of course, there are many people who come to our country, work hard, make a contribution and help to build our communities. It is important to get the numbers into some sort of perspective. I think 5% of our population are EU nationals—Italians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards and the rest of it—so if you stop 100 people in the street, only five will be EU nationals. It is just as the hon. Gentleman said. Look at our NHS—there are 50,000 EU nationals working as doctors, nurses and care assistants. Look at our care homes—there are 60,000 EU nationals helping to look after our elderly relatives with dementia and other conditions as they come towards the end of their lives. Yes, we need to make sure that people who come here work and make a contribution, but we should celebrate the contribution they make.
The last year for which EU migration was in balance—that is between the number of EU and British nationals leaving our shores to work in Europe and the number of EU nationals coming to live and work here—was as recently as 2008. Yes, we need to do more to control migration from outside the EU, and we are doing so, with the closure of bogus colleges and other measures. We are also doing more inside the EU, not least by saying that if people who come here do not get a job after six months, they have to leave, and that if they work, they have to contribute for four years before getting full access to the welfare system. Those are big changes. They are also sensible ways of controlling immigration. A non-sensible way would be pulling out of the single market, damaging jobs and our economy, and so having to explain to our constituents why we have a self-imposed recession.
Q7. Many in my constituency of Swansea East are already struggling to make ends meet. The World Trade Organisation says that if we leave the EU we could face major tariffs on trade, and would have to renegotiate more than 160 trade agreements. Does the Prime Minister agree that leaving the EU would hit hard-working families the most by raising the cost of living, and that it is too big a risk to take? (905430)
The hon. Lady is right. It is always the poorest and those with the least who get hit hardest if an economy suffers a recession. There are two ways in which the cost of living could be impacted. She is absolutely right that if we leave the single market and go to World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs will be imposed on the goods we sell to Europe, which would make us suffer. Also, if the pound falls, as many independent experts forecast, the cost of living rises, the cost of the family shop rises and the cost of the family holiday rises. She is right that it is not worth the risk. We should not risk it—we should keep our country safe.
Q9. Following the Chancellor’s welcome announcement about the launch of the new Thames estuary 2050 growth commission, will the Prime Minister outline his hopes for how the commission’s focus will deliver the much needed infrastructure and economic development that will allow north Kent to prosper, including in my wonderful constituency of Rochester and Strood? (905432)
Whenever I get a question from my hon. Friend, I remember how grateful I am that she is representing Rochester and Strood—happy days. For the 2050 growth commission, the key areas are skills and infrastructure. A serious amount of money is being committed to that infrastructure, and we need to look at things, including the lower Thames crossing, to ensure that the economy of that region makes the most of its potential.
Q12. Some 2,500 people are employed in the ceramics industry in my constituency. Their jobs are dependent on EU trade, their rights are protected by the EU social charter, and their town centres have been rebuilt with EU funds. With his friends in the leave campaign producing more spin than a potter’s wheel, does the Prime Minister share my fears that despite Europe’s flaws, a Brexit vote could leave us picking up the pieces of a broken economy for years to come? (905435)
I will nick that soundbite—it’s a good one. The hon. Lady is right. If we leave the single market and the European Union, the Council President has said clearly that that process probably takes two years, and after that we will have to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union. If that trade deal is like Canada’s, it could take seven years. We are looking at a decade of uncertainty for our economy.
On the ceramics industry, I am advised by my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who before coming to this House did a worthwhile job of working in that industry—[Interruption.] He may not be spinning pots any more, but he is spinning for me very effectively. Last year we exported £38 million in porcelain and china to the EU. If we were outside the EU without a trade deal and had World Trade Organisation tariffs, there would be a 12% tax. I do not want us to hit British manufacturers, car makers and aeroplane makers. We should be investing in and supporting those industries, not making their situation more difficult, which Brexit would undoubtedly do.
Q10. Thirty years ago when I was just a little lad—[Hon. Members: “Aah”] Thirty years ago, my parents quit their jobs and founded a small manufacturing business around our kitchen table. Today, British manufacturers—particularly small businesses—are worried because if we leave the European Union, they will continue to make their products to common European standards because they value the free market. They value the single market and want to export, but they are aware that the United Kingdom will have no say whatsoever in the formulation of those standards, and their competitive advantage will be destroyed. What advice does my right hon. Friend have for my parents and for small businesses and the millions of jobs that depend on them across the country? (905433)
I had always assumed that my hon. Friend was under 30, so I am shocked to get that news. He makes an important point. If we were to leave the EU, we would lose the seat around the table that sets the rules of the single market. Of course sometimes those rules can be annoying or burdensome, but at the end of the day those are the rules we have to meet. If we leave and have no say over those rules, we do not gain control, we lose it. That is a crucial argument, and it is why the majority of small businesses—as well as a very large majority of larger businesses—back staying in the EU.
I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments about the deaths in Orlando and Paris and associate the Social and Democratic Labour party with those remarks.
I assure the Prime Minister that the SDLP is fully behind him in his efforts to secure a remain vote. The Brexit campaigners have made securing our borders their resounding war cry, but when it comes to the only land border between the UK and the rest of the EU we are dismissed and told that nothing will change there. A return to customs posts, passport checks and a hard border will be a critical economic issue for Northern Ireland’s voters in eight days’ time. Will the Prime Minister now, once and for all, clarify this point and tell the people of Northern Ireland what will become of the border if the UK votes to leave the European Union?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Orlando shootings.
If we vote to stay in, we know what the situation is: we know that the common travel area works, we know it can continue and everyone can have confidence in that. If we were to leave—the leave campaigners want to make a big issue about our borders—we will have a land border between Britain outside the European Union and the Republic of Ireland inside the European Union. Therefore, you can only have new border controls between the Republic and Northern Ireland or, which I would regret hugely, you would have to have some sort of checks on people as they left Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland to come to the rest of the United Kingdom. We can avoid these risks. There are so many risks here: risks to our children’s jobs, risks to our economic future, risks to our borders, risks to the unity of the United Kingdom. I say: avoid the risks and vote remain next Thursday.
Q11. Next week, I will be visiting 25 schools in my constituency to explain both sides of the EU referendum argument to those of our population who will be the most heavily impacted by a decision they cannot make. Does the Prime Minister have any words for these young people for the remain segment? (905434)
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s hard work. What I would say is that, even if those people in our schools are not able to vote, this will affect their futures. I hope that, after being inspired by my hon. Friend, they will talk to their parents and their grandparents about wanting to grow up in a country with opportunity, and we are bound to have more opportunities if we remain in a reformed European Union with 27 other countries. I also think it goes to a point about what sort of country we want our children to grow up in; not just one of economic and job opportunities, but one where our country is able to effect change and get things done in the world. We do not diminish ourselves inside a European Union; we enhance the power of Britain and the greatness of our country.
Approximately 11,000 of Marks & Spencer’s most loyal employees, many with over 14 years’ service, are about to get a serious pay cut. Cuts to Sunday pay, bank holiday pay and antisocial hours pay, all made on the back of the national living wage, mean they will take home less next year than they do this year, with some losing up to £2,000. This is not just any pay cut, this is a big fat Marks & Spencer’s pay cut. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Chancellor that cutting take-home pay at M&S or anywhere else on the back of the national living wage is wrong? If so, will he move to close the loopholes that make this possible?
Obviously, we want to see the national living wage feeding through into people having higher take-home pay, not lower take-home pay. We urge all companies to make sure that that is the case. I have not seen the information about Marks & Spencer, but it knows, like any retailer, that it needs to attract, retain and motivate the staff they have. It is absolutely crucial in retail, particularly with all the competition online, that it continues to do that, and it will not do that if it cuts people’s pay.
Q13. I agreed with the Prime Minister on Europe when he said to the CBI on 9 November last year:“Some people seem to say that really Britain couldn’t survive, couldn’t do okay outside the European Union. I don’t think that is true…The argument isn’t whether Britain could survive outside the EU; of course it could.”So if, as I hope, despite the panic-driven negativity from the remain camp in Downing Street, the British people vote next week to become a free and independent nation again, will my right hon. Friend join me in embracing the great optimism and opportunity for our country and our people that such a momentous decision would bring? (905436)
As I said at the CBI, of course Britain can survive outside the EU—no one is questioning that. The question is: how are we going to do best? How are we going to create the most jobs and investment, how are we going to have the most opportunities for our children, how are we going to wield the greatest power in the world, how are we going to get things done? On all those issues—stronger, safer, better off—the arguments are on the remain side.
I associate myself and my party across the country with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the killings in France and the brutal homophobic murders in Florida. The killer and his vicious homophobic act do not speak for Islam.
The wealthy elite fuelling the leave campaign will be unharmed by the inevitable hike in interest rates that will follow Britain’s exit from the EU and the decline in sterling. The rate rise will, however, hit millions of ordinary British people. It will cause people to lose their homes through repossession and push low-income people further into crippling debt. Will he advise his Tory Brexit colleagues that there is a long-term economic plan on offer—one that can help hard-working families not to suffer—and it is to vote remain next Thursday?
The hon. Gentleman and I are often on opposing sides of arguments, but it says volumes about the breadth of the campaign to remain in a reformed EU that we have the Liberal Democrats as well as the Labour party, the Greens, the trade unions, business, voluntary bodies and so many others all coming from different perspectives but—crucially—all saying that our economy will be better off, and therefore families and our country will be better off, if we remain in. He is absolutely right about interest rates. The last thing that homeowners and homebuyers need—the last thing our country needs—is a hike in interest rates damaging our economy. I am glad he supports a long-term economic plan. Such a plan should include our remaining in a reformed EU.
Q14. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on honouring our manifesto pledge and delivering this historic referendum. Unfortunately, however, we have heard some hysterical scaremongering during the debate, and there are those in this House and the other place who believe that if the British people decide to leave the EU, there should be a second referendum. Will he assure the House and the country that, whatever the result on 24 June, his Government will carry out the wishes of the British people—if the vote is to remain, we remain, but if it is to leave, which I hope it is, we leave? (905437)
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. “In” means we remain in a reformed EU; “out” means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, “out” means out of the EU, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers—out of all those things—and will then mean a process of delivering on it, which will take at least two years, and then delivering a trade deal, which could take as many as seven years. To anyone still in doubt—there are even Members in the House still thinking about how to vote—I would say: if you have not made up your mind yet, if you are still uncertain, just think about that decade of uncertainty for our economy and everything else, don’t risk it and vote remain.
I understand that this is a very busy accident and emergency unit: it received more than 13,600 patients through its doors in April alone. It manages, however, to carry out 40,000 operations and more than 62,000 diagnostic tests every year, and since 2010 the trust has recruited 120 more doctors and 280 more nurses, but the Health Secretary will continue to monitor the matter closely. This brings us back, however, to the core argument today: if we remain in, we will have a stronger economy, and then, yes, we will have to take the proceeds of that growth and continue to put them into the NHS, as I have always done as Prime Minister.
I am looking forward to the British people giving me the opportunity to vote against the vindictive emergency Budget. Will my right hon. Friend explain, if the Government are so strapped for cash, why they remain intent on spending £50 billion on HS2?
We will be strapped for cash, if we believe the Institute for Fiscal Studies or the National Institute of Economic and Social Research—both impeccably independent—who say that there would be a hole in our public finances of between £20 billion and £40 billion. You do not have to be an economic expert to see this: if the economy shrinks, and there are fewer jobs and lower wages, there will be less in tax receipts. If there is less in tax receipts, we will clearly need to make cuts, put up taxes or increase borrowing. It is a simple matter of mathematics. There is an easy way to avoid that situation—vote to stay in a reformed European Union next Thursday.
Points of Order
We are in the realms of speculation here. If there were to be such a Budget, it would have to be delivered here and we would have been notified of it in advance. There is no such declared intention. There are all sorts of briefings, but to my knowledge, there is no such declared intention. If the Chancellor were here and wanted to comment on the matter, he could do so, but he is not, so I fear that he will not. If the Chancellor manifests himself during the course of today’s proceedings —there is quite an important debate taking place in the House today that relates to economic matters—the hon. Gentleman might choose to raise the matter with him. We shall have to await the development of events.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You seem to have confirmed that you are not aware of any such Budget. That being the case, is it in order for members of the Government to be going around telling the press that there is such a Budget when it does not in fact exist?
The hon. Gentleman is being a bit cheeky. I know of no such plan. The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous constituency representative and he is a politician. He knows very well that all sorts of things are speculated upon and made the subject of conversation and rumour. All I know is what concerns the business of the House today. What people say outside the House is a matter for them. If people have important things to say on public policy—between now and next Thursday, for example—it would perhaps be prudent and judged to be courteous to say them in the House of Commons.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure it was an error on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, but he said that there were no boats outside on the Terrace—[Interruption.] On the Thames by the Terrace. May I confirm that the Wayward Lad was certainly giving voice, in a way that concerned some of the river authorities? These boats were indeed saying “Vote Leave”, and some of them have spent three days coming up the river to convey their views to those on Terrace. We wish them well.
We are about to embark on a very important debate on the economic benefits of UK membership of the European Union. The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to lead the debate. Surely it is essential that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the House to answer the points that are made and to defend the ludicrous stance that he has been taking in the media. Why is the Chancellor of the Exchequer not here? What can this House do to require him to maintain its conventions and attend this debate?
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, and to those who are attending our proceedings, is that who the Government field to respond to a debate is a matter for the Government. The hon. Gentleman will probably—on the whole—be relieved to know that the matters for which I am responsible do not include the Chancellor’s movements, and I am bound to say that—on the whole—that is a considerable solace to me too.
There will be people, and I get the impression that the hon. Gentleman is one of them, who will feel that it is somewhat discourteous if a very senior Minister who is responsible for the policy area in question is not present in the Chamber, but it is not against the rules of the House. I would hope that the Chancellor would have some interest in what Members think about the matter. That would be courteous, and it would show a degree of humility and respect, but beyond that, it is a matter for the Government to choose. I gather that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will respond to the shadow Chancellor, and that is perfectly orderly.
(Stone) On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It relates to the resolution of the House of Commons of 1997, which states:
“It is of paramount importance that Ministers should give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”
Last week, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he had
“secured two vital treaty changes”.—[Official Report, 8 June 2016; Vol. 611, c. 1184.]
I subsequently sought a correction. Today, I received a letter from the Prime Minister stating that my letter to him was “misleading”. His reply flies in the face of the published facts, the law and common sense. In those circumstances, Mr Speaker, will you take note of the fact that I am stating that I believe that there has been a breach of that resolution?
I do take note of what the hon. Gentleman tells me, and I take what he has said very seriously. He is an extremely long-serving and serious-minded Member of the House. However, I have already advised the hon. Gentleman—to whose representation I paid very close attention—that I do not think it proper or necessary for me to add anything to what has already been said on this matter. I would simply say to him, and to other Members, that although of course I have my own thoughts on these matters, I do seek wise professional counsel, which is impeccably independent and based on very great experience in the service of the House. That does not automatically mean that it is right, but it does mean that it is serious.
I think we must leave it there. I have, I think, very generously given the hon. Gentleman full opportunities to record this thoughts, and they are now recorded.
[2nd Allotted Day]
EU Membership: Economic Benefits
[Relevant documents: First Report from the Treasury Committee, The economic and financial costs and benefits of the UK's EU membership, HC 122.]
I beg to move,
That this House believes that the UK needs to stay in the EU because it offers the best framework for trade, manufacturing, employment rights and cooperation to meet the challenges the UK faces in the world in the twenty-first century; and notes that tens of billions of pounds worth of investment and millions of jobs are linked to the UK’s membership of the EU, the biggest market in the world.
This is the last opportunity that the House will have to debate the issue of our membership of the European Union before our people vote in the referendum next week. It has been described as the most important decision for a generation, and it may well turn out to be so. We therefore have a responsibility to ensure that it is made on the basis of the fullest possible debate, which will be considered and, hopefully, calm.
We need to acknowledge, however, what many of our constituents have been telling us about the debate so far. It has not, as yet, risen to the occasion. On the doorstep, people repeat that they simply want the facts and our honest assessment of the consequences for them and our country of whether or not we remain in the European Union.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this paragraph. I will be taking interventions, Mr Speaker, but I know that many Members wish to speak, so I shall try to limit the number of times that I give way.
On the doorstep people have simply asked for the facts, and I have to say many of them say they have been turned off by the exaggerated claims on both sides of the argument—put off by references to world war three on one side, and to comparisons of the European Union with the Third Reich on the other. “Project Fear” from both sides simply is not working. People will not be scared into the ballot box.
I am most grateful to the shadow Chancellor for his courtesy in giving way, but does he understand that many of us believe that the real threat to our economy is not whether we stay in the EU or leave it; the real threat would be the implementation of the disastrous tax-and-spend policies that all his life he has advocated?
I always find the hon. Gentleman’s interventions entertaining to say the least, but may I return to the subject of today’s debate?
Many people have seen this debate going on within the Westminster bubble among the Establishment. They do not feel involved, and many suspect that what they are witnessing is an unseemly battle for the succession in the Conservative party rather than a considered debate about the future interests of our country.
Much of the media coverage of the internal Tory strife has drowned out other parties. Polling suggests that many of our own Labour supporters are unclear about Labour’s position. So let people be absolutely clear: as the motion before us today unambiguously states, Labour is for remain. Today’s motion spells it out. It is about jobs, investment, trade with our largest market and the protection of the employment rights of workers so they can secure the benefits of participation in that market, but for many of us it is also about creating another Europe—a Europe that is more democratic, that promotes social justice as well as prosperity, that is more equal and sustainable economically and environmentally. We must do nothing now that jeopardises our European future.
Does the shadow Chancellor share my concern about all those many cases where a UK manufacturing plant shut down and job losses have been very great, only to see new investment made in another EU country benefiting from specific and general grants and soft loans from the EU?
My fear is that if we vote for Brexit we will cut ourselves off from the opportunity of that financial support as well, and that many other companies will move out. It is only courteous to also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his 65th birthday today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the bubble in Westminster. Does he not think that over these next few days every Member of this House has got to tell people in our constituencies what leaving the EU would mean for them? In Huddersfield it would mean catastrophic loss of income into our university and catastrophic impact on manufacturing industry.
I fully agree. It is clear that a large percentage of people have not made up their minds yet, and that there are others who can be influenced, and it is essential that they make this decision on concrete facts rather than exaggerated claims like those we have seen so far.
Let us be absolutely clear: this is about jobs. There are 3.5 million jobs directly dependent on Britain’s membership of the EU. These will be put at risk as a result of a Tory Brexit. The traditionally Eurosceptic Treasury estimates that unemployment would rise following Britain’s leaving the EU by between 520,000 and anything up to 820,000. EU member countries accounted for nearly half of the UK’s stock of inward investment at £496 billion. This is far more than the US or any other single country.
Can the hon. Gentleman answer a question that those on the Government Benches have been unable to answer so far? Why should we spend over £10 billion a year net to the EU in order to have a £68 billion trade deficit with the EU, when anybody with even a modicum of common sense knows that we can have a £68 billion a year trade deficit with a declining part of the world’s economy for nothing?
Order. Before the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) intervenes, let me say that Members must not harangue the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). He is generously giving way, but people should not insist on intervening until it has been agreed. I call Mr Geraint Davies.
I apologise for my Welsh mannerisms.
May I simply put it to the shadow Chancellor that only two countries—Holland and Germany—have a trade surplus with the UK, while the other 26 have a deficit, and does he therefore agree that in the event of Brexit those countries would vote for tariffs to protect their own jobs and we would be turning our back on 44% of our trade?
I want to pay tribute to the thoughtful way that the hon. Gentleman is saying this should not be “Project Fear”. May I ask him, therefore, to join those of us who agree that this panic punishment Budget that has been suggested is not the way we should treat people who choose to vote leave? Can he say that his side would not implement those punitive measures, including slashing the NHS budget?
Is the shadow Chancellor aware that not only have we had the Chancellor’s proposed emergency Budget, but we have a six-point plan from the Brexiteers including a Finance Bill, which sounds less like a campaign than a coup to take over the Government? Does the shadow Chancellor detect any enthusiasm in the country for replacing this extreme right-wing Government with an even more extreme right-wing Government?
I will come on to that subsequently.
With regard to trade, the EU is Britain’s largest export market by a long way. Some 44% of UK exports go to the EU, worth £223 billion. That is more than double the value of exports to the US, and more than 10 times the value of exports to China. That just gives an idea of the scale of the impact of the EU on our economy. It is argued that withdrawal from the EU will have no implications for jobs, investment and trade, almost as though things will just carry on as before. That flies in the face of experience of all other trade relationships. Access to the single market would have to be renegotiated. That would take at least two years, and more likely the seven to 10 years predicted by others. The climate of uncertainty created would undermine the critical factors investors and decision makers require when they invest for the long term: certainty, security and stability.
We have seen only this morning in Rolls-Royce the latest example of a company expressing its doubts about its long-term investment plans if Brexit goes ahead. We have also seen competitors across Europe welcoming with open arms those companies considering relocation if the decision goes to Brexit.
In my constituency people on the doorsteps are talking to me about two things: the economy and immigration. Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving Europe would affect only one of those things—our economy, which will be negatively affected? Leaving will do nothing around immigration.
I will come on to that later in my speech, but the evidence is clear: the impact on our economy overall will set us back a number of years. Brexit will undermine our economy and undermine the futures of our families and communities, while at the same time doing nothing with regard to migration overall.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) referring to the trade deficit, will the shadow Chancellor comment on the fact that our trade deficit in export of goods and services with the other 27 member states is now £67.8 billion and has gone up by £10 billion this year alone, but our trade surplus with the rest of the world is £31 billion, up by £7 billion in the same year? Germany, however, has a trade surplus with the rest of the EU of £81.8 billion. What kind of single market is that for us?
I join the hon. Gentleman in his critique of Conservative economic policy over the past seven years, which has undermined our ability to export, but is he really proposing to impose tariffs against the rest of Europe, which would undermine free trade generally? If that is the case, he would be undergoing a damascene conversion to a planned economy, which would amaze me.
The Labour party places critical importance on employment rights because those rights enable ordinary workers to secure the benefits of the jobs, investment and trade that membership of the single market brings. To be frank, over the past 40 years, as trade unionists we have been promiscuous in where we have gone to secure those rights. In the decades when trade union rights were under attack in this country, we have gone to the EU to secure those protections. And we have succeeded. We have secured statutory holiday pay, maternity rights and the right to parental leave, TUPE protection and a maximum working week. This has served not only to protect British workers but to prevent a race to the bottom across Europe, so that our own and all other workers are protected, wherever they work. There is a well founded concern that withdrawal would put jobs, investment, trade and employment at risk.
I recently spoke in the debate on the Queen’s Speech and called for an industrial strategy, not least because the manufacturing sector needs long-term assurance if it is to succeed. Irrespective of whether the shadow Chancellor agrees on the need for an industrial strategy, does he agree that a vote to leave would create unwelcome uncertainty at a time when our vital manufacturing sector needs stability?
There is a desperate need for long-term, patient investment in our manufacturing base in order to develop an industrial strategy. The threat of Brexit is undermining those who make the decisions about that long-term, patient investment, and Brexit would be a disaster for recreating our manufacturing base in this country.
There is no better time than this for the labour movement to be considering employment rights in the manner that my hon. Friend is now doing. There is a pit site at Shirebrook that is now owned by Mike Ashley where he employs only 200 full-time employees and 3,000 people, mainly east Europeans, on zero-hours contracts, and where a lady went to the toilets to give birth to a child on new year’s day. That is horrific. At that pit site, after the war, east Europeans got the same money as me for working down the coal mine and they were members of the NUM. We have to get rid of this idea that people can be brought here on zero-hours contracts. If we state it loud and clear here today that we are going to get rid of this Mike Ashley and thousands of others around Britain, we will set fire to this campaign.
I wholeheartedly concur not only with the criticisms that my hon. Friend has levelled but with his solution, which is based on the development of employment rights that have been consistently undermined in recent decades in this country.
As I was saying, there is a well founded concern that withdrawal will put jobs, investment, trade and employment at risk. The unpredictability of the outcome of this leap in the dark has united virtually every economist and economic institution of any standing, from the International Monetary Fund and the OECD to the Bank of England and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in expressing their concerns about the risk to the economy. In the past 72 hours, we have witnessed the reaction of the world markets to shifts in the polls pointing to a possible Brexit, with £100 billion knocked off the value of shares, and the value of the pound dropping. The Brexit campaign has done more damage to capitalism in four days than the Socialist Workers party did in 40 years. This comes at a time when our economy is extremely fragile. Six years of unnecessary austerity, the chaotic failure of the various fiscal rules adopted by this Government, and our record current account deficit have made our economy extremely vulnerable to even a minor shock. And as the markets have just demonstrated, leaving the EU would certainly not be interpreted as just a minor shock.
Let me turn to the issue of migration. I believe that the economic arguments for remaining are overpowering—
I want to make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party: please don’t go near immigration. You have no credibility on that issue. You’re all over the place. You’ve been bullied by the Tories, and raising immigration will only help the leave case.
With the greatest respect, I ask the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) to listen to my speech before he comes to a judgment on this matter.
I believe that the economic arguments for remaining are overpowering, but the polls and the feedback from the doorstep confirm that immigration is a key motivating factor for some people in different parts of the country. Let me deal with some of the economic arguments around migration. I admit that I do not come to the debate on immigration completely objectively. I am the grandson of an Irish migrant. My grandfather’s generation of Irish migrants and subsequent Irish migrants built many of this country’s roads, railways and homes. They staffed the factories while many Irish women were the nurses who formed the backbone of the NHS and the teachers who taught in our schools. They all contributed to making this country’s economy the fifth largest in the world. That is what migrants overwhelmingly do. Over the last decade, migrants from new EU member countries contributed £20 billion more in taxes than they used in public services and benefit payments. More than 52,000 EU migrants work in our NHS. With labour shortages reported in key sectors such as construction, it is migrant labour that helps to fill the gap. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ recent surveys show that a lack of skilled workers is already hurting the delivery of infrastructure projects.
Let us admit, however, that genuine concerns have been expressed about the impact of migration on wages and employment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) suggested. Those concerns should not be dismissed. Research presented by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory has demonstrated that migration has not had the impact of reducing wages except in a small proportion of the workforce: those at the lowest end of the pay scale. This has to be addressed, and that is why Labour is calling for greater protection for this group of workers. Yes, reforms are needed with regard to the free movement of labour, to introduce greater protection of wages and employment rights and to halt the undercutting of wages and employment conditions. In government, we will renegotiate to give effect to those changes.
Other concerns have been expressed at the pressure placed on our public services by migration. The reality is that our public services struggle to cope with existing demand because of the austerity measures, the cuts and the chronic underfunding forced through by this Government over the last six years. But there is an argument that where pressures on public services increase in a particular area, funding must be made available to respond to that increased demand. That is why Labour has consistently argued for a special migration fund to assist those communities where demand increases. We condemned the abolition of the fund that was set up by Gordon Brown, but we welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today that he is exploring the establishment of a fund of that sort. We also want to seek further European funding to support this initiative, and that will be on our agenda.
Does the shadow Chancellor agree that being an EU citizen in the United Kingdom might be an uncomfortable experience at the moment, particularly in the light of the language and tone being used by one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, Nigel Farage? Does he also agree that if we were to remove those EU citizens and put in place the 50,000 cap proposed by Nigel Farage, we would see an exodus of people who work in our care homes, our hospitals and our schools? That would have a real impact on our ability to deliver public services. Is it not the case that we are an open and tolerant United Kingdom?
I am listening to the debate and the contributions from across the Floor, and I am staggered, again, that people who come here to make a new life for themselves, uprooting their family to make a contribution to this country, are the scapegoats for the austerity measures of Government Members.
Nothing more than that eloquent statement needs to be said.
Migration cuts both ways: British people have been among the main beneficiaries of the free movement of labour and people across Europe, with 1.2 million UK citizens living permanently in other EU countries and a further 1 million living in another EU country for at least part of the year. I remember the “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” generation, when British workers secured jobs across Europe when our own economy was in recession. The eurozone is slowly coming out of recession and will, once again, provide opportunities that our own people will want to take advantage of. Young people, especially, are now studying, working and settling in large numbers across Europe. The number of UK students studying in Europe through the Erasmus scheme has risen by 115% in less than a decade.
I, too, echo the point about the number of EU migrants who work in the NHS, which I have come from. They include my husband, who has worked here and paid taxes here for 30 years and yet is excluded from the vote. We should also remember that the people we export to Europe are predominantly those who have retired there. We import young working people and we export retired people, and we should remember that balance.
We need to point out that one in five of the adult social care workforce in this country—230,000 people—was not born here. Greater London, in particular, is reliant on migrant care workers, with 60% of the adult social care workforce born abroad. Much of that sector would collapse without them, so those who talk about interfering with and restricting this have to remember that our care sector relies on these people.
It is true to say that our care sector would collapse without the migrant labour we currently have, and that is a danger.
Much of the EU debate so far has dwelled on the past and immediate present, but as a country we need to look to the future. Many of the issues we face are transnational: climate change, tax evasion, tax avoidance and the refugee crisis. They cross country boundaries. The EU provides us with the vehicle to work in co-operation with our European neighbours to tackle these issues, but we have to recognise that people do care about what they see as a loss of sovereignty. A strong reform agenda is needed to ensure that where sovereignty has been pooled in decision making, there is democratic accountability. That means making decisions in the EU completely open and transparent, and ensuring that the Commission is effectively democratically accountable. It starts within the UK, by ensuring that we have more open and effective mechanisms for holding to account those Ministers and others who represent us in the EU decision-making process.
Britain takes the EU presidency shortly, which will enable us to lead the drive for reform. For the first time in a generation, there are parties and movements across Europe mobilising on an agenda of reform that we can share. There is the real and growing prospect now of a new European progressive coalition emerging that is willing to seize the agenda of the EU to end austerity, secure employment growth, tackle tax evasion and avoidance, confront climate change and of course co-operate to deal with the tragic humanitarian crisis of the refugees.
To conclude, in the overall debate on the EU I think I am where a great many British people are when it comes to making the decision next week. I did not vote to go into the Common Market, and I have been generally a Eurosceptic, critical of the frustrating bureaucracy of the EU. I am not a Europhile or a Europhobe. People like me are carefully balancing the prospects for my family, my community and my country. I think that, like me, many will take a pragmatic view that the leap in the dark of leaving Europe is a risk too far. For Labour supporters there is the added concern that needs to be taken into account: this would be a Tory Brexit. On 24 June, if Brexit goes through it will be a Tory Government who will be implementing withdrawal.
If the right hon. Lady will let me, I will conclude.
It is likely, given the political fall-out from the campaign, that we would be talking about a Tory Government much further to the right than this one, with the UK Independence party yapping at their heels. I ask Labour supporters to ask themselves: do they really trust the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and the right hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) with our jobs, public services and employment rights? It is a risk too far and it closes the door on a European future that we have the opportunity of decisively shaping in the next few years. I urge hon. Members to support the motion and our people to vote next week to remain. But I also want to assure our people that whatever the result the decision will be respected and that the Labour Party will listen to the people and respond to their concerns. We will seek to bind our country together and not let the extremes divide us.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this crucial debate, Mr Speaker, and I consider that the subject matter falls perfectly well within my remit of foreign affairs.
As we approach the final stage of this campaign, it sometimes feels that we have lost sight of the key question that people are supposed to be answering in the polling booths a week tomorrow. That question is not, “Do we like the EU?”, or “Do we agree with everything it does?” It is not, “What message do you want to send the EU?” or even, “What message do you want to send the Government?” It is certainly not, “Is the EU perfect?” I would be the first to say loudly that it is not. This is a straightforward question that requires a clear-eyed, hard-headed analysis and response: “Are we safer, stronger and better off inside a reformed EU or outside it?” As Foreign Secretary, I know as well as anyone the frustrations of decision making by committee of 28 and the compromises that entails, but I also know that we are winning the arguments in Europe and are increasingly influential in shaping its future. I know, too, that we have greater global influence as a result of being a leading member of the world’s largest trading bloc.
The right hon. Gentleman asked the question that we hear all too often: is the EU perfect or imperfect? The reality is that people complain that their council is imperfect. Unbelievably, some people in Scotland even complain that their Government are imperfect. A lot of people definitely complain that Westminster is imperfect. I find that a lot fewer people complain about the EU being imperfect, so can we stop saying that the EU is uniquely imperfect? There are imperfections at all levels of government, and to brand the EU in that way is a problem. The EU is a club for independent countries, which Westminster most certainly is not; it is a family of nations, which this is not.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He certainly did not hear me claiming that the EU was uniquely imperfect. It is just another imperfect institution among very many, including our own Government, I am certain.
I know that we are safer because we work with other EU member states to tackle the threats of terrorism and organised crime, and I know that we are better off for being part of a market of more than 500 million consumers, with the combined economic weight of a quarter of the world’s GDP, when negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world. I want to dwell on that point, because it is fundamental. We said back in 2010 that our economic security and our national security are two sides of the same coin, and it remains true today. Without economic security, there is no national security. How could we be safer if we could not afford to invest in our nation’s security and defence? How could we be stronger and more influential if our economy was shrinking?
How can the Foreign Secretary say that we are more secure and better off? If we take the fishing industry, for example, the number of fishermen has halved since we joined the EU and the industry has been under a common fisheries policy that has driven us into import dependence on other countries.
I say that because I take a holistic view. I am looking at the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole, taking into account all the pluses and minuses of our EU membership—yes, there are negatives as well as positives—balancing those arguments and reaching a conclusion about the net benefit to this country of being a member of the European Union.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there can be no economic security without national security. Will he tell the House how many of our NATO allies want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union? Many in the Brexit camp invoke Commonwealth leaders. Perhaps he can enlighten the House about how many Commonwealth leaders want the UK to leave the European Union.
My hon. Friend knows very well that the answer to both those questions is zero, but it goes further than that: I have not found any foreign leaders at all urging Britain to leave the European Union and saying that Britain would be a more influential and valuable partner if it left the EU.
I will give way in just a moment, but I need to make some progress, because many Members wish to speak.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) set out some of the economic benefits of our continued membership of the EU. By the way, I welcome his candid assessment of the achievements of the SWP over the past four decades—I never thought that I would hear that coming from his mouth. I agree with him that workers’ rights such as paid holidays and maternity and paternity leave are important. However, it is perhaps worth reminding him that it was a Tory-led Government who abolished Labour’s jobs tax and took 3 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether, and that it is this Conservative Government who are introducing the statutory national living wage, which addresses his point about the wages of the lowest paid.
It is also worth reminding the hon. Gentleman—the Labour party periodically appears to forget this—that the most fundamental right for any worker is the right to have a job and a pay packet at the end of the month. That is a right that 2.5 million more people enjoy today under a Conservative Government than in 2010 under a Labour Government, which is the result of Conservative fiscal management and Conservative economic reforms. A Tory-led Britain that is a member of the European Union has delivered record levels of employment.
The Foreign Secretary has just referred to the net benefit to the United Kingdom from being in the single market. Will he tell me how a net benefit is actually a UK trade deficit? According to the House of Commons Library and the Office for National Statistics, in our trade in goods and services with the other 27 member states, we had a deficit of no less than £67.8 billion in 2015, which was up £10 billion on the previous year and is escalating. How is that a net benefit?
I shall come to that in a minute, but my hon. Friend dwells like an old-fashioned mercantilist on the trade statistics alone. I suggest to him that there are wider issues at stake about the overall impact on our economy and the benefits of the growth, investment and dynamism that being part of a 500 million-strong market of very wealthy consumers delivers to us.
I have been very happy to campaign in a cross-party way to remain, but as the Foreign Secretary has criticised my party’s record in government, may I ask him whether his Government’s cuts, loaded on to the poorest parts of our country, have made too many people question whether they have anything to lose in the referendum? Their wages have been falling since the crash, which has damaged their confidence in our economy to deliver for them. Does he believe that, when we vote to remain, we need to see real action to help people in the poorest parts of this country?
Yes, but we will do that only by delivering a robust economy that is soundly based and can go forward in the future. The most effective way of doing that is by being part of the European Union.
Our membership of the EU gives us both the freedom to trade in the world’s largest single market—a market of more than 500 million consumers—without tariffs and the bureaucracy of customs barriers, and access to more than 50 other markets besides, through EU free trade agreements. The benefits of being in that single market are clear for us to see: 44% of Britain’s exports go to the EU. How much of that trade would be lost if we put up the shutters and renounced our EU membership? How many businesses and employees who depend on that trade would go to the wall? How long would it take to negotiate a new trade agreement with our European neighbours? What would the terms be? I am prepared to bet that they would be nothing like as favourable as the terms that we have on the inside.
What assessment has the Foreign Secretary’s Department made of the length of time that it would take for the British Government to negotiate not only a trade deal with the European Union, but, as he mentioned, all the free trade deals that currently exist between the EU and other parts of the world, so that we can trade with the rest of the world?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point, and he will have heard the Prime Minister talking about that very issue only a few moments ago. We can expect that it would take us at least two years to negotiate our exit from the European Union if that was what the British people decided on 23 June. Thereafter, we would have to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union, and then trade deals with the 53 other countries around the world with which the EU has free trade agreements.
There is a small technical hitch, to which I have drawn the House’s attention before: we do not have any trade negotiators, because for the past 40 years the European Union has conducted our trade negotiations for us. It is about not just time but the price that we would have to pay to negotiate that access to the single market from outside. From the evidence of others who have done that, the answer is clear. That price would involve our freedom of movement, acceptance of the entire body of EU regulation, and a whopping sub to boot—all the things that the leave campaign tell us we will escape from—with no say at all in how the rules are made. It would be the worst of all worlds.
On the question of the trade deficit with the EU, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) mentioned a moment ago, does the Foreign Secretary agree that were we to exit the single market, the component of EU free trade that would be placed most at risk would be free trade in services, on which we enjoy a £20 billion trade surplus with the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I want to address that important point later in my speech.
Any deal that we achieve with the European Union will almost certainly exclude free access to the market for services, which is something of a problem when services account for almost 80% of our economy.
Let me just make this point, then I will give way again.
By contrast, if we remain inside the EU, we can look forward to a huge dividend from an opening of the market in services over the coming years. The truth is that we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the EU single market. The single market in goods is well developed, but in the sectors in which the UK is truly market-leading—financial, business, technical and professional services, the digital economy, the creative industries and energy—the potential remains huge, and the EU’s high-value market is the place to realise it.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the warnings from Airbus about the threats to future investment in this country? I am talking about more than 6,000 jobs in Alyn and Deeside and 5,000 jobs in Bristol. Does he agree that the Brexit camp think that those are jobs that we can afford to lose?
That question has never been effectively answered—how many jobs are those advocating Britain’s exit from the European Union prepared to sacrifice on the altar of their notion of sovereignty? We have never had a straight answer to that question. What we do have is a range of independent estimates of what that number would be if we voted to leave next Thursday. I shall come to that in a moment.
It is because of the potential for the UK to open up the services market in the European Union that the deal the Prime Minister negotiated in February is so important. We now have a clear political commitment from all 27 other EU member states, plus the Commission, to accelerate the development of that market. These are the sectors in which the UK leads in Europe, and in which an expansion of the single market will disproportionately benefit the United Kingdom over the years ahead.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that that commitment to a proper completion of the single market in services, added to the completion of a capital markets union, places the United Kingdom in a unique position to develop its world-leading sector, and that it would be mad to walk away from that opportunity?