House of Commons
Thursday 7 July 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That there be laid before this House an Account of the Contingencies Fund, 2015-16, showing–
(1) A Statement of Financial Position;
(2) A Statement of Cash Flows; and
(3) Notes to the Accounts; together with the Certificate and Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—(Sarah Newton.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Farming Businesses: Resilience
We have put in place a range of measures to support our farmers and help build their resilience. Government investment in flood defence improvements will provide better protection for 1 million acres of agricultural land. We are investing in innovation, skills and capital items to boost the sector’s resilience, and we are working to introduce a dairy futures market to help farmers manage price volatility.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and we have acted to deal with that problem. From April this year the Government extended tax averaging for farmers to five years, up from the previous two years, so that they can better offset good years against bad years. In addition, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has a number of schemes, such as the time to pay scheme, which means that it shows forbearance to farmers who are suffering cash-flow difficulties.
Eleven years ago this morning, terrorist attacks were unleashed on our city. We pay our respects today.
As an environmentalist, someone who campaigned in the aftermath of the floods, and a lover of the great outdoors, I am proud to represent Labour as shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Many farming businesses depend on trade with the EU. Following the outcome of the referendum, the resilience of farming will be keenly tested. What immediate steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that trade relations with EU partners will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future?
I welcome the hon. Lady and her colleagues to the Front Bench of this diverse Department, and I associate myself with her comments about the terrorist attacks.
Following the decision to leave the European Union, we are holding a number of meetings with officials to plan for our next steps on trade—indeed, we will have a meeting today to hold such discussions. It will be a matter for a new Prime Minister and the Cabinet that they put in place, but early thinking and planning work is going on across the Government.
I am concerned that resilience was not planned for by the Minister in advance of the EU referendum. Trade and regulations for our food and farming industry are linked to the EU more than in any other sector, yet the Government’s cuts to DEFRA up to 2020 will total a 57%—yes, 57%—reduction in its budget. In the light of that, will the Minister explain how his Department will have capacity to analyse the impact of the EU referendum, build resilience, and negotiate the way forward?
For the time being we remain in the European Union, and all existing arrangements continue. Only once we have concluded negotiations and left the European Union will we put future measures in place. On capacity in the civil service, some areas and some EU dossiers have a long-term horizon with which we will perhaps be less engaged and involved, and that will free up capacity for some of the planning work that we need for our own domestic policy.
I record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) for providing us with a taste of Colchester yesterday. One of his constituency’s soft fruit farmers emphasised his concern about his resilience, and his dependence on EU migrant labour. Are plans in place to ensure that farmers are supported should migrant labour be reduced?
As my right hon. Friend will know, I have worked in the soft fruit industry, and I am familiar with the challenges that certain agricultural sectors face with seasonal labour. Ultimately, the decision that she refers to will be for a new Prime Minister, the Cabinet they choose, and the negotiations that they seek. In recent years we have had models such as seasonal agricultural worker schemes, and there are ways to ensure that the required labour is available.
I tabled five written questions in the past week asking what assessment had been made of the impact of Brexit on a range of DEFRA-related areas, from air pollution to waste, water, rural payments, fisheries, food standards and food safety. I got one answer back that basically said that everything remains in place and the negotiations are up to the future Prime Minister, which to me shows a shocking degree of complacency. DEFRA, almost more than any other Department, will be affected by Brexit, and I am not reassured by what I have heard this morning that that work has started.
I disagree with the hon. Lady. The Government put forward an assessment of the potential impacts of leaving the European Union, which was hotly debated during the referendum. Ultimately, the British public made an assessment of what they wanted to do, and the assessment is that they want to leave the EU. The job of the Government now is to implement that decision.
Endangered Species: Hunting Trophies
The Government are absolutely clear that we will not allow the import of trophies from critically endangered species when it is unsustainable—tigers, for example. We have also increased the protection and controls on six other species, ranging from elephants to polar bears. We remain absolutely committed to banning the import of lion trophies unless we have significant improvements in lion conservation.
I thank the Minister for that answer and the general thrust of it. Does he agree, however, that it is morally wrong to kill the most endangered species merely to put a trophy on the wall, and that it would make sense to look to ban more widely the importation of those trophies that come from the most endangered categories?
I agree absolutely. All hon. Members would agree strongly that, if a species is critically endangered, it is not suitable to be hunted, let alone put on a wall as a trophy. We will look closely at scientific evidence across the range of endangered species. It will be extremely relevant to focus on that, with September and October being the time for the CITES conference in Johannesburg.
We are looking closely at what Australia and France are doing. We have been working on a common EU-US position in order to change practices in Africa. It makes a huge difference that we do this together as 700 million people in the EU and the US rather than trying to do it individually.
Following the EU referendum vote, we have no idea how the EU action plan against wildlife trafficking will be implemented by the UK Government. Is the Minister in a position to provide any assurances to the House today?
As my colleague the Minister of State has pointed out, the details of our position in relation to Europe will have to be determined by a future Prime Minister, but we played a very active role in drafting that plan and pushing for its contents. The hon. Lady will see in what we are doing in Vietnam our commitment to that plan. I reassure her that, certainly as long as I am in this position, the UK’s position is absolutely unequivocal.
Rural Development Programmes
Until negotiations conclude and the UK leaves the EU, all existing arrangements remain in place, including rural development programmes across the UK. It will be for a new Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet to consider the future shape of rural development once the UK leaves the EU.
Agriculture plays a major part in Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink industry. Following the uncertainty created by the EU referendum result, what reassurances can the Minister give today to ease the concerns that the result has caused among Scotland’s farming communities?
I can give farmers throughout the UK the reassurance that, for the time being, we remain in the EU, and all existing arrangements remain in place, including all existing support payments, until we leave the EU, and until a new type of partnership and a new domestic agriculture policy are put in place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence he brought to the leave campaign. Having met farmers in my constituency in Kettering before the vote, it was clear to me that the senior leadership of the National Farmers Union had signed up to “Project Fear” and was trying to scare farmers and rural dwellers into voting for remain. Now that the result has been decided—in Kettering, we voted overwhelmingly to leave—can we make sure that everyone involved in rural communities and farming talks up rural communities and farming, because we have a very bright future ahead of us?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. It is important, now the debate has concluded and the country has made its decision, that we move on and focus on next steps and the future. This week, I visited the Livestock Event and had meetings with many farmers. What I find interesting is that once we get past the initial shock—for some—of the decision, people engage with the detail of what might be possible in the future and become more excited about the potential for our future.
Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union will provide us with a tremendous opportunity to develop a tailor-made package of measures designed to support and help UK farmers? In fact, there is nothing to stop us starting to work on putting that package together right now.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I can reassure him that while no decisions will be made until there is a new Prime Minister who has chosen a new Cabinet, the Department is working on options that might be presented to the new Prime Minister.
One claim from some leave campaigners was that Brexit would lower food prices. Now that Brexit is the decision the country has made, will the Minister tell us what options are available to deliver them?
Food prices are driven by a range of factors, most importantly energy prices, developments in weather around the world and exchange rates. Those are the key drivers of our food prices. I have always made clear that while food prices go up and down—they are down 7% over the past two years—they are driven by bigger events than EU membership.
Many farmers and landowners are about to sign higher-level stewardship contracts, but there is a dilemma for Natural England. Many are 10-year contracts and in these uncertain EU times they are being put on hold. Will the Minister give assurances that these precious pieces of environmental biodiversity will not be at risk and that something will happen to protect them?
My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important point, which is that there will be areas and elements where we need continuity. We are having discussions across Government about how to ensure we secure that continuity without prejudicing what a future Prime Minister might want to do.
Meirionnydd is the Sir Nawdd-Feature County at the Royal Welsh agricultural show this month and I hope Ministers will be able to attend. Will the Minister reassure the farmers of Meirionnydd and Wales by explaining what discussions he has had with colleagues in the Welsh Government regarding the funding of rural development and agricultural schemes in Wales?
I have regular discussions with my opposite numbers in the devolved Administrations. I hope I will be able to meet the new Welsh Administration when I next go to Council in Europe, which is in about two weeks’ time, and discuss these issues in more detail. I also hope to attend the Royal Welsh show this year.
I welcome the shadow Minister and her team to their place. Will the Minister confirm that his plans to ensure the fair allocation of the convergence uplift are on track? Will he tell us when Scottish farmers should expect to receive increased payments?
We have always had a commitment to review the allocation of common agricultural policy budgets—the so-called convergence uplift, as the hon. Gentleman refers to it—during 2016. I had a meeting and early discussions with NFU Scotland in January. Now that the Scottish elections are over and we have passed the referendum purdah, I would expect to be able to progress those discussions with the Scottish Government in the autumn.
Data: Public Availability
Last summer, I set a target for DEFRA of releasing 8,000 datasets. By this summer, I am delighted to say that we have achieved 11,000 datasets, which means that more than a third of Government data is DEFRA data. This is bringing real benefits to people, providing information about air quality, better flooding data and landscape data for farmers and architects.
As the Calder Valley assesses how to spend the much appreciated funding for flood defences, many community groups want to contribute to alleviating floods—doing things such as planting trees, building dams and upland management, to name but a few. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that information on all water flows held by the Environment Agency and Natural England will be made readily available to help community groups to decide where the schemes should be placed?
My hon. Friend has done a fantastic job in championing the Calder Valley. I want to ensure that all that information is available so that we can manage whole catchments, including the Calder, for flood defences. What happened over last year’s very difficult floods was that more information was made available to the public. For example, there were 19.5 million hits on our flood information service website. What I want to do is make even more information available to the public.
Does the Secretary of State keep data on how many scientists are working in agricultural technology and on how much money is spent on agricultural technology and research? Is she not worried that, with ChemChina taking over Syngenta and the amazing Jealott’s Hill research capacity, there is a real danger of our research space being eroded?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that our research base and our agri-tech are vitally important. That is the future of agriculture, with more precision farming and better use of data. I am determined to do all we can to protect and grow that. That is why we are investing £160 million in our agri-tech budget. Of course we need to plan even more for the future.
We are looking at further research in this area. More research is due to be published and there are already many published pieces of research. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the decision on the use of neonicotinoids in the UK is made by the independent pesticides committee. It is made by Ministers, but we follow the scientific advice of that committee, whose minutes are fully published.
Regional Food and Drink
We launched the Great British Food Unit in January to promote our fantastic British produce around the world. In April, I was in the US working to open the market for beef and lamb, as well as promoting fantastic British products such as the classic gin and tonic.
That sounds good, but for me it is a bit early for gin and tonic! Food and drink exports, not least the world-famous Cheshire cheese, are very important for the Cheshire economy. Given this country’s decision to leave the European Union, how important is the role of the Great British Food Unit in helping farmers in my constituency and indeed throughout the UK to get the necessary export markets?
In my opinion, it is never too early for a gin and tonic! I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Now that the British people have made the decision to leave the EU, the Great British Food Unit is even more important. We already have missions planned for the Gulf, China and Japan to open more markets for fantastic British food. I am going to increase the resources going into the Great British Food Unit to make sure that we turbo-charge our efforts to export more British food right around the world.
We know that for a third of all visitors, food is a major factor in deciding where to visit. It is hugely important, which is why DEFRA is backing food tourism. We recently backed the “tour culinaire” to Yorkshire, which accompanied the cycle race and featured fantastic Yorkshire products such as liquorice. I would be delighted to discuss with my right hon. Friend how we could do something similar in Essex in respect of fantastic products such as Tiptree strawberry jam.
The Secretary of State will be delighted to learn that, since she visited Gloucester Services in February, it has been given both a sustainability award and the first Royal Institute of British Architects award ever given to a motorway services station. Famously, while she was there she enjoyed a Gloucester Old Spot sausage for breakfast. I hope that she will now confirm that, during our renegotiations with the European Union, she will seek to extend the protections given to Gloucester Old Spot meat, Single Gloucester cheese, and other great British foods.
I thank my hon. Friend for a very enjoyable visit to Gloucester Services. I am delighted that its chief executive, Sarah Dunning, has agreed to be one of our food pioneers, promoting Great British food around Britain and around the world. I look forward to talking to my hon. Friend about how we can protect these great products when they are not just a matter for the European Union, but are more widely known around the world.
Cheers, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] I am glad that the food unit is showing success. However, while the Secretary of State boasts about her support for British food, DEFRA headquarters sources almost half its food from overseas, and other Departments are falling even further behind. Why is DEFRA not ensuring that Departments back our great British food?
We absolutely are ensuring that Departments are backing British food. For example, more than 90% of the dairy products sourced by the Government come from the United Kingdom. There are, of course, some products, such as coffee, that we cannot yet produce in the UK, although now that we are able to produce our own aubergines, tomatoes and chillies, I am sure we are not far away from that.
One of the items on the Great British Food website is the promotion of the EU protected food name scheme. According to the site, 73 products in the United Kingdom are protected under the scheme. What will replace it once the UK Government have dragged us out of the European Union?
I think the number of protected food names has risen to 74, but the website may not have been updated.
This is an extremely important issue, and it is one of the issues on which we are working at the moment. However, I hope that we will develop a British protected food names status in the future.
Armagh apples, Comber potatoes, Irish whiskey and Lough Neagh eels are just some of the protected food names that we have in Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Great British Food Unit had with Food NI to help promote those great foods and drinks throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I was delighted to visit Belfast and the huge show there, and to taste some of those products for myself. They are truly outstanding, and I am working closely with the Northern Irish Minister on promoting them throughout the world. They were heavily represented on our recent trade mission to China, and we will certainly be doing more work on that in the future.
As a Member has just left the Chamber while exchanges on the question to which he contributed were ongoing, may I gently point out to the House that Members should stay in the Chamber until all the exchanges on their question, or the question to which they contributed, have been completed? It is quite an elementary courtesy.
During 2015, badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful in meeting their targets. According to the Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice, the results show that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness that will enable us to be confident of achieving disease control benefits.
Badger culling in England costs about £7,000 per badger killed. In Wales, the badger vaccination programme costs about £700 per badger vaccinated. Lord Krebs, who is a renowned expert on the subject, has continually said that
“rolling out culling as a national policy to control TB in cattle is not really credible.”
Does the Minister accept that?
TB is costing the country £100 million a year, and that is why we have to act. The veterinary advice is clear—we cannot have a coherent strategy to eradicate TB without also tackling the disease in the wildlife population. Following advice from the World Health Organisation, the vaccination operations in Wales, as in England, have been suspended because there is a lack of vaccine.
Farmers: Support Payments
Until we leave the EU it will be business as usual; farmers will continue to receive support payments. We are developing options for future domestic policy. Ultimately this will be a decision for the new Prime Minister. I am working very closely with organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association, and environmental groups, which will have a role to play in helping us develop these policies.
I am very pleased to hear that groups such as the NFU and the CLA are going to be involved in finding a way out of this mess. Can the Minister guarantee that the CAP subsidy up to 2020 will be underwritten not just for the basic payment scheme but for pillar 2 schemes—agri-environment schemes?
As I said, until we leave the EU those schemes will be in place, but when leaving takes place, after article 50 is triggered and the process is gone through, this will be a decision for the new Prime Minister. It is not a decision I can make at this stage.
It is not only important to keep the basic farm payment going but vital that we get it fixed, because the Rural Payments Agency is still having big problems. Lots of the payments to farmers have not been ratified and not properly made. What is actually happening with the Rural Payments Agency?
I can tell my hon. Friend that 99.6% of farmers have now received a payment. This year, for the first time, the system has had prepayment cheques to make sure that we did not overpay farmers and then end up having to claw back the money. That means that there will be a reconciliation period when we make the adjustments—that is taking place at the moment—so that farmers who had a problem in their application will receive the extra payment over the next few months. We are fully on track for payment on time next year.
DEFRA monitors retail food prices through the consumer prices index. Year on year, food prices have continued to fall, with a 2.8% fall in the year to May 2016. We also monitor trends in household expenditure on food through the family food survey. Following a period of higher food price inflation, retail food prices have fallen by 7% since their peak in February 2014.
Last week I visited a very successful food supplier in my constituency that told me that it was already putting up its prices because of changes in the exchange rate hitting imports, and predicted food inflation of up to 8% within months, following the leave vote. Clearly there are real impacts now. How will the Minister respond to a spike in UK food prices, which is a crucial issue for consumers?
As I explained earlier, one of the factors that has an influence on food prices is exchange rates. A number of analysts have been saying that in fact the pound has been unsustainably high against the euro for some time, caused by concerns about the weaknesses of the eurozone, and that the correction we have seen was overdue anyway. Exchange rates go up and down, but the crucial thing is that we have a competitive food supply industry in this country.
The Government are committed to trebling the number of apprentices in the food and farming sector by 2020. I am delighted that the Skills Minister has committed to the apprenticeship levy being used by major organisations such as supermarkets and food manufacturers through the food supply chain, so that they can help small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers to take on apprentices.
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on bees, I got a tremendous buzz from welcoming apprentices of British bee farmers who are completing an innovative three-year programme in an industry with sales of over £100 million per year. What steps are the Government taking to encourage more honey providers to take on apprentices?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Honey is an important product for our country, generating over £100 million. As I have said, the apprenticeships that are created through the apprenticeship levy can be found throughout the food chain. DEFRA has its own beekeeper apprentice helping to maintain our hives at Noble House—DEFRA’s headquarters—where we produce our own Whitehall honey.
Two weeks ago, the British people voted to leave the European Union. I will be ensuring that food, farming and the environment have a strong voice in the exit negotiations and in establishing our new domestic policies. Until we leave the EU, it is business as usual for farmers and the environment, and I am meeting relevant organisations to assure them of that. DEFRA’s work continues: we will shortly be publishing the national flood resilience review; we will be continuing with our Great British Food campaign and our work to open up new markets; and we will be developing 14 local environment plans.
Following the devastating Boxing day floods last year, will my right hon. Friend tell me and my constituents what long-term plans are being put in place to protect low-lying villages in my constituency, such as Methley, Mickletown, Allerton Bywater and Woodlesford?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He has been an assiduous advocate of his constituency, ensuring that towns and villages in his area are not adversely affected by flood defences upstream. We will be working on an overall plan for the River Aire catchment, through which we will manage the overall river flow instead of looking at individual places. That will form part of our national flood resilience review, which we will be announcing shortly.
The horticultural industry is particularly vulnerable following the leave vote due to the high proportion of EU seasonal workers in the sector. How will the Secretary of State ensure that our crops are harvested in this uncertain period by securing continued labour from the EU?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and welcome her to the Dispatch Box. She was a fantastic advocate for her constituents during the difficult flooding in York, and I look forward to working with her.
As for agricultural workers, my constituency is a great producer of salad vegetables and onions, and I fully understand the importance of EU workers to our agricultural industry. It will be one of the key things that DEFRA will work on, putting the case across Government to ensure that we continue to have that supply of workers.
It is evident from the Secretary of State’s responses that her Department did not make contingency plans for a leave vote, failing in its duty to protect not only one of our major industries, but those who work in it. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all EU citizens working in farming can remain in the UK, which the vote on yesterday’s Opposition day motion called for, and that she has already made representations to the Home Office?
It is absolutely clear that it is business as usual while we remain members of the EU and that those workers will continue to work in those areas. The reality is that I cannot make decisions for a future Prime Minister. That is the fundamental issue here and that is why my job over the coming months is to be a strong voice for farming and the environment in the overall negotiations.
T2. Following the floods in Carlisle, I am concerned that a group of leaseholders will not be able to get insurance under Flood Re. They consist of 68 long leaseholders with a management company as the freeholder with responsibility for insurance. That management company has not been able to obtain insurance so far. Will the Minister look into the issue and consider amending the legislation if necessary? (905704)
In addition to welcoming the shadow Secretary of State to her position, may I also welcome my friend the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) to his position?
As for the flooding in Carlisle, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) is a great champion of his constituency. If there is an individual leasehold property, it would be covered with affordable insurance under Flood Re. Unfortunately, when there is a larger number of properties, such as the more than 60 properties that the landlord has in this case, it would be classified as commercial insurance and would require a bespoke, tailored commercial insurance product from the insurance industry. I am happy to look at the individual case, and the British Insurance Brokers Association is also coming up with tailored products exactly to address such commercial risks.
T4. Scotland’s food and drink industry exports £725 million-worth of produce to the European Union. Given the disastrous Brexit vote, what impact does the Minister believe any restrictions on the seasonal workforce will have on the industry north of the border? (905706)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It shows why we are turbo-charging the work of the Great British Food Unit, to make sure that we open up new markets and get more of our products out into the world, as well as into the European Union. I am clear that agriculture and food has major export growth potential, which is why I am having a meeting today with the Business Secretary to talk about our trade negotiations and making sure that food is a key part of those.
T3. Our farms have some of the highest livestock welfare standards in the world, so how will that be recognised in upcoming trade negotiations? We will be doing our farmers a disservice if cheap imported food produced with very little regard for livestock welfare comes into the UK. (905705)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will be aware that we have a manifesto commitment to recognise animal welfare standards in our trade negotiations. That is particularly important in sectors such as poultry meat during Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions, and I can assure him that we make these representations to the European Commission.
T8. The Government decided against using DEFRA funding to implement a clean air zone in Manchester. Greater Manchester is expected to miss our 2020 air quality targets, because of the high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter caused by road transport. Will the Government look again at a scrappage scheme for older vehicles and at incentives to encourage the use of hybrid and electric cars? (905711)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. According to our projections, Greater Manchester will hit, by being below, the 40 mg target, which is why it has not been included in the mandatory clean air zones. We are shortly about to consult on those, but the legislation is in place for Greater Manchester to put in that clean air zone if it wishes to do so; I believe in devolution, and surely it is a matter for the local council if it wants to take that forward.
T5. The recent Environmental Audit Committee report on the important subject of soil highlighted that a significant proportion of our agricultural land will be become unproductive within a generation. Will the Minister therefore meet me to discuss the sustainable management of soils, so that emphasis is put on treating them as ecosystems, rather than as growing mediums? A monitoring scheme would really help. (905707)
My hon. Friend correctly says that soils are not just for short-term production; they are incredibly important stores of organic matter. There is a lot that we can do, and are doing, on precision farming and shelter belts. Rothamsted Research is also doing work on this issue, but I would be delighted to meet her and to make sure that this is central to our 25-year plan.
More than half the population of England live within an hour of a national park, but many young people and their families struggle to get to them because rural bus services have been hit by devastating cuts and eye-watering fare rises. This is Catch the Bus week, so can the Secretary of State tell us what discussions she has had with the Transport Secretary about making our countryside accessible by public transport?
DEFRA takes that very seriously; we have a responsibility for rural affairs. We have very regular contact with the Department for Transport on this issue, and we supported it on developing community bus schemes. There is much more we can do. As the hon. Lady has pointed out, without communications connections, which buses are central to, rural areas will be disadvantaged.
T6. On 27 April, the Prime Minister confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) that the Government are working on a flood insurance plan for the many small and medium-sized businesses in flood-risk areas that are excluded from insurance cover. Will the Minister update the House on how those plans are going? (905708)
My hon. Friend has been an extraordinary champion for his constituency—indeed, he had a late Christmas day celebration a couple of days ago. I saw at first hand with him the devastation for businesses in Calder Valley, ranging from furniture shops to carpentry manufacturers. The problem on commercial insurance is, of course, that different businesses have different attitudes towards interruption payments and excesses. However, that is being addressed through the BIBA process and, most importantly, through the investment in flood defences.
I fully understand the 2009 cut-off date for Flood Re, of which developers and local authorities should have been fully aware, but what more can the Minister do to make it legally binding to inform purchasers that they will not be eligible for Flood Re? What about properties that are downhill of new developments that have subsequently become more at risk as a result of developments built since 2009?
Fundamentally, the answer to these issues is to ensure that we have good flood defences and that we build resilience in housing, but it is absolutely correct to say that we need to ensure that transparency is part of that. Somebody buying a house needs to know that it is at flood risk so that they can make an intelligent decision—ideally, it would be not to buy that house.
T7. The excellent annual Trawden show takes place on Sunday 14 August. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Trawden and District Agricultural Society on organising the event, and does she agree that agriculture shows in communities play a key role in promoting agriculture to a wider audience? (905710)
Literally thousands of EU nationals play an indispensable role in fish processing and agriculture businesses in my constituency, yet this week the Government have failed to give any reassurance that these people will be allowed to live and work here post-Brexit. Will the Secretary of State and her Ministers make every effort to use all their influence with the Home Secretary to provide some certainty at an early stage for these people and these businesses?
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a very important visitor centre at Fairhaven lake in my constituency. The Ribble estuary, one of the most important estuaries anywhere in the UK, attracts about 270,000 birds per year. What are the Government doing to ensure that local children are engaging with the RSPB and gaining bird knowledge?
That is a fantastic result—270,000 birds. The Environment Agency and Natural England are working very closely with the RSPB in the Ribble estuary. Connecting children to nature is absolutely essential. If we are to protect nature for the future, people need to love it. The key is to ensure that children not only access nature, but understand it and respond to it.
Order. We come now to questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), representing the Church Commissioners, and to the right hon. Member for South West Devon—[Interruption.] I mean the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter)—it is only a matter of time—representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Out-of-school Education Settings
1. What discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings. (905693)
Representatives of the Church of England have taken part in detailed consultations with the Government over the proposals to regulate out-of-school settings. I recently led a delegation of Back Benchers to a meeting at the Cabinet Office and we learned that this policy remains under review. I am hopeful that something will emerge that meets the key concerns that many of us have voiced.
This is important because the Church of England provides 500,000 children with out-of-school education activities, which involves 80,000 volunteers. However, as hon. Members will know, anyone who works with children in out-of-school settings has to be subject to a careful check—the Disclosure and Barring Service check. There is no suggestion that our representations to Government in any way undermine our determination that children should be well protected, but we believe that they are in what the Church of England provides.
Religious organisations across Pendle, including Islamic education centres in Brierfield and Nelson, and the Barnoldswick Gospel Mission, which currently runs a Sunday school, have expressed concerns that the Government plans will be restrictive and prevent them from expanding their current educational work. In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with Government, has she received any further indications of a time scale for when these proposals may be brought forward?
I am as anxious as my hon. Friend to have a rapid outcome on this decision, but, until a new Prime Minister is in place, Ministers are saying clearly that the final decision cannot be made. We received an assurance from the Minister for Schools that the Government have no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to interfere in parents’ right to teach children about their faith and their heritage.
We impressed on Ministers that the kind of out-of-school activities that the Church provides, which the hon. Gentleman has just cited, are subject to rigorous checking processes within the Church. Indeed, we reminded Ministers that providing such out-of-school education in a domestic setting is governed by childminding regulations.
The Bishop of Derby has been at the forefront of working to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery within the Church. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. He has set up and been part of the Santa Marta process to improve collaboration between Churches and police forces in the detection of instances of human trafficking.
We all understand my hon. Friend’s concern because of his constituency’s location. The Church is building on the Bishop of Derby’s work and intends to launch the Clewer initiative against modern-day slavery in the autumn. It will be designed to combat modern-day slavery across England and provide parishes and dioceses with strategies to detect instances of modern-day slavery.
One of the most powerful ways to get any message across is from the personal testimony of victims. A lot of people are realising that human trafficking is hidden in local communities, so what efforts is the Church making to identify and encourage Christian victims of human trafficking to bear witness in their churches and communities?
When I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, the hidden nature of trafficking became apparent, and Churches can lift the lid on the prevalence of trafficking in the society in which we live. It is incumbent on us all to have our eyes and ears open and to ask questions when we suspect that someone may be being exploited as result of trafficking.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Rapidly after the referendum results, central claims on both sides evaporated—the extra spending for the NHS, the emergency punitive Budget, and the UK being the fifth largest economy—so surely, if we are ever to conduct referendums again in this country, should not the lead campaigns on both sides publish measurable claims in a manifesto, so that truth is not the casualty of the scramble for votes?
The Electoral Commission has no desire whatsoever—it certainly has no such power at the moment—to sit in judgment on the truthfulness of any claim made in any campaign. The hon. Lady’s idea that lead campaigns should produce manifestos is an interesting one that I will pass on to the commission for its consideration of the referendum overall.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, but the Electoral Commission will carry out an assessment of the conduct of the EU referendum, including a survey of people’s levels of satisfaction of several aspects of the referendum, and that will be produced in the report, which will be made available to hon. Members.
In advance of the Scottish independence referendum, the Government published “Scotland’s Future”—a comprehensive White Paper and blueprint for how the transition to independence would be managed. The complete lack of a coherent plan from the leave campaign and the chaos that has ensued has highlighted a huge disparity. What is the Government’s position on manifestos for referendums?
As my hon. Friend will know, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out, referendums are about settling a single question, not electing a Government on a manifesto. However, one thing that many people do want is facts. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be worth the Electoral Commission looking at whether a fact checker-style website could be a useful source of information, given the claims made in the Scottish and EU referendums?
It is important that the Electoral Commission remains independent in our political debates, and it has no desire whatever to sit in judgment on the truthfulness of any claim or counterclaim. It is important, however, that all sides are responsible in the claims they make, and there are various independent means of verifying claims, but that is not a matter for the Electoral Commission.
I was slightly surprised by this question. I perfectly appreciate that the SNP is opposed to the House of Lords on ideological grounds, but I was unaware that it had adopted a narrow position on the Lords Spiritual. I expect the irony is not lost on the hon. Gentleman that he is exercising his right as a Member of this House representing a Scottish constituency to scrutinise the affairs of the Church of England—a scrutiny, I would add, that I welcome.
I would point out that legislation on English votes for English laws means that I, as a Member of this House, cannot vote on issues that pertain to England only. [Interruption.] No, I cannot—my vote is discounted. I would therefore ask the right hon. Lady to reconsider the position on the Lords Spiritual participating in proceedings on legislation that affects Scotland.
All Members of the other place are able to take part in proceedings on legislation put before Parliament, and bishops take that duty very seriously. They are independent, and they do not take the party Whip, so these things are up to each of them. At least two of them have family links to Scotland, which may give them a reason to have a closer interest. This may be the moment for me to come out in the Chamber as a half-Scot—my maiden name was Cormack, from the Clan Buchanan. I think that demonstrates the point that there are Members in all parties and in both Houses who have a great love for Scotland.
7. What plans the Church of England has to promote women in leadership positions. (905699)
As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has assiduously asked me this question on several occasions, I am delighted to be able to inform him that a further six women have been appointed as bishops: the diocesan Bishop of Newcastle, with a seat in another place, and five suffragan bishops—of Taunton, Aston, Sherborne, Repton and Dorking.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that excellent answer. As she mentioned, this is a bit of a campaign on my part. I want to fill the churches, and one of the ways we do that is by having more women bishops. However, how many are there out of the total number? What is the percentage? There are some very good women who have not been promoted yet.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Sherborne, Karen Gorham, to her place? Her first official engagement was a confirmation service in Lytchett Minster parish church, at which, I am proud to say, my son was one of the candidates. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that Karen Gorham’s appointment will encourage other women into leadership positions in the Church of England?
The Church of England and other denominations and faith groups have always led the way in helping our most vulnerable people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that faith groups and voluntary organisations are ideally placed to help the Government improve life chances for all, including the homeless, young people and people with disabilities?
Yes. The diocese of Truro is particularly committed to improving the life chances of children and young people living there, including on the Isles of Scilly. That is lived out principally through the schools, which are committed to building character and improving employment skills. However, I did just notice that there is a homeless breakfast initiative in Penzance, so these efforts are not confined to children, but also extend to adults.
Historic Churches: Toilet Provision
The Church Buildings Council has been promoting through its “Open and Sustainable Churches” initiative how parishes can adapt their buildings for wider community use. Most schemes for work in church buildings that the Church Buildings Council now see will include installing an accessible toilet if there is not one already present.
Mr Speaker, imagine that you came to visit the historic Scrooby church to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers, and, as a modern man, drank tea or coffee on the way, which people did not do when these historic churches were built. It would be easy to be caught short. Many of these great historic churches lack toilets. Should not a fund be created somewhere to allow visitors the comfort break that may be required, given that we live in a modern coffee and tea-drinking era?
I am delighted to be able to say that the Church is making great progress with the provision of the facilities that the hon. Gentleman describes. Currently, 55% of the 31 listed Church of England churches in his constituency have installed new toilet and kitchen facilities.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 11 July—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Wales Bill.
Tuesday 12 July—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 13 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, followed by general debate on the report of the Iraq inquiry (day 1).
Thursday 14 July—Conclusion of the general debate on the report of the Iraq inquiry.
Friday 15 July—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 18 July will be:
Monday 18 July—Debate on an e-petition relating to changes to the student loans agreement.
I thank the Leader of the House for that information. As the Speaker now processes majestically from the Chair to Speaker’s House, I wonder whether he has been issued with a parliamentary umbrella. Last week, I noticed two yellow buckets on the route to collect the rain, and today there is one white bucket. Will the Leader of the House tell us when we are going to get this palace into a habitable state? Can he also remind us which party promised to fix the roof while the sun was shining?
The House is grateful, as ever, to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). He is a rarity on the Government Back Benches as a man who is occasionally caught in possession of an intelligent thought, and who speaks real English—the language that the rest of us speak. This week, he gave us vital intelligence on the three remaining candidates for the leadership of the Tory party: one of them is “bloody difficult”; one does not expect to deliver on the extremely stupid things she has been saying; and one would declare war on at least three countries. We have a legitimate interest in this, because the winner of this race will also be the Prime Minister.
I suggest to the Conservatives that they perhaps repeat the great success that they had in Totnes, where they introduced the system of a primary vote in which everyone took part. It would be wonderful to have the chance to write-in a candidate such as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. Happily, at his time of life, he has passed beyond the stages of ambition and vanity that afflict many in political life. If he is reluctant to return to the Dispatch Box because he is of a certain age, let me remind him of what I have discovered: the Dispatch Box is a vital support and a wonderful alternative to a Zimmer frame.
Two days next week are given to a matter of the highest importance. Chilcot concluded that the UK chose to join the war in Iraq before the peaceful options were exhausted. We must not let artifice, denial, spin, delusions and expensive barrister-created obfuscation mask the vital Chilcot truths. Chilcot concluded that Government, Opposition and three Select Committees of this House were wrong in 2003, and our decisions led to an avoidable war.
Our reputation as politicians fell to rock bottom during the expenses scandal, but since then it has fallen further and it is now subterranean. We need to recognise the whole truths of Chilcot. We should debate this next week in a very serious atmosphere. We did it; the decisions were taken in this House. I and many other Members were here at the time. Our mood should be one of humility, penitence and respect for all those who put their lives at risk at our command.
The dedication, professionalism and courage of our servicemen were as great and splendid as any in our entire proud military history. We want to express in those two days next week our profound gratitude to all who have given their lives and their service, and who have been maimed in body and mind by the experience of going to the wars, some of which—Kosovo and Sierra Leone—were magnificent achievements in the extension of peace and human rights around the world.
There is another group that we need to bear in mind next week. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the loved ones who were bereaved by the war. We saw yesterday that they were forced to revisit their grief with the added pain of the knowledge from Chilcot that their loved ones possibly died in vain. To them, Parliament should offer our heartfelt sympathy, our regrets and our apologies, because we know that the responsibility was ours. We should hope above all that the spirits of all who died as a result of our decisions may now rest in peace.
It is worth the whole House remembering that today is 7 July, and it is appropriate to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on this day in 2005. It is also appropriate to send our good wishes and commiserations to the Welsh football team. They have done this country proud and they have done Wales proud. They have exceeded all expectations, and I hope and believe that they will go on to great things at the World cup, when the time comes.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on being here again. I was not entirely certain whether he would still be with us this week, because there have been so many changes in the Opposition. Not only is he still here, but he has another job; he is now also the shadow Welsh Secretary. I congratulate him on that appointment and on becoming one of the longest-serving members of the shadow Cabinet. I hope to see him here again next week.
On the Chilcot report, we all acknowledge that it is a substantial piece of work and all involved in its preparation deserve a lot of credit. It has taken a long time to come, and we have had lots of discussions in this place about when it would arrive, but I do not think that anybody could say that it is not an exhaustive piece of analysis that has set out for us all the rights and wrongs of what took place 10 years ago.
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels immensely strongly about this issue. He has been a consistent advocate for the point of view that he has just articulated, and I commend him for that. I hope that the fact that the Government have provided a two-day debate on this matter next week is a sign of how seriously we take it, and how seriously we take the need to understand the rights and wrongs of the decisions that were taken a decade ago. He is absolutely right to say that it is an appropriate moment for this House to pay tribute to our armed forces, to those who lost their lives, to those who were injured and to their families. In all circumstances we should recognise the enormous contribution that our armed forces make, the bravery of the people in them, and the bravery of their families.
The hon. Gentleman referred to fixing the roof while the sun is shining. A large programme is taking place to restore some of the Victorian roofing. The Committee looking at the restoration and renewal project is heading towards the completion of its work. Over the coming years, we will all have to work together to make sure that this building is made fit for this century. It is the heart of our democracy. He is right to identify that many things are currently wrong with it but we have a duty to sustain it as the heart of our democracy and protect it for future generations.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I suspect that the Home Secretary will not be distressed by being likened to Margaret Thatcher. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for taking part in the Conservative leadership election, and for being able to express a view on who our next Prime Minister will be. To be honest, if I was on the Opposition Benches I would want to take part in our leadership contest as well, because try as it might, no matter how hard it struggles, the Labour party does not seem to be able to have one itself.
May we have a debate on flooding? It seems a long time since my constituency and many others were affected by the terrible floods over Christmas, but we should not forget the people affected just because it is now summer and the weather is better. Many people are still not back in their homes. Many of the flood defences required to make sure that that situation does not happen again have not been put in place. We could either have a debate or the Leader of the House could ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement on the progress made in helping those affected and the work needed so that people do not have to suffer the same distress again.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I visited the Colne valley soon after the floods and am acutely aware of the impact that that period of heavy rain had on homes and businesses in and around West Yorkshire, as well as in other parts of the country. I know this matter is of great concern to the Secretary of State and will make sure that she is aware that these concerns have been raised again today. We clearly want to do the right thing for those affected by flooding. Since 2010 we have continued to spend money on flood defences and will continue to do so.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. He is absolutely correct that it is right and appropriate that we remember the victims of 7/7 today on the 11th anniversary of that appalling and dreadful act.
It is also right and proper that business next week is dominated by the Chilcot report. We are all grateful that the Leader of the House has listened to the many representations made on all sides of the House for that debate to be extended to two days. Although we are grateful for the debate, most of us are starting to think about what will happen beyond it and in particular what means are available to hold those responsible for the disaster to account. The only people who have thus far lost their jobs in this whole calamity are two BBC journalists. I am sure that the public are now appalled and sickened after listening to Tony Blair—his defiance of the report, his lack of contrition and his half-hearted meaningless apology, with no recognition of the scale of the disaster. Will the Leader of the House explain what means and methods we have to hold those responsible to account in this House?
Although we are having two days of debate on the last Labour Government’s era-defining disaster, we still have not had one on this Government’s one. In the two weeks since this country made the decision on the European Union there has been no Government-sponsored debate on the EU referendum or Brexit. It is almost a dereliction of duty. I do not know whether it is a case of denial from the Government or they genuinely do not have a clue, although I suspect it is a combination of the two.
This morning we have heard all sorts of rumours on social media about a decision on Trident. Will the Leader of the House now explain when we will have the vote on Trident rather than leaving it to rumour and hearsay?
Lastly, may we have a debate on the overthrow of elites, in political parties in particular? This morning I looked up the definition of coup. Apparently it is the sudden appropriation of leadership or power and its replacement by other elites within the state apparatus. Today there is almost a physical boundary on the Opposition Benches between the two sides of the Labour party—we can see the barrier there. The chicken coupers must be the most inept coupers ever: no strategy, no challenger, just spineless inertia, with the vain hope that their Front-Bench team will somehow just go. Let us have that debate and see whether they can learn from the hand of history.
On the Chilcot report, I reiterate that it is right and proper that we have a two-day debate. That is the job of this House. It is not for this House to consider whether there are specific measures that can be taken against individuals. That is a matter for the relevant authorities, and it is not for us as a Parliament to debate those matters. There will be plenty of opportunity for this House to express its opinions about the role played by individuals and organisations in that process and that decision making. Sir John Chilcot has provided for everyone in this House a detailed range of information that can be drawn on for that debate, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will play an active part in it.
On the EU referendum, the country has just had a four-month debate, and we have had a verdict from the United Kingdom. I know the hon. Gentleman still cannot get to grips with the fact that we are part of the United Kingdom together. I value being part of the United Kingdom Parliament with him. He adds something extra to this institution, and long may that continue. We have just had a very lengthy debate on the referendum. There are plenty of opportunities to debate this—virtually every day at oral questions and when the Prime Minister is here. We have had statements on the outcome of the referendum, we have had Opposition day debates, and we will be debating the matter for some months to come.
As I have been clear over the months, we will have a debate on the future of Trident, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when we are ready to announce the date for that, we will do so to this House.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the overthrow of elites. It is nice to find something on which we have a common view. Until he mentioned it, I had not spotted the completely empty row on the Labour Benches, but it is a bit surreal. It is as if the whole thing has turned upside down. [Interruption.] It is like “Alice Through the Looking Glass”—the Front Benchers have moved to the Back Bench, and the Back Benchers have moved to the Front Bench. Who would ever have imagined the Front-Bench team that we see there now? Never in our wildest imagination did we imagine that the Labour Opposition could find themselves in such a predicament. The hon. Gentleman is right—they cannot even organise their own coup or their own leadership contest. If they cannot do that, they are utterly unfit ever to run the country.
I rise on behalf of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who is attending the opening of a section of the A1M. Unfortunately, the A1M was built over a disused mine shaft and a 30-foot sinkhole has appeared, but don’t worry—officials are looking into it.
As a consequence of the two-day debate on the Chilcot report, a Back-Bench business day has been lost. On behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm as soon as possible that 21 July, the last sitting day before we rise, will be allotted to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can publicise the pre-recess Adjournment debates?
I speak now on my own behalf. An excellent report was published this week by the Royal Commonwealth Society on introducing two-year visas for people from India. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on visa requirements for people from India and other countries outside the European Union so that we can grasp the opportunities to set and control our own borders?
On the earlier point, we will do everything we can to make sure that we provide information about allocated days in a timely way and that we make provision for the Backbench Business Committee, as is normal. My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that the Government felt that next week it is important to have the debate on the Chilcot report and to have that debate across a two-day period. I hope the Backbench Business Committee will understand that.
With regard to visas, I am sure that the Home Secretary will have noted the points that my hon. Friend makes. It is important now, given the decision that this country has taken to leave the European Union, that we maximise the opportunities that we have to forge free trade links around the world. It is encouraging that a number of our Commonwealth friends in particular have come forward and said that they believe that free trade arrangements between us and them will be beneficial for the future.
I thank the Government for producing a written statement on cremations and baby ashes, and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice for her work on that issue. I also thank Action for Ashes, and my constituent, Tina Trowhill, and other families up and down the land who are involved with this matter. Will the Leader of the House have a word with the three Cabinet Ministers who wrote to Hull City Council to ask it to hold a local inquiry into baby ashes in the Hull area? The chief executive of the council wrote back to ask for clarification on the terms of reference, and whether any financial support was available to pay for the local inquiry. We have not yet received a response, and families want to get the matter under way as soon as possible.
This is a deeply sensitive issue, and I pay tribute to those families who have been brave enough to campaign for an improved situation, given the difficulties they have been through. I will certainly chase up that response for the hon. Lady, and try to ensure that it is sent as quickly as possible.
One thing that unites this House is the abhorrence of modern slavery. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, of which I am chairman, is working on a report on that issue. However, the funding we need is being held up by the Home Office, so we have not done it. The work done by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has been superb over many years. In the absence of receiving that money, could we have a debate in Government time to discuss an issue that I know brings the House together, so that we can send a united voice across the world to say that we do not approve of modern slavery and that the entire House says that it must stop now?
Members across the House should be proud that this country passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and we have taken a lead on this issue. My hon. Friend’s work with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) in an area where there is no political difference and on which we are politically united is an example of this House at its best. We are often only seen by the public debating with each other in a lively way, but great work takes place across the House, and long may it continue.
In the light of Brexit, I asked all Departments what steps they are taking to ensure that their purchasing policies support British industry and agriculture. The reply, which was centrally generated by the Government although it came from a number of Departments, stated:
“The Department’s purchasing policies support the Government’s commitment to do all it can to ensure UK suppliers can compete effectively for public sector contracts, in line with our current international obligations and guidance issued by the Crown Commercial Service.”
That is a totally inadequate response to the situation we are facing. Clearly, the civil service still does not get it. May we have a debate to explore how we will back British industry, British agriculture and British workers?
The Government have given the right hon. Gentleman a legally accurate response to the current situation. When we have left the European Union, we will be freer to take decisions about procurement in the United Kingdom and the services, goods and products produced here. I am a great believer in doing everything we can to procure locally, but we are subject to procurement rules with which we must conform.
Whether west, east or sub-Saharan Africa, Commonwealth or non-Commonwealth, the world’s fastest growing economies are on that continent. May we have a debate about what more the Government can do to reach out to those growing economies?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and we should all be pleased with the way that the African continent is developing. More and more people are being lifted out of poverty, and there is more economic development. We have historic ties with many of those countries, and we should seek to strengthen those ties in a variety of ways, including the development of free trade deals with them in the future.
May we have a debate or statement on justice for all war widows? An anomaly means that those whose partners died in service between 1973 and 2005 are not able to claim the war widows pension if they remarry. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) recently hosted a protest at which that issue was highlighted, and it is an important matter, especially in the week of the Chilcot report.
The European Union, including the United Kingdom, recognises a difference between the military and political wings of Hezbollah, but such a distinction does not appear to be recognised by the organisation itself. Therefore, in the light of the confusion about the legality of demonstrators displaying Hezbollah flags on the streets of London last Sunday, may we have a statement on the legality of displaying them and any flag associated with a proscribed terrorist organisation?
I agree with my hon. Friend that if an organisation is proscribed in the UK, it should not be allowed to publicise itself in the UK, whether through flags, placards or anything else. I will ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of the concerns he raises. If an organisation is illegal in the UK, it should not manifest itself in the UK.
For too long, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media have become more and more like the wild west, with people thinking they can post anything and say anything. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) has a private Member’s Bill, but we need the Government to take much more drastic action, because the problem is spilling out into the wider world, as has been said previously. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time about what they will do both to tackle Twitter, Facebook and other forums, and to clamp down on what is happening in the public realm?
This is an issue for Members on both sides of the House and I share the hon. Gentleman’s view, but it is not simply about Members of Parliament—it also affects people in society. I have a more straightforward view than his. It is very simple: if Members of the House or other people receive threats that they are going to be raped, murdered or whatever, the police should arrest the perpetrators and put them in court. That might send a message to those who carry out that kind of disgraceful behaviour that there are consequences. My message to our police is: if that happens, prosecute.
When it comes to sport, my constituency is best known for the game associated with the oval ball, but we have some great football teams, including Rugby Town juniors, who have just received a grant of £371,000 from Sport England towards a 3G astroturf pitch for use by their 700 or so members. The Leader of the House has praised the achievements of the Wales team, but may we have a debate on how investment in grassroots football of the type taking place in Rugby can inspire our national team at the highest level?
No English Member is in any doubt this week that we need a strong grassroots youth development system for the future. Having been outshone by the Welsh, we would like to get our own back at some point, but we definitely need new young players to come through. We know that from our strongest local, non-league and amateur clubs can come stars of the future. Let us hope some of them come from Rugby.
I thank the Leader of the House for his warm tribute to the achievements of the Welsh national football team. I tweeted last night that I will die a happy man, hopefully many years from now, having had the privilege of supporting that great Welsh national side.
Last month, the people of the UK took probably the most important political decision in my lifetime, and I turned 40 in April, yet over lunch yesterday, I had a discussion with Speaker Boothroyd, who informed me that the other place has had two days of debates on the implications of Brexit. When will the House have the opportunity to debate the implications? The fact that there is no plan to deal with what has happened in the last month is no reason to sweep it under the carpet.
I simply assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming months for us to debate these matters. We need to elect a new Prime Minister, complete the preparatory work, start negotiations and ensure that the House has every opportunity to debate those matters. I give him that absolute assurance.
I have one regret on the football front. As a Manchester United supporter, I just wish Gareth Bale would come home and join the reds.
The Kurdish peshmerga have very much been at the front line of the battle against Daesh in northern Iraq, and I am proud that the Government have supported them militarily, but may we have a debate on the medical support that is needed by injured fighters against Daesh, including our allies in the peshmerga and others?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We clearly need to do more than simply provide military support. A huge amount of humanitarian effort is going in to support those affected by the war, but I will ensure that the Secretary of State for International Development is aware of his concern so that it can be a focus.
We have reached the end of the track in terms of my constituents’ patience with one of the worst train operating companies in the world, Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Thameslink and Southern lines that are currently masquerading as train services. In its latest attempt to reduce disruption on the Southern line, it is going to cancel up to 350 trains. That is simply unacceptable. It is causing people to lose their jobs, students to miss exams and untold stress. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Transport Secretary to come and give an urgent statement, and for goodness sake strip this company of this franchise and do so now?
May I say first of all that, as someone who also shares GTR routes, I am well aware of the issue? I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has just said and I have constituents who share his anger. There is a debate on this matter in Westminster Hall next week. I have already spoken to the rail Minister, who is acutely aware of the issue. What is happening at the moment is simply unacceptable and has to be sorted out.
Parts of my constituency are being blighted by young men driving high-performance luxury vehicles, often at dangerously high speeds. There have been a series of accidents, near misses and hit-and-runs in recent months. As most of these vehicles are hired, usually for just a day at a time, local residents and Pendle Council are calling for action to prevent hire car companies from putting high performance supercars in the hands of young drivers. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on this issue?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am surprised the hire companies want to do that, because high-performance cars tend to be high-value cars and I presume they want to get them back intact afterwards. It is clearly a bizarre situation and I do not know why those businesses are taking the approach he describes. He should certainly put pressure on them locally, but I will make sure his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Transport Secretary.
Those of us who are regular, proper Back Benchers value business questions. I hope the Leader of the House will have a word with the other Front Benchers and bring it back to what it should be about: business questions. We had a Welsh shadow Leader of the House who could not even mention the Welsh team today, which I think he should have done, but business questions is for important future business. My constituents are deeply worried about the closure of the A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. That is of prime importance. They are worried about the quality of management by GPs who become managers in clinical commissioning groups. Those are the sorts of things we want a debate on and we want it soon.
I am not sure whether to congratulate, or commiserate with the hon. Gentleman on the fact that he is still on the Back Benches. Only he will be able to tell us whether he has been offered a job as, for example, shadow Education Secretary. I know it has been a challenge to fill that post recently.
Well that is a bit of a snub, isn’t it? The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about his constituency. I have been a champion of A&E and maternity services in my constituency. Regular opportunities exist through Adjournment debates and Backbench Business debates to bring a Minister before the House. With his long experience, he knows how best to use those systems to get Ministers here and hold them to account.
The changing face of retail is having a major impact on the vibrancy of our town centres. We do not want a situation in which our provincial towns becoming derelict with more empty shop units. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how the Government will support local authorities to regenerate provincial town centres?
The big thing we have done this year is to change business rates, which I hope will make a difference in places like Cleethorpes. My hon. Friend and I have walked up the main street in Cleethorpes on many occasions. It is a great town. It is a really important part of the community and the area he represents. I hope the changes we have made to business rates will help to strengthen the businesses in that high street. I also hope we get some good weather, so that Cleethorpes fills with tourists in the coming six weeks.
Last week, when I challenged the Leader of the House, he yet again defended the rights of the more than 800 unelected bureaucrats in the place next door. He has previously defended the voting system in this place yet this morning, with no sense of irony, he talks about making this place suitable for a modern democracy. Therefore, in the vein of a modern democracy, I will narrow it down a wee bit. Will he make a statement outlining why he thinks it is appropriate to have 26 Church of England bishops taking part in the legislative process, and why they are able to vote on legislation that affects Scotland?
On Tuesday evening, a Bath mum, Kerry Parkinson, was travelling home and was hit in the face after confronting a passenger who told their son to “Shut up, or we will send you to Istanbul with the other Muslims to join Isis.” I am sure that whole House will join me in condemning such disgusting racist views and in congratulating Kerry on standing up against hate. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Home Secretary to see what more can be done to tackle xenophobia in our society and look at staging further debates in the House?
That instance is absolutely shocking. We send all our good wishes to my hon. Friend’s constituent for what she has done. Let us be absolutely clear: the Muslim community plays a valuable role in our communities up and down the country. The Muslim community is full of people who have made a real difference to our society, and we should support them. The fact that there are a small number of people in the Islamic world who pursue an ideology of hate that we all stand up against should not in any way tarnish the good, hard-working decent Muslims of this country. We should abhor, tackle and prosecute insults and attacks against them.
Some 5% of students and 15% of staff at British universities come from other EU countries, along with £800 million a year in research grants. Our universities are deeply worried about the impact of Brexit on their future academic competitiveness, and in cities like Nottingham our universities play a vital role in the success of the local economy. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Business Secretary makes an urgent statement on how he intends to protect our higher education sector in the negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU?
I will of course ensure that what the hon. Lady says is drawn to the attention of the Business Secretary. Let me make two points. First, particularly in science where these issues have been raised, the European science network, which is a partnership of academic institutions across Europe, includes countries such as Israel that are not part of the European Union in any way, shape or form. There is no reason why our universities cannot continue to play the part they do today in joint international research projects. Secondly, it is worth remembering that we pay a substantial amount of money into the European Union. In future, that money will not be paid, and there is no reason why we cannot continue to provide the money directly and cut out the middle man.
When we discuss Brexit, may we have the opportunity of conducting some sectional debates, so that we can look at how, now that the power exists for Parliament to vote through renationalising the rail industries, we could rejuvenate football as well—and not just the English football team? The Bosman ruling will be abolished, which will allow local football clubs in England and Scotland to rejuvenate themselves rather lose all their best players to the premier league.
The hon. Gentleman, of course, comes to the issue of Britain’s future outside the European Union from a different perspective from mine, but he highlights how, once we have left, we will be able to do in the future the things that we are constrained from doing now. On Bosman and English football, of course we want to see a new generation of bright young players coming through—and possibly from Rugby, as we heard earlier.
We learned yesterday about five walk-outs from five separate prisons in the last five months by prison officers who do not feel safe at work. There has been a 30% increase in serious assaults on staff this year. With so much else going on, it is easy to ignore that, but the Leader of House cannot ignore it because he largely caused the problem. Will he get the Justice Secretary, who should have more time on his hands after today, to come and make a statement about why we cannot get right something as fundamental as security and safety in our prisons and the protection of prisoners and prison staff from harm?
I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that the current structure of staffing in prisons was designed by the Prison Officers Association and the Prison Governors Association three years ago. What we implemented was their advice about how to proceed to staff our prisons.
Last week, Aberdeen City Council held a summit on the problems in the oil and gas industry. The Government managed to appear to appear via a 30-minute video link, but no Government Minister was sent. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) is currently chasing her leadership ambitions and might be doing so for the next couple of months, so can the Government give a commitment that somebody in government will, in view of the current rocky climate, give more than passing attention to the oil industry?
Absolutely. The oil industry is very important to us. I know that in recent months the Chancellor, in particular, has taken an active interest in how we can best ease the pressures on it, but when the oil price has fallen to such a degree, there are no easy solutions.