House of Commons
Thursday 21 July 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Queen's Speech (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 26th May, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer:
I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament
Electoral Commission (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 14th June, praying that Her Majesty will reappoint Alasdair Morgan as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1st October 2016 for the period ending on 30th September 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 13th July, praying that Her Majesty will reappoint Jenny Willott to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with effect from 7th August 2016 for the period ending 31st December 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Attorney General was asked—
Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union
1. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the treaty on European Union. 
4. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. 
13. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the treaty on European Union. 
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Prime Minister has visited Scotland and Wales already and has made it clear that she wants to achieve the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom on leaving the European Union. She has also made it clear that article 50 of the treaty on European Union will not be triggered before the end of the year.
The Prime Minister has stated that Brexit means Brexit, and the First Minister of Scotland has stated that, for us, remain means remain. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Scottish people have spoken and that therefore their sovereignty should be respected?
The people of the United Kingdom have spoken and their sovereignty must be respected. The people of the United Kingdom have made their decision on whether to leave the European Union, and we will respect it.
The Prime Minister has indicated that she will not trigger article 50 in the UK until there is a UK approach to Brexit. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a legislative consent motion is required before the Government have the legal authority to trigger article 50?
It is perfectly right, as the Prime Minister has made clear, that all parts of the United Kingdom, including the Governments of the devolved Administrations, should be able to participate in the process of developing the United Kingdom’s approach to these negotiations. That does not mean that any of the parts of the United Kingdom has a veto over this process: so, consultation most certainly, but veto I am afraid not.
At a time when Brexit is already causing more than enough confusion, the Prime Minister is saying that article 50 will definitely not be triggered before the end of the year, but the Brexit Minister has said that it definitely will be. Will the Attorney General clarify for us who is correct in articulating present Government policy?
No, I do not think there is any confusion. We must ensure that there is clarity about the United Kingdom’s position going into the negotiations, and that we have done that work before we begin them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is for the United Kingdom Government to determine the point at which article 50 is triggered. We should do so when we are ready.
Will the Attorney General tell my constituents in Kettering what invoking article 50 means? What is article 50? Where is it kept? Is it in a secret drawer in the Prime Minister’s office to which only the Attorney General has the key? Is it a letter that the Prime Minister signs, or is it the Queen who signs it? How will article 50 be invoked?
I can assist my hon. Friend and his constituents to this extent. Article 50 is article 50 of the treaty on European Union and therefore copies of it are kept in all sorts of places. I am not sure whether there is one in my desk, but what it says is:
“A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.”
As I have said, it will be for the UK Government to do that at a time of their choosing.
I am quite happy with the Government consulting the devolved Administrations, but what concerns me is that we do not finish up being held to ransom by the Scottish nationalists. Whatever the Government try to do, they will never be able to satisfy the Scottish nationalists. Can the Attorney General please reassure me and my constituents, who voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, that their wishes will not be frustrated by the Scottish National party?
The Prime Minister has been very clear that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, and that means all of the United Kingdom, but, as I said earlier, it is very important that in the process of exiting the European Union all parts of the United Kingdom have an opportunity to contribute to the negotiations in which we will engage. That is the spirit in which the UK Government will approach this process.
We have to be mindful that the EU referendum was UK-wide, so all parts of the United Kingdom were involved. I hope the Prime Minister will come to Northern Ireland; perhaps the Minister can confirm that. It is important to keep the grants and assistance that Northern Ireland receives.
Indeed. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am sure the Prime Minister will wish to visit Northern Ireland very shortly, and she and we have clearly in mind the particular difficulties that will apply to the process in Northern Ireland because of the land border with the Republic of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will have been present yesterday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland dealt with this question. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is at the forefront of our minds and we will wish to make sure that we reach a satisfactory settlement.
The new Brexit Minister has said that the UK may be able to stop EU migrants coming to the UK before we leave the European Union, while remaining in the single market. What is the legal basis for this pick-and-mix approach to European law? Does he think that this hubristic attitude will get the UK the best deal in the negotiations?
The legal position is clear. For as long as we remain members of the European Union, the rights and responsibilities that attract as a result of that membership will persist, but it is open to the member states to negotiate different arrangements if they think it is appropriate to do so, and we will see, once article 50 is triggered, exactly how those negotiations play out. The legal position, as I say, is that the rights and responsibilities of member states, and of course of citizens of those member states, will persist for as long as we are members of the European Union.
Female Genital Mutilation
2. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. 
5. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. 
7. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. 
The Government significantly strengthened the law via amendments to the Serious Crime Act 2015 to improve protection of victims through lifelong anonymity and to break down barriers to prosecution. The introduction of a mandatory reporting duty for front-line professionals to identify FGM cases of girls under 18 further improves opportunities for safeguarding and prosecution.
At the age of 11, Valentine Nkoyo was forced to go through female genital mutilation. Nineteen years later she set up the Mojatu Foundation, a social enterprise in my constituency, to use her own experience to raise awareness of FGM, help protect children at risk in the UK and support survivors. Mojatu’s current project aims to create a network of media-trained community champions to help tackle the issues affecting women and girls who are at risk or living with the consequences of FGM, to increase self-reporting. What engagement has the Solicitor General had with community organisations such as Mojatu to address the low level of prosecutions for FGM?
I pay tribute to the work of that community organisation and many others in the network who are fighting the scourge of FGM. The hon. Lady will be pleased to note that I and other members of the Government have regular engagement with community groups. The Department of Health has provided £4 million worth of funding over the past three years in order, among other things, to enhance community engagement so that awareness can be spread and victims need not suffer in silence.
The lack of services to support victims of female genital mutilation is often seen as a reason why so many cases are left unreported. What effect will cuts of 24% to the Crown Prosecution Service have on the reporting of FGM cases?
May I reassure the hon. Lady that the Crown Prosecution Service places great importance upon the need to properly investigate and prosecute, where appropriate, crimes of FGM? It was regrettable that in the years prior to 2010 not one single prosecution occurred. Cultural and other obstacles have prevented the effective investigation and prosecution of this scourge. The work of community groups and the resolution of the Government mean that that is gradually changing for the better.
The Solicitor General will no doubt be aware of the European Commission guidelines on action against female genital mutilation. Notwithstanding the vote on 23 June for the UK to leave the European Union, can the Minister say whether it is still the intention of the Government to accept into British law the recommendations of the European Commission’s report?
With regard to the specifics, that matter needs to be considered carefully, and I will take that away with me. However, on the general principles laid out in that report, there is no doubt whatever that this Government remain fully committed to making sure that FGM is properly explained, properly challenged and properly dealt with, whether that is by prosecution, awareness in the community or other preventive measures.
What steps are the Government taking to ensure that, in communities where, on occasions, a blind eye is turned to this obscenity, people understand that the law will be upheld and that the 130,000-odd young females who are affected will be protected in future, as this will affect others?
The hon. Gentleman is right to reiterate that community engagement and community involvement will be key in making more progress on this area. I am glad to see that, certainly in England, the Department for Education has £2.25 million of funding to invest in awareness of and education about this issue, and I think that will also have a beneficial effect.
EU and Domestic Law: Separation
3. What his role is in assessing the steps that will be required to separate EU law from domestic law. 
My role in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is the same as my role in relation to other areas of Government business: I act as the Government’s principal legal adviser. In terms of seeking Law Officer advice in relation to the UK’s exit, the standard rules in the Cabinet manual apply. The Law Officers must be consulted by Ministers or officials before the Government are committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations.
Have the Government made an estimate of the cost of the vast number of lawyers and trade negotiators that are going to have to be hired to deliver our disentanglement from the European Union? If such an estimate has not yet been made, will the Attorney General please confirm by when he will be able to furnish the House with that information?
We will undoubtedly need the best advice we can have and the best trade negotiators we can have. Of course, the Government already have some of that capacity, but the Department responsible is looking carefully at exactly what additional capacity we will need to gain, and as soon as it is in a position to give that information to the House, I am sure it will do so.
Our membership of the European Union has brought about substantial enhancements in our health and safety laws. Will the Attorney General guarantee that, with leaving the European Union, none of those health and safety laws will be weakened in any way?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many of those regulations that we will wish to retain, but of course the exercise of looking at exactly which parts of the canon of European law we wish to transfer into UK law, which we wish to adapt and which we may not wish to continue with at all, is a very lengthy one that we will need to continue with. But I agree with him that it will not, in all likelihood, be the case that all of those rules and regulations will be dispensed with altogether, and both businesses and those who are employed by them benefit from some of those measures.
Leaving the European Union will involve repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which means all secondary legislation made under the Act will automatically fail unless it is re-enacted. Can the Attorney General tell us what steps are being taken, or will be taken, to ensure we have the necessary legislation to guarantee protection on important employment rights, such as transfers of undertakings and paid holidays for employees?
May I first of all say that it is always nice to see anyone on the Labour Front Bench these days, but it is a particular pleasure to see that the hon. Lady retains her position?
I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds): it is clearly the case that the British Government will wish to retain in some form some of the regulations and pieces of legislation she refers to. Of course, the exercise of determining which pieces of legislation is going to be time-consuming and complex, but I have no doubt that what this Government will wish to do is persist with high-quality protection for those in employment in this country, whether that is European legislation or, in future, domestic legislation.
I listened to the answer that the Attorney General gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). Prior to being elected to this House, I represented families of people killed or injured at work. Most health and safety legislation providing protection for UK workers derives from EU law, and in his answer the Attorney General did not satisfy me that he will provide equivalent or better protection. Does he agree that workers need to be protected against injury, illness and death at work, and that workplace health and safety legislation is essential and not red tape? Will he give this House and, in particular, the families of those killed at work a guarantee that, at the very least, equivalent legislation and workplace protections will be urgently re-enacted?
I agree that injury, illness and death at work must be prevented and dealt with through appropriate legislation and regulation. Of course, we had already sought to protect workers from those things prior to our membership of the European Union, and we will certainly seek to do so post-membership. I do not believe that it is beyond the capacity of this House to design legislation and regulation that will enable us to provide effective protection, and this Government are entirely committed to doing so.
6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of introducing a criminal offence of failure to prevent economic crime on the incidence of such crime. 
Under existing law, a company faces criminal liability only if prosecutors can prove that a sufficiently senior person knew about the criminal conduct. That can be extremely hard to prove, especially in large companies with complex management structures. That is why the Government will consult on whether the “failure to prevent” model should be extended to other types of economic offending.
In an increasingly globalised world, international co-operation and co-ordination is key to tackling often very sophisticated economic crime. What is the Serious Fraud Office doing to tackle those crimes, both domestically and overseas?
The Serious Fraud Office does indeed attempt to engage with its counterparts abroad and a variety of agencies in other countries to do its work. Of course, as my hon. Friend may be aware, a “failure to prevent” offence is available in many other jurisdictions, and that is one of the reasons that we believe it is worth considering here.
The Attorney General knows that I have campaigned for much more vigorous action in this sector. I have called for proper resources to be given to the Serious Fraud Office, because it has become far too dependent on this country’s big accountancy firms, and that is the road to ruin and ineffective action.
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s campaigning record. As he knows, the amount of money that the Serious Fraud Office receives as part of its core budget has increased over the past few years and it will continue to increase. As he also knows, it has access to “blockbuster” funding for particularly large and unexpected cases. Of course, this is not just about money; it is also about the tools that the Serious Fraud Office and other investigators and prosecutors have at their disposal. That is one of the reasons why it is always worth keeping this area under review, which is what we are doing.
May I caution the Attorney General? Setting up an offence of failing to prevent a crime committed by another is a very serious step in our legal system. It could affect many hon. Members in everyday life. For example, if they failed to prevent someone from shoplifting, would they be committing a criminal offence? These kinds of things are very difficult and I urge caution on the Attorney General.
The hon. Gentleman is right to urge caution, but what we are proposing does not go anywhere near as far as he is suggesting. The types of offences under discussion are failures by corporate entities to prevent fraud, money laundering and the like. As he will know, there are already similar types of offences on the statute book in relation to bribery, and there will shortly be some in relation to tax evasion. This is an extension of a logical principle and it is designed to ensure that we are able to catch not just those in smaller businesses who are engaged in this kind of behaviour, but those in larger business too.
EU Referendum: Protection of Human Rights
8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the decision to leave the EU on the protection of human rights. 
I consider the best protection of fundamental rights in the United Kingdom to be UK law. I am, therefore, confident that the decision to leave the European Union will not result in any reduction in the protection of such rights in the United Kingdom.
We now have a Prime Minister who has advocated withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. Can the Attorney General confirm whether that will be Government policy?
As the hon. Gentleman quite correctly observes, we have a new Prime Minister and we also have a new Secretary of State for Justice. Both have been in office for only a little over a week, so the hon. Gentleman will have to be a little more patient.
9. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of hate crime. 
10. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of hate crime. 
I discuss this matter regularly with the DPP, and the Government will publish their hate crime strategy very shortly.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answer. Given the terrible terrorist atrocities in Nice, Paris and, recently, Germany, many people in this country are fearful that because of their religion or the colour of their skin, they will be the subject of hate crime. What assurances can my hon. and learned Friend give to those people that we will prosecute, to the full extent of the law, anyone involved in hate crime?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the community work he does in his constituency. Hate crime of any kind, whether it is on the grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity, has absolutely no place in our society. We are utterly committed to tackling hate crime.
A Member of the other place recently received a vile racist letter containing white powder, as did a number of mosques and Islamic centres representing a large Pakistani heritage community in Pendle. The long-term rise in Islamophobia is a serious concern. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in condemning these racist incidents and advise me whether he believes that the separate recording of Islamophobia as a hate crime is likely to help to bring about successful prosecutions?
The incident that my hon. Friend describes is despicable and shameful, and we must stand together against such hate crime and ensure that it is stamped out. Religious hate crime has been recorded separately since April of this year, at the request of the Prime Minister in her former role as Home Secretary. That will give us a greater understanding of the nature of hate crime.
Reports of hate crimes rose exponentially—by 57%—following Brexit. Is the Solicitor General confident that the Crown Prosecution Service is adequately resourced to deal effectively with these reports and support victims?
The hon. Lady is right to note the alarming spike in incidents of hate crime that surrounded the recent referendum and the weeks subsequent to it. I reassure her that the CPS remains absolutely committed to prosecuting all types of such crime, which, frankly, have no place in our society.
Three weeks ago, I asked the former Prime Minister, and he agreed, to look into setting up a cross-party commission on hate crime following a sharp increase, as yesterday’s statistics revealed. Can the Solicitor General assure the House that that will be achieved as a priority? Will he offer his full support to my West Yorkshire cross-party initiative to tackle these terrible acts?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who speaks with eloquence and passion on these issues. Of course, I give her my full support with regard to the cross-party initiative in West Yorkshire. The former Prime Minister was right to emphasise that it is up to all of us, whichever side of politics we come from, to come together to tackle this scourge. We know what it can lead to, and therefore we have to stamp it out before it becomes something even more vile.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
EU Referendum: Hate Crime
1. What steps the Government have taken to tackle hate crime against black, Asian and minority ethnic communities since the EU referendum. 
As the House has just discussed, hate crime of any kind, including that which is targeted at BAME communities, has absolutely no place in our society. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say how appalled I am at the recent reported increase in hate crime. The Government are monitoring the situation and working across Departments and with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and community partners to provide reassurance and send out a clear message that hate crime will not be tolerated, and that we will take action against those who promote hatred.
I am proud of the Safer Neath Port Talbot partnership, which has been working to counteract the rise in hate crime since the EU referendum by holding hate crime awareness sessions in Neath communities. We should all say no to hate crime. What steps is the Minister taking to adopt such best practice and roll it out across the country to raise awareness and heal divisions in communities?
I would be very interested to talk to the hon. Lady further about her experience of the work under way in her own community. As she highlights, one of the most effective things we can do to tackle hate crime is to work at community level to spread a message of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance across our society. The broader work happening in Government is being done not just through policing and the Home Office, but through the Department for Communities and Local Government and in my own Department—the Department for Education—through schools.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her position. Does she feel, as I do, that we should also be looking at online hate crime, from which people often suffer the most? Does she believe, as I do, that platforms and social media outlets should do more to standardise reporting in this area and, frankly, to take more action against the perpetrators?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is important to address the online element of this crime effectively. She will be aware that one of the things the Government have recently done is to strengthen online reporting. Part of the increase in hate crime is due to the tool we set up called True Vision, a website where people can report it online more effectively. She is absolutely right to say that there are different channels through which hate crimes are perpetrated and all of them need a strong response.
The Minister’s answer on online hate crime and online reporting is very welcome, but does she agree that, given the level of vile hatred that exists in certain parts of social media, it is absolutely essential for law enforcement agencies to chase it down and bring specific cases to court to ensure that there is no hiding place for the violent hatred that people pour on to social media?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As crime moves on to different forums, including online, it is important that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service collectively take strong action to show that this sort of behaviour across our country will not be tolerated and that we will take action against it wherever it raises its head.
This may be a special occasion because all 12 Members on both the Government and Opposition Front Benches are female.
Last night, Kettering Borough Council passed a motion condemning racism, xenophobia and hate crimes. I am proud to be a member of Kettering Borough Council and to have supported the motion. Will my right hon. Friend encourage other local authorities to do the same?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very perceptive observation about the make-up of the Front Benches. The merit of his making it is that it is now on the record in Hansard forever.
That is perhaps appropriate given that this is Women and Equalities questions. I should say that when the Government decided to draw Ministers from across Departments to answer these questions, there was no particular attempt to make sure we had an all-women list of Ministers, but it shows how things are changing with female representation in Parliament, alongside the fact that, as of last week, we have our second female Prime Minister.
To come to my hon. Friend’s very important question, I applaud Kettering Borough Council for its strong stance against racism. Part of ensuring that we stamp out hate crime and racism generally is not only for us to work strongly on the ground, but for people in positions of authority—community leaders included—to advocate the kind of inclusive society that we all want. The steps taken by Kettering Borough Council are particularly welcome, and I hope other councils follow suit.
Last Saturday, I attended an event in my constituency organised by a fantastic community group called Kumon Y’all. It was amazing to see people of many faiths and no faith engaging with each other through sport and other activities. Does the Minister agree that such events should be encouraged wherever possible, especially in these troubled times when we are seeing an alarming rise in hate crime?
Yes, I do. We all have our own experiences of that at constituency level. My local Ahmadiyya Muslim community holds a peace conference every year, which brings together all faiths and all parts of our community, and it does a huge amount of fundraising, which also benefits our broader community. These are the kinds of examples of community leadership to which I was just referring. As MPs, we can play a real role in encouraging and supporting that when we see it happening in our own localities.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to her place. I am really proud to be one of the women on the all-women Front Benches. It seems that we might be taking over the world slowly but surely, which is fantastic.
We have heard from many Members on both sides of the House that there has been a dramatic wave of hate crime, hostility and intolerance towards EU nationals and members of the BAME community living in the UK. I have been encouraged by the many members of the public and people in high-profile positions who have challenged that behaviour and shown what a great multicultural Britain we are. However, like many across the House and the country I was dismayed and upset by The Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie’s disgraceful Islamophobic attack on the “Channel 4 News” presenter Fatima Manji. Will the Minister join me in making it clear that all parties in this House regard those comments as totally unacceptable? That being the case, will she also join me in urging Mr MacKenzie to make a full public apology, and The Sun and other media to be more responsible as to who and what they allow on their media outlets?
Order. As a result of the extreme seriousness of the matter I let the hon. Lady complete her question, but never again must she ask such a long question. I am afraid it was not just too long, but far too long, albeit very important.
The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. This is not the first time that Kelvin MacKenzie has written and said things that are deeply controversial and to many people in our country deeply offensive, frankly. It is for him to decide how he wants to respond to the wave of criticism he has received since writing that article. From my perspective, I am proud that we live in a country where men and women are equal. That includes women having the right to wear what they want and to be able to get on in their job wearing what they want. In my view, that includes newscasters and journalists. We need to make sure we have some kind of consensus on not rising to the bait of people such as Kelvin MacKenzie. Frankly, I hope that we can treat his comments with the derision that they deserve.
The Minister has put the bigoted fellow in his place pretty comprehensively.
Single-tier State Pension
2. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the single-tier state pension on gender equality. 
3. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the single-tier state pension on gender equality. 
10. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the single-tier state pension on gender equality. 
We have reformed the complicated pension system to introduce a simpler state pension. Together with automatic enrolment, the triple lock, the protection of pensioner benefits and new pension freedoms, that will ensure that pensioners, both women and men, have greater protection, security and choice in retirement.
I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome her to her place.
The new state pension will mean 350,000 women born between 1951 and 1953 retire on the old system, just before the new proposals come into force, whereas a man born on the same day will retire slightly later but receive a pension under the new arrangements. Does she agree that a pensions commission must urgently be established to end such inequalities?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.
Some £1.1 billion was committed at the time of the Pensions Act 2011 to reduce the maximum delay that anyone would experience in claiming their state pension. As a result of the Government’s triple lock, since April 2011 the basic state pension has risen by £570 a year. The Government’s position on this policy is very clear.
The current review of the state pension age by John Cridland is critical to ensuring that the existing inequalities in the current pension system do not plague future retirees. Does the Minister agree that discrepancies in life expectancy, including among some of the poorest women in society and across the UK regions, must be closely examined to prevent gender inequalities?
I absolutely agree that it is important to prevent gender inequalities, but equally we have to be realistic and acknowledge that, across the country, people are living longer. If we want to carry on with a sustainable and affordable pension system we must equalise the state pension age for both men and women.
Forget the triple lock and the other measures to protect pensions that the Minister has just promoted; the simple fact is that according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies in future 14% of women will receive a lower income at state pension age than they would have under the current system. What discussions is the Minister having with colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions to try to prevent that?
The new state pension is much more generous for many women. More than 3 million women stand to gain £550 a year by 2030 as a result of the changes.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to her place? As a fellow feminist, I am sure she will agree that we are talking about our mothers’ generation, who broke down the barriers on equal pay. What message does it send to their daughters, a generation burdened with huge amounts of student debt, when their mothers have been short-changed by the lack of transitional arrangements for their state pension? What incentive is there for younger women to trust the Government when it comes to saving for their future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome.
What we have seen from the reforms that the Government have made is that women of her age and my age are doing more now to save for their future than ever before. It is really important to reflect that some of the previous arrangements dated back to the 1940s. The world has moved on an incredible amount since that time and, I would argue, absolutely for the better.
Senior Executive Roles
4. What steps the Government have taken to increase numbers of women in senior executive roles. 
5. What steps the Government have taken to increase numbers of women in senior executive roles. 
7. What steps the Government have taken to increase numbers of women in senior executive roles. 
This area is a real success story—we have more women on boards than ever before—but we know that we have got more to do. I fully endorse the business-led target of 33% of women on FTSE 350 boards by 2020. To achieve that, we have established the new independent Hampton Alexander review, which will have a particular focus on improving gender representation in the all-important executive layer of FTSE companies.
We now have the statutory male on the Government Front Bench. If the Minister for Schools had not turned up, I might have been tempted to invite the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to make an appearance on the Front Bench, but I suspect that would have been a divisible proposition.
Only a matter of time.
Does the Minister agree that the 33% target of women on FTSE 350 boards is achievable?
Yes, I do. We will need to take some steps, but so far the proposal of working voluntarily with business has seen some real progress, including a doubling of women on boards in the FTSE 350, from 9.5% in 2010, when the coalition Government came to office, to 22% now. The number of all male boards has also dropped from 152 in 2011 to 15 today. We have more to do, but I fully expect and hope that we can meet that ambitious, achievable target by 2020.
May I congratulate those on the Front Bench on the fantastic representation of women there? As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, Plymouth University is taking the lead, in that half its board of governors are women. What is her Department doing to ensure more women are in senior leadership roles in universities?
I should start by congratulating Plymouth University on making fantastic progress. I have been delighted to see that the latest “WomenCount” report on higher education—which the Government supported—showed that a third of governing bodies are now gender balanced. It is good that we now have a new code of governance in force, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England has also set an aspirational target for 40% of women on governing bodies. An Athena SWAN charter mark has also been embraced as a sector standard, which I strongly support.
I, too, wish to add my congratulations to the Secretary of State, who has long been a role model for many women following behind her. I know that when she came into Parliament in 2005 it looked a very different place. What is her Department doing to ensure that women across the UK—not just in London—have opportunities to access senior executive roles, and can she assure me that those women will be encouraged into sectors other than those traditionally occupied by women?
My hon. Friend’s question has two parts that I should answer. First, we have just expanded the Women’s Business Council to 20 members. That includes organisations based in Scotland and Wales, so we are expanding and making sure that its geographical focus is UK-wide. Secondly, we are also changing the council so that it has greater representation of industries such as engineering, defence systems and construction. A good example would be Halfords Group, which is based in the west midlands near her constituency, whose board is 50% women and whose chief executive is female. We must champion best practice.
Will the Government lead by example by increasing the number of women in senior management roles in their Departments, agencies and other organisations in which they have influence, including the NHS?
We are certainly going to try to make sure we do lead by example. The fact that we have our second female Prime Minister is a very good, strong and historic start. She recognises that the public sector needs to make progress, as does the private sector.
The Minister rightly mentions some of the progress made on getting female representation in boardrooms, but it is still a fact, which I think was researched by The Guardian, that there are more men called John—and a fine name it is, Mr Speaker—who are bosses in FTSE 100 companies than there are women running those companies. What more can the Government do to ensure that women see it as their role to run FTSE 100 companies?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the problem. Despite progress, the reality is that only 18 of the FTSE 350 companies have female CEOs. We need to ensure not only that women aim high, but that, for example when women have children and come back into the workplace, their careers are not hindered and they can go on and get to the very top.
Of 318 female executive committee members in business, from a total of 2,038 across both genders, just 122 held roles with financial responsibility. Has the Minister had any discussions with companies about the possibility of mentoring women in business to enable them to achieve very senior roles?
I really welcome that question, as somebody whose background is as a chartered accountant. Some accounting firms have done great work to pull through their best and brightest women. The point the hon. Gentleman makes is not just about the numbers, but seeing women in pivotal roles on boards. That is precisely the kind of next step we want companies to take.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post. She is there on merit and the Conservative party has shown that women can get to the very top on merit. Can she give me an assurance that merit will always be the deciding factor on whether people are promoted to a role, irrespective of people’s gender, race or sexual inclination? When recruiting people, we should be blind to those things.
I have great news for my hon. Friend: there are plenty of fantastic women out there who are ready, willing and able to get into the top jobs, so I assure him there will be no compromise on merit—indeed, dare I say, Mr Speaker, that we might see a raising of the performance levels?
Welfare Policy: Gender Equality
6. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on gender equality of their welfare policies. 
The Government set out our assessment of the impact of the welfare policies in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, with similar assessments for previous changes. Every Government policy change is carefully considered in line with legal obligations.
Engender has said that, since 2010, £26 billion of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been made, and that 85% of that figure has come from women’s income. The statement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions confirms that the two-child policy and, presumably, the rape clause are carrying on. They will also have an effect on women’s incomes. What is the Minister doing to redress the balance?
It is really important to reflect on the economic statistics. There are more women in work than ever before and the roll-out of universal credit will ensure that being in work pays. The reforms we have made are assisting people into work and ensuring that women are at the forefront of that.
The Minister will be aware of the continuing concern across the United Kingdom about the welfare reform proposals as they impinge particularly on women with young families. Will she keep under review that continuing concern, right across the entire country, to ensure that there is no continuing disadvantage to females, particularly those with young families?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about women with families. The Government’s investment in childcare support—the doubling of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours for nearly 400,000 working parents of three and four-year-olds from September 2017—is an example of how we are making sure that women get back into work.
I welcome the Secretary of State and Ministers, new and existing, to their places. Prior to Brexit, the Secretary of State said that leaving the EU would cost the economy
“a £36bn hit to tax receipts every year - it won’t just be public services squeezed, it will be our jobs, especially the livelihoods of people on lower incomes.”
We already know that 80% of welfare cuts fall on women. Can the Minister assure me that these cuts will not fall on women’s shoulders?
As the hon. Lady will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say yesterday, we are conscious that we have to make sure that the changes resulting from the EU referendum result work for everybody across society, and of course that includes women.
Equality and Human Rights Commission
8. What assessment she has made of the effect of proposed changes to the funding of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the work of that commission. 
The Equality and Human Rights Commission performs a very important and valuable role, and its appointed chair, David Isaac, and the board are well equipped for this task. The commission receives, and will continue to receive, sufficient funds to enable it to fulfil its full range of statutory duties.
Will the Minister scotch the rumours that swingeing cuts to the EHRC budget are on their way—69% down on 2010, apparently? In this climate of post-Brexit racism and employment tribunal fee charges, it is needed more than ever, yet it is operating on less than the old Disability Rights Commission, which area comprises only one part of its multiple good works.
I am happy to scotch some of these rumours. When the EHRC was established in 2007, it was done without a full understanding of what it would need from a budgetary point of view and what it would cost. Nearly 10 years later, we have a much better understanding of its running and efficiency costs, and of course it saw a reduction in function in 2013. It has had to make significant savings, but at each stage, it has done so only after huge discussion with our Ministry, and it does not dispute that it will continue to be able to fulfil its statutory functions to the highest possible standard.
Welfare Policies: Effect on Disabled People
9. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on equality for disabled people of its policies on welfare. 
11. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on equality for disabled people of its policies on welfare. 
Spending to support people with disabilities and health conditions will be higher in real terms in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. The Government have set out their assessment of the impact of the welfare policies in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, and made similar assessments for previous changes.
The UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights recently called for the Government’s regressive cuts to social security to be reversed and for a comprehensive assessment of their impact on vulnerable women, children and disabled people. How would the Minister respond to these calls from the international community? Will she commit to raising these concerns with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions so that these shameful cuts can be abandoned?
Spending on the main disability benefits rose by more than £3 billion in real terms during the course of the last Parliament, and overall spending on personal independence payments and disability living allowance will be higher this year in real terms than spending on DLA was in 2010. Our welfare reforms will ensure that the billions we spend better reflect today’s understanding of disability and offer targeted support to enable disabled people to live independent lives.
I welcome the Minister, a former colleague on the Education Select Committee, to her position. She will be aware of the Government’s long-promised Work and Health programme and of how disabled people are still awaiting publication of the Green Paper to map out what employment support will be made available for those with disabilities. Does she agree that her Government must now map out the timeline for publication and ensure that sufficient funding is made available for disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. I very much enjoyed our time together on the Select Committee. She is absolutely right that we will publish a Green Paper to engage with disability groups and disabled individuals in order to build a strategy that works for them. It is critical that we get more disabled people into work. I spent some time before the general election as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister for Disabled People, and I know how hard he worked to promote the Disability Confident campaign and to ensure good examples of companies we could champion for showing that employing disabled people was good not only for disabled people but for the economy and individual companies.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
I am delighted to stand at the Dispatch Box today as the Minister for Women and Equalities. I want the House to know that this Government are committed to tackling inequality wherever it exists, so that we can have a country that works for everyone. We want to see opportunity levelled up, and we should never accept the status quo in a society in which, for example, some of our girls are undergoing female genital mutilation, others suffer from forced marriage and homophobic bullying still takes place in our schools. Tackling inequality was a central part of my work at the Department for International Development. I shall bring all that passion and practicality to my role as Minister for Women and Equalities.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. She will no doubt have heard the Prime Minister saying yesterday in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Blair Donaldson) that there is “always more to do” on the issue of violence against women. It is our view that the best way to achieve this is to ratify the Istanbul convention. Will the new Minister for Women and Equalities support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), which commits the UK Government to doing more to protect women by ratifying that convention?
I shall certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points. I have spent much of the last three and a half years pressing internationally for stronger action to combat violence against women and girls, including, in March this year, attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women with the then Minister for Women and Equalities. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue; I shall get back to him with an updated Government position.
T3. I welcome the Ministry of Defence’s decision to allow women to fight on the frontline. Will the Minister explain what steps the Government will take to encourage women to take up these new posts? 
As my hon. Friend points out, the recent decision enables women to serve in the Royal Marines, the Royal Armoured Corps and Infantry and the Royal Air Force Regiment, so they will be able to fill ground close combat roles. We are putting in place a range of activities, working through the Ministry of Defence, including improved community engagement and recruitment processes. There is a target for 15% of all recruitments to be female by 2020.
The Government took six long months to release their response to the Women and Equalities Committee report into transgender equality. LGBT campaigners have called the Government’s response
“lots of polite words signifying precisely nothing”.
Will the Minister explain why the Government rejected the Committee’s main recommendation that the protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 regarding trans people should be changed to “gender identity”?
I do reject that. The response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee took representations from more than 12 different Government Departments and public bodies. It was an entirely comprehensive piece of work, and a very large number of the recommendations were accepted and are being followed up, not least the commitment to look again at the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which trans people tell me is disturbing, long winded and in much need of reform. This Department takes its commitment to trans people very seriously.
T5. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the organisers of the Essex women’s business experience 2016, a networking event in Southend? Will her Department do all it can to help and encourage women to set up their own businesses? 
I am delighted to hear about the success of the Essex women’s business experience 2016, which I am told offered a range of workshops and networking opportunities to help inspire female entrepreneurs. The UK has been ranked as the best place in Europe for female entrepreneurs, and the Government are working hard to support them, not least through the £2.2 million women in broadband package to help support women to gain the skills and confidence they need to start their own businesses.
T2. I, too, welcome the Minister for Women and Equalities to her place. A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published just this week detailed that by 2014-15, two thirds of children classified as living below the poverty line were from families in which at least one parent was in work. Does the Minister agree that the Government should commit to abandoning the cuts to work allowances that will see low to middle-income families that are already struggling to keep their heads above water struggle even further, and focus on lifting the income of these working households to alleviate child poverty? 
One of the most important things to have happened under this and, indeed, the last Government is a dramatic fall in unemployment. Ultimately, as I know from my own childhood experience—my dad was unemployed for a year—the main thing that we can do to combat poverty is create jobs, but the hon. Lady is right to say that we now want to go beyond that, and enable people to do better in work. That is not only the right thing to do for them to improve their own household circumstances, but the smart thing to do to drive productivity in our economy.
T6. Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the engineering sector in particular, fail to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also women. We must challenge those perceptions and stereotypes to deal with that problem, and with our productivity crisis. In September, I will host Wiltshire’s first engineering festival. Will the Secretary of State join me there? 
The festival sounds like a great initiative. I should be delighted if my hon. Friend would send me some details, and I will see if I can possibly come along to it.
The good news is that there were 13,000 more entries by girls to maths and science A-levels in 2015 than there were in 2010. However, we need to do more to challenge the perceptions about engineers, and about STEM careers, that too often put girls off studying those subjects.
T4. A number of organisations have conveyed disappointment at the Government’s response to the findings of the transgender inquiry conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee. Stonewall has questioned the Government’s insistence on further evidence, believing that they have sufficient evidence to take proper action. Does the Minister accept the assessment that this has been a lost opportunity to ensure that all trans and non-binary people are clearly protected in law, and will she commit herself to working with them and others to achieve true equality for all trans people? 
Again, I rebut the allegations that this has been a missed opportunity, given that we have taken on board so many of the Committee’s recommendations. The inquiry was a ground-breaking piece of work which has encouraged at least 12 Government organisations to look again at what they do, and to make some very strong and firm commitments to the transgender population to demonstrate that we support them and are paying attention to their needs.
The Minister for Women and Equalities said a moment ago that she and the Government were committed to stamping out inequality wherever it happened. One of the starkest areas of inequality is sentencing: in every single category of offence, a man is more likely to be sent to prison than a woman. For example, 33% of men but only 15% of women convicted of child cruelty and neglect were sent to prison. Will the Minister write to the chairman of the Sentencing Council instructing him to treat women and men in the same way when they come before the courts?
As my hon. Friend knows, the judiciary are entirely independent of the Government, and rightly so. There are no gender preferences in sentencing guidelines; every sentence is handed down on the basis of the offence committed and any mitigating factors. As my hon. Friend also knows, although women who are convicted of the offence that he identified are less likely to go to prison, the sentences that they receive when they are sent to prison are longer than those given to their male counterparts.
T7. We learnt this week that the Government had downgraded the pensions portfolio from Minister of State to Under-Secretary of State. Vast inequalities are facing women such as the members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and will face future pensioners following the change in the state pension. Is it not simply shameful that a Minister of State has not been appointed to deal with not just those inequalities, but the uncertainty that retirees will face following the vote to leave the European Union? 
The Department for Work and Pensions takes its responsibilities for these issues extremely seriously, and it has, in fact, been strengthened by having an additional “half a Minister”. I think it trivial to focus on a job title when what we are seeking to do is give qualified, competent and determined people the right roles.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on her appointment. One of the key decisions that she will have to make very quickly relates to the close of the two-year period of discussion of caste discrimination. I have already written to her, but will she undertake to meet me and a delegation from the Hindu community who are determined to see that illogical discrimination removed from the statute book?
I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I will locate his letter at the Department, and read it very carefully.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if she will make a statement on school funding.
I am firmly committed to introducing fairer funding for schools, high needs and early years. This is an important reform, to fairly and transparently allocate funding on the basis of schools’ and children’s actual needs.
As the written statement I have laid today sets out, this Government are investing record levels of funding for schools. With that investment, fairer funding will set a common foundation that will enable schools to maximise the potential of every child. They will no longer be held back by a funding system that is now arbitrary, out of date and unfair. Fairer funding will provide a crucial underpinning for the education system to act as a motor for social mobility and social justice.
The first stage consultations on national funding formulae for schools and high needs have been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from headteachers, teachers, governors and parents. I am also clear that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a historic change and therefore we must make sure we take the time to get the final approach right. I will therefore publish the Government’s full response to the first stage of the schools and high needs consultations, and set out my proposals for the second stage, once Parliament returns in the autumn. We will run a full consultation, and make final decisions early in the new year. Given the importance of consulting widely and fully with the sector and getting implementation right, the new system will apply from 2018-19. I will set out our full plans for a national funding formula for early years shortly.
I do understand that local authorities need sufficient information to begin planning their funding arrangements for 2017 to 2018. Local authorities need time to consult with local schools—both academies and maintained—to ensure that the funding they provide is being directed appropriately. As well as a fair system, schools and local authorities need stability and early notice of any changes in order to fulfil this important duty properly.
I have therefore confirmed today in my written statement that no local authority will see a reduction from their 2016-17 funding for schools or for high needs next year. Final allocations for that will follow in December on the basis of the latest pupil numbers, as usual. My written statement also confirms that for 2017-18 we will retain the minimum funding guarantee for schools, so that no school can face a funding reduction of more than 1.5% per pupil next year. As my written statement today confirms, I am determined to ensure both that we move to a fair funding system and that we do so in a measured and properly consultative fashion.
This will be a crucial part of delivering an education system that works for every child, no matter their background.
The key point, as the Secretary of State has spotted, is that local authorities need to have time to prepare, and so too do schools. So the essential question is: can the Government really meet this timetable as set out, because that is the desire of all schools, particularly in England obviously, and it is of interest to every single Member of Parliament in England? I ask the Secretary of State to confirm when she really does expect this programme to be fulfilled, and how she is going to be sure that the next consultation period does not take quite as long as the previous one, because that took some three months to complete, and we still do not know where we are. Those are the key questions.
My hon. Friend is right that we want to strike a balance between moving rapidly towards a fairer funding formula while at the same time making sure we do so in a way that allows time not only for the details of that formula to be debated, because they will have a big impact on how it works effectively, but for local authorities, and indeed schools, to understand the changes and then prepare. That is the balance that I have tried to strike today.
I also want to act responsibly by ensuring that we do not rush into making changes without being fully sighted of their ramifications. I know that the debates in Parliament on the fair funding formula have resulted in long-standing frustration, and I am committed to resolving that, but I want to be sure that we do this effectively so that we do not have to revisit it because we have not got it right the first time.
This Government’s attitude to school funding is woeful. Talk about last minute! Schools are struggling to cope with a 5% funding shortfall as a result of the Chancellor’s decision to increase national insurance and teachers’ pension contributions. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that pupil numbers are rising and that the shortage of teachers is growing? Will she put money into helping schools in the new formula? Only this Government could have the audacity to deliver real-terms cuts to school budgets across the country and claim that it represented fair funding. Will the Secretary of State publish in the Library of the House the amount that each local authority has received under the existing funding formula and the amount that it will receive following today’s announcement?
The hon. Lady has asked a range of questions. In summary, I have made it clear in my written statement today that no authority will lose funding either for schools or for high needs. This will enable us to give authorities a firm foundation on which to start planning for next year. The reality is that we have seen funding for schools and across education rising. This has been one of the areas that this Government and the coalition Government have sought to protect, and that has been evidenced in the results. We now have 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools, and we want that progress to continue.
Schools in Staffordshire are among the lowest funded in the country, and that is a matter of great concern for the headteachers I met last week. We understood that we were moving to a fairer funding formula from 2017-18, but it now seems that it will happen a year later. Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear that there could be transitional funding for 2017-18 for those authorities that are in a desperate position, as Staffordshire is?
I recognise the pressures that my hon. Friend has just set out. This now gives us time to look at how we can deal effectively with those issues. We should also recognise that, while some schools are disadvantaged by the current formula, there will also be changes for schools under the new formula, and this gives us a chance to work effectively with them to ensure that there is a sensible and measured transition from the historical approach to the fairer, sensible approach that we are introducing.
Prior to the Secretary of State’s appointment, the noises coming out of the Department for Education suggested that London schools, in particular, would be seriously hit by the changes to the funding formula. Schools in Harrow have been advised that they will face a real-terms budget cut of between 3% and 8% as a result of the changes that her Department is considering. Can she offer any reassurance to the headteachers and parents in my constituency that that will not be the case?
I have set out the details in my statement today of how we are going to proceed. As the hon. Gentleman says, some schools will see a change in the funding they receive as a result of our evening up the system and making it fairer, and these are important changes. It is therefore right that we should give ourselves the time to ensure that we can be effective in helping schools to deal with the changes well through a steady transition.
Given the optimism that schools in Chippenham felt on hearing the announcement of a fairer funding formula to rectify the ludicrous situation in which Wiltshire pupils receive over £2,000 less than pupils in other areas, will the Secretary of State confirm her commitment to the people of Wiltshire, including the 8,000 who signed my fairer funding petition?
I can indeed; we are going to get on with this funding formula. To tie my hon. Friend’s point together with that of the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), we now have a school funding system and a funding formula, but we also introduced the pupil premium, so we have additional mechanisms to ensure that the funding follows disadvantaged pupils with additional needs. We are now trying to get a system in place that is sensible about the core funding that schools receive and not based on frankly very old data. At the same time, the system should take account of the fact that we are able to top up through the pupil premium and other funding mechanisms when we particularly want to tackle disadvantage.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, behind the warm words of fairer funding, school funding is still set to be cut by some 8% by 2020, as confirmed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and that is coming at the same time as we see the threat of falling teacher numbers? Over a third of the children in this country currently leave school without five good GCSEs. Will she also confirm whether my local authority in Hounslow will see a funding cut? When will it know?
I have been clear that no local authority will see a reduction in funding for 2017-18. My announcement today was clear that we will ensure that we have the time to bring in the fair funding formula effectively. The hon. Lady should not forget that, as I have set out, the introduction of the pupil premium means that we now have an additional £2.5 billion that will be specifically targeted to ensure that disadvantaged children get an additional top-up so that their schools can provide additional support.
I am delighted by the Secretary of State’s commitment to fair funding, which we clearly must get right, but I urge her to look urgently at transitional arrangements for counties such as West Sussex, which so desperately needs funding.
My hon. Friend makes his point clearly. I assure him that we will look at a sensible approach for the transition period of 2017-18.
As a former Select Committee colleague, I am delighted to see the Secretary of State in her new place and congratulate her. I urge her not to follow the example of her two predecessors; she should build a strong relationship with headteachers and teachers.
Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear that the pupil premium, which is hugely important for targeting funding at the most disadvantaged, will be protected in real terms when the changes are actually made?
I remember my time on the Work and Pensions Committee with the hon. Gentleman with real fondness; I very much enjoyed it and learned a lot over those years. He mentions headteachers and teachers, and one of the first things that I did upon coming into this role was to pick up the phone and call the teaching unions to introduce myself and to set up initial meetings. I saw them briefly yesterday and I hope that I can have a constructive, productive relationship. The most important people who helped me to get educated were my teachers, to whom I will be eternally grateful. It is important that that is recognised.
On the pupil premium, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the funding rates are protected for the entire spending review period at 2015-16 rates.
Like me, my right hon. Friend was educated in a comprehensive school in Rotherham, so I warmly welcome her to her new role. While we can adjust the school funding formula in the short term, does she agree that the only way to increase school resources in the long term is to have a strong and growing economy?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. I am proud that both of us went through the state school system in Rotherham. I hope to be able to go back up there in the coming weeks and months to revisit some of the schools that enabled me to have the education that gave me a platform to try to reach some of the goals that I set myself. As he says, a strong economy is vital for ensuring not only that we have the funding to invest in our education system, but that the children coming through our state school system have the opportunities to stretch themselves and to get the dignity of work.
I have written to the Secretary of State today and she will be receiving a letter shortly, so I hope that she will keep an eye out for it over the coming days.
Under the formula proposed by f40—the campaign for so-called fairer funding in schools—schools in north-east Lincolnshire suffer a £2.1 million cut, equivalent to over £100 per pupil a year. Does the Secretary of State agree that any formula that takes resources away from my constituency, in which no secondary school is currently rated outstanding, cannot be described as fair?
I agree with the hon. Lady that, over time, the current formula had simply become out of date. It was based on statistics that needed to be updated but, in essence, could not be, so it was time to take a fresh look at how we could make it fair. Her second point about focusing our efforts on the remaining parts of the UK where our education system is simply not delivering for our children is vital, and I do plan to focus on this.
My constituency contains significant areas of deprivation where there is underperformance, particularly among white working-class boys. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that nothing in this formula will have an adverse impact on the urban and deprived areas in my constituency?
I have set out how local authorities, including my hon. Friend’s, will not be seeing a reduction in funding for 2017-18. Targeting the parts of our country where children are just not getting the start they deserve and need in order to do well in life will be central to my efforts, alongside making sure that we continue to lift outcomes for children overall across the rest of the country.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her post and the other new Minister, the skills Minister, as well as some of the old team. I chair the advisory council of the Sutton Trust, and we look forward to working positively and creatively with the Secretary of State. May I remind her that England is a vast society that is changing all the time? Other Governments, including Labour Governments, have not cracked the problem of getting the funding to the right places at the right time, so will she consider having an independent group, even a commission, to look at this, year on year, month on month, so that we get it right? That is just a germ of an idea, but will she consider it, because we all get this wrong at some stage?
I make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s important point. First, we have to make sure that although we set policy at the Whitehall level, we understand how best to ensure it can have the impact we seek at the individual child level. That is not always easy. We can learn from examples such as city deals, where local areas have taken ownership of physical infrastructure to make sure that there is a common plan that the Government nationally are investing in alongside a local plan. His point is a really strong one.
Secondly, I want my Department to be a central engine for social mobility more broadly. We need to challenge ourselves across government, and the Department for Education has a key role to play in this in saying that not only do we want children to be coming out of our schools better educated, but we want to make sure that the jobs and careers are there for them to be able to make the most of their potential. In the end, a country’s most important asset is its people, which is why I am so delighted I am in the job I am in.
May I highlight to my right hon. Friend that Kettering has 8,879 primary places, rising to 9,677 by 2021, and 6,700 secondary places, rising to 7,637 by 2021? The county council says that all places will be full by the 2017-18 academic year. Will she ensure that when she looks at the issue of fairer funding, counties such as Northamptonshire and places such as Kettering, which have some of the fastest rates of house building in the whole country, get the funding they need to make sure we have enough school places for our children?
My hon. Friend raises the important issue that alongside many of the reforms we have introduced, a demographic shift is taking place which means we simply need to scale up our education system to keep pace with the number of children who need it. We have created 600,000 school places, but we need to do more. I assure him that the funding formula statement that I am setting out today means we are in a better position going forward as we introduce it to make sure fair funding follows the child, including in Kettering.
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment, and she is absolutely right not to rush this, because getting the new formula wrong would be a disaster. The previous Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), offered at the Select Committee to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who is in his place, to discuss the case for a rapid pupil turnover factor in the new formula. Will she confirm that that offer still stands and let us know which member of her team that meeting should now be with?
That offer does still stand. I will get back to the right hon. Gentleman when we have worked out which Minister will attend the meeting.
Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), more and more parents in many parts of my constituency are finding it difficult to get their child into the school of their choice. Just to give one example, there is a desperate need for more secondary school places in Wharfedale in my constituency. May I ask the Secretary of State, whom I very warmly welcome to her new role, to look at the need for school places in the Shipley constituency and ensure that my parents can get their children into the school of their choice, because at the moment, for many of them, that is a distant dream?
Again, this is an incredibly fundamental and important issue. I simply assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the need to ensure that, alongside all the other changes that are rippling through the education system, we have enough places for the children of our country, that we have enough teachers who can be in those classrooms teaching them, and that those teachers are outstanding and excellent and able to excite children in the classroom, help them learn and give them that best start in life.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her place. I am sure that she is looking forward to her appearances before the Education Committee, probably starting in the autumn.
Fairer funding inherently means a process of redistribution, and many schools, heads and governors whose budgets are already at the margins and who are possibly looking forward to a 1.5% per pupil cut will be looking at that with real trepidation, particularly if they are already in receipt of tight budgets. There is a great deal of social need in an awful lot of schools in constituencies such as mine. It is mainly a shire county appeal that has come from the f40, and an awful lot of schools in the inner cities are wondering whether they will be on the receiving end of a cut.
I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I underline the rationale behind why we introduced the pupil premium in the first place, which was to address many of the points that he has made. His comments underline why I am setting out this statement today. It is a substantial change in funding for all schools and therefore, ultimately, we need to get it right.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her role, and welcome the inclusion of skills in her brief, as it has been too far from the centre of education policy recently.
Following on from the question of my fellow Hounslow colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), will implementation of fairer funding in Hounslow mean even greater cuts from 2018? Will the Secretary of State reassure the heads that we met a couple of weeks ago, as they are already having to make cuts to things such as A-level options, support for children with special needs, mental health counselling and support and so on?
As I set out in my statement today, we will be launching a consultation on the detail of how we plan to introduce the funding formula. That will give both the hon. Lady and her local schools and teachers ample opportunity to be able to feed in their local perspective.
Representing as I do a cross-borough constituency, I know the unfairness of the current system. It cannot be fair that a child from Reddish in Stockport receives less funding than a child from Denton in Tameside—areas that share the same socio-economic characteristics, but are in different local authorities. Will the Secretary of State’s new fairer funding formula ensure that those children in Reddish are not disadvantaged just because they are in a more prosperous borough overall, and that their funding will be matched to those of the children in Denton?
I think that I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the funding formula will start to iron out those sorts of inequities. Once we launch the second phase consultation, he will be interested to see the criteria and characteristics that we will incorporate to help ensure that we have a fairer approach on funding for schools in the future than we have had in the past. I will also set out for him the architecture of what we are trying to achieve. If we want to overlay significant additional resources in relation to deprivation, we want to do it in a smarter way and we want to use things such as the pupil premium to do it effectively. We recognise that we also need to have an element of understanding about the attainment, the eligibility for free school meals and other characteristics in the core funding formula too.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for September?
The business for the week commencing 5 September will include:
Monday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 6 September—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 7 September—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 September—A debate on a motion on scamming and its effect on vulnerable individuals, followed by a debate on a motion on the fourth industrial revolution. Both subjects were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 September—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 September will include:
Monday 12 September—Remaining stages of the Wales Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 5, 8 and 12 September will be:
Monday 5 September—A debate on an e-petition relating to EU referendum rules.
Thursday 8 September—A debate on the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Monday 12 September—A debate on an e-petition relating to South Korea and the dog meat trade.
As this is the last business questions before the summer recess, may I not only wish colleagues in all parts of the House a restful recess and plenty of scope for constituency duties, but thank in particular the hard-working staff of this House, who serve Members of all political parties professionally and with dedication? I thank especially those who are retiring or otherwise leaving the service of the House at this recess. I hope I speak for Members on all sides when I say that Members in particular want to say a big thank you to Noeleen Delaney, one of the stalwarts of the Tea Room staff, who is retiring from the House of Commons after 30 years of service here. That is a record of service for which we are all very grateful.
It is a great pleasure to echo the words of the Leader of the House, particularly concerning Noeleen Delaney, who we all know as a valued friend, adviser and comforter over many, many years, and all the other members of staff who serve us so faithfully. After the recent days, we might consider accelerating progress on making this place a habitable accommodation for staff, many of whom have suffered severely in the recent heat, and perhaps we are thinking of following your example, Mr Speaker, of having less formal dress, which members of staff are forced to wear and which must be very uncomfortable at this time of the year.
It is right to note that we have lost the previous Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), now the Secretary of State for Transport. I regard it as a bit of a challenge—I have to pay tribute to his services, which were considerable over his period as Leader of the House. All these bouts of Question Time between Leader of the House and shadow Leader of the House have their own personality. We remember with fondness the number of questions that the previous Leader of the House answered; his answers were occasionally related to the questions asked. What we will miss is the rapier-like wit of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), striking against the steamroller solidity of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell.
It is, however, an undiluted pleasure to welcome the present Leader of the House, but I fear, as a long admirer of his, that his political career might not be on an upward trajectory in this appointment, because his career has been blighted by his solid devotion to the three R’s—rationality, restraint and reasonableness—which are not attributes that go well in his party at the moment. He was a splendid spokesman on European affairs, and the voice of sanity on so many issues, and I am sure that we look forward to his continuing with his restrained and mature performances at Question Time.
The right hon. Gentleman is also, I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the supreme champion on the television programme “University Challenge”. Not only did he win splendidly in his own time, but when he came back for a challenge of challenges, he was the supreme winner. It is great to know that he is doing this job from the platform of his own scholarship and knowledge. I believe that it is going to be a vintage year and a vintage period for a leadership of the House.
We have the Welsh Bill returning. It is a great shame that we did not get it right the first time. Welsh Bills are not just for St David’s day; they are for eternity, and we keep having them, and oh that we had got it right the first time. I am afraid that when the first Welsh Bill was introduced in the ’90s, the attitude of this House to devolution reflected the fact that it was not then a popular cause; but although it is now universally accepted, devolution to Wales is still seen as a grudging gift—it is doled out in small parcels, a little bit at a time, and some is then pulled back. I hope that the generosity of the Government, in seemingly becoming completely converted to the idea of devolution, will be expressed in this Bill, with the support of all parties, and will help to serve the wellbeing of the people of Wales.
Baroness Altmann made a contribution this morning about her resignation, and I believe that all parties in the House should listen carefully to what she said. She gave as her reason for retiring that the parties—her party, which is the Conservative party, but this is also true of the Labour party—pay too much attention to their internal divisions, to the detriment of policy making. That is a very penetrating criticism of both the Conservative and the Labour party, which we would all do well to heed.
As we look forward to the new Session of Parliament, we should bear in mind the dreadful event that still casts a terrible shadow over this place. The family of Parliament was bereaved by the cowardly, brutal murder of one of our family members, Jo Cox, and the grief is still raw. We could do no better than ensure that our work here is illuminated and inspired by her thought: there are more things that unite us than divide us.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is indeed perhaps our most illustrious egghead.
Mr Speaker, I am not sure how I respond to that compliment. I have felt, as a student of Elizabethan history, that the last three or four weeks have been the closest thing to living through one of the crises of the 16th-century Tudor court that any of us is likely to experience, and I suspect that events in British politics this year will have given Hilary Mantel ample material for her next trilogy.
I thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for his warm welcome to me and for the deserved tribute that he paid to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who indeed did act as a champion of the House, not just in the Chamber, but in the many exchanges behind the scenes that fall to the Leader of the House. I, I hope on behalf of the House, wish him well in his new responsibilities.
Listening to the shadow Leader of the House, I felt that the three R’s he laid out before us—reasonableness, rationality and restraint—summed up our Prime Minister’s approach to Government and to politics. In fact he may have presented us with a motto for my right hon. Friend’s Administration and approach to Government.
The shadow Leader of the House is a man of undimmed ambition who has leapfrogged on to the Opposition Front Bench after so many years of parliamentary experience, and for whom two shadow Cabinet roles are just a bagatelle—something with which he can easily cope. I think his ambition should not be restrained, even now. I have been studying his remarks and I note that he said of the Leader of the Opposition that it is very difficult to see how he can unite the Labour party, and he said:
“We’re in the worst position we’ve been in the whole history of the…party”.
I think there is an embryonic leadership campaign there. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to disregard any taunts and to throw his hat into the ring while there is still time.
On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman made about the legacy of Jo Cox, the security risks that Members face need to be considered very carefully and action needs to be taken. Without going into details on the Floor of the House, I can say that there has been agreement among members of the House of Commons Commission that new measures should be taken. We will be able to go into further details very soon after the House returns in September.
Finally, I hope that Members of every political party would look to Jo Cox and see someone—whether we agreed or disagreed with her on a particular issue—who was motivated above all by a drive to improve the lot of the people whom she served in her constituency, nationally and globally. In that sense, I think there could be few finer examples for us to follow.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his deserved promotion to the position of Leader of the House. May we have an early debate about the troubles of Southern rail, which are causing significant problems not only for commuters south of London, but for my constituents coming in from Leighton Buzzard? Does he agree that the way to relieve the problems of commuters south of London is not to wreck the rail service north of London, but to pay attention to what needs to be done south of the river?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the new Rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), have already met the operators responsible for Southern train services and Network Rail. They have emphasised the need for the operators to work with the trade unions to try to find a rapid and full solution to the current dispute, which is causing misery to many thousands of passengers every day. The Secretary of State is making the issue his personal priority and I hope very much that there will be a satisfactory resolution soon.
I thank the new Leader of the House for announcing the business for the week that we return after recess. I warmly welcome him to his new role. He comes with a huge reputation of working consensually across the House, and he is also known as one of the House’s truly nice guys. Scottish National party Members are investing a lot of faith in him and we have great ambitions that he will be a reforming Leader of the House.
May I gently suggest a couple of places where the new Leader of the House might want to start? First, get rid of English votes for English laws. It is absolutely loathed in every part of this House other than in the confines of the Conservative party. It is totally associated with his predecessor. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to unite the House again around one class of Member of Parliament. Do not divide us by nationality or geography. That should be his first task.
Secondly, what about the procedures of this House? Did you know, Mr Speaker, that we waste one day a week by just voting in this House? That is an absurd waste of time. Bring this House into the 21st century.
Next, I turn to the circus down the corridor. What always gets me is that all these Tory Brexit dudes go on about imaginary unelected European bureaucrats, but down the corridor there are actual unelected Lords. Come on, new Leader of the House; let us make some progress towards abolishing them.
You will have noticed, Mr Speaker, all the small children with Scottish accents who have been kicking around the House recently. That is because the Scottish schools have been on holiday for almost three weeks. The Leader of the House saw an example of this recently, when he had to come to the Scottish Affairs Committee. He spent an hour in the charming company of Rebecca and Harris, the lovely children of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), because she had nowhere else to put them.
We are in recess for almost three months of the year. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of a member of staff in the office of the Leader of the House to design the summer recess to accommodate all the school holidays of the United Kingdom, not just the Scottish ones. My hon. Friends had to leave their children at 10 o’clock on Monday evening so that they could vote against the evil weapons of mass destruction, bringing to life our slogan, “Bairns not bombs”. Something has to be done about that.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, may I wish you and all the staff a fantastic recess? I pay tribute to Noeleen Delaney, who has served us all with such professionalism over, I believe, the past 30 years. I also say, “Have a happy civil war” to my friends in the Labour party over the summer. I do not know what we will be returning to—whether it will be just one Labour party, or whether a social democratic and Blairite party will emerge—but all I can say is that we will be back as the real and effective Opposition come September.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome, and I look forward to working with him and with members of his party in my new capacity. On English votes for English laws, as I said when I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier this week, the Government review promised by my predecessor will start 12 months after the introduction of the EVEL procedures. The Select Committee on Procedure has also said that it is undertaking a review of these arrangements. I think the sensible thing is to see how the new EVEL arrangements go for the first year, take stock of what the Government and the Procedure Committee conclude, and come to a decision at that point.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about voting procedures, although I can understand the point that he is making—for those of us who went through the Aye Lobby on Monday, it took a lot longer than it would have done to go through the No Lobby with him—there are advantages, as well as drawbacks, to our current arrangements. I would not lightly want to lose the opportunity for Back-Bench Members from all parts of the House to grab hold of Ministers, at a time when no civil servants are present, to make representations on behalf of their constituents. Having looked at voting procedures in the European Parliament and elsewhere, I do not think that they are perfect either. I was told earlier this morning that in the New Zealand Parliament, the Government Chief Whip can cast a vote recording the votes of his entire parliamentary party. I suspect that such simplification would not command widespread support, although it might appeal to those who are sitting to my right.
On recess dates, I undertake to have another look at the matter. I understand the problems that the current arrangements cause for colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland, but even now it is not the case that our current recess arrangements suit parents with children at schools in different local authorities in various parts of England. I think it will be very difficult ever to craft a system of recess dates that gives everybody everything that they would like to see, but I will take a fresh look at that in view of what the hon. Gentleman has urged.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend, but will he resist the attempt by SNP Members to urge less EVEL? Many Conservative Members would like much more EVEL.
I echo the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about Southern. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time about the appalling situation that my constituents and those of many other Members face because of the disruption on Southern? Will he urge our right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary to do everything he can to sort this out, and ensure that he is fully apprised of the real causes of the disruption at the moment? Although the causes include network failures, the principal one is what is in effect a work to rule driven by the rail unions, which are resisting perfectly sensible changes in the rail industry.
It is true that if the trade unions returned fully to work, that would ease the situation enormously to the benefit both of passengers using Southern services and, as our hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire pointed out, of passengers elsewhere whose services are being interrupted to try to give extra support to Southern. I undertake to contact the Transport Secretary and to make him aware of the points raised by my right hon. Friend. I hope that by the time we return in September, this dispute will be over and services will have been restored to an acceptable level so that we will not need to have such a debate. I am sure the Secretary of State will want to consider carefully the points my right hon. Friend has made.
Fear, pressure and unrealistic expectations are the words that workers at Sports Direct use about their employment. May we have a debate on zero-hours contracts and the exploitation of workers in the retail industry, where something is going badly wrong?
The management of Sports Direct have given evidence to one of our Select Committees, and its report will no doubt inform debate in the House in the future. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that this Government legislated to outlaw exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. For all the protestations from Opposition Members, no such action was taken during the 13 years of Labour Government.
A terrible school bus accident happened at the Cotterstock crossroads in my constituency last Thursday. Thankfully, everybody has now been discharged from hospital. Will the Leader of the House send his best wishes to the parents, pupils and teachers of Prince William School and Oundle Primary School? Will he join me in calling on Northamptonshire County Council to review the situation at the crossroads? At the same time, will he thank our remarkable emergency services for all they did? May we have a debate on our return to congratulate them on their efforts?
I am sure my hon. Friend’s constituents will appreciate the tribute he has paid to his local emergency services. I certainly send my best wishes to the two schools concerned and to all who were caught up in the accident. It is obviously for the county council to decide whether it wishes to review the highways issues involved, but in view of what has happened, it would be sensible for any local authority to take a fresh look at such things. With regard to a debate, I am sure my hon. Friend is already skilled enough in how to seek Adjournment debates to raise constituency issues of this type.
Harold Wilson said that a week is a long time in politics, but with recent events in this place, it feels as though 10 minutes is a long time in politics. However, time is of the essence for the Backbench Business Committee. I welcome the Leader of the House to his place and thank him for confirming the business on 8 September. To be able to decide about Back-Bench debates on 15 September, if we are to be allocated time on that day, we will have to do so on Tuesday 6 September. Will he confirm that day through the usual channels—as soon as possible, please—so that we can do that on 6 September?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. I will certainly make sure that the Backbench Business Committee gets proper notice so that it is able to plan.
I am somewhat worried about the Europe Minister—sorry, the Leader of the House. Since his appointment to that role, he has had a rather nasty gash on his forehead. A nasty rumour has been going around that when he was appointed the Prime Minister said to him, “I have some good news, David. You will no longer be the Minister for Europe,” to which he replied, “That’s great; I won’t have to answer questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone),” but when she told him that instead he was going to be Leader of the House, he started banging his head against the wall. Will he confirm that that is not true? I warmly welcome him to his post.
I confirm that it is not true, and nor is the gash the product of a farewell visit to the European Scrutiny Committee. I am always overcome with joy in the company of my hon. Friend and our other hon. Friends whom he mentioned. Even where, as was the case over the issue of Europe, there are genuine principled differences between us, it is important that in this place we acknowledge that those differences are held honestly, honourably and on a principled basis. We should respect one another even when our views differ profoundly.
I join in the hymns of welcome to the new Leader of the House. When might we have a debate about the Government’s new life chances strategy and how it might help children of alcoholics? Like many other hon. Members I am the child of an alcoholic and grew up knowing what that particular hell is like. But I was lucky. Overall, children of alcoholics are three times more likely to contemplate suicide and to become alcoholics themselves. This issue is no longer marginal. It affects 2.5 million children in our country, which means that one in five children are the innocent victims of drink. We could not change things for our parents, but we can change things for our children. This Government could help, and we should debate how.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue. Like many other Members, I suspect, I have come across some of the very serious problems he has described in my constituency casework. I undertake to let my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education know about the priority the right hon. Gentleman places on the subject and I am sure he will get a response from the Department.
Following on from the point raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), will the Leader of the House send out a search party to find the updated drugs strategy, as it has gone missing in Government? May we have a statement to reveal how the Government will tackle the growing funding crisis in residential rehab across our country, with cuts of more than 50% to drug treatment budgets? Some areas, such as Birmingham, are not making any referrals to residential rehab, which means the end of the life chances of many vulnerable adults.
My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully, and I shall draw his comments to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health.
The EU Referendum Act 2016, which we debated in the last parliamentary Session, contains no requirement for the Government to implement the result of the referendum or for setting a time by when we should trigger article 50. A lot of constituents have come to see me because they are concerned about the implications of that. This week I met local farmers, who are particularly concerned about EU funding streams and are asking for assurance on that issue. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether we will have an opportunity to debate those very important matters as soon as possible after we return from the summer recess?
The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that it is ultimately for Parliament to determine our membership of the European Union but the Government have consistently said and have acted on the basis that the referendum outcome would be decisive and they would honour the result, whatever it turned out to be. That is the approach that the Government intend to take; the country would expect no less.
The hon. Lady raised a serious point about agriculture. That is very much at the top of the priority list for the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will be considering how to address the question of the next few years of farm funding while we are still in the EU, in particular for those programmes that might carry over beyond the actual date of exit. I am sure that Parliament will have opportunities to debate that and other matters soon after the recess, and of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will have a dedicated Question Time, when the hon. Lady and others will be able to press him on such matters.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the distribution of funds by local enterprise partnerships? The LEP in our area had Southend as No. 4 on its list and we have dropped off the radar dramatically. Something needs to be looked at there.
My understanding is that that was an internal decision by the local enterprise partnership for south Essex, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make representations—I am sure he will do—on behalf of his constituents to the LEP. If that is not successful, I am sure that the relevant Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be keen to hear from him.
May I too welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post? I well recall the many happy although fruitless hours we spent together on the original European Union (Referendum) Bill. Whatever happened to that? May I support the hon. Members who have raised the issue of Southern Trains and the appalling service that Govia Thameslink Railway is providing? The Mayor of London has written to the Secretary of State for Transport to say that he is prepared to take on the Southern franchise. In arranging a debate in Government time on that matter, will the Leader of the House prevail on the Secretary of State to accept the Mayor’s offer or at least to look into it in great detail?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to consider all options, but it is not the transfer of the franchise that is the answer: it is for the management to get on top of the operational difficulties that do exist and for management and unions to sort out the industrial dispute that is aggravating matters at the moment.
I echo the words of many right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the Leader of the House to his post. I also welcome his deputy, and I am sure that they will make an excellent team.
I understand that the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport is visiting Derby this afternoon to discuss the midlands engine. May we have a debate not just on improving the roads in the midlands, but on ensuring that the rail industry is given the same level of investment? It is also important to note that “midlands” means east as well as west midlands.
I thank my hon. Friend for her words of welcome to my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and me.
Yes is my answer. The very fact that the Transport Secretary is visiting Derby today, so early in his tenure, is a visible demonstration that the midlands engine is about the east midlands just as much as the west midlands. The strategy that the Government plan to have in place by March next year is multimodal, in the jargon—it will cover rail as well as roads.
When my constituent, Mrs Clark, became a kinship carer on the tragic death of her daughter, the backdating of child tax credit payments beyond three months was only done after a protracted process culminating in two appeals to the Adjudicator’s Office, adding to the stress on the family. Will the Leader of the House set aside Government time for a debate on the payment of child and other relevant benefits to new carers after a lone parent dies?
The details that the hon. Gentleman has given about that particular case concern me, and I am sure that the relevant Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions will be happy to look into it to see whether anything went wrong in the system.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place. I wonder whether he has had a chance to look at early-day motion 351 in my name regarding the persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.
[That this House condemns the recent killings of innocent Hindu priests in Bangladesh; urges the government of Bangladesh to take strong steps to tackle the increasing levels of violence against minority Hindu communities in the region and ensure their safety and security; and urges the Government to encourage the government of Bangladesh to put perpetrators of violence against religious minorities in the region on trial as soon as possible.]
This week, I hosted a meeting commemorating the Jagannath Hall massacre 45 years ago. Still we see Hindu priests murdered and other religious minorities massacred. May we have a debate in Government time on reordering the overseas development aid we give to Bangladesh, so that more money is aimed at the security of minorities rather than just capacity building?
I will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for International Development to my hon. Friend’s last point. Bangladesh is experiencing a wave of violent terrorism driven by Islamist extremism that is targeting religious and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT people and independent journalists and editors. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are in regular contact with Ministers at all levels in the Bangladesh Government. We will continue to do everything we can to try to help the Bangladesh Government to bring about an end to these appalling incidents.
I detect a new acronym creeping into Government language: PBO. That does not stand for the Public Bill Office, but post-Brexit opportunities. One of the most important tools for business is connectivity, whether from Scotland, Northern Ireland or the regions into London, or from London to international markets. If we are going to maximise Britain’s opportunities, we need the Government response to the Davies commission. It is long overdue and the Prime Minister ducked it yesterday. Will the Leader of the House—I welcome him and his deputy to their new positions and wish them success—tell us whether he has had any indication from No. 10 or the Department for Transport that we might have a statement in September, rather than later?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. The new Transport Secretary and the new Prime Minister will obviously want to brief themselves thoroughly on the Davies commission conclusions and the other issues around this very important decision. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister believes it would be right to take the decision as soon as possible. As soon as the Government are in a position to make a statement to the House, we will do so.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is in his post, as I am that the Deputy Leader is in his post. I welcome him to the Front Bench. May we have a debate on the welfare of dogs? There is much material that could be used in such a debate, such as: the appalling practice of dogfighting; the terrible distress caused by the theft of dogs, which has happened to a number of my constituents; and the great deal of distress experienced by dogs left in cars during very hot weather. Last weekend, the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency helpline received 106 reports of dogs left in hot environments. I suspect that that figure will be much higher for this week, which has been unseasonably hot. May we have a debate to draw attention to the welfare of dogs and how such things can cause unnecessary distress?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue for those of us who are concerned about animal welfare. In his reference to how people sometimes leave pet dogs in cars in hot weather, he alighted on the fact that often for such issues it is not a matter of a need for new legislation, but a matter of people recognising that they have a responsibility to care for the animals they own. If a debate enables my hon. Friend to highlight that, I can see the benefit of such a debate taking place. I would direct him towards either the Adjournment debate process or the Backbench Business Committee, where he might find those opportunities.
I congratulate the Leader of the House, and may I congratulate him on winning next year’s prize for the most reduced carbon footprint? May I also join in the tributes to Noeleen Delaney who, like all the staff in the House, serves us with dedication and discretion. She is ready with consideration and chat, but—typical of Donegal decency—never gossip.
Will the Leader commission a study of how many amendments and groups of amendments this Chamber discharges without any debate whatever, leaving it to the unelected fur-ocrats up the building here to get the enhanced reputation as the revising Chamber and the key amending Chamber? In this age of taking back control, can this Chamber take more control of the legislation that passes through Parliament?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. He raises an important point. Ministers have a responsibility to ensure that Bills brought to the House are technically sound, that the policy has been properly worked out and that there is no ambiguity about the intention of particular clauses. The House collectively then has a responsibility, through the programming process, to ensure that Bills are properly debated and that we do not waste time simply scoring party political points, particularly in Committee and on Report. It then has a responsibility to allocate time fairly so that all aspects of the Bill can be properly considered. There are lessons for the Government but also for the House collectively on how we might do our job better.
Many constituents have raised with me the awareness and treatment of Lyme disease, with which I was recently diagnosed after a constituent came to my surgery and raised my own awareness of the symptoms. There is a stark issue here concerning both awareness and clarity about the treatment that is available and should be used. Will the Leader of the House please consider a debate in Government time on this important issue?
I am aware from a constituency case of my own of some of the uncertainties regarding the available treatments. I will make sure that the relevant Health Minister is aware of my hon. Friend’s concern and responds to her.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment. There seems to be a growing consensus across the House in opposition to the proposals by the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) to privatise Channel 4. Most recently, we heard the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), the former Culture Minister, on Radio 4 yesterday. When will the Secretary of State come to the House with a statement confirming that this valuable asset will be kept in public ownership?
This will be one of the many items on the agenda of my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I am sure she will want to spend the summer considering this and other matters and then report her decisions to the House as soon as she is able.
I also welcome the Leader of the House and his deputy. May we have a debate on the better care fund and, in particular, how it applies in Staffordshire? We have seen £15 million not given to the county council, as a result of which services such as drug and alcohol services—already referred to by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes)—and numbers of health visitors are set to be drastically reduced.
A balance needs to be struck between the responsibility of central Government to set the overall budget for local authorities and the national health service and those of local authorities and NHS managers to ensure that their services are structured in a way that maximises the value received for each pound spent. That sometimes means a need for significant reforms in how services are delivered, but I take note of what my hon. Friend says about Staffordshire. I am sure he will want to seize the opportunity during Health Question Time and Communities and Local Government Question Time, after we return, to make those points directly to the responsible Ministers.
I welcome the new Leader of the House to his position. He has the respect of the entire House because of the courteous way he always operated in his previous ministerial positions. I also pay tribute to Noeleen Delaney. Her 30 years of service in the House epitomise everything that is good about public service.
May we have a debate about the personal independence payments legislation? My constituent Caroline Davie was refused PIP because she had been out of the country for 54 weeks, when the legislation states that someone cannot be out of the country for more than 52. She was out of the country for 54 weeks because she was involved in a serious car accident in Australia seven months into a trip to Australia on a year-long visa. It took a long time in intensive care, a long time in the spinal injuries unit and a long time to co-ordinate both the specialist spinal unit in Glasgow and landing certificates in Dubai to get her home. This meant she was 54 weeks out of the country. This, surely, is not fair, and a reasonable person would see that it was not fair. She is now in a wheelchair, requiring additional support, so I hope that the Minister will be able to look at the situation.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind remarks. Clearly, there have to be rules that govern the payment of all kinds of welfare benefits. The hon. Gentleman describes a case in which he felt there were powerful extenuating circumstances. If he writes to me with the details of the case, I shall refer it to the relevant Department for Work and Pensions Minister and ensure that he gets a response.
The Leader of the House is clearly enjoying his new role, and I warmly congratulate him on his appointment. The future of health care in Shropshire has been on hold for three years while a programme board, known as “Future Fit”, deliberates on possible closures to A&E. It continues to be unable to reach a decision and seems to be in a state of near paralysis. This has cost over £3 million and caused real anxiety to my constituents and poor morale at the Princess Royal hospital in Telford. Please may we have a debate on the issue?
On the basis of my hon. Friend’s description of the situation in Shropshire, it seems to me that what is needed is certainty that the local NHS management, including the senior clinicians who will be part of those teams, will decide on what they want and provide justification for any changes. As for a debate, this strikes me as something that might well fall within the scope of an Adjournment debate that either a ballot or Mr Speaker might be able to make available to my hon. Friend.
Today’s Order Paper shows a written statement on the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, although I do not think it has yet been published online. The Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee has already expressed regret at the closure of the commission. Will the Leader of the House join me in commending its achievements, since its establishment in 2008, under its two chairmen, Sir Mike Rake and Sir Charlie Mayfield? In view of its record of independent analysis and advice to successive Governments, is it not a shame that the enthusiasm for independent analysis and advice of the Government who set up the commission is not shared by the current Government?
I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing thanks to the commission and its leadership for all the work that they have done. It is also a fact, however, that from time to time, Governments of all political colours need to review the institutions through which policy is delivered, and this is one of those occasions.
I welcome and congratulate the new Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House on their well-deserved promotions. I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s appearance before the Procedure Committee. May we have a debate on the ministerial statement issued by the Prime Minister on Monday about the changes to the machinery of government and, in particular, the establishment of the new Government Departments? This would give Members across the House an opportunity to consider what consequences flow from these changes. The Leader of the House briefly mentioned that time would be set aside for questions, but will it be a Question Time for one Department or each Department and how long will it be for? Are the Government going to create new Select Committees so that Back Benchers can scrutinise these new Departments? May we have a debate in Government time as soon as possible?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. I look forward to the opportunity of appearing before the European Scrutiny Committee—I mean the Procedure Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman has been released from the European Scrutiny Committee.
I have indeed.
I have had a meeting with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, our hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and I hope that there will be a fruitful dialogue between my office and the Committee. I can confirm that there will be dedicated question times for the new Departments, and that a schedule of those question times should be available very soon, if it has not already been published. We shall also need to establish new Select Committees, and I hope that we can proceed with that as soon as possible in the autumn. Ultimately, however, it is a matter not for the Government, but for the House.
I, too, welcome the Leader of the House. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who must be the longest-serving spokesperson for matters concerning the Leader of the House in this Parliament.
Will the Leader of the House take a fresh look at the Procedure Committee’s report on private Members’ Bills? The current system is completely discredited, despite the massive success of Scottish National party Members in the ballot. We urgently need a debate and a vote on reform, in Government time.
That is one of the issues that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee raised with me. I said that, as a new Leader of the House, I would take a fresh look at it, but, as I think the hon. Gentleman will understand, I am not going to make any commitments either way at this stage.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Northampton- shire deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), on their promotions.
As one of his first acts in office, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement when we return from the recess on the financial situation of hospitals in high-growth areas? Kettering General Hospital is fantastic, and the directors, clinicians, nurses and ancillary staff do a tremendous job, but its financial deficit was £6.7 million last year, it is £11.2 million this year, and it is projected to be £15 million next year. Last year almost 400,000 people went to our local hospital for treatment, and the number of houses being built and the rise in the local population are placing an incredible strain on it. Something needs to be done, so will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to make that statement?
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. As a Member who represents another high-growth area, I am very familiar with the issues that he has raised. Such issues need to be viewed holistically, because it is a question of looking not simply at the provision of hospital services but at the treatment of health services as a whole. Sometimes the pressures can be eased by some sensible reconfiguration of services overall, but account must be taken of the way in which medical science has moved on, and the fact that more people can now be treated as out-patients or day patients rather than having a long in-patient stay. However, I will draw my hon. Friend’s points about Kettering to the attention of the Health Secretary.
I, too, welcome the new Leader of the House.
In 2012, my 14-year-old constituent Elly Blacknell was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and her treatment included having her leg amputated above the knee. Recently Elly relapsed and asked to re-access Mifamurtide, a drug that she had been prescribed but could not tolerate when she was younger. Her oncologist, Professor David Walker of Nottingham Children’s Hospital, has acted as an advocate for her, but has been unable to find a way through the NHS system of funding, although Mifamurtide is the first drug to be launched specifically to deal with such tumours for 30 years. May we have a debate on the difficulties involved in introducing new drugs to treat rare tumours in children, which are so badly needed by remarkable young people like Elly?
For obvious reasons, I am not familiar with the case or the drug, but I will draw the hon. Lady’s remarks to the attention of the responsible Health Minister. I also suggest that this is precisely the sort of subject for which an Adjournment debate in the autumn might be suitable.
I, too, join in the congratulations to the Leader of the House and the deputy on their new roles. Earlier this week a critical report from the Care Quality Commission was published branding a care home in my constituency inadequate. This is a continuation of a number of serious and critical reports, some of which have resulted in the closure of care homes. May we have a debate about the criteria CQC operate and whether it has become more rigorous, or whether there has indeed been a decline in the standards in these care homes?
My hon. Friend makes a good case, and I hope he might want to take this subject to the Backbench Business Committee because the questions he raises will concern a large number of constituencies and many Members from all parties.
Given the frightening rise in bigoted and racist incidents against EU nationals in the UK, will the Leader of the House call a debate on granting EU nationals living and working in the UK before 23 June the right to remain so we can push this Government to make the right decision and defeat growing racism and bigotry in this country?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear indeed that our objective is that we should ensure there is indeed a legally binding agreement that people who are here lawfully are able to stay, and equally that British citizens who are lawfully resident in other EU member states should be able to continue living or studying or working there after we leave the EU. These are things that will have to be dealt with, I hope early on, in the forthcoming negotiations.
The physical attacks and the abuse—directed not just at EU nationals, but sometimes at people from other ethnic or religious minorities in this country—bring shame upon this country. All of us have a responsibility to denounce such behaviour and make it clear that it has no place whatsoever in our society, and I have always found that those hon. Members who have, for principled, honourable reasons, taken a stance opposing the UK’s membership of the EU have also been vehement in saying this sort of behaviour has no place in the kind of society they want to see.
May I also warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and his deputy on their new appointments?
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the manifesto commitment, which ought to now be honoured, on the 15-year rule for overseas voters? It is reckoned that 1 million people are disfranchised by this exemption, and it is a particularly sore subject among those living in the EU at the moment who were denied a vote in the referendum.
The Government remain committed to new legislation that will lift the 15-year bar, which was introduced by Mr Blair’s Government. It is a complex matter because we would have to not just extend the franchise but establish a new system of voter registration, which is not straightforward given that voter registers no longer exist for periods that go back longer than 15 years. We have to find some way of allocating those individuals to constituencies and verifying a previous place of residence, but my hon. Friends at the Cabinet Office are at work on these matters already.
In view of what the Leader of the House said earlier, may I remind him that it was a Labour Government who introduced the national minimum wage against strenuous Tory opposition? I remember it well because I voted for the change.
In view of the further situation in Turkey—the state of emergency, the thousands more teachers, academics, judges, journalists who are now being suspended from work, as well as the travel ban and all the other measures, apart from those who have been arrested—may we have a statement today on the situation, bearing in mind that the House will not be meeting again until 5 September? Will the British Government make it clear to the Turkish authorities that what is happening is causing deep concern in this country? It does not seem to be the most effective way of dealing with those who plotted the coup last week.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that it was a Conservative Government who introduced the national living wage, and the Conservative-led coalition and the Conservative Government who have taken very large numbers of the lowest paid people in our society out of tax altogether. It was also a Conservative Government who led us to a situation in which there are 2.5 million more people in work than there were when the Labour party left office.
On Turkey, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. None of us would have wished to see a military coup succeed in that country. Equally, the political wellbeing of Turkey will be strengthened if it sticks by the principles of a plural society, multi-party democracy and respect for human rights. Those are principles to which the Turkish Government have committed themselves, not least through Turkey’s membership of the Council of Europe and its participation in the EU accession process. That will be the approach we take in our partnership with Turkey.
I am organising a consultation in my constituency on the targeted reduction of VAT for businesses operating in the tourism sector. The policy operates in most parts of the EU, including Ireland, and it is very successful in drawing tourists to those areas to spend their money there. May we have a debate on this matter soon after the recess to discuss ways of helping to boost our tourism businesses?
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make those arguments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his team at Treasury questions. I understand the case that he is making, but the reality is that a VAT concession in one area means that the money has to be found from some other source of taxation.
On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new ministerial position and wish him well for the years ahead.
The death of the young soldier Joshua Hoole while on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons has again raised the issue of the welfare of our soldiers. May I, on behalf of the whole House, convey to his fiancée and family our sincere sympathy? He was a soldier of immense courage, strength and ability, and we sorrow at his death. As the Leader of the House will know, the Defence Select Committee, of which I am a member, has recently made recommendations for training that included the establishment of a defence safety authority, the introduction of a duty holder concept across the armed forces, and the recommendation that the Ministry of Defence should undertake to publicise these measures widely so that families can have confidence that, while military training might be hard and dangerous, the organisers of that training are known and accountable. We recommended that the changes should be put in place by 2017-18. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement on this matter in order to bring forward the timescale for implementation by the MOD?
I will report the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The death of that young soldier on 19 July was a tragedy, and the thoughts and sympathies of everyone in the House are with his family, friends and colleagues at what must be an appallingly difficult time for them. A civilian police investigation and a service inquiry into the tragedy are taking place, and it would clearly be wrong for me to speculate on the lessons to be learned until we know the outcome of those reports.
I recently convened a support and campaign group for the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign in West Lothian and Livingston. One of my constituents said that her divorce settlement was predicated on the age at which she would retire and get her pension, but that has now been moved by several years. Will the right hon. Gentleman, whom I welcome to his place, perhaps have a discussion with his colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about taking a fresh look at the issue in the hope that fresh eyes will not bring the same stale, old ideas but some justice for the WASPI women?
That is something that the House debated and voted on relatively recently, and I do not in any way want to suggest that there is likely to be a change in policy. Nevertheless, I will report the hon. Lady’s concerns to my right hon. Friend at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I will just gently say that everybody will get in. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is a very, very, very fine man, is the human equivalent of a smouldering volcano as he sits waiting to be called with ever-growing frustration at the fact that he has not yet been called. I simply say that the hon. Gentleman will get in. He has been here long enough to know that it did not always use to be that way and that people did not always get in. Much as I enormously admire the hon. Gentleman, he has—if I may politely say so—a slightly underdeveloped sense of others, and I cannot help but think that if he spoke three times in the day, he would think, “Why on earth didn’t I get called to speak a fourth?” He will get in, but he will just have to be a bit patient. We are saving him up—he is a specialist delicacy in the House.
I, too, welcome the new Leader of the House to his place.
Dr Kate Granger, an inspirational 34-year-old, is in a West Yorkshire hospice dying from terminal cancer. She started the “Hello, my name is...” campaign, a worldwide initiative to encourage health professionals to introduce themselves and to treat all patients with dignity. This week she achieved her aim of raising £250,000 for a Yorkshire cancer charity, but her dying wish is to have the new Prime Minister endorse her campaign. Could the Leader of the House use his considerable powers of persuasion to facilitate this amazing lady’s dying wish?
The case that the hon. Lady describes strikes me as inspiring, and I immediately want to pass on both sympathy and admiration to the young lady’s family and friends. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me with the details, I will be in touch with the Prime Minister.
I found it positive to hear the Leader of the House condemn the racist incidents that have taken place since the EU referendum. It was unfortunate, however, that the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity on Wednesday to condemn the unforgivably racist language used in the past by the new Foreign Secretary. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of reflecting carefully on the language that we use in our roles here and the impact that it has on other people?
As you regularly remind us, Mr Speaker, we must all bear in mind the impact that the language we choose has outside this building—even if the impact may sometimes be not what we intended. I have been genuinely shocked by the way in which in recent weeks decent, law-abiding people, who have been living here for 20 or 30 years in many cases, have been subjected to abuse or even worse. It is important that all of us, whichever political party we are from and whichever side we supported during the referendum campaign, come together to say that that type of behaviour has no place in our society.
I must tell the House that I have just been advised by a distinguished bewigged counsellor to the Chair that alternatives to “smouldering volcano” are “pregnant volcano” and “imminently explosive volcano”. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
As a genuine, authentic Back Bencher, may I welcome the Leader of the House to his position? I hope he will be a good force for making sure this is about business questions, rather than about some of the things that go on under the name of business questions. Mr Speaker called him an egghead earlier, and I hope that did not cause offence. Those who worked on the European private Member’s Bill and watched him in action believe he must have had some training in acting and drama, as his gestures and everything he does at the Dispatch Box suggest that that is the case.
I was a smouldering volcano, Mr Speaker, because I wanted to say it is about time we had a major debate in this House on the barriers to people with autism living a full life. I chair the autism commission and we have just produced a fantastic report on the barriers in the health service to autistic people living a full life. Surely an early debate when we get back on that subject would be welcomed, even by the Speaker.
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I agree with him that, as a House and as a country, this question of giving greater opportunity to people with autistic spectrum disorders is something to which we should turn our attention. I hope this might be a matter that the Backbench Business Committee would see as a priority.
I am more of a slow burner than a smouldering volcano, but I am still very passionate.
I welcome the new Leader of the House to his place. May I ask him for a debate in Government time, or a statement, on the effectiveness of the assessment process, the stability of mandatory reconsideration and the cost to the taxpayer of the tribunal appeals process for personal independence payments, because all of these things are causing great distress to claimants in Neath, in Wales and across the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. These are clearly matters that my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions will wish to consider, and I will draw her remarks to their attention. I think that the quickest way to bring these matters before the House would be for her to raise them during the first DWP questions after we come back.
Last September, the Government announced that they were likely to publish the childhood obesity strategy “in the autumn”. Autumn came and went, as did winter and spring. At an urgent question you granted me kindly in May, Mr Speaker, the public health Minister stood at that Dispatch Box and she intimated to the House that the strategy would be published before the summer recess, giving Members the opportunity to debate thoroughly the contents therein. Where is it?
This is undoubtedly an important issue, but one or two other political events in the past few weeks have meant that a number of announcements have been postponed. We have a new public health Minister in place now, who, I am sure, will want to give urgent attention to this point.
I, too, wish to welcome the new Leader of the House to his post. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I pay tribute to his wisdom at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which I fear will be much missed in the future. I also pay tribute to Noeleen Delaney, a very long-serving person in this House, for her service and kindness.
There are cat lovers as well as dog lovers here, so I wish to ask the Leader of the House about the cat at No. 10, who looks in a sorry situation, limping with one paw in the air. Is that because he is missing the old Prime Minister? Does the new Prime Minister care for the welfare of cats as much as the old Prime Minister did?
Finally, I want to ask for a statement or a debate as soon as we get back in September on the very serious situation in Turkey, where some of my friends have been arrested in this first round of arrests, and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria. Nearly 100,000 people are in detention, some of them in very bad conditions, and I ask that the Foreign Office keeps its eye on the ball as far as Syria and Turkey, in particular, are concerned.
First, I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind remarks. On the two foreign policy questions she raised, even though the House will be in recess the work of government will go on, and the Foreign Office will be maintaining a close watch on events in both Turkey and Syria. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will also maintain a key interest not only in the humanitarian disaster to which she alluded, but in making sure that the pledges made by this country and by other countries to put money down to help those in such enormous need in Syria and neighbouring countries are delivered in practice and that the aid gets through to them. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will wish to keep the House updated when we return from recess about what is happening in that region.
On the other matters the right hon. Lady mentioned, I can completely reassure her about the Prime Minister’s good intentions towards Larry the cat. I saw some reports in the media that he had been involved in a fracas with the Foreign Office cat. I hope that they have now established a modus vivendi.
I welcome the Leader of the House and his deputy to their posts. Eagle-eyed Members will have noticed some 30 written statements to be made by the Government on today’s Order Paper. A cynic could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that the Government are trying to bury bad news before the summer recess. Does he wish to dispel this cynicism by giving Members a debate to discuss and consider the contents of these statements on our return?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome, but she is misconstruing the Government’s intention, which is to put the information before Parliament. She would have had much more cause for grievance had Ministers withheld this information, which instead is being made available. The opportunity is now there for all Members to look at the announcements being made in those written ministerial statements, to come to a considered view about them and then to return to the fray in September ready to question and challenge Ministers on the basis of some time for analysis and reflection.
Another fine ending, Mr Speaker! I confess that when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister for Europe, I used to feel sorry for him, given that he was sent out here like a lamb to the wolves every so often. I still do, because he has left behind the finest salons of Europe to come here every Thursday to fend off requests for debates on Southern bloody rail, which I am fed up with hearing about. None the less, I welcome him to his position.
This week, the Transport Committee heard evidence from Vauxhall about the fact that despite recalling almost 300,000 vehicles, almost 300 have spontaneously burst into flames, putting families and consumers in danger. We have also had the Volkswagen scandal over the past 12 months. May we therefore have a debate on the car industry, so that we can push it to get its act together and stop conning consumers, putting people’s lives at risk and endangering public health, and so that we can urge the Government finally to get their finger out and bring this industry to book?
The right sequence of events would be for us to see the report from the Transport Committee, which will doubtless make recommendations to the Government and to other parties, and then to have the benefit of the Committee’s findings and the evidence it has taken when the House comes to debate this subject. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are opportunities during the parliamentary year for Select Committee reports to be debated, either on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall. If there is a strong body of support for this report to be so debated, that seems to be a good opportunity. Finally, I say to him that although I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent serving in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is to this House that I sought election in the first place and I regard having been asked by the Prime Minister to serve as Leader of the House of Commons as an enormous privilege and an enormous opportunity. I have no regrets whatsoever. It is amazing after one is elected to this place on behalf of one’s constituents, but to be asked to serve as Leader of the House is a privilege indeed.
I thank the Leader of the House and all colleagues who took place in those exchanges. I wish colleagues a very enjoyable and stimulating, but restful—we hope—recess.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government rushed out some 21 ministerial statements today, right on recess day, which is appalling in itself, but not one was on fixed-odds betting terminals. The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 application, which sits in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and which was made by Newham council, 95 other councils and the Local Government Association—it is the biggest application under the Act—to lower fixed odds betting terminals’ stakes from £100 to £2 was lodged in December 2015. More than six months have now passed and we are at the summer recess. I understand that the deadline for this was 14 July and only one meeting has taken place, and that was the preliminary meeting between the Department and the LGA. The Minister has failed to update the House on the meetings with the LGA and to indicate what that first meeting was about, which is implicit under the conditions of the Act. The Act requires that the Government must try to reach agreement by constructive negotiation between the LGA and the Government, who must act in good faith with the provision that all DCMS support evidence is provided, including researchers’ advice. What advice will you give me, Mr Speaker, on this matter, which shows an appalling dereliction of responsibility?
My first advice to people who raise points of order is that the point of order should be brief. Secondly, I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is not a matter for the Chair, but that he has registered his dissatisfaction very forcefully through his point of order. Fortunately for him, he has done so, as he knows, in the presence of the Leader of the House and of the Deputy Leader of the House together with a number of representatives of the Patronage Secretary as well. My further observation is that if the hon. Gentleman is able to contribute to the second Adjournment debate this afternoon—it is up to him whether he seeks to do so—he might elicit a response from the Government to the points that he has raised. Admittedly, he will not have a responsible departmental Minister to answer today, but he might, as there is collective responsibility in Government, be able to attract some sort of response. I can tell that he is extremely dissatisfied, but we cannot let the best be the enemy of the good. In a pragmatic sense, I think that that is the best that he can hope for today.
Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tim Loughton, supported by Mr Graham Brady, Frank Field, Mark Durkan, Greg Mulholland and Caroline Lucas, presented a Bill to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to provide that opposite sex couples may enter a civil partnership; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 13 January 2017, and to be printed (Bill 58).
I beg to move,
That this House notes the indiscriminate and cruel nature of snares, the failure of previous attempts at voluntary and self-regulation amongst operators, and the continued suffering caused to thousands of animals every year by these traps; and calls on the Government to implement a full ban on the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares at the earliest opportunity.
First, my thanks go to the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to bring this motion to the House. I am keenly aware that, because of the urgent question on school funding, we are running late and that the summer Adjournment debate is generally oversubscribed, so I shall attempt to be brief and hope that we can conclude this matter in a reasonable time. I do not propose to push this matter to a Division, but let me assure the House that if there is a Division I will defend the motion.
Motions arising from Backbench Business debates have a somewhat uncertain pedigree—the status of them is disputed. They are not binding or mandatory. A number of motions have been passed in recent months urging the Government to take action, but the Government have declined so to do. Therefore, I have no illusion that, were this motion to be successful, Government action would swiftly follow; I suspect that it probably will not.
I will attempt to outline as briefly as I can what I believe to be an extremely compelling case for the prospect outlined in the motion. There is widespread support across the House for such a ban. I remember the late Eric Forth who used to be in the Chamber on Fridays meticulously—more so than just about anybody else. Whenever someone said that their Bill had widespread support from Members, he would wave his arms magisterially and say, “Where are they then?”
Well, where are they then?
They knew you were coming! No, that is not true.
I am deeply grateful to the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Cat Protection League and other animal welfare organisations that have assisted me in this matter. I also know that there are Members who are ideologically opposed to bans of any kind. Obviously, I do not share that view myself, but we need to exercise caution and judgment. The legal framework in this country under the rule of law is generally about regulating what behaviour is and is not permissible and what should and should not be punished.
On that point, is not one of the issues with the use of snares now that they simply are not being used for the stated purpose? Often, the species that is targeted is not the species that is captured.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his point. I hope to go on to elaborate on that in a bit more detail. The thrust of the motion is about not just the inherent cruelty and barbarism of snares—the single snare that is currently legal—but the gross inefficiency of them. They are not even useful in what they do, and they cause unacceptable consequences.
We have to exercise our responsibility as legislators when we are acting on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves—whether it be children or animals. I believe that there is an imperative here for us to take action. Snares are thin wire nooses set to trap animals seen as a pest or a threat, usually foxes and rabbits. They are intended to catch animals around the neck rather like a lasso. There are two types of snare. The self-locking snare, which is not legal, tightens around the animal the more it struggles. Even when the animal ceases to struggle, the device is still tightened and causes serious injury and death, but, as I said, that is illegal under the current regulations. This motion refers to the free-running snare, which is still currently legal. If it is operating properly, it should tighten as the captured animal struggles, but relax when the animal stops pulling. It is intended to hold the animal live until the snare operator returns to kill it, usually by shooting, or release it if the snare has not caught the right target creature. The disadvantage of a legal free-running snare is that it can in many circumstances act like a self-locking snare, which is illegal, when it becomes kinked or rusty.
Although their purpose is to immobilise target animals, most snares cause extreme suffering to animals and often lead to a painful, lingering death. Animals caught in snares suffer huge stress and can sustain horrific injuries. Snares can cause abdominal, chest, neck, leg and head injuries to animals. Some animals get their legs caught in snares and end up with the wire cutting through to the bone. Such animals may attempt to escape by gnawing off their own limbs. Others are caught around the body.
The number and diversity of animals that fall victim to snares is immense. It is not possible to control which animals will be caught in a snare. A snare set to catch a fox is just as capable of catching other species. Cats, dogs, badgers, otters, deer, hares and livestock have all suffered terrible injuries or been killed by snares.
In 2012 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs produced an extensive report on snaring in England and Wales, which suggests that up to 1.7 million animals are trapped in these primitive devices every year, which equates to almost 200 animals caught each and every hour. Moreover, because snares capture any animal that happens to step into them, little more than a quarter of the animals trapped were found in DEFRA’s field studies to be foxes, the intended victims. The other three quarters included hares, 33%; badgers, 26%—both of which are protected species—and a further 14% described as “other”. That is almost a quarter of a million animals, including deer and domestic pets such as cats and dogs, captured every year. That goes to the heart of the inefficiency of snares as a device for animal control.
DEFRA’s independent working group on snares concluded in 2005 that it would be difficult to reduce non-target catches to less than 40%. According to DEFRA’s 2012 report, 260,000 snares are in use in England and Wales. The report reveals that 95% of landholdings do not use snares, with the use of both fox and rabbit snares being far more likely on landholdings with game bird shooting. I will not go into detail about my attitude towards shooting as a so-called sport. That is an argument for another day, but in common with more than 62% of the population of this country, I am opposed to shooting as a sport and cannot see what possible pleasure can be derived from blasting a living creature to smithereens.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the piece of scientific research called “Waders on the Edge”, which shows that the place to see species such as curlew and lapwing, where their numbers are rising rather than falling, is on managed shoots in the uplands?
I am aware of many things; I am not aware of the hon. Gentleman’s entry in the register and I am not sure what relevance that has. Perhaps we can have a look later. There are all kinds of conflicting arguments, but the snare and the way it is used is inherently cruel and barbaric. If the price of seeing a curlew or a lapwing is the considerable suffering of tens of thousands of innocent creatures, I do not think that is a price worth paying.
In all the matters that the hon. Gentleman has just laid out, the key concern for me and for the many constituents who contacted me is the welfare of wildlife. Does he agree that we should put that at the top of our priority list?
Exactly. Animal welfare more generally is a widespread concern. I am sure every Member of this House knows that it is one of the subjects on which constituents most regularly contact us.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not for the moment. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye at some stage, and then he will be able to tell us what his entry is.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee, and on the compelling case that he is making. Will he accept from me on behalf of the constituents who contacted me that most people are appalled by the barbarity of the practice and the cruelty inherent in it? More power to his elbow for raising this important issue.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and that of his constituents.
Snares are currently completely legal in only six European countries—Belgium, France, Ireland, Spain, Latvia and the United Kingdom. In all other countries in the EU they are banned, strictly controlled or are not used at all, so the idea that they are an essential means of animal control clearly is not true. Large numbers of European countries do not use them at all. The predominant legislation in this matter covering all parts of the United Kingdom is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which prohibits the use of self-locking snares, as I have already mentioned, lays out the requirement to inspect the snare once in every 24 hours, and prohibits the use of snares to catch various protected mammals, including otters and badgers.
The code of practice acknowledges the welfare problems associated with snaring. DEFRA introduced a voluntary code on the use of snares in 2005 which was designed to reduce the suffering caused by snares through the adoption of best practice. Gamekeepers have shown themselves to be incapable of complying with DEFRA’s recommended code of practice on the use of snares. In its 2012 report, which I mentioned previously, DEFRA found that although 95% of gamekeepers surveyed were aware of the code of practice and some—38%—had also been trained in the use of fox snares, not a single fox snare operator visited during the study was fully compliant with the code of conduct a full seven years after it had been introduced.
Among farmers there is a lack of knowledge of the code of practice, with a shocking 36% of farmers unaware of its existence. It was clear from the report that, whether people were aware of it or not, the code of practice was not being adhered to. Most snare operators use snares which are not compliant with the code of practice. Some 60% of snare operators had at some time caught non-target animals in fox snares. The majority of snare operators set snares in sites where entanglement was likely. Most rabbit snare operators took no measures to avoid the capture of non-target animals and nearly 30% had caught a domestic cat. Snares must not be used as killing devices. However, according to the DEFRA study, 19% of snare users set snares to kill the target animal. Over 30% of snare operators visited during the study were found to be using snares which were rusty or where the cable was distorted.
The League Against Cruel Sports has always questioned the likelihood that snares would remain smoothly free-running when used in an outdoor environment, and has warned of the potential welfare impacts of rusty wires, which can prevent the snare from slackening off.