House of Commons
Thursday 13 October 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and I am proud that that was in our manifesto. The Government are pleased to be supporting the COP21 Paris initiative to which the hon. Lady refers to promote a 0.4% average growth rate of carbon storage in soils worldwide. Opportunities are rather limited for most UK soil types to increase carbon stores, except for peat land, of which the UK has a high proportion. Our focus therefore is their restoration through Government funding and support for private sector initiatives, in which we are investing millions of pounds.
I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome her to her new role. Soil is a Cinderella ecosystems issue, yet it is vital for growing food, preventing floods, and capturing and storing carbon. The Environmental Audit Committee’s recent report welcomed the Government’s commitment to increase soil carbon levels by that 0.4% a year as part of our Paris climate commitments, but we could not find any evidence of Government policies to support that goal. With the environment plan and the carbon plan delayed, can she set out as a matter of urgency specific, measurable time-bound plans to improve the nation’s soil and peat lands?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. I agree that soil health is absolutely critical and I note the inquiry of the Select Committee. The 25-year environment plan, which I hope will be out shortly—or at least the framework of it—will provide an opportunity for people to contribute to that. Meanwhile, the Government are investing in research to understand better how we can work more closely with farmers to improve soil health in the forthcoming years.
I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s publication of last August entitled “New model farming: resilience through diversity”. I hope that she will have a look at it and get a chance to see the CPRE’s suggestions for changing the measures of success for farming. This includes looking at diverse outputs from land management such as carbon storage, water retention and landscape character. Could she look at that and respond to the CPRE?
My right hon. Friend mentions a report that I have not yet read, but I am sure it will be in my box this weekend for me to digest. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has met the CPRE to discuss the matter. There are opportunities to continue to improve soil health. I visited Honeydale farm in Witney yesterday with the excellent Conservative candidate and we also saw a demonstrator farm. There are some interesting opportunities for modern agriculture and the countryside.
Soil is such an important part of the environment. It is not just a growing medium; it is very much an ecological habitat. Will the Minister kindly comment on whether we could have a soil monitoring scheme? Unless we know the actual state of our soils, we will not know how to deal with them.
I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend just the other day to discuss this matter. I have referred to the research that is happening—we are not waiting for the 10-year surveys. The opportunity afforded to us by leaving the European Union will allow the Government to take a holistic approach to improving the environment, including soil health. It will be a bespoke approach for this country, rather than one that is restricted by EU directives.
Clear food labelling is vital to show consumers exactly what they are buying. We want to promote the Great British food brand as strongly as possible. One of my top priorities is to look at what more can be done to make it easier for consumers to identify our high-quality home-grown food.
The Prime Minister recently said that, with Brexit looming, we will be able to choose our own methods of food labelling, but is there not a lot more that we could do on country of origin and method of production labelling? While we are still in the European Union, we ought to emulate some of our EU partners.
I certainly welcome the hon. Lady’s interest in this matter. As she will know, country of origin labelling is already mandatory for unprocessed beef, pork, sheep and goat meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, olive oil, fish, shellfish, wine and honey. There are many additional voluntary schemes, which we are keen to support. As she points out, there will be further opportunities, as we leave the EU, to look at what more consumers would like to see from labelling.
The dairy industry has not really been able to label properly the Great British cheese, butter and milk that is the best in the world. Can we now take this opportunity to ensure that we get the British flag and label on our dairy products?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He and I share an ambition for the strongest possible promotion of Great British food. He will be aware that the majority of dairy and processed meat products are compliant with the industry’s voluntary principles for origin labelling, but we can, of course, always do more, and we are working with the industry to look at what those options are.
I thank the Minister for her comments so far. In my constituency, many farmers have already diversified—Glastry Farm ice cream, Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods are examples—but they have found difficulties with labelling. What help has been given to provide clear guidance and support? What initiatives are in place to provide that to new business and to make sure that the labelling is correct?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is an absolute Government priority that food information must not mislead—it must be accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer. There are clear guidelines on which foods must carry mandatory information but, as I have already mentioned, a number of food producers already go further on a voluntary basis to try to ensure that they meet consumers’ desires for more information about the food that they eat. I am very proud that the UK has some of the highest standards for food and food traceability in the world.
One Welsh business in my constituency that understands the importance and power of labelling and branding is Daioni, which exports organic British milk to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Emirates, and has plans to expand further. Will the Secretary of State or one of her Ministers meet Daioni to talk about its plans for international expansion and to tap into its expertise in exporting Great British food?
I would be absolutely delighted to do that. Exports of organic dairy produce are a huge success for the UK. Later today, I am off to the Great British export truck, which is parked at Stoneleigh, to hear about British exports. I am off to the Paris food fair to promote Great British food next week, and I am off to China next month to do exactly that. I am always very keen to promote the export of Great British food.
We have already designated 50 marine conservation zones, 99 special areas of conservation and 102 special protection areas within UK waters, so more than 17% of UK waters are now within marine protected areas. A third tranche of marine conservation zones will be designated in 2018, and I am proud to say that that will help to complete the blue belt around the English coastline.
I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. As well as the important habitats and wildlife that we have in our domestic waters, including those in the Thames estuary, the oceans around some of our overseas territories are home to hundreds of remarkable species. What action, if any, are we taking to protect them as well?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise those wonderful marine habitats. I am delighted to say that marine protected areas were declared around Pitcairn and St Helena in the past month, and work is in train to develop MPAs around Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, so the UK is set to double these protected areas to an area the size of India by 2020.
The right hon. Lady will know that the marine protections that have led to huge improvements in water quality and the conservation of our marine environment are underpinned largely by EU law. Can she guarantee now that, if we leave the EU, the standards that we currently enjoy will not be any less than they are now?
I can absolutely give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he will know, the Prime Minister has announced that we will nationalise the acquis communautaire. The advantage of the approach is that while there is continuity of legalisation, we also have the opportunity to look at what is right for the UK, instead of the 28 member states. Marine conservation zones derive from UK legislation, and we remain absolutely committed to our ambition of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better place than we found it.
Marine habitats will also be protected by the promotion of sustainable fishing, as practised by the UK inshore fleet and boats that fish out of Lowestoft. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will use the opportunity presented by Brexit to secure a better deal for under-10 metre boats?
My hon. Friend may be aware that we have already moved some quota to the under-10 metre boats, and it is absolutely our intention, as we leave the EU, to seek a good deal for every part of our great British food, farming and fishing sector. Our fishermen do a fabulous job; we absolutely support them and are totally focused on what we can do to create a better, more sustainable fishing industry.
Does the Minister agree that while marine conservation is fine—Labour Members support it wholeheartedly—we have to stop polluting the marine environment with the waste that we pour into it, all over the world? We need the EU and global intervention to stop the horrendous pollution of marine life throughout the world.
Marine conservation zones are not just fine; they are absolutely superb. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares that assessment. I can give him, as a good example, the work that we did just last month to ban microbeads in personal cosmetics and so on. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have been fighting for that. We are putting that into action, and that is an example of the UK’s commitment to much more protection for our marine environment.
Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), may I encourage the Secretary of State, and indeed the Minister of State, who has responsibility for fisheries, to engage with all sectors of the fishing industry when designing protections for marine habitats? If those habitats are to be effective, that is absolutely essential. The Minister of State knows that because he has a good record in this regard. Would the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Minister, be prepared to meet a delegation that I will bring from the Northern Isles, who are full of good ideas about what can be done?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of this sector in Scotland. We would be delighted to meet him. In fact, there are already a number of levels of engagement with analysing the opportunities that will arise from our leaving the EU. We will be very happy, keen and enthusiastic to meet his delegation.
Between the start of 2010 and the end of 2015, some 160,393 cattle were slaughtered and 3,961 badgers were removed under licence in England to prevent the spread of bovine TB. We will publish figures for 2016 in due course.
The loss of animal life as a result of trying to prevent this disease is absolutely horrendous. The Government are in the early years of a 25-year strategy to eliminate bovine TB. When does the Minister expect the low-risk area to be declared free of bovine TB?
We expect to have the low-risk area declared officially TB-free in the next four to five years—probably by the end of this Parliament. My hon. Friend makes a good point: this is a long haul. TB is a difficult disease to fight; it is slow-growing and insidious. That is why our strategy is very broad. The badger cull is one element, but we are doing many other things, including vaccination and putting in place cattle movement controls.
Not one single badger was culled in Wales due to the actions of the Welsh Government in supporting vaccination, but they face the same problem as authorities in England: a shortage of the vaccine. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we can maximise the use of vaccines in England and Wales?
I ensured that we continued to have vaccine available for important trial work that we are doing, specifically on developing an oral vaccine that we could deploy on badgers, which could give us an exit strategy from culls, once that was complete. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right: the World Health Organisation has asked people to prioritise use of the available vaccine on humans. It is worth noting that the dose needed for a badger is sometimes 10 times higher than that for an infant, so we have to be careful about how we use the vaccine. That is why we have suspended the use of vaccines for the time being.
Minister, will we make sure that we work with all the devolved Governments, and the Irish, and learn from their expertise, so that we can know what, apart from badgers, may be carrying the disease, so that we can continually learn from each other, and so that we can deal with the problem really effectively?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The chief veterinary officers in all the devolved Administrations work closely with our chief veterinary officer and veterinary teams to share experience and learn lessons. We know that Northern Ireland is using a “trap, vaccinate and remove” strategy, and the strategy in Wales is slightly different from ours in England. We are pursuing a wide range of strategies and do what we can to share evidence between the Administrations.
Tragically, the social costs of bovine TB fall largely on the farming community, but the enormous financial burden is shared with the taxpayer. Given that DEFRA has stated that there is considerable uncertainty in the value-for-money figures for the new cull, how will the Minister justify them to the general public?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. She and I served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for a number of years in the previous Parliament, so she has had a good grounding for the role that she takes on. The disease is costing us £100 million a year to fight. Doing nothing is not an option; we cannot put our head in the sand. That is why we need to pursue a broad comprehensive strategy. There is no evidence that any country in the world has managed to eradicate bovine TB without also tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.
Rural Payments Agency
We are expecting payments under the 2016 basic payment scheme to be considerably improved from last year’s. The Rural Payments Agency received more than 86,500 BPS applications for 2016. A record proportion of these claims—over 80%—were received online, which will enable the RPA to process them more quickly. The agency is currently focused on paying 90% of farmers by the end of December.
The Minister will be aware that this is not a new problem; it has been going on for a long time. Non-payment or even partial payment causes a great deal of hardship to farmers. Given that the situation has been going on for so long, what more can he do to make sure that there is an improvement in the forthcoming year?
As my hon. Friend knows, we had tremendous challenges in year 1. This was an incredibly complex common agricultural policy with all sorts of additional auditing and recording requirements, and which carried with it complexity and caused problems for payment agencies right across the European Union. On his question about what we are doing to improve things, now that we have gone through last year’s difficult task of getting all the data on to the computer system, and now that we have 80% of claimants applying online, we believe that we are in a good position for the coming year because all the difficult work was done last year.
When the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency came to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this year, he made a commitment to pay the majority of claims by 1 December, not 90% by the end of December. Four weeks is a long time for a farmer. Will the RPA make the majority of those payments at the beginning of the month?
The commitment was to pay 90% by the end of December. That has gone into the business plan for the RPA and is one of the targets that it is working to. The payment window does not open until early in December, but clearly we will be trying to pay, as we always do, as many farmers as quickly as possible.
Yes, the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency has appeared in front of us several times at the EFRA Committee and promised to make payments by certain dates. There are cross-border farmers in my constituency and they are always at the back of the queue. Some of them were paid only last month, well outside the payment window. What more can my hon. Friend do to make sure that that does not recur?
With the complexity of the new system, there are always issues relating to cross-border claims, where farms have some of their holding in one Administration and some in the other. It is important that we share information as quickly as possible. We had a particular problem on the Scottish borders because Scotland had far deeper problems with managing the scheme than we had in England, and getting the data to make those payments was particularly challenging. I am aware that there were issues in Wales as well, and we will do all that we can to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in future.
Thousands of farmers have been pushed into acute financial hardship, anxiety or stress owing to the failure of the Rural Payments Agency. In the past year, 62% of payments were very late and many have still not been paid. Now the Government are planning further delays of payment, which is unacceptable. Why will not the Minister recruit the staff needed to pay everyone all they are owed by this Christmas and, in the interim, institute bridging loans?
We are not planning to cause any further delays, as I made clear. Last year when we had a difficulty we recruited some 600 additional people to process the claims and pay them as soon as possible. As I have already said, this year we are in a better position. We have 80% of claimants applying online and we have committed to pay at least 90% of claims by the end of December. In any normal year there will always be some cases that are incredibly complex, such as those put forward by the National Trust, whose large, complex claims always take longer to process.
It is fantastic that local food producers are developing labelling to highlight local food provenance, which really adds value to their products for the regional and tourist markets. As I said earlier, we want to do everything we can really to promote the British food brand. I am firmly committed to protecting the UK’s iconic food and drink products.
Mr Speaker, you might think of Newcastle upon Tyne Central as an urban constituency, but actually we produce excellent beef from the lucky cattle that graze the nutritious grass on the stunning Town Moor. We are developing Toon Beef labels, but labelling generally needs to be better if consumers are to make informed choices. What practical measures is she taking to ensure that the voluntary and mandatory requirements she spoke of reflect regional origin and animal welfare?
We are very proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, the best food traceability and the best food safety. The hon. Lady is exactly right to point out the importance of labelling. We are doing everything we can. There is a lot of mandatory labelling, as she will be aware, but we also do a lot of work with businesses that want to label voluntarily, particularly for our iconic food products. I did a bit of research and found north-east Craster kippers, Wylam golden ale and other iconic names. I encourage her to apply for protected name status wherever possible, and we intend to support that.
This week is Seafood Week. Will my right hon. Friend outline what her Department has done to promote Seafood Week? I urge her to return to Cleethorpes so that we can have a less rushed plate of fish and chips than we had on her last visit.
I am always delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, because he always has something exciting in store for me. During Seafood Week we have established a working group with different seafood organisations. We are absolutely committed to promoting it, as we are with all our great British food. As I have mentioned, I am off to the Paris food exhibition and the China food exhibition to see what more we can do for our great British seafood and other food.
Department for Exiting the European Union
As he was one of my great Northamptonshire colleagues during the EU referendum campaign, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that my Department is doing all it can to support DEEU on policy development and stakeholder engagement right across DEFRA’s portfolio. I will shortly meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to discuss the enormous opportunities that EU exit presents for our food, farming and fishing sectors.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The fact is that the money we get from the EU was British taxpayers’ money in the first place. The first thing I did on joining the Department was to agree with the Treasury that the current levels of farming and environment support should remain until 2020 to give our farmers continuity. [Interruption.] Of course, once we have left the EU we can ensure that our policies deliver for farmers while improving the environment. We want to work closely with industry stakeholder groups and the public to ensure that our policies are simple, good value for the taxpayer and free from the unnecessary constraints that we see today.
Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is an extremely senior and cerebral Member of the House, keeps chuntering from a sedentary position about buried money—just in case colleagues had not heard what he was chuntering about. It would be good if he ceased chuntering.
I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s desire to see clean air—nothing could be more important. We are doing absolutely everything we can, and we will continue to be committed. As the Prime Minister has said, we will be nationalising the acquis communautaire, so the EU legislation will become UK law. Just today, as the hon. Lady may be aware, we have announced our clean air zone consultation.
Brexit creates an opportunity to put agriculture on a more sustainable footing, but can the Secretary of State reassure the House that Brexit will not change the international leadership the UK has provided on sustainable development?
Absolutely, Mr Speaker—Dame.
I can totally give my right hon. Friend that reassurance. The UK, in leaving the EU, is absolutely determined to be more globally focused and, at home, to create sustainable policies that will make our food production and our environment more sustainable and better for our people and our economy. At the same time, we are determined to maintain and enhance our global leadership role in promoting sustainability for everyone in this world.
While the Scottish National party welcomes the Secretary of State’s commitment to maintaining pillar one EU funding until 2020, she should be aware that Scotland has some of the lowest payments in the EU; that is why the UK was given millions of euros in convergence funding. So, with the same enthusiasm she has demonstrated with every question today, will she deliver on her commitment to have this in place by the end of the year?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and I look forward to many happy days of fruitful discussions with him in the weeks and months ahead. I can absolutely tell him that we will be reviewing that by the end of this year. We look forward to meeting him and Members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss the interests of Scotland. We have a huge policy review; there are enormous opportunities, and I look forward to Scotland being delighted at the opportunities presented by Brexit.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her place? I am sure she has had discussions with the Department for Exiting the European Union about the impact of the 16% fall in the value of the pound since the referendum outcome. In the light of that, what financial drivers to replace the common agricultural policy will she prioritise, with the mutual support of that Department, to enable farmers to plan now for the future and to remain productive while making the necessary progress on environmental measures?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks, and I also look forward to working with her. May I also welcome all her colleagues to their places? A number of them I have worked with over a period of time on energy matters, with great, fruitful results, so I look forward to a constructive relationship. In answer to her specific question, those are exactly the issues we are now looking at—the opportunities for revising the support we give our food and farm producers, to make sure we can grow more, sell more and export more great British food. It will take time to properly evaluate what that policy set should be, but I hope shortly to consult broadly. I have already had informal consultations, and I will be working closely with the industry.
DEFRA leads on the conservation and management of whales and dolphins, keeping in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the UK has always taken a leading position on promoting conservation. The Government raise their opposition to Japan’s hunting of whales and dolphins at every appropriate opportunity. Most recently, I raised this issue with the Japanese Fisheries Minister during an official visit to Japan in April this year.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The UK strongly supports the global moratorium on commercial whaling and continues at every appropriate opportunity to call on all whaling nations to cease their whaling activities. I currently plan to attend the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia later this year, when we will reiterate our opposition to commercial and scientific permit whaling and work constructively with other like-minded countries to secure the correct outcomes.
Following the referendum, we are working closely with all those with an interest in food, farming and the environment to seize the superb opportunities we now have to develop policies specific to the needs of the UK. Alongside this, we continue to prepare for winter weather by testing our response capability, quadrupling the amount of mobile flood defences and making our critical infrastructure more resilient.
The Secretary of State seems such a nice lady, so I do not know what enjoyment she can take from the thought of a fox being torn apart. May I take it from the silence of her and her Department lately that she has dropped the idea of having a vote in this House on foxhunting?
My mum says my sisters are much nicer than me, but, that apart, my view is very simple. Like my predecessor and her predecessor before her, I remain committed to the Conservative manifesto promise that we will have a free vote in Parliament on a repeal of the Hunting Act 2004.
I am very happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we have a robust regulatory framework in place to ensure that shale exploration is carried out in a safe, sustainable and environmentally sound manner. The Environment Agency can undertake announced and unannounced inspections, and if there is any breach of a permit condition or a serious risk to people or the environment, it can take a number of enforcement actions, including the immediate ceasing of operations.
The damage caused by storms last winter cost about £5 billion. Thousands of homes and businesses were flooded and there was significant damage to roads and bridges. The then Prime Minister said that “money is no object”, but councils are still waiting. Allerdale, for example, is owed almost £220,000. How many councils are still waiting for the promised funds, and why?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We both represent coastal communities and we share the issue of flooding. She raises an important point. She will be aware of the Government’s commitment to spend £2.5 billion over six years, which has given the Environment Agency long-term funding. I will have to ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Communities and Local Government about her specific point on the recovery work and then write to her, but we are continuing to invest in such schemes, including in Cumbria, as she will be aware.
I am pleased to report that woodland cover in England is at its highest since the 14th century—well before I was born—and we are committed to growing it even further by planting another 11 million trees over the course of this Parliament. The second phase of applications for the woodland creation planning grant has opened; the first phase generated plans for over 1,000 hectares of woodland. I ask hon. Members to continue to encourage schools to plant trees and to endorse our excellent scheme with the Woodland Trust, which I draw to the attention of the House.
I commend the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central for standing up for rural residents, but I assure her that we are prepared to do that ourselves. The Government are committed to the universal service obligation of 10 megabits by the end of the decade. It is an ambitious programme that we will fulfil.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we leave the European Union, there are opportunities to manage our fisheries differently. We will work with colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union on these matters, as we develop a negotiating position. He may be aware that under the UN convention on the law of the sea, it is accepted that we would have an exclusive economic zone going out to 200 nautical miles or the median line. That will be the starting point for discussions.
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I met Lesley Griffiths last week to discuss these issues, and the Secretary of State plans to meet her shortly. We intend to work very closely with all the devolved Administrations as we devise a new agriculture policy for after we leave the European Union. We recognise the importance of that to every part of the UK and will engage every part of the UK.
I completely sympathise with all those who were flooded. It is an appalling thing to happen. Following the Boxing day floods, the Environment Agency carried out £500,000-worth of maintenance work in Bury to remove gravel, debris and blockages. A £1.5-million flood defence scheme was completed in November 2014, providing better protection for 164 homes and businesses in the Stubbins area of Bury. I will, of course, look into the point my hon. Friend raises about people who are still suffering from the damage done by last winter’s floods.
As I said in response to an earlier question, we will work very closely with all the devolved Administrations and, indeed, industry groups throughout the UK as we devise a policy for after we have left the European Union. Some elements are already devolved, but the general consensus is that there will have to be some kind of UK-wide framework. We have made no decisions on this yet and will work very closely with all the devolved Administrations.
When the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the current Lord Chancellor, visited my constituency in May, she visited the Orwell food enterprise zone and heard about the skills challenges faced by local small and medium-sized businesses in the food sector. She said that the Government were considering a proposal to allow large food businesses to share their apprenticeship levy with the local supply chain to encourage local buying of food and local skills. Has there been any progress on that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have been arguing for that to happen for some time, because some large food producers are caught by the levy but would rather use it further up their supply chain. In August, the Department for Education published proposals for funding apprenticeships in England from May 2017, which propose that from 2018, employers will be able to transfer up to 10% of their levy funds in any year to another employer with a digital account. That deals with this issue.
Marine habitats are a matter of real concern to my constituents, who are very concerned about the threat of underground coal gasification in the Dee estuary, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier response on marine protected areas but would like to push her further on this point. Over the past two Parliaments the Government have created only 50 marine protected areas when their own advisers have recommended 127. Will she confirm that in the third tranche that she alluded to we will reach the recommended 127?
The original 127 sites were cited, but we have to follow the scientific evidence. That is the basis of this process. It is not about setting arbitrary targets but about making sure that we have a scientifically robust blue belt. That is what we will continue to do with the next phase of consultation.
Several farmers in my constituency of Louth and Horncastle have complained to me that the Rural Payments Agency has made mistakes in the land maps that determine how much they are paid. Will my hon. Friend help me to advise them on what can be done to address that, now and in future, so that farmers in my constituency receive fair payment for the land that is actually theirs?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Lots of farmers have been affected by the challenges we face in this first year of the new, more complex common agricultural policy scheme. A number of farmers —several thousand—had to go through a reconciliation process where we had to match some of the land-use codes they had with the land maps, which caused some complexity. I believe that the issue has now been resolved, but if she has any specific cases that are still a problem I am happy to meet her to discuss them.
Given the recent discovery of a livestock strain of MRSA in British meat products in UK supermarkets, what action is the Secretary of State’s Department taking to stop the emergence of resistant bacteria? Will she increase support to UK farmers on the use of antibiotics in meat production, to address real concerns about food safety and exports?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will be aware that the UK is the world leader on getting out the agenda that we need to reduce our use of antibiotics in agriculture and tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance. The Government have a strategy that sets targets for reductions in the use of antibiotics in some livestock sectors. We are also investing in research to support other approaches to husbandry that reduce the need for antibiotic use. This is an important agenda that the Government take very seriously.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Church has 4,700 primary and secondary schools that seek to provide excellent education to 1 million pupils each year. These are not faith schools for the faithful but Church schools for the whole community, and the Church does not propose to change that. The 50% cap applies only to new free schools that are oversubscribed. The majority of our new free schools, like many of our existing schools, do not have any faith-based oversubscription criteria.
I welcome that answer. Newcastle is a city of diverse, strong and generally united and mutually respectful communities, and our faith communities make an important contribution. The rise of hate crime since the referendum emphasises the importance of teaching that we have more in common. Mrs Davison, the head of St Cuthbert’s in Newcastle, tells me that that school’s mix of students from varying faiths and none assists inclusivity and enrichment, and ensures that the school is representative of the community. Do the commissioners agree that the proposed changes threaten the benefits of inclusivity at this crucial time?
I share completely the hon. Lady’s concerns about the rise in hate crime following the referendum. Every Member in this House is concerned about that. I point her to what the Secretary of State for Education herself said about the education that Church schools provide:
“They have an ethos and a level of academic attainment that we are trying to achieve more broadly across the whole system.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 22.]
Church schools provide education for the community as a whole, not just those who go to church.
Anglican and Catholic Churches
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently visited Assisi and Rome to deepen and strengthen relationships with His Holiness Pope Francis, and the relationship between the worldwide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. That visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican centre in Rome, which was itself the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer, but if I may, I will seamlessly move to relations with the Orthodox Church. Does she agree that the visit of Patriarch Kirill in the next week give us an opportunity to build bridges with the Orthodox Church at a time when our relationship with Moscow is perhaps not all it should be?
The hon. Lady is right. The Archbishop of Canterbury believes that deeper relations between all Christian Churches is a contribution to the peace that we all desire in such turbulent times. The visit by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ is an opportunity not only to celebrate the 300 years of Russian Orthodox worship in London, but no doubt to discuss current affairs.
The Church of England, through its presence in every community and its large network of schools, is an enormous asset in building community relations. As we have just discussed, Church of England schools play a leading role in value-based education. That building of trust, awareness and community is an important bulwark against the spread of extremism.
The Church promotes a number of schemes around the country to counter extremism and improve relations. The “What if Learning” scheme in schools has proved to be a good example of how we can help children from a very young age to understand the important principles of our society and the tolerance that we need to show to others of different faiths and points of view. We must also think about how we reach adults. I commend two schemes: the Church’s Living Well Together initiative, and the Near Neighbours initiative. I should like to take this opportunity to invite colleagues to hear more about those initiatives on 23 November at 4 pm, after the autumn statement, in the Jubilee Room.
Recent research on extremism suggests that a sense of humiliation, particularly among traumatised communities and individuals, is a major driver of extremism. Are the Church Commissioners aware of the need to look at bullying and traumatisation?
The hon. Lady is right that humiliation is a strong emotion that can lead to people taking strong positions and actions as a consequence. The Church is not just looking at that, but has rolled out those important initiatives. I commend to her initiatives such as Near Neighbours, funding for which came from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which demonstrated that, in our cities, there is a great opportunity to bridge the gap and speak into the humiliation that some people feel.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is imperative that those of other faiths are not left isolated in our communities, and that more help should be offered to facilitate community events to establish relationships that span the divides of religion?
The hon. Gentleman can speak with feeling on that subject. One of the most important things that the Christian denominations can do is work together to reach across to people of other faith, with whom we have a great deal in common, and defuse some of the misrepresentations of those faiths, so that the wider secular aspects of society know that we can speak and live in harmony.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked
The Electoral Commission welcomed in August the publication of the Pickles report and recommendations on electoral fraud, particularly his support for the commission’s recommendations that the Government should consider introducing voter ID at polling stations in Great Britain. The commission will submit its response shortly to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who is responsible for constitutional matters.
There is Electoral Commission guidance for electoral registration officers on this very point. My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That should not happen, but I will refer his concerns to the Electoral Commission to see whether the guidance needs to be clarified or made more robust. I am grateful to him for raising it.
My hon. Friend knows that I have had long-standing serious concerns about electoral fraud in some parts of Bradford. I particularly welcome what he says about ID at polling stations. When might we expect the first elections to take place where that is the rule?
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Church of England is working on two main levels to assist refugees being resettled under the vulnerable person relocation scheme. The Home Secretary went to Lambeth Palace on 19 July to launch the new scheme for community sponsorship, which demonstrates the importance the Church attaches to action as well as words.
The Church nationally has been very active on refugees. Parishes such as Holywell in my constituency have been very supportive and active, too. The Home Secretary has now apparently made a commitment to accept child refugees to the United Kingdom. What steps can the Church take to help with resettlement, particularly in the field of fostering?
The Church has reached out through its parishes to provide practical help—clothing, food and English language lessons—for the refugees in our midst. To be practical about expediting reuniting children with their families in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a youth worker to Calais. There is a call in all our parishes for more foster parents, so that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can have a warm welcome and a safe home in our country.
LGBT Christians: Pastoral Care
I am unable to answer on the work of the Church in Wales, but the chaplaincy there recently launched in the diocese of St Asaph. It is true that the Church of England is operating a similar number of smaller scale projects. The best example I can think of is in Manchester, where a monthly communion service operates in some parishes specifically for the LGBT community.
I am delighted that, although the Church Commissioners’ writ does not run in the Church in Wales—we are not seeking to change that—the right hon. Lady has already noticed the excellent work of the diocese of St Asaph LGBT chaplaincy. Does she agree that now is the time for those of us who are Christian but not of the LGBT community to give more careful consideration to these issues?
Yes, absolutely. It is completely in line with the policy of the Church of England. The House of Bishops has consistently encouraged the clergy to offer appropriate pastoral support, including informal prayer with LGBT people, Christians and others. I think that that injunction is on us all.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that I need no excuse to visit his beautiful constituency, having fought the election there in 1992. I was back there this summer visiting friends at Hodsock Priory, which I know he is aware of. The important and beautiful church at Scrooby is home to the festival that will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers. I have looked into the needs that it may have. I suggest we work together to ensure that the event is a great success.
The right hon. Lady is very welcome to re-tread the streets of Scrooby, and if she does, she might care to bring one of the many descendants of the pilgrims with her. If, with her good contacts, she could arrange it, the most popular would probably be Mr Richard Gere.
If only! I know that what the hon. Gentleman is looking for specifically from the Church Commissioners is some assistance with the improvement to the facilities. I have looked into this question. The church hall has facilities to ensure that the event is a success, but perhaps if he encourages the church wardens to contact me or Church House, we can make sure the event is a great success, with or without a celebrity attendance.
Priests: Same-sex Marriage
I suspect the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask me, as he did before, about a specific case, but the case of Canon Pemberton is still pending a judgment from his appeal, so I am afraid I will be unable to comment on it in any detail. The Pilling report was commissioned by the Church of England at the start of a shared conversation about sexuality, which reached its conclusion at the Synod in July. The House of Bishops has asked for a summary to be created by the bishops reference group.
But with a growing number of priests, including now one bishop, deciding commendably to be open about their sexual orientation, and indeed their marital status, why is the Church of England spending our money pursuing a legal case against Canon Jeremy Pemberton simply because he is married?
Obviously the Church is on a journey with this issue, as many of us have been, but I would gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Church was not the plaintiff. Canon Pemberton was the plaintiff and therefore the Church had to defend itself in a legal process. The initial case was lost and now Canon Pemberton has sought to appeal. There will be significant costs attached to that, but the Church did not initiate those legal proceedings.
Last month I attended, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), a service of thanksgiving for the world war one centenary cathedral repairs fund at Lichfield. Without the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), it would not have been possible to effect the kind of repairs that many of our cathedrals have required just to remain open.
Derby cathedral is such an important asset to the city, bringing visitors and businesses to the wider region. Without the financial support of the world war one cathedral fund, the cathedral would potentially have faced closure to the public, due to the condition of the electrics and the roof. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the trades, craftspeople and apprentices who have worked to keep the cathedral open and to secure its future for at least the next 100 years? It is much improved.
I would be very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating them on all that remarkable work. In fact, Derby cathedral has received the third highest amount of world war one grant funding to date—nearly £1.4 million—to effect, as she said, roof repairs and completely refurbish the interior. There is no question but that these repairs have created jobs for skilled craftsmen and ensured a sustainable future for our cathedrals.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 17 October—Second Reading of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill.
Tuesday 18 October—Debate on the BBC on a Government motion.
Wednesday 19 October—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an SNP motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 20 October—Debate on a motion on BHS, followed by a general debate on industrial strategy. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 21 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 October will include:
Monday 24 October—Second Reading of the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill.
Tuesday 25 October—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 26 October—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 27 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 October—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for October and early November will be:
Monday 17 October—Debate on e-petitions relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Thursday 20 October—Debate on the Education Committee reports on mental health and well-being of looked-after children and on social work reform, followed by a general debate on National Arthritis Week 2016.
Monday 24 October—Debate on an e-petition relating to the local government pension scheme.
Thursday 27 October—Debate on the Defence Committee reports on defence expenditure and the use of Lariam for military personnel.
Monday 31 October—Debate on an e-petition relating to driven grouse shooting.
Thursday 3 November—General debate on the future of the steel industry.
I thank the Leader of the House for his warm welcome and for the time he took to speak to me about this role. I also thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), for all his hard work in the two jobs that he undertook.
It is the first week back, and there is a crisis. This morning I received a text—an upgrade from an email—from a Jeremy, who says, “We want our Marmite back”, so will the Leader of the House do all he can to make sure that there is Marmite on the shelves? I say to Jeremy: “Cut back on the salt, and if you want to protest, do not sit on the floor and shave your beard!”
It is the first week back, and it has been a bad week for the Government. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s honeymoon period, most of which was in the Swiss Alps in the recess, came to an end as she faced her first Government defeat in the other place, which voted through new laws to compensate phone-hacking victims. Quite rightly in the age of legal aid cutbacks, victims should have access to justice and protected costs.
May we have a debate to clarify the policy of the Home Secretary’s proposals for firms to provide a list of foreign workers whom they employ? The Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Question Time that that was not what was said, so why did more than 100 business leaders write an open letter to the Home Secretary, calling for the idea to be abandoned, saying that foreign workers should be “celebrated not demonised”? The Government may have back-tracked on the policy, just a week after it was outlined, but we need clarification that it is obsolete. If the Leader of the House went back to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, he would know that the new Vice-Chancellor is, in fact, Canadian, so would he have to be reported to the Home Secretary? It is the anniversary of the battle of Hastings on Friday—it took place 950 years ago—so this reversal could be seen as one in the eye for the Home Secretary.
At the Conservatives’ annual conference, the Chancellor announced a U-turn on six years of Government policy. You will know, Mr Speaker, that at the time of the party conference, the pound fell—and it is still falling. Since last week, we have seen a loss of 6% against the dollar—usually a headline associated with the Labour party. The Chancellor also said that he is cancelling the plan of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) to balance the nation’s books by 2020. Instead, the Government will invest their way out of the deficit and would now borrow to invest. That sounds remarkably like the Opposition’s policy. May we have statement immediately, before the autumn statement in November, on what is being done at the Treasury on the state of the pound?
So this Government are not the Government of business, not the Government of sound fiscal policy and not the Government of the vulnerable. The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions now says that people with severe, lifelong conditions will no longer face those humiliating six-monthly reassessments—but only those claiming employment and support allowance; claimants of the personal independence payment will still be subject to those inappropriate assessments. Bizarrely, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), welcomed this “progressive” reform of the retesting regime, although he introduced the assessments and they were voted for by Conservative Members. May we have a debate in Government time on the state of the assessments and their removal, as called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)?
This is our first week back after the conference recess, and there have been no votes. The first was scheduled for the Opposition day yesterday, but the Government conceded the Opposition’s motion, which basically asked for Parliament to be sovereign. We want our sovereignty back. That was all that was being asked for—making Parliament sovereign in any negotiations that affect the British people.
The referendum posed a simple question: in or out. It did not cover immigration, and it did not cover the single market. All that has to be negotiated and put to the British people through their elected representatives. The great repeal Bill, which will feature in the next Queen’s Speech, will deal only with the incorporation of EU laws in domestic law. May we have a debate in Government time on the framework of the negotiating stance, given that there are only five months—and 170 unanswered questions—before article 50 is invoked?
I know that the Leader of the House is keen to restore Parliament’s reputation. On Tuesday, he will have seen Parliament at her best—as will you, Mr Speaker, when you were in the Chair—and I am sure he will agree with me that it was incredible to see members of all parties present petitions as part of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign for fair transitional arrangements, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) put the figure at roughly £2 billion. Given the strength of feeling among all our constituents throughout the United Kingdom, may we have a statement to do justice to the WASPI women?
May we also have a debate on the report “The Good Parliament” by Dr Sarah Childs, which recommends making Parliament user-friendly to men, women, families and those with disabilities, and could that debate be consolidated with the debate that is to be held on restoration and renewal?
You will have noted, Mr Speaker, that peace has broken out—in Colombia. I congratulate its President, Juan Manuel Santos, on a hard-won peace, and on his Nobel peace prize. We look forward to his visit on 1 November.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that she was speaking for the British people who voted to leave. Well, that amounts to just 51.9%, because 48.1% voted to remain and 28% did not vote at all. If the Prime Minister is representing only 51.9%, my colleagues—each and every one of them, with their talents and skills—are ready to serve all the British people.
I warmly welcome the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) to her new responsibilities. I am sure that she will bring to the role the wit and good humour, as well as the commitment to the House, that we have grown to expect of her during her time here. Let me also thank and pay tribute to her predecessor, the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), for his service. He is the living embodiment of the principle that age is nothing but a number. Throughout his parliamentary career, he has continued to express his views, and to speak on behalf of his constituents and his party, with all the passion and commitment that brought him into politics in the first place.
The hon. Lady made various points about work and pensions matters. The Government will, of course, respond in the way that they normally do to petitions that Members present to the House, and Members in all parts of the House will have an opportunity to put questions to DWP Ministers about their responsibilities as early as next Monday, when DWP questions will take place.
I think that the hon. Lady tempted providence slightly when she talked about honeymoons. I have yet to see the Leader of the Opposition’s honeymoon even begin, let alone end.
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have sympathy for the hon. Lady’s call to restore our Marmite. The best advice I can give her, in relation to her email correspondent, is to advise Jeremy that a number of own-brand yeast extracts will be available during the current commercial dispute between the wholesaler and the retailer, and I am confident that in an area such as Islington there will be a wealth of traditional and organic alternatives available to the discerning customer.
I shall now touch on some of the other points that the hon. Lady raised. I shall take back and reflect on the points she made about a debate on the Childs report, “The Good Parliament”, and whether it would be appropriate to link that to the debate that we are going to have on the restoration and renewal report in due course. I know that the Select Committee on Women and Equalities is looking into the implications of “The Good Parliament” report as part of its own work at the moment. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) and the Leader of the Opposition gave evidence to that Committee on some of those matters earlier this week.
The hon. Lady raised questions about foreign workers. The position on this is perfectly clear. The Government have made it plain that there is no question of naming individual employees or trying to shame companies, but it is not unreasonable for the Government to go out to consultation—which is what is being planned—on whether firms should be asked to supply evidence about the proportion of their workforce that is made up of workers from outside the UK. For one thing, that might be a way of providing independent evidence about labour shortages and informing the Government’s approach to what we and British industry might do address that issue. This system already operates in the United States of America, after all, so I do not think that a consultation of that sort is unreasonable in the way that she suggests.
The hon. Lady also asked about European matters. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), said yesterday during his speech, and I reiterate today, that we will make Government time available for debates on the European Union on the Floor of the House. At the moment, we are considering exactly when that will happen and what form those debates might take. I was glad that the Opposition accepted the Government amendment yesterday, but before the hon. Lady gives lectures on democracy, she really needs to have a word with some of her shadow Cabinet colleagues. I yield to no one in my open support for the remain cause during the referendum, but if we are democrats, we have to accept the outcome. It remains the case that, as recently as 11 September, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), said on “The Murnaghan Programme” that that was not enough. She said:
“I think that we have to have some form of democratic, an injection of democracy in some way…I think we need to go back to the British people in some way”.
That is at odds with the message that came from the Opposition Front Bench yesterday about the Opposition accepting the referendum outcome, whatever view any of us took during the campaign. So I hope that we will see greater consistency from the Opposition in future.
May we have an early debate on gravy trains? That would give us the opportunity to look at the latest jobs on offer at HS2, namely the position of chief executive, which will pay between £700,000 and £800,000 a year, and posts for four recent graduates, which offer salaries of up to about £30,000. Those graduates would be required to
“write the story of HS2 from inception to the present day”.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House and the Speaker would agree with me that our constituents would not consider that a good use of taxpayers’ money. What success has the Leader of the House had in persuading HS2 and the Department for Transport that spending money on writing their version of “Thomas the Tank Engine” is not exactly enhancing their reputations?
When this report reached Transport Ministers, they immediately issued instructions to cancel the advertisement and approach this matter in a different way. Undoubtedly, there are lessons to be learned from the history of HS2 up till now, but my right hon. Friend will share the view of the Transport Secretary that the approach that she has described was not the best use of taxpayers’ money.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) on her appointment. She comes to her position as a well-liked and respected individual, and I certainly look forward to working with her. I wish also to pay a short tribute to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). To go from two jobs to no jobs is pretty callous, so let us get a petition together to get the hon. Gentleman restored to the Front Bench. The hon. Member for Walsall South is the fourth shadow Leader of the House in my short tenure here. I hope that her position is a little more durable than that of some of her illustrious predecessors.
Who would have thought that the first casualty of this hard Brexit would be the nation’s supplies of Marmite? The catastrophic collapse in the pound has led to an unseemly spat between Tesco and Unilever, which seems to suggest that even our supplies of PG Tips might be threatened. As I was sitting around with a morning brew, I thought that perhaps it was time to reconsider and rethink this plan for a full English Brexit. Perhaps we could consider a more palatable continental Brexit instead.
We need an urgent statement about the position of European nationals in this country. A number of my constituents who are EU nationals are getting increasingly anxious and concerned about some of the anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric that has emerged from the Conservative party in the past few weeks. They want to be reassured that their status is secure. All this talk about lists, closed or not, and about having their position in this country relegated to little more than bargaining chips, is setting off all sorts of alarm bells.
We learned next to nothing about the Tory Brexit plans yesterday, other than the fact that it is the hard right of the Conservative party who are now in charge of the agenda. I support the calls to have full debates on this matter. We owe it to our constituents to ensure that they are properly consulted and involved in the process. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for announcing that further details will be forthcoming. Perhaps he could tell us a little bit more about them just now.
It is great to be back after the conference recess. The reason that I cut such a lonely figure on these Benches this morning is that our conference actually starts today, which makes the idea of a conference recess almost totally pointless. Will the Leader of the House have another look at this again? If we are to have a conference recess, can it please include all the main parties of this House or none of them at all?
l will certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s last point about party conferences, although, as he will know, all parties fix the dates and book the venues of their conferences several years ahead, so this is not something on which I can offer hope of change in the immediate future.
On his serious point about EU nationals living in the United Kingdom, I will respond by saying two things. First, people who have come lawfully from other European countries and who are living here, working here and contributing to our society in many different positive ways should be both welcomed and respected. We should have no truck whatever with xenophobic language let alone with tolerance of some of the appalling instances of abuse or even physical attacks that we have seen. Those should be deplored and condemned by people from all political parties, and by people who were active on both sides of the referendum campaign.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear more than once that her objective is to secure an agreement that enables people who are already in the United Kingdom lawfully to remain after we leave the EU. She would be keen to get agreement on that at an early stage of the exit negotiations. The only thing that we can see that would stop that happening would be if, for some reason, it were not possible to persuade the other 27 countries that British citizens on their territory should not be accorded similar rights. It ought to be in everyone’s interests to settle this definitively and early on, and I hope that we are able to achieve that.
I do not want to dwell too much on Marmite; I am sure that there is as much appetite for that product in Scotland as there is anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I simply note that, on the information that I have been given this morning, the ingredients of Marmite are not imported into the UK but are manufactured and supplied here. It is probably not for the Government to intervene in what seems to be a dispute between two commercial companies.
The Government have done extremely well in making their announcement about the disapplication of aspects of the European convention on human rights from the battlefield in future conflicts. This has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, not least by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) who, with fellow members of the Defence Sub-Committee and other hon. Members, has focused attention on this important issue in a tremendous campaign. When will the Government make further announcements, not about protecting people in future conflicts, but about protecting people who currently face pursuit in the courts over past and present conflicts?
Following the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary a few days ago, the Government, led by the Ministry of Defence, are actively looking at the measures that we would need to take to give effect to this policy. Legislative change might be required, in which case we shall have to prepare such legislation and bring it forward as early as we can, when there is an appropriate legislative opportunity.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and the news that next week we will be debating British Home Stores and the impact on its former work force. There will also be a general debate on industrial strategy, which is long overdue. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for notice that Thursday 27 October will be a full day for Backbench Business Committee debates; we had understood that it would be a part day.
May I ask Members bringing applications to the Committee for specific dates to give us a number of weeks’ notice? This afternoon, for instance, we have a debate on baby loss, which has been secured with the advance agreement of the Leader of the House, but we were able to do that only because we had advance notice. This week, of course, is baby loss awareness week.
Members may have noticed that the occupation of these particular Benches has been a bit thin in the past few weeks, and this week in particular. It is because my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) are both undergoing treatment as they battle their illnesses. I wish them, on behalf of the House, a speedy recovery.
On behalf of the Government and my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing a speedy restoration to health to the hon. Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell).
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. We always try to give as much notice as possible to him and his Committee. I should issue a word of caution about Thursday 27 October, however. The Government’s current intention is that half a day will be allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. As I said in my statement, the business for that week is provisional at this stage; I will be able to speak with much more certainty next week.
Given that I was born and brought up in Burton upon Trent, I feel that I should be talking about Marmite—after all, that is where it is made—but I am going to talk about buses. In July, I supported Arriva’s “catch the bus” week. Only a matter of weeks later, Arriva announced that it was axing services, including the No. 3 bus to Norton Canes, leaving elderly residents who are reliant on that service completely cut off and unable to catch a bus. May we have a debate in Government time about the importance of bus services to the health and wellbeing of elderly residents?
My hon. Friend is a fierce champion for the communities in her constituency on bus services, as on other matters, and I hope that she will have the opportunity to make her case directly to Arriva, as the local bus provider, and to the relevant local authority about whether it can provide any kind of subsidy to bus services that are essential socially, but that are not viable in strictly economic terms. The Government want a diverse mix of public transport provision—bus and rail services, and other kinds—and I am sure that if she wants to put her case in detail to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, he and his team will look carefully at the concerns that she expresses.
The Care Quality Commission has said today that it is becoming concerned about the fragility of the adult social care market, with evidence suggesting that it might be approaching a tipping point. May we have an urgent debate about the crisis in social care funding? Only on Tuesday I raised with the Secretary of State for Health the fact that local authorities must be properly funded for social care.
All hon. Members, on whichever side of the House they sit, certainly understand the importance to their constituents of ensuring that NHS services and local authority social care are organised and managed in a way that looks to the constituent—to the client or patient—first of all, and that budgets are organised and commissioning takes place to try to ensure there is as much support for the needs of the individual as possible. I had the chance this morning to look briefly at the Care Quality Commission’s report. What struck me was that it says that 72% of adult social care services, 87% of GP practices and 56% of the core services of NHS hospital trusts have been rated as either good or outstanding. It does point to challenges that need to be addressed and argues that less-well-performing authorities need to learn from the experience of those that are more successful. It seems to me that the commission is doing its job as an independent inspectorate, but what it has actually found is that the quality of care that most people receive in this country is very good.
Constituents in Potters Bar, Borehamwood and Radlett in my constituency rely on Govia Thameslink railways. They are used to endless excuses for its lamentable performance, but the company reached a new low yesterday, when we discovered that it is cancelling trains if it discovers graffiti that it deems offensive. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is completely absurd? Is there some mechanism for the House to convey to the company that its first priority should be getting passengers to work and home on time?
My hon. Friend is clearly campaigning very hard on behalf of his constituents. Some years ago, I used to live quite close to his constituency, so I am well aware of the importance of those commuter rail services to the people whom he represents. I suggest that his message to Govia should be to encourage it, yes, to put the need to provide for passengers first, but also to work more closely with its cleaning contractors and the transport police to ensure that trains are cleaned of offensive graffiti in a timely fashion and that the people responsible for the graffiti are identified and brought to justice.
May I join the Leader of the House in congratulating the shadow Leader of the House on her appointment? It has taken her only six years to get to the Front Bench; I am still in the same place I was 29 years ago. This is also my first opportunity to congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment. I first met him 40 years ago, and indeed may well have voted for him to be chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association all that time ago.
Last week, 140 young Yemenis were killed in Sanaa, when bombs fell on a funeral cortège. Last night, Houthi rebels fired at warships owned by the Americans in the gulf of Aden. The situation in Yemen is deteriorating. We had an important debate on Syria that was well attended in the House and granted by you, Mr Speaker, but we must not allow Yemen to be the forgotten conflict. When can we have a full debate on the situation in Yemen, before it gets even worse?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I think that somewhere in my loft I have the programme card that lists him as a CUCA college secretary at some distant date in the past. He raises a really serious subject. Yemen is too often overlooked as we focus on the appalling situation in Syria. As he will, I think, know by now, he has obtained an Adjournment debate on Yemen on 18 October, which will enable him to raise some of these matters, and we have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on 18 October, too, which will enable him and other colleagues to raise these matters with the Secretary of State and Foreign Office Ministers. I completely share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that the Government need to continue to do all that they can to help to support the UN special envoy for Yemen and his valiant efforts to establish a credible peace process, and to devote a decent slice of our humanitarian aid budget to helping people in desperate need in that country.
The Leader of the House will soon bring to the House a debate on the full decant of Parliament from the Palace of Westminster. He knows my views—I question the proposal—but that is not important; what is important is that we get a range of options. Will he consider, when he brings forward the debate, having not just one nuclear option—that we all leave for six years—but a range of options? For instance, one option could be that we start the work now, during the summer breaks, and we do so from 20 July to 12 October, either by abolishing the September sitting or, if that is not possible, holding it in Edinburgh, to buttress the Union, or Belfast or Cardiff. May we please have a full range of options? Sometimes in life, a Marmite solution that one loves or hates is not the best solution; sometimes a more nuanced approach is a better way of doing things.
As I said earlier, there will be, as recommended by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, a debate and decision by this House, and separately by the House of Lords, on the proposals in the Committee’s report. I am giving thought to the precise wording of the motion to be tabled. Whatever the form of words used, the motion will be, subject to your ruling, Mr Speaker, capable of amendment. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will want to look at the motion and see whether they want to change it in any way.
I hope that hon. Members take the time to read the Joint Committee’s report. It is a completely cross-party Committee. It spent a lot of time on the subject and interrogated a lot of witnesses before reaching its recommendations, and the House owes it to colleagues who served on the Committee to look seriously at the arguments and evidence that it has presented.
The Leader of the House just put a very complacent gloss on the Care Quality Commission report. This is our independent health and social care regulator. The report is devastating. It contains an explicit request, which is unprecedented from the commission, for urgent funds for social care now. That follows exactly the same call by the person whom the Government appointed to lead the NHS, Simon Stevens. When will we get an emergency statement from the Secretary of State for Health on what he will do about our collapsing health and social care sector?
I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman’s description of my earlier response. I not only had a look at the report this morning, but listened to the chief executive of the commission speaking on BBC radio, and it was he who said that the key lesson was that best practice needed to be copied by those authorities and NHS areas that were not delivering the best quality service at present. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will, of course, want to consider very carefully and urgently the views expressed in the Care Quality Commission’s report. I am sure he will want to make clear to the House in the relatively near future his view on its recommendations, and there will be opportunity at Health questions or otherwise to put questions to him.
In East Cowes, as well, no doubt, as elsewhere, the Homes and Communities Agency appears to have forgotten that its brief includes delivering much-needed business premises as well as homes, thus threatening economic development and island homes. Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on this issue?
Figures show that one in five of my constituents are over-indebted, which is why I am bringing the Money Advice Service to Bristol South tomorrow to meet other local debt advice services and support them. May we have a debate on problem debt to help us to understand the Government’s position and their strategy for addressing this serious issue for working people?
We all have constituents who have benefited from debt advice, which is not always best provided by an agency that has “OHMS” stamped all over it. It is sometimes better provided through a voluntary organisation that is able to engage with people in a less rule-bound way than is usually the case with even the best-intentioned Government agencies. I will take back to my hon. Friends with ministerial responsibility the concern that the hon. Lady has expressed and ask the relevant Minister to write to her directly.
The National Citizen Service provides incredible opportunities for young people in Corby and east Northamptonshire, ably led by Nigel Anderson and his team at the University of the First Age. With the very welcome news that David Cameron is to take a greater role in the NCS programme going forward, may we have a debate next week on the terrific opportunities that that provides for young people across our country?
That is a cause that David Cameron championed during his time as Prime Minister and I am delighted that he is continuing his association with the cause afterwards. As my hon. Friend will know, earlier this week the Government introduced the National Citizen Service Bill, which will put the NCS on a statutory basis for the first time.
Yesterday I attended an event organised by the Gun Control Network to mark the 20th anniversary of the implementation of measures for gun control following the Dunblane tragedy. Measures brought in at that time have made an enormous difference and have undoubtedly saved many lives. However, regrettably, people are still dying from gun use and gun ownership, and too often that is caused by licensed firearms. May we have a statement from the Government on their plans to continue to combat gun crime?
I know that the Home Office is looking at the legislation governing gun dealers, and that may go some way to address the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. It is right that we remind ourselves that police forces have an important responsibility to ensure that people who hold firearms licences legitimately store guns and ammunition in a secure and safe fashion, and that they are fit and responsible people to have such licences.
The Government have a policy of closing old Victorian prisons and replacing them with modern ones. Wellingborough prison, which is a reserve prison, is a modern one. May we have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Justice on how that policy is working and, in particular, on what is happening to Wellingborough prison?
My hon. Friend will want to talk with the Prisons Minister about Wellingborough prison, but I am sure that the policy is the right one for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to be pursuing. Not only are more modern prisons more cost-effective than maintaining prisons on what has become very valuable inner-city real estate, but they provide conditions for prisoners that are more secure and humane than those in the old-fashioned, Victorian prisons, which in some cases have lasted for far too long.
Many constituents have contacted me recently regarding visitor visa refusals for close relatives who want to visit their family. Most unsuccessful applicants have travelled to the UK previously on a visitor visa and ensured full compliance. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can look into the issue and find out why we appear suddenly to be having many more refusals, which are largely unexplained, than we did in previous years?
Those of us who deal with a significant amount of immigration casework in our constituencies will know that it is quite difficult to generalise about cases when the quality of evidence varies greatly. From my experience, I advise my constituents that it is really important to have the audit trail of evidence to show that there is a previous pattern of sticking to the terms of visas that have previously been granted, and also the best possible documentation to show that a potential visitor has good reasons to return home afterwards, such as family or job reasons.
The late Eric Forth used to have a description for early-day motions, but there is insufficient chastity in language to repeat it without offence. Nevertheless, may we have a statement from my right hon. Friend on the wholesale abuse and trivialisation of EDMs, not least by the Scottish National party?
My own view is that early-day motions are an overrated currency. I was somewhat surprised to see reports this morning that Scottish National party Members have been spending so much time tabling early-day motions, and on subjects ranging from Christmas trees to the anniversary of the first screening of “Star Trek”. They need to be a little careful, because a number of us are coming to the conclusion that they do not have enough work to do, and I think their constituents would be somewhat shocked to find that out.
I welcome the shadow Leader of the House to her post and acknowledge her reference to the peace in Colombia and the forthcoming visit by President Santos. In that context, will the Leader of the House ensure that he and his colleagues, who have in very valid terms ruled out a second referendum here, do not mistranslate that message, given the particular challenges in Colombia, because a second referendum might well be what they need following the national dialogue and other negotiations now in train?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have, for a long time and under successive British Governments, supported the efforts to try to bring about an end to the appalling conflict in Colombia. We welcome the courageous work President Santos has done to try to reach that agreement, and British Ministers are certainly not going to, in any way, seek to tell the President of Colombia how he should proceed in setting the final seal on an agreement that we all hope will endure.
Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Justice on the policy of allowing prisoners out to spend time with their families at Christmas? It seems from an answer to a parliamentary question that 973 prisoners were allowed home to spend time with their families last Christmas, including 61 murderers. I would have hoped that it went without saying that the victims of those murderers will never be able to spend Christmas at home with their families again. The Government might reflect on what the families of those victims must think when those murderers are allowed out to enjoy a family Christmas at home, when the victims will never have that experience again. The Government might tell prisoners that if they want to spend time at home with their families at Christmas they should not commit the crimes in the first place that get them sent to prison.
I will certainly draw the Justice Secretary’s attention to the point my hon. Friend has made, but I would just add this: all but a very small number of prisoners are going to be released one day, either at the end of the sentence or on life licence. It is not unreasonable, in the context of people who are approaching the end of a sentence, to be looking at ways in which to make it possible for them to adjust to society outside prison and to earn a living, take family responsibility and, hopefully, pursue a better path at that point. Where my hon. Friend is absolutely right is that such a step needs to be looked at in the context of overall sentence planning, and should not be a way in which to soften the necessity for the punitive aspect of a prison sentence, which the public rightly expect judges and the Prison Service to see enforced.
In response to the crisis in the steel industry, the Government produced some better procurement guidelines. It would appear that those have not yet reached the Ministry of Defence, which is using French steel to build Trident submarines. May we have a statement by the Business Secretary on how those procurement guidelines are affecting the steel industry in a positive way and how he will move the Ministry of Defence’s marks up from E minus to alpha plus?
We do source British steel wherever possible, but in this case there was no viable UK bid for the specialised steel required for this particular part of the Successor submarine manufacture. Other stages of construction will include steel that British suppliers can support, and we expect them to take the opportunity to bid. As with every major Government procurement, we are working hard to ensure that, where we can, we source British steel. We expect about 85% of the BAE Systems supply chain for the new submarines to be based in the UK.
May we have a debate in Government time on long-term funding for health and social care and on the way in which we raise that funding? There was an interesting leader in The Times yesterday on that subject, which made some suggestions, but it is vital that we take the opportunity now to look at how things move forward post-2020, given the Government’s welcome support up to that point.
It will be important, as we move towards 2020, to see the NHS making best possible use of the extra £10 billion the Government have allocated to it—£2 billion more than the NHS itself had requested—but also for the NHS to deliver on the internal reforms that the chief executive has said he intends and needs to carry out. I am sure my hon. Friend will find an opportunity to raise some of these wider questions about future funding with Health Ministers, either at questions or perhaps through a Westminster Hall debate.
May we have a debate on the political and security situation in Kashmir? As my right hon. Friend will be aware, there has been a serious escalation in violence there in recent weeks, which is understandably a matter of great concern to those with a Kashmiri heritage not just in my constituency but right across the country.
My hon. Friend may well have the opportunity to raise this matter directly with the Foreign Secretary at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday. I share his wish to see an end to the violence in Kashmir, which has continued for far too long. That will in the end depend on the readiness of the Governments of both India and Pakistan to hammer out an agreement with which they both feel able to live.
I offer warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), whose talents have at last been recognised. Her appointment guarantees that the exchanges between the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House will continue to be a very welcome oasis of political restraint, good sense and good humour.
When can we debate the royal prerogative and the supreme duty of the sovereign to act in the interests of the nation when a Government start to act in their own interests rather than those of the nation? Now that there is a certain Brexit crisis ahead—and given that we should judge the value of the referendum on the basis that it was won by deceptions, exaggerations and lies from both parties—how will the Leader of the House handle the situation if, in the service of the nation and in the service of the will of the democratic majority of this House, a decision is taken to withdraw the royal prerogatives delegated by the sovereign? What will he do in such a situation, if the sovereign is acting in the service of the nation?
I do not want to say anything that could prejudice court proceedings under way today that touch on precisely the issues the hon. Gentleman raises. However, when I looked at the Hansard report of yesterday’s debate, I found that the issues of prerogative powers and the rights of Parliament were aired at considerable length and I am sure that that will continue as we find other opportunities to debate the European issue in the months to come.
Services to my constituents provided by North East Lincolnshire Council may well suffer in the near future because the council has been forced to make safe and to maintain a listed building, to the tune of £2 million and rising, after the owners abrogated their responsibilities. Will the Government find time for a debate to consider whether legislative changes are required to avoid this happening again?
I cannot offer my hon. Friend a debate in Government time. If he would like to put some of the detail in a note to me, I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport so that he can have a comprehensive response.
Today is Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day. May we have a debate on the support given to people living with secondary breast cancer, given that Breast Cancer Care’s campaign “Secondary, not Second Rate” has found that people living with this incurable disease face poor care, delayed diagnosis and a lack of information and support?
A half-hour debate on cancer diagnosis in Westminster Hall on Tuesday may provide the opportunity for an intervention, but the hon. Lady has done the House a service by reminding us of the importance of this issue. I am sure we would all wish to support the work the cancer charities are doing to highlight the importance of secondary breast cancer to ensure that that challenge is not overlooked, and that we would all wish to support both the research on causes and cures, and the work going on to support those who have to live with secondary breast cancer and their families.
Given the Government’s excellent support for keeping fit, healthy and active, may we have a debate on the possible closure of sports centres, such as the one in Knighton in my constituency, which provides fantastic facilities on a cross-border basis, but is sadly under the threat of closure by the local authority?
I am sorry to learn about what is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. These decisions are sometimes a matter for the local authorities involved. If he will let me have the details, I will ask the Sports Minister to respond to him. He may also like to seek an Adjournment debate, where he can secure a ministerial reply in open session of the House.
I declare an interest as an affected resident. Many of my constituents, and hundreds if not thousands of people across the country, have had their summer ruined again. They cannot sit in their gardens and cannot even open their windows. Why? Wagons carrying rotten carcases, emitting a horrendous stench, travel up and down our roads and past people’s homes. May we have a debate in Government time on the need for sealed wagons to control the stench that is given off by the rotten corpses of animals and other meat products, or should we bring containers of rotten meat here, because if it is good enough for my constituents to inhale, perhaps it is good enough for this House?