House of Commons
Monday 24 October 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
House Building and Planning
My hon. Friend highlights the importance of increasing brownfield development and building to higher densities to deliver more homes. I announced our plan for urban regeneration at our party conference and I will set out further proposals as part of our housing White Paper later this year.
I am delighted at the progress that my right hon. Friend has made so far, but may I urge him to go further still? I encourage him to include proposals to build up, not out, in his forthcoming White Paper, to cut development pressure on green fields, release huge numbers of new buildable sites, regenerate urban centres and, most important of all, cut the cost of new homes dramatically?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the need for more homes in the right places so that the housing market works for everyone. That means encouraging urban regeneration, making the best of brownfield land and building new homes where people desperately need them. Later this year, my housing White Paper will ensure that that happens across the country, including Weston-super-Mare.
Surely the Secretary of State is not going to fiddle-faddle with regulations like this at that level. What this country needs, given the housing and homes crisis—the deepest in a hundred years—is bold, imaginative innovation in the house-building programme, and we want it now.
Recently the leader of Rossendale Borough Council and I wrote jointly to the Minister for Housing and Planning to say that our objectively assessed housing requirement did not take account of topographical and flooding issues in the Rossendale valley. Will the Secretary of State, on behalf of our hon. Friend the Minister, agree to a meeting with the leader of the local authority, Alyson Barnes, and me to discuss those specific issues?
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council.
My constituents would broadly support the idea of building up, not out, but in middle England towns such as Kettering, with its limited public transport options, the problem is that the more residents we squeeze into any street, the greater the pressure on parking spaces. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a big difference between inner-city developments and developments of this sort in middle England towns?
My hon. Friend is right, and highlights the need for correct and adequate infrastructure in towns and villages across the country if we are to build the homes that we need. The proposals that we will introduce later this year, including the White Paper, will certainly take account of that.
One person sleeping on the streets is one too many. All too often, support and intervention are only provided at crisis point, which is why we have launched our £40 million homelessness prevention programme—an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping to get people back on their feet.
St Mungo’s reported last week that four in 10 people sleeping rough in England have mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Poor mental health makes it harder for rough sleepers to get off the streets and almost impossible to gain access to mainstream NHS services. St Mungo’s reports that
“the small number of specialist…mental health services are facing cuts or disappearing altogether.”
How exactly is the Secretary of State addressing the growing mental health crisis among people sleeping on the streets?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. As she rightly points out, homelessness is not just an issue of providing enough homes but of dealing with other causes. There is a cross-party working group on homelessness, and the Government are working across all Departments to deal with these complex issues. I am sure that we will make further progress.
It is often alleged—I am not sure how much statistical evidence there is—that a disproportionate number of rough sleepers in Britain come from the armed services. Will the Secretary of State tell us, first, whether or not that is true and whether there is any statistical evidence; and secondly, what more can be done to ensure that when people leaved the armed services they are given proper accommodation and kept off the streets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is a disproportionate number, which is unacceptable. Almost all local authorities have signed up to the armed forces covenant, which will help, but we have to do more. The fact that the Government have committed £500 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next four years will certainly help.
Two weeks ago, I joined the excellent Wintercomfort organisation in Cambridge, which provides services for rough sleepers in the city. It was in no doubt that the numbers are rising inexorably. How can reducing the support for supported housing in any way help to deal with this issue?
Clearly, having any single individual sleeping rough in this country is a disgrace. Will my right hon. Friend take urgent action to identify the people who are sleeping rough and to ensure that they get the help and support that they need, so that they have a home of their own and they can get back to a normal way of life?
Of course the Government can help with that. My hon. Friend will know that last December the Government committed to looking at options, including legislation, to deal with homelessness and to help rough sleepers. I am pleased to announce to the House today that the Government will be supporting his Bill, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is also supported by Crisis and Shelter. I thank him for all his hard work on the Bill and also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is responsible for local government.
It is good to see the Secretary of State and his new team in place, and it is even better to see our new strong Labour team in place. We will hold the Secretary of State and his team hard to account for the public for their failings.
With Labour in government, the number of homeless people sleeping rough on our streets fell by three quarters. Since 2010, the number has doubled. Why does the Secretary of State think that that has happened?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of Labour in government. Let me remind him what happened—he was a Housing Minister for some of that time. Labour cut the number of houses available for social rent by 421,000. Since we have been in office, more council housing has been built, helping people to find homes, than in the entire 13 years of the Labour Government. If Labour had spent as much effort on building homes as it does on building its Front-Bench team, we would have had better results.
You can’t help the homeless if you won’t build the homes. Over the past six years, the Secretary of State’s Government have cut all funding for building new, genuinely affordable social housing. He asks about my record. In 2009, when I stood where he is standing, Labour in government started 40,000 new social rented homes. Last year, it was 1,000. From Labour’s Front Bench, I welcome the Secretary of State’s backing for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), but will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity on Friday also to deal with the causes of rising homelessness? Build more affordable housing. Act on private renting and reverse the crude cuts to housing benefit for the most vulnerable people.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman raises his record in office. The House needs to be reminded that, under Labour, house building fell to its lowest level since the 1920s. That is Labour’s record, and Labour will never get away from it. Soon we will introduce a White Paper on housing. Let us see if he is able to support it.
The Government are fully committed to neighbourhood planning, which enables communities to shape the development and growth of their local area in a positive manner. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill will further strengthen and future-proof the process and ensure that communities have the support that they need.
I think we would all welcome local communities being involved in their local plans in more detail. However, does the Secretary of State agree that one of the big challenges is ensuring that developers use land that they already have planning permission for, with a particular emphasis, as we have heard, on brownfield sites?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Where sites have planning permission, developers should move ahead as quickly as possible. People in desperate need of housing expect developers to work with the local authorities to deliver those new homes. That is why we are trying to help where we can. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill will make a difference, as will the £3 billion home building fund that was announced last month.
There will be no real localism while developers have the right to appeal planning decisions and communities do not. In cases where a neighbourhood plan is in place, will the Secretary of State commit to seriously consider allowing a community right of appeal when a developer proposes a speculative development that goes against that plan?
A community right to appeal would further slow down the planning process, which is not in anyone’s interest. We need more homes built in this country and we need them built quickly, and measures such as those in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill are precisely the ones that will help.
In Eastleigh, we face countless hostile planning applications, some destroying ancient woodland and beautiful green spaces. Does the Secretary of State agree that the borough council’s failure to deliver a local plan and much needed associated policies for neighbourhood plans prevents councils such as Botley from bringing forward their neighbourhood plans, thereby letting down my constituents?
My hon. Friend has been a consistent champion in this House of the need for Eastleigh to have an up-to-date and properly supported local plan. Eastleigh Borough Council needs to get its act together. Her constituents deserve to have their voices heard, and our neighbourhood plan will strengthen that right.
In a recent appeal by the developer, the Planning Inspectorate totally overlooked the local neighbourhood plan in Tettenhall in my constituency. From memory, it made one passing reference to that plan in a 17-page decision upholding the developer’s appeal. I would not expect the Secretary of State to comment on a particular appeal, but will he have a look at how seriously the Planning Inspectorate takes local neighbourhood plans?
It would be wrong of me to comment on the detail of a particular planning application, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which is now before Parliament, will strengthen these neighbourhood plans. It will bring them into legal force far quicker, it will make it much easier to modify them and it will give more support, including financially, for communities to put them together.
High Streets (England)
We all want to see our high streets succeed and thrive and that is why we have introduced the biggest cut in business rates, worth £6.7 billion. We have launched the high street pledge, we have introduced digital high street pilots, and we are celebrating our high streets through the Great British High Street award, the finalists of which we announced last week.
Thornbury High Street attracts visitors from around the country to its art festival, regular farmers markets and annual carnival. Does my hon. Friend recognise the contribution of tourism to local high streets, and how is he working with his colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to support high streets as local and regional tourism destinations?
I know from my constituency how important the high street is in attracting people in. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in his constituency. We saw an increase in footfall in August of 1.1%. We are working closely across government with our colleagues in DCMS on funds such as the Discover England Fund and, of course, the Coastal Communities Fund, which is funding a significant number of projects that are all about increasing tourism and jobs in the tourism sector.
The Minister mentioned business rates. As a result of the business rate revaluation, many retailers on high streets up and down the country face significant increases in business rates. That will not help high streets, and it will not help retailers. Is that not the reality of what he has just announced?
Of course, the business rate cut is helping 600,000 of the smallest businesses, which do not pay any business rates at all. It is fiscally neutral, and three quarters of businesses will see a cut. I would have thought that that would be something the hon. Gentleman would welcome.
In the next week I will be launching my annual best shop and market stall competition, with a new category—best café—this year. Will my hon. Friend join me in wishing all the entrants the best of luck, and does he agree that independent outlets are key to creating a unique and thriving town centre?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on this excellent competition. I look forward to hearing the results, and pay tribute to all the work she is doing. Independent retailers are central to the success of many of our high streets and I pay tribute to the work they do. They of course will benefit from the small business rate cut that we have announced.
Leaving the EU: Local Government
As well as some challenges, leaving the EU presents some fresh opportunities for the whole country. Working with Government colleagues, I am determined that local government takes advantage of those opportunities.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has stated that only one third of the £1.3 billion of structural funds Scotland will receive up to 2020 has been allocated to local authorities. Some 20,000 businesses will benefit from these funds, potentially creating up to 11,000 jobs. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that there will be no financial detriment to our local communities if Scotland is dragged out of the EU through hard Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman will know that, first, the Chancellor has already guaranteed that any application for EU structural funds up to the autumn statement will be fully honoured and, beyond that, that fund applications will be honoured as long as they meet the UK national interest. However, leaving the EU also gives us an opportunity to design a new fit-for-purpose investment model that will benefit all our communities in the UK in exactly the way we want.
Yes, I do. I agree with my hon. Friend that the impact across the country of leaving the EU will be felt by local authorities in some ways—we have just heard a good example of that—and I assure him that I am having a very strong dialogue with the relevant Ministers to make sure that local government’s voice is heard.
The Secretary of State has just said that the Government will guarantee the funding for EU-supported council schemes signed off before the autumn statement, and perhaps those signed off before we leave the EU. On support for farmers under the common agricultural policy, however, the Government are going to guarantee every single penny up to 2020. Why will the Government not give the same treatment to local communities, which will really suffer if these important schemes are lost because of the Government’s failure to give them proper support?
We will make sure that no community suffers. That is why we have the transition process. The guarantees we have given local councils and local communities are very important. Again, once we leave the EU, we will be able to design a system that fits the needs of the UK and no one else.
My right hon. Friend is dead right to say there will be opportunities. Is it not the case that, whereas at the moment local councils and regions are forbidden to fund regional airports and other forms of infrastructure under EU law, that will no longer be the case and the United Kingdom will be able to choose what is best for our citizens?
It is a very interesting point that the hon. Gentleman over there has just made.
Does the Secretary of State not accept that, even if we are not members of the EU, state aid rules may still apply under World Trade Organisation rules, so local authorities will still have to abide by a lot of these rules?
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I will certainly table more questions to find out more detail on that.
The Secretary of State may be aware that Glasgow City Council has produced a document with a series of requests of the Scottish Government and the UK Government to help to prevent the detriment that is likely as a result of a hard Brexit. I expect other local authorities around the UK will do something similar. How will he ensure that the range of voices within local government is listened to and acted on by this Government?
I declare an interest as a member of Oldham Council.
In July, the Secretary of State highlighted the importance of local government having a say in the process of leaving the EU. He also committed to having a conversation with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, so it would be great to get an update on those conversations and to find out exactly what role local government will have.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the process is ongoing and will take a number of months, if not years, so there will be plenty of opportunity for dialogue, including within the Government. I have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on various issues that will affect local government, but I will not give a running commentary on them.
I do not think that anyone is expecting a running commentary, but any commentary would represent progress, given the silence at the moment. Local government wants to know what part it will play; at the moment that understanding is fuzzy, to say the least. The Secretary of State will know the importance of EU structural funds—£5.3 billion of investment that is vital to many of our local communities—and the ability to administer those funds is a key component of the 10 devolution deals that are set so far. Does he agree that uncertainty about the future of those funds is stopping the vital long-term planning that is needed and risks damaging those devolution deals, which have only just been agreed, and that the poorest in the community will suffer as a result?
The Chancellor has provided significant certainty about structural funds, especially for applications that are made before the autumn statement. Recently, at the Conservative party conference, he provided further certainty about funds beyond then. That is exactly what business is looking for.
Empty Homes (England)
As of October 2015, 203,596 homes in England had been standing empty for longer than six months, the lowest number since records began.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Protecting green spaces and providing new homes are both important. What further steps can the Government take to ensure that empty homes are reutilised, notwithstanding the fact that they have already reduced the number of empty homes to an extremely low level?
Local authorities have strong incentives. They earn the same financial reward through the new homes bonus for bringing an empty home back into use as for building a new one. They also have strong enforcement powers. They can charge up to 150% council tax for homes that have been empty for more than two years and apply empty dwelling management orders to force owners to bring properties back into use.
In our town centres there are thousands of empty rooms on upper floors that could easily be converted into homes, yet they do not appear in the now excellent statistics to which the Minister refers. Will he bring together the key stakeholders and agencies to look at what the real barriers are that have meant that Governments of all hues have failed to achieve that conversion?
The Government continue to reform the planning system. We have set out our clear intent to intervene on those councils that do not have an up-to-date plan. We have legislated to ensure that the planning system delivers starter homes for first-time buyers, as well as affordable homes for people wanting to rent.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The recently published Greater Manchester spatial framework states an ambition to
“significantly increase the supply of housing that people can afford, including through the planning system.”
How will Greater Manchester be able to achieve that ambition, given that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 lets developers off the hook by effectively ending their obligation to provide affordable homes to rent and buy?
The Housing and Planning Act does no such thing. The hon. Lady’s question made it clear that she was interested in more affordable homes for people to rent or buy. The Act requires developers to provide affordable starter homes for first-time buyers, but there will still absolutely be a determination to deliver affordable homes for rent. I look forward to visiting Greater Manchester shortly to discuss these matters.
Developments such as Chapel Hill in my constituency will have 40% affordable homes. Does not that show that the planning system already gives local authorities the relevant powers they need, and that they should be using them in the same way as Conservative-led Basingstoke Borough Council?
I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. Too often, the housing problems that we face are portrayed as a problem for just London and the south-east. The Secretary of State, the ministerial team and I are clear that we need a housing policy that delivers more homes right across the country, and recognises the circumstances in different housing markets.
In Bath, all our brownfield sites will be developed by 2025 to 2030, with the only nearby sites being the brownfield land south of Bristol that has been left undeveloped for decades by the Labour council and Labour Mayor of Bristol. Does my hon. Friend agree that the changes in the last planning Act and the infrastructure Bill will make a huge difference to developing brownfield land across the whole of the south of Bristol and west of England?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Brownfield registers and permission in principle can make a big contribution to ensuring that as much development as possible goes on to brownfield sites. The example he gives also shows the benefit of sometimes working across councils, as is happening in Greater Manchester, to plan for strategic housing needs.
The Government are clear that there are huge opportunities on Teesside, which was why the Secretary of State met Tees Valley leaders last week. That is also why we are committed to implementing the groundbreaking devolution deal. We have made the transfer of the first £15 million. In addition, we will be providing Tees Valley with £37.7 million this year from our local growth fund.
While not flawless, the Heseltine report recognises the real potential on Teesside. However, the recommended electrification of the North Allerton to Teesside line has been ruled out. Carbon capture and storage was recommended but has been ruled out. Prioritisation for the national teaching service for the area is still under review. The immediate transfer of the former SSI site to the new mayoral development corporation is recommended but still in limbo, with previous promises on funding taken away. Will the Minister give any of the report’s recommendations the go-ahead in the near or middle-distant future?
We are already implementing some of those recommendations. Many, of course, were down to local implementation. Just last week, we issued the indemnity allowing the site inspections to be undertaken. Once the inspections have been completed, we expect the MDC, which we wish to establish in the middle of next year, to come forward with proposals on resources. The national teaching service pilot scheme has already been rolled out. We will confirm plans for rolling it out further later in the year. I want to work with the hon. Gentleman and other key stakeholders in the region because there is huge potential in that site—we are absolutely clear about that.
I led the inaugural midlands engine trade mission to north America in September. I am leading a second mission to China this month. Establishing a mayoral combined authority within the west midlands will help to bring about even more trade and investment opportunities for the midlands engine.
The black country economy and the west midlands have had a substantial revival over the past few years. In the last year alone, there has been a 46% increase in foreign direct investment in the black country. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to do all we can to take advantage of the devolution settlement in the west midlands, in the context of the midlands engine, to drive the growth of trade and investment into the west midlands from around the world?
The black country and the wider west midlands have seen strong performance of inward investment and exports. Our historic west midlands devolution deal includes an investment fund of £1 billion to drive growth, and what we also need to drive growth is strong local leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that Andy Street will bring that to the west midlands.
There are many great businesses in Stoke-on-Trent, such as engineering firm Brown McFarlane, that want to grow through trade and investment. Thus far, however, we have had very little engagement from John Peace and the midlands engine. We are not part of the combined authority of the west midlands and the black country. Will the Minister tell the House when John Peace will be visiting Stoke-on-Trent, and what plans the midlands engine has for north Staffordshire?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many excellent businesses in his part of the world, and I think that Sir John Peace is a fantastic choice to chair the midlands engine. The hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point that the midlands engine is not the same as the west midlands devolution deal. I am sure that Sir John Peace will take a great interest in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I will make sure that he hears the hon. Gentleman’s case.
Another key part of the midlands engine will be the Lincolnshire devolution deal. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging the eight out of 10 councils that have voted for it already to work with the Government to make sure that we get the best devolution deal for Lincolnshire and that Lincolnshire does not turn its back on half a billion pounds of Government money?
My hon. Friend highlights the importance of these devolution deals, including that for greater Lincolnshire, in bringing about more growth and better productivity in all regions of the UK. As my hon. Friend said, eight councils out of 10 have accepted the deal—I hope the others will as well—which will make a great difference to jobs and growth.
I had thought that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) would require a degree of intellectual dexterity to relate the question to Leigh or Manchester, but he might have been saved by the Secretary of State’s referring, perhaps gratuitously, to all regions. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is a beneficiary of that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
One cannot help but notice that all the talk these days is of the midlands engine. Suddenly, the northern powerhouse is about as popular on the Conservative Benches as its originator, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne). Although I am not against investment in the midlands, will the Secretary of State give a cast-iron guarantee that manifesto commitments to invest in the north, including in High Speed 3, will not be delayed or diluted by new commitments to the midlands?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has significant ambitions, but he must not talk down the north at every opportunity. He will know that the Government are as committed as ever to the northern powerhouse, and that applies to all our commitments around investment and growth.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced the £3 billion home building fund to ensure that we are not so reliant on a few large builders, and the £2 billion accelerated construction programme to speed up building on public land. We will be setting out further plans in a White Paper later this year.
Havant Borough Council is working with communities to update our local plans to ensure that local housing needs are met strategically. Will the Minister join me in congratulating them on their work and welcome their commitment to ensuring that home ownership is within reach of everyone?
I am happy to do that. It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency recently and to meet Councillor David Guest, who is leading this work on behalf of Havant Council, and the great housing associations First Wessex and Radian, which are doing great work in this field.
A fair proportion of these homes have to be affordable. Earlier this year, Westminster Council approved a scheme for 103 luxury flats in Westminster. Thirty per cent. of those would have given us an estimated value of £100 million; in fact, the council agreed to just 2% and took a contribution of £6 million. Will the Minister make it his urgent business to ensure that councils do not evade their commitments to providing a reasonable proportion of affordable housing?
Both the Secretary of State and I have made it very clear that we need more homes of every single kind in this country—more homes for people to buy on the market, more affordable homes for rent, and more shared ownership. I hope that the hon. Lady will therefore welcome the Government’s starter homes policy to ensure that developers provide starter homes for first-time buyers when they build out schemes.
In Swindon, we have cross-party support for our local plan, and by working with developers in advance of the submission stage of planning, we are delivering the popular Tadpole Farm development. Will the Minister agree to visit Tadpole Farm to see what best practice we can share to deliver much needed new homes?
The hon. Gentleman uses an interesting timescale, because the fall in home ownership among the under-35s started in 2004-05 and the previous Labour Government did nothing about it. Indeed, the new shadow Minister said that he is not sure that he thinks that is such a bad thing. That decline was halted in the past year. The job that now falls to the Secretary of State and me is to reverse that decline so that young people have the chance to fulfil their dreams.
In her conference speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the Conservatives’ house building record was not good enough. Given the historic failure of the past six years under the Prime Minister’s predecessor, whose house building record was worse than that of any Prime Minister since 1923, how can we be convinced that the present Government will do anything differently to prevent six years of failure from becoming 10?
Let us take care of the party politics first. The previous Prime Minister inherited from the previous Labour Government the lowest level of house building since the 1920s, but the number of homes being approved has now increased significantly. In the year to June, our planning system granted a record number of applications. However, if the hon. Lady wants to put aside the party politics and is saying that we need to do better and to build more homes, she will find complete agreement among this ministerial team.
The national planning policy framework is clear. Local planning policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light, including the impact on intrinsically dark landscapes. Our March 2014 planning guidance sets out how light pollution should be considered in the planning system.
Light pollution is not just a problem for people who want to look at the stars; it is also a problem for birds, which become confused about when they should begin the dawn chorus. They sing for so long that they have no energy left to mate. I am sure that the Minister understands why this is a problem. But Brexit—
It is always important to reserve enough energy, and LED lights are certainly one way of not using as much energy as our current street lights generally do. I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I think that, when practicable, local authorities should always seek to procure goods and services from UK firms.
The Minister for encouraging avian procreation is not unknown in Ealing. May I invite him to return to that sweet borough, where he will see the stars glittering like diamonds on a bed of black velvet because a very hard-working, intelligent and innovative council has changed the street lighting programme to one with down-lighters and lower luminescence? Will he return with me to Ealing and gaze up at the stars, which are now visible?
I usually expect most Labour local authorities to leave people in the dark, but on this occasion I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I made a fantastic visit to Pitshanger Lane in his constituency not too long ago and I should be delighted to return at some point.
We have not set out any formal plans to review the building regulations as a whole, but we have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing part B following the Lakanal House fire. During the passage of the Bill that became the Housing and Planning Act 2016, we made a commitment to review the energy-efficiency standards for buildings in part L.
I am grateful for that answer, as far as it goes. I do not know whether the Minister has considered my Protection of Family Homes (Enforcement and Permitted Development) Bill, but surely he must agree that help is needed for home owners whose homes and neighbourhoods are blighted by rogue builders and developers who flout the regulations and planning laws because they know that current enforcement action is costly and complicated.
I have had a chance to review the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill. The Government do not agree that further legislation is necessary, but we certainly agree with him that there is a problem in this area. Indeed, last week we announced further powers to give councils the ability to deal with smaller houses in multiple occupation that are causing the kinds of issues that he has mentioned.
The Government are committed to protecting the vulnerable, including homeless people. That is why we deferred the implementation of the local housing allowance rates for supported housing until April 2019. From then on, we will provide a new funding model to meet additional housing costs above the local housing allowance rates.
That is all very well, but the chief executive of the National Housing Federation has already stated:
“We want to put supported housing on a secure and sustainable footing for the long term and we are not confident that the new system will guarantee this.”
What is wrong with that point of view?
I have met the chief executive of the National Housing Federation and discussed this issue with him at some length. We are giving confidence to the sector that funding will be devolved to local authorities, and that that funding will be ring-fenced. Save for the changes to social rent increases, the quantum of funding to the sector will be the same. The chief executive seemed reasonably reassured on that point.
Following the statement made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), on 15 September, it is vital that the consultation on the funding of supported housing should get under way as soon as possible. Can the Minister tell the House when it will commence?
The Minister should realise that people living in supported accommodation are among the most vulnerable in society. He has left a whole series of charities and others in the third sector, including Framework in Nottingham, in limbo as a result of the lack of a decision on this issue. He must ensure that the Government put their money where their mouth is and support those vulnerable people. They need help and they need it now.
Business rates are based on valuations carried out independently by the Valuation Office Agency. Nearly three quarters of businesses will see no change or a fall in their business rates next year, thanks to the 2017 revaluation, with 600,000 set to pay no business rates at all. For the minority that face an increase, a £3.4 billion transitional rate relief scheme will ensure that no business is unfairly penalised.
Despite what my hon. Friend has said to allay my fears, I wonder whether I could persuade him to meet me and local representatives of the solar industry and other constituency interests. We might come up with a few arguments that he has not yet heard and that might persuade him to change his mind about these rate rises.
I am aware that the rateable values of certain types of rooftop solar insulation are increasing under the revaluation. However, there are many factors that determine the rateable value of a property, and the installation of solar panels is only one element. Many will see an increase in the rateable value of their solar panels but see their overall rates bill reduced. That said, I hear what my hon. Friend has said and I am more than willing to meet him and local representatives of the industry.
It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend in his place. We are all proud of our coastal communities. I say that as a Member representing a coastal community myself. We have already invested £125 million in coastal communities across the United Kingdom through the coastal communities fund, £92 million of which was invested in England. We want to go even further, and we have identified at least a further £90 million for local projects. The bidding for those funds has begun, and 40 projects have made it through to the next round. We will be making a decision on them early next year.
I welcome the Minister’s response and his kind words. The Queenborough Harbour Trust in my constituency has been successful in the stage 1 bidding process for obtaining a grant from the coastal communities fund. What advice would he give to the trust members as they enter stage 2 of the process, to ensure they get some success?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his advocacy on behalf of the trust. It should seek guidance and support from its funding officer and its capital adviser who has been assigned to it by the Big Lottery Fund, which administers the coastal communities fund on our behalf. Advice is also available to it on the Big Lottery Fund website.
The recess was far from a quiet period in my Department. Earlier this month we announced the £5 billion of funding for new homes, we have continued to drive forward devolution deals, and we are in the process of offering councils extra certainty through four-year funding settlements, but there is plenty more to come, including the White Paper—and, if I am even daring to dream, the press pack outside No. 10 might stop confusing me with Sadiq Khan.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I am sure he shares my concern about the very high number of excess winter deaths in our country each year. He will understand the importance of Government, national and local, working together to address this, so will he say what specific plans his Department has to co-ordinate activity and minimise the number of cold weather deaths this winter?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue and rightly highlights the need for co-ordinated Government action. Public Health England has already published a cold weather plan, which gives recommendations for the NHS and public health and social care and community organisations to work together and help the people who are most vulnerable this winter.
We have huge plans in this area. One of the key objectives of the home building fund and the accelerated construction projects the Secretary of State announced at party conference is to encourage more use of offsite construction.
The Secretary of State’s Department is supposed to be England’s voice in government, yet standing up for the English and the services they depend on seems low on Ministers’ list of priorities. The independent Care Quality Commission pointed out recently that the Government’s huge funding cuts have left services for England’s elderly and vulnerable at tipping point. With the social care crisis across England getting worse week by week, when might we expect the Secretary of State to act?
I recognise that there is growing demand for social care across the UK, especially in England, which is why in the last spending review we pledged an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, including allowing councils to have a social care precept, so there is money that is ring-fenced, and also the better care fund.
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend’s compliments to the Government on this and wish Ilfracombe all the best. It has made it through to the final 40, and we will be making an announcement on the final fund early next year, so congratulations again.
I am sorry, but that is complete and utter nonsense, and I have to say that if Opposition Members are really interested in the northern powerhouse, they should stop talking it down at every single opportunity and trashing it. We have delivered through the northern powerhouse a record number of enterprise zones and billions of pounds of investment in public transport projects across the north, and I know from my 10 years as a local government councillor in the north that that is a lot more than the Labour Government managed to do for the north during their time in power.
This is a reform for which local government has long campaigned and in which my hon. Friend has shown great interest. To deliver the commitment, we held an open consultation that invited councils and businesses to have their say and have established a joint steering group with the Local Government Association to consider the mechanisms needed to set up and run the new system.
The hon. Gentleman is confusing two issues. On business, there is a record package of £6.7 billion of business rates relief. On local government funding, I assure him that the revaluation process is a revenue- neutral exercise after which no local authority will be disadvantaged.
The national planning policy framework requires councils to plan for a mix of housing, but my hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important not only to get the right housing for our elderly population, but to release crucial family housing and to boost the second-hand market, allowing developers to build more homes.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that 100% of business rates will be retained in local government to be spent on local government services. There will need to be a form of redistribution so that local authorities that do not collect as much in business rates are not left in a difficult situation. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know we consulted extensively in the sector and received more than 450 responses.
We are doing a number of things. At the party conference, we announced the home building fund, which will provide home builders with the finance that they often cannot secure commercially. We are also looking into planning policy to ensure that we release the vital small sites that small builders can take on.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will. I am pleased that he has expressed his views about the importance of Unionism. It is key that we continue to work together—that is when we are at our strongest. I support the Union, and Unionism is absolutely central to that. That is my view and that is the Prime Minister’s view.
General aviation airfields, not least White Waltham in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, make a valuable contribution to pilot training, business aviation and sporting aviation. Is the Minister aware that they are now seriously under threat? It is proposed that Redhill aerodrome will become an estate of 4,500 homes, and he will know about Wellesbourne airfield near his constituency. Please can we have a policy that protects general aviation airfields across the country, because otherwise they will all be covered with concrete?
Chesterfield Borough Council stands ready to help end the housing crisis by building more homes, but the Government have reneged on the deal they did with Chesterfield in 2012. Changes to rents and the money coming into councils have made it much more difficult to deliver the houses that we need. Will the Minister meet a delegation from Chesterfield to understand the changes so that we can build the houses that Chesterfield needs?
I am happy to meet a delegation to discuss this issue, but of course the reduction in rates helps vulnerable tenants in reducing the bills they face. The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to say that we must make sure we find a way to ensure that councils, along with housing associations and private builders, can build the homes we desperately need.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is fully engaged in evaluating the regional growth fund bid from Swindon and Wiltshire? Will he ensure that the emphasis on long-term skills development at Wiltshire College will be looked upon favourably in due course?
I met my hon. Friend recently to discuss issues across south Wiltshire. We are assessing the local growth fund bids at the moment—this will be a massive investment in regeneration across the country—and we will have an announcement on that particular proposal shortly.
On the Secretary of State’s regeneration of coastal communities, he will know that North Antrim has off its shore the only regional island that is inhabited by people—with the exception of Great Britain—Rathlin Island. He will also be aware of Ballycastle, Bushmills and Ballintoy. May I invite him to these areas to see regional communities’ regeneration—
I would like to refer to the question raised by my friend, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who mentioned the link between mental health and homelessness. Does the Secretary of State understand that the reports say there is a link, with 60% of people from the homeless community also having mental health issues? What is he doing to liaise with the Department of Health and with local authorities to change that link?
As my hon. and learned Friend highlights once again, homelessness is more than just a housing issue. She can be assured that we are working across government—my Department, the Department of Health and the Treasury—in making sure that we are doing everything we can, as our recent announcement on homelessness helps to demonstrate.
One of the main ways that developers in London manage down the levels of affordable housing is by a financial viability assessment. Does the Minister agree that all local authorities should make those assessments public at the start of the planning process, so that communities can transparently scrutinise them?
What we need to do is take as much of the conflict as possible out of our planning system, be it in respect of agreeing the level of need, the local plan determination or viability assessments. There is nowhere in this country where the gap between what we are building and what we need to build is greater than in London.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker, as I raise the issue of Christmas shopping. As internet retailers prepare for black Friday and as online shopping breaks records, rural high streets struggle. Will the Secretary of State support Wealden high streets in Hailsham and Crowborough and increase footfall by visiting Uckfield high street for his Christmas shopping?
I will of course be spreading my Christmas shopping across large parts of my constituency, but I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. She raises an important point, which is that as we get towards Christmas people should try their best to shop local.
The following Members took and subscribed the Oath required by law:
Tracy Lynn Brabin, for Batley and Spen.
Robert Alexander Courts, for Witney.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on my first European Council.
I went to the Council last week with a clear message for my 27 European counterparts. The UK is leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe, and we are not turning our backs on our friends and allies. For as long as we are members of the EU, we will continue to play a full and active role. After we leave, we will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about trading freely with our European neighbours and co-operating on our shared security interests, including on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work. That is the right approach for Britain to take. It was in that spirit that we were able to make a significant contribution at this Council on ensuring a robust European stance in the face of Russian aggression, on addressing the root causes of mass migration, and on championing free trade around the world. Let me say a word about each.
Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Aleppo and the atrocities that we have seen elsewhere in Syria are utterly horrific. It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia and the Syrian regime to stop the appalling actions and to create the space for a genuine political transition in Syria. It was the UK that put this issue on the agenda for the Council. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the case for a robust response at the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday, and I spoke personally to Chancellor Merkel and President Tusk ahead of the Council last week. The Council strongly condemned the attacks, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and demanded that those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights be held accountable—but we need to go further, which is why we agreed that, if current atrocities continue, the EU will consider “all available options”. We also agreed that everything should be done to bring in humanitarian aid to the civilian population.
On Friday in Geneva, the UK secured an extraordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council to press for a ceasefire to enable humanitarian access to Aleppo. There are millions of innocent civilians trapped there and in other besieged locations across Syria in desperate need of food, shelter and healthcare. The UK is already the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this crisis. If we can secure the access needed to Aleppo and other besieged areas, we stand ready to accelerate over £23 million of aid for the UN to distribute on the ground to help the most vulnerable in the hardest-to-reach parts of Syria.
Turning to the migration crisis, the Home Secretary will be giving a statement on Calais shortly. At the European Council, I confirmed that the UK will continue to provide practical support to our European partners, including through our naval presence in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. As part of that effort, HMS Echo will take over from HMS Enterprise in the central Mediterranean early next year. However, I also reiterated the case that I made last month at the United Nations for a new global approach to migration based on three fundamental principles: first, ensuring that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; secondly, improving the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants; and thirdly, developing a better overall approach to managing economic migration, which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders and that all countries must commit to accepting the return of their own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere. This new approach includes working more closely with both source and transit countries, and the Council agreed to do more to help those countries prevent illegal migration and to return migrants who have no right to stay in EU countries.
On trade, I am determined that as we leave the EU, Britain will be the most passionate, the most consistent and the most convincing advocate of free trade anywhere in the world, so as we look beyond our continent, we will seize the opportunities of Brexit to forge an ambitious and optimistic new role for Britain in the world. As part of this, I have been clear that the UK is already discussing our future trading relationships with third countries. As I made clear to the other member states last week, this will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda. In fact, it is not even in competition with it, and for as long as we remain a member of the EU, we will continue to back the EU’s free trade negotiations.
I share everyone's disappointment over the stalled talks between the EU and Canada, and we will, of course, do anything we can to try to help get those discussions back on track. I remind those who suggest that these difficulties have a bearing on our own future negotiations that we are not seeking to replicate any existing model that any other country has for its trade with the European Union. We will be developing our own British model—a new relationship for the UK with the EU—for when we are outside the EU, a deal that is ambitious and bold for Britain.
I updated the European Council on our position on Brexit. I have said that we will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year, and that as part of the withdrawal process, we will put before Parliament a great repeal Bill which will remove from the statute book once and for all the European Communities Act. The legislation that gives direct effect to all EU law in Britain will no longer apply from the date upon which we formally leave the European Union, and the authority of EU law in Britain will end.
The Government will give Parliament the opportunity to discuss our approach to leaving the European Union. In addition to regular updates from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my own statements following Council meetings, and the deliberations of the new Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Government will make time available for a series of general debates on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. These will take place before and after the Christmas recess, and I expect will include debate on the high-level principles that the Government will pursue in the negotiations.
Members on all sides will recognise that the Government must not show their hand in detail as we enter these negotiations, but it is important that Members have this opportunity to speak on the issues that matter to their constituents as we make our preparations to leave the EU. Although we have not yet formally started the Brexit negotiations, I made it clear at last week’s European Council that my aim is to cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left. I want the deal we negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy; a deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with, and operate within, the European market, and allow European businesses to do the same here; a deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies; a deal that is in Britain’s interests and the interests of all our European partners. But it will also be a deal that means we are a fully independent, sovereign nation, able to do what sovereign nations do, which means we will, for example, be free to decide for ourselves how we control immigration. It will mean our laws are made not in Brussels but here in this Parliament, and that the judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts right here in Britain.
The negotiations will take time. There will be difficult moments ahead, and as I have said before, it will require patience and some give and take. But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit, we can ensure a smooth departure. We can build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU, and we can secure the deal that is right for the British people, whose instruction it is our duty to deliver. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of the statement she has just given us.
Funnily enough, I, too, was in Brussels last Thursday, meeting socialist leaders and their counterparts. [Interruption.] I have to say I was given a little longer to speak than the five minutes the Prime Minister had at the dinner that evening, and I had it at a more reasonable time of the day.
Indeed, I was listened to very carefully by all those around the table.
I made it clear to the other leaders that Britain should continue to be a full and active member of the European Union until negotiations on our exit are complete. I think the Prime Minister was trying to send the same message, but the manner in which she conveyed it was rather different, as she seemed not to be trying to build the consensus that is necessary or to shape a future relationship with the European Union that is beneficial to everybody. She had a very different approach.
The message that came to me loud and clear from European leaders last week was that the tone taken by this Tory Government since their Tory party conference earlier this month has damaged our global reputation and lost us a lot of good will, not just in Europe but around the world. Although the Prime Minister’s words may have appeased the hard-line voices behind her, the approach she and her party have taken has only spread anger and resentment all across Europe. I do not believe that we will get the best deal for this country by using threats, by hectoring or by lecturing the European Union. For these negotiations to succeed, the Government need to adopt a slightly more grown-up approach. For negotiations to succeed, Britain needs a plan. What is clear to everybody—European leaders, non-governmental organisations and business—is that, quite clearly, the Government do not have one.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House if any progress has been made since the Council meeting last week? Is she willing to tell us whether access to the single market is a red line for her Government or not? She has made it clear that she wants to end freedom of movement, but she has not been clear to business about what will be in its place, causing uncertainty for business and for the many EU nationals who reside in this country and make such a great contribution to our economy. Can she tell us if her Government are supporting moves by senior Conservatives to amend the great repeal Bill by adding a sunset clause, allowing Ministers to strip away EU laws on workers’ rights and environmental protection in the years that succeed the exit from the European Union? Can she also tell us how the Government plan to make up the shortfall in funding to the regions resulting from the loss of structural funding to vital capital programmes all over this country?
One week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will say one thing; the next week, the Chancellor will say another. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says very little, other than, “Brexit means Brexit” and “We will not provide a running commentary.” The rest of the world looks on and concludes that Britain has not got a clue. The truth is that this is not a soft Brexit, or even a hard Brexit; it is simply a chaotic Brexit.
With all that uncertainty and all those mixed messages, confidence in the economy falls day by day and the British people become more worried about their future. Two weeks ago, the Treasury said that leaving the single market would lead to a £66 billion loss to the economy. The trade deficit is widening and the value of the pound has already fallen by 18%, resulting in industries, including the auto industry, delaying vital investment decisions and the banking sector looking to relocate. That indecision and poor economic management is starting to hit our economy severely, weakening our hand as we walk into the most important negotiations for many generations.
We on the Labour Benches respect the referendum result and accept that Britain must leave the European Union. We also understand that this will be a monumental exercise, with the decisions made now affecting the lives of British people for years to come. The Prime Minister appeared to make some sort of concession about parliamentary scrutiny. In her reply, I would be grateful if she would explain the exact nature of the debates that will take place each side of the Christmas recess.
We as an Opposition will not just stand by and let this Government choose the terms of Brexit unopposed. It is our duty to scrutinise and to make sure that this Government have a Brexit plan for this country, not just for the Eurosceptics sitting behind the Prime Minister. We will continue to push for this Parliament to have a very full say in the matter, whatever happens in the debates around the time of the Christmas recess.
Today the French authorities begin the formal closure of the Calais camp, and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome those children who have already arrived in this country, as well as others who have family connections. The camp—I have seen it for myself—has become a hellish place where a few of the world’s most vulnerable people have come to try to survive and to call it their home. Yet it remains unclear what process and timetable the Government are working under to bring refugee children who are entitled, under international law and the Dubs II amendment, to refuge in the UK.
I reiterate the urgency in the letter that I sent last week to the Prime Minister, asking her to intervene personally on behalf of our country and to be open and accommodating to those children. I am grateful for the reply that I received an hour ago, but will the Prime Minister be more precise about the timetable for allowing children and others who have family connections to come to this country, and will she ensure that Britain does not evade its responsibility to help those who have suffered from the biggest global displacement since the end of world war two? The displacement is primarily caused by atrocities in Syria, and we utterly and totally condemn indiscriminate bombing. The only solution in Syria is a political one.
These issues are the ones that future generations will look back on when it comes to defining this political generation. If we continue to approach the challenges that we face in a divisive and aggressive manner, they will only grow larger. If, instead, we work together—in this House and with our European partners and the rest of the world—to help those desperate people all around the globe, we may quickly find that the large problems that we face today will appear smaller than we first thought.
The right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his response to my statement that he had been over in Brussels last Thursday, meeting various socialist leaders who listened to him. I suppose that, from his point of view, it is good to know that somebody is listening to him.
May I address the last two issues to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? As I said in my statement, and as he knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement on Calais and our response to the issue of unaccompanied minors, bringing children to the United Kingdom and the details involved. All I will say now is that we have been working very carefully, for a considerable time, with the French Government, not only to improve matters in relation to Calais, but to ensure that we abide by our requirements, under the Dublin regulations, to bring to the UK children —unaccompanied minors—who have family links here. That process has speeded up. We have put in extra resources from the Home Office and we have seen more children brought here.We have also adopted a scheme to bring 3,000 vulnerable children from the region—the middle east and north Africa—to the United Kingdom, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We are putting in place the Dubs amendment —the Immigration Act 2016 proposals—which require us first to negotiate and discuss with local authorities their ability to receive children in the United Kingdom. The overriding aim of everyone in the House should be to ensure that it is in the best interests of the children who are being looked at and dealt with. It is no help for those children if we cannot properly provide for them when they come to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman did not discuss the wider migration crisis, other than to make a reference in which he said it was mainly due to Syrian refugees. What we have seen in the migration crisis is large numbers of people moving, not from Syria but mainly from parts of Africa, which is why the United Kingdom has consistently argued for more work upstream to stop the numbers of people coming through and to ensure that people have opportunities in source and transit countries, rather than requiring to come here to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo. I assume that he was referring to Russian action as well as to Syrian regime action. It was important that the UK put that matter on the table for the agenda of the European Council, which made the agreements that it did.
Coming on to Brexit arrangements, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the tone since the Conservative party conference. I have to tell him that when I was in the European Council last week a number of European leaders commended the speech that I gave at the conference, including one or two socialist leaders who may have talked to him.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we do not have a plan. We have a plan, which is not to set out at every stage of the negotiations the details of those negotiations, because that would be the best way to ensure that we did not get the best deal for the UK. He talked about free movement, and I notice that at the weekend the shadow Foreign Secretary once again refused to say what the Labour party’s position on free movement was and whether it would bring an end to it.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about indecision. I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition that he could not decide whether we should be in or out of the European Union, and he could not decide when we should invoke article 50. The only thing we know about his position is that he would have unfettered immigration into this country—the very thing that the British people have told us they do not want. Unlike him, the Conservative party is listening to the British people.
In congratulating my right hon. Friend on her principled stand in implementing the verdict of the British people, despite the doom and gloom that pours out from parts of the media, may I ask whether she is aware that last week the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets stated that the EU was too intrusive, it broke its own rules, its members did not trust one another and that it needed, as he put it, an electric shock? Does she agree that the EU itself is in deep trouble? It knows it, and the British people got it right.
One of the challenges for the 27 remaining states of the European Union is to decide the shape and way in which the EU acts as it goes forward. They have seen the views of the British people, and that a number of elements led the British people to decide to leave the EU. It is for the remaining 27 to think carefully how they want to take the EU forward in future.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. As she knows, 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Since then, we have heard regularly that apparently Scotland matters to the UK Government. Indeed, we hear that Scotland is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Given that, I imagine that the Prime Minister must have raised it at the European Union Council meeting, but for some inexplicable reason she has not mentioned it in her statement today, so can she perhaps tell the House which specific issues raised by the Scottish Government she shared at the EU Council meeting?
Today, the Prime Minister held meetings in relation to the Council with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have reacted since with frustration. The Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has said:
“If the UK government cannot negotiate an agreed position with the devolved administrations then it has little hope of negotiating a good Brexit deal with 27 EU countries.”
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that she had received
“no more information or detail”
about the UK’s negotiating position. The Institute for Government has warned that imposing a settlement on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may result in
“a serious breakdown in relations between the four governments and nations of the UK”.
The Prime Minister cannot pretend to take the interests and concerns of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and for that matter Gibraltar seriously. Either she will or she won’t and, if she won’t, Scotland is absolutely right to hold an independence referendum and we will protect our place in Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to take seriously the views of the Scottish Government and indeed of the other devolved Administrations. That was precisely why we were sitting round in the Joint Ministerial Council plenary session this morning. It is precisely why I have said to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland that we will have more of those meetings, so that we have a greater level of communication with those Governments.
What I want is for us, in determining the UK’s position—because it will be the UK that will be negotiating with the EU our future relationship—to take into full account and understand properly the impacts and the particular issues that are of concern to the devolved Administrations. That is precisely what we discussed today. It is precisely what we are going to be discussing in detail with them over the coming weeks and months. Of course there are particular positions in Northern Ireland. The issue of the border with the Republic of Ireland is a specific concern that we are aware of and working on, and it is that understanding that we want for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of yet another referendum in relation to Scottish independence. I suggest, if he wants to ensure the future prosperity of the Scottish economy, that he just look at the fact that, actually, Scotland has more imports and trade arrangements with the rest of the UK than it does with the EU. Her first and foremost desire should be to remain part of the UK.
I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Will she confirm that this Parliament and the last Government gave the decision to the British people on EU membership, so surely it is now the duty of this Parliament smoothly to implement their wishes?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. This Parliament voted six to one for the British people to decide whether we should leave or remain in the EU. The British people gave their verdict. It is now our job to get on with it and to make a success of it.
In preparation for the Council meeting, did the Prime Minister commission any English regional impact assessments of Brexit? DB Cargo UK, whose headquarters are in Doncaster, last week announced 893 redundancies, stating, and I quote from a letter to the ASLEF trade union:
“The Brexit effect means investment decisions on major infrastructure projects...have been delayed or stopped altogether and customers have decreased or cancelled orders.”
Therefore, will the Prime Minister undertake to publish Brexit regional impact assessments? How will she ensure that the voice of the English regions is heard during Brexit negotiations?
The right hon. Lady makes an important point about the impact that Brexit will have on the economy generally as we go through this period of negotiations. Although people often talk about the impact on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, there will of course be potential impacts on different parts of the United Kingdom. The Department for Exiting the European Union is talking to different industrial sectors and to agriculture throughout the UK precisely to understand what the priorities are and what the impact might be to ensure that when we negotiate the deal we negotiate the best possible deal—one that is right not just for the four nations but for the country and that works for everyone.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very positive message she delivered in Brussels about future co-operation and about free trade, and, in particular, her desire to continue tariff-free trade between us and Europe. Did any of her European colleagues advocate to her the return of tariffs on trade between us and Europe?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I know that he has long been an advocate not only of our leaving the European Union but of the trade possibilities that would be available to us thereafter. We did not have a detailed discussion about the matters to which he refers, precisely because we have not yet started the formal negotiations.
The Prime Minister is about to embark on a very complex set of negotiations with her European counterparts. Everybody recognises that she will not want to reveal the details of her negotiating hand, but that is very different from setting out her objectives, which I hope will contain a lot more detail than just high-level principles. May I ask the Prime Minister to give the House an undertaking that she will publish her negotiating objectives in time for the House and the new Select Committee to consider them before she presents them to the other member states?
I have set out the objectives that we wish to aim for in the negotiation that we will undertake. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having been elected as Chairman of the new Select Committee, and his Committee will of course be looking at a whole variety of issues to do with Brexit. There are in fact already more than 30 different reviews and investigations being undertaken by Parliament into various aspects of Brexit, so Parliament is going to have every opportunity to consider the various issues involved.
Rolls-Royce, a magnificent British company, employs a number of my constituents and offers many of them fantastic apprenticeships. I went to see them on Friday and they told me about their concerns, which are shared throughout the whole of the aerospace sector and other sectors, such as the automotive sector, about the consequences of our nation leaving—if it does—the single market and the customs union. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to British businesses that she will listen to their needs and concerns as we now move to leave the European Union?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the quality of businesses that we have here in the United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce is one of those businesses that sets a fine example, including in the way it takes on apprentices. The way in which it has contributed to the growth of our economy is very important. I and all those involved in the negotiations will be listening to business. That work has already started and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already been holding those discussions. I have held a number of roundtables with business to hear their concerns from them. The overwhelming view that has come to me is that, given that we have taken the decision to leave the European Union, business wants to work with us to make sure that we make every success of the opportunities to us outside the EU.
In her discussions with fellow European Council members, was the Prime Minister able to spell out that despite the complicated negotiations ahead it is quite clear that the British people expect the next general election in 2020 to represent the final vote and say on our immigration policy, the final vote and say on our trade policy and the final vote and say over UK laws?
Since it is clear from the Prime Minister’s welcome endorsement of free trade that she will seek the closest possible engagement for a sovereign country with the European single market, does she agree that this objective would be better served by lobbying our partners than by throwing dust in the eye of the commentariat in this country?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we recognise that the work that will be done will be done sitting around the table with our European partners and negotiating with them. There will obviously be comments made in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in public about what is happening, but what will matter is the discussions that will take place sitting around that table.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is a sad day when a Government are willing to compromise the safety and security of their citizens to appease the dangerous and irrational ideology of a few, so will she confirm now that we will remain an active member of Europol and that we will urgently opt in to this critical aspect of European cross-border security and policing, for which the regulations were confirmed in May this year, to defend ourselves from terrorists and to combat organised crime, including drug trafficking, paedophilia and people trafficking?
The hon. Gentleman does not need to tell me about the importance of our security and law enforcement co-operation with our European partners. I simply refer him to my statement, where I said:
“After we leave, we will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about trading freely with our European neighbours and co-operating on our shared security interests, including on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work.”
I wonder whether the Chair of the Select Committee does not have a point in arguing that we should quite soon publish our objective. Is not our objective that, having adopted every last EU law into our laws, on Brexit day we want to conclude a free trade agreement? That is overwhelmingly in the interests of the rest of Europe and, incidentally, it would do so much for the poorest nations of the world, as we lead the battle in the world for free trade and prosperous world.
I could give the hon. Gentleman a very lengthy answer about that—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the shadow Foreign Secretary talks about “the substance”. The important point about the customs union is that the way in which you deal with the customs union is not a binary choice. There are different aspects to the customs union, which is precisely why it is important to look at the detail and get the answer right, not simply make statements.
As we proceed with new bilaterals, surely none of us wants to see first-class European goods and services becoming uncompetitive. I understood from my right hon. Friend’s answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) that there is no proposition to put tariffs between us and our European partners. Will she confirm that she is willing to offer them a free trade deal bilaterally?
At the risk of repeating yet again what I have said previously in this House, we want to get the right deal. I want to get the best possible deal with the maximum possible opportunities for British businesses to be able to trade with Europe: to operate within the single market and to trade with it in both goods and services. That is our clear aim—we want to be able to have that good trading relationship with the European Union—but there are other things that we will be doing at the same time, such as ensuring we can control the movement of people from the European Union into the UK.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s meeting today with the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations, and we hope that that will continue to be a meaningful engagement. It is vital that we do everything we can to support industry. Would the Prime Minister care to comment on speculation that we are considering a cut in corporation tax? We would of course very much welcome that in Northern Ireland.