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Commons Chamber

Volume 616: debated on Thursday 3 November 2016

House of Commons

Thursday 3 November 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 17 November (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—

Nuisance Calls

May I start by welcoming all Opposition Front-Bench Members? It is good to see a full complement of shadow Ministers and I look forward to working with everyone in the foreseeable future. [Interruption.] My side is slightly depleted. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture currently has Her Majesty visiting his constituency, and sends his apologies.

The Government are taking forward a range of measures to tackle nuisance calls. This includes the recent announcement to consult on making company directors liable for breaches of the direct marketing rules.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the update and the moves the Government have made so far. In the last Parliament I was vice-chairman of the all-party group on nuisance calls and we produced a report containing many recommendations. What other work is being done to implement them?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work of the all-party group. A number of its recommendations have been taken forward, including the new requirement for all direct marketing callers to provide caller-line identification, and I have just mentioned our intention to hold company directors to account. More needs to be done and I stand ready to make sure we do what we need to do to stamp out the dreadful nuisance that is nuisance calls.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the Fair Telecoms Campaign? It argues that, given the untargeted nature of the telephone, it is completely inappropriate for payment protection insurance and accident claims calls. It suggests that the Secretary of State should press colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to prohibit this entirely. Will she meet the campaign and my constituent David Hickson to sort this out?

I will look carefully at what the hon. Lady said, but I assure her that this is a cross-Government piece of work; we need to work together to tackle this and I fully recognise that nuisance calls can have a devastating effect on people.

Nuisance telephone calls are a modern menace, especially for the elderly. I am pleased to hear that the Government are taking more action. What will my right hon. Friend be doing to monitor whether the new action is actually being successful?

I will look carefully at whether the action we have taken so far has the desired effect, and if it does not I do not rule out taking further steps.

I am delighted that the UK Government have announced they will accept the provisions of my ten-minute rule Bill in their entirety and hold named directors to account for nuisance calls with effect from spring 2017. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we must not rest on our laurels and that we must continue to strive against nuisance calls to protect the vulnerable, all consumers and legitimate and ethical businesses, and will she keep the House updated on action going forward?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her Bill, which helped raise awareness of the issue, and I am pleased the Government are following her recommendations. We need to make sure this works; we need to work together to make sure that it does, and I will be very happy to continue updating the House on this matter.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

2. What assessment her Department has made of the effectiveness of regulation of fixed odds betting terminals. (907003)

Mr Speaker, you will recall that before I went on maternity leave I announced that the triannual review into stakes and prizes would happen this year, and I am pleased to say this promise has been kept. The review was published last week and will include a close look at fixed odds betting terminals.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she look carefully at the merits of reducing the maximum bet per spin for FOBTs from £100 to £2, and at the important contribution that could make to significantly reducing problem gambling and the problems families suffer as a result?

I am sure the House would not want me to prejudge the outcome of the review, but clearly the call for evidence will look at the stakes and prizes of all gaming machines, and I have no doubt that the Department will receive many representations on those of FOBTs.

The whole House is concerned about FOBTs, which are the crack cocaine of gambling. It is possible to spend £100 every 20 seconds, or £300 every minute, on them. They are affecting our constituents, and people have a real concern about them. I welcome the fact that we are going to have a review, but when will the Government also deal with the Gambling Commission, which seems to have sat behind this and allowed it to happen, alongside the inaction of the previous Government?

The review is looking at all stakes and prizes relating to gaming machines. The issue with FOBTs has clearly grown since the liberalisation of gambling, which was of course brought in by the Labour party when it was in government. The issue blights individuals and communities and I am very passionate about it. I look forward to the review concluding.

Perhaps it would be topical to point out that the term “crack cocaine of gambling” was first coined by Donald Trump in the 1980s. He was talking about video keno games affecting his casinos. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) will start chanting “Lock her up” if we keep quoting Donald Trump. Can the Minister tell us what the point is of reducing the stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops when people can go straight on to the internet and play exactly the same games with unlimited stakes and unlimited prizes?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on these issues. He will of course be entitled to reply to the call for evidence on gaming machines. Online gaming is obviously an area of increasing concern that we keep under regular review.

11. The Responsible Gambling Trust has made it clear that at least 37% of people using fixed-odds betting terminals can be deemed to be problem gamblers—[Interruption.] I rather think that the trust knows more than the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about this. What are the Government going to do to deal with the problem of vulnerable people gambling? (907012)

The official statistic is that 1% of the adult population have a problem with gambling, but that still equates to 600,000 people, and in my view that is 600,000 too many.

Tourism

3. What assessment she has made of trends in the level of tourism to the UK over the next five years. (907004)

Together with VisitBritain, we actively monitor inbound tourism trends to the UK. The latest figures predict a 27% growth in tourism visits between 2015 and 2020. International tourism has had a very strong summer, with August setting a new inbound record for that month with 3.8 million visits—up 2% on the same month last year—and July having the highest ever figure for that month.

Wales has seen the biggest rise in overseas visitors to the UK in 2016, and it is the only part of the UK to feature in the “Lonely Planet” guide’s list of the best places to visit in 2017. Hopefully, there will be many more. Does the Minister appreciate that there is great uncertainty in the sector over what Brexit will mean in practice? This means that we need Ministers to listen hard, have a plan and work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that Welsh tourism goes from strength to strength.

The hon. Lady is right: the number of international visitors to Wales is up 15% and the figure for domestic visitors is 4%. That is a tribute to the hard work of VisitWales and VisitBritain. With the “Lonely Planet” guide placing north Wales in its top places to visit and with the Champions League final being played in Cardiff in June, things can only get better next year. I can reassure the hon. Lady that I meet Ministers from all the devolved Administrations regularly, and that we want to work closely to ensure that more people come to Britain, and that means all parts of Britain, and Wales.

For the first time for 12 years, Visit Isle of Wight will be at the World Travel Market, which takes place next week. Will the Minister pay a visit to the stand to show her support for tourism beyond London and, in particular, on my island?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the Secretary of State will be visiting the World Travel Market next week, and I am sure that if she has time she will pop by and visit the Isle of Wight’s stand.

What a fortunate and apparently prosperous fellow the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) is! We are always pleased to get a bit of additional information.

The “Lonely Planet” guide must be in a galaxy far, far away if it does not mention Yorkshire. We in Yorkshire demand a greater share of all the people who come here. Too many tourists come to London but do not go beyond it. When are we going to get the balance right?

Visits to Yorkshire are in good health. One of the Government’s ambitions under the tourism action plan is to ensure that people get out of London and visit the rest of the country, and we are supporting that with the £40 million Discover England fund. I encourage the Yorkshire tourism industry to see whether it can apply for additional funds.

Like most of the sector, the Cornish tourist industry enjoyed a bumper summer, but there is still a degree of uncertainty about the impact on the industry of leaving the EU. What conversations has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to ensure that the voice of the tourist industry is heard in the negotiations?

Cornwall has had many of my tourism pounds over the past few years. I reassure my hon. Friend and the whole House that we regularly meet the tourism industry as a whole. We have discussed Brexit issues at significant length and continue to do so. We have round tables and the Tourism Industry Council, and there are many other forums at which such issues are discussed. We are working hard to ensure that the industry’s concerns are represented.

The figures alluded to by the Minister, not least those for Wales, are welcome, but what assessment has she made of the further impact on the industry of the reduction in VAT on tourism and visitor attractions?

The Department and I are sympathetic towards cutting VAT on attractions and accommodation. However, the industry needs to make that argument to the Treasury, not to us.

Sadly, I do not own an island, but I do live in the glorious Ribble Valley. The falling pound should mean that far more foreign tourists look favourably at the United Kingdom. The Crown jewels may be in the Tower of London, but the real crown jewels are in the UK’s regions, whether Yorkshire, Wales or the Isle of Wight. What more can be done to attract tourism away from London and into the regions?

As I said earlier, we are working hard to ensure that we get visitors out of London and into the regions. I encourage my hon. Friend and his local destination organisation to apply for Discover England funding to ensure that we can attract visitors to all parts of the country, including Lancashire and his constituency, where one can purchase the finest sticky toffee pudding I have ever had.

Local Charities Day

Local Charities Day is an opportunity for all to celebrate small local charities across the country and for the Government to recognise the huge contribution that they make to local communities. Small charities make up 97% of the voluntary and community sector and have a massive impact, yet media attention usually focuses on the big players. Small local charities deserve much more recognition than they currently receive, and I encourage all hon. and right hon. Members to get involved on 16 December.

Will the Minister tell the House how the Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill will help charities such as the Leyland Project, which works with young people in my constituency?

I pay tribute to the Leyland Project, which does such great work in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and possibly elsewhere in Lancashire. The Bill represents yet another commitment that we are making to small local charities that will help to ensure that the gift aid small donations scheme is more accessible to small and new charities. It is expected to be worth an additional £15 million a year for the sector. That means £41 million a year from the small donation scheme, which, when added to gift aid of £1.3 billion a year, should help an awful lot of small charities.

Is the Minister aware that the latest findings from the national trustee survey reveal that almost a quarter of charity trustees have considered quitting due to mounting pressure and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit trustees? Given how important trustees are to the sector, what plans do the Government have for further support so that trustees can fulfil their roles?

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention the role of trustees, who do a fantastic job up and down the country supporting charities in their amazing work. The Government’s job is to help charities big and small to become more independent, resilient and sustainable. That is exactly what we intend to do.

Tourism: Exchange Rate

5. What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in the currency exchange rate on tourism in the UK. (907006)

It is too early to draw conclusions about the impact of changes in the currency exchange rate on tourism. Many trips to the UK are booked far in advance. Thanks to our world-class attractions, heritage and great marketing campaign, July and August set new records for inbound visits and spending.

Since the EU referendum result, the pound has devalued dramatically, and last month the Conservatives were celebrating the rising number of tourists coming to the UK. Is it now the Government’s policy to encourage a weak pound in order to increase the number of visitors to UK tourist sites?

I appreciate that this is a Labour party attack on the Government following Brexit, but the British tourism industry is going from strength to strength. The softening of the pound is a welcome boost for that, but it is a concerted action by Government and industry that has been driving record-breaking numbers of visitors to our shores. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that, because the number of visitors to west Yorkshire is up.

The latest VisitBritain report showed that every £1 spent on international marketing brought in £23 in incremental tourism spend. Is that a good way to spend money, given the weakness of the pound?

We want to ensure that we have the best marketing campaigns to encourage international visitors to these shores, and I hope people will continue to get behind the GREAT campaign, because it is working incredibly well.

Creative Industries

The UK’s creative industries are an economic success story, worth more than £87 billion to the UK economy and growing twice as fast as the economy as a whole. They account for almost 2 million jobs and export more than £19 billion-worth of services to the rest of the world.

This Government’s northern powerhouse is not just about improving transport. In the words of the former Chancellor, it is also, importantly, about “creative, cultural, beautiful places”. This Government have committed to providing £78 million towards Manchester’s new theatre and exhibition space. That is welcome, but what are the Government doing to drive the creative industries in Yorkshire and the city of Bradford? Will the Minister agree to meet me, Bradford Council and business leaders to discuss what more could be done to support a new theatre and exhibition space in Yorkshire and the city of Bradford?

The hon. Lady will know that this Government are committed to promoting creative industries across the whole of the north of England, which is why Hull is the city of culture next year, we have the “Great Exhibition of the North” in Newcastle and Gateshead in 2018 and we have a legacy fund of £15 million, on top of the money for that exhibition, to promote the creative industries across the whole of the north of England. Bradford has many great creative industries, particularly in tech and gaming, and I want to make sure we do all we can to foster the economic climate in which they can thrive.

In the post-Brexit economy, the creative industries will be more important than ever. Those 2 million jobs the Secretary of State mentioned, in music, TV production, film, video games, art, design, publishing, dance, drama and literature, are one of our strongest hands as we find a new trading place in the world. When I checked the Government website this morning, I noticed that the Secretary of State attends a Brexit Cabinet Sub-Committee but not the main Brexit Committee, which means the creative industries have no voice at the top table. May I help the Secretary of State in some way? Would she like me to write to the Prime Minister about this, because the creative industries need a voice at that table?

It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to offer to help, but I think he would agree that there is no higher table than the Cabinet, and I can assure him that the creative industries are fully represented at that top table. It is also worth pointing out that I have held round-table meetings with the creative industries, and the Creative Industries Council last week had a specific session looking at the work it has done to examine not only the threats there are from Brexit, but its many, many opportunities. This is a global industry in which the UK is a world leader, and he should take comfort from the fact that the Prime Minister mentioned the creative industries specifically in her conference speech as one of those strengths that we want to build on, here in the UK and in the rest of the world.

Homophobia in Sport

There is absolutely no place for homophobia in sport or anywhere in society. In the sports strategy, we asked Sport England to

“place equal emphasis on the support for LGB&T people in sport as it does for other characteristics”

that are protected. Some research has been commissioned, and Sport England is currently considering its findings.

When the chairman of the English Football Association said that it was not the time for gay footballers to come out in the male Premier League he shamed himself and he shamed football. Does the Minister agree that those comments are wholly unacceptable, and that the FA and Premier League clubs in England should follow the example of Scotland, which, with the Equality Network, has developed an LGBT sports charter? Will she work with me and others to take that forward?

The reported comments are indeed unhelpful and we should encourage and support people in all sports who wish to come out. We need to ensure that we use existing legislation to stop homophobic chanting and language during sporting events. I know that the Football Association is working hard trying to support people in the game and that progress has been made in tackling homophobia, but we need to consider other means of doing that as well. Supporting players is absolutely essential.

I thank the Minister for her comments. I found the comment in the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) that the FA was unable to offer protection in the event of a player coming out to be the most damning. Does the Minister agree that we require real leadership on this issue and that the Government, the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League must now come together to create a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex-focused Kick it Out campaign, as the quicker that we can rid society of these appalling views the better off we will all be?

Advances have been made in fighting discrimination in football over recent years, and the FA is putting its support behind the European Football v. Homophobia campaign, and it is trying to ensure that everybody understands homophobia and transphobia. Stonewall’s recently relaunched Rainbow Laces campaign helps. With regard to the Kick it Out campaign, it is a fantastic app that enables people to report any kind of abuse as it happens, and we should do more to encourage people to do that when it is related to homophobia.

Since Justin Fashanu took his own life, no professional footballer has come out in England. The FA chair has recently admitted that the FA is still not doing enough to tackle homophobic abuse. Homophobia is rife, and has been for far too long. How are the Minister and the Government working with the FA to tackle homophobia at every level, from Sunday league to Premier League?

First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to the Despatch Box? I look forward to sparring with her over the course—[Interruption.] It’s okay. I can hold my own, don’t you worry. There has been progress in the Football Association, but there is always more to be done. It is important that the FA remembers that it is there as the national governing body to support footballers. Our own strategy sets out a cross-Government vision for sport and will encourage more tolerance at every single level of all sports, including grassroots and Premier League football.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, we have launched a call for evidence on gaming machines and a consultation on press regulation. We have also seen our Paralympians win 147 medals, 64 of which are gold. I am sure that the whole House will join me in celebrating their achievements.

Mr Speaker, as you will remember from my maiden speech, King John rode from his castle at Odiham to sign the Magna Carta. Eight hundred years later, the national lottery provided a three-day festival for our community to learn more about our heritage. Will the Secretary of State commend the Odiham Society for its work and celebrate the fact that the national lottery is awarding its 500,000th grant?

Mr Speaker, you only mentioned it to me yesterday.

Of course I will join my hon. Friend. The national lottery does fantastic work for good causes in all our constituencies, and immediately after this session—quite literally immediately—I will be hotfooting it on a train to Ipswich to visit a charity and sports organisations that have benefited from lottery grants. It behoves all of us in this House to celebrate those good causes in our constituencies that the national lottery supports, and make sure that we do all we can to support the lottery to keep giving to those good causes.

Yesterday, Facebook made the welcome announcement that it would not be allowing Admiral to use its data to determine insurance premiums. While the Government have been dragging their feet and refusing to update data protection legislation, private companies have been harvesting our personal data, against our knowledge, without our consent and to our detriment. When will the Government act?

I know that the hon. Lady, who is on the Digital Economy Bill Committee, is doing considerable work in this area. I look forward to working with her to ensure that we achieve all that we want to. May I make the point that the Investigatory Powers Bill, which is an incredibly important part of our law enforcement around data protection, is currently being hijacked and prevented from making progress and receiving Royal Assent because of press regulation? It is important that we get that matter of national security on the statute book to protect us all.

T5. Will my right hon. Friend support any of the home nations who choose to display a poppy next week to remember all those from every part of the world who sacrificed so much? Will she also pass on to FIFA the anger that there is in this House and among our constituents? (907021)

My hon. Friend is right. We stand right behind the FA and the Scottish FA in their decision to wear poppies. I will be at the match next week and I will make sure that I pass on those comments. It is absolutely right that home nations should, if they choose, wear poppies to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives, and I hope that FIFA will see sense and withdraw any threat of sanctions for those who do so.

T2. Many grassroots music venues are struggling, with 40% closing in London alone over the past decade. There are many pressures on venues, but will the Minister look specifically at the call from the Music Venue Trust for PRS for Music to scrap its minimum tariff, which is hitting grassroots venues very hard, and to introduce the 3% fee across the board? (907018)

I know that the hon. Lady is campaigning hard on this issue and I will look at all that she has said.

T7. On a recent visit to Lambourn I saw at first hand the significance of the horse-racing industry to our rural economy, so will the Minister confirm that the proposed replacement of the horse-racing betting levy is on track for April 2017? (907023)

T3. Eureka!, the much loved National Children’s Museum in my constituency, receives no day-to-day funding from central Government, despite being a national museum. Will the Secretary of State review this decision so that as many families as possible can enjoy Eureka! without the barrier of an entrance fee? (907019)

May I take the points that the hon. Lady has made and consider them? Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State could meet her to discuss the matter.

I am not sure whether you are a football fan, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] Oh yes, you are. Perhaps you could change your allegiance, because Taunton Town football club has reached the first round proper of the FA cup for the first time in 35 years. Will the Minister join me in praising all those who have worked so hard for years and years as volunteers at the club to help it to get this far, as well as the paid people? Will the Minister also join me in wishing the club the very best of luck for the big match on Sunday?

I am well aware, Mr Speaker, that you are a football fan, albeit for the wrong north London team. I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in praising Taunton Town football club for its progress in the FA cup and I wish it all the best.

I hope I enjoy Sunday lunchtime more than the hon. Lady does. I say to the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) that I am, of course, a fanatical Arsenal fan.

T6. Sheffield has a proud and fabulous offer of cultural and sporting services, and many young people have benefited from Labour’s scheme to give them five hours a week of cultural experience to improve access to the arts. What is the Minister doing to monitor the level of access to culture and the arts, and to enable young people from all backgrounds to gain access to them? (907022)

I am determined to make sure that there is access to the arts for everyone across the country. We have to make this a country that works for everyone, and that means access to the arts. From a sporting perspective, I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the first Parklife activities that took place in Sheffield last week, which the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). attended.

Are Ministers aware that Dr Peter Aitken, the chair of the faculty of liaison psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Health Committee on Tuesday that gambling addiction is becoming a major cause of suicide? Will Ministers be emboldened to take the issue further?

I have seen the transcript of Dr Peter Aitken’s comments, in which he said that we should not overlook gambling as one of the significant addictions of our day. As somebody who spent a lot of time working on addiction issues in this House before I was made a Minister, I could not agree more. I discussed the matter only last week with GambleAware, formerly the Responsible Gambling Trust.

T8. The Minister will be aware that a devastating fire destroyed one of the most historic and best loved parts of Exeter city centre last Friday and Saturday. The owners have said that they intend to restore the building to its former glory, which is very welcome, but will she guarantee that English Heritage will make absolutely sure on behalf of my constituents that it is restored to the highest possible standard? (907024)

I am very aware of the devastating fire in Exeter—I was actually in the west country over the weekend and saw the local news coverage. Having visited Exeter on a number of occasions, I know how important that building is in the cathedral precinct. Historic England sent a team of experts to the site on Monday to assess the situation, but I will take up the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

When the Minister for Digital and Culture has finished hobnobbing with Her Majesty, will he agree to meet me and my residents to see if we can get Weaver Vale connected with 21st-century broadband speeds?

The favourable exchange rates mean that many people from the United States are visiting the Republic of Ireland for their holidays. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for the Economy in Northern Ireland to ensure that they also come north to Northern Ireland and across to the mainland?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said earlier, I meet people from all the devolved Administrations, and I will be doing so again later this month. We have seen increasing numbers of tourists visiting Northern Ireland, specifically to see the Titanic exhibition. We will continue to market Northern Ireland as a great place to visit.

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Trading Relationships: Israel

1. What plans he has to strengthen the UK’s trade relationship with Israel as a result of the decision to leave the EU. (907063)

The UK and Israel have a strong and important trading relationship, with nearly £6 billion in bilateral trade last year. The UK is the No. 1 destination for Israeli foreign direct investment in Europe, and there are now more than 300 Israeli companies established in the UK. I recently visited Israel to discuss investment and trade, and we will continue discussions on strengthening our important trade relationship.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. UK-Israel trade is at a record high, with strong ties in science and technology, cyber-security and medical science, but the terms are currently determined by the EU-Israel association agreement. Does he agree that our vote to leave the EU presents a great opportunity to strengthen co-operation between our countries, and will he update the House on progress on planning and securing a new post-Brexit deal with Israel?

We are taking advantage of all the opportunities presented to us to ensure that Britain becomes a truly global leader in free trade once we leave the EU, and that of course includes Israel, building on our strong relationship in areas such as research and development and cyber-security. For example, we have established the UK-Israel tech hub, which creates partnerships between British companies and world-class Israeli innovators.

A survey this year found that 89% of Israeli tech companies and 86% of Israeli investors are interested in business and tech co-operation with the UK. What steps will the Minister be taking to take advantage of that good will and ensure that Britain continues to be a leading destination for Israeli tech companies?

The right hon. Lady is quite right to mention our growing relationship. In cyber-security, in particular, we saw a 24% growth in exports last year. I was recently in Tel Aviv and had the opportunity to visit a tech accelerator hub that is sponsored by Barclays. It is very encouraging to see that private sector relationship, which is something we will continue to encourage.

11. One area in which the UK can strengthen its relationship with Israel is cyber, where Israel has 20% of the global market. Will the Minister welcome the UK-Israel cyber-physical initiative and say what is coming next? (907076)

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the interest in cyber. In February we led a successful cyber-security collaboration mission of businesses and academics, and we will continue to promote further such delegations.

As part of these trade discussions, did the Minister raise the thorny issue of illegal settlements in Palestine and the demolitions that are ongoing? Demolitions of some buildings have actually been part-funded by the UK.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government do frown on the illegal settlements in the Palestine territories. These are not helping with the peace process—they are standing as an obstacle—and the Government continue to promote the two-state solution to ensure that Palestine becomes a viable and sovereign nation.

Bilateral Trade Deals

2. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the development of bilateral trade deals between the UK and other countries. (907064)

While we remain members of the European Union, discussions we have are limited by our considerations of the common commercial policy and our duties of sincere co-operation. We cannot negotiate and conclude trade agreements while we are a member of the European Union, but we can have discussions on our future trading relationships. The UK will continue to be a champion for free trade, and back the EU’s current and ongoing negotiations.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the decision to leave the European Union presents this country with an enormous opportunity to re-engage with our Commonwealth friends and to forge proper trading links with them once more?

Yes, we are keen to seize all the opportunities that leaving the EU presents, and so, too, are many of our international partners, who recognise the attractiveness of doing business with the UK. I will be accompanying the Prime Minister on a trip next week to India to take forward some of those opportunities.

Does the Secretary of State see any irony or contradiction in his development of these new free trade and investment agreements, which involve the harmonisation of rules and standards with other countries—even obedience to supranational commercial courts—and the referendum instruction from the British people that we should leave membership of the largest free-trade agreement in the world so that we can set our own rules and take back our sovereignty?

No, because the European Union is not simply a trading organisation. Were it simply a trading, and not a political, organisation, the referendum result may have been different. One of the major problems with the European Union, and one of the reasons why the public voted to leave, was that there is such a strong supranational imposition on the United Kingdom.

As we are leaving the EU, and everybody knows it, why do we not just get on and start negotiating trade deals? After all, the EU can hardly punish us in the future.

It is not a question of punishment; it is a question of what we have signed up to and our duty to fulfil the obligations we have entered freely into.

Has the UK managed to get the World Trade Organisation’s 160-plus members to agree that we will be a continuing member, rather than a new member, of the WTO? If the UK is not able to have negotiations just now, how will it get that agreement?

We are a founding and full member of the WTO—there is no dispute about that. I think what the hon. Lady is referring to are the trading schedules under which we operate under the WTO, and, obviously, we will be in full discussions on those.

As my right hon. Friend has already said, to do a bilateral trade deal we need to be out of the European Union. Does he therefore deplore, as I do, the High Court’s decision this morning to rule against the Government and say that the will of the people in the EU referendum on 23 June is still subject to parliamentary approval?

The Government are disappointed by the Court’s judgment. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. The Government are determined to respect the result of the referendum. This judgment raises important and complex matters of law, and it is right that we consider it carefully before deciding how to proceed.

Will the Government respect the ruling of the Court in this matter, and also respect Parliament? If they want to get on with these trade deals, should they not accept that Parliament should have its say, as the Court has ruled?

I have nothing to add, other than to reiterate that it is right that the Government will consider carefully before deciding how to proceed following the judgment.

Trade Negotiations: Parliamentary Vote

3. What discussions he has had with the Leader of the House on Parliament debating and voting on the outcome of trade negotiations before they are signed. (907065)

As the hon. Lady will know, I am a great advocate of parliamentary scrutiny. The Department for International Trade is currently working to shape a more independent UK trade policy. Once we begin to negotiate trade agreements, Parliament will, of course, play its crucial role in ensuring that we deliver on our commitment to secure the best possible negotiation outcome for the whole of the UK.

Trade agreements need at least 50 negotiators per bilateral. The former Brexit Minister, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), said in July that the UK has “no trade negotiators”. The Minister of State himself said last month that the number has “doubled since June”. Zero doubled is still zero. Will the Minister come clean? Exactly how many trade negotiators do we have?

I think the hon. Lady is conflating and confusing two different statistics relating to those working on trade policy and those working on trade negotiations. The answer that I gave in the written answer is correct: the number of people working on trade policy in the Department has doubled since the Department’s creation in July.

The truth is that this Parliament is, always has been and always will be sovereign, so Parliament could overcome any trade deal it wanted. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether Parliament should resist the will of the people.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am not going to add anything to what the Secretary of State said earlier about the Court judgment, which has just been released.

Before I call the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I am moved to congratulate him on his achievement in winning the yellow jersey for his performance yesterday on the British Legion stationary bicycle. It was a remarkable athletic feat on his part.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is nice to come first at something when you are a Liberal Democrat.

More seriously, on the subject of debating and voting on essential trade matters, is it not essential that the Government give way to the courts and allow Parliament to be sovereign and to debate and vote on the issue of article 50?

I first join you, Mr Speaker, in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on achieving the yellow jersey. I thought for a moment that it was an internal Liberal Democrat award, in which case winning out of eight was perhaps not the greatest of achievements, but I commend him on what he has done.

I have nothing to add to what the Secretary of State said earlier, but I will say that, in general, we are very committed to consulting Parliament on the future of trade agreements, which is the subject of the question on the Order Paper.

Certainly, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington beat me, as he is signalling from a sedentary position. I did my best, but he was far superior and I pay him due tribute.

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that, notwithstanding this morning’s Court judgment, Brexit means Brexit—[Interruption.]and the will of the British people in the referendum will be respected?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I campaigned for the remain side on 23 June, but nevertheless I fundamentally and totally agree that Brexit means Brexit. This Government are getting on with delivering and making sure that it works for the whole of the United Kingdom.

EU Customs Union

4. What assessment he has made of the international trade opportunities available to the UK in the event of the UK leaving the EU customs union. (907068)

The people of Britain voted to leave the European Union and that is what we will do. It is the job of this Department to maximise the UK’s trade opportunities, whatever the relationship with the EU that the Government ultimately adopt. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK’s agreement with the EU will get the best deal for Britain at home and abroad.

Via our membership of the customs union the UK has access to more than 50 international trade deals, which according to a parliamentary answer I received accounts for 15% of UK exports. In the event of Brexit outside the customs union, what estimate has the Secretary of State made of the length of time it will require to renegotiate those deals, bearing in mind that he will not be able to begin his negotiations until after exit in March 2019?

There are a number of errors in what the hon. Gentleman has said. The EU currently has 36 free trade agreements covering more than 50 countries. It is entirely possible for us to be able to transition those into UK agreements and we are free to discuss them with countries while we are still a member of the European Union. Our aim will be to have minimum disruption of trade and no gap in market access for British companies.

Although I welcome the Canadian-EU trade agreement, does my right hon. Friend share my concerns at the elements of protectionism that have emerged in this agreement? Do they not indicate that there are advantages to the United Kingdom outside the customs union in negotiating its own deals more rapidly, in defence of free trade?

In recent history, most of the trade deals done in the world have been bilateral, because it is clearly easier to get country-to-country agreement. One of the reasons why the European Union does not have an agreement with the United States, China, Japan, India or the Gulf is that it is rather difficult to negotiate with 28 different partners, especially if they retain a veto.

The creative industries are some of Britain’s most competitive and successful industries, and they depend on worldwide access and negotiation with many multinational organisations. How, post-Brexit, will the UK maintain relationships with multinational organisations such as the EU and worldwide broadcasting organisations?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The creative industries are incredibly important, and one of the jobs of the Department for International Trade is to promote them. When we take trade delegations abroad and when we make representations to other Governments, we will fully take those industries into account. Where we have got areas of excellence in our economy, we need to promote them—sometimes more than we have done in the past.

The Secretary of State knows about the growing opportunities for trade and investment, in both directions, with the countries of south-east Asia. Does he agree that next year’s 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations offers a great chance for the UK to demonstrate what a superb international platform we can be for all those countries’ exports and investment in both directions? Will he commit to DIT offering some finance to help this great session to go well?

I will certainly offer a great deal of help and goodwill. Mindful of the forthcoming autumn statement, I am not going to offer any sort of finance in advance of the Chancellor’s permission being granted.

May I say what a great job my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) does as one of our trade envoys? Our trade envoys have contributed hugely to our recent export gains. He makes the important point that trade has to operate in both directions, both in exports and imports and in outward and inward investment. It is very important that we maintain a balance if we are to have a chance of reducing our current account deficit.

Trading Opportunities Abroad

5. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907070)

7. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907072)

9. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907074)

We want more British businesses to take advantage of trade opportunities. Currently, only 11% of British businesses export. Our overseas teams continue to help British businesses to win opportunities in 108 different markets, with 190 high-value priority campaigns.

British businesses benefit from the expertise of our embassies and consulates when seeking trading opportunities abroad. I saw that for myself at first hand while I was in Hong Kong over the summer. Will the Minister continue to back British businesses to gain market access by supporting our missions overseas?

I certainly will. My hon. Friend and I had a productive conversation just last week following his successful visit to Hong Kong. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) was also in Hong Kong last month, and we are absolutely committed to using our networks and our professionals overseas to boost both trade and investment.

Given the strong contribution made by the life sciences sector to UK exports—AstraZeneca’s site in Macclesfield made a huge contribution to the company’s £5 billion-worth of exports in 2015—will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps he is taking to work with the sector to ensure that medicines that are researched, developed and manufactured in the UK continue to have ease of access to European markets and global growth markets once the UK leaves the EU?

I know my hon. Friend’s passion for life sciences, and particularly for AstraZeneca’s key role in his constituency. We are liaising and working closely with the industry with an important working group, which has met on several occasions and recently briefed Ministers. We want, of course, the best possible arrangements for trade in all goods and services, including the pharmaceutical sector.

UK Trade & Investment has been very helpful to businesses in my constituency, but there are still many small businesses that need help and support to export and utilise the exchange rate of the pound. Would the Minister advocate UKTI holding events in Wiltshire and around the country to achieve that?

Yes, we are very open-minded about doing events on either a county or a constituency basis. I am open-minded about how that might best be pursued. We have regional teams in the Department for International Trade, but if my hon. Friend and I were to have a discussion, particularly about what we may be able to do in Chippenham, I would be all ears.

Will the Minister look at the trading opportunities we need for sectors that play to our comparative advantage already? As he knows, financial services amount to 12% of our output, yet the sector faces not a 10% or 20% tariff after April 2019 if we get this wrong, but a ban on selling and trading in many financial products altogether. What about some transitional arrangements? Will he talk to the Treasury about that?

The hon. Gentleman and I used to spar regularly on Treasury matters. I congratulate him on his election to the International Trade Committee. I look forward to appearing before him in due course. He will know that our priority is to maintain the maximum possible access to the single market across all these sectors.

Research published this week by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows that access to the single market is vital for the future trading of many Scottish companies. Leaving would have implications of titanic proportions. The Minister’s Government stood on a manifesto commitment to retain membership of the single market. Given that voters in Scotland voted to preserve that status in June’s referendum and that both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government believe that that is in our best interests, what assurance can the Minister give individuals and businesses in Scotland that he will listen to the forthcoming proposals by the Scottish Government and deliver on that Government’s triple mandate to keep Scotland in the single market?

Of course we will listen to proposals and suggestions made by the Scottish Government. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear on that. However, as we are talking about icebergs, perhaps the hon. Lady will reflect on one thing: 64% of goods leaving Scotland are destined for the rest of the United Kingdom. When it comes to a single market, I think she might prioritise that single market, rather than the one in which only 15% of goods go to the European Union.

The Foreign Secretary forgot about the icebergs when he mentioned the Titanic last night. Uncertainty is the enemy of business. Businesses need certainty about our future trading arrangements so they can make investment decisions. As the president of the Japanese chamber of commerce has said, other EU states are talking to UK-based companies. Are the warnings not there for all to hear? If the Secretary of State for International Trade has a plan, he needs to share it, otherwise businesses that need certainty will go elsewhere to find it.

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench? It is good to see that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has some reinforcements this week. I notice that he has lost three of his four portfolios since he last appeared in the Chamber, so it is good to see other hon. Members helping him out.

I attended an event with the Japanese ambassador only this week. He was clear about the role that Japan plays and that Britain plays in promoting global free trade and global free markets. That is rather in contrast to the hon. Gentlemen’s leader calling free trade a “dogma”, which I think should be condemned.

Topical Questions

The Department for International Trade has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation, including through overseas direct investment to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU. Like the UK, my Department is open for business. Following my statement at our previous session of departmental questions, we received 111 applicants, in an international competition, for the post of permanent secretary, and we will shortly announce the successful candidate.

As a country, we need to export more. There are a lot of barriers to overcome to get businesses to start exporting or even to consider exporting, but we have a real opportunity to get existing exporters to export to more markets. Will my right hon. Friend outline the measures that the Government are taking to encourage and support small and medium-sized businesses to expand the number of markets to which they export?

Order. We must not expand the length of questions, I am afraid. I am sure it is a very important point, but let us have the answer.

I apologise for taking longer than usual to get to the Dispatch Box, Mr Speaker—the last time I take my own advice about going to the gym to get fit. It is important to get more small and medium-sized enterprises exporting. If we look at the UK’s performance we see that only 27% of our GDP is accounted for by exports, whereas for Germany it is 48%. A lot of that difference is accounted for by a lack of SME exports. We will be announcing a range of measures soon, and there will be a pack setting out those measures available for all Members of Parliament so that we can all help the SMEs in our own constituencies.

The Government Front-Bench team has tried to suggest that the High Court decision that Parliament should have a vote before triggering article 50 is in some way antidemocratic or thwarts the referendum result. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the vast majority of Members in this House are now committed to honouring the decision to leave the EU, but that democracy demands that the terms of our leaving must be subject to the proper advance scrutiny and consent of this democratically elected House, and not negotiated in secret and smuggled through without the support of this sovereign Parliament?

There will be numerous opportunities for the House to examine and discuss what the Government are negotiating. When we are clear about the position we will adopt, article 50 will be triggered, but given the nature of the judgment this morning we will now have to await the Government’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

T3. Will the Secretary of State let us know whether, in his discussions with countries that have trade agreements with the EU, those countries have indicated their interest in continuing such arrangements with the UK when we leave? (907027)

As I said earlier, the EU has some 36 free trade agreements, which cover more than 50 countries. A very large number of those have already made representations to the United Kingdom to say that they would like those agreements to continue. We will explore and discuss that, because, as I have said, our aim is to have no break in access to markets and to achieve the transition as smoothly as possible, with minimal disruption to the international trading environment.

T2. The EU trade deal with South Korea has reduced the tariff on scotch whisky to zero, while whisky imported to Korea from elsewhere faces a tariff of 20%. Does the Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary’s new adviser, David Frost—a former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association—who has said that we are much more likely to get such deals“with the weight of the whole of the EU behind us than we are in a negotiation nationally”? (907026)

I take an intense personal interest in this area, from long experience. I am delighted to see David Frost in his new position—he was so pleased with our policy he joined the company. It is very important that we get reductions in tariffs. One issue I will be raising in India next week is the very high level of tariff against scotch whisky there, to see whether we can make major reductions.

T4. Business in my constituency has praised the work of UK Export Finance but expressed some concerns about the bureaucracy and the length of documentation required to seal those deals. Will the Secretary of State please look into that? (907029)

May I first praise the work of UKEF? As a Government export credit agency it is the world leader and its practices are second to none. However, we are always trying to streamline and improve, and in fact have appointed a new chairman for UKEF, who will be announced shortly. When they are in place they will certainly be shaking up the organisation.

Some 80% of the fish caught around our coastline in the south-west goes straight for export to the rest of the European Union, and there is huge concern in the industry about the impact of tariffs if we leave the single market. Given that concern, and the excellent news from the High Court, would it not be wise of the Government not to invoke article 50 as early as March?

Export tariffs on food products, and on animal products in particular, are determined outside the provision of trade agreements. They are determined in terms of licensing based on the quality of the food products, on a separate basis.

T5. Yesterday I welcomed to Parliament a group of business leaders from Mendoza in Argentina. They want to increase our exports exponentially, which currently stand at 0.1%. Will the Minister assure me that everything will be done when we leave the EU to improve our trade relations with Latin America? (907030)

I commend my hon. Friend for his engagement with Argentina under its new Government, which he and I have discussed. As the Prime Minister has said, we will seek to be the global leader in free trade. While we remain a member of the EU, the UK will continue to press for and support an ambitious EU trade agenda, including its negotiations with the Mercosur bloc.

The Minister repeated the mantra that he wants the best possible deal for the life sciences sector, but does he agree with industry leaders that we need to be part of a European-wide regulatory system? A simple yes or no will suffice.

T6. Will the Secretary of State give us a progress report on new arrangements to be put in place with Gibraltar to ensure not only that there is a common market between the UK and Gibraltar post-Brexit, but that it has uninterrupted access to financial services for its financial market? (907032)

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. We have strong economic links with Gibraltar and 20% of the UK car insurance market is underwritten within Gibraltar. I stress that we have an interest not just in Gibraltar but in all the overseas territories. I met many of the leaders yesterday. They will very much be involved in the process of the negotiations of our deal with the EU as we progress through article 50.

Leaving the single market would mean that our agricultural exports would be subject to World Trade Organisation tariffs, which will have a hugely detrimental effect on a vital industry for Scotland. Does the Secretary of State plan to get farmers a special deal to ensure that they are not affected by sudden rises in tariffs to protect that vital industry?

The hon. Lady is right to raise that. It is incredibly important that we secure good tariff deals with other countries, and agricultural products suffer some of the highest tariff levies, but it is a two-way operation. On the one hand, exporters from Scotland to other markets may face big tariffs, but on the other hand, if we end up with a very low tariff barrier, we will have to impose it, which could mean that her farmers in Scotland are flooded by imports. It is a difficult and nuanced area to try to get right.

I refer to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on today’s article 50 ruling, which says that the trigger should be exercised within Parliament. I think my right hon. Friend said that the Government will appeal, but I ask him, on behalf of the Government, please to look at the learned judges’ ruling and understand that it is not about a re-run of the arguments of the EU referendum. It is all about Parliament’s sovereignty. In that event, will the Government look at it carefully to decide whether or not the learned judges are right, and that this place should and indeed will trigger article 50?

Not least we will bear in mind the importance of referring to international trade in responding to the right hon. Lady.

As this is now an ongoing court case, I have nothing further to add to the comments I made earlier.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues—demand invariably outstrips supply—but we will return to these important matters ere long.

Air Quality

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department will take to improve air quality after her defeat in the High Court on 2 November.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is chuntering about diesel cars and who might be occupying them, but we have a Minister at the Dispatch Box, and she is a doctor as well. We are going to hear from her.

Improving air quality is a priority for this Government. We are determined to cut harmful emissions to improve the health of the people we represent, and to protect the environment. The UK currently meets the legal limits for almost all pollutants but faces significant challenges in achieving nitrogen dioxide limit values. We are not alone in that, as 16 other EU countries face similar challenges.

We have already achieved significant improvements in air quality across a range of pollutants, but transport is responsible for 80% of nitrogen oxides emissions at the roadside in areas where we need to act to reduce levels. That is why transport has been the focus of our action on air quality. We have committed over £2 billion in green transport initiatives, including supporting the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles between 2015 and 2020. The main reason for the difficulty in meeting NO2 limit values is the failure of Euro standards for diesel vehicles to deliver the expected reduction in NOx emissions in real-world conditions. Since 2011, we have been at the forefront of action in the EU to secure more accurate, real-world emissions testing for diesel cars.

The Transport Act 2000 gave powers to councils to introduce measures to help to tackle air pollution. The national air quality plan for NO2, published in December, set out an approach to improve air quality and achieve compliance. We are mandating five cities to introduce clean air zones, and targeting the oldest and most polluting vehicles. The consultation on this framework was launched last month to ensure a consistent approach.

Our plan was based on the best available evidence at the time. We have been pressing for updates to COPERT—computer programme to calculate emissions from road transport—emission factors and got them in September. We said that when we got the new factors we would update our modelling and that is exactly what we are doing.

I am writing to councils to ask them what they are doing to tackle air pollution. Our local authority grant fund was launched in early October and we are encouraging all local authorities to apply. We will shortly launch a consultation on policy options for limiting emissions from diesel generators. In addition, funding was announced last month to boost the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. We accept the judgment of the court and will now carefully consider it, and our next steps, in detail. However, legal proceedings are still ongoing, so I may not be able to answer every hon. Member’s question in detail.

I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that this is a top priority for me. It is a top priority for the Secretary of State. As the Prime Minister said yesterday:

“We have taken action, but there is more to do and we will do it.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2016; Vol. 616, c. 887.]

I thank the Minister very much for that response. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is very much in the dock, but the whole Government need to take action. This is the second time the Government have lost in the courts on the issue of air quality in 18 months: they need to take this matter very seriously. The problem causes up to 50,000 deaths a year—more than 20 times the number killed in road accidents. It is a silent killer.

The Government’s current air quality plan has only five compulsory clean air zones, but more than 40% of councils breach air pollution limits. The Government need to take rapid action or they will be back in the dock again. In April, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on air quality called for all councils to have the power and the funding to implement clean air zones. Will the Government make that commitment?

The Government have to look at getting the worst diesel vehicles off our roads quickly. Will the Department consider financial incentives, such as a scrappage scheme and changes to the vehicle tax system? Those changes would have to be made via the Treasury, because successive Governments have been encouraging diesels. That has to be reversed.

Some 70% of air pollution comes from road transport. Will the Department act now, with the Department for Transport, to promote electric cars and encourage taxi conversions from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas, which can reduce nitrogen dioxide levels by 80%? The court case revealed that the Treasury has been blocking stronger measures on air quality. I have sympathy with the Minister, but will her Department now commit to working with the Department for Transport and the Treasury to tackle this matter once and for all? Clean air should be a right, not a privilege. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My hon. Friend raises a wide range of issues. Let me try to pick up on them. In a parliamentary question, he rightly revealed the number of councils where there are issues. I take this seriously. In my constituency, there are two air quality management areas. That is why I want to work with local councils to do what we can to tackle action locally. Of course the Government will work on issues to tackle air quality nationally, but we need local action. Powers are already available, under the Transport Act 2000, for councils to take appropriate measures, and I will encourage them to do that. Again, that is why we are encouraging councils to apply for help from the air quality fund.

We are all aware of the issue with Volkswagen and diesel vehicles. We have been pressing for updated COPERT factors. The spreadsheet is exceptionally complicated. It is the biggest spreadsheet I have ever seen in my life. As I used to be chartered accountant, I can assure the House that I have probably seen more than most.

It is a complex situation, and we are working through it. We are coming up with what we can think of to try to tackle this issue, but I genuinely believe that we need targeted interventions rather than use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Labour Government introduced fiscal incentives that encouraged people to move to diesel. I am not going to complain about that. We are where we are, and the Government and local government must all pull together because we care about the people we represent. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: air quality is the top priority, which is why it is my No. 1 priority in government.

Up to 50,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK as a direct result of air pollution, and many more suffer from respiratory disease. This is a crisis and a national scandal—deaths that would have been avoidable if the Government had taken action, and suffering on a mass scale, most prevalent in the most deprived communities. Nitrogen dioxide is a silent killer, but Labour Members will not be silent about this.

Yesterday’s damning judgment in the High Court shamed this Government, who were told to put an air quality plan in place in 2010. Six and a half years later and following two further judgments in the High Court, the Government have been found wanting. The World Health Organisation and the European Union recognise how serious air pollution is. That is why yesterday Justice Garnham condemned the Government’s poor estimates on emission levels—even after the Volkswagen scandal—and their slow response to addressing high emissions. Urgency is needed.

I thank ClientEarth for taking the action as there is no time to waste on tackling this issue, as Labour would have done. We cannot afford to allow this to continue or to shift the blame on to councils. This is negligence.

I therefore ask: will the Government guarantee that, instead of creating just five clean air zones, they will now put in place a network of zones across all 37 out of the 43 areas with high emission levels? Why have they wasted time and resources fighting court cases, instead of fighting air pollution? The High Court judge condemned the Government’s delay in reducing ambient nitrogen dioxide levels. How soon will the Government have in place a comprehensive plan on air quality? How will fuel emission measurements now proceed? Will the Government guarantee that, in leaving the EU, they will not water down air quality standards, and how will this be policed? Will the Government introduce a clean air Act, which Labour has done in the past and will do in the future? Will the Government now clean up their act and clean up our air?

As I am trying show in the tone of my response to this urgent question, this really is a top priority. It is not straightforward. We produced a national air-quality plan based on the best available evidence at the time. We now have new factors, and we are updating the model. We are responding to the needs that we have. I have pointed out that a framework is already out for consultation and councils can do this now if they wish. We are mandating. We need to look carefully at the evidence and what the model says about where we mandate further.

Leaving the EU has absolutely nothing to do with our determination to improve air quality in this country. There is no need for new legislation; we already have powers in place, and we are consulting on new powers.

We have already reduced nitrogen dioxide by 41% in the last 10 years. We are still taking action to do that. Let us not get into the blame game; otherwise, we could go into the history of Labour and what the Labour Government did on diesel in the first place. That is not worth while. What matters is that we pull together and address this issue.

In the light of this judgment and of the fact that car journeys to Heathrow are increasing at a rate of 2 million over two years, how can the Government support more pollution that would come from a third runway at Heathrow?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport referred to that issue when he came to the House to discuss the Heathrow decision. The Government believe that the Heathrow north-west runway scheme can be delivered without it having an impact on the UK’s compliance with air quality limit values, and with a suitable package of policy mitigation measures. Policies at national, London and local level will help to ensure that the scheme can be delivered in line with our legal obligations in respect of air quality.

The Minister rightly says that this is not straightforward, but documents revealed to the court showed that the Treasury is blocking measures proposed by her Department and the Department for Transport that would actually tackle air pollution. The Environmental Audit Committee published a report on sustainability in the Department for Transport, in which we concluded that we had no confidence that the Department would meet either its 2020 or its 2030 target on low-emission vehicles. Given that the autumn statement is imminent, will the Minister now go back and work with the Department for Transport, and, critically, the Treasury, to unblock the pipeline and ensure that we stop dirty diesel?

The Environmental Audit Committee does important work in monitoring those ongoing issues. The Department for Transport and DEFRA have been working together, and we established the joint air quality unit earlier this year. I am also meeting public health and DCLG Ministers. As I have said, I am absolutely committed to trying to make a difference in this area.

The hon. Lady will be aware of the scheme that we launched last month to fund more charging points for low emission vehicles, focusing on taxis as well as cars. Those measures are well under way. I assure her that the Department for Transport takes this issue very seriously and that we will be making further progress, and I am sure that the Treasury has also heard her pleas. Moreover, the Prime Minister gave an undertaking in the House yesterday that we would do more in relation to air quality.

I am encouraged to hear that the Minister is making air quality her first priority. I hope that it will continue to be so until the problem is solved, because this is a deplorable state of affairs. I know that the Minister is part of a new ministerial team, but I agree with everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). My own constituents have had enough of the current appalling state of air quality. I know that I am in the middle of a big city, but the same applies to many other parts of the country. We need to ensure that the perverse incentives for diesel are stopped in their tracks, and I hope that the Minister will make representations to that effect at the highest level.

As my right hon. Friend suggests, the Government intend to continue to encourage people to opt for low-emission vehicles. As for what is being done in London, the Mayor said that he would plant 2 million trees in the run-up to the campaign—[Hon. Members: “Where are they?”]—and I hope that he keeps to his pledge over the next four years, because that will help to improve air quality. I know that the Transport Committee has asked him to appear before it. As I have said, it is important for central and local government to work together to help the people whom we all represent.

May I gently suggest to the Minister that talking about sledgehammers and nuts is not really appropriate in this context? Air pollution is the biggest avoidable killer apart from smoking. The Minister needs a sledgehammer, and she needs to take the sledgehammer to the Treasury.

Given that this is the second humiliating defeat that the Government have suffered in the courts, surely there was a plan to announce some action here, today, in response to that defeat. Where is it? Where are the new measures?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know from his time in government, measures take some time to work up. He may shake his head, but I am not going to become involved in the blame game and talk about what happened under Labour, when the number of diesel vehicles on the road increased. What I will say is that I am working closely with officials to come up with the wide range of actions that we wish to take, and I can only add that we hope to announce them in due course.

I recognise that my hon. Friend acknowledges that more needs to be done, and I am grateful for her statement. Does she agree that, in seeking to do more to address the problem, we should take the opportunity to use some of our home-grown innovation and technologies?

My hon. Friend is right. We should recognise the progress that the United Kingdom has made in respect of low-emission vehicles, and I hope that some of the new incentives will encourage people to think of buying one when they come to replace their cars. The Department for Transport is investigating other technologies as well, and I hope that they will prove fruitful in helping us to tackle this issue.

The Mayor of London is making huge strides in cleaning up London’s bus fleet, in stark contrast to his predecessor, and he deserves to be recognised for taking this issue seriously while the Government are failing. However, urgent action is needed to tackle HGVs, private cars and other diesel vehicles. Will the Minister now set up a comprehensive plan at a national level, including scrappage schemes, fiscal incentives and urgent investment in research and development to help the Mayor and others to remove the highest polluting vehicles from our roads?

Transport for London had an £11 billion settlement from which it can decide to prioritise certain actions. I do commend the Mayor, who is bringing forward measures more quickly, particularly on buses. We need targeted interventions rather than, perhaps not a sledgehammer, but comprehensive schemes which may not be the best use of taxpayers’ money in tackling this critical issue.

Air quality in Malton and Norton is often at dangerous levels. Will the Minister join me in urging North Yorkshire County Council to develop and implement a clear strategy to deal with this problem?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Local councils know their communities best and can come up with good schemes where they work with local home and business owners. Of course, the national Government have their part to play; we have published our air quality plan and are updating our modelling, but local action with the help of a proactive local MP is good news for constituents.

The Minister talked about nuts and sledgehammers and there being no need for a comprehensive plan, but does she not agree that she needs a proper fiscal strategy to incentivise consumers and producers so that we have a sustainable future, with an infrastructure of hydrogen and electric and a commitment to EU air quality standards, yet she has given us none of those things?

I said earlier that leaving the EU has nothing to do with improving air quality, and I stand by that.

May I clarify something that I said earlier? We have done the analysis on the scrappage schemes. Having just one particular kind of scheme where any diesel car can be replaced would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money because it is not a targeted intervention. I want to be smart about this and use taxpayers’ money effectively so that we can tackle this issue, not just have a comprehensive scrappage scheme which will not help as much.

I am not going to pretend I am the Department for Transport expert on this matter, but I know that we have been pushing for the last five years to get the real driving conditions actions updated. More is coming out next year, in 2017. We should be seeing action right across the EU, and I am looking forward to that. We will start to see whether those measures have really made a difference in 2019, because it will take a bit of time to bed in, but I can assure my hon. Friend that although we will be leaving the EU, we will continue to make sure that our air quality improves.

A Sunday Times investigation last year revealed that 3,000 schools were in areas affected by toxic air pollution, and we know that childhood asthma is massively on the increase. What are the Government doing specifically to ensure that schoolchildren are protected from air pollution?

Schools are in local council areas. [Interruption.] I am not blaming local councils; I am trying to say that local councils know how best to work with their local communities in order to make a difference. The hon. Lady will know of various schemes—I am sure they happen in Bristol—such as walking to school. There are powers that councils have today that we encourage them to use; we are encouraging them to apply for the air quality grant fund. That is the kind of proactive action our local councils can take now to make a difference for children.

Order. I gently remind colleagues that the business statement will follow these exchanges and after that there are two further ministerial statements before we reach the first of the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Therefore there is a premium upon time, necessitating brevity from Back and Front Benches alike, now to be brilliantly exemplified, I am certain, by Mr Jason McCartney.

Labour-run Kirklees Council keeps forcing through huge housing developments on greenfield sites in my constituency, especially around Lindley, with scant regard for the impact on air quality. Can we please put air quality at the forefront of planning reforms, and can we have a clean air zone in Huddersfield?