House of Commons
Thursday 24 November 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 29 November at Four o’clock (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I take this opportunity to thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency and all who helped with the recent flooding? Our thoughts are with those who have been affected. Our £2.5 billion six-year capital floods programme to improve flood defences will provide better protection for at least 300,000 homes in the six-year period from 2015 to 2021.
As an ex-Tonbridge Grammar School girl, I know the area well. The Environment Agency is progressing business cases to increase the capacity of the live flood storage area on the River Medway, alongside new schemes at Hildenborough and East Peckham. The agency has estimated that these schemes qualify for a £15.5 million Government grant in aid. If approved, this will better protect more than 1,900 properties in the Medway catchment.
The Secretary of State rightly has a responsibility to protect buildings. In my constituency, in the lower Don valley, there is a lot of ex-industrial brownfield land that, with remedial work and protection from flooding from the Don, could provide homes for thousands of people and stop the building on greenfield sites. Does she accept that, as well as protecting existing buildings, the Government should be interested in protecting sites where buildings could be built?
Absolutely. Of course, it is important that we take into account the protection of new homes being built—that is what the Environment Agency does, as a key stakeholder in all planning decisions—and it is absolutely our intention to make sure that new developments are better protected.
Given that more than 5 million homes are at flood risk in Britain, is it not important that the Department continues its excellent work, not just in building flood defences with concrete, steel and earthworks, but in looking at how nature and land managers can be incentivised to create greater protection for households?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. There are concrete barriers, which are very important, and we have had 130 new schemes since January, better protecting 55,000 homes. However, natural flood management—slowing the flow, and looking at ways to work with the contours of our environment to improve protection—is also vital. I can announce that we have been given £15 million to invest in further projects to do just that.
Through the Secretary of State, may I thank the Environment Agency in the west midlands? Its regional director told me last week that 34 more homes will be protected in the Blythe valley in my constituency. Will she confirm that the agency is constantly updating its modelling in response to rainfall records constantly being broken?
My right hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject, and she will be aware that the resilience review, which we undertook across Government, contained an enormous amount of remodelling of the likely impacts of increasingly extreme weather events. Of course, the Environment Agency is always looking not just at what schemes can protect people better, but at where the best types of flood protection can be developed, whether through concrete barriers or natural flood protection.
I have just returned from being with my family in Devon, so I have personally experienced the floods caused by Storm Angus, and I would like to join the Secretary of State in thanking the emergency services and everybody who helped so quickly with the clean-up and with supporting people.
Yesterday’s autumn statement gave little hope to the residents of the 5 million properties at risk of flooding. In the March Budget, an additional £700 million of capital expenditure for flood defences and prevention was announced, but just how many schemes have seen a spade in the ground?
As I have already mentioned, this Government have in fact committed £2.5 billion to new flood defences in the six years to 2021. Just this year, since January 2016, we have had 130 new flood schemes completed, protecting a further 55,000 homes. We have also enormously increased our temporary flood defences and all our infrastructure capabilities. including incident control vehicles, light towers, pumps, sandbags and so on, to try to deal with the unpredictable nature of these extreme weather events, but we are committed to doing more.
Twenty-five-year Food and Farming Plan
We remain committed to publishing a 25-year food and farming plan. However, the context has changed significantly following the decision to leave the EU, which creates many new opportunities to do things differently and better. We will therefore develop the 25-year food and farming plan alongside our plans for leaving the EU, and we will consult with both industry and the public.
I thank the Minister for that response, which fills me with concern. I hope that he will bring the report forward as soon as possible, given that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recommended that it be published in April this year. Can he give me some indication of when we will see this important report?
The hon. Lady is wrong to be concerned, because as I have made clear, we are committed to publishing the plan. It is a manifesto commitment. There was no commitment to publish it in April; there is a commitment to do so in this Parliament, and as I have said, the context has changed significantly. It is right to develop the plan alongside our plan to leave the European Union, so that it bears relevance to the context.
The great British breakfast cereal Weetabix is made in Burton Latimer in the Kettering constituency, and the wheat for Weetabix is grown on farms within a 50-mile radius. What proportion of the nation’s food do we grow ourselves, and what proportion would the Minister like us to grow ourselves?
With regard to the food that we can produce in this country, my hon. Friend will be aware that we produce around 74% of what we consume. If we include foods that we are unable to grow here, the percentage is slightly lower. We have a commitment to having a vibrant, profitable farming industry. We want to grow more, sell more and import less, and if we achieve all that, our self-sufficiency will improve over time.
Given the impact that Brexit will inevitably have on the 25-year food and farming plan, which has yet to be published, what discussions will the Minister have with the Northern Ireland Executive about how the plan will accommodate Brexit, particularly when it comes to agricultural exports, on which we rely for the development of our economy, as he will realise?
I have already had meetings with Michelle McIlveen, and I recently visited Northern Ireland, where I met the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and spoke at its dinner, so I am already in close engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive, and indeed the Northern Ireland industry, on these issues.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Wight Marque, which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s rural development programme helped to establish, celebrates the Isle of Wight’s brilliant food culture by accrediting local produce. DEFRA fully supports accreditation schemes. They are an opportunity to showcase local and sustainable food, they can make a real contribution to local economies, and they are completely in line with DEFRA’s approach to strengthening our brand.
Rural Economy: Leaving the EU
Rural areas account for a quarter of all registered businesses in England. Small businesses continue to be an important part of the rural economy, with 29% of those employed in rural areas employed in small businesses that have one to nine employees. Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to have policies to support the rural economy that are bespoke to the needs of this country.
Scotland’s food and drink exports are worth more than £2 billion to our national economy, and businesses in my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire contribute significantly to that total. However, many in the agricultural workforce are seasonal workers from other EU states who take advantage of the single market’s free movement policy. Given that, can the Minister provide a guarantee to rural businesses in my constituency and beyond that those seasonal workers who come to Scotland for produce-picking and food and fish processing will still be able to work here after the UK has left the EU?
I attended the convention on international trade in endangered species in September this year, when we secured greater scrutiny of trade in trophies to ensure the sustainability of lion exports. We already have suspensions in place for some countries where hunting cannot be considered sustainable at the current time. For example, we are refusing imports of lions and lion trophies from Mozambique, apart from animals hunted in the Niassa reserve, where hunting is considered to be well managed and sustainable.
One of the characteristics of European structural funds has been support for post-industrial areas. Areas such as mine in west Wales have been huge beneficiaries of structural funds to boost training and businesses. What assurances can the Minister give that west Wales will continue to have access to such funding streams post-2020?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already given an assurance that schemes signed in advance of the autumn statement would be honoured in full. He has also continued to give the assurance that as long as funding schemes that are being developed offer good value for money, we will continue to support them in all parts of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that by leaving the EU, we have the chance to design policies that are bespoke to the needs of this country. My right hon. and hon. Friends are actively engaged in developing those options right now, with my support, and at looking at what potential environmental schemes could be at the heart of any future agricultural support.
Agricultural and fisheries businesses right across Scotland depend heavily on freedom of movement and access to the single market. Why will Ministers not simply guarantee that people will have their rights protected post-Brexit, which would clear up the uncertainty and allow those businesses to plan for the future?
Does the Minister agree that if we are to make a realistic attempt at becoming economically productive, we have to make sure that our infrastructure works—and that includes the internet? Small businesses in rural areas would be able to thrive if it did.
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of access to the internet, and to other mobile network operators. That is why the universal service obligation has been enshrined in law through the Digital Economy Bill, and will be in place by the end of this Parliament.
Food and Drink Sector
The Prime Minister has set out our vision for making the UK a world leader in innovation, which includes spending an extra £4.7 billion by 2020-21. Food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector—bigger than cars and aerospace combined. Our £160 million agri-tech strategy is taking forward brilliant ideas, such as monitoring crops using the latest satellite data.
It is an indescribable delight to see the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). My surprise was merely at the fact that he has perambulated to a different part of the Chamber from that which he ordinarily inhabits. I am sure that we will enjoy the same eloquence as usual.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As a migratory species, I am glad that you have noticed the different habitat that I am now in.
The Secretary of State will be aware that 80 years ago, the number of fish landed at British ports was 14 times the number we land now. The fishing industry has suffered grievously under the common fisheries policy. Now that we are leaving the European Union, can she say a little more about how investment, growth and innovation in the fish trade will ensure that we bring prosperity back to our great fishing ports?
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we will do everything possible to preserve his habitat. I know that he has great knowledge of fishing. Just last week, in China, I signed a memorandum of understanding on seafood that is worth £50 million to UK fishermen, and I have met a number of fishing groups to hear their ideas about what we can do to ensure that our fantastic fishing sectors develop in a positive way once we have left the EU.
Although there are limits to what Governments can do when there is a global downturn in commodity prices, we have implemented a number of measures over the past two years. We made a crisis payment to farmers at the end of last year, we have extended tax averaging to make it easier to offset tax from good years, and we have supported intervention and private storage schemes. Looking to the future, we are working with industry to develop risk management tools such as futures markets, supporting new producer organisations, and opening new export markets.
I welcome efforts to increase exports of food and drink, but there is still concern about the domestic market in milk. What efforts are being made to ensure that farmers obtain fair prices from supermarkets, and what assistance could the Groceries Code Adjudicator provide?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. These have been two very difficult years for the dairy industry. However, I think we should give credit where it is due, and acknowledge that many of the major supermarkets offer their farmers aligned contracts that are linked to the cost of production. Those farmers have continued to obtain good prices over the last two years. Nevertheless, they are a minority, so we are investigating ways of strengthening the negotiating position of farmers in the supply chain, such as reviewing the operation of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, strengthening the voluntary dairy supply chain code, and strengthening recognition of producer organisations.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a small European Union scheme to support school milk, which is worth a few million pounds, but it is dwarfed by the much larger, much more important nursery milk scheme run by the Department for Education and the Department of Health, which is worth some £60 million a year.
The Government’s proposal to withdraw operating licences for approved finishing units with grazing in culling areas is causing great concern to dairy farmers in the south-west. Has the Minister assessed the impact that that measure will have on dairy farmers’ ability to sell their calves, and generally on the market for livestock in the south-west? I urge him to think carefully about it before introducing it.
I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that I consider such issues very carefully. Approved finishing units do have an important role to play as we try to tackle the long-term challenge of bovine tuberculosis, but if we are trying to roll back the disease, the risk associated with grazing on approved finishing units is greater. It is still possible to have a licence for housed finishing units, and there will still be finishing units in other areas where there is no cull.
The Department’s farm business survey for last year shows that dairy farm incomes fell by 50%, largely owing to lower milk prices. Will the Minister consider introducing a statutory code to safeguard the dairy sector, and will he agree to expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to cover the primary producers’ relationships with their suppliers and provide more stability for those producers in the market?
A consultation on the Groceries Code Adjudicator is in progress and is, I believe, open until 10 January. We have issued a call for evidence from the industry, and from others who may have ideas about how we might be able to extend the adjudicator’s remit or consider it further.
Fishing Industry: Recruitment
We predominantly deliver training for new entrants and young people through the levy body Seafish. Since 2011, Seafish has run 97 courses and trained more than 850 new fishermen. There has been a renewed interest in fishing as a career in recent years.
The fishermen in Plymouth are very positive about the future of the fishing industry post-Brexit. They want to improve the commercial fishing facilities at Sutton harbour. Will my hon. Friend find a date to visit Plymouth Trawler Agents, which manages the fish market, and learn of its plans to build a fishing academy to train the fishermen and women of the future?
As we prepare to leave the EU, the mood in the fishing industry is certainly lifting, and there will be opportunities to do things differently and better. My hon. Friend’s constituency has a very proud maritime heritage. Last year I visited the Marine Biological Association and I would of course be more than happy to visit Sutton harbour to discuss the scheme he describes.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have the European maritime and fisheries fund, one of the EU structural funds, which will run until 2020. Looking beyond 2020, we will be developing and working to establish how best to support the industry. We have also top-sliced some of the uplift of quota linked to the discard ban this year to give the under-10s more quota than they previously had.
We have completed 130 new flood schemes this year, protecting over 55,000 households. All but three of the 660 Environment Agency flood defences damaged last winter have now been repaired and the three remaining assets have contingency plans in place. The Environment Agency recently launched its flood awareness campaign and last month we launched the property level resilience action plan on how householders can protect their homes from flooding. It also details measures that will allow them to get back into their home more quickly if they are, unfortunately, flooded.
This year, after the devastation caused by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank right across the country, the Government announced an extra £700 million of flood defence spending, but apart from saying £12 million of that would be spent on mobile flood defences to protect electricity and infrastructure assets, there has not been a clear plan from the Government about how the money is going to be spent. The Environmental Audit Committee made strong recommendations on the protection of roads and railways, and with Devon and Cornwall, the north-east and Scotland suffering landslips and ballast washaways in the recent flooding, is not now the time to set out a proper transport infrastructure resilience plan for the whole country?
The Minister may recall that in December 2013 there was a tidal surge that affected the Humber estuary. Many of my constituents had their homes flooded, and throughout the Humber hundreds were affected. Can the Minister reassure me that there will be no slippage in future flood defence spending on the Humber?
I learned recently that water companies are not a statutory consultee, despite companies such as Severn Trent Water wanting to be and having a great deal of knowledge not only about flooding areas, but also about, for example, whether storm drains can cope with additional water created by new building. Will the Minister have a conversation with her opposite numbers in the Department for Communities and Local Government about changing things so that water companies can be a statutory consultee?
I recognise that water companies are not currently a statutory consultee, but that does not stop them having conversations. The Environment Agency continues to provide advice on all planning applications, and in 98% of planning applications across England its advice is accepted.
Farmers and Environmental Groups (Funding)
My top priority on becoming DEFRA Secretary was agreeing with the Treasury continuity of support for farmers. We are guaranteeing that the agricultural sector will receive the same level of pillar one funding until 2020, which has provided vital certainty, but we are also guaranteeing agri-environment and rural development schemes under pillar two, which are vital to making sure we take every opportunity to improve our environment.
I join my hon. Friend in applauding the efforts of farmers across the country. In the past five years, our agri-environment schemes have delivered excellent long-term benefits, including 150,000 acres of habitats, the planting of more than 11 million trees and the restoration or planting of 950 miles of hedges. All of this supports our long-term pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better place than we found it.
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we will consult in great detail on future policy with all the devolved Administrations once we have left the EU, to ensure that we focus on what is best for our UK food and farming producers rather than for 28 EU member states.
Flooding is devastating for anyone who experiences it, and I have spent a great deal of time recently ensuring that we have the best possible preparation for the winter weather. There will be opportunities for all colleagues to play our part in ensuring that our constituents are as well prepared as possible—for example, by getting them to sign up to the Environment Agency’s free Flood Warnings Direct service or to visit the Floods Destroy website, which enables people to check their own flood risk. The Environment Agency will also be hosting a drop-in session for parliamentarians next Tuesday from 1 pm to 5 pm in Committee Room 9, where we will be able to hear more about winter preparedness.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I would like to ask her about her Department’s UK food and drink international action plan, which suggests that the Department will seek foreign direct investment to fill existing gaps in skills and production. How will she ensure that food standards, production rates and manufacturing skills will be maintained in the event of foreign takeovers of existing companies, as we have seen with Mondelez and UK biscuit production?
The UK has some of the highest animal welfare, food safety and food traceability standards in the world, and we will always seek to maintain them, notwithstanding our international food export action plan, which seeks to promote great British food abroad as well as to take advantage of foreign direct investment to make our sectors even more successful.
My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me before, so I am well aware of it. I am also aware that it is a matter for the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency, although DEFRA does have a role in working with IFCA and signing off any proposals. I understand that this particular case is at the consultation stage, so local fishermen should make their views known at this point.
The pound has fallen, the cost of imports has risen and Brexit is costing the wine industry £413 million more in imports alone. From Marmitegate to the Toblerone gap, we have seen rising prices across the food industry. Customers are paying more for food while those working in farming and food production have been hit even harder. And it is getting worse. What is the Secretary of State doing to mitigate these factors?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we have an incredibly thriving food and farming sector that employs one in eight of us. It is worth more than £100 billion a year to our economy. Our food innovation is second to none: we produce more new food products every year than France and Germany combined. Food inflation continues to be low, and our thriving sector’s exports are improving. They have gone up this year and we are doing everything we can to create a sustainable environment for the future.
The reality is that food inflation is at 5%. This is happening on the Secretary of State’s watch. It is her responsibility and her crisis. People are struggling now. The sector is calling for security: security of labour; security in the market; security of trade; and security in knowing the plans for the sector on leaving the EU. Labour can provide the sector with confidence today—we have a clear plan. Why will the Secretary of State not share her plan? Is it because there is no plan?
If I may say so, that was nonsense. Food prices have been dropping after peaking in 2008, and they do move up and down. On the hon. Lady’s point about the resilience of the food and drink sector, exports this year are well up on last year and growth in the sector is booming. We are doing everything we can on food innovation and getting young people into apprenticeships in increasingly high-technology jobs. This is a well-organised sector with great potential.
In several conversations with the National Farmers Union and farmers in south Wiltshire, complaints have been made to me about how the Rural Payments Agency has been working. Edward Martin and Will Dickson complain of unilateral changes to agreed eligibility calculations. What will the Minister do to ensure that such issues are sorted out so that I do not have any more complaints from my farmers?
Having ironed out some of the difficulties we encountered in 2015, we are in a stronger position this year. The RPA reports that over 80% of basic payment scheme claims were submitted online, meaning that the number of cases requiring manual data-entry was significantly reduced. If my hon. Friend would like to give me further details of those two cases, I will ensure that they are investigated and will personally get back to him.
In my fishing town of Filey, only seven boats have been licensed by the Environment Agency and all licences will expire by 2022, ending heritage fishing in the town. Will the Minister meet me to seek a solution to secure the future of fishing in Filey?
I understand my hon. Friend’s issue. The situation with wild salmon is particularly bleak at the moment, which is why we are looking at additional measures to reduce the catch through netting. However, I am quite sympathetic to the arguments made about the sustainability of T-nets, which I understand are used along the shoreline in his constituency, and I am more than happy to meet him.
Since the floods, small and medium-sized enterprises have received over £6 million of direct support from the Government to help with their resilience. On insurance, I recently met representatives of the British Insurance Brokers Association and expect them to be launching new products next month so that more businesses can get flood insurance.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that both the 2010 and 2015 Conservative party manifestos said that we would ban all ivory trade. Will she update the House on what progress she made towards that aim at the Vietnam conference last week?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. The conference was superbly successful and some real steps were taken towards improving awareness of the importance of preserving endangered species, the elephant in particular. In this country, we have announced our intention to ban the trade in post-1947 ivory—that is 70 years—and we will consult on that shortly to consider how we implement that and what further steps can be taken to meet our manifesto commitment.
I think we have all been consistently clear that in leaving the EU we will be seeking the best possible deal for the UK. That will involve close co-ordination and communication with all the devolved Administrations to make sure that we absolutely understand what it means to get the best possible deal for all sectors within the DEFRA family.
Food and drink production has flourished under my right hon. Friend’s leadership; as we have just heard, record levels of hard cheese and sour grapes are emanating from the other side of the Chamber, and in my constituency the Hogs Back brewery, a very successful micro-brewery, is doing a roaring trade. May I invite her to join me for a knees-up in my brewery—something Opposition Members could never organise?
I would be delighted to do that. We have some amazing products. We have taken gin out to the Chinese, which was a great experience, and just look at the beers from the UK that the Vietnamese are drinking already. We are seeing market access and greater exports, and just yesterday we saw the beers at the “Taste of Cheltenham” event. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight produce from his constituency and I would be delighted to share in a knees-up with him any time.
I am meeting a Welsh Minister just today to discuss that very subject, and my colleagues have met a number of Welsh Ministers in recent weeks. At official level there are constant discussions, we have had informal stakeholder meetings and, as we have pointed out, formal consultations will be taking place, starting in the near future.
Thanks to the Minister, the sheep dip sufferers group now has access to documents including medical records from the poisons unit at Guy’s hospital, which show what many sufferers have known for years: there were long-term health impacts of using sheep dip. Will he meet us again so that we can act for those who still suffer?
The hon. Lady will be aware that I met her and others about a year ago, when we looked at this issue in depth. I subsequently went back through all the submissions that came from the chief veterinary officer in the early 1990s to establish precisely why we stopped using sheep dip, and it was not because of health concerns; it was because of a belief that it was not possible to tackle the disease. I note that she has now got the documents, but I simply say that the committee on toxicity looked at this issue exhaustively, examining 26 different studies over a period of more than a decade, and concluded that in the absence of acute poisoning there would not be meaningful long-term effects.
Traffic hotspots in the Broomhill area of my constituency create unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide. The council is doing what it can, but it is frustrated by the Government on issues such as the deregulation of taxi licensing. We need joined-up action across government, and as the High Court said earlier this month, we need it urgently. So when will the Government produce an effective and comprehensive air quality plan?
We have accepted the Court’s judgment and we now have a new timescale for revising the plan. We have already said that we would update our plans on the basis of evidence on vehicle emissions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to the clean air zones consultation, which was launched on 13 October. More than 100 councils applied for an air quality grant and these decisions will be made in due course.
The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative published a report card on the UK last week which awarded zero points out of 10 to the Government’s plans for protecting infant and young child feeding in emergencies such as flooding. Will Ministers work with their colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that when flooding or power cuts occur during the winter there are plans in place to protect infant and young child feeding?
I have already had discussions with officials from various Departments on our preparedness for winter. There is an inter-ministerial group meeting next week at which the Department of Health will be represented, and I will make sure that it is aware of the hon. Lady’s question.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
National Audit Office: EU
The National Audit Office uses its resources to provide direct support to Parliament and stands ready to support parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. In my humble view, there should be more, not less, parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. The NAO is keeping in close touch with Departments as their preparations for exiting the EU develop. This will be a major task for Departments and is likely to include additional work for the NAO, not least the audit of the new Department for Exiting the European Union.
The NAO’s scrutiny will focus initially on the capacity and capability of Departments to deliver an effective and efficient exit process. The NAO will work with all Departments to assess the potential impact of exiting the European Union on their financial performance and position. The NAO is already the auditor of the new Department for Exiting the European Union and will work with it and the Treasury to ensure efficiency.
Following the rather over-pessimistic forecast that we heard about yesterday from the Office for Budget Responsibility, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to have another independent assessment from the NAO, which might show a more optimistic post-Brexit forecast?
The National Audit Office will not actually assess any economic effects of exiting the EU, but what it can do is ensure that the civil service carries out its task with due diligence and efficiency. I am confident that our civil service, which is one of the most efficient in the world, will do the job properly. The NAO is certainly one of the best auditors in the world, and we will make this process work efficiently and smoothly as best we can.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution of Christians
The Church of England remains concerned about a number of religious minorities across the world, not just Christian ones. Recently, the Lord Bishop of Coventry travelled to northern Iraq to visit the Christians in Mosul because it is clear that questions remain about their continued safety and the need to make their homes and businesses safe if they are to sustain themselves there.
Yes. There are a number of excellent organisations such as Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need which are working to support the Christian community overseas. I plan to attend a reception for the launch of the 2017 World Watch List in January, and I encourage hon. Members also to attend.
The Archbishop of Canterbury made his second pastoral visit to Pakistan last weekend and met the victims and the bereaved of the recent suicide bomb attacks in Islamabad and Lahore. He also met the adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, where the conversation was warm and constructive on a range of matters, including the contribution of the Christian community in Pakistan and the suffering of many Muslims and Christians in the struggle against terrorism.
What representations has my right hon. Friend received in relation to the persecution of Christians in Iran? Last week, we had a conference attended by several bishops, and the concern there was that Christians cannot even congregate and are subject to military rule.
As I mentioned, the Lord Bishop of Coventry made a recent visit to Iraq, precisely to look at the terrible oppression that religious minorities, including Christians, are suffering. There is no question for any Member of this House but that safety and security are paramount issues, and we look to the Foreign Office to help us in our support for persecuted religious minorities in the region.
If we made it a criminal offence in this country for a Christian to become a Muslim, there would be outrage across the world. Yet people in many Arab countries face legal persecution and prosecution if they convert from Islam to Christianity. What representations is the Church making to these Arab countries that have such rules on apostasy?
Obviously nations are sovereign, and we know that in this country there is an appetite to respect sovereignty, but that does not preclude Government Ministers and Church leaders from speaking with force to the Ministers of countries where religious minorities are oppressed, to ensure that there is tolerance towards those minorities in their society.
The Church of England does provide advice and support to parish churches in the following ways: diocesan advisory committees, which give free advice; specific officers to advise parishes regarding the care of historic churches; the national ChurchCare website, which provides guidance; and grant schemes operated by ChurchCare.
Earlier this autumn, the Ministry of Defence announced that the Royal Citadel, which includes a royal chapel, will be released back to the Crown Estate. I suspect it will need significant restoration and investment. Who shall I speak to about the restoration, and what will be the status of St Katherine once the royal chapel and the barracks are fully released?
That is a specific question about a specific type of church, but I can assure my hon. Friend that if he takes up direct contact with me, I will take up that specific case on his behalf to see how we can assist this transition. However, the community that worships at that church is able, of itself, to look at the ChurchCare website to see what is available in theory to assist the church. My hon. Friend has seen for himself the way in which the Church has assisted St Matthias Church in Plymouth to transform itself to meet the needs of the student community, with services that are appropriate for that age group and with a style of worship it would enjoy.
When I was a curate, which was obviously in another millennium, one of the biggest problems that faced the Church in relation to conservation was not only meeting the cost, particularly for beautiful elderly churches, but finding the people who had the craft skills to do the work. Now that the head of the Church’s Buckingham Palace is going to be done up, at the same time that this Palace and many churches around the country are going to be done up, would it not be a good idea to have a joint industrial strategy to make sure that we get lots of young people trained up in these skills?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, during his curacy, knew what a struggle it is to maintain these ancient buildings. That is why the Church is participating in the ongoing review by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to examine the sustainability of Church of England churches. However, I am sure he will join me in once again thanking the Treasury for its assistance with the world war one centenary cathedral repairs fund, which helped 42 cathedrals around the country to make significant repairs and created jobs for many young people in the crafts he would wish to see flourish.
The Church of England welcomes very much the Red Wednesday initiative from Aid to the Church in Need. This is a multi-faith initiative. I would particularly like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for agreeing that the Palace of Westminster should join Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and Lambeth Palace in lighting their buildings in red yesterday to stand in solidarity with those facing persecution for their faith.
May I join the right hon. Lady in thanking all those who lit church and other buildings, including, as she said, our own Parliament? While I live in hope that religious persecution will diminish and one day end, will she join me in encouraging those responsible for all buildings to take part next year to make a public statement of our solidarity with all those suffering persecution on the grounds of their religious faith?
Yes, I very much hope that other significant buildings will join in with this. The fact that students from schools in many parts of the UK marked Red Wednesday by wearing an item of red clothing and holding prayer services is an example of how we extend the acknowledgment of the suffering and persecution of religious minorities. That is important, and I hope that this will catch on.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will join me at 11 o’clock this morning in the Grand Committee Room, where I am sponsoring an event for the wonderful organisation, Aid to the Church in Need. Indeed, I hope that all Members might consider turning up. Three quarters of the world’s population now live in countries where there is some sort of religious persecution. This is such an important issue that I hope we can all unite behind my right hon. Friend, the Speaker and everybody else to voice our concerns.
I had meant to mention myself that this event is being held just after this session of questions, so if hon. Members would like to divert to the Grand Committee Room they will indeed find the report being launched. We would all do well to read it.
The Church of England takes anti-Semitism very seriously and is supporting the work of the Chief Rabbi and the Holocaust Memorial Trust to counteract the growing anti-Semitic and extreme language evidenced in a report by the Home Affairs Committee.
With the incidence of anti-Semitic attacks rising by 11% in the first six months of this year, and the documented rise in hate crimes since the Brexit vote in June, what more could the Church of England, as the established Church in England, do in its leadership role in communities throughout the whole of England?
I could not commend strongly enough to all Members the Home Affairs Committee report recording the very disturbing rise in anti-Semitism. That is precisely why, last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi launched In Good Faith, a twinning arrangement between rabbis and priests in local neighbourhoods around the country. It is in its early stages, but it will involve a commitment to work together to counteract anti-Semitism.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Electronic Voting: House of Commons
The Commission has given no formal consideration to a move to electronic voting in the House. Its responsibility in this matter is limited to any financial or staffing implications of any change to the current system, were a change to be agreed by the House. The Procedure Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman has been a member since 2015, will be well placed to inquire into the matter and come up with proposals.
It is a pleasure to ask a question of a spokesman on the same side of the House. During the Report stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill on Monday we spent nearly an hour trooping through the Division Lobbies. Has the Commission ever made a calculation of the cost to the taxpayer of that dead time in terms of staff, security and utilities? If we are to be decanted as part of a restoration process, surely that presents an opportunity to devise a pilot for electronic voting if we are not going to replicate every last detail of where we are now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those two questions. On the time it takes Members to vote, he may not be aware that back in 1997 this House did consider substantial changes to the way in which we voted, and I am afraid it voted to keep things exactly as they were. I hope that by, perhaps, early next year we will have a substantive debate in this place on the restoration and renewal issue, and that would be the appropriate opportunity for him to raise his point.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his timely question as we prepare for the arrival of Advent this weekend. The Church of England will launch a new website—www.achristmasnearyou.org—on 1 December to help the 2.7 million members of the public who attend church over Advent, and the 2.5 million people who attend at Christmas, find their nearest church service or celebration.
Some 23,000 services have been added to the website by more than 5,000 parishes. It might interest hon. Members to know that it has filters, so, for example, disabled parishioners can find out how easily they can access a church, and there is a filter for those who wish to know whether mince pies and mulled wine will be served. The social media campaign also includes a video in which Mr Speaker’s very own chaplain makes her important contribution under the hashtag #joytotheworld. I recommend that we all watch that.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 28 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill.
Tuesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill, followed by opposed private business for consideration, as announced by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Wednesday 30 November—Opposition day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 1 December—Debate on a motion on transgender equality, followed by a general debate on the future of the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 December will include:
Monday 5 December—Second Reading of the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 6 December—Remaining stages of the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill.
Wednesday 7 December—Opposition day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 December—Debate on a motion on UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, followed by a general debate on the cancer strategy one year on. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 December—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 December will be a debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on post-study work schemes.
In view of yesterday’s conclusion of the trial of the man who murdered our late colleague Jo Cox, I hope that you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to say that I believe that the entire House would wish, first, to express our thanks to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for the work that they did in bringing this man to trial and securing his conviction, and, secondly, to send our solidarity and our love to Jo’s family, who have shown unbelievable grace, dignity and courage in the months just past.
Thirdly, I hope that we can all agree that perhaps the best tribute that we here, whatever our party politics, can pay to Jo and her memory is to recommit ourselves, whether as constituency Members or as holders of various offices, to do all that lies within our power to ensure that this country remains a place where people of different ethnic origins and faiths can live together in mutual respect, goodwill and harmony, and celebrate together our common citizenship and our shared institutions, values and traditions. We will also continue unflinchingly to stand for the truth that it is through parliamentary democracy that we can seek to secure change and find a better future for those who sent us here, rather than through violence or extremism.
I thank the Leader of the House for those words. He shows what a great parliamentarian he is, and I associate myself absolutely with everything he said about those who have brought the murderer to justice.
I need to ask the Leader of the House again, because he has not mentioned this, about the dates for the recess after February. The Prime Minister has said that she will trigger article 50 in March, so we need to know whether we will be away in recess and if we will have a debate. What is the mechanism? Will the Prime Minister make an announcement on the steps of Downing Street, or will she make a phone call? She relinquished the presidency of the EU by telephone. May we know what the mechanism is? The British people need to know the framework. The Government might not want to show their position, but according to a Library note, as soon as article 50 is triggered, the European Council will draw up a negotiating mandate—the guidelines—without the UK’s participation.
The Ministry of Justice is a troubled Department. Hardly 24 hours have gone by since the autumn statement and we have the first concession. It turns out that the figures in the Government’s proposals for whiplash reform are out of date and will be updated during the implementation process. The consultation apparently referred to the 12th edition of the judicial guidelines as the basis for the figures instead of the more generous position in the 13th edition, which significantly increases the guideline damages for whiplash. That is what happens when the Government have a policy and then find the evidence for it, rather than implementing evidence-based policy. It takes a riot and a breakdown before money is given to the prison service, despite numerous calls for that.
The Department of Health is a troubled Department. I do not know whether any representations have made by the Health Secretary, but he is nowhere to be seen. Last Friday, every former Health Secretary from the past 20 years signed an open letter to the Government urging them to honour the pledge to ensure that there is parity of esteem for mental health, but there was no money for that in the autumn statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us what the response was to that letter, and could he place it in the Library?
Could we also have a statement on the crisis in cancer diagnosis? According to Cancer Research UK, there are long waits for test results, even though getting an early diagnosis is vital for treatment. There is a shortage of consultants, radiologists and endoscopists. Some Members of the House are undergoing treatment for cancer; we wish all of them and their families well. We wish everyone who is touched by cancer a speedy recovery.
The autumn statement was a statement for the elite. The Chancellor said that the Oxford and Cambridge expressway would become
“a transformational tech corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 904.]
Again, that elitism is not based on evidence, because the 2017 university league tables put Oxford and Cambridge third and fourth. Imperial is first and the London School of Economics is second. Cardiff is fifth, and King’s, Warwick, University College London, Queen Mary and Edinburgh are in the top 10. May we have a statement on what will be available for the other universities that do not have the historic wealth of Oxford and Cambridge?
In a previous outing at the Dispatch Box, I asked for money for local government. Local government is in desperate need, but the money has now gone to unelected local enterprise partnerships rather than elected local authorities. The Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), has said that areas with directly elected mayors will have the “main share of funding”—that is power in the hands of one person. May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to another letter? It is from county councils, mainly of the same party as the Government, which have said that funding should not be made on an
“arbitrary prioritisation of specific governance models”.
Everyone on the Labour Benches agrees that money should flow according to need.
This was not an autumn statement for women, so may we have a debate on its impact on women? Women are not satisfied by a passing reference to Pemberley; we want more. Increasing the personal tax allowance will do nothing to help those earning too little to pay income tax, 65% of whom are women. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has already said that the £3 million for women’s charities is just the balance from the £15 million raised under the tampon tax, £12 million of which has already been given away by the previous Chancellor.
Despite 74 written parliamentary questions on social care in November, there was no extra money for social care—indeed, there was no mention of money for social care—in the autumn statement. Cuts to social care hit women especially hard because the majority of those needing care and of those providing it, paid or unpaid, are women. “Just about managing” is of the Government’s making—it is home-made jam.
Finally, tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I thank MP4 for organising an event and playing in memory of Jo Cox. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and Ian Cawsey, a former Member, spent a lot of time last Thursday recording “A Song for Jo”, which I think is coming out in January. Her love, values and example live on in all of us. Government is not just about fixing the roof; we are about transforming lives. Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.
I will try to respond fairly briefly to the many questions that the hon. Lady has put to me. I understand the impatience of colleagues on both sides of the House to know recess dates, particularly the Easter recess dates. Although I have not been able to announce them today, I hope to be in a position to do so very soon. She asked about the process for triggering article 50—there has to be a formal notification to the European Council.
The hon. Lady asked about the Ministry of Justice. Frankly, I would have hoped that she welcomed the action that the Government are taking on whiplash, because I thought that it commanded widespread support on both sides of the House. We are now embarking on the consultation with a view to legislation at some stage afterwards. I hope that we can build a formidable cross-party coalition in support of such measures. I thought the hon. Lady was unfairly dismissive of the ambitious vision for the transformation of our prison service in the White Papers on prisons, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary just a fortnight ago.
The hon. Lady asked me about the Department of Health, but the Secretary of State for Health answered oral questions in the House earlier this week. She inquired about mental health in particular. This Government not only have invested more in mental health than any of our predecessors, but have for the first time written into law a requirement for physical health and mental health to be given equal priority. She asked about cancer treatments. Despite the demographic and other pressures that there undoubtedly are on the national health service, since 2010—in part because of the money this Government have put in, but also because of the reforms that we have undertaken—there has been an increase of some 822,000 in the number of people seen by a cancer specialist, and an increase of 49,000 in the number of people who are commencing cancer treatment. Yes, there is more work to be done, but that is not a bad track record to be getting on with.
On the Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway, the hon. Lady fell into the trap of believing the rather stale and antiquated class war rhetoric that she gets from the leadership of her party. The expressway will benefit places such as Milton Keynes and Bedford, where at some stage in the more distant past the Labour party once hoped it might win constituencies or local councils—it is a sign of the times that it appears to have given up on such communities. That expressway corridor offers opportunities for economic growth and the chance to unlock significant new housing development in areas of high demand. The Labour party has been calling for more house building.
Similarly, on infrastructure funds, Labour local authority leaders, particularly in the north, argued for the model of devolution we have precisely so that there could be an allocation of central Government funds to devolved authorities to enable strategic planning and expenditure. If the hon. Lady looks at the detail of the autumn statement, she will find the housing investment infrastructure fund, which is targeted at local authorities that are able to bid for infrastructure funding in areas where that will unlock additional housing supply.
I happily acknowledge, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did yesterday, that there are indeed pressures on social care—we see that in our constituencies. This Government have therefore introduced the better care fund and the social care precept to put extra money into the system to help local authorities to cope with those demands.
I turn finally to what the hon. Lady said about the position of women. More women are now in work in this country than ever before. This Government have increased support to families through childcare more than any of our predecessors. Those things work very much for the benefit of women in all walks of life. If the hon. Lady looks at the distributional analysis published by the Treasury, she will see that the measures the Chancellor announced yesterday provide a modest but positive improvement in the incomes and living standards of all deciles in our society apart from the richest, who will experience a modest loss.
I completely endorse and associate myself with the hon. Lady’s remarks about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as well as her tributes to our hon. Friends who have played a part in work on that. I hope that, in turn, she will agree that we need to stand firm against violence against women and girls in all its forms, both here and globally. The work initiated by my right hon. Friend Lord Hague as Foreign Secretary to awaken the world’s conscience to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and to try to secure the extirpation of that vile practice continues under this Government. I hope that it will continue under all future British Governments.
May I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s remarks about our colleague Jo Cox? She was indeed a parliamentarian who, in such a short time, made a big impact on our country and our society.
As the Leader of the House will know, the Paralympics started in our county—in Stoke Mandeville in his constituency. We were terribly impressed by the achievements of our Paralympics team at the last games. At the most recent Budget, the then Chancellor announced £1.5 million to be spent on research and issuing running blades to children. I am afraid to report that, eight months on, not a single child has received a running blade. The Leader of the House probably knows that the proposal does not seem to have got out of the starting blocks, so is there anything that he can do to move it into the fast lane? We could then have a debate on how we can equip and inspire the next generation of our Paralympians, which will be to the credit of our country.
I had better declare an interest as a patron of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, which seeks to maintain the heritage of Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. I am concerned by what my right hon. Friend has said and I will certainly take it up with my colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see what can be done.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and fully associate myself and my hon. Friends with his remarks about yesterday’s trial, which finally saw a conviction for this appalling act. As the Leader of the House, he spoke today on behalf of the whole House, and I think everyone will have been moved by his eloquence. I hope that his words will help us all to recover, reset ourselves and move forward.
It is barely 24 hours since the Chancellor sat down following his autumn statement, and already Conservative Members are fighting among themselves over just how big this Brexit disaster is going to be. Today, the Office for Budget Responsibility—the doomy and gloomy OBR—is the villain of the piece, after predicting that we will pay a £60 billion premium for this clueless Brexit. Can we have a full debate about the economic consequences of Brexit, and can the Leader of the House help us out? Whom should we trust—the OBR or the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and his hon. Friends?
Can we have a debate about Ferrero Rocher, or perhaps about how the Government appoint their ambassadorial class? For the life of me, I cannot understand their problem with an Ambassador Farage. For goodness sake, the EU referendum was won on his terms and conditions, and we are practically living in the early days of UKIP UK, so come on! The bad Baron Boot-Them-out-of-Here, his excellency the ambassador to the United States, going to Trump Tower—what could possibly go wrong?
We have learned that, in his latest escapade in trying to evade scrutiny of his clueless Brexit plans, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is not prepared to come before the Select Committees of this House. He has twice refused to come before my Committee, and I understand from its Chair that he has refused to come before even the Treasury Committee. In correspondence with me, the Secretary of State said that he was not prepared to come before any Select Committees other than the Brexit Committee. We have detailed questions for him about Scotland’s place in Europe, so will the Leader of the House convince his right hon. Friend that proper scrutiny must be in place and that he must come before the Select Committees of this House?
First, may I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening words?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the OBR was deliberately set up as an independent body in order to remove any suggestion that the economic forecasts were being tampered with on political grounds by the Government of the day. The OBR forecasts yesterday are its own, but it is sensible for the Government to work on the basis that they are accurate—and they are not out of kilter with the mainstream of other independent forecasters. The Bank of England’s current predictions are actually a little more pessimistic than the OBR’s.
There are many uncertainties. For example, will the fall in the value of sterling against other currencies be maintained and, even if it is, will importers be able to pass on the price impact through the prices charged to customers? It is perfectly sensible, in the light of the OBR forecast, for the Chancellor to have steered the course he has. He was completely honest with the House and the country yesterday in saying, quite plainly, where the uncertainties and the difficulties lay and in not trying to wish away any of the problems that clearly guided his Budget judgment.
On the question of the accountability of Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union, we had another debate yesterday on the impact of exit from the EU—this time on transport policy—and I can give the hon. Gentleman the promise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his entire team will be here next Thursday, 1 December, for oral questions, when he and his colleagues will have the opportunity to interrogate them.
If I can turn to the question of the appointment of ambassadors, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that, if he goes to residencies and embassies now, it will not be Ferrero Rocher, although he will be glad to know that British ambassadors are keen to offer a selection of malt whiskies as the digestif of choice when they are entertaining officially on behalf of the country. We have an excellent ambassador in the United States of America; there is certainly no vacancy there. The last time I checked, Mr Farage had a very well paid job as a Member of the European Parliament, although regrettably he also had one of the worst attendance records at the European Parliament of any Member, which suggests to me that to head up a UK embassy might not be a job for which he is particularly suited.
Yesterday in the autumn statement we had the welcome news of additional finance for the development of housing and £3.5 billion for 90,000 homes in London alone, as well as a doubling of the money to combat rough sleeping in London and the abolition of letting fees for tenants. Can my right hon. Friend therefore find time for a debate on housing? I understand that there will be a White Paper next month, but surely we should have a debate on housing in this House, to ensure that the money is well spent and that much needed housing across the country is provided, and to give all Members the opportunity to have an input, so that we get those ideas and use the money effectively.
There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government next Monday, which will provide one opportunity for housing issues to be raised. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work in pressing forward his Homelessness Reduction Bill and for winning Government support for it. I am glad that he paid tribute to the measures on rough sleeping and the scrapping of letting fees for tenants that the Chancellor announced yesterday. Although it is a good idea that we should have a debate on housing policy, that probably ought to await the publication of the White Paper, which will give Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to comment on Government proposals, rather than guessing what they might be.
May I add my thanks for the obviously sincere and deeply heartfelt words that the Leader of the House expressed about our late colleague Jo Cox? I am very grateful to him for that.
The Leader of the House announced that on 8 December we will have two debates, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and on the cancer strategy, one year on. That demonstrates how important it is for Members who wish to make a bid for time-sensitive debates to make their applications to the Backbench Business Committee in a timely fashion, so that we can plan ahead and get the dates slotted into the diary.
May I also make a plea? The Clerk to our Committee tries to get the offers that the Committee wishes to make out to Members as soon as possible, but would also ask that Members respond to them in a timely fashion, so that we can get the business sorted out. A number of Members have been made offers and are sitting on a response, so I would appreciate it if Members could make their feelings known to the Clerk as soon as possible.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words. The Backbench Business Committee is playing an important and constructive part in enabling Members in all parts of the House to raise important issues that matter to our constituents that might not otherwise get an airing, and I would endorse the advice that he gives to colleagues.
This month we have seen another remarkable poppy appeal in Corby and east Northamptonshire. Not only have we seen enormous sums of money raised, but thousands and thousands of people turned out on Remembrance Sunday to pay tribute to our brave armed forces. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many young people involved in the parades. Can we therefore have a debate next week to pay tribute to the Royal British Legion for all the work it does, but also to say a big thank you to all those in our communities who work tirelessly to make our poppy appeal so successful?
Although I am unable to offer my hon. Friend a debate, I wholeheartedly endorse the tribute he has paid to the Royal British Legion and the thousands of volunteers who work to make the poppy appeal a success each year—the appeal in England and Wales and the appeal in Scotland, which is run by the Royal British Legion Scotland. It is important that we all remember that, although in these years it is the veterans of the second world war who tend to be particularly in our minds in November, the revenues from the poppy appeal support ex-servicemen and women and their families from much more recent conflicts. Often, very young people have suffered shocking physical and mental injuries as a result of their service. We should remember that this work is still relevant and important today.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his eloquent remarks about Jo and her legacy.
BBC research has reported that investment in infrastructure per head over the next five years will be £6,457 for London, £5,771 for the north-west, but only £1,684 for Yorkshire and the Humber. With last week’s Government decision not to back the electrification of the line to Hull and yesterday’s autumn statement making no reference to the Humber at all, may we have a debate on the northern powerhouse and whether the Government really are serious about rebalancing not only north and south, but east and west?
As hon. Members on both sides of the House examine the detail of the autumn statement, they will find that all parts of the United Kingdom are going to benefit from the infrastructure spending that the Chancellor of the Exchequer identified. I do not blame any Member in any part of the House for making a particular plea on behalf of their own constituency, or the greater area that they represent. From memory, I know that, although it is not actually in Humberside, there is an important slug of funding for a significant motorway junction improvement around the Beverley area, which I think should benefit Hull and the area that the hon. Lady represents. If she looks elsewhere in the statement, I think she will find that Yorkshire and the Humber is going to benefit in a number of different ways.
Shortly before the summer recess, the all-party group for excellence in the built environment, of which I am the chairman, published its report on the quality of new-build housing. In my own Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport seat, there has been a significant amount of new build, but I fear that some of the quality has been a little shoddy. May we have a debate or a statement on that issue, please?
As far as the Government are concerned, we want all new homes to be well designed and built to good-quality standards. Home buyers are entitled to expect nothing less. There needs to be an effective complaints procedure, for example, through the consumer code, where people are dissatisfied with the quality of their home. The particular report that my hon. Friend mentioned raises some important issues. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and particularly the Minister for Housing and Planning, are studying this closely and will respond in due course.
I had a small but perfectly formed private Member’s Bill on adding mothers’ names and occupations to marriage certificates, which did not get anywhere. The hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) has taken up the mantle, but he is last on the list tomorrow, so there is not much hope there. Therefore, may we have a statement or a debate in Government time to see where we are going on that issue, so that we can see a bit of action before my daughter Angharad gets married in February 2018?
May I associate myself with what the Leader of the House said about Jo Cox, and pay tribute to the tremendous work that she did on behalf of poor people all over the world?
In May, Lord O’Neill launched a vital report on antimicrobial resistance in which he said that the global cost of no action would be $100 trillion a year, and, more important, the loss of 10 million lives a year. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time, given that the report was commissioned by the previous Prime Minister? I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), as well as many other Members, would be pleased to contribute to such a debate.
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. Since Lord O’Neill’s global review, the Government have been supporting research efforts both in the United Kingdom and abroad. That has included £51 million for research in the UK, £265 million through the Fleming Fund to support surveillance in lower-middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia, and a £50 million British contribution to the Global Innovation Fund. I hope my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that, in a landmark declaration at the United Nations General Assembly in September, following an intense campaign led by the Health Secretary and the chief medical officer, 193 countries agreed to combat antimicrobial resistance, which was identified as the biggest risk to modern medicine. That international agreement was a vital first step towards the effective action that we all want to see.
May I associate my party with what was said earlier by both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader? The memory of Jo Cox will indeed endure for years.
Following the tragic death of my 21-year-old constituent Miriam Briddon at the hands of a drink-driver in March 2014, her family committed themselves to campaigning for the reform of drink-driving sentencing guidelines and policy. That recently culminated in the presentation of a 100,000-strong petition to Downing Street. May we have a debate on the need for such reform, in memory of Miriam and the many other people who are afflicted by drink-driving crimes throughout the country?
This is an unspeakably tragic experience for any parent or family to have to go through. The hon. Gentleman may wish to seek an Adjournment or Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject, but the e-petition system that we have introduced provides an additional route by which subjects of this kind can be raised and debated in the House, and he may wish to suggest that to his constituents.
Last night, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group on retail crime, I attended an event organised by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. It is evident that those who work in the retail trade are very concerned about the level of not just theft, but violence against them. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time to investigate the matter?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend has made. No employee working for a retail outlet, large or small, should be going to work fearful that he or she may become the victim of violence. I think the trend is partly due to the growth of the gang culture that we have seen in London and some other big cities, and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Government are working with chief constables to try to defeat that threat. I cannot promise a quick, easy answer. Determined work by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, and local police forces and their chief constables and police and crime commissioners will be necessary to ensure that the response is right and the problem is properly addressed.
Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate or statement on VAT arrangements and Brexit? The announcement in the autumn statement yesterday of an additional £3 million for Comic Relief from the tampon tax fund was, of course, welcome, but we would like to know the total amount to be disbursed this year. We would also like to know what the Chancellor will do to ensure that there is secure, long-term investment in vital services, and to be given a clear date by which the tampon tax will finally come to an end.
My answer to the hon. Lady’s point is that that will depend in part on whether there is agreement first at EU level, while we remain members, on changes to EU law on value added tax; secondly, if that has not been dealt with by the time we leave the EU, there is the question of how rapidly we can then make that change of our own volition. I will ask Treasury Ministers to contact the hon. Lady with the particular information she seeks.
When the Leader of the House brings forward the resolutions to approve the spending of billions of pounds on this royal Palace and hundreds of millions of pounds on Buckingham Palace, will he arrange for a special screening of the film “I, Daniel Blake”, so that people can remember those who are being unjustly sanctioned, and those with disability losing £30 a week? I do not care about the reputation of this Government, but as a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, I cannot think of anything more damaging to the cause of constitutional monarchy than a “let them eat cake” attitude that prioritises the rebuilding of royal palaces while the people are struggling for bread.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of going over the top here, not for the first time. Buckingham Palace is a public building that is used by the monarch to exercise her functions as Head of State. It is also a place that thousands of tourists visit and enjoy each year. The reason why the royal household is facing this bill that shocks the right hon. Gentleman is that these decisions have been put off and a backlog of repairs has been allowed to accumulate. I think that what was decided and announced a few days ago is perfectly justifiable. In respect of sanctions, I ask him to bear in mind that fewer than 4%, I think, of recipients of jobseeker’s allowance have received any sort of benefit sanction; for employment and support allowance recipients, the figure is fewer than 1%. Officials can sometimes make mistakes, but we need to recognise that the proportions involved are very small.
My I also associate myself with the Leader of the House’s moving tribute to our late colleague, Jo Cox? She is greatly missed.
Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show that over the past five years there have been a staggering 152,740 excess winter deaths, and 24,300 people died last winter alone. The rate of excess winter deaths in our country is almost twice that of Norway and Germany. We are experiencing a quiet crisis that is, by its very nature, avoidable, so will the Leader of the House consider granting a debate in which the matter can be more fully discussed?
Any unnecessary death is clearly a tragedy, and everything possible should be done to avoid them. In fairness, I need to point out that, partly due to the NHS’s extensive preparation for winter, excess winter mortality last winter was down on the previous year, and earlier this month NHS England and Public Health England launched their Stay Well This Winter campaign, which last year reached 98% of the over-65s. The NHS is very much alive to these risks, and is taking action to alert elderly people to what they can do to keep themselves warm.
May I also associate myself and my Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues with the comments of the Leader of the House on our late colleague, Jo Cox? We must all respect people with different religions, politics or ethnicities.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and I launched the first report of the all-party group for the visitor economy. It was about supporting skills and apprenticeships in the hospitality and tourism industry. Many different types of evidence were submitted to us. The report said that there were core issues affecting apprenticeships in the fourth-largest service industry, involving the school curriculum, lack of proper career guidance, and lack of encouragement to people to go into cheffing and the catering industry. May we have a debate on this significant industry, which is important to tourism in many constituencies, and has a direct relationship with the economy?
I was glad to hear about the report that the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) have prepared, and she has highlighted an important issue. The Government’s commitment to 3 million apprenticeships needs to include tourism as one of the sectors to be assisted. She is right to draw our attention to the need for those apprenticeships to have proper preparation and the right content, so that the young people concerned can be seen to be readily employable. I have talked to directors and senior managers in the hospitality industry, and I find it troubling that they often find it difficult to recruit UK citizens who are properly skilled for the work on offer, which is why they often look to people coming in from other countries. As a country, we need to address that challenge.
You might recall, Mr Speaker, that I raised the question of tax treaties a few weeks ago. This week, another double taxation relief order, covering Turkmenistan, was approved. We are likely to see many more as a result of Brexit. May I again ask the Leader of the House if he will look into how Members can be given better notice of when such treaties are to be considered, and how he might ensure that the House has more opportunity for scrutiny of the UK’s tax arrangements with other countries?
Double tax treaties are a standard form of international agreement, and have been negotiated by British Governments of all political colours. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are designed to ensure that our citizens and those of the other country concerned cannot be taxed twice on the same income by two separate jurisdictions. I will draw his points about scrutiny and parliamentary process to the attention of Treasury Ministers, and perhaps I can write to him with some thoughts.
I very much hope that there will be a permanent memorial to Jo Cox in this building, whether it is a shield in the Chamber or a bust or some other form of memorial elsewhere in the Palace. Last Friday, this House voted by more than 200 votes to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, but it cannot go into Committee unless the Leader of the House provides the appropriate motions, so when will that happen?
Clearly, on that point, we need to take advice from the Treasury about whether a money resolution is needed. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that the legislation that established the current system for determining electoral boundaries, and the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission, were themselves the subject of legislation passed with a clear majority in this House. That was done through primary legislation, and I do not think that we can shy away from the principle that electorates are grossly unequal at the moment, that they are based on population figures that date back to 2000, and that it is in the interests of basic democratic fairness that we equalise the number of electors, so that every man and woman’s vote has the same value.
Given that the Leader of the House seems to be in an extremely generous mood this morning, particularly in relation to the use of public money, may we have an urgent debate on compensation for the victims of the Concentrix scandal? After a number of written parliamentary questions, I have managed to discover that nine out of 10 of the mandatory reconsiderations that have followed this fishing expedition have been successful—a shocking statistic. The average compensation awarded to victims is a mere £48, which does not even cover the cost of the phone calls, or the postage of documents, to prove their innocence. Will the Government please do the right thing by the people of this country who have been wrongly accused? Let us have a debate to bring this out into the open.
Any citizen who has grounds for claiming that they have suffered loss as a result of maladministration by any part or agency of Government has the right to go, via their Member of Parliament, to the parliamentary ombudsman to seek compensation. I have done that on behalf of my constituents at various times during my time here. One clearly cannot have some sort of blanket scheme that awards public money irrespective of the circumstances of an individual case, but the ombudsman may provide the route that the hon. Lady seeks.
On 7 December 2015, the then presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US. On 15 November, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask what representations were being made on behalf of the 2.7 million British Muslims, some of whom may want to go to the US. His response was shocking: it basically said that it was a matter for the US Government. I fundamentally disagree. This Government have the responsibility to stand up for the interests of every citizen in this land. When can we have a debate to ensure that the Foreign Secretary is held to account?
On freedom to travel, and with everything else, it is certainly the case that this Government will stand firm on the principle that citizens of the United Kingdom should be treated on an equal basis, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin. It is a truth in law that the United States, like every other nation state, has the responsibility to determine for itself its rules on whether people are allowed to enter its territory. It is important that we work with the elected President and his Administration, and ensure that we have the best possible bilateral relationship that works in the interests of all British citizens.
I thank the Leader of the House for his moving words earlier. Given those words, may we have a debate about whether Britain First should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation and banned from standing in democratic elections?
I cannot offer an immediate debate. As the hon. Lady probably knows, the Home Office brings forwards orders for the proscription of particular organisations, but it must do so on the basis of evidence. There have been cases in which organisations that have been so proscribed have gone to the courts and successfully won a judicial review to say that the evidence on which that action had been taken was not sufficient. I will ensure that her proposal is reported to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but there has to be clear evidence of terrorist involvement for the terrorist proscription to be applied.
Tory Back Benchers rightly lambast the Labour party’s legacy of private finance initiative debt, and Ministers on the Front Bench usually fully agree, so why does paragraph 3.27 of the Green Book outline that a “new pipeline” of PFI projects will be announced? Can we have a statement explaining that, or even better, a debate on the benefits of PFI versus conventional investment?
It has already been mentioned that the Government published a northern powerhouse strategy report yesterday, but I cannot see in it any mention of Cumbria or nuclear energy. Given that west Cumbria will physically put the power into the northern powerhouse, I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for a debate on the issue, so that the Government can appreciate how much the whole of the north of England has to offer, and why Cumbria must not be an afterthought.
I completely agree that Cumbria must not be an afterthought, and I am confident that the leaders of the northern powerhouse locally would make sure that the decisions that they took worked to the advantage of everybody living in that area. I am aware of the importance of the nuclear industry to the hon. Lady’s constituents, and I would have hoped that there was common ground between her and this Government, because we have taken the difficult and controversial decision to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations, which I think is generally supported by Members on both sides of the House who have experience of nuclear power plants in their constituency.
Every day in the UK about 2,200 babies are born—babies including my new granddaughter, Saoirse Grace, who was born in Glasgow yesterday. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of the measures announced in the autumn statement on new families, and how we can support all new families at this joyful but often vulnerable time?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Lady—or, more particularly, her daughter or daughter-in-law; I do not know which it is. A new child is a source of joy for any family. I suspect that we will have a number of opportunities to debate the various questions that arise out of yesterday’s autumn statement, as well as to put questions to Ministers in the Departments affected by the Chancellor’s announcements. As I said earlier, if she looks at the distributional analysis of the autumn statement, she will find that it works—modestly, yes—to the benefit of all income groups in society, save for the very richest; it is they who suffer a loss. I hope that she would agree that all families benefit more than anything else from having parents who are in work and able to work. The record number of people in employment is helping to drive the reduction that we have seen in the number of children who are living in workless households, and the introduction of universal credit means that people, including many mothers of young children, who may take on part-time work, will still always find that work makes them better off than staying on benefits.