House of Commons
Thursday 1 December 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Devolution of Power and Resources: Local Communities
The vote to leave the European Union was a vote to take back control, and this Government continue to champion devolution to local government.
Newcastle voted to remain; the north-east voted to leave, and that is what we are doing, but no one voted to replace regional European support with centralised Whitehall neglect. Will the Minister confirm that, as powers are returned from Brussels, they will be devolved to the regions? Will he agree to meet me and local government representatives in Newcastle to determine how best to achieve that?
The hon. Lady invites me to visit Newcastle. In fact, I do intend to visit it, and I look forward to seeing her and local government leaders there. I must point out that this Government are making huge strides towards rebalancing the economy and empowering local government through the devolution of powers away from Whitehall. At the autumn statement, the Government signalled their intention to go further, including exploring devolution to cities such as London and Greater Manchester and to the west midlands, and offering greater flexibility for mayoral combined authorities to borrow for their new functions.
Although I voted in the referendum to remain, I fully accept the outcome of the democratic election and my focus now is to ensure that the people in my constituency are not worse off post-Brexit. Given that we have benefited from EU funding to the tune of around £5 million a year, may I seek a guarantee from the Minister that the Government have a plan to ensure that those resources continue to come to my constituency post-Brexit?
The Government set out a clear plan at the autumn statement for our strategic framework for the northern powerhouse. We are spending £13 billion on transport in the north, establishing Transport for the North and ensuring a statutory status. Investment in the north is very substantial indeed, and that is borne out by the improving—and, indeed, record—levels of employment in the north.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend is so supportive of Government policy in this regard. He is absolutely right. Frankly, Opposition Members would do well to be more positive about the benefits of Brexit, rather than constantly seeking to talk down the economy.
I fully approve of more money going to the frontline, but can the Minister give me some reassurance that he will not be funding the “regions”—a pernicious invention of people who wanted to break up the United Kingdom into various parts that were not contiguous with any historical links to our communities?
Indeed, the regions are a European construct. Post-Brexit, we will be able to choose which parts of our country benefit from Government support.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, these matters are currently being litigated in the Supreme Court, which will consider them later this month. The judgment should be delivered before the end of next month.
Will my right hon. Friend point out to those who are moaning about the potential loss of EU funding that it is our money in the first place, and that for every £1 we get from the European Union, we have to pay £2 to achieve it?
My hon. Friend makes his point precisely; that is exactly the case. There will be substantial savings following our departure from the European Union, with more to invest in the local economies around our country.
Change in local government is normally done by Bills that go through this House. The system this Government are adopting is to charge local authorities or produce cuts in local authorities—representing, in Derbyshire’s case, about £155 million—and then to say that if they have the northern “poorhouse”, as it might be called, they will get a little tiny bit back. As for Brexit, we all know why the Secretary of State is going slow on that: because, unlike John Major before him, who had about 18 rebels, this time there are 80 Tory Back Benchers who are in favour of Brexit and about another 80 who are against it. That is why he does not deliver any information.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased when article 50 is triggered before the end of March. On the issue of local government in the north, all I can say is that there is huge enthusiasm in northern local authorities for directly elected Mayors.
We could be a bit more positive if the Government showed us a plan that we could be positive about. I assume the Minister misspoke when he said that the regions are “a European construct”. I can assure him that that is not the case where I come from in the north-east. They are very much not a European construct, but something about which we are intensely proud. For the Government to think that they can negotiate without involving regional businesses, civic leaders, airports and our universities really takes a special kind of narcissism. If there is going to be so much money flowing post-Brexit, why is it that the Government are refusing to guarantee every penny of our regional funding now?
The hon. Lady is entirely right: it is necessary to consult businesses, universities, civic leaders and all parts of civil society. Indeed, that is precisely what we are doing. The Department is engaging with representatives of over 50 sectors across the economy. This is important work, and it is much better to get a proper, reasonable Brexit than the hasty sort of Brexit that she and her colleagues seem to be advocating.
EU Budget: UK Contribution
Withdrawing from the EU means decisions on how we spend taxpayers’ money will be made in the United Kingdom. We will strike a deal in the best interests of United Kingdom taxpayers. It is the job of my Department to bring back control over issues such as money, law and borders. As we do so, it will be up to this House and this Government to make the decisions.
I do not expect the Secretary of State to reveal his negotiating position today, but will he accept that on 23 June the British people voted to restore control over the money that we have paid to the European Union? They want that money spent in the United Kingdom, not subsidising Brussels.
I understand entirely where my hon. Friend is coming from. Indeed, as he well knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with that viewpoint. Of course we intend to respect the decision of the British people and what underpins it. As he rightly says, it would be irresponsible to set out red lines or to make unilateral decisions at this stage, but it must be made clear that we want decisions over how taxpayers’ money is spent to be made in this House.
This is a general question, so it provides the Minister with plenty of scope to give some sort of response. Will the Government consider making any contribution in any shape or form for access to the single market?
I note that the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question was probably aimed more at you, Mr Speaker, than at me. The simple answer we have given previously—it is very important, because there is a distinction between picking off an individual policy and setting out a major criterion—is that the major criterion here—[Interruption.] I will answer him if he lets me do so. The major criterion is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market. If that is included in what he is talking about, then of course we would consider it.
One of the decisions that I suppose the Government have to make is when we will stop paying money to the European Union, or whether we then ask for it back. One way to negotiate could be to say, “Well, any money we’ve paid to the European Union after 23 June should come back to us.” Is that not one of the positions we could take?
I got into trouble once before for saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan”, which was royally misinterpreted in the press. However, my hon. Friend makes a significant point. This money is British money: it will come back to us, and we will decide what to do with it.
In a week in which it has been reported that the Foreign Secretary told EU ambassadors that he does not agree with the Government’s policy on free movement and that a Dutch Member of Parliament attended a Downing Street briefing on the Government’s Brexit plans, does the Secretary of State understand why the House is getting a little fed up with being told nothing? If he does, will he tell us when the Government will come forward with their plans for Brexit, including for what will happen regarding any future contributions to the European Union after we have left?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am appearing in front of his Committee on 14 December. His Committee has already visited my Department, and we are seeking to help it as much as we can. As a previous Secretary of State for International Development and Cabinet Minister, he also knows full well that the probable success of the negotiations greatly depends on our ability to manage information and to keep secret until the last minute what needs to be kept secret.
As for the other things from this week that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, they are all based on a presumption that a scribbled note in Downing Street is actually anything like Government policy. It is not.
EU Brexit negotiators have been clear about their intent to pursue the UK for an exit bill of anything up to €60 billion based on an expansive interpretation of our liabilities under the EU budget. That is a colossal sum of money and the British public deserve to know from their Government how accurate it is. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much his Department estimates that it will cost to settle our outstanding liabilities as part of any future withdrawal agreement?
May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman back? I understand that he has a new member of his family, on which the whole House will join me in congratulating him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have seen an opening bid from the European Union. That is what it is. It is nothing more than the maximum price for departure from the Union. If he will forgive me, I am not going to engage in chipping away at that bid; we will start from scratch when we go through the door after March when the negotiations start.
At home, we are carrying out an extensive programme of sectoral analysis on the key factors that affect our negotiations with the European Union. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations, Parliament and a range of other stakeholders, as we have already heard from the Minister of State. The House should understand that we are also working with every Department to ensure a full range of opportunities.
In Europe, we are undertaking wide-ranging engagement, led by the Prime Minister. I have met representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as Ministers and other officials from several European member states.
I am not entirely sure how that answer related to my question, but it was certainly full of flannel. It seems that we are no further forward with a plan to leave the EU than we were five months ago. Will the Secretary of State tell me when the Government are going to drop the pretence that Brexit can mean continued tariff-free access to the single market and an end to freedom of movement? The British public deserve better than that embarrassing charade.
I am interested to hear the hon. Lady’s supplementary question, which she obviously prepared earlier—[Interruption.] This has been the Labour line for some time. It is really interesting that Labour Members cannot agree among themselves on whether they agree with their Front-Bench spokesman or with their shadow Chancellor. We are four to five months from the triggering of article 50. That will be point at which the negotiations start and it will be clear where we are going.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is quite a bit of room between the phrase “Brexit means Brexit” and a full detailed dossier of negotiation? Does he note that more than one witness to the Exiting the European Union Committee and several Members of Parliament believe that, in order to provide some clarity and deal with some of the current uncertainty, there is room for the Government to publish in advance something on their high-level objectives, which will be known to the EU and to all of us the moment article 50 is triggered? Will he consider that with great urgency?
Of course I will consider anything my right hon. Friend comes forward with in this area; I know it is a matter of great importance to him. Let me say this: “Brexit means Brexit”, an interesting phrase at the beginning of this exercise, is a long way short of what we have already said, which is that we are aiming to achieve the maximum possible free access to the market and that we need to respect all the implications of the referendum. In between those things, in an important area that nobody seems to talk about, justice and home affairs, we have made it very clear that we want, as far as is possible, to replicate what we already have. We have had a great deal of parliamentary discussion about this matter already and we are going to have a great deal more between now and the triggering of article 50, including the appearance before the Select Committee and so on. So he can expect to know a very great deal about this at the time we get there. I made one particular undertaking at the first Select Committee I attended, the Lords one, which was that this House would be kept at least as well informed as the European Parliament.
It could be argued that we have made some progress on what the Government’s plans are this week. Once the Secretary of State gets round to moving on from scribbled notes to typed-up notes, will he pass them to the House? Will he tell us whether he briefed the Foreign Secretary before his latest trip, and is freedom of movement still a priority for this Government?
Let me pick up on the last point first. What I have seen in the papers this morning strikes me as completely at odds with what I know about my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s approach to this matter. He believes clearly—he made this clear during the leave campaign, which he was a much more major part of than I was—that some immigration is useful. We all agree on that, but it is not the same as thinking that free movement of people as it now stands is a good idea—it is a problem. On the other aspects of the forward planning, the hon. Gentleman should know—I assume he talks to his opposite number on the Joint Ministerial Committee EN, the Committee that co-ordinates the approaches of the three devolved Administrations—that a great deal of work has been taking place on these matters and all of it is in typed script; none of it is scribbled on a bit of paper.
So what we take from that is: yet more bumbled diplomacy from the Foreign Secretary. On what the Minister of State said about regions being European constructs, I hope he was not referring to the ancient European nation of Scotland or the ancient European nation of Ireland. The Secretary of State will be aware of the First Minister’s successful trip this week, so what lessons does he take from Ireland and the fact that the number of passport applications has gone up by 50% in that country?
One lesson I take from it is that if the parties on the Opposition Benches—all of them—continue to frighten people, that is what the response will be. The hon. Gentleman should know, in terms—we have said this over and over again—that we wish to provide the maximum protection for both European citizens here and British citizens abroad. Just so he does not forget this, let me say that the Polish Prime Minister—not just the British Prime Minister—accepted earlier this week in public that both of those matters matter.
We need to speed up, as progress is very slow. I want an extremely short, one-sentence question from Mr Michael Tomlinson.
On article 50, does the Secretary of State agree that it is right to appeal from the High Court, that it is inevitable that this would end up in the Supreme Court and that this constitutional point needs to be resolved?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this point is wider than just the issue of article 50; it goes right to the heart of the operation of the Crown prerogative.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have repeatedly said that there will be no running commentary on their article 50 plans, yet there is one. It is being provided by leaked memos, notes caught on camera and the near-constant comments of the Foreign Secretary to anyone who will listen to him. This is serious because it is damaging the prospects of the negotiations getting off to a good start. The Secretary of State must realise that this is going to continue throughout the two years unless and until he discloses to this House the basic plan the Government are adopting. So my question is simple: when is he going to do so?
The answer is the same one I have given the hon. Gentleman before to exactly the same question, which is that we have already set out the strategic aims—he knows that. He is also aware that we do not want to cut down the options available on things such as the old issue of market access. At this stage, we do not wish to go into great detail on the justice and home affairs front, on which I suspect that we absolutely agree, because we want to get the best possible outcome for Britain. The dominating factor here is not what is in the newspapers, but what is the best outcome for Britain in the long run.
The question was when will we see the plan. On 7 November, when the Secretary of State was last at the Dispatch Box, he was asked whether the Government were intending to keep the UK in the customs union. He answered by saying:
“We will make that judgment in due course and make it public in due course.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2016; Vol. 616, c. 1269.]
There are now just 121 days left until the end of March next year. Time is running out. Another simple question is: when does the Secretary of State intend to honour his commitment and make the Government’s position on the customs union clear?
One hundred and twenty one days is a long time in policy terms, I am afraid. The simple truth is that there is one chance in this negotiation. This is unlike almost anything else that comes in front of this House. With everything else, we can come back and repeal it, change it or amend it later. This is a single-shot negotiation, so we must get it right, and we will get it right by doing the analysis first and the notification second. I will do that. I will meet my promise to the hon. and learned Gentleman—there is no doubt about that—but he will just have to wait until the analysis is complete.
Leaving the EU: Regional Economic Effects
The Department is carrying out a programme of work to analyse the economic significance and trade dynamics of more than 50 sectors of the economy. That includes analysis at both national and regional levels. Ministers and officials also have an extensive programme of bilateral meetings and visits across the country to listen to the views of business.
But we know from academic research that the regions in the north of England will be hit the hardest by Brexit. Further to previous questions that I have raised in this House about the fact that the Department has no staff based outside London, may I ask the Minister whether that position has now been reconsidered, and if so, how many will be based in Merseyside?
The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. The north-west of England is extremely important to our Department’s consideration of the negotiations and the terms of Brexit. I have to tell her that if she regards the Government’s proposals for the northern powerhouse as something that is inimical to the interests of the north-west, I am astonished.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: ports are absolutely crucial to the economic welfare of this country, not only in their own right but as enablers of trade. Ports have an extremely high significance, and I will of course be pleased to meet him to discuss the matter further.
As the hon. Lady will know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has absolutely guaranteed the continuance of support for such programmes to 2020. She has to bear it in mind that the European Commission itself will not be making its own consideration of any future schemes until that time. We will of course take very seriously the issues that she mentions, but at this stage I cannot confirm anything.
Yes. We fully acknowledge the importance of the aerospace sector, which is a major employer in his constituency and in many other parts of the country. It is very clear to us that, for example, integrated supply chains are important to that industry, which is why we are engaging extremely closely with the industry. Indeed, I had meetings earlier this week.
Can the Minister detail the “significant powers”—to use the words of his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland when he appeared on the “Sunday Politics Scotland” programme—due to be devolved to Scotland?
The matter of what powers reside where after we leave the European Union remains to be considered.
EU Referendum: Delivery of Result
The Prime Minister set out the timetable for triggering article 50 by the end of March 2017. We will soon put before Parliament the great repeal Bill, which will remove from the statute book the European Communities Act 1972 and bring back sovereignty to this Parliament.
Those of us who campaigned for 30 years to take back control did not campaign for this elected House of Commons to be bypassed. My view is that we should have produced that Bill to trigger article 50. There should be a full debate on Second Reading, and let hon. Members who want to vote against it take the consequences. My right hon. Friend will not agree with that, but will he agree with this: that if he loses the court case, there will be no further faffing about, no delay, no draft Bill; he will produce a Bill within days, there will be a full debate—for at least two days—and then this House will get a chance to vote on article 50?
I understand my hon. Friend’s impatience after, as he says, 30 years of campaigning, but there have been 40 years of membership of the Union and it takes some time to decide on the best way of removing us from the Union in the way that people want. On the court case, it is not just a yes/no outcome in December/January. The actual nature of the Bill may be influenced by the outcome, but within that context, yes, we will carry on as rapidly as we possibly can.
With reference to delivering Brexit in a timely manner, the Secretary of State will be aware that there is a two-year timescale once article 50 is triggered. Is it the Government’s policy that both the Brexit negotiations and the future trade arrangements should be agreed within that two-year period, or are they open to a transitional arrangement if that is not possible?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. There are other questions on transitional arrangements that I will come to in detail later, as the Speaker will pull me up if I do not. The answer is yes; we want to see them both done in parallel inside the two years.
As I know from talking to businesses up and down the country, whether they voted to leave or to remain, there is overwhelming consensus—they want get on with this. Uncertainty is the one threat, as opposed to the comically inaccurate forecasts, which have been proved completely wrong, by the remain side. Can the Secretary of State confirm that whichever way the appeal goes in the Supreme Court—the Government do have very good arguments—there will still be time to pass the necessary legislation, if required, and to stick to the timetable of triggering article 50 by the end of March?
Yes, that is my belief.
I congratulate the Government on the sophistication of their approach to Brexit. Deploying the Foreign Secretary to declare his undying support for free movement of labour is a masterly addition to the policy of chaos and confusion at the heart of the Government’s strategy. If 121 days is a long time in politics, how many days before 31 March will the Government narrow down their range of policies to one and tell us what it is? [Interruption.]
I hear from behind me, “How is your poll rating?” I would not be so cruel to my old friend. We will use all 121 days to get the best possible policy for us and then we will put that single policy to the European Union.
Police and Security Co-operation
The Secretary of State and I speak regularly to our Home Office colleagues about a range of issues relating to the UK’s exit from the EU. We are both committed to maintaining very close police and security co-operation between the UK and EU member states after we leave the EU. The safety of the British public is, of course, a top priority.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me that after Brexit we will continue this close co-operation with the EU on law enforcement and counter-terrorism in particular, to ensure that we continue to protect not only the UK, but Europe?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK will continue to play a full role in this area at a time of increasing risk of terrorism, Russian belligerence, instability in the middle east and a host of other threats. There is undoubtedly a huge benefit for both the UK and the EU from continued close co-operation in this field.
Does the Minister agree that the deplorable comments being made about exiting the EU having a destabilising impact on the peace process, or leading to an increase in violence or the return of terrorism, are deeply damaging and wrong? Does he agree that co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana has never been better and will continue like that after we exit the EU?
Yes, I agree entirely and, more importantly, so do the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. Such comments are deeply deplorable.
The UK has been a lead player in Europol. What is likely to be our access level post-Brexit? Will it be similar to that of non-EU members such as the United States?
My hon. Friend is entirely right: Europol is of importance. As part of the exit negotiations, the Government will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation on a range of tools and measures, including membership of Europol.
In his discussions with the Home Office, has the Minister talked about the letter written to it by the National Farmers Union warning that British fruit and veg will go unpicked this winter because of the current labour crisis in the horticultural and agricultural industries, and what is he doing about that?
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right: the agricultural industry has traditionally relied on seasonal agricultural labour. These are matters that we are giving close attention to. Indeed, I discussed them only yesterday with representatives of farming unions.
Select Committees: Ministerial Attendance
We take parliamentary scrutiny of the Department’s work extremely seriously, and I am delighted to be appearing before the new Select Committee on Exiting the European Union on 14 December. Department for Exiting the European Union Ministers and officials have made 10 appearances before Select Committees since the Department was established and before our own Select Committee was formed. But it is right that we do not overstep our remit and that Ministers across Whitehall—this is a cross-Whitehall operation—are accountable to their own Committees, including in relation to European Union exit.
To curb the Secretary of State’s manic optimism, would it not be beneficial for him to get a dose of reality from the Welsh Affairs Committee, which went to Aberystwyth this weekend? Somebody came to me and said, “My company has decided after the referendum not to expand here in Ceredigion but to relocate in Dublin.” Is it not right that the Minister should come, not to tell us what he is doing but so that we can pass on to him the fact that industry is collapsing post-referendum?
The hon. Gentleman should perhaps make his point about industry collapsing to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Nissan, GSK, Jaguar Land Rover and the rest. To come to his substantive point, we consider every request from Select Committees on its individual merits. There are probably something of the order of 30 ongoing projects at the moment. Frankly, if we appeared in front of every Select Committee on all those, we would not have any time to do any negotiation or planning at all.
Science and Technology Sector
The Department has a wide programme of engagements to ensure that the views of the science and technology sector are heard. For example, we have recently met representatives of the life sciences and tech sectors, and will continue to meet them in the coming months. While it is too early to speculate on our future relationship with EU science and research programmes, as part of our commitment to make Britain the global go-to nation for scientists, innovators and tech investors, we will be investing an extra £2 billion in research and development by the end of this Parliament.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The life sciences and pharma sectors are concerned that they need globally recognised and equivalent regulations to compete internationally. Can the Minister assure me that he will continue to work closely with these sectors to ensure they have the best possible opportunities in the Brexit negotiations?
My hon. and learned Friend is right, and the Government are committed to ensuring a positive outcome for the UK’s life sciences and the pharmaceuticals sector as we exit the European Union. We have welcomed many hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment from Alnylam and GSK, and I can assure her that Ministers in our Department are engaging, and will continue to engage, with the pharma and life sciences industry to ensure that we take the opportunities as well as meet the challenges ahead.
In Europe’s largest space innovation competition this year, the UK took the top prize and four major awards. We have been one of the leaders in, and most successful exploiters of, space technology, and it is vital that this support continues. In particular, can the Minister confirm that the European Space Agency is entirely independent and not an EU organisation, and that our membership of and participation in ESA will continue, as will the UK’s involvement in space research?
Absolutely. The UK space industry, in which I understand my right hon. Friend’s husband has played an important part, is a global success story, leveraging our best talent to deliver highly innovative products and services every year. We want a UK space industry that captures 10% of the global market by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs. The UK will remain a member of the ESA, which is not a part of the EU. The ESA’s next ministerial council is being held in Lucerne today, attended by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.
May I thank the Minister for taking time last week to meet me and science and engineering companies from my constituency? Will he heed the calls made at that meeting, specifically to continue the easy and free movement of scientists across Europe and to maintain our participation in European projects?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for arranging that very useful meeting. I will repeat what the Secretary of State has said before:
“We will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still…Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so.”
We are a global leader in scientific collaboration, and we want that to continue.
Is it the Government’s policy to exit the European Medicines Agency at the same time as we exit the EU?
The Government are committed to ensuring a positive outcome for life sciences and pharma as we exit the European Union. The Prime Minister has already outlined steps to make sure that we continue to back research and development. No decisions have yet been taken as to the final location of the European Medicines Agency.
T.G. Eakin, which is located in my constituency, is a successful business that supplies medical equipment throughout the world. It is imperative that such businesses are kept informed of progress. Will the Minister outline how his Department will achieve that?
We continue to engage very closely with businesses across sectors and across the whole of the UK. We have already had a number of engagements in Northern Ireland, and there will be many more to come.
The absence of a Government plan for the science and technology sector is causing huge uncertainty. The Minister will be aware that the current funding arrangements for the ITER project, which includes a JET—Joint European Torus—centre for fusion energy in the UK, run out in 2018. If he can say nothing else about the Government’s plan, will he confirm that the UK will seek to maintain full participation in the Euratom programme?
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s question is better directed to Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am sure that that is something on which we will work closely with them.
We are seeking to ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union, and it would not be in the interests of either side—Britain or the European Union—to see disruption. To that end, we are examining all possible options, focusing on the mutual interests of the UK and the European Union.
The Prime Minister recently told the CBI conference that we want to avoid a cliff edge. Further to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), and given that our EU partners have so far refused to commit to parallel negotiations on our future arrangements alongside those on article 50, what is the plan if we cannot start, let alone conclude, those negotiations within two years? Will we be forced off that cliff and on to World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs, with all the consequences for jobs and investment that business has warned of?
The substance of the hon. Lady’s question is incredibly important and, as she has said, the Prime Minister addressed it at the CBI. She addressed it again yesterday and that is why she has said that we want a smooth and orderly exit. How that occurs will be affected by a number of things. The hon. Lady has mentioned the structural issue relating to whether the negotiation is done in parallel or in series. We do not accept the series approach. We have made that plain to the European Union, and we need to deal with that before we come to the detailed question of whether there is a transition or not.
On transition itself, I make this important point. The Select Committee Chairman, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), is sitting next to the hon. Lady. Transition, when it is raised by various people, will mean different things. For example, when the Europeans talk about it, it effectively means a much longer negotiation period, while other people are concerned about matters such as financial stability. There are different issues that need to be dealt with in a different way.
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman says that he needs to make an important point; all points made by Secretaries of State ought to be important, as should the points made to them.
UK money through the European Union funds important international development projects all over the world. As part of any transitional arrangements, will the Secretary of State make sure that those continue to be supported and that the plug is not pulled when or if the UK finally leaves?
There is no “if” about it. There is a “when.” I say that to the hon. Gentleman quite firmly, because that is part of the problem that the European Union has had in engaging on the process so far. Many of them want to see this not happen and they have to face up to that so we get the right answer.
The hon. Gentleman raises a significant issue. I have not addressed it in detail myself, but I will do so. Will he forgive me if I write to him on this matter, because it is sufficiently important that I think I should do so?
My ministerial colleagues and I have met a number of higher education institutions and groups, including Universities UK, the royal academies, the Russell Group and the Universities of Swansea, Reading, Ulster and Strathclyde. The sector strongly supports our ambition to create an environment in which the UK as a whole can continue to be a world leader in research, science and the tertiary education sector.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The University of the West of Scotland provides a high-quality and accessible education, and the university’s 112 staff from the EU are absolutely critical in delivering that. Can the Minister guarantee EU staff working across higher education and further education the right to remain without any visa conditions when the UK leaves the EU?
We value highly the contribution of EU and international researchers and academic staff. We remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU, and we will always welcome those with the skills, drive and expertise to make our nation better still. Regarding those who are already in the UK, we have been clear that there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK as a result of the referendum.
In 2014-15, there were 43,000 EU staff in the UK higher education sector. Those people are making decisions now about their future. When will the Government give them certainty, and what is in the Government’s plan for Brexit to ensure that our universities can benefit from the contribution of those staff members once we have left the EU?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I have just given. I think we have been very clear that we want to continue to attract the top talent and that we want the UK to remain a leader in research, which means attracting people from the EU and from around the wider world.
The Erasmus exchange programme has enabled 200,000 UK students and 20,000 staff to spend time abroad. That enhances their employability, improves their knowledge and promotes understanding between cultures. What is the plan to ensure that that kind of valuable exchange can continue in future?
There is no change for those who are currently participating in, or about to start, Erasmus+. Erasmus+ offers a range of programmes to countries across Europe and beyond. Post-exit access to Erasmus+ will be a matter for the negotiations that will follow the triggering of article 50. The Erasmus+ programme has proved to be a valuable tool that helps organisations and citizens to achieve their potential through international education, training and collaborative opportunities. As part of our vision for the UK as a global nation, I am sure we will want to look at how such an approach can be perpetuated in the future.
The Secretary of State was absolutely right to say earlier that we only get one chance at this, so the Prime Minister is absolutely right to make sure that we have listened to all the representations, including those from universities, before invoking article 50. Does he agree that it is far preferable to have a full, hearty Brexit than a rushed, messy, unsatisfactory dog’s breakfast?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that we listen to and take on board the evidence from the university sector.
Ministerial Discussions: Scottish Government
The Government are absolutely committed to working with the Scottish Government, alongside the other devolved Administrations, as we formulate plans for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. That includes working through the new Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which had its first meeting last month and is due to meet again on 7 December.
Can the Minister outline the benefits of Scotland securing full membership of the single market post-Brexit?
I find it extremely difficult to see how one part of the United Kingdom could remain part of the single market while the rest did not. I refer the hon. Gentleman to what the First Minister of Wales said only the other day:
“I don’t see how there can be separate market access arrangements for the different nations within the UK that share the same land mass.”
EU Nationals: UK Status
Clearly something has disappeared from the file. The question is about—
Order. I do not wish to disorientate the right hon. Gentleman, but it had been an earlier ambition on his part, as communicated to my office, to group this question with question 22. I hope that he is still happy with that vaulting ambition.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the on-stage prompt.
The question is about European nationals. The Government’s aim is clear: we wish to guarantee the rights of European nationals at the same time as we guarantee those of British citizens abroad. We raised that matter with the Polish delegation—the Polish Prime Minister and others who came to the UK this week—and they agreed that both matters have to be dealt with at the same time.
Every week since 23 June, I have met EU nationals who live in my constituency. They are part of our community, many are working in vital roles in our NHS and public services, and they are deeply distressed by the uncertainty that this process is causing them and their families. Will the Secretary of State unilaterally confirm their right to live in the UK and to continue playing their vital role in our communities?
May I say two things to the hon. Lady? It is a serious issue and I accept that she takes it seriously, as we all do. As I said last time—I hope this gets promulgated—the majority of European nationals already have the right indefinitely to remain because of the time they have been here, or if they have been here for two and a half years, they will certainly have that before we leave. More to the point of what she said, we discussed the matter with the Poles and several other European countries, and they accept in terms—indeed, the Polish Prime Minister said it in public two days ago—that this has to be dealt with at the same time as British citizens abroad because they, too, will feel a nervousness and we must not leave them hanging.
I also have many constituents who are EU citizens actively contributing to our community and our economy, and they are worried about their future here. This Government have the power to give them certainty and to find the best way to ensure reciprocal guarantees for UK citizens in other EU countries. Is it fair to use one group of people to hold another to ransom?
The phrase, “holding people to ransom” is mightily unhelpful to the whole argument. Our whole strategy is designed to avoid holding anybody to ransom and to ensure that everybody who should have rights gets them recognised at the same time. I am afraid that the arguments in the European domain in the last week have reinforced that viewpoint. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, it demonstrates that we are taking the right approach. If it were up to us, we would have this resolved in months, but we have to get agreement with the European Union, too.
Last week, the Chancellor delivered the autumn statement and, thanks to work done since 2010, the fundamentals of the UK economy are strong and we approach EU exit negotiations from a position of strength. Of course there will be ups and downs during the process, but the hard data since the referendum have been far better than many expected or predicted, and growth is forecast to be steady. In the third quarter, UK GDP grew by a half per cent., employment reached an all-time record high, business investment rose by 0.9% and retail sales grew by 1.9%. In the three months to October, companies from Jaguar Land Rover to GlaxoSmithKline have increased investment. The UK is well placed to deal with challenges that may arise from exiting the EU, and ready to seize the opportunities, too.
At the annual general meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on wholesale financial markets and services on Tuesday night, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a very public endorsement of a transitional regime for the financial sector beyond the two-year Brexit negotiations. On a scale of one to 10, how closely does the Secretary of State agree with the Chancellor?
On a scale of one to 10, I will give that number when I hear what the Chancellor says myself, rather than hear that routed through the hon. Gentleman. The substantive point—transition—is material. We have said that the first thing to determine is the endpoint and the outcome. Whether we need a transition will be dictated by that in the first instance. As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), what transition means is itself a moot point.
May I return to the question of EU nationals? Home Office figures released this morning indicate that the number applying for permanent residency in the UK has increased by 50% in the quarter since the referendum. The Brexit Secretary keeps returning to the question of people’s opportunity to apply for leave to remain. Does he not recognise that that process is not automatic, costs money, is complex and is not guaranteed? Will he not simply do what the British public want and give them the right to stay?
Frankly, the hon. Gentleman allows me to reiterate the important point I made earlier. [Interruption.] I will get to the issue of leave to remain. By the time we get to the end of the process, five out of six European nationals who are here already will have the automatic right. The hon. Gentleman got that wrong—when it comes down to it, it is effectively automatic. After six years, people get the right to citizenship, which is important.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we would like to resolve this in a fast, expeditious and comforting manner for the individuals concerned, but we have a responsibility to 1 million British citizens abroad, and we must protect them as well.
The Government fully recognise the contribution that tourism makes to our economy and communities in all parts of the UK. Foreign visitors contribute £22 billion to our economy. There were record numbers of overseas visitors each month from July to September—10.7 million in total. I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for hosting a roundtable with some of the key players in the hospitality sector, which I attended last week shortly after attending the Tourism Industry Council. As the Prime Minister has said, we are confident that our exit represents opportunities for growth in tourism, and we will work closely with the industry to achieve them.
That will be part of the great repeal Bill. If there is any amendment, I would think it would be done through primary legislation in the House.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: there will be no second referendum.
Our intention is to seek the best possible access to the European market, and to provide similar access for Europeans to this market. That is the basis upon which we are approaching the negotiations.
I can confirm that. We had a debate very recently in which that point was reiterated several times.
I recommend to the hon. Gentleman the comments of the shadow Chancellor, who said that Britain should grasp the opportunities available and use Brexit to transform society. Sadly, the shadow Brexit Secretary does not help.
On the question of the port services regulation, does my right hon. Friend accept that it is opposed by the Government, the Opposition, the trade unions and all port employers? The issue is about to be decided by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Does he agree that it should be voted against?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The regulation is not designed for the British system. We intend to oppose it, but sadly it will be carried by a qualified majority vote.
The OBR, the IMF, the Bank of England, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the London School of Economics all say that Britain’s share of world exports will fall post-Brexit. Does that not show how empty the Government’s rhetoric is about us being a global leader in world trade?
The hon. Lady should be very wary about taking economic assumptions underpinning a forecast as a statement of what is going to happen. The outcome after the Brexit process is over will depend very much on the deal we strike. That will be a good deal and there will be an increase in the amount of world trade we take.
Major pharmaceutical investors, such as Eli Lilly in my constituency, use a common EU system for medicine regulation in clinical trials to help British patients to gain access to the best treatments in the world. What work is the Minister doing to ensure that the decades-long co-operation with the EU is maintained after Brexit not just for the benefit of companies but for the benefit of patients?
I assure my right hon. Friend that we will be looking very carefully at that. As I said earlier, no decisions have yet been made about the future location of the European Medicines Agency. Until we have left the EU, the UK remains a member with all the rights and obligations that membership entails. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency continues to play a full role in all procedures of the EU medical device regulatory framework.
What priority has the ministerial team given to achieving continued tariff-free access and continued membership of the single market?
Those are two different things. As I said earlier, we give very high priority to both tariff-free access and access without tariff barriers, at least no more than there are already—there are plenty. That may or may not include membership of the single market, but it is achievable by a number of different methods.
The fishing industry has never fully recovered from the sell-out in the original negotiations to enter Europe. Can Ministers assure me that the fishing industry will have a much higher priority in this set of negotiations?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the fishing industry is at the forefront of our considerations. We have already had several meetings with the industry’s representatives and will continue to do so.
Businesses across a range of sectors in my constituency are concerned about their ongoing ability to attract and retain skilled labour as a consequence of Brexit. Will the Secretary of State say what he is doing both to reassure businesses that in future there will be the opportunity for skilled labour to migrate to this country, and to retain people who are already considering leaving now?
The function of my Department and this strategy is to bring back the control of migration to the British Government and the British Parliament. That will be exercised in the national interest. That means that we would expect to see pretty free movement of highly talented labour and, in other aspects of the economy, it is not in the national interest to cause labour shortages. Therefore, businesses should be aware that this is not shutting the door; it is taking back control.
On reciprocal rights for United Kingdom and EU citizens, does the Secretary of State agree that the Prime Minister is absolutely right to be seeking an early resolution, and to be already speaking with individual member states?
My hon. Friend is exactly right and that is why we have taken this strategy. I hope that, at the end of the day, there will be unanimity so we can get early movement.
Since 2014, Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises have received over €21 million in funding through Horizon 2020. What assurances can the Minister give that firms will be eligible for equivalent funding before and after 2020?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Treasury has already given strong assurances up to 2020, beyond the period of our exiting the EU. That is an important signal to SMEs, universities and others that they should continue bidding for the scheme. The current EU budget and the framework for Horizon 2020 runs only up to 2020.
On the principle of humanitarian assistance to the involuntarily delayed, I call Mr Henry Smith.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. On the day we leave the EU, we will be in perfect alignment with the rest of the EU regulations, directives and so on, which gives us a strong, solid base for moving forward with negotiations.
The Prime Minister, in an attempt to set the right tone for negotiations, has offered an early agreement on the status of EU nationals living in the UK. Is the Secretary of State disappointed that, in a petulant post-referendum response from the EU Commission, this offer has been refused, and will he assure us that, should this hard line continue, there will be no lack of resolve on the Government’s part to detach us from the chains of the EU?
The Government will not be so easily put off, although the hon. Gentleman is quite right. It would have been better if we had got a better response from the EU—but I will not say anything rude about those involved. One of the interesting disciplines of the next two years is that I will be polite to everybody.
Preserving the habits of a lifetime, I feel sure.
The agricultural and food sectors are incredibly significant in the Corby and east Northamptonshire economy, employing thousands of local people. What steps are Ministers taking to engage fully with these sectors to make sure that their needs are totally understood?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We hold regular meetings, both with our colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and with the various stakeholders in the industry. Only yesterday, I and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), held a roundtable at my Department to discuss these very issues.
A major retailer has raised with me whether they would continue to invest in the north-west because of potential tariffs. What comfort can the Minister give to such businesses?
Interestingly, one of the first business meetings I had was in Blackburn, at the invitation of the former MP for the area, Jack Straw. We are clear that we are seeking tariff-free, barrier-free access, and we—I certainly, as a northern MP—have the interests of industry throughout Britain, particularly the north, very much in mind.
Order. We must now move on.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
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 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.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 December will include:
Monday 12 December—Remaining stages of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill.
Tuesday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.
Wednesday 14 December—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 15 December—Debate on a motion on the creation of a commercial financial dispute resolution platform followed by a general debate on UK negotiations on future co-operation with EU member states on scientific and university research projects. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 December—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8, 12 and 15 December will be:
Thursday 8 December—Debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on post-study work schemes followed by general debate on the UK ivory trade.
Monday 12 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to the closure of retail stores on Boxing day.
Thursday 15 December—Debate on the fourth report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on air quality followed by a debate on the second report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on greyhound welfare.
Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess on Thursday 30 March 2017 and return on Tuesday 18 April 2017.
The House will not sit on Monday 1 May.
Subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Thursday 25 May 2017 and return on Monday 5 June 2017.
I thank the Leader of the House for those dates. I press him to be a little bolder, because he still has to come up with one date—for the summer recess. If he could do that for next time, it would be great.
Members want a vote on the boundary Bill. What progress has been made on the money resolution for the Bill?
On this day in 1942, the Beveridge report was published. It showed us what it meant to be a caring society in which people are supported when they most need it as a safety net. Saturday 3 December is International Day of Persons with Disability, but the Government have still not confirmed whether they will end the humiliating and harmful reassessments of people with long-term conditions who have applied for personal independence payments. May we have a statement, following yesterday’s report from the National Audit Office showing that sanctions on welfare payments have been handed out without any evidence that they work? The figures for 2015 show that £132 million was held back in benefits; £35 million was paid in hardship; and the cost of administering the scheme was £50 million. It is going to be worse next year, because the Government have lowered the benefit cap. The NAO concluded that there was no evidence that sanctions provide value for money for the British taxpayer.
The Leader of the House mentioned the debate on science that was arranged by the Backbench Business Committee. I ask the Government to make a further commitment to UK science—more than just an injection of funding. The Prime Minister recently said that our competitors are not standing still but investing heavily in research and development. On UK science and research, we are standing still—frozen by Brexit. Damage is done to networks of collaboration. Over 60% of the UK’s international co-authored papers involve partners in the EU, so may we have an urgent debate in Government time on support to UK science and research to ensure that the promised £2 billion will protect those collaborations and networks that form the foundation of world-class science? This is about preserving a shared culture and intellectual heritage.
We also celebrate a Labour Government commitment, made on 1 December 2001, to keeping museums free. On the 10th anniversary, research carried out found that audiences became more diverse after the introduction of free admissions. The number of visitors from ethnic minority backgrounds to Department for Culture, Media and Sport-sponsored museums rose by 177.5%. That all adds to our education—widening our horizons; fulfilling our potential; understanding each other and the world around us; and providing us with lifelong learning.
We also celebrate last month—we are only a day out—the birth of Jennie Lee on 3 November and, sadly, on 16 November her death. She was a fantastic Member of this House, who introduced the Open University —another Labour Government success. However, the number of part-time students aged 21 and over has declined by 57%. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Open University have shown that the lost part-time students correlate to the highest participating age group in the UK labour force. That not only affects social mobility but makes it vital to fill the UK skills gap, driving up international competitiveness and productivity.
This Government are not a Government of education, and neither are they a Government of law and order, with 47 magistrates courts shut and 45 to follow in 2017. These courts deal with 90% of criminal cases. Many magistrates are resigning—75 of them over the issue of criminal courts charges. Neither are they a Government of business. Business wants transitional arrangements, but we know from the memo that was shown to the whole world that the Government have said no to such arrangements after Brexit.
This is not the Government of unity. The Prime Minister has her three backing singers, like the Three Degrees: the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—whose Department is now known as DExEU—and the Secretary of State for International Trade, who, apparently, is allowed to deal only with international trade outside the EU, the rest being done by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
We also need an urgent debate, which was promised by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. The Government cannot just have turf wars; they must also deal with the sovereignty of Parliament and accountability to the House.
This is not the Government of the national health service, either. It is a case of “Social care crisis? What crisis?” Only recently, NHS England lost a case in the High Court. Today is world AIDS day. The drug Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by 90%, and it can now be commissioned by the NHS as a result of that ruling.
Both you and the Leader of the House, Mr Speaker, have received a letter from the World Wildlife Fund about Earth Hour. May I ask the Leader of the House to use his best offices to ensure that the lights in the Norman Shaw South building can be turned off? They have been on constantly since last December. We in Norman Shaw South want to take part in Earth Hour day.
Let me begin with the hon. Lady’s final question. I will certainly make inquiries of those in the relevant part of the House’s administration department about the lights in Norman Shaw South.
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the importance of world AIDS day. As far as the Government are concerned, this country remains committed to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. We recently pledged a further £1.1 billion to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which will provide essential retroviral therapy for 1.3 million people who are living with HIV. That, of course, is in addition to the £2.4 million national HIV prevention and sexual health promotion programme.
The hon. Lady mentioned the recent court case on PrEP. I think it is good that we have legal clarity about where responsibility lies. Clearly, in the light of the court judgment, NHS England will now consider through its normal process of assessment whether and how PrEP should be made available to patients on the NHS.
Given that we have just had an hour of questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the House has been able to discuss the matters raised by the hon. Lady in some detail. However, the importance of ensuring the strength and vitality of the country’s science base—including, critically, its important relationships with universities and scientific institutions—in Europe and globally will of course be an important element of the Government’s approach to the forthcoming negotiation.
I join the hon. Lady in saluting the work done by our great museums, both our great national museums here in London—and, I should add, in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff—and our regional and local museums, which do tremendous work. I remember, as a small child, being taken off on rainy half-term days to some of the museums in London, and I agree with the hon. Lady that they perform an important educational and cultural role.
In the spirit of these weekly occasions, I am more than happy to pay tribute to the work of the late Jennie Lee. There have been formidable champions of the arts on both sides of the House over the years, but I think that Jennie Lee was the first Arts Minister to be formally designated as such, and she has an important place in the history of public policy on the arts.
The hon. Lady referred to skills. The Government are committed to creating 3 million new apprenticeships during the current Parliament, and to continuing the work to drive up the quality of education that our children receive in schools. It should be a point of remark—not of complacency, but of some celebration—that more children than ever before attend state schools that are categorised by Ofsted as either good or outstanding.
The hon. Lady referred to magistrates courts, and all of us who have been through this process in our own constituencies know it can be a painful one, but in an age when quite a lot of routine court work can now be done more effectively, swiftly and cheaply online, doing away with the need for as many personal appearances—particularly when there is not actually a trial—there is not the need for quite so many individual courtrooms as there used to be. That is why my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor is looking realistically at how our justice and courts system is best equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century and the digital age in an effective fashion.
I was disappointed that the hon. Lady made no reference in her comments about benefits to the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that he will do away with the need for reassessments of people who suffer from the most serious disabilities and chronic and degenerative medical conditions. I would have hoped the entire House welcomed that.
I think the hon. Lady is playing to the gallery a bit, frankly, when it comes to benefit sanctions. As the National Audit Office itself pointed out in its report, our current sanctions system has existed since 1996; it was in operation throughout the 13 years of the Blair and Brown Governments, because the Labour party in government recognised that a sanctions system, properly applied, was a necessary part of a fair benefits system. In any month, fewer than 1% of employment and support allowance claimants and fewer than 4% of jobseeker’s allowance claimants are now sanctioned, and we have seen a halving of sanctions in the past year alone. So I think the Department for Work and Pensions is showing it is trying to address genuine concerns, but we do not flinch—as the Labour party in opposition appears to flinch from its record in government—from accepting that a sanctions system is necessary for the fair functioning of our welfare arrangements.
The hon. Lady asked for a debate on the EU-Canada trade agreement. [Interruption.] Of course, under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that treaty will have to be laid before Parliament in the normal way, so there will be an opportunity for such a debate.
While I enjoyed the hon. Lady’s little jibe about music—[Interruption.] I was given a long list of questions by the Opposition. She asked about a serious point in respect of the private Member’s Bill on boundaries. The Member promoting the Bill published it only three days before it was down for its Second Reading debate, and it was not accompanied by any kind of statement or analysis of the costs associated with it. So the Government are now going through the normal process of trying to establish what those costs are before coming forward further to the House.
Finally, the hon. Lady talked about a discordant band. [Interruption.] I have to say that if I were looking for dissonance and atonality, I would be looking at Members on the Benches opposite, who are members of a party—
It is always good to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Some 70% of Labour party Members of Parliament have expressed no confidence in their current leader; that strikes me as a party that is engaging in experimental music of the most dissonant kind.
Order. The Leader of the House is a renowned intellectual, noted not merely for carrying books around the place, but even for being seen reading them. However, may I gently say that, in accordance with my usual practice, I do want to accommodate all would-be contributors to the business statement, but I remind the House that there are two subsequent debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, both of which are more than adequately subscribed and all of the contributors to which I am very keen to accommodate, too? So there is a premium on brevity from Front and Back Benches alike, now to be brilliantly exemplified by Mrs Maria Miller.
The Government acknowledge that the level of sexual harassment and violence in our schools is worrying, but they have not yet embraced my Select Committee’s recommendation to make sex and relationship education compulsory. Will the Government make time for an urgent debate to demonstrate the support for that measure not only in the House but from nine out of 10 parents in this country?
It is important that all schools should be safe places and that no young person should fear, let alone suffer, harassment or violence, and we want all schools to put high quality personal, social, health and economic education, including age-appropriate sex education, at the heart of their curriculum. We are looking again at the case for further action on PSHE and sex education, not least in the light of the views that my right hon. Friend and her Committee have expressed, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May we have a debate on cake, and on the perennial question of whether it can be consumed simultaneously? Apparently, that conundrum is now at the very heart of this Government’s clueless Brexit strategy. Meanwhile the Foreign Secretary has expressed the view, over a generous slice of Battenberg at the ambassador’s residence, that he is simultaneously for and against freedom of movement. I am pretty certain that the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister would like the Foreign Secretary to have his cake and choke on it.
The English votes for English laws shambles continues apace, with the Constitution Unit concluding that its procedures are opaque and that no one understands them. Apparently, there are only three people who understand them: you, Mr Speaker; the chief Clerk; and someone who is now dead. I have checked Hansard, and I now hold the record for speeches made in the English Legislative Grand Committee. Following the great demand in the shires of England during the last election for English votes for English laws, I am pretty certain that no one was expecting the Scottish National party Member for Perth and North Perthshire to hold the record for contributing to this English quasi-Parliament.
Finally, no sane person is expecting the Government to be successful in the Supreme Court on Monday. In fact, everyone is expecting them to get a gigantic gubbing at the hands of our judges. So how quickly will we see the legislation on article 50 being brought to the House? Will the Leader of the House at last confirm that the Bill will be amendable, and that there will be an appropriate amount of time for all Members to contribute to the debate?
On that last point, it is obviously up to the Court when it brings in its judgment, and the Government will, as always, abide by the rule of law. If we need to bring forward legislation, we will do so. I have never come across a Bill, long or short, that has been incapable of being amended—when the amendments are in order—given sufficient ingenuity on the part of hon. Members. Whether a particular amendment is in order will of course be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than for me.
I have looked at the report on English votes for English laws, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I found in it some proposals for certain procedural changes. I will take those into consideration as part of the review of EVEL that the Government are currently carrying out.
I always enjoy Scottish cake, be it a Dundee cake, a clootie dumpling or anything else coming from north of the border, but it is absolutely clear that what the Government are seeking to achieve in the forthcoming EU negotiation is the best possible deal in terms of economic opportunity and of future political relationships between ourselves and the other 27 countries that will work in the interests of the prosperity and security of the people of every single part of the United Kingdom.
The Supreme Court will be making an important decision in the next few days. It is now very much part of our constitutional structure, but there is a lack of parliamentary accountability in relation to its appointments. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate about the appointment of Supreme Court judges and the approval of such appointments by Parliament?
I hope that we do not go down the route in this country of allowing political considerations to play a part in the appointment of judges. In our current system, their appointment depends on a balance—embodied in numerous conventions over the years, rather than written into law—with Parliament and the Government respecting the judiciary’s place in our constitutional settlement, and I very much hope that that will always continue to be the case. There will be Justice questions next week—on Tuesday, I believe—when my hon. Friend may have the opportunity to question the Lord Chancellor on this directly.
Ahead of the Christmas recess and what seems likely to be a dangerous winter in the NHS, is there not an overwhelming case for the Government to come to the House in their own time to explain what is happening with the funding of social care? Councils had been led to believe that there would be an announcement in the autumn statement and they were left stunned, as were Members on both sides of the House, when the Chancellor could not even mention the words. I am told No. 10 blocked a deal on social care—a funding package had been prepared—calling for more work on funding options. I do not know whether that is true, but I know that people working in the NHS have a right to know because they need to plan. Ministers need to come to the Dispatch Box and tell us what the hell is going on.
The Government, as the Secretary of State for Health has made clear, are engaged in some very serious and co-ordinated winter planning, and the NHS has winter plans in place at national, regional and local level to manage the increase in demand that we always expect at this time of year. The right hon. Gentleman referred to social care. Yes, all of us are aware of the pressures that exist in our constituencies. That is why the Government have made available the social care precept and the better care fund to make sure that additional resources are available to local authorities.
Last week, the all-party group on peninsula rail, of which I am the chairman, published its report on the future of the rail network in the south-west. May we have a debate, or for that matter a statement, about the Government’s reaction to it, especially on the pilot scheme for signalling?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter, because the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement an additional £450 million to trial innovative digital rail signalling technology. The peninsula rail campaigners may be able to seek to benefit from that pot of money. I hope he will very much welcome, as a token of the Government’s commitment to the south-west, the £10 million of additional development funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the railway line from Exeter to Newton Abbot via Dawlish. I am sure all colleagues from the south-west will welcome that much needed work.
May we have a debate in Government time on openness and transparency within the BBC, so that we can explore its London-centric, anti-regions and anti-countries of the UK approach? Such an approach is exemplified by its nominations for the sports personality of the year, all but two of whom are from England and from which Carl Frampton—he has been recognised as the greatest boxer of the year, as a double world champion at two different weights—has been excluded, causing outrage across the communities in Northern Ireland. A debate on people’s ever growing concern about the BBC would be very timely.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point powerfully. As he would expect me to say, the BBC is and rightly should remain independent of ministerial direction. However, I think the entire House will want to salute the contribution that sportsmen and women from Northern Ireland make to our national success, and long may that continue to be the case.
North East Lincolnshire Council is currently involved in putting together a number of regeneration projects that will attract private sector investment. Such investment is essential to the regeneration of our provincial towns. Similar schemes have been put together up and down the country. Will the Government find time for a debate on this important issue, and on how the Government can support local authorities with these projects?
Such initiatives are important and it is right that they should be locally driven and therefore reflect the particular circumstances of individual towns, cities and counties. My hon. Friend may have the opportunity to seek a debate in Westminster Hall to highlight his area’s particular needs, but my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will welcome the initiative. I am sure that the Government will do what they are able to do to give support to local authorities and the private sector, which are rightly taking the lead.
With reference to the Leader of the House’s answer to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House regarding the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, will he indicate what date is pencilled in for the money resolution to be brought forward?
As I said, the Government are working through the Bill’s costs and carrying out the legal checks to ensure that it is properly compliant. There are recent examples of private Members’ Bills having eight, 12 or 15 sitting days between Second Reading and the securing of the money resolution, so what is happening is not at all extraordinary.
Local authorities up and down the country are publishing their draft budgets for spending over the next year. Most have welcomed the Government’s commitment to a long-term financial settlement. May we have a statement in Government time on the number of authorities that have agreed a long-term funding settlement and, more importantly, on those that have not?
My hon. Friend makes a good point that I will relay to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I was going to call Mr Spellar. Where is the right hon. Gentleman? Oh dear. The fellow has beetled out of the Chamber. It is a great pity.
The board of Seqirus, a major vaccine-producing company, is to make a decision this month on whether to invest millions of pounds in the Liverpool site in my constituency or in another site in mainland Europe. I have been seeking a meeting with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I do not yet have a date. The matter is now urgent, so may we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to support the manufacturing industry given the uncertainty that our leaving the European Union is causing around such decisions?
The hon. Lady will acknowledge that if she looks at the list of significant inward investments into this country since 23 June, she will see that international businesses from both the manufacturing and the services sectors see the United Kingdom as a great place in which to invest for future growth. I am sure that that would be a most powerful argument to raise with the company in her constituency, but I will draw the particular case and its urgency to the attention of the Secretary of State to ensure that a Minister gets back to her.
Members will be avid readers of my “Westminster Life” column in the Peterborough Telegraph, which is published today. The latest edition recounts my useful round table business meeting to discuss illegal Traveller incursions. May we have a debate on that issue? Will the Leader of the House encourage his colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to write to police and crime commissioners and local authorities to remind them that they have strong legal powers to deal with this distressing, persistent issue?
I can barely contain my patience to read my hon. Friend’s latest column. The problem that he describes is one that many of us have faced at various times in our constituencies. He rightly says that significant powers already lie in the hands of police forces and local authorities. Those powers are there to be used. Home Office questions are on Monday 5 December, which will give my hon. Friend a further opportunity to press his case.
I am sure that the column will be a literary hit of the very highest quality. I expect nothing less from the hon. Member for Peterborough.
I thank the Leader of the House not only for the business statement, but for being so accommodating in helping the Backbench Business Committee to plan ahead. He announced this morning the Backbench Business up to and including 15 December. I hope I am not trying his patience if I ask him for an early indication of whether we will get any time in the week beginning 19 December and in the week immediately after the Christmas recess.
First, let me say that I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening comments. He is always the soul of courtesy in representing the views of his Committee and I will do my utmost to accommodate him.
The announcement this week by Ofcom on BT Openreach provides opportunities to improve broadband services to rural communities such as Glendevon, Cleish and Rhynd in my constituency. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the minimum service improvements we can expect to see following this decision and how this decision will make Openreach more accountable to customers, particularly in rural areas in my constituency and beyond?
We are clear that we need a more independent Openreach, and it needs to offer genuinely fair and equal access to telecoms infrastructure to BT’s competitors. I know that Ministers, particularly those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will want to explore how this Ofcom ruling can help us to get broadband to rural areas as well as to those towns where fast broadband coverage is still inadequate. I am sure the hon. Lady will continue to put the case for her own constituents strongly.
The midlands engine plays a significant role in our economy. In the autumn statement it was announced that the Government will publish a midlands engine strategy shortly. May we have a debate on that strategy, so that the region can reach its full global potential?
In our commitment to the midlands engine, the Government are demonstrating in their policies that we are intent on building an economy that works for all. When the Business Secretary went to the US and Canada earlier this year, he saw at first hand the opportunities that there are for investment and economic growth on the part of midlands companies. The autumn statement confirmed the arrangements for the midlands engine investment fund. The British Business Bank will make its first investments from the northern powerhouse investment fund in early 2017, and the first investments from the midlands engine investment fund will follow very shortly thereafter.
Our NHS and social care services are in crisis. One local accident and emergency consultant told me that this is the most unprepared our NHS has been in the three decades since he first qualified. Council leaders from across our country were led to believe by Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers that urgently needed funding for social care would be forthcoming in the autumn statement. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the Leader of the House told us that the precept and the better care funding would fill this gap. I must let him know that that is just a fraction of what has been cut from social care since 2010. May we please have an urgent statement from the Chancellor about why this funding for social care was missing from his autumn statement and how he expects our services to cope over the coming winter months?
I simply disagree with the hon. Lady that the Government are approaching the winter ill-prepared. A Health Minister is chairing regular cross-Whitehall meetings to make certain that the NHS at the national, regional and local levels is adequately prepared for the challenges it is going to face. No one pretends that there are no pressures on the NHS or on social care, but I think the hon. Lady would have given a more balanced view had she noted that we have more doctors, more nurses, more accident and emergency attendances, more diagnostic tests and more money going into the NHS now than when her party was in office.
May we have a statement following the Foreign Secretary’s timely visit to Cyprus on Tuesday and the Prime Minister’s conversation with the President of Cyprus last week to reassure my Cypriot constituents that the stalled talks will resume and that we will have a just settlement for Cyprus at long last?
The Government remain very committed to doing all we can to support the UN and the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus in trying to bring about that settlement, which would be so much to the advantage of everybody living on the island. There is an historic opportunity, with leaders in both communities who are utterly committed to trying to get that settlement, in the common interest, and the Government will continue to do all they can to help foster the climate that might bring that agreement about.
May we have a debate entitled “The Bumbling Incompetence of the Foreign Secretary”? The Leader of the House has long experience in the Foreign Office, so can he give the House a single previous instance when the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom has been reduced to demanding from four separate diplomats evidence that their recollection of a meeting with him is correct?
The right hon. Gentleman really should not get carried away by the odd newspaper story. The Foreign Secretary, like the whole Government, is committed to getting the right deal in the negotiations on all fronts. Part of that, as the Prime Minister has set out, is accepting that, following the referendum result, freedom of movement as it exists at the moment cannot continue. There will be a need for a national immigration regime when we leave the European Union. Obviously, the exact relationship of this country to the other 27 in terms of the movement of workers, trade, investment and so on is a central part of those negotiations but, at the risk of repeating lines that the right hon. Gentleman has heard from Ministers so often, we are not going to give a running commentary on that detail.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) who speaks for the Scottish National party was slightly wrong. There is a Bill before Parliament now—the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill. That Bill is expected to get a Second Reading on 16 December but, as the Leader of the House knows, there is one slight problem if it progresses: Standing Order No. 84A(5) requires the Government to table a motion so that the Bill can proceed to Committee, because the Committee stage of another private Member’s Bill is taking place. Has the Leader of the House given any thought to that, and will he make a statement about when he will bring forward that motion?
At a time when the Supreme Court is about to consider all these matters relating to the triggering of article 50, it would be premature of me to speculate about possible future legislative needs.
Once again, I find myself speaking at business questions as a result of the utter, confounding confusion that exists between Government Departments over leaving the EU. This time it is the Secretary of State for Scotland, on last week’s “Sunday Politics” programme, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who have made contradictory statements. The former tells us that Scotland will benefit from the powers being repatriated from the EU, but the latter tells us that there will be a UK-wide approach. Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House, or from an appropriate Department, to clarify the doublespeak of this Government?
The hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, oversimplifying the process of the negotiation. Let us look at one of the key areas of policy that is largely devolved—fisheries. Clearly, at the moment, fisheries policy within the common fisheries policy is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. There is also the issue of the United Kingdom’s future independent membership of UN conventions regarding fish stocks, and agreements with third countries that have the character of international treaties. External relations—the right to sign and negotiate treaties—is explicitly a reserved power under the devolution settlement. Therefore these matters do need to be resolved in the negotiations, which is why we are ensuring that Scotland and the other devolved Administrations are intimately involved in the preparation of our negotiating position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is visiting Edinburgh in the very near future and will be talking directly to Scottish Ministers and parliamentarians about that matter.
On Saturday morning, I was out knocking on doors in Corby, and one of the key messages that constituents asked me to relay was the importance of infrastructure keeping up with new homes. May we have a debate at some point in the next few weeks to discuss this matter, because it is incredibly important that we have the public services and infrastructure in place to support the new homes that are being built?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Like him, I represent an area that is willing and able to provide a significant amount of additional housing, but where there is understandable local concern about the pressures on infrastructure. I am sure that he, like me, welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement of a housing infrastructure fund, which will make money available to local authorities that want infrastructure improvements so that they can unlock additional land for new homes.
Today’s damning report from the Work and Pensions Committee condemns both Concentrix and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for a gross failure in customer service over the tax credits fiasco. My constituent Nicola is one of the many thousands who have been failed and left to deal with the aftermath, with bank charges, overdraft fees, credit card interest and phone call charges. While the Government consider their response to the report, may we have a debate in Government time on fair compensation for all people who, like Nicola, have been left in dire straits?
On the point about compensation, there are existing arrangements whereby people can seek redress if there is maladministration. I agree with the hon. Lady, as the Select Committee report shows that there are important lessons that need to be learned. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and her colleagues will reflect on that report and there will be a full Government response in due course.
Like right hon. and hon. Members on both sides the House, I am always very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your generosity, understanding and forbearance, as was evidenced earlier when you allowed me, although I was late, to ask a question on exiting the European Union. Not for the first time, and despite allowing plenty of time, I have been late for business in the House this week because of problems with Southern railway and Network Rail. May we have a debate on the unnecessary industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF unions, which has been making many of my constituents and people across the south-east late for work and late getting home again to see their families for almost 12 months?
My hon. Friend speaks on behalf of a large number of hard-working men and women whose lives are regularly being disrupted in the way in which he describes. Positive industrial relations should be part of the backbone of a productive economy, but that needs to involve people being able to go about their business and to get on with their lives without unjustified disruption. Of course trade unions can and do play a constructive role, but we did need to introduce modernising reforms to ensure that strikes such as those that my hon. Friend describes happen only as a result of a clear positive decision by union members entitled to vote. Under the Trade Union Act 2016, we have provided for a 50% turnout threshold for all industrial action ballots and an additional 40% support threshold for key public services. We will shortly bring forward the secondary legislation to implement those reforms. That is evidence of the Government’s determination to tackle the problem.
Small businesses are often best placed to take advantage of new opportunities, and they are crucial in creating the good well-paid jobs that all our constituents so desperately need. I will be visiting many of the excellent small businesses in my constituency on Small Business Saturday, which was brought in by Labour. May we have a debate about the need to maximise the support for small businesses so that we can help entrepreneurs, their staff and the wider economy?
I am happy to endorse the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to small businesses, and I welcome the fact that he has highlighted Small Business Saturday, which falls this weekend. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the week after next. I hope we can build a consensus across the House in support of measures that will make it easier for small businesses to grow and employ more people. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, for his part, will persuade his party to cease its criticism of the Government’s reductions in corporation tax, which greatly benefit small businesses.
On 12 September, 18 October, 7 November and again on 17 November, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), told the House that the national shipbuilding strategy would report by the time of the autumn statement. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Defence made available Sir John Parker’s report, which will inform the national shipbuilding strategy, and said that the national shipbuilding strategy would not report until the spring. May we have a debate in Government time, or at least a statement, on why the House has been so badly misinformed regarding the national shipbuilding strategy?
The Parker report was delivered to Ministers ahead of the autumn statement, which was what, as I understand it, the Government’s pledge had consistently been. The report, as the hon. Gentleman says, was published earlier this week. It is a wide-ranging report making 34 different recommendations covering both Government and industry. It is only right that Ministers, having received the report themselves only last week, should want to consider those recommendations before coming forward with the strategy the hon. Gentleman wants. I hope he will acknowledge the Government’s continuing commitment to Scottish shipyards, which we have seen through the strategic defence and security review, and the placing of additional contracts.
Last week, many parts of Greater Manchester were badly hit by flooding, but especially Stalybridge, Mosley and Hollingworth in my constituency. The reaction of the emergency services and the community was absolutely commendable. Understandably, people want to know that the same damage will not happen again, and the adequacy of local drainage has been questioned in particular. Last April, amendments were tabled to the Bill that became the Housing and Planning Act 2016 that would have given more support to local authorities to improve drainage, but those amendments did not go through. May we have a debate on whether enough is being done to protect people from the risk of flooding and whether our drainage systems are fit for purpose?
I think everyone in the House would want to join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the emergency services in his and other affected constituencies, and would also express their sympathy to those householders and businesses that have gone through the awful experience of seeing their properties flooded. The Government are investing record amounts in flood protection and recently published their long-term strategic flood resilience review. I hope that review will provide some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, but I will highlight his concerns to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be as delighted as I was to learn that Rouken Glen park was awarded the accolade of the UK’s best park in the Fields in Trust awards last night. I am also sure he will want to join me in endorsing the view that Rouken Glen is a fantastic place, in congratulating everyone involved on working so hard there, and in encouraging people to visit Rouken Glen. May we have a statement from him on that, please?
I think the best statement I can make is that the hon. Lady has encouraged me to think about a visit to her local park the next time that I am in Scotland.
It is 10 years since the collapse of Farepak, when thousands and thousands of people lost their Christmas savings, but we still do not do enough to protect consumers who prepay and often find themselves at the back of the queue when companies fail. Will the Leader of the House urge the Business Department to get on with making a statement on the Law Commission’s recent report on protecting consumers who find themselves in these circumstances, which includes excellent input from my constituent Deb Harvey?
I think all of us who were Members at the time will recall the agony that constituents who lost their—usually modest and hard-earned—savings in that way went through. Obviously, my colleagues in the Department will want to consider the Law Commission’s report carefully. I note that questions to the Business Secretary fall on Tuesday 13 December, so the hon. Lady might be able to press her point then.
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was sent proof that Paul Newby, the adjudicator, has existing loans and shares that are dependent on income from the pubcos he is supposed to adjudicate, yet it took four months for the Secretary of State to respond to the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s recommendation that the appointment be rescinded and to say simply that he was not going to look at the matter. That is not good enough. People are being denied the right to the market rent-only option that this House voted for, and Mr Newby is doing nothing about it. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on this matter?
That appointment, like all other Government appointments, is made through a process that is designed to ensure that all due diligence is adhered to when putting forward a long list and then a short list of candidates. My understanding is that, following the criticisms that were made, a look was taken at the appointments process in this case, and it was found that absolutely nothing untoward took place in making that appointment.
On Saturday, I was among a congregation of hundreds at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Acton to mourn the up to 10 million people who died in Stalin’s forced famine of 1932-33. The atrocity was exposed by British journalists, yet the British Government still fail to acknowledge it as genocide. Could we have an urgent statement on why we have not followed other countries in doing that? There was progress under the Blair and Brown Governments, but that seems to have stalled, like so many other things. These people feel like they have been swept under the carpet and they need our solidarity. They are under attack again.
With respect to the hon. Lady, it was not recognised formally as a genocide under those Governments. The principle that the Government follow, as I think she knows, is that, because the term “genocide” carries certain potentially criminal implications in respect of those alleged to have carried out genocidal acts, we believe that such decisions should be made by judges rather than by Governments. However, that should not diminish in any way our sense of horror at what happened in Ukraine during the 1930s. I remember going to see the memorial in the centre of Kiev, and the folk memory of that harrowing experience is still central to Ukrainians’ conception of themselves as a people and as a nation. We are right to remember the horror that took place then, and to do all in our power to try to make sure, through our foreign policy, that such events never happen again.
The situation for Christians in Iran has deteriorated markedly. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted in 2012 after being charged with apostasy and sentenced to death, was recently re-arrested and charged, along with three church members, with “action against national security”. The church members are also appealing against a sentence of 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service. That is unbelievable. Given that the UK has re-established ties with Iran, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on human rights in Iran so that this House can urge Iran to ensure rights and religious freedom for all its citizens?
The hon. Gentleman, as he does so often, speaks passionately for religious freedom all around the world. I think that no one here would say anything other than that the Iranian Government have an appalling human rights record. That is a matter of great sadness, given the richness and diversity of Iranian civilisation and culture, and the fact that the best Iranian cultural traditions actually accord respect to religious minorities. We will do all we can, through our diplomatic work, to encourage the Iranian Government to adopt the kinds of human rights standards that we would expect from a country with the rich civilisation that they have inherited.
There are positive aspects to two major reviews issued today by the Department for International Development, but there are also revelations that billions of pounds of our aid spending are being diverted to richer economies such as India, China, Malaysia and Mexico. When can we have a statement on that? Given that the reviews also praise our humanitarian aid, when can we expect a Government response to the cross-party calls from more than 200 Members for humanitarian aid drops to Aleppo, where the conditions are currently appalling?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the Department has said today that it has ceased funding one of the international organisations that was criticised. Our work with the others is now subject to a programme to make sure that aid money goes to, and is effective in helping, the poorest, as is rightly DFID’s remit for all its spending.
Aleppo was raised in the course of exchanges on an urgent question earlier this week. No one here can avoid confronting the horror of what is happening in Aleppo—it is the most merciless slaughter of civilians. We should not, however, conceal from ourselves the complexity and difficulty of an airdrop operation of the kind the hon. Gentleman describes, given the presence of Syrian and Russian air defences, and the implications of what even a humanitarian airdrop in the face of opposition from Syria and Russia would mean in terms of a requirement for force protection, and considerable risk to UK and other personnel involved.
Last week in the autumn statement there was reference to a rise in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% in June next year. That will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on many businesses, families, young people and older people. May we have a debate about this, combined with the impact of Brexit?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will find opportunities to question Treasury Ministers about this, or to raise her concerns by way of an Adjournment debate. Of course, any tax rise is going to hit certain people and certain businesses, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was quite open in his autumn statement in saying that this particular tax increase was needed to raise revenue so that the Government can maintain their fiscal stance, and in order to free additional money for other spending priorities, which were largely welcomed in the House.
A 20-year-old constituent of mine made an indelible and unforgettable impression on my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and me with the tragic story of his half a dozen abortive attempts to get the organ transplant that he desperately needed. Six months later, I attended his funeral. He died because of a lack of donors. Yesterday, the Welsh Government announced that, as a result of their pioneering and courageous legislation on the new law of presumed consent, 39 patients in Wales had had organ transplants. When can we get the Government to accelerate in this House a law that will allow the same process and the same advantage to be enjoyed throughout the rest of the United Kingdom?
I will certainly make sure that that point, which the hon. Gentleman and others have made, is considered by the Health Secretary and his team. Very many of us, myself included, know friends or family members who have literally been given a new lease of life through a successful transplant. All healthy adults need to consider whether they should make arrangements to make clear their wishes in advance of their death. It is also important that our medical professionals are trained in how to make an approach to families at a critically emotional moment when a relative is at the point of death, to ask them sensitively to consider whether to give consent for a transplant to take place.
May we have a debate or a statement in Government time about the use of agency workers to burst industrial action? I am thinking in particular of media reports and early-day motion 748, which names new Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council as having recruited agency workers to try to burst today’s industrial action about ICT privatisation. Can the Leader of the House confirm that such actions are illegal and that we should be enforcing stricter penalties on such rogue employers?
I am not going to get drawn into commenting on whether a particular action by Glasgow City Council is illegal. That is for the Scottish courts to determine.
Tomorrow will be exactly two years since the European Scrutiny Committee first asked for Members to be able to debate the proposed European ports regulation. That request has been made 10 times and ignored 10 times by the Government. In its eighth report of the current Session, the Committee described that behaviour as
“a remarkable refusal by the Government to pay even lip service to accountability to Parliament.”
What is the response of the Leader of the House to that comment?
I have seen that. Indeed, I have had a conversation with the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee about the matter and I am taking up the matter with Transport Ministers, though the hon. Gentleman will have noted that, during the exchanges at Exiting the European Union questions, the Minister of State said that the Government would vote against the regulation when it came before us for a final decision.
When Scottish National party Members compare the Government’s austerity choices with the £205 billion cost of Trident, we are told that that is inappropriate because the figure is the whole-life cost of Trident. Yet last night, when we debated the SNP’s proposals on the pension arrangements with regard to the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, the Government tried to confuse matters by talking about the cost in 2026. What is the right fiscal approach for the Government?
The right fiscal approach is to ensure that we can continue to command the confidence of the international markets from which we borrow money to fund our deficit and our national debt, while paying down the deficit that we inherited in 2010—we are now two thirds of the way through the task—and at the same time, following tax and structural reform policies that will make our economy more productive. Many challenges still face us, but we should all welcome the following facts: that we have more people in the United Kingdom in work now than ever before; that UK living standards are at an all-time high; and that the statistics for both inequality and poverty are on a downward trend.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). The Department for International Development has published substantial policy documents today about which we need Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and answer questions. However, I also noticed in today’s written statements that the Prime Minister has moved responsibility for the Britain is GREAT campaign from the Cabinet Office to the International Trade Department. Will a Minister from that Department come to the House and explain how it manages its Twitter policy and how it will advise the Foreign Office on the difference between the Queensferry crossing and the Forth road bridge?
Any of us who have visited Scotland, if only at intervals, will be aware of that important distinction. The Britain is GREAT campaign spans the international work of several different Departments, and I think that it has proved successful at highlighting the strengths of this country in investment, scientific opportunities, education and culture. That helps to attract more tourists and more investors to the United Kingdom, and we should welcome that.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is currently finalising a duty of care in sport review at the behest of the sports Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). Given the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse in football, will the Leader of the House ensure that Members can fully scrutinise and debate the review on its publication by granting a debate in Government time?
My understanding is that criminal charges are being brought against an individual and there are therefore sub judice issues that have to be taken into account, but I am sure that there will be opportunities to debate the policy strategy in detail. Although investigation of allegations of historical abuse is clearly a matter primarily for the sports governing bodies, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has assured the Football Association in particular that the Government will give it any support that is appropriate, and my hon. Friend the sports Minister has written to all sports governing bodies to make clear the importance that the Government attach to taking seriously and investigating allegations of historical abuse and also ensuring that they have in place adequate modern safeguarding arrangements.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I happened to notice at business questions a few moments ago that 18 Members of the Scottish National party were present, with most standing, and that only 16 Members of the combined Labour and Conservative parties were present, including the Leader of the House. With your long experience of such matters, is there any procedural device that the SNP could employ to take advantage of our new-found numerical superiority?
No. However, I know that Members of the Scottish National party attend in large numbers principally because of the vast range of issues that they perfectly properly wish to raise on this occasion and secondly, doubtless because they enjoy my company.
I am coming to the hon. Lady—I am saving her up.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would appreciate your advice on how I can get the record corrected. I believe that the Leader of the House inadvertently misled the House by suggesting that the Defence Secretary’s announcement on the national shipbuilding strategy on Tuesday was always the Government’s plan. However, on four occasions, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), has told us that the national shipbuilding strategy would report by the autumn statement. There can be no doubt that the strategy has not been delivered to the House as promised.
Members are responsible for the veracity of what they say in the House, but I have a sense—I may be mistaken but I doubt that I am—that the hon. Gentleman on this occasion is less interested in what anybody else has to say to him, and rather more interested in what he has to say to them. He has made his point in his own way with his usual force and alacrity, and it is on the record. Doubtless it will be communicated ere long to large numbers of his constituents, which I imagine will cause him to go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step that would otherwise perhaps have been lacking.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise that my point of order is so long, but I have to make it clear and use words carefully.
I seek your guidance on a matter of importance that affects my reputation and that has implications for other Members. Following my presentation of a petition on behalf of my constituents, there was confusion between the Department for Communities and Local Government and Walsall Council on whether it was a planning application call-in, despite the fact that the petition did not ask for a call-in, and that DCLG guidance makes it clear that a call-in must be expressly asked for.
It appears that the Minister for Housing and Planning has decided to treat petitions opposing planning applications as requests for call-in, and that he has instructed his staff to contact planning authorities but not Members in accordance with that decision. Walsall Council blamed me for its decision to delay consideration of the application, which it said was caused by the petition. The council was wrong as a matter of planning law.
The Minister’s policy, if that is what it is, to treat petitions as requests for call-in has not been communicated to Members or to the House, and appears to treat each request from Members arbitrarily and in a way that is inconsistent with procedures that are set out in a previous written statement, and that are helpfully described in the Library guidance. That has resulted in reputational damage to me by Walsall Council and DCLG. So far, only the head of the planning casework unit has apologised to me. The Minister has made up that policy in breach of his own guidelines. He has not communicated it to the House, so the Journal Office, on which Members rely for advice on petitions and which is extremely helpful, is unaware of it. I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I presented a petition, but in that case the Department contacted me first before deciding to call it in. In my case, the call-in was not automatic: the Department contacted me first.
The hon. Gentleman’s experience was obviously different from and, according to his own lights and probably those of the hon. Lady, preferable to hers. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order as well as for its substantive content. I appreciate her concern. She is of course right that the petitions procedure is quite separate from planning law. Furthermore, it is a matter of public record that the petition she presented on behalf of her constituents did not request that the application be called in.
In setting out the facts of the case today, the hon. Lady may well feel that she has achieved her objective of putting the record straight. Moreover, I have little doubt that her concerns about the process will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and that they will be conveyed to the relevant Minister. I hope that that is helpful.
Gender Identity (Protected Characteristic)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mrs Maria Miller, supported by Jess Phillips, Mrs Flick Drummond and Ben Howlett, presented a Bill to make gender identity a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 in place of gender reassignment and to make associated provision for transgender and other persons; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February, and to be printed (Bill 106).
We now come to Backbench business. The first item is a motion in the name of Ian Blackford.
Since this is only the second occasion upon which these procedures have been invoked, it might be helpful to the House if I explain what is happening. This is an identical motion to that which was debated in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 15 November. When the question was put in Westminster Hall, the Chair’s opinion as to the decision of the question was challenged. As the motion has now been brought before this Chamber, under Standing Order No. 10(13) I am required to put the question on the motion without debate.
State Pension Age: Women
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 10(13)),
That this House has considered acceleration of the state pension age for women born in the 1950s.—(Ian Blackford.)
1 December 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Now that the House has unequivocally declared that this matter was not considered in the Westminster Hall debate a couple of weeks ago, what mechanisms are open to us to make sure that we can have a debate in this place so that Members can be heard and we can stand up for the 2.6 million WASPI women?
I presume that the hon. Gentleman might have raised the issue at business questions, and there is always the opportunity at the next business questions to highlight the result. Actually, there was a debate here yesterday, so the debate has already taken place. However, it is not for the Chair to decide future business; it is for the Government to decide. I am sure that through the hon. Gentleman’s good offices, the matter will not rest there. I am sure that he will be pressing once again for another debate.
[Relevant documents: First Report off the Women and Equalities Committee, Session 2015-16, on Transgender Equality, HC 390, and the Government response, Cm 9301.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes the UK’s status as a pioneer in legislating for equality for LGBT people; welcomes the Government’s announcement of a new trans equality action plan; and calls on the Government to review its response to the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on Transgender Equality to ensure that the UK leads the world on trans equality rights, in particular by giving unequivocal commitments to changing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with the principles of gender self-declaration and replacing confusing and inadequate language regarding trans people in the Equality Act 2010 by creating a new protected characteristic of gender identity.
The motion stands in my name, those of the hon. Members for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and many other hon. Members. I know many wanted to speak here today, but their other commitments in the House have precluded them from doing so. Their names are listed on the Order Paper.
The Backbench Business Committee has been most generous in allocating the time for this debate, which was inspired by the transgender report published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in December 2015. I would like to thank, too, the hundreds of people and organisations who gave written and oral evidence to the Committee—evidence from more than 250 people and organisations. We were fortunate in having our specialist advisers, Stephen Whittle and Claire McCann to advise us. Indeed, we had an incredible Select Committee staff, particularly David Turner, Gosia McBride, Sharmini Selvarajah and Helena Ali. I also thank my fellow Select Committee members, particularly those in their places today to speak in the debate.
This is a first—the first ever debate on the Floor of the House on transgender issues. The report published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee was the first ever parliamentary inquiry into transgender issues. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Select Committee itself is the first ever such Committee charged with scrutinising the Government’s policies on equality issues. It was established by the House because of the pivotal role that these matters must play in creating a fairer society for us.
When we published our first report and chose to focus on transgender, a few people said to me, “Why are you choosing to focus on that above all other issues? Why use such an important platform to tackle the issues faced by such a small group? Surely there are issues that are higher on the list of priorities.” Others said that they had never met a trans person, and were not aware that they had any trans constituents. Well, it is estimated that more than 650,000 people in this country can identify with being trans: it equates to 1,000 people in every constituency, and that is probably a gross underestimate.
The evidence that the Select Committee received gave us an opportunity to gain some sort of insight into the prejudice, discrimination and ignorance that trans people endure every single day of their lives, but also the great joy that they experience when they are able to be recognised by the gender with which they identify. That is why this debate is important.
I welcome the debate, because it is vital for us to consider the issue of transgender rights, but should we not also be wary of creating gender-neutral environments that may prove more of a risk to women themselves? A recent case involving my old university, the University of East Anglia, which has gender-neutral toilets, revealed that a man had been using those facilities to harass women. He was charged and convicted. How does the right hon. Lady think we can protect women from male violence in gender-neutral environments?
That point is often raised when we debate the rights of trans people, but it is not a zero sum game. Giving rights to one group, or enforcing those rights, does not mean that rights must be taken away from another group. We must be careful in this place not to appear to undermine the rights of trans people to enjoy the protections that they are afforded under the Equality Act 2010. As for gender-neutral toilets, many organisations have had them for a great many years. An aeroplane does not have a men’s and a ladies’, and we do not see any significant problems on aeroplanes. We must ensure that people do not use, or perhaps misinterpret, the serious problem of threats to women in environments of that kind to undermine—even, perhaps, inadvertently—the rights of transgender people, which are important and which we, as parliamentarians, should uphold.
Does the right hon. Lady not agree that the point raised by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is a matter for criminal law, and has nothing whatsoever to do with transgender equality?
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, but I think the right hon. Member for Don Valley has the right to make the assertion that she did. I know that some organisations may be at risk of misinterpreting the rights that transgender people have, in the belief that they somehow undermine the rights of women. We need to get the balance right. As the hon. Gentleman says, if criminal behaviour is taking place, it should be dealt with by the criminal law.
This debate is important because it is our job to stamp out prejudice wherever it lies, and to ensure that, as a nation, we are fair to everyone. I think we should judge our success as a Parliament by the way in which we treat the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society, and, given the issues with which transgender people must deal, they certainly fall into one of those groups. In striving for the recognition of equality rights that trans people need to enjoy, we reject prejudice, and by doing that, we improve the ability of all who are struggling to be treated equally to achieve their aim.
Attitudes are not static. I think it incumbent on us in Parliament to continually re-evaluate what equality means—what it means to have a free and fair society that gives everyone the opportunity to succeed. If attitudes towards equality were static I would not be standing here today, and the hon. Ladies on our green Benches would not be sitting here today; the civil rights movement in the US would not, in the year I was born, have outlawed segregation in schools and public places; Nelson Mandela would not have been democratically elected in South Africa; homosexuality would not have been decriminalised here in the UK in 1967; and we would not have equal marriage for same-sex couples. We need to continually challenge these norms and things that might be accepted, so we can be sure that equality evolves over time.
Trans people have not been dealt with fairly in this country—they have been marginalised. We know that is wrong, and the motion challenges us to consider what we can do better in the future.
The right hon. Lady is making a strong speech, and I wholeheartedly support it. Will she join me in praising the work of many public sector organisations, including South Wales Police and the British Army, which has been praised for its work with trans communities and the wider LGBT community? It is by showing leadership in the public sector and through such organisations that we can deliver real equality.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, and our Select Committee inquiry report looks carefully and closely at the challenges that public sector organisations face. I have to say that we found some were able to cope with them better than others. I particularly have been impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Justice has accepted the challenge around trans prisoners. I note the comments the hon. Gentleman makes about the police as well, and I hope other police authorities are able to follow suit.
The Select Committee report covered a huge range of issues, because that is what was required of us, making recommendations on hate crime, gender markings, prisoners and probation, media representation, schools and social care. I welcome the Government’s very positive responses to our report. Perhaps the Minister in her response today can indicate whether the Government have been able to look further at the issues on which the responses were perhaps a little less positive, because Committee members felt very strongly that every single one of the recommendations we put forward had merit and needed to be looked at, although there was a large number of recommendations—more than 70—so it was clearly difficult for the Departments to respond to them all in the time available.
Today is about looking at progress, so I will focus particularly on the strategic and legislative aspects of the Select Committee report, in the full knowledge that the great number of other Members here today will pick up on progress on the recommendations made for the NHS, child protection, offender management and schools.
The Government have committed to a new trans equality action plan to include a review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and a cross-Government review of removing unnecessary requests for gender information. All these steps are hugely welcome, but particularly the undertaking to look at training for specialist NHS staff to work in gender identity services, and tackling harassment and bullying of transgender people in education.
The right hon. Lady mentions health, and the constituents who have contacted me felt that was an area of great inequality. Does she think it is a disgrace and very worrying that 54% of trans people have been told by their GPs that they do not know enough about trans-related healthcare to even provide it?
One of the problems we uncovered through the evidence we gathered was that many doctors felt as disempowered as the hon. Lady implies, owing to a lack of training and, perhaps, continuous professional development in this area. However, I should say in response to her intervention that there were also some people who said that whenever they went to the doctor, even if it was somebody who had just a little knowledge, their transgender identity was always at the heart of the response they got from the NHS. We need to make sure that doctors understand the health issues transgender people have to deal with, but also acknowledge that not every health condition they have will be related to their trans identity. That is an important point to make at this juncture.
A constituent of mine came across a particular problem because she had reassignment surgery before the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into effect. Fifteen years later, when she tried to get a gender reassignment certificate, she was asked for a great deal of information that was no longer available. The surgeon who had performed the operation was dead, the records were no longer available, and she had a terrible time trying to get the information. Surely that is unfair.
The hon. Gentleman highlights one of many problems with the Gender Recognition Act. That is why our Committee asked for an urgent review of it, and I am heartened to note that the Government have indicated they understand the sort of problem he outlined, and many others as well, and the very medicalised nature of the process people are asked to go through. That process is talking about something very personal, which is an individual’s identity. It is not something I would particularly like to be discussed by medics and lawyers in some room and in a very technical and quasi-judicial way. One of the recommendations of our report was self-declaration in that respect.
The other part of the Government’s response that I was heartened to read, as it is important for us in terms of planning for the future, was about the need to get the data right in this regard by better measuring the number of trans people in the UK, and also better monitoring people’s attitudes. If we are really going to tackle inequality in this area and really ensure trans people are able to enjoy the equality we all voted for in the Equality Act 2010, we need to make sure that we take the public with us and that there is the cultural change that is needed.
Perhaps today in her response, the Minister—who has been extremely generous with her time, thinking about these issues and talking to the Committee about them—will tell the House what issues in the 2011 action plan remain unaddressed, and what the status of the new plan is—when will it be published and how will the Government monitor its implementation? If we start to see this sort of certainty, trans people will have more confidence in the fact that not just the Government but public services are starting to get to grips with the issues they have to tackle on a daily basis.
The Gender Recognition Act was pioneering in its time. We criticised it slightly a few moments ago, but it was put on a pedestal as being pioneering—albeit a little late for the constituent of the hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir). Now it needs updating, however. In particular, concern was voiced to us about the medicalised, quasi-judicial application process that is used. The Government have undertaken to conduct a review of the Act, and perhaps to de-medicalise the process and, as the previous Equalities Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), said, to
“overturn an outdated system and ensure the transgender person’s needs are at the heart of the process.”
Again, I was very heartened by that very positive response from the then Equalities Minister in July of this year.
Where is that review at the moment? Has the process been streamlined and de-medicalised, as indicated in the response to our report? Will the Government be considering again the Committee’s recommendations around the principle of self-declaration, which I believe would again put this country at the forefront of trans rights on the global stage, so that again we will be leading, as I believe we would like to as a country, on all LGBT rights?
Finally, I want to talk about primary legislation underpinning the rights of trans people. In our report, the Select Committee made the simple recommendation to change the terminology in the Equality Act by making the protected characteristic “gender identity” rather than “gender reassignment”. The Committee was concerned that, based on the evidence and on the legal advice that we took, the current wording does not adequately protect wider categories of people. It provides for trans people in the process of undergoing gender reassignment, but not the many people who may not have clear legal protection—those who do not live full-time in their preferred gender, non-binary or intersex people, or perhaps children whose gender identity is less well-developed than that of an adult.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that a broader definition would be clearer and give more certainty. The current wording is outdated and confusing, and we believe that our proposed change would be in line with the Yogyakarta principles and with resolution 2048 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Government have not yet accepted this recommendation, but the Minister has undertaken to keep it under review. Will she update the House today and look carefully at the Bill that I have just presented to the House with the support of other hon. Members?
To get things right, we need the right laws, the right strategy and the right culture. The report we published in December 2015 revealed serious shortcomings in legal protection for trans people and in the delivery of public services. We need to have a clear direction of travel. Our Committee has set out more than 70 recommendations, and the Government have undertaken a considerable body of work as a result of that. I hope that today’s debate will give a flavour of their direction of travel, in order to provide clear optimism for trans people in this country. I hope that it will also remind Ministers of the human cost of not taking the actions that are needed.
Order. I want to set some parameters for the debate. The second debate is twice as heavily subscribed as this one, but both debates are important to the House and to those listening to them. I suggest that Members, including those on the Front Benches, speak for up to 10 minutes in order to try to bring this debate to an end by 2 o’clock.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for accepting this debate, which gives us an opportunity to discuss the Government’s response to the “Transgender Equality” report. I should also like to thank LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall, the UK LGBT Consortium on Trans Organisations, the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. I also want specifically to thank Tim Hopkins from the Equality Network and James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance for their invaluable briefings and their work with the Scottish Government to continue the progress of LGBTI equality.
As an advocate for LGBTI equality, I am very proud that the first report from the Women and Equalities Committee focuses on the problems faced by the trans community. In the spirit of true equality, every sector of society should feel truly equal and it is our responsibility as members of the Committee and in life to ensure that that is the case. I believe that the Government’s response to our report is woefully inadequate. We need to ensure that the individuals who contributed to the inquiry and those who experience daily discrimination feel that the Government are heeding their calls for more equality. Trans equality must be the priority of every Government across the UK. I know that the Minister shares my passion for equality and I hope that today’s debate will give her an opportunity to respond, to hear the cross-party calls and to take action. I should also like to thank my friends and fellow Committee members, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for securing this important debate and for their continued commitment to the cause of transgender equality.
We have only to look at the statistics from any mental health charity to understand why this debate is necessary. When one in four of the children in Scotland who identify as trans face bullying, discrimination and hate crime on a daily basis, we must do more. Statistics from Mind indicate that more than 40% of trans individuals have contemplated suicide and that, tragically, some of them have ended their own lives as a result of their experiences. This group of people is among the most marginalised in society. Trans individuals face disproportionately high levels of mental health problems and very high suicide rates. Discrimination against members of the trans community is an everyday aspect of their lives. Transphobia is endemic in the workplace, when accessing healthcare, in public services, in schools, in the media, in the criminal justice system and online. A sizeable percentage of individuals face this discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis.
The existing legislation provides some protections, and they are to be respected and admired. There was a time when the UK was a world leader in its approach to transgender equality. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a trans person the right to a gender recognition certificate, should they wish their affirmed gender to be recorded as such on their birth certificate. This was applicable whether or not someone had undergone surgery or hormone therapy. However, this does not allow for people in the trans community who do not identify as either male or female to be recognised and protected within the law. During our inquiry, we heard from non-gendered and non-binary people who felt that they had been forgotten in the legislation. Additionally, we heard that the Act was rooted in clinical methods, requiring consent through a psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The criticisms levelled at the legislation reinforce how outdated it has become. The Government must make changes to the Act to allow an approach of gender self-declaration.
Similarly, the once world-leading legislation for the trans community in the Equality Act 2010 is fast becoming outdated. It gave members of the trans community protection from discrimination, but we have heard that its provisions are routinely breached in relation to the trans community. The Act uses outdated terminology such as “gender reassignment” and “transsexual”; these are now considered inaccurate descriptors. Such terms have given rise to the misapprehension that the Act provides only for trans people who have undergone medical gender-reassignment treatment. To clarify, the protected characteristic should be amended to “gender identity”.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the essence of today’s debate is that gender is a social construct, and that that should be recognised in law? It is not primarily a biological construct, but because the law is based on that outdated concept, it is failing us.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I reiterate that the law must be updated to recognise an individual’s gender identity, which has nothing to do with their birth gender and everything to do with the gender that they believe they are.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and other hon. Members on securing this important debate. Since 2007, the Scottish Government have been using the Yogyakarta principle, a fully inclusive definition of gender identity, in all their trans equality policy work. Does she agree that the use of that principle is desirable because it was devised by an international commission of jurists in recognition of the fact that gender identity is a human right?
Yes, and I will clarify again that the protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 should be amended to “gender identity”, which explicitly covers the whole spectrum of trans identities. This point was rejected in the Government’s response to the Committee’s report. Ministers believe that the current terminology is adequate, contrary to the testimony of the very people it affects.
I am prone to mentioning the word “Scotland” often in debates, and I shall do so again now. In 2017, we will mark the year of trans equality and the progress that has been made on this issue. In Scotland, we have committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with international best practice in countries such as Malta and Ireland. In Scotland, we have committed to ensuring that all trans, non-binary and intersex individuals feel protected, because it is their human right to have their gender identity recognised in law and in life. I urge this Government to follow the example not only of Scotland but of the many other countries that are leading this best practice.
The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organisation recognises M, F and X as gender markers on passports. A number of countries, including Denmark, Malta, New Zealand, India and even Australia—which is sadly not known these days for a liberal and open approach to border control—issue and accept gender X passports. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is high time the UK followed suit?
I wholeheartedly agree. One area that is not currently devolved to Scotland is the ability to change passports. I urge the UK Government to consider this important aspect of recognising a third gender—gender X—on passports. That could be done, and the Committee heard that it would be beneficial and would make a sizeable difference to individuals who travel for work, life and general leisure purposes. This is an opportunity to amend and correct that error.
I call on the UK Government to match the Scottish Government’s commitment: 2017 marks the year of progress on transgender equality in Scotland, and the UK can continue that progress. This debate highlights the need to address transgender equality and the remaining challenges that trans and non-binary people face. Although Scotland has made huge progress towards achieving LGBTI equality in recent years and is now rated the best country in Europe for LGBTI rights, the SNP is not complacent. We are determined to tackle the unacceptable levels of prejudice and discrimination that trans and non-binary people continue to face. I hope that, as we move into 2017, we can make it a year of progress for transgender equality not just in Scotland but across the UK. In Scotland, the SNP has pledged an important step forward for transgender equality by reforming the gender recognition law to meet international best practice, so that all trans and non-binary people are fully recognised and can access their human right to a legal recognition of their gender identity.
Scotland is the best country for LGBTI equality, and the UK can continue to lead on this agenda, too. One of the distinctive parts of our equal marriage law is its more progressive approach to transgender recognition, and the UK could follow that example as well. I am not simply preaching to the choir; a multitude of countries across the world are leading on this agenda.
I wish to finish with the words of Reina, one of many trans women who wrote to me before this debate. She wanted to give testimony about what it is like to be trans in a rural community in Scotland. She said:
“Being trans is not a choice. It isn’t something where the person wakes up and just decides to be a particular way. Being this way is something that a person is born with, and which they have to try and struggle with throughout their lives, in a society that hates diversity and constantly attacks them”—
and their friends and family, and
“even kills them, for not conforming to the restrictive ideals of control freaks. Life is hard and usually short for someone who’s trans. There is a lack of respectful education and health care. There is a lack of support and understanding.”
Her words exemplify just why we need to take action: life is incredibly difficult for trans people, and the changes we can make in this place will make a huge difference to their lives. The Government must today commit to the recommendations of the “Transgender Equality” report, and offer the support and understanding that this community definitely needs. I urge the Minister to join me in making sure that 2017 is the year of transgender equality not just for Scotland, but for every transgender individual across the UK.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), who is a great champion on trans issues and LGBTI issues in general, and the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who has championed this issue by making it the subject of the Committee’s very first report.
I say a massive thank you to the Backbench Business Committee. For the transgender community in the UK, this is the first time such a debate has been held on the Floor of the House of Commons, and it marks a very special day for the 650,000 transgender or non-gendered people in the UK. Just as we celebrated 50 years of Schools Out in the Speaker’s apartments yesterday, I hope that in 50 years’ time people will look back at this day and say that it marked a remarkable change in how people in the transgender community were considered in the UK. I am very pleased that this debate has been brought to the Floor of the House of Commons.
Although there is a lack of good data on the number of trans people in the UK, as my right hon. Friend stated, estimates currently suggest that 650,000 people in the UK are likely to be gender incongruent to some degree. This is an issue that has an impact on a significant number of our constituents. A number of constituents who came to see me as a result of our Select Committee’s inquiry suggested that this was the first time they could come out and say they were a member of the trans community. People often hide that and do not necessarily want to stand up and talk about it, but the inquiry has given them a huge opportunity to say that they are represented in this place and in the rest of the country.
As colleagues will know, I am a prominent supporter of LGBT rights. I have to say that the LGB part of the community has not always gone out and celebrated the T or the T+ parts of the community. This is also a huge opportunity for us to say that they are part of our friendship group. We must make a big apology for the fact that we have overlooked them as part of our community for a very long period. In her time as the new chief executive of Stonewall—she is not that new to the post—Ruth Hunt has been a huge advocate of the trans community. Following her apology to the trans community, the work she has done as chief executive has gone some way to repair the distrust and segregation within the LGBT community.
I have been a member of the Women and Equalities Committee since its creation in 2015. The report on transgender equality was its first report. The Committee received about 250 written evidence submissions, many from individual trans people who wanted to tell us about their own experiences, and there were five oral evidence sessions. I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee, but it is worth noting how it came to its conclusions. The Committee took evidence from a range of organisations conducting representative and advocacy work within the trans community, as well as from service providers of various kinds, academic experts and six Ministers in a variety of Departments. I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave evidence throughout the inquiry, particularly those from the trans community, which enabled the Committee to produce meaningful findings and recommendations.
The report states:
“A litmus test for any society that upholds those values”—
fairness and equality—
“is how far it protects even the most marginalised groups.”
I welcome the Government’s commitment to equality. I recognise that, as a country, we have led the way on lesbian, gay and bisexual equality. Despite the welcome progress, however, we are still failing that test for the trans community. We know that trans people face continuing transphobia, increased mental health issues, discrimination in the provision of public and private services, and bullying in our schools. The report made several recommendations for the Government to consider. I thank the Minister for the Government response, but I want to highlight a number of areas that need further consideration.
The report made it clear that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 need to be amended. At the time, the GRA was a world-leading piece of legislation, but it is now outdated and in need of revision, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke have said, and we are falling behind many other countries. The process for applying for a gender recognition certificate is bureaucratic, expensive and even humiliating, and the burden of providing documentation can cause people significant distress. The process should be administrative, not a medicalised, quasi-judicial one. It should be underpinned by the principle of gender self-declaration, which would allow for a dignified approach that maintains the personal autonomy of applicants. After all, as Ashley Reed, who created a petition on this subject, has said of a person’s gender identity:
“You are the only person who can come to that realisation, not a panel.”
I welcome the Government’s commitment to review the GRA, but I urge them to commit to adopting the principle of gender self-declaration as well as to commit to changing the process.
As the Bill my right hon. Friend presented earlier today makes clear, the current wording of the Equality Act 2010 is fundamentally outdated and, ultimately, confusing. Terms such as “gender reassignment” and “transsexual” have resulted in significant confusion over whether trans people who have not undergone a medical intervention are entitled to the same protection. The report recommended that the protected characteristic should be changed to “gender identity”, bringing the wording in line with the Yogyakarta principles and resolution 2048 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Government’s response to that recommendation was that they believe the current wording of the 2010 Act is adequate because people are protected through the provision on discrimination due to perception. However, that response is inadequate and I hope the Minister will clarify that statement. The 2010 Act bases the protection it provides for transgender people on the process of undergoing gender reassignment. Many trans people, such as non-binary, intersex people or young people whose gender identity is less well developed than that of an adult, may not have legal protection. I urge the Government to reconsider their rejection of the Committee’s recommendation. What steps have been taken to keep the matter under review, which the Government promised to do?
Away from the legislative changes, I now turn to some specific areas that need improvement, the first of which is the treatment of trans prisoners. Until recently there were no official statistics on the number of transgender prisoners in the UK. In November 2016, however, the Ministry of Justice published the results of a data collection exercise conducted in March and April of this year. It was reported that 70 transgender prisoners were held in 33 prisons in England and Wales at that time. The Committee argued that there was “clear risk or harm” when trans prisoners are not located in a prison
“appropriate to their acquired… gender”.
The report also said that holding trans prisoners in solitary confinement was not fair or appropriate, and I am sure that the whole House agrees.
Last year, there was the example of Tara Hudson, a transgender prisoner from Bath, who was born male but had lived her entire adult life as a woman. Tara was sent to an all-male prison. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), for supporting me in helping Tara to get into a prison appropriate to her gender, but lessons still need to be learned. Tara, who has lived as a woman her whole adult life, has undergone six years of gender reconstruction surgery and I, like many in the Chamber, would define her as a woman. Her detention in a male environment was not only physically damaging but dangerous from a security perspective.
In summary, we are a forward-thinking and progressive country and have led the way in ensuring that marginalised groups receive protection under the law. We have made huge strides over the decades in improving the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. However, we must do more for the trans community. The Women and Equalities Committee report is groundbreaking and I hope its publication will be celebrated in 50 years’ time as a day of huge change for the trans community in the UK and around the world.
I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate—the first on trans issues in this Chamber. It was a privilege to have been a member of the Women and Equalities Committee for the inquiry, although I subsequently stood down due to my Front-Bench role.
Many of us have been strong supporters of LGBT rights for many years, but until the Committee’s inquiry I knew relatively little of the extent of the issues facing transgender people. We heard moving accounts of people’s transitions and subsequent experiences and also from parents who have supported their children through the process of transition. It was also helpful to hear from service providers, academics and health specialists and from those providing representative and advocacy work within and for the trans community. I thank all of them for providing extensive evidence and for responding to our questions.
A cultural shift is going on in this country around issues of gender. There is greater acceptance of gender differences among young people. Our report identified the need for changes in the law and significant cultural, policy and process shifts in the fields of health, criminal justice, education and others. It also revealed that individuals experience high levels of harassment on a daily basis. That harassment can undermine careers, family life, incomes, living standards, access to services, quality of life and physical and mental health. It is no secret that a disproportionally high number of trans people have reported attempting suicide—an extremely sobering and distressing fact. The sooner we advance trans equality through legislative, policy and cultural change in our public institutions, the sooner there will be fewer trans people in the position of wanting to take their life because they are not getting the necessary care and support and the respect they deserve.
Does the hon. Lady share the concern I felt when I read that the number of hate crimes against trans people has trebled over the past five years? Does she, like me, hope that more will be done on education to ensure that that intolerance is stamped out?