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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.]
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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—
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.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: there will be no second referendum.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Business of the House
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?
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 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.