House of Commons
Thursday 15 December 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Superfast broadband is now available to over 90% of homes and businesses in the UK—up from 45% in 2010—and is on track to reach 95% by the end of 2017. After that, we are bringing in a universal service obligation in the Digital Economy Bill.
The Minister will be aware that rural communities such as those in North East Fife, and small businesses in particular, rely on broadband, and there are concerns that the current plans do not go far enough. Are there any plans to extend them further so that we can get faster speeds in rural communities?
Yes. The plan to bring in a universal service obligation means just that: it is about making sure that superfast broadband is available to all. If the SNP joined us in the Lobby to support the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently passing through its remaining stages in the other place, we would be very grateful.
Superfast broadband is available across much of Waveney, but not spots remain, particularly in rural areas. The roll-out of 5G could play an important role in plugging those gaps. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined his plans to fast-track this provision. Will he consider some pilots in the Waveney area?
My hon. Friend is a ceaseless champion of better connectivity in Lowestoft and throughout Suffolk. Connectivity is improving: there is a licence obligation to cover 90% of the UK landmass by the end of next year. I am sure he will keep fighting for his constituents to make sure that they get a better signal. The £1 billion announced in the autumn statement will help to get us there.
Access to broadband is an issue not just for rural areas, but for areas such as Dinnington village, which lies on the edge of my constituency, and for new-build housing areas such as Newcastle Great Park, where capacity simply cannot keep up with demand for this vital service. How will the Government speed up delivery to such areas?
The hon. Lady asks a very good question. By 1 January—less than one month away—it will be a legal requirement to put superfast broadband into new housing developments. By the end of the programme that is under way, 98% of Newcastle, which includes her constituency, will be covered for access to superfast broadband. I am sure she would want to welcome that.
Percentages do not mean much to people who do not have broadband, and we just do not have it in many parts of my constituency. This affects not only residents, but businesses, such as the caravan parks that people will not now come to unless there is broadband access. That is the problem.
My hon. Friend is dead right that that is a problem. The universal service obligation is very important in making sure that everybody gets decent access to broadband. In the past few years, that has changed from a “nice to have” to an absolute “must have”, and we are delivering to make sure people have the connectivity they need.
British Film Industry
The UK film industry is a great success story, contributing more than £4 billion a year to the economy and supporting nearly 70,000 full-time jobs. Last year, the Government invested £340 million through film tax relief, and nearly £70 million in grant in aid and national lottery funding through the British Film Institute.
Like many of our creative industries, the British film industry is a fabulous success story. What plans does the Secretary of State have to make sure that it will still be an industry to celebrate post-Brexit, and will she be contributing to February’s White Paper on the future negotiations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the success of the UK film industry. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members are planning over Christmas to enjoy the new “Star Wars” film, which was made in Britain. Last week, I was in China to sign a co-production treaty, making us only the second country in the world to have both film and TV treaties with the Chinese. That is important because this is a global industry—it relies not merely on the other 27 member states of the European Union, but on the whole world—and I want to make sure that it continues to be a success.
I was born in the shadow of Shepperton film studios and have long had links with the film industry, so may I urge the Secretary of State to do something about getting more apprentices into the film sector? Our great directors and many of our great actors left school at 14 or 15 and did apprenticeships. Today, too many people at the top are not very creative, because they all went to Eton. Will she do something about getting ordinary kids into the film industry again?
I am incredibly proud of the creativity of all our young people, no matter which school they went to. Perhaps that was an audition by the hon. Gentleman, given his close links to film. He rightly identifies that there are issues with apprenticeships in the film industry because of the business model in that industry, and particularly because there are so many freelancers and shorter-term contracts. We are working with the Department for Education to make sure we have the right apprenticeships so that young people can get the skills they need to succeed in the global success that is the British film industry.
With part of “Les Misérables” filmed at Boughton House near Kettering and Keira Knightley’s “Pride & Prejudice” filmed at Weekley village just outside the town, what more are the Government doing to encourage filmmakers to use historic sites in the great British countryside for their films?
I want to see the great British countryside used as the location for great British films. It is fantastic that Kettering has been such a hotbed. I am pleased that a number of films have been made in the Peak district, including in the Staffordshire moorlands. I want to see more of them; they are very welcome.
Surely the decision for the filming to take place in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) was quite deliberate, on account of his prodigious efforts.
Northern Ireland’s film commission, Northern Ireland Screen, has invested some £14 million in the US cable network to enable “Game of Thrones” to be delivered, and some £115 million has come back into the economy of Northern Ireland as a result. Industry-wide speculation certainly brings great accumulation. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that the Northern Ireland film commission brings even more business into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
“Game of Thrones” is another fantastic example of a global franchise that is made in the United Kingdom, this time in Northern Ireland. That is something we are incredibly proud of and we need to make sure that there is as much support as possible. I continue to work with colleagues across all the devolved nations to ensure that film companies understand the diverse breadth of opportunities in the whole United Kingdom.
Sexual Abuse in Sport
The Government take these matters very seriously. Yesterday, I co-chaired a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of sports bodies, law enforcement and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to ensure that sports are able to deal effectively with allegations of non-recent abuse and have the most robust possible child protection processes in place today.
The allegations that are under investigation, which involve more than 100 clubs, are truly shocking, but does the Secretary of State agree that the vast majority of coaches and volunteers in local sports clubs play a crucial role in our constituencies? Does she also agree that it is vital that we do not put off or discourage potential volunteers who would never dream of betraying the trust that was placed in them?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We want to ensure that parents and young people have the confidence to participate in sport. We need to know what happened. We need to make sure that the victims come forward, that the police have time to carry out the investigations and that there is confidence in the system. The roundtable that I co-chaired yesterday was incredibly helpful in flushing out where we can do more, because we can always do more, and in giving reassurance that much is being done.
I confirm that I have had exactly those conversations with the Football Association, the premier league, the English football league and the Professional Footballers Association to make sure that we are identifying people who may have been victims, but who have not yet had the confidence to come forward.
Does the Secretary of State agree that there should be a mandatory requirement for the reporting of known or suspected abuse for everyone who works in regulated activities, including sport?
My hon. Friend will know that the Department for Education and the Home Office have carried out a joint consultation on mandatory reporting. I understand that the responses are being considered at the moment and that a response will be forthcoming shortly.
My contempt is reserved almost solely for the predators and abusers who carried out the crimes rather than the institutions, but the Secretary of State is right that there has to be a reflection on what went wrong and how we can maximise the robustness of safeguarding. Which individual sporting bodies has she met recently to have those discussions?
I do not wish to detain the House with a long list, so perhaps it would be helpful if I wrote to the hon. Gentleman with the full list of the bodies that my hon. Friend the sports Minister and I have spoken to.
Is it not remarkable that the people who are making statements went to football clubs among the 92 teams in the football leagues of Britain, whereas most people like me, working at the pit, were coached at the miners’ welfare, and nobody who helped at the 700 miners’ welfares all over Britain has been brought forward? The truth is that it is about the money as well. When the Government are digging into this, they should remember that there is a class argument about it. It is about people making money, and the Tories know a lot about that.
I am sorry, but I do not think that trying to bring party politics into the matters is at all appropriate. Vulnerable young people have been abused by predatory individuals from all walks of life. Even suggesting that party politics is involved belittles the House.
Football Association: Governance
You will be unsurprised, Mr Speaker, to learn that I have had several discussions with the Football Association on this subject. As recently as Monday, I spoke to the chairman, Greg Clarke, and I was clear that I wanted reform and that the clear mechanism for achieving that is through compliance with the new code of governance for sport, which was published in October.
I have always been a great admirer of the Minister’s optimism, especially when we played on the same five-a-side team. Unfortunately, her optimism about the future of the FA is not shared by three of its previous chairmen, who said earlier this week that legislation was needed to address the deficiencies in the organisation. Will she therefore give an undertaking that, before the end of April, she will come to the House either to announce her agreement with the FA about future governance arrangements, or with proposals for legislation?
On the five-a-side pitch, it was never optimism, just skill.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take this matter incredibly seriously. We believe that the FA has heard the warnings from all parts of the House and all levels in Parliament that it needs to reform quickly. We strongly believe that the incentive of removing public funding will achieve that. I would be happy to update the House on progress in April.
We will make an announcement on the future status of Channel 4 in due course.
The Minister knows that Channel 4 not only supports a thriving independent production sector through commissioning, but has proven time and again to be a sustainable and successful business model. We know that the Government like to create uncertainty, but will the Minister take it away from Channel 4, its advertisers and the independent production companies that it supports, and make a decision which has been delayed for far too long?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we are looking at all the options to ensure that we have a strong and sustainable future for Channel 4. I am a great supporter of Channel 4. A Conservative Government in the 1980s put it in place, and we will do what is necessary to sustain its future.
I am completely open-minded about the ownership of Channel 4 as long as we ensure that the programming standards are maintained, but may I remind my right hon. Friend that ITV, Sky and many others produce great documentaries and wonderful dramas, and they are privately owned?
Of course that is an important thing to remember. We are looking at how we can have the most sustainable, vibrant future for our brilliant Channel 4.
Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that currently Channel 4 has no one from a diverse background on its board, and will he explain the process by which he or the Secretary of State made a decision that excluded the deputy chief executive of the Arts Council from that board?
We have recently made some appointments to the Channel 4 board. Those appointments were all made on merit. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that public appointments must be made on merit, and give him this statistic: since this team has been in place in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 24% of all public appointments have gone to people from minority ethnic backgrounds—which is far higher than the proportion in the economy. We are passionately devoted to making sure that our great institutions are represented by people from all backgrounds, and will continue to do that, based on merit.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is absolutely right that Channel 4 is not diverse, so will the Minister make sure that there are not as many politically correct left wingers at Channel 4 in the interests of diversity? As he does so, will he set out why it is in the taxpayers’ interest for the Government to own a left-wing broadcaster?
Of course, Channel 4 pays its way and pays for itself—it is not subsidised; it is just owned by the taxpayer. I am sure, with contributions such as that, my hon. Friend will bring great insight and entertainment to the Women and Equalities Committee.
The Minister talks of merit. Channel 4 has 13 board members. Ten of them are men. All of them are white. Will he explain to the House why he and the Secretary of State blocked the sole black candidate, who was described as outstanding by Ofcom?
In this case, there were four vacancies and we chose the four best candidates. I will have no truck with the argument that we should have tokenism. I support appointment on merit. I also support making sure that we reach into all communities. The fact that this ministerial team has appointed 24% of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds demonstrates how much we care about—
Order. We are not as slow as all that. The right hon. Gentleman has made that point with force and eloquence, but it does not improve by being repeated.
I am afraid that the Minister’s laconic attitude towards this is not helpful at all. He has just said that the appointments were made on merit and that had he gone through with the recommended appointment it would have been an example of tokenism. That is an absolute insult to the candidate, who, as he well knows, was perfectly well qualified and was recommended for appointment on merit.
When are we going to get an end to the uncertainty about Channel 4? The Secretary of State has been in place for 150 days. The sector is in absolute despair about the lack of a decision from the Government. When will we get an answer?
The sector is going from strength to strength. I strongly support it in doing so. We will continue our support for Channel 4, for appointments based on merit and for the great British TV sector.
Creative Industries: Exiting the EU
The Government want to ensure the best possible deal for Britain on leaving the European Union. The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, contributing more than £87 billion to the economy and more than £19 billion in exports. We are working closely with the industry to assess both the impacts and the opportunities that our departure presents, and I am hosting a series of round-tables with industry about that.
The Secretary of State is, I hope, aware of the concerns of the world’s biggest festival of the arts that Brexit and hostile immigration policies pose a serious threat to its ongoing success. What assurances can she give the Edinburgh festivals that they will remain truly international in a post-Brexit Britain?
I visited the Edinburgh festival this summer. It was a fantastic experience, and I loved the big signs of welcome, which were very clear that it was a global festival. The Edinburgh festival existed before the United Kingdom joined the European Union, and I want to make sure that it continues going from strength to strength in its anniversary year next year.
Last week I visited China, along with the largest cultural delegation ever to accompany a Minister from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport abroad. We made key partnerships with Chinese travel companies, the Chinese television sector and the Beijing Winter Olympics, as well as announcing the forthcoming terracotta warriors exhibition in Liverpool.
The BBC royal charter has been approved by Her Majesty in Council, and printed and sealed. I laid copies of the royal charter and associated framework agreement in both Houses today, with an accompanying written statement.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind my promoting the MP4 single—the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is part of the band—that is supporting the Jo Cox Foundation. I hope we all download that single and get it to No. 1 for Christmas.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, under its commercial expansion through Project Lightning, Virgin Media is committed to rolling out fibre to 2 million premises across the UK, including in my constituency, thereby helping the Secretary of State to meet her vision of a fibre future. Will she clarify whether the fibre fund will be limited to areas of market failure?
My hon. Friend represents a constituency with 97% superfast coverage, which I am sure he welcomes. He is right to highlight our announcement in the autumn statement of additional funding to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure. We will announce further details about the fund in due course.
Happy Christmas to you and your family, Mr Speaker, and to the staff of the House.
In the light of recent data security breaches, does the Secretary of State have confidence in the operational security of the National Lottery, and that Camelot is operating within its regulatory obligations?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that we should all be very aware and alert to our cyber-security, and that we should take advice issued by cyber-security experts with regard to updating passwords and so on. I met the National Lottery and continue to work with it to ensure that it is cyber-secure.
Can the Secretary of State give the House her absolute assurance that Britain’s national lottery is safe? Will she commit to come back to the Dispatch Box if there are any further revelations of security breaches at Camelot?
I repeat that I met Camelot and am working with it to ensure that it is as secure as it possibly can be, and that it takes all possible cyber-security measures. I am sure the hon. Gentleman and I will discuss these matters over the Dispatch Box. I wish him—and you, Mr Speaker—a very happy Christmas.
I am sure my hon. Friend welcomes the charter, which sees a new regulatory regime for the BBC and includes Ofcom having regulatory responsibility, that is being laid today. I am sure he will support the Digital Economy Bill, which is making its passage through the other place, to ensure that the regulatory regime comes into force.
Making sure we have a fully competitive mobile market is very important. Ofcom will take a view to ensure that that continues. That is in its remit. We will ensure that the spectrum is auctioned in such a way to get the broadest possible coverage.
My hon. Friend is a big supporter of the NCS and I am aware that coastal areas face significant challenges. The NCS can and does have a significant impact on helping those areas. It is therefore great news that there is a place in the NCS for every young person who wants one. This summer alone, 285 young people in north-east Lincolnshire have taken part. Subject to my diary, I am very happy to visit the schemes in his area.
We will set out our plans for the future of Channel 4 in due course.
What possible justification is there for the Government owning both the BBC and Channel 4?
Channel 4 is not paid for but is owned by the Government. It was set up under Government ownership, but it pays for itself through its advertising, and delivers brilliantly—I think—within its remit.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her initiative, and I hope that others in the House will do something similar, because getting Sport England funding involves a lot of work and paperwork. We would encourage all local sports clubs to do it, however, and I congratulate her on her initiative.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says it is investigating 43 premier league players and 12 clubs, including, it is believed, Manchester United, for image rights tax dodging. Does the Minister agree that fans are right to be angry that big clubs and players, including England captain, Wayne Rooney, stand accused of dirtying the beautiful game with a culture of excessive greed and tax dodging?
I agree with my hon. Friend that those in football should protect the reputation of football, but he is asking me to comment on a matter that HMRC is still investigating. Football players, clubs and managers are treated no differently from others and are expected to adhere to the same principles.
May I begin by saying how proud I am of the fantastic work already being done by the NCS and the I Will campaign, which is making a dramatic difference to young people and volunteering? I announced a review yesterday, and of course we will respond in detail to the report’s findings.
It is widely acknowledged that the BBC is institutionally biased in favour of the EU. Will the Secretary of State explain why the BBC does not acknowledge that itself?
I repeat the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone): not only does the new charter require impartiality, but we have Ofcom to regulate that, a new unitary board with management responsibilities for the BBC and the National Audit Office looking at value for money. I think that that package of regulation and value-for-money auditing should give my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) the comfort he needs.
Will the Secretary of State speak to the BBC about the role it can play in the future of Gaelic language broadcasting? It currently spends less than 0.25% on Gaelic programming, and as a result the otherwise excellent BBC Alba is left with a 74% repeat rate.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that this is an 11-year settlement that will guarantee Gaelic language broadcasting. I would be happy to discuss the matter further with the BBC, but I am sure that he welcomes the fact that this is a long-term sustainable settlement.
Our community libraries could be places of study and multi-media use and real community hubs. What steps will my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities to develop our libraries so that they become such community hubs?
We recently published a report, the “ambition” document, which highlighted how libraries are an important part of local communities able to act as community hubs and providing a range of activities in respect of support for reading, digital skills, culture, health, employment and learning. I urge local authorities to think innovatively and to use their libraries to deliver services to their communities so that they are sustainable and can thrive in the future.
The Secretary of State was asked—
Foreign Direct Investment
My Department is working globally to attract foreign firms to set up or expand their businesses in the UK and to generate new jobs and contribute to national wealth creation. We are promoting the UK as a prime destination for inward investment from across our global network, with dedicated support for investors in 50 overseas markets. With the support of sector specialists, we are ensuring that the UK has the best opportunities to attract higher-quality foreign direct investment.
Latest gross value added figures show that Wales is the fastest growing area outside London, and Cardiff is unabashedly the engine room of the Welsh economy. What positive steps is the Department taking to ensure that Welsh businesses and Cardiff businesses get the help they expect to get?
Let me say that my hon. Friend, given that his constituency is Cardiff North, is the engine-room of the Cardiff economy. The Department for International Trade works for the whole of the UK, but I stress that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already visited Wales, and I am working with the Wales Office to see what more we can do. We also support the Welsh Government by offering them support in posts overseas. We see the opportunities presented by Wales as very exciting.
Today we are told that it could take up to 10 years to reach a trade agreement with the EU after we leave, while research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests a drop in trade of up to 60% if we are outside the customs union. Foreign investors are vital for the British economy, so will the Minister give those investors some of the certainty they so desperately need—and that we need, as well? Will he tell them whether he wants Britain to be inside the customs union and whether he wants tariff-free access to the single market or not?
It has been made very clear that the Government are not going to give a running commentary on what we are proposing to do. I also stress that the comments of Ivan Rogers are opinions and words taken from interlocutors and do not necessarily define how long it will take to create a trade deal. It is worth bearing in mind, if we look at various trade deals around the world, that while the Trans-Pacific Partnership has taken potentially eight years, the US-Jordan trade deal took just four months. It is very difficult to establish exactly how long any trade deal will take.
As the UK becomes a world leader in the fourth industrial revolution—new technology—will the Minister update the House on what steps his Department is taking to secure foreign direct investment in this vital new sector?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on launching the all-party parliamentary group on the fourth industrial revolution. This type of innovative approach by businesses moving forward is incredibly important to the success of this country’s economy. We are working extraordinarily hard to make sure that this innovative approach is being transmitted around the world through our posts overseas, and that we can secure foreign direct investment to support it.
What is the Minister’s best estimate on when an EU trade deal will be completed?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answer.
World Trade Organisation
I have had a number of constructive discussions with the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Azevêdo. We have made clear to the WTO membership the UK’s intention to replicate as far as possible our current obligations in order to avoid disrupting our trading relationships or those of our trading partners across the world. The UK will need its own schedules in the WTO regardless of the nature of our future trading relationship with the EU.
Given that the list of countries offended by the Foreign Secretary grows longer by the day, what contingencies are being put in place should there be some opposition to the renegotiation of the UK schedule?
The contingency that the hon. Gentleman asks for is in place, because until new schedules are negotiated and agreed, current schedules will apply. It is worth noting that the European Union itself, having failed to negotiate EU28 schedules, is still operating successfully under the EU15 of 1995.
Civitas has estimated that if we were to go to World Trade Organisation terms with the EU, EU businesses would have to pay £12 billion to access the UK market, and UK businesses will have to pay £5 billion to access the EU market. Does the Secretary of State accept those figures? If the Government do not accept them, will he tell us what the Government’s figures are?
Whatever the actual figures are, there is one point that is more important—the introduction of any impediments to trade and investment in intra-European trade would be disadvantageous to producers and consumers alike. Of course, the Government have made it very clear that we will try to get maximum access to European markets in order to avoid a disruption of trade.
Are not these WTO schedules of concessions just one of many examples of the mammoth bureaucratic task that has to be conducted, and should we not be thanking our ambassador to the European Union for the reality check he has given about the decade-long period it will take to extricate ourselves from this process? Does the Secretary of State agree we should not be rushing so headlong into this timetable?
Yes, we face a number of bureaucratic challenges, but the people we should be thanking are the British people for giving us such clear instructions to leave the EU.
The UK has high standards in the workplace and for its products and animal welfare. Does the Secretary of State agree that a free trade deal with zero tariffs with countries that have much lower standards could have a significant commercial disadvantage for many of our companies?
The whole point of reaching an agreement is because it is beneficial to both parties, otherwise an agreement would not be reached, and regulatory and compliance standards will always be an important part of that.
With the current slowdown in the growth of global trade, the UK must be a world leader in championing free trade worldwide and banging a drum for British business. Our measures to support UK business trading globally include a network of advisers in 109 markets, online advice at GREAT.gov.uk and support through UK Export Finance. Both myself and ministerial colleagues have continued to meet businesses in the UK and abroad, including 50 ministerial visits to 34 markets overseas.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Professor Patrick Minford has estimated that UK trade liberalisation would cut consumer prices by 8%. Does the Secretary of State agree that forging our own free trade arrangements outside the EU presents huge opportunities to ease the cost of living for low-income families?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and he is right to highlight the potential of free trade to reduce the cost of living in this country. Free trade ensures that more people can access more goods at better value, making their incomes go further, whereas protectionism tends to hurt the poorest the most.
It has been two years since the then Environment Secretary announced with great fanfare plans to sell pigs’ trotters to China. As my written question this week revealed, we are still no closer to signing the pigs’ trotters protocol. If it takes this long to reach an agreement to sell pigs’ trotters, what does that say about our ability to make all the other trade deals we need in the wake of Brexit?
I am very intent that our agricultural exports continue apace. I shall continue to push pigs’ trotters as fast as they can possibly go.
A very alluring prospect, to be accomplished by the right hon. Gentleman probably not without sweat or emotion.
Many countries are using non-tariff barriers to block global trade. However, as the Secretary of State is well aware, in countries such as Brazil we are now seeing real progress in the removal of local content regulations. What more can be done to encourage other countries to follow this example?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work as our trade envoy to Brazil. I was extremely impressed in the meetings I had last week in that country that we are now seeing major attempts not only to open up markets, but to deal with endemic corruption. That corruption is one of the biggest single barriers to trade, and, as the World Bank has made clear, improved governance is a major improvement in the potential for trade.
The Secretary of State recently reaffirmed the Government’s target to double exports by 2020, but at the autumn statement the Office for Budget Responsibility contradicted this, stating that it expects UK trade to reduce as a result of the UK leaving the EU and the single market. So who is right: does he accept the assessment of the experts of the OBR, yes or no?
I am tempted to ask the hon. Lady if she would like Santa to bring her a dictionary, because expectations and targets are not the same thing.
Will my right hon. Friend seek to unblock the global trading system by adopting a new open anti-distortions agreement that can deliver free trade and self-government, fight crony capitalism at home and defend against predatory practice abroad, like the one proposed by the Legatum Institute special trade commission?
I do not think I need to explain to my hon. Friend that I and my fellow Ministers have set out the case for free trade on a number of occasions. We are seeing a slowdown in the rate of global trade growth at present, which is a threat to the prosperity of people across the globe. We must have more open trade, fewer tariffs and fewer non-tariff barriers if we are to succeed in that task.
Love the tie!
One of the steps that the Government are taking to expand UK trade is through arms sales, particularly to the middle east. In July, the Committees on Arms Export Controls heard evidence that there was an imbalance in arms sales, with promotion coming at the expense of regulation
“such that in UK practice those things are at odds.”
Does the Secretary of State recognise that imbalance? If he does, what does he propose to do about it? If he does not, has he chastised the White House for the remarks this week that “systemic, endemic” problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting of civilians in Yemen drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale, which has the Secretary of State and British policy in this area looking callous and threadbare?
I thank the hon. Gentleman; this is the first time in my life that I have been grateful for being colour blind. [Laughter.] This country has one of the world’s strictest arms control regimes. It is both robust and transparent, and decisions are scrutinised intensely. I simply do not accept the picture that he paints of the UK’s attitude.
I am going to play the role of tie referee and say that the tie of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is absolutely beautiful. It is tasteful and interesting, not boring like all too many ties. Now, let us hear from the fellow from Gloucester.
The UK has an excellent tradition of hosting major international sports events—most recently the Olympics, the Commonwealth games, and the Rugby World cup—and other countries hosting such events can benefit from our expertise. In 2018, Indonesia will host the Asian games, which is a great opportunity to highlight the improvements it has made in infrastructure development. Should my right hon. Friend have the chance to visit south-east Asia in the new year, will he highlight British expertise and the help that we can give Indonesia to deliver a magnificent Asian games?
Yet again, I am able to thank an hon. Friend for working as a trade envoy—this time to Indonesia. My hon. Friend’s specific point applies more generally: the United Kingdom can provide great service sector skills to many countries, which not only helps them to mature their economies, but provides them with the ability to grow their markets, offering an export opportunity for the United Kingdom.
Newcastle international airport plays a vital role in the north-east’s economy, by facilitating over £300 million-worth of exports every year. Like other English regional airports, however, it faces unfair competition on tax as air passenger duty is devolved to Scotland. The Government have failed to commit to mitigate that. What discussions will the Department have with the Treasury to ensure that airports such as Newcastle can continue to play a vital role in international trade?
Such imbalances are an inevitable consequence of devolution, for which the hon. Lady’s party campaigned. I also have a regional airport in my constituency, and I can assure her that the ongoing discussions with the Treasury will be not just general but personal.
I call Julie Elliott. Not here.
Free Trade Agreement: USA
The United States is our single largest export market, accounting for £100 billion-worth of UK exports. As the Prime Minister said, the UK and US are, and will remain, strong and close partners on trade, security and defence. We cannot negotiate and conclude trade deals while we are a member of the EU, but we can discuss our current and future trading relationships. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Lord Price and I have all visited the US since taking office. We look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump to ensure the continuing prosperity of our nations.
The excellent Minister is quite correct that the USA is our biggest single export market, although we have no trade deal with it. However, the current President said that we would at the “back of the queue” when it comes to a trade deal. In the discussions that the Minister will have in the US, does he think that President-elect Trump will put us at the back or the front of the line?
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the bilateral trading relationship and the investment relationship. Every day, 1 million Britons go to work for American companies here and 1 million Americans go to work for British companies in the United States. Not only are our exports to the US very strong, but they grew by 19% in the most recent year for which data are available. Of course we look forward to developing a stronger and more open trading relationship with the new President and the new Congress.
One of the main proponents of a future UK-US trade deal in Congress is Congressman Charlie Dent, who happens to be a very good friend of mine and of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). However, President-elect Trump was elected on an anti-globalisation mandate, so why does the Minister think the new President will put UK-US trade deals at the front of his agenda in a post-Brexit environment?
Over the summer, I met Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the co-authors of the Congress resolution calling for a future US-UK free trade agreement. We strongly welcome the support right the way across Congress on our future trade relationship with the United States. As for the President-elect, I suggest we wait to see his actions. He did say during different campaign events:
“Trade has big benefits, and I am in favour—totally in favour—of trade…Isolation is not an option. Only great and well-crafted trade deals”.
We look forward to working with him in the future.
What consideration has the Department given to the President-elect’s views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
In a very general sense, the UK remains supportive of trade deals, right the way across the globe, that reduce or remove trade barriers—tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers—to help facilitate the flow of international trade.
The TPP, which has just been mentioned, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been fraught with difficulties and concerns from the public, businesses and sectors. So what will the Minister do when negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the US to make sure that those issues do not derail that kind of deal?
The first thing to say is that TTIP is still on the table, and we have always been clear that the rights of Governments to regulate in the public interest will still be there in all these different trade deals. As the hon. Gentleman will know, TTIP has been debated in the Commons on at least five occasions, and the views of parliamentarians have been made clear. We will make sure that there will be no reduction in regulatory standards if TTIP comes to pass.
Trading Opportunities Abroad
The Department is working across the UK, as well as in both current and future export markets overseas, to help British businesses. We are helping them to export their goods and services, identify new export opportunities and win those export sales. We are doing this digitally, through the GREAT.gov.uk website, and in person, through our network of international trade advisers across the UK and through our overseas staff in 109 countries.
Businesses in my constituency do not always have the resources to explore export markets but are keen to maximise opportunities. What is the Department going to do to help those businesses, so that they can find more opportunities abroad?
May I refer my hon. Friend, who is a champion of businesses in her constituency, to the GREAT.gov.uk website? Although it has been going for only one month, 174,000 users have visited it, more than 6,000 users have already made use of our selling online overseas services and nearly 1,000 businesses have created a profile on our “Find a buyer” service. This was highlighted to all hon. Members when the Department sent out our MPs’ toolkit, so that all MPs can help their constituents to find new markets and raise their eyes to the horizon.
With only 5% of businesses trading directly with the EU, surely leaving the internal market will allow us to relieve the other 95% from the shackles of over-regulation? Will the Minister say a bit about the balance his Department is going to strike between inward and outward investment?
I thank a member of the Select Committee for his very wise question. It is a new approach by this Department to look equally at overseas direct investment for businesses looking to move overseas. This is incredibly important because it provides opportunities for many businesses to create new opportunities and new markets overseas. It is worth bearing in mind that, as British businesses invest overseas, they take with them skills and expertise, which can only help those developing economies to grow, thus creating even more opportunities for British businesses in further developed markets.
The Department for International Trade is currently recruiting some of the finest people known in this country to help us to develop that. I stress to the hon. Lady that this whole exercise is not just defined by one Department or by the Department for Exiting the European Union; every Department is working to help to maximise the assistance that we can give both to British businesses and to the entire economy.
Expanding UK global trade will mean that we need better connectivity within the UK. With that in mind, does the Minister agree that expanding Heathrow and adding more flights from Northern Ireland will enable more of our exporters in Northern Ireland to reach clients, particularly in new and emerging markets outside the EU?
I certainly agree that greater connectivity through airports is incredibly important for the whole country. However, I must stress that the details for such arrangements are for Ministers in the Department for Transport, so perhaps I can refer the hon. Gentleman to them.
Order. I am very conscious that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) had her question transferred to another Department, and I am sensitive to her plight. If she wishes to give the House the benefit of her thoughts, doubtless she will bob up and down during topical questions and we will all be grateful for that.
The Department for International Trade has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation through overseas direct investment to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU. Like the UK, my Department is open for business.
Will my right hon. Friend shed some light on the difference between our trade deficit with the EU and our trade deficit with the USA?
I am pleased to say that we do not have a trade deficit with the US; we have a trade surplus with the US. In fact, we send £100 billion of exports to the US a year, which is 20% of our total, with a £40 billion surplus. The US is responsible for 26% of all our inward investment, and we are responsible for 23% of outward investment to the US. It is a very, very interdependent relationship.
By insulting my wife’s taste in ties, the Secretary of State must await her reprimand, but she must wait in line because there are others who wish to reprimand him. The European Scrutiny Committee told off the Secretary of State for going to Brussels and agreeing the comprehensive economic trade agreement between the EU and Canada without first bringing it to the UK Parliament for scrutiny. He undertook to the Committee that he would bring CETA for debate in this House by the end of November, a deadline that he missed. The Committee then set a more generous deadline, but that deadline expired two days ago, on 13 December. Will he tell us whether he actually believes in taking back sovereignty from Brussels—does he or does he not? If he does, repeatedly denying the UK Parliament the right to properly scrutinise such an important trade agreement is a very odd way to go about it. Will he now commit to bring a debate and a vote to the Floor of the House before the European Parliament finally votes on CETA on 2 February?
May I very gently say to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), whom I hold in the highest esteem, that I hope, in due course, his PhD thesis will be published?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way before Christmas. We did not go against procedure. Owing to parliamentary timetable constraints, we could not offer a debate in the House before signalling political agreement on 18 October. We have committed, and continue to commit, to holding a full parliamentary debate on CETA as soon as possible, and we are working with business managers to arrange it. The European Parliament has now changed the date of the expected vote on the agreement to 2 February 2017, and we hope to have a debate well within that timetable.
I know that my hon. Friend takes a huge interest in Korea and his Korean community in Kingston. He knows that I visited Seoul, as did Lord Price, in September and saw for myself what natural allies we will be in the global future of free trade. I had excellent meetings with Samsung and with other interlocutors. We look forward to working very closely with South Korea in the future in developing free trading relationships, and I will make sure that my hon. Friend is very involved.
The Government take very seriously their environmental obligations and will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend is right. We have an extraordinarily good relationship with Israel, and we are the second biggest export market for Israel. Currently, we are governed by the association agreement that the EU has with Israel, and we are certainly keen to engage with Israel to make sure that in a post-Brexit world there is no disruption to the trade that we have.
I am sure that the Secretary of State is delighted to be back in the Cabinet, but does he agree that the 1 million jobs that will be put at risk if we leave the customs union matter more than his own career?
I repeat that the Government have made no decision yet in relation to the discussions and negotiations that we will have with the European Union. We have made no decision yet on the customs union. That will be part of the ongoing discussion and the Government will make decisions based on evidence.
I commend my hon. Friend on his work as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. As he will know, I was in his constituency on Friday looking at some technological innovation at DP World’s fantastic port facilities at the London Gateway. The UK has a long-established system that supports and therefore attracts the brightest minds at all stages of their careers. We will make sure that Britain is the global go-to nation for scientists, innovators and tech investors.
What steps is the Minister taking to include human rights expertise on UK trade delegations?
If I understood the hon. Lady’s question correctly, while we remain members of the European Union, of course we are party to all the EU agreements and all the human rights elements attached to those. With regard to the future, the UK has as strong a history as any in the EU of promoting and protecting human rights around the world, including in relation to trade.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The British Government absolutely support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestine state. We should continue to engage with those countries. I was in Israel not so long ago, but I also visited Ministers in Palestine. We are very keen to engage with both Israel and Palestine.
A recent parliamentary question revealed that the involvement of Scottish companies in the recent trade visit by the Prime Minister to India was very limited. What extra effort can the Secretary of State make to ensure that Scottish companies are better represented by the UK to support them in exporting into new international markets?
We have repeatedly said that this Department is open to all businesses in the United Kingdom when it comes to seeking our support for exports, and I hope that the Scottish Government will encourage businesses in Scotland to work with the Department for International Trade, so that we can maximise that. We have made that offer, and we hope that they will take it up.
We have repeatedly set out our worries about the slowdown in the growth of global trade. That has implications across the globe. It is worth making the general point that we need more free trade because it increases global prosperity. Increasing global prosperity leads to greater political stability, and greater political stability leads to greater global security. It is not possible to disaggregate those different elements.
When the Secretary of State is lobbying for foreign inward investment, does he agree with the comments of his friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that a pound spent in Croydon has more value to this country than a pound spent in Strathclyde?
I bow to no one in this House in terms of my credentials as a Unionist, and I want to see prosperity spread to every part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Scottish Government’s economic policies will help to contribute to that.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please tell us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 19 December—General debate on exiting the European Union and science and research.
Tuesday 20 December—General debate on leasehold and commonhold reform followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
The business for the week commencing 9 January will include:
Monday 9 January—Remaining stages of the Technical and Further Education Bill.
Tuesday 10 January—Remaining stages of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill.
Wednesday 11 January—Opposition day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate, or debates, on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 12 January—Debate on a motion on Yemen followed by debate on a motion relating to the security and political situation in the African great lakes region. Both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 January—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 16 January will include:
Monday 16 January—Second Reading of the National Citizen Service Bill [Lords].
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 12 January will be:
Thursday 12 January—Debate on the fourth report from the Justice Committee on restorative justice followed by general debate on the future of the UK maritime industry. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Liaison and Backbench Business Committees.
As this is the last exchange at business questions ahead of the recess, may I conclude by wishing a happy, peaceful and restful Christmas recess not just to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, but more particularly to the staff of the House in all departments?
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
May I press the Leader of the House yet again for the date of the summer recess? People are absolutely desperate to print those little calendars. We do need that date.
May I also ask the Leader of the House for a date for the restoration and renewal report? I understand that a date has been floating around—people have mentioned it to me in passing. Can he enlighten all of us and perhaps let me know whether the resolution that is to be put before the House on this issue will be in the form of votable motions, whether all three options will be put to the House and whether Members can table further resolutions?
When will the Bus Services Bill arrive? It has the flashing sign, “Due”, but it has been due for a year now. It would be quite helpful to know that.
Did you know, Mr Speaker, that 21 years ago today—no, not “Sgt. Pepper”—European leaders announced that their new currency would be known as the euro? It was a Tory Government who took us into the European exchange rate mechanism—and out again—but a Labour Government who defined the five economic tests before we joined the euro. That is why we will not give the Government a blank cheque on article 50; we want to see the framework for negotiating. We know the vital statistics following the referendum—52% leave, 48% remain, and 28% did not vote—so we need to find a way forward that encompasses everybody’s view.
To Labour Members, the position is clear: the UK voted to leave the EU, and our job is to ensure that we shape that exit. We need to shape the exit to ensure that jobs, the economy and living standards are our priorities; that trade and services with and to the EU are not damaged; and that we preserve all the good things about our place in the world, acting in concert with other countries to protect the vulnerable against bullies. Negotiating a good trade agreement will help the UK to negotiate with other countries to preserve the rights that were secured for our workforce, who have powered this economy through knowledge, skills and creativity by hand and by brain. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that between January and March there are discussions through the usual channels on a proper form for debate? Many Select Committees are producing reports. We do not want the public to be confused and we do not want to get into post-truth debates: we want a proper form of motion and proper recommendations. We need all that in order to shape the Government’s thinking before article 50 is triggered.
We need that debate because there is confusion in the Government. On Friday last week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said that he is “not interested” in transitional arrangements. On Monday in the Treasury Committee, the Chancellor said that the Government would likely seek a transitional deal in order to avoid disruption that would risk Britain’s “financial stability”. At PMQs the Prime Minister was very emphatic in saying that we are leaving the EU. Yet Downing Street says that it may consider EU associate citizenship that will allow people to travel and work in the EU, and presumably we need to offer reciprocal arrangements. May we have a statement on the correct position?
We need to look at the effect of leaving the EU on young people and to debate how these policies will affect them, because 75% of those aged between 18 and 24 voted to remain. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that exiting the EU will herald the biggest pay squeeze for 70 years, with younger people hardest hit. Since 2007, the median income for those aged 22 to 30 has dropped by 7%. Inflation is already going up, and the cost of food and other necessities is rising. Will the Government look at implementing the real living wage based on the cost of living, which is £8.45 per hour, or £9.75 in London. That is not the Government’s living wage of £7.50, which will come in in April 2017?
At PMQs, many right hon. and hon. Members mentioned the music single for Jo Cox. Let me place on record my thanks to MP4, who did a fantastic job of organising and playing on it: my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). Others who took part included Ian Cawsey and Mary Macleod, formerly of this House, who came back to sing, Steve Harley, KT Tunstall, the brilliant community choir, members of the Royal Opera House, and many colleagues. Jo’s family will have to face their first Christmas without her.
Many Members in all parts of the House are facing hostility. They have had to endure court cases. They have to deal with all this with courage. Will the Leader of the House and other Members try, on a cross-party basis, to find out the nature of and evidence for what is happening to our colleagues, because it is huge, and encourage them to report it. Perhaps we could have a streamlined way of ensuring that this matter is dealt with? Will he also look at what is happening when Members agree a package to keep their offices secure, because apparently they are not being implemented?
I do not know what the Leader of the House will give the Prime Minister for Christmas, but may I suggest a couple of books? The first is the autobiography of the former Prime Minister, John Major, in which he writes:
“Calling three of my colleagues, or a number of my colleagues”
a very non-parliamentary word
“was absolutely unforgivable. My only excuse is that it was true.”
The second is “Team of Rivals”, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet, three of whom had previously run against him.
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I wish you, your family and your office, the Leader of the House, his suave deputy and those in his office, the Clerks, the Doorkeepers and everyone who has made me so welcome, from the cleaning and catering staff, to the postal workers, and all right hon. and hon. Members a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?
I thank the hon. Lady for her personal good wishes. The thoughts and prayers of everybody in the House will be with Jo Cox’s family at this time. I also salute, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, what MP4 and other hon. Members on both sides of the House did to contribute to the recently released download.
The hon. Lady asked about the serious issue of the threats and abuse that a number of hon. Members in different political parties have been receiving. I and the House authorities take that very seriously. She will understand that we do not usually talk about such security matters in detail in the Chamber, but the Chairman of Ways and Means and I recently sent a letter to all Members of the House, alerting them to the existence of a dedicated police hotline to which any such threats should be reported. Certainly, both the Chairman of Ways and Means and I would want to know of any evidence or suggestion that a local police force was not taking such threats seriously. We would take the appropriate steps were we to receive such information. Similarly, if there is evidence that necessary security improvements to Members’ homes and offices are being held up on unreasonable grounds, I would certainly be willing, as would the Chairman of Ways and Means, to try to make sure that things were sorted out rapidly.
Turning to the policy points that the hon. Lady raised, I will try to give the summer recess dates as soon as possible, but she will appreciate that, in line with precedent, it has not been the custom for any Government to announce summer recess dates quite this early in the parliamentary year. Similarly, I hope to be able to satisfy as soon as possible her appetite for dates both for the report on the renewal and restoration of the House and for the Commons proceedings on the Bus Services Bill.
The hon. Lady might have noted in her comments on the EU that it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major, who ensured that this country had the opt-out from the euro in the first place and that without his efforts that choice would not have been available to the United Kingdom.
On EU exit, I welcome the hon. Lady’s statement on Labour’s position, but I have to say that it is at odds with what her party’s own spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said just over a fortnight ago when he stated that we need to “keep our options open” on a second referendum. If we are to take the Labour party’s approach seriously, it has to accept that whichever side we campaigned on and supported during the referendum, and whether we agreed or disagreed with the verdict of the public, this was a decision that the electorate was democratically entitled to take and which almost all of us in the House agreed, in supporting the European Union Referendum Bill, should be delegated from Parliament to the voters of the United Kingdom to decide finally.
I think that the hon. Lady’s appetite for debates on the European Union will be more than sated in the new year. I also point out that there are more than 30 different Select Committee inquiries taking place in this House and in the House of Lords into various aspects of our departure from the European Union. She is right to say, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, that it is in our interests and in the interests of the other 27 members of the European Union to secure a negotiation that provides for as amicable a divorce as possible, because although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. A strong, productive, mutually beneficial relationship with the EU27 will be important both for the prosperity and security of all 28 countries and for effective co-operation, on an international scale, to deal with such challenges as large-scale migration from Africa and the threat from international terrorism, which will be with us, I am afraid, for a long time into the future.
The hon. Lady chided the Government about our approach to the living wage, but I have to say that we followed the advice of the Low Pay Commission in the recent increase in the national living wage. I note, too, that the Resolution Foundation, which is not always an unalloyed champion of Government policy, has said that 2016 has marked the best year ever for low-paid workers because of the Government’s commitment to the national living wage.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked me about Christmas presents. For some unaccountable reason, she omitted to mention that in the Opposition’s campaign grid for this week, tomorrow is marked down as the day for Christmas jumpers. That combination of garish design, clashing colours and a general sense of naffness rather summarises where the shadow Cabinet is.
Over the last three weeks or so, Chelmsford commuters travelling into London by train have had nightmare journeys because of broken-down trains, faulty tracks and other problems. Would my right hon. Friend be able to arrange for a statement by a Transport Minister on what can be done to stop such inefficient service provision, or would my right hon. Friend advise me that I ought to seek to catch Mr Speaker’s eye next Tuesday afternoon to contribute to the Adjournment debate before the recess?
For as long as I have been in the House, I have known that my right hon. Friend is the most formidable champion of commuters from Cheltenham—[Hon. Members: “Chelmsford!”] I beg his pardon as well as yours, Mr Speaker—from Chelmsford. The Christmas spirit is getting to me.
There is an important message here for the franchise holder and the railway workers, who together have to make that line operate, that the interests of the travelling public should be first and foremost in their priorities at all times. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr Speaker, Transport Ministers will be only too happy to respond to him.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing what there is of business next week; I thought for a minute that he was trying to talk out business questions. It is good to see a Leader of the House minus the lederhosen. Mr Speaker, may I take the opportunity to wish you and your family a merry Christmas? I extend that to the Leader of the House and, of course, to the staff of the House, who have looked after us in their usual exemplary fashion. I think we all pay tribute to them for that. Perhaps we should have a debate about 2016, and vow never to have another year quite like it, with the loss of so many of our stars and artists, as well as the election of Donald Trump in the States and this accidental, clueless Tory Brexit. Shall we learn a lesson from 2016 and vow never to go back there again?
Today’s piece of Tory Brexit cluelessness comes courtesy of our man in Brussels. The UK ambassador to the EU has warned Ministers that it might take 10 years to get a trade deal with our European partners, and that some European capitals might never ratify Brexit, but apparently we are not to worry, because this only reflects the views of the 27 nations we are supposed to be negotiating with. Only in the weird world of Tory Brexit cluelessness does that make it all right, then.
With the Christmas recess in a few days’ time, it might be weeks before we have an opportunity to debate the deteriorating situation in Aleppo, so I appeal to the Leader of the House for at least a statement from the Foreign Secretary to keep us updated before we rise for the recess on Tuesday.
Lastly, I know the whole House has engaged with trying to get the single for the Jo Cox Foundation to No. 1 for Christmas. On behalf of MP4, may I say that we are really grateful to everybody throughout the House for ensuring that we do that? I am sure that the Leader of the House would join me in thanking Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for waiving the royalties on their “You can’t always get what you want”, ensuring that even more money will go to the Jo Cox Foundation.
I happily endorse the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for waiving their royalties.
I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the hon. Gentleman’s wish for a further statement on Aleppo next week. I think the House is united in a sense of horror at what civilians there are having to endure. I know that Foreign Office Ministers are normally very keen to ensure that the House is informed as soon as possible about recent developments.
In my previous ministerial role, I worked with Ivan Rogers for a number of years. He is a formidable public servant who always reports to British Ministers in successive Governments what he picks up and what is said to him by various people in different Governments and EU institutions. It may be hard for you to believe, Mr Speaker, but in some countries people in the same Government say slightly different things about the future of Europe; that is not that unusual. The truth is that we have not set out the Government’s objectives in the negotiation to our 27 colleagues, nor have they yet met to hammer out their mandate for their appointed negotiators, so the speculation about how long the negotiations will take seems to me to be remarkably premature. If there is good will and strong political intent, I am confident that an amicable and good negotiation can lead to an agreement in which all sides can take pleasure.
As we approach the time of the year at which there was no room at the inn for Jesus to be born in, may we have an early debate on the position facing many of our constituents who are moving into new shared ownership properties? Many of my constituents exchanged contracts in early September, but the completion date has been rolled forward endlessly. They are being chased by their current landlords, and some of them have been taken to court. Some of them are pregnant and expecting to have children shortly, and they do not know when they can move in. To make matters worse, I understand that some of the developers are concentrating on finishing off their own properties first, leaving the shared ownership tenants totally at their mercy when it comes to when they will be able to move into their new homes.
I am concerned about what my hon. Friend says about the case in his constituency. The Government are right to press forward with an ambitious programme of new home building for all types of tenure, but we need to be very clear that where sites have planning permission, developers have a responsibility to move ahead as quickly as possible. The most important step on shared ownership is for developers and authorities to work closely together at a local level to ensure, once permission is granted, that work on building out such sites is taken forward as rapidly as possible. As my hon. Friend knows, we are taking action through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to remove some of the causes of unnecessary delays to development, but I hope that local councils will use their powers—both through setting conditions on development, and through the negotiation of section 106 planning agreements—to ensure the rapid delivery of shared ownership properties alongside properties for sale.
Mr Speaker, may I join other right hon. and hon. Members in wishing you, the Leader of the House, all right hon. and hon. Members of the House, the staff of the House and our constituents a very happy Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful new year?
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. A number of hon. Members have asked me why we have not had a debate about Yemen. I am very glad that the Leader of the House has announced that, following our deliberations, it is scheduled for 12 January, along with a general debate about the African great lakes region. I have been asked about Yemen an awful lot. May I also thank the Leader of the House for his generous co-operation since he came to office, which has helped the Backbench Business Committee to plan ahead?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his Christmas wishes and his final remarks. It is always a juggling act to ensure that adequate time is available for what different Members in different parts of the House want to see debated, but we always do our utmost to accommodate the Backbench Business Committee.
Today, the sustainability and transformation plan for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire has been published. There is a lot of good common sense in it, but there is also the statement that there needs to be consideration of whether to move from three A&E sites to two and an urgent care centre. It is clear from the demand and the history in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire that all three A&E sites at Stoke, Stafford and Burton are required. May we have a debate on this issue urgently, because it is vital that our constituents know that their interests are being properly considered?
As always, my hon. Friend will be trenchant in defending the interests of his constituents. He is right that sustainability and transformation plans must not only be locally tailored, but deliver services that are of good quality and sustainable for the future of their locality. Any change has to meet the four tests that have been set out. It must have support from GP commissioners, be based on clinical evidence, demonstrate public and patient engagement, and consider patient choice. The local authority health overview and scrutiny committee of any locality has the right to object to a planned service change and refer it to the Secretary of State for a decision.
I know that the timing of statements is never easy, but given the importance of the local government settlement for places such as Birmingham, which are virtually bankrupt, and the fact that many of us will be serving on Public Bill Committees from 11.30 am today, may I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the combined impact of social care, education and local government funding decision on towns and cities that are not run by Conservative administrations?
I do not want to pre-empt what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is going to say in his statement later today, but there is an opportunity next Tuesday in the Adjournment debate to raise precisely the kind of local city or county-specific issues that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
Rothley post office in my constituency closed recently and moved its services to a local shop, despite strong local opposition. It appears from local reports that promises about services that were made during the consultation are not being fully adhered to by the Post Office. May we have a debate on the impact on rural communities of changes to the Post Office branch network and, in particular, on the importance of the Post Office adhering to assurances that it gives during consultations?
I would be concerned to hear that the Post Office was going back on previously accepted positions. My hon. Friend may wish to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, in the Adjournment debate next Tuesday to raise his constituency concerns. The Post Office operates as an independent business, and the Government do not interfere in day-to-day operational responsibilities, but the Post Office has a responsibility to carry out proper consultation locally and seek feedback from people. I hope that my hon. Friend will bring his constituents’ concerns directly to the attention of senior managers in the Post Office.
Order. Before I call the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), I should inform the House that he received the Coppieters award last night in Brussels. I feel sure that the House will want to know that the Coppieters awards are an initiative of the Centre Maurits Coppieters to honour individuals and organisations that stand out in defence of cultural and linguistic diversity, intercultural dialogue, self-determination, the rights of minorities, peace, democracy and a united Europe. I hope that, in the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman deservedly feels and will sound even more chipper than usual.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and congratulations on the pronunciation, which displayed all your customary savoir faire—a quality also required of Leaders of the House. May we therefore have a brief statement now to show that the Leader of the House, alone in the Government, understands the difference between access to the single market, which just about everybody in the world has, and membership of the single market, which is an economic advantage that only 500 million people on this planet have just now? How many answers to business questions does the Leader of the House believe that he can cram into the 10 years that Sir Ivan Rogers estimates it will take to complete trade negotiations?
I sometimes think that the right hon. Gentleman wants to continue debating these matters indefinitely, rather than reach a decision and a good outcome for this country. However, may I genuinely congratulate him on his award? In response to his points about the single market, one thing I learned in my six years as Europe Minister is that none of the four freedoms that are discussed in the context of the single market is unqualified in its operation. For example, the single market in goods is much more developed at EU level than the single market in services. To present “in or out of the single market” in the binary fashion of the right hon. Gentleman does not do justice to the complexity of the negotiation ahead of us. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she wants the maximum access for UK companies to the European single market, the greatest possible freedom for UK companies to operate within that market, and reciprocal rights for EU companies here.
May we please have a debate on essential services? That would give me and hon. Members of all parties the opportunity to thank and pay tribute to our armed forces, who are serving in this country and around the world, the police, our NHS staff, care sector workers, prison officers, energy sector workers, security staff, caretakers, transport workers, broadcasters and the many others who will have to work over the Christmas period.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Many of us will know of constituents or family members working in the health service, the police, the Army and other key public services, who will be on duty over the Christmas period. We want to wish them and their families well, and to say a profound “thank you” to them for their continuing service.
Having spent time on the police parliamentary scheme and seen close up the excellent work that our police officers do up and down the country, I am concerned that the Government now plan to make being a police officer a graduate entry occupation. There are a number of excellent police officers who do not have degrees, especially the bobby on the beat. May we have a statement from the Government about their plans in that regard, please?
If the hon. Lady looks at what has been proposed by the College of Policing, she will see that the degree requirement is one of three options it has suggested for consideration; another is an apprenticeship scheme to provide enhanced education and training for police officers after recruitment. The police service itself believes it needs to address the point that we ask police officers—even the most junior new constables—to make very sensitive decisions on our behalf, including whether to initiate a process that may lead to a family’s children being taken into local authority care and whether a person should be physically restrained because they represent a threat. It is right that police officers should have expertise and training so that they are capable of taking those decisions wisely. The College of Policing is seeking to ensure that.
Residents in King’s Cliffe are very concerned about the lack of post office facilities in the village and the amount of time it has been taking to try to get those facilities reopened. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging Post Office Ltd to expedite the matter and get those services reopened as an early Christmas present for my constituents? May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) in calling for a debate on this next week?
I know that my hon. Friend will continue to champion the interests of his constituents in securing the reopening of local post office services. As I said earlier, the Government do not intervene in the day-to-day business decisions of the Post Office, but I am sure that its senior management will have heard what he has said.
We learned about 12 hours after the EU vote that the £350 million pledge was arrant nonsense, so will the Leader of the House commit to a debate in Government time on the real impact of the EU on the health service, and the issues we need to consider regarding Brexit?
There will be many opportunities when we return in January for every aspect of our departure from the European Union to be debated in full, and for Ministers from all relevant Departments to be questioned.
Tomorrow is Local Charities Day. We all have very good local charities in our constituencies. One of mine is Crazy Hats, run by Glennis Hooper and her group of dedicated volunteers, who have raised more than £2 million through people wearing crazy hats. They spend that money on breast cancer care in Northamptonshire. Will the Leader of the House tell us how those charities can be further supported?
Order. I have indulged the hon. Gentleman for the duration of his question, but I am glad that he has now taken that hat off. I sincerely hope he will not put it on again—preferably not at any time, but certainly not in the Chamber.
I thought for one moment that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) was auditioning for a role in some remake of the film “Elf”. The Chancellor has demonstrated through improvements in the gift aid scheme that the Government are keen to provide greater opportunities for small local charities to benefit from donations. Legislation going through Parliament at the moment will make further concessions to help such charities. We will all want to celebrate tomorrow the work that so many thousands of local charities do in every constituency in this country.
Even though you were not able to call me during International Trade questions, Mr Speaker, may I wish you a very happy Christmas? I especially want to do so because at one stage it looked like the House of Commons children’s Christmas party would not happen, and I believe that you played a role in making sure that it did. We had a lovely party on Tuesday. All the kids had a great time, as did the parents and grandparents, so thank you for that.
Before I came here today I consulted my constituents about the neglected issues that they want us to go back to in the new year. They had three. The first was of course Aleppo, that heartrending, disgraceful blot on our civilised world. The second was the fact that we are likely to lose our A&E hospital in Huddersfield. The third was that we are neglecting the people who make things in our country, our manufacturers; in International Trade questions, the M-word was hardly spoken. Those are my constituents’ three priorities. May we have debates on them early in January? And happy Christmas, everyone.
I shall look for opportunities to provide debates on all those important subjects. As I said earlier, sustainability and transformation plans must meet four specific criteria. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority has the right to challenge and refer to the Secretary of State any change to services to which it objects.
Aleppo has already been debated and been the subject of questions this week, but I do not think there is any Member who does not share the hon. Gentleman’s horror at what we have seen. It is a matter of the utmost regret—that is putting it too mildly—that Russia, sometimes in alliance with other countries, has consistently vetoed Security Council resolutions designed to ensure a ceasefire and the peaceful evacuation of civilians from affected areas.
On manufacturing, support for it and the upgrading of our skills base so that we can compete internationally in high-value manufacturing are core elements of the Government’s economic and industrial strategy.
At both of the recent Women and Equalities questions, the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), committed to publishing the consultation document on caste discrimination legislation. That will give British Hindus the opportunity to ensure that this ill-thought-out, divisive and unnecessary legislation is removed from the statute book. Time is short. There are only three more days of parliamentary time before the end of the year, when the release of the consultation has been promised. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ensure that we have a statement to the House on the consultation document before Parliament rises, so that British Hindus have the optimal opportunity to respond to it?
I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to my hon. Friend’s concern.
Yesterday, as chair of the all-party kidney group, I hosted, with the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), a symposium of leading experts on kidney disease. One thing that shocked us was that a quarter of people on dialysis have diabetes. Early monitoring of diabetic kidneys for renal failure would make a huge difference to those who go on to need dialysis and transplantation. May we have a debate on how we join up that knowledge, so that through early diagnosis of diabetes we can prevent people needing dialysis and transplants?
The hon. Lady makes a very interesting and important point. That might be a subject for a Backbench Business Committee debate, but I will make sure that her point is drawn to the attention of Health Ministers.
Earlier this week the finals of the Great British High Street awards took place. Sea View Street in Cleethorpes was one of the finalists, winning a silver in one of the categories. The street is a collection of independent retailers. May we have a debate on the role of independent retailers and the contribution that they make to our communities and to the economy?
I think we all accept that with the growth of online sales all retailers, but in particular small high street shops, face a challenging environment. That makes it all the more welcome that Sea View Street in Cleethorpes has won this award. I would like to add my congratulations to all the retailers there who have clearly worked extremely hard, and in an innovative fashion, to ensure they still pull in customers.
Last week, the Leader of the House failed to tell me how far it was from Castlemilk to Newlands, which I am surprised about, given that when the Department for Work and Pensions calculated the distance, it did not use any of the great resources at its fingertips; instead, it used Google Maps. That is how it calculated its decision to close eight of Glasgow’s 16 jobcentres. Here we are, however, eight days on from the announcement, and still the consultation is not on the DWP website—so that is at least eight days by which it will have to extend the consultation. Will the right hon. Gentleman help me to facilitate getting it put on the website today, and will he convey our frustration to Ministers at the way they have handled this whole sorry affair?
The central point is that there will no change in the level of service that jobcentres offer people in Glasgow. The DWP is merging a number of smaller offices into bigger sites as leases come to an end so that we can save taxpayers, including Scottish taxpayers, money without changing the service offered. The Government have already consulted on the plans, but there will be further consultation in areas where people have to travel more than three miles or for longer than 20 minutes to reach a jobcentre.
May we have a debate on horse-racing, particularly the bravery of jockeys? Horse-racing is undoubtedly the finest sport there is and plays an important part in many communities’ local economies, but it would not be possible without jockeys and their bravery. One in 10 jump jockey rides ends in a fall. Freddy Tylicki, a flat jockey, recently suffered life-changing injuries from a fall on the flat, and Mark Enright recently spoke about the mental health problems that he and other jockeys have faced, particularly in keeping their weight down to ride horses. Such a debate would enable us to praise those jockeys, the British Horseracing Authority and the Professional Jockeys Association. Will the Leader of the House grant such a debate and see if the Government can help the horse-racing industry to tackle these matters?
Millions of people in this country enjoy horse-racing in all its forms and admire the guts and determination of jockeys, and it is a very risky occupation, but, as I am sure my hon. Friend will acknowledge, it is one for which those jockeys volunteer; they accept the sort of devastating risks he describes and, I think, derive huge pleasure and accomplishment from it.
I ask that the Leader of the House offer up a feast for Members on both sides of the House: the Transport Secretary at the Dispatch Box to answer for the chaos that our constituents have been suffering on the railways. It would give him an opportunity to explain why he refused, on political grounds, to give suburban services to the Mayor of London, which is something now supported by businesses in London, and to listen to what Members think about his decision.
I recall my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary answering hon. Members’ questions about this within the last two weeks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, in his work on the railways, might drop a line to ASLEF inquiring why it has so far refused to respond to the Transport Secretary’s invitation to come to talks to try to end this devastating strike, which is plaguing so many commuters in the south of England.
May we please have a debate on the implementation of personal independence payments? I have been contacted by constituents with serious long-term health issues who were previously in receipt of disability living allowance but who have been assessed with low scores in relation to PIP. I am concerned that some of the most vulnerable in our society are being cast aside by a system that is not working as it should.
As the hon. Lady knows, personal independence payments are designed to compensate people for the additional living costs incurred as a result of their disability. If she knows of cases where she believes there to be a systemic problem with how awards are assessed, she is certainly welcome to draw them to my attention, and I will pass them on to the relevant Ministers, but it is surely right for the Government to concentrate on enabling disabled people who wish to work to find employment, as record numbers are now doing, while also helping people with those additional costs.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the availability of high-cost drugs for children with rare medical conditions? A young child in my constituency suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but a consultation is taking place about the withdrawal of the drug Sarepta, which has dramatically improved his life. I am sure there are many other such conditions, of which I am not aware, for which such drugs may or may not be available to families. This is a really urgent matter that affects many children and others across our country. The Leader of the House needs to talk to Ministers in the Department of Health to ask them to come to this House to discuss and debate with us the availability of funding for such high-cost drugs.
If the hon. Gentleman sends me a note about the particular constituency case, I will pass it on to the Health Secretary. As he will understand, the general principle to which we and the previous Labour Government adhered is that decisions about the availability of drugs to treat unusual conditions should be determined either by NICE nationally or by local commissioners, looking always at the clinical effectiveness of those drugs. I do not think it would be right to go back to a system in which Ministers, perhaps influenced by the political voices of whichever campaign shouted the loudest, took these decisions, instead of the expert bodies.
May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the World Health Organisation protocol to eliminate the illicit trade in tobacco products? In June, in a response to a Lords parliamentary question, we learned that the Government are fully committed to ratification of the protocol, and will ratify once they are satisfied that legislation is in place to require the licensing of tobacco machinery. However, growth in this criminal trade continues to threaten public health and results in a loss of Government revenue. Is it not high time that we had an update?
It strikes me that there will be an excellent opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise this issue in questions to the Health Secretary next Tuesday.
Sadly, in July, a constituent’s teenage daughter needed to seek acute mental health care on an in-patient basis. The nearest available bed was in Colchester—an eight-hour round trip by car, causing her family untold hardship, both emotionally and financially. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether this is what his Government mean by “parity of esteem”? I hope he agrees with me that owing to the seriousness of this issue, we need an urgent debate.
We have not only legislated to give mental and physical health equal priority in law, but the Government have introduced the first ever access and waiting standards for mental health services, which never existed under previous Administrations. Some 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with 2010—an increase of 40%—and we are investing more taxpayers’ money in mental health than ever before. Yes, there is more to be done—I do not deny that for an instant—but I think this Government have shown greater determination than any of their predecessors in moving forward to improve the quality of mental health services available to our constituents.
May we have a debate on the importance of accessibility for disabled people to local sportsgrounds and amenities? I recently had an inspirational meeting with East Kilbride youth disability sports club, many of whose members, I am delighted to inform the House, will be taking part in the special Olympics next year. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is an important issue, and that we require access for all to maximise potential and should focus on ability rather than disability?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Wearing my hat as the Member whose constituency includes Stoke Mandeville, I think that sport has shown that it can provide one of the best means available for people with disabilities of all kinds to show that they can achieve great things and have those achievements celebrated by the public as a whole. I hope all sports governing bodies and the management of stadiums and other premises will pay close attention to the hon. Lady’s words.
The Drive for Justice campaign is being led by Sheffield’s The Star and its sister publications, looking at sentences for causing death by dangerous driving. One mother pointed out that the drunken woman who had murdered her 15-year-old son had served only one year in prison, while she described herself as serving “a life sentence”. May we have an urgent debate on sentencing guidelines for causing death by dangerous driving?
The next Transport questions are not until 12 January, but the hon. Lady will know that the Government have recently put out to public consultation proposed increases to the severity of sentences for dangerous driving. I hope she and her constituents will avail themselves of the opportunity to make their voices heard during that consultation.
At the weekend, there were newspaper reports that the Home Office has stopped transfers to the UK of unaccompanied minors registered in the Calais camp. Most worryingly, there were reports that children awaiting transfer in France are going missing and that children who have come to the UK under the schemes operated by the British Government have gone missing after their arrival. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary before Christmas updating the House on the operation of the scheme under both the Dublin system and the Dubs amendment?
I will draw the hon. and learned Lady’s request to the Home Secretary’s attention. The Home Office continues to work very closely with the French authorities to ensure that we identify the most vulnerable children and give them priority in our resettlement plans. That is what was envisaged under Lord Dubs’ amendment to the recent legislation, and the Government remain committed to that policy.
According to Department for Work and Pensions figures released yesterday, more than 120,000 disabled people have had their benefits severely downgraded despite living with chronic progressive conditions. So following the earlier question, may we have a debate on how reassessments from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment have been conducted?
I will draw the hon. Lady’s concern to the attention of the Work and Pensions Secretary, but the principle is surely right, as my ministerial colleagues have announced, that people who are suffering from long-term, often degenerative, medical conditions or disabilities should be exempt from reassessments, and people with disabilities and medical conditions who are capable of returning to work of some kind, helping to restore to them the dignity that goes with working, should be supported in doing that.
This is the third Christmas for which six veterans, including my constituent Billy Irving, will be stuck in jail in India awaiting yet another judgment. Will the Leader of the House join me in making a new year resolution to do everything in his power to bring these innocent men home, and may we have a statement on what the Government will do to make sure that that happens?
As the hon. Lady knows, those men are being held under the Indian judicial system. Although we cannot give orders to another country about how it operates its judicial system, the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent and the other men being detained has frequently been raised by Ministers when speaking to their Indian counterparts, and continues to be raised by our high commissioner in New Delhi. We will continue to make such representations.
Instead of the traditional Adjournment debate, perhaps Tuesday’s debate could be on the substantive motion, in tribute to our fallen colleague Jo Cox, that this House believes we have more in common than that which divides us. If we did have such a debate, that would enable us to highlight wonderful gestures like that of the bookmaker William Hill, which has said this morning that it will donate all the money staked on the Friends of Jo Cox single becoming Christmas No. 1 and in addition make a £5,000 donation to the Jo Cox Foundation. Does the Leader of the House agree it would be a wonderful gesture if all the other major bookmakers matched William Hill’s generosity?
I pay tribute to the action of William Hill. It has set a precedent that others might indeed wish to look at closely.
Last week’s announcement of 270 job losses at the Doosan Babcock facility in Renfrew may herald the end of 121 years of production and industrial heritage, so may we have a debate on advanced manufacturing and what we can do to protect jobs in that sector, particularly in light of the Government’s plans to leave the biggest single market in the world?
Any job losses of the type that the hon. Gentleman has described are to be regretted, but he will surely welcome the fact that unemployment in Scotland has fallen significantly since this Government took office and that more people are in work in the United Kingdom today than ever before.
Can the Leader of the House say when the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill will get its money resolution and move into Committee? If he cannot, will he say why?
As I said at business questions last week, the Bill’s promoter did not publish it until three days before its Second Reading was due to be debated. No estimate or description of costs was provided with the Bill, and the Government are now having to undertake that analytical work.
May we have a debate in Government time or a statement on the unacceptable delays in tier 1 visa tribunals? One constituent has been waiting since November 2015 for an appeal on a visa for his wife, another has been waiting since February 2016 and a third is facing eviction from his home along with his wife and four children. Will the Leader of the House please help my constituents?
It is clearly of concern to hear about the case history that the hon. Lady describes. If she will let me have the details, I will pass them on to the Justice Secretary.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the “Bartend against Bombs” campaign? It was started in Chester by my constituents Calum Adams and Ben Iles and involves low-paid bar and hospitality staff giving a large proportion of their gratuities to charities that support children. It has now been rolled out across the country, making thousands of pounds in just a couple of years. In view of my constituents’ marvellous success, now would be a good time to debate about and celebrate voluntary and charitable giving.
I give my unreserved congratulations to those bartenders in Chester. I understand that they have raised more than £7,000 over the past year for aid in Syria. We rightly take pride in the fact that the UK has pledged £2.3 billion of taxpayers’ money to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Syria, but the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have demonstrated that that sense of solidarity with the suffering people of Syria is felt widely and in every part of this country.
I recently visited the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum in my constituency. It is an excellent business that employs many EU nationals, but they are extremely concerned about their future following the vote in June. Given the position in which the Government find themselves with their wrongheaded policy, will they reflect on that concern over the Christmas period and come back with a statement in the new year to give certainty to those employees, who make such a contribution to our society?
On the behalf of the Government, I will say very clearly that people from other EU countries who have come here lawfully in order to work, who are obeying the law and paying their taxes, are contributing to our society. The Prime Minister has made it clear on many occasions that we want an early agreement on a deal that enables those EU nationals already in this country to know that their rights here are secure and, equally, that UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU will have their rights respected on the same basis.
As the great Tory party icon Ebenezer Scrooge saw the error of his ways at this time of year, may we have a statement or debate in the new year on building a social security system based on the needs of the most vulnerable and poorest in our society? Does the Leader of the House agree that initiatives such as the Govan community toy bank, which has provided toys to more than 700 families over the last two years, brings into focus why such a change in social security, and our economy, is necessary?
The truth is that whatever system of social security we have in this country, voluntary initiatives such as the Govan toy bank will have a significant additional role to play. We cannot shy away from the fact that we need to have a welfare system in the United Kingdom that is fair both to those people who are genuinely in need and to taxpayers, especially taxpayers who work hard on modest wages to pay for that social security system.
I call Brendan O’Hara.
During Monday’s Defence questions, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) why the national shipbuilding strategy had not yet been published. In her reply, she accused me of
“complaining about the lack of publication of a report that has been published”.—[Official Report, 12 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 485.]
May we have a Government statement, preferably right now, to confirm for my benefit, the country’s benefit, the benefit of this House and, most importantly, the benefit of the Under-Secretary that Sir John Parker’s report is not the national shipbuilding strategy, and that that strategy has not been published and indeed will not be published until the spring of next year?
At the end of the question, the hon. Gentleman was replaying a timetable that I had given him in the past at this Dispatch Box. He is right to say that the Parker report has presented the Government with some very far-reaching recommendations for the future of our shipbuilding industry. The hon. Gentleman and his friends would have been the first to criticise us had Ministers rushed to the Dispatch Box abruptly after the publication of the report, rather than first giving it the serious consideration it needs.
I call Alan Brown. [Interruption.]
It appears my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) does not want to hear what I have to say—it is his loss.
After the autumn statement, the Government made great play of the £23 billion investment fund, however a single budget line of £7 billion has been put back to 2021-22—that is beyond the scope of this Parliament. That budget line is called “long-term investment”, so will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining what that money is for, how a future Government can be held to account on it and why, if it really is for long-term investment, we are not making that investment right now?
It is sensible to have provision in a medium-term economic plan and obviously it will be for the Government to decide on and, if necessary, seek parliamentary approval for the details of spending within that overall envelope, when we have taken stock of where the economy is closer to that date. In talking about the autumn statement, I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have had the grace to acknowledge not only the £23 billion that the Chancellor has set aside for infrastructure, but the £800 million infrastructure bonus going to Scotland as a result of those decisions.
I have just been informed of a most remarkable, almost novel development in the House, namely that an hon. Member has beetled out of the Chamber and not asked his question on the ground that it had already been asked—that has never normally stopped Members! It has to be said that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) is a most unusual denizen of the House. Let me also say that I am most grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues.
Just before I call the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make his statement, I will just say this: I understand that a copy of the statement was provided to the Opposition spokesman only approximately 15 minutes ago, and that is, frankly, a discourtesy, not only to the Opposition, but to the House. It is also a departure from a very long-standing and almost invariably adhered to convention in this place. I must say to the Secretary of State, in all courtesy, that I had considered, in the circumstances, a brief suspension of the House, but after consultation and on reflection, I am persuaded, not least in the light of other business with which we have to deal today, that it is probably best for the House to press on. That said, this must not happen again.
Moreover, I very gently say to the Secretary of State one further thing: he inquired of my office earlier whether it would be acceptable for his statement to be of 15 minutes’ length rather than the normal 10, because he wished to provide the House with as much detail as possible. It is acceptable for him to do that on this occasion, but of course compensation must be granted to the Opposition spokesperson in terms of the length of his reply. All of that said, I nevertheless would like to wish the Secretary of State, the Opposition spokesman and of course all colleagues a very merry Christmas.
Local Government Finance Settlement
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on funding for local authorities next year.
First, let me wish you, Mr Speaker, a merry Christmas. I am sorry to hear that the statement arrived late for the Opposition—I understand from my office that it reached them at 11.15. That was not the intention, and I do apologise for it.
Local government accounts for almost a quarter of public spending and it is making a significant contribution to reducing Labour’s record-breaking budget deficit. Councils have dealt with this admirably. Public satisfaction with local services has been maintained. There is much that other parts of the public sector can learn from councillors across the country when it comes to delivering value for money, but no one is disguising that more can be done to improve efficiency and further transform services.
In last year’s spending review, we delivered a flat-cash settlement for local government. It was one that gives councils more than £200 billion to spend on services over the course of this Parliament. In February, we published an historic four-year offer for councils, providing the certainty that they need to plan ahead.
I am pleased to say that 97% of councils have taken up the offer and met our expectations of reform by publishing a long-term efficiency plan. That means that almost every council in England is now working with local partners in the NHS and other areas to translate this greater certainty into improved services and efficiency savings.
Today, my Department has published a consultation that confirms the second year of this four-year offer for councils. Core spending power figures have been made available in the Library of both Houses.
The added certainty provided by the four-year offer will increase stability for councils as we transition to a world where they retain 100% of locally raised taxes to fund local services. By 2020, we will see local councillors deciding how to fund local services using local money—true localism in action.
Meanwhile, stronger incentives to support local firms and local jobs may increase business rate revenue for local government as businesses expand. In the new year, we will introduce a Bill to provide the framework for the new system, with trials beginning later in the year. The March Budget announced that, in London and the devolution deal areas of Greater Manchester and Liverpool city region, there will be pilots of 100% business rates retention. I can confirm today that those authorities have reached agreements to begin rate retention pilots in 2017-18. I am pleased to say that they will be joined by authorities in the devolution deal areas of the west of England, Cornwall and the west midlands.
The new homes bonus is an important part of our commitment to reward communities and authorities that embrace ambitious house building plans. It also provides valuable income for councils seeking to grow their local economies, which they can then go on to spend as they see fit. Since its introduction in 2011, more than £6 billion has been paid to reward housing supply and more than 1.2 million homes have been delivered. But for all its successes, the system can be improved.
A year ago, we consulted on a number of possible reforms to the scheme. Having studied those results closely, I can confirm today that, from next year, we will introduce a national baseline for housing growth of 0.4%. Below that, the new homes bonus will not be paid. That will help to ensure that the money is used to reward additional housing rather than just normal growth.
From 2018-19, we will consider withholding new homes bonus payments from local authorities that are not planning effectively by making positive decisions on planning applications and delivering housing growth. To encourage more effective planning, we will also consider withholding payments for homes that are built following an appeal. A consultation on this will take place in due course.
We will implement our preferred option in the consultation, reducing the number of years for which payments are made from six years to five years in 2017-18 and to four years from 2018-19. This will release important funding for adult social care, recognising the demographic changes of an ageing population, as well as a growing population.
I am sure that all Members on both sides of this House agree on the need for action to meet the growing cost of caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Every year councils spend more than £14 billion on adult social care. It is by far the biggest cost pressure facing local government. The spending review put in place up to £3.5 billion of additional funding for adult social care by 2019-20, allowing local government to increase its spending on this service in real terms by the end of this Parliament, but more needs to be done. Over recent months we have listened to, heard and understood calls from across the board saying that funding is needed sooner in order to meet short-term pressures.
Today I can confirm that savings from reforms to the new homes bonus will be retained in full by local government to contribute towards adult social care costs. I can tell the House that we will use these funds to provide a new dedicated £240 million adult social care support grant in 2017-18, to be distributed fairly according to relative need. I can also confirm the indicative allocations of the improved better care fund that we published last year. The Department of Health will shortly be confirming allocations of the public health grant to councils for next year.
Last year we agreed to the request by many leaders in local government to introduce a social care council tax precept of 2% a year, guaranteed to be spent on adult social care. The precept puts money-raising powers into the hands of local leaders, who best understand the needs of their community and are best placed to respond. In recognition of the immediate challenges faced in the care market, we will now allow local councils to raise this funding sooner if they wish. Councils will be granted the flexibility to raise the precept by up to 3% next year and the year after. This will provide a further £208 million to spend on adult social care in 2017-18 and £444 million in 2018-19. These measures, together with the changes we have made to the new homes bonus, will make almost £900 million of additional funding for adult social care available over the next two years.
However, we do not believe that more money is the only answer. There is variation in performance across the country that cannot be explained by different levels of spending. Some areas have virtually no delayed transfers of care from hospital, but there is a twentyfold difference between the best and the worst performing 10% of areas. It is vital, therefore, that we finish the job of integrating our health and social care systems. We know that this can improve outcomes and make funding go even further, helping people to manage their own health and wellbeing and to live independently for as long as possible. There are already some strong examples of where this works. For example, in Oxfordshire joined-up working has seen delayed discharges plummet by over 40% in just six months. Meanwhile, Northumberland has saved £5 million by joining up with the local health care trust, reducing demand for residential care by some 12%.
The better care fund is already supporting this with £5.3 billion of funding pooled between councils and clinical commissioning groups last year. But we also want to make sure that all local authorities learn from the best performers and the best providers, so we will soon publish an integration and better care fund policy framework to support this. In the long term, we will need to develop the reforms that will provide a sustainable market that works for everyone who needs social care.
We also need to recognise that demographic pressures are affecting different areas in different ways, as is the changing cost of providing services, so we are undertaking a fair funding review to thoroughly consider how to introduce a more up-to-date, more transparent and fairer needs-assessment formula. The review is looking at all the services provided by local government, and will determine the starting point for local authorities under the 100% business rate retention programme. This is an opportunity to be bold—an opportunity for bottom-up change. We are working with representatives from local government on the review, and we will report on our progress to the House in the new year.
Council tax is a local decision, and local councils will need to justify social care precept rises to their taxpayers. They will need to show how the additional income is spent to support people who need care in their area and how it improves adult social care services. However, it is worth noting that the extra flexibility to raise funding for adult social care next year will add just £1 a month to the average council tax bill. The overall increase to the precept in the next three years will remain at 6%, so bills will be no higher in 2019-20. In our manifesto, we made a commitment to keep council tax down, and that is exactly what has happened. Since 2010-11, council tax has fallen in real terms by 9%. By 2019-20, hard-working families will be paying less council tax in real terms than they were when we came to power.
However, last year we saw a worrying 6.1% rise in precepts in town and parish councils. That is why, earlier this year, we consulted on extending council tax referendum principles to larger town and parish councils. These councils play an important role in our civic life, and I understand the practical considerations of scale, so we have decided that we will defer our proposals this year, while keeping the level of precepts set by town and parish councils under close review. I expect all town and parish councils to clearly demonstrate restraint when setting increases that are not a direct result of taking on additional responsibilities. I am also actively considering with the sector ways to make excessive increases more transparent to local taxpayers.
This local government finance settlement honours our commitment to four-year funding certainty for councils that are committed to reform. It paves the way towards financial self-sufficiency for local government and the full devolution of business rates. It recognises the costs of delivering adult social care and makes more funding available sooner. It puts local councillors in the driving seat and keeps bills down for hard-working taxpayers. I commend it to the House.
This is a settlement that will leave the people of England paying higher taxes and getting worse public services for their money. For some, this settlement will still mean that the support they had hoped would be there for an elderly or vulnerable relative is not available. For others, visible public services, such as street cleaning and rubbish collection, will be cut ever closer to the bone, and even more youth centres and libraries will close.
While it would have been nice to see the statement in good time, at least we can be grateful that the crisis in the Conservative party over the price of a pair of trousers has abated enough to allow the chief of staff at No.10 to decide what the Secretary of State can say today.
Is not the real truth about this statement that there is no new money for local authorities to tackle the social crisis now? Moving new homes bonus money around in a few years’ time is not going to tackle the crisis now. On 18 July, when the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services was already raising the alarm, the Secretary of State said of social care, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris):
“I do not accept that it is underfunded.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 530.]
Why has it taken so long for the Secretary of State to spot that there might be a problem after all?
This is a crisis that Ministers still do not seem to grasp the severity of, with £4.6 billion axed from social care budgets as a result of their cuts since 2010, and 1.2 million people, according to Age UK, not getting the care they need. There are even senior figures in the Secretary of State’s own party with a closer grip on reality than he appears to have, such as Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, who notes:
“Services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now.”
Does the Secretary of State share our view that we did not need to be in this position? Does he remember how, before the 2010 general election, senior figures in his party chose to kill off serious cross-party talks on how to fund social care going forward?
Once Ministers finally began to realise that there might actually be a bit of a problem, they reached for that old Conservative favourite: blaming councils themselves. Ministers like to attack councils, but is not the truth that councillors and local authority staff up and down the country are doing their best to plug the funding gap to cope with huge rising demand for care and increasing costs?
When will the Secretary of State address the worsening postcode lottery for social care? In the most deprived areas of the country, social care spending fell by £65 per person, but it rose by £28 per person in the least deprived areas. Will he not accept that the rising social care precept will only further entrench this inequality? I gently ask of him: is this really the best time to be choosing to cut corporation tax on Amazon, Sports Direct and the big banks?
Since the Prime Minister came to office, there has been much talk of help for those who are only just about managing their finances. That seems to have gone out of the window today as the Prime Minister decides to put up the council tax in every part of England again. To borrow her words, “If you are from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Downing Street realise. You have your own home but you worry about the cost of living, the state of your area, and the services you rely on, and you also worry whether you can pay the tax bill at the end of each month.” Today she decided to make it just a bit harder for them to manage. On top of council tax rises this year, there is 3% in 2017-18 and more again in 2018-19, and by 2020, a 17% increase in council tax compared with 2015—all decided in Downing Street. Who would have thought it: the Conservatives, who once claimed to be in favour of low taxes, putting up taxes every year until the next election?
The truth is that social care is in crisis. This settlement means even deeper cuts in funding and worse public services. Is not the truth that the people of England deserve better?
The shadow Minister claims that as a result of today’s news there is “no new money”—those were his words—for adult social care. He could not be more wrong. However, if he wants to imagine what a world would look like with no new money for adult social care, that is exactly what would have happened had the result of the last election been different. Let us just remember what the then shadow Chancellor said:
“There will be no additional funding for local government”.
He went on to say, when pushed on the point, that there will not be a penny more for local government.
The shadow Minister mentioned, and rightly so, the important role that the NHS plays in providing and helping with adult social care. Let us also remember that at the last general election the Labour party’s plans were to cut NHS spending by £5.3 billon—[Interruption.]
Order. I need to hear the Secretary of State. You may disagree with him, but everyone wants to get in, and if I am going to get people in, let us hear the Secretary of State.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the Labour party had had its way, NHS funding would have been £1.3 billion lower this year. What difference would that have made to people, especially the most vulnerable in our society? We should be grateful that Labour is not in office.
Under this Government, the spending review allocated an additional £3.5 billion of funding for adult social care by 2020. Let me focus precisely on the shadow Minister’s claim that there is no new money, because he is absolutely wrong. There is new money, with today’s announcement of £240 million that otherwise would have gone to the new homes bonus. We have responded to what local councils and many local authority leaders have asked for and repurposed that money. There is also an additional £654 million because of the precept changes. If the shadow Minister cannot work that out, he needs to look again at his basic mathematics skills. Taken together, those numbers mean an additional £900 million over and above the spending review settlement over the next two years. That means approximately £450 million of new money each year for the next two years.
The shadow Minister also referred to council tax bills, which reminded me of what the shadow Minister for adult social care, the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), said recently:
“Asking taxpayers…to pick up the bill…is no substitute for a proper plan.”
The Opposition need to learn that there is no such thing as Government money—it is all taxpayers’ money, whether it is raised locally or nationally. I know that the Leader of the Opposition believes in a magic money tree, but I did not realise that all Opposition Members feel the same way. If we want properly funded services, including for adult social care, there needs to be a balance between those who pay for them—the taxpayers—and those who use them. That means making the right decisions to make sure that the services are properly funded and, at the same time, that tax bills do not rise more than necessary. That is why I am proud that, under this Government, even taking into account the precept changes that we have announced today, by the end of this Parliament the average council tax bill will be lower in real terms than it was in 2010.
I welcome today’s statement. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that 97% of local authorities have agreed a four-year long-term deal, which is welcome and allows them to plan for the future? That means, however, that 3% of local authorities have not agreed the deal. What impact will their failure to agree a long-term settlement with the Department have on their council tax payers and the future of their services?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and it is worth talking about it a bit more. As he rightly says, the good news is that 97% of councils have accepted the four-year settlement. That means that 10 councils have not, including, unfortunately, his local council, Harrow. In practice, that means that those councils will have an annual, year-by-year settlement, which will deny local people the certainty that they seek. It also means that they have not put together efficiency plans, as the other councils will have done. It is a shame that they did not accept the settlement. That was entirely up to them, but it will have consequences.
Does the Secretary of State agree that his statement still leaves life very challenging indeed for most local authorities dealing with social care and the crisis that it is in? Will he confirm that even £900 million goes only part-way towards filling the £2.5 billion to £3.5 billion gap that the LGA, the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund believe will exist by the end of the spending review period? Why has he chosen not to pay the new homes bonus money through the better care fund, which would have enabled him to target the money at the poorest authorities, which raise the least through the precept?
Finally, I do not know whether the Secretary of State saw that Simon Stevens and Stephen Dorrell came before the Communities and Local Government Committee yesterday. They said that integration between health and social care was desirable, but that that of itself will not solve the problems of social care in the longer term. Will he agree to a much wider review, including the full involvement of the LGA, to try to get cross-party agreement for a genuine, sustainable solution for the longer term, which will need all-party support?
I always take very seriously what the Chair of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government has to say, and I know that he considers such matters carefully. To answer his questions, he may recall that at the spending review last year the LGA asked for, I think, £2.9 billion of extra funding for adult social care by the end of the Parliament. The spending review provided more than that—£3.5 billion—and the changes that we have announced today add another £900 million on top of that £3.5 billion. That is a significant increase, and even more so when we look back at what the LGA was considering just last year.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the allocation of the £240 million that would otherwise have gone into the new homes bonus. He will know that the allocation of the improved better care fund, which is worth £1.5 billion by the end of this Parliament, takes into account the council tax-raising powers of each local area. The £240 million is allocated based on relative need, and I think that that is the best way to do it.
I quite agree with the Government that we need more money and reform. The two local authorities serving my constituency were short-changed in the past, which is a separate issue. On the general question, what can be done about the perverse incentive created by the fact that if a council does not come up with a timely care package, a person will stay for longer in an expensive hospital bed, where they do not want to be and which is needed for other purposes?
My right hon. Friend highlights the vital issue of more and better integration between the healthcare system and the adult social care system. I referred in my statement to places where we are seeing good practice. I mentioned Manchester and Northumberland, and there are some other such areas. Many areas can learn from that, especially on things such as delayed transfers of care. We want to see more work in this area. That is why the Department has already started to work with the Health Secretary on a set of principles that we expect to be implemented as local authorities access the additional funding.
The great city of Birmingham has been hit hard by the biggest cuts in local government history—£800 million. That is having increasingly “catastrophic consequences” for public services, in the words of the chief executive. According to the chief executive of Birmingham YMCA, it is leading inevitably to more young men and women dying, like the young man who froze to death on a Birmingham street on 29 November. Birmingham has been denied a fair deal. Can the Secretary of State begin to explain why—as we have seen with nursery schools last week, schools yesterday and local government today—Birmingham is treated less fairly than the Prime Minister’s own constituency of Maidenhead? It cannot be right to put the interests of the Tory party above the interests of the public.
The hon. Gentleman should re-examine the figures and get them right. I have here some helpful figures for him. He will know that Birmingham has significant failings, which is why an independent panel was put in place by my predecessor. Failings were significant in management areas. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that there is a real funding issue with Birmingham, but let me give him the facts. Birmingham, among the metropolitan districts, by 2019-20 will receive £1,984 per dwelling, in comparison with the average of £1,767. It is a well-funded local authority, and it is incumbent on those who run it to do so more efficiently in the interests of their residents.
In four years’ time, Birmingham’s money will go up, but the money for Worthing, Arun and Adur will not. Those who throw accusations across the Chamber should look at the figures.
Leaving aside most of my right hon. Friend’s statement, I think he should pay a lot of attention to the consultation on whether planning permission granted on appeal should not count towards the new homes bonus. Many times, it seems as though rationally produced local authority and parish council plans are torn up by some imposition of new housing targets. I hope that he will pay a lot of attention to that. I am glad that he has taken away the referendums on parish council increases. Parish councils are closest to the people, they can easily be turned out and they can be trusted.
I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased by the fact that the Neighbourhood Planning Bill passed its Third Reading this week. One of the things that the Bill tries to do is to make neighbourhood plans even stronger and easier for local communities to put together, and I know that he supports me in that goal. On the issue that he raised, as I said in my statement, we are minded to deny the new homes bonus where planning permission is granted on appeal, but we will have a consultation on that, and then we will decide.
Liverpool has high levels of poverty. It also has an innovative local authority that believes in value for money. Liverpool City Council has already lost 58% of central Government funding, and yesterday, in a redistribution of education funding, it lost £3.5 million more. What does today’s statement do, in concrete and specific terms, to address the crisis in social care, except ask poor people to pay more? Even that will not address the growing crisis of people in need.
I was in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and I met local leaders, including the chief executive, because I want to understand directly some of the challenges that Liverpool is going through. Some of the changes we have announced today will help Liverpool and other places that are in the same situation. The hon. Lady will know, for example, that the allocation of the better care fund takes into account the power of a local area to raise council tax, and that benefits places such as Liverpool. She may have noted from the statement the extra £240 million that will be based on need; that will certainly advantage Liverpool. She may also be interested to know that Liverpool’s council tax spending power per dwelling is rising from £1,922 in 2017-18 to £2,041, which is a much bigger increase than in most other areas in the same situation.
It is good news that people are living longer—in the decade to 2015, there has been a 31% increase in the number of people living to 85 and over—but already, more than a million people have unmet care needs. Although I welcome the fact that some of this money will be brought forward, I do not feel as though we are going far enough in this House to address the scale of the increase in demand and allow people to be cared for with dignity in their old age. May I join the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee in asking the Government to start cross-party talks urgently to ensure that we have a long-term, fair, sustainable settlement for both health and social care?
My hon. Friend speaks with experience. I know that she has spent a great deal of time looking into this issue, especially in her work as Chair of the Select Committee on Health, and I take what she has to say very seriously. I think I am correct in saying that my hon. Friend used the words “bring forward spending”. Today’s announcement on adult social care does more than just bring it forward; it is a real, significant increase in spending of £900 million. To be clear, that is an additional £900 million over the next two years where there are some of the biggest short-term pressures. That would not have happened had these changes not been announced. It is, significantly, new money, not just bringing forward spending. I know that she will welcome that clarification.
My hon. Friend referred to the need to talk widely, including with members of the Opposition. I would include in that local leaders, health professionals and social care professionals, and that is certainly what I intend to do over the coming months, to make sure that we keep this always under review.
This is, surely, a truly feeble response to a national crisis. The LGA would be entitled to reject the proposal and put the ball firmly back in the Government’s court, for them to think again. This is an unfair way to raise additional money; it will increase inequalities between rich and poor areas. When will the Government come forward with plans to work genuinely across parties? There have been two suggestions about that already in this question-and-answer session, but the Secretary of State has not answered either one. When will he work with others to come up with a genuine solution to what is now a real national crisis?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, any funding provided to a local authority is raised through taxes, either locally or, when that funding is in the form of grants, nationally. He used the word “unfair” about this funding, but he should be aware—I know he has experience in this area—that when we allocate billions of funding from the better care fund, we take into account the council tax raising power of each area. That is the basis used, and it is the fairest way to do it. We have given councils flexibility through the precept, and we have enhanced that flexibility today so that councils are in a better position to meet local needs. That is also a sensible and fair policy. Where councils have more demand for services locally, they should be given the power to deal with that.
I appreciate the appalling pressure that the Secretary of State is under on adult social care, but may I press him further on the new homes bonus? This is an important point. The bonus is vital in industrial towns such as Gainsborough to promoting difficult developments on brownfield sites. What worries me about his proposal is that if a council such as West Lindsey does not meet the 0.4% target, but allows developments that go against community plans in suburban villages, where it is easy to develop, it may lose its new homes bonus. Furthermore, he said: “To encourage more effective planning, we will also consider withholding payments for homes that are built following an appeal.” This is centralism; it goes against localism. I urge him to think again. Councils should determine such appeals on their merit, not on the basis of central Government diktat.
I assure my hon. Friend that the new homes bonus will stay in place. The reforms that we have announced today were consulted on; I think the consultation began in December 2015. It is important to make sure that the incentives for local authorities to promote house building remain, not least to deal with some of the local pressure for more homes in their area. He mentioned the national baseline figure of 0.4%, which councils must be above. He may be reassured to know that that is based on historical numbers, and that the figure for the country last year was 0.94%, so most local authorities will still be able to benefit from the new homes bonus. I listened carefully to what he said about the possible change in relation to appeals, which we will consider in the consultation.
How will Hull be in a better position to meet local needs when the Secretary of State’s announcement of a 1% increase in the precept that the council can levy will bring in only £700,000, or just 12% of what Hull actually needs to address its social care budget following the massive cuts since 2010? Wealthier areas such as the East Riding can raise much more from their council tax base, and they have many more self-funders, so how is that fair? The Government are not giving Hull what it requires to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.
Hull, the area the hon. Lady mentioned, will benefit from these changes. She mentioned the change in the precept, which is important; I do not have the exact number for Hull at hand, but it will help. I notice that she did not mention the money going into the new homes bonus. The new homes bonus is allocated on the basis of relative need and takes into account the ability of local areas to raise money through taxes. As it is based on relative need, it will benefit places such as Hull.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is an opportunity to be bold and to use bottom-up thinking. I welcome the fair funding review, but does he not agree that until that review is completed and we have a fuller picture of what local authorities can afford and what central Government are prepared to provide—taking into account the demographic pressures in various parts of the country, such as mine in Devon—there should be a moratorium on the loss of community hospital beds?
My right hon. Friend highlights the need for the fair funding review. I hope he agrees with me that it is about time we looked carefully at the needs of every local area, including the more rural areas, and made sure that the way funding is distributed takes into account all the challenges that those areas face. For example, in rural areas, sparsity creates more challenges and funding pressures. He will be aware that my predecessor listened to such arguments and, despite his limited flexibility, took action where he could, with a £65 million rural services delivery grant for 2017-18. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that in the fair funding review, we will need to look carefully at the pressures, particularly in rural areas, and make sure that we act on them.
We will take no lectures from this Government about funding for social care. They walked away from the cross-party negotiations on the funding of social care before the 2010 election, purely for political gain, and they then cut £4.6 billion from social care during the last Parliament. The crisis we have now was created by the people sitting on the Government Benches. A 1% increase in the precept will bring in £670,000 in my local authority, but we already have a £14 million deficit in our expenditure. This is not going to touch the sides, as the leader of my local authority has said. It is just not good enough. We have a gaping hole, and the Secretary of State has come to the House with a sticking plaster. It is just not good enough. We need cross-party agreement on how to deal with this crisis.
It is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman that at the last election he stood on a ticket that would have led to even less funding for his local authority, which I believe is Greenwich, and lower funding for the NHS as well. He should keep that in mind when he considers today’s announcement. He should welcome the fact that the Government have not only made more available in the spending review, but have announced an additional £900 million today. Just for next year alone, that will mean a minimum of an additional £3.1 million for his local authority.
The discussion on this statement is rather sad, because there is too much party political point scoring on a very important issue. I agree entirely with the excellent Chairman of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), and with the former care Minister, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that we need a policy with genuine cross-party support. This is not a party issue, and I urge the Secretary of State at least to explore the possibility of cross-party working on this issue.
My hon. Friend is right to say that the more we can all co-operate, put aside party politics and deal with this issue for the long term—there are some significant long-term challenges in the sector—the better off we will all be, and our constituents would thank us for doing that.
The most crippling cuts are being planned in Walsall borough, because the allocation from central Government has been nearly halved in the past six years. Does the Secretary of State not understand that I am talking about an area—my area—where there is so much deprivation and poverty? The cuts next year will be even higher than previous ones, so I want to ask: why is there a Tory onslaught on this borough, and when is this war going to end?
The hon. Gentleman will know that all councils across the country, without exception, have been asked to find efficiencies and make savings, and many of them have done so in very innovative and clever ways. For example, sharing services means that some of them have been able to maintain the level of services, but at a lower cost to taxpayers. He mentioned his borough of Walsall; it, like many other areas, needs to do things better and deliver services in a better way where it can, but he will see an increase in core spending power by the end of this Parliament, and the changes to adult social care budgets that we have announced today will also help his borough.
I thank the Secretary of State for the money, but I also add my voice to those who are concerned about the long-term sustainability of social care. As the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Question Time, this is a short-term, medium-term and long-term issue. The Secretary of State will know that rural areas have issues not only of sparsity, but of delivery. Will he assure me of two things: first, that he will not take his foot off the gas in ensuring that we find long-term solutions; and secondly, that he will work cross-departmentally, because it is important that we have joined-up Government as well as joined-up opinions on this issue?
I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that adult social care will remain a priority, not just for me and the Health Secretary, who was here for the statement, but across Government. This issue is well understood by the Government. That is why we have been able to listen and take the action we have announced today. My hon. Friend is right to say that although this action meets the short-term need of particular cash pressures, which were rightly identified, we also need to think about the medium term and the longer term.
As the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday, Newcastle City Council performs well on social care in the face of continued punitive cuts, but that will all be put at risk if the Government do not act responsibly to plug the £15 million funding gap. Today’s plan relies on local areas being able to build new homes and raise local taxes to solve a crisis in social care funding. Can the Secretary of State not see that this will entrench inequality across the country and that it is playing politics with vulnerable people’s lives?
The statement has just been made, and when the hon. Lady has the time to look at it a bit more closely, she will see that it does not rely on building new homes to get more adult social care—nothing of the sort. Perhaps that was not clear earlier and I am glad that she has raised it, because if she thought that, others might be thinking the same. The £240 million comes from the new homes bonus budget. That money will no longer go into that budget and has been transferred to adult social care budgets across the country on the basis of the relative needs formula. It will certainly benefit Newcastle upon Tyne and other areas.