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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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—
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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?
Business of the House
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?
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?
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.