House of Commons
Wednesday 25 January 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Faversham Oyster Fishery Company Bill [Lords]
Bill read a Second time and committed.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
This Government recognise that delivering world-class infrastructure in our transport and digital sectors is vital to improving productivity and driving economic growth. I hold regular meetings with ministerial colleagues and local partners on issues relating to Wales. Earlier this month I convened a mobile summit which brought together key stakeholders from the mobile network operators and the UK and Welsh Governments to explore ways in which we can work in partnership to improve mobile reception for people and businesses throughout Wales.
I notice that the Minister failed to mention the Swansea bay tidal lagoon report. That six-month independent review conducted by ex-Energy Minister Charles Hendry could not have been more conclusive in saying that moving ahead with a pathfinder lagoon at Swansea bay
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”
is a “no regrets policy”. There may be much to digest in the review’s detailed road map for a new industry, but there are no grounds for further delaying the start of that industry. When will the Government give the green light to this crucial infrastructure project?
I am delighted to state that Charles Hendry is in Cardiff Bay today providing more information about his report to the Assembly, and he is being supported there by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies). The report was comprehensive and detailed on the issues relating to a tidal lagoon. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree, however, that any decision must also be good for the taxpayer and good for the electricity end user.
I pay tribute to the Daily Post’s campaign in north Wales, which has highlighted this issue. That is partly why I was very keen to convene a summit of mobile providers to look very carefully at ways in which we could give them practical support in helping to deal with notspots in Wales. One of the key issues is the planning regime in Wales, which can be much more flexible in ensuring that the money being invested in Wales goes much further and deals with the notspots in all parts of Wales, whether rural or city.
EU funding has had a clear impact in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in terms of the Heads of the Valleys road, and indeed investment in the railway infrastructure. The south Wales metro scheme will generate £106 million of support from European funds, although it should be remembered that it is also receiving £500 million of funding from the UK Government. This Government have delivered a fiscal framework to Wales that has been described as both fair and sustainable, and I can assure him that Wales will be protected when we come to the negotiations to leave the European Union.
Happy St Dwynwen’s day, Mr Speaker.
Eighty-four per cent. of Conservative councillors, 83% of Conservative MPs, a former Conservative Energy Minister, both Wales Office Ministers and the Conservative party manifesto all support the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project. The Minister failed to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), so I will give him another opportunity: when will his Government kick-start the tidal lagoon project?
I restate that this decision will have to be made across Government: other Departments will have to look at the issue. I am sure the hon. Lady would agree that in an age where we are seeing industry in Wales worried about the cost of energy, any deal for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon must not only be good in terms of the tidal lagoon but right for the taxpayer and the energy user in Wales.
Last week in Westminster Hall, the Minister said that
“it is difficult to offer guarantees that”
European Investment Bank
“loans would be supported”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 264WH.]
By that, he meant supported by a guarantee from the Treasury when we leave the EU. What benefits has the European Investment Bank brought to Wales, and how much has it invested in Wales over the past 10 years?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will join me in highlighting the success of the Swansea campus development as an example of European Investment Bank investment in a Welsh context. I am sure that she will also join me in paying tribute to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for securing and guaranteeing EU funding up to the point of departure from the European Union. The key point that she must be aware of is that thus far, this Government have delivered a degree of protection for EU funding in Wales, and in due course further announcements will be made about further funding support in a Welsh context.
Leaving the EU: Business Links
The UK, including Wales, remains the same outward-looking, globally minded country that we have always been. To support Wales’s international business links further, I am jointly hosting a Wales business export summit in Cardiff in early March to ensure that businesses in Wales have full access to UK Government support.
The Republic of Ireland is one of Wales’s most important trading partners, with around 360,000 trucks passing through Welsh ports to Ireland every year. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to get really involved in the discussions about future UK-Irish border and customs controls to ensure that future arrangements not only uphold the peace process with the north, but protect Welsh interests by minimising checks and delays on trucks that use Welsh ports?
My right hon. Friend is a true champion of the port in Milford Haven and the links and benefits that it brings to the Welsh and UK economies, and he has played a significant part in developing it. As we negotiate our exit from the European Union, and the special situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Welsh situation is not being ignored. At every Joint Ministerial Committee it has been recognised not only by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, but at the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the Prime Minister.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have mentioned that the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the devolved Administrations plays an important part, but that does not mean that universities will not have a part to play in influencing the negotiations on exiting the European Union. I spoke to the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University last week. I am happy to maintain a close relationship with my hon. Friend’s former university and to ensure that all universities across the United Kingdom have their say as we negotiate our exit from the European Union.
The Secretary of State’s response to the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) was not good enough, to be frank. We have had the same response to that question for some time now. We are going to have a common travel area, and it is going to impact heavily on Welsh ports. Will the Secretary of State put the case for Welsh ports and meet Welsh Members of Parliament to ensure that that important trade has a Welsh dimension?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the issues relating to Holyhead, which are being taken into consideration in our discussions. I will happily meet him and any colleagues he wishes to bring along. The situation in Holyhead and Milford Haven is, absolutely, important to the Welsh and the UK economy, and it has issues in common with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We want to ensure that we get a deal that works for all situations.
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned universities in his response about international business links. Is he aware of the profound concern that is shared by most vice-chancellors, including Professor Hinfelaar at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, about the impact that changes to migration rules will have on students from within the EU and outside it? Will the Secretary of State discuss the matter in detail with those vice-chancellors?
As well as the universities that I have highlighted, I am in close engagement with Universities Wales, which represents all universities, but I am happy to meet any of the vice-chancellors about the situation. Many assumptions have been made about migration controls. Clearly, it is in our interests to ensure that universities can succeed and prosper, and migration and international students are an important part of their model. Controlling immigration does not mean stopping immigration.
I am glad of my right hon. Friend’s concentration on universities in his answers. He will be aware that just before Christmas, Cardiff University school of chemistry was formally presented with a royal warrant, officially awarding the department a regius professorship of chemistry in recognition of the exceptionally high standard of research at Cardiff University. What are my right hon. Friend and the Wales Office doing to make sure that our institutions and professors get such accolades and that we can stand on the international stage?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the success and the role of universities. The UK Government have a part to play in recognising, championing and promoting that, as well as using Innovate UK money. He is right to highlight the new regius professorship that was awarded to Cardiff University. That underlines its expertise and success in the field of chemistry, and we are determined to ensure that that plays a significant part on the global stage.
As the Secretary of State considers Wales’s business links post-Brexit, will he give the highest priority to the Welsh steel industry, and will he not rule out a trade defence mechanism for steel if that is what is required to save Welsh steelworkers’ jobs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the steel industry. It is an extremely important industry for communities in Wales, but it is also of strategic importance for the whole of the United Kingdom. Last week, I met all the unions relating to steel, and we discussed the challenges that exist, as well as how the company, the pension trustees, the pensioners and the employees of the steelworks need to work their way through this. The Government stand ready to support the industry—we are determined to find a long-term, sustainable future for the steel industry—and I recognise its importance for Wales and for the UK.
This Government have put in place an industrial strategy that will work for all people in every corner of the UK. Wales is home to world-leading sectors, be it compound semi-conductors in Cardiff, agri-tech in Aberystwyth or advanced manufacturing in Deeside. We are committed to building on our strengths to create an economy where everyone can share the benefits of our economic success.
One of the most important themes of the Government’s industrial strategy is the determination to ensure that all nations and regions of the UK can benefit from economic prosperity. An important aspect of that is science and research, which I hope the Minister will agree offers real potential for businesses in Wales to prosper and create jobs.
What representations has the Minister made to his Government about placing steel at the heart of their industrial strategy, and how will the UK Government support the innovative products and projects coming out of Swansea University that will future-proof steel making for many generations?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has stated, he recently met the trade unions in relation to the steel sector, and one of my first visits as a Minister was to the Tata plant in Deeside, so we understand the importance of steel to Wales. This Government have been unyielding in our support for the steel industry in Wales, and that will continue.
The UK has lacked a strategic approach to industrial policy for many years, and Wales has suffered as a result. What specific measures in the Government’s industrial strategy will be brought in to help Wales?
It is very important to state that the industrial strategy in a Welsh context must be a partnership between the two Governments that Wales has—we have the UK Government and the Welsh Government—and Wales will succeed and prosper if those two Governments work together. I am glad to be able to say to the hon. Lady that in relation to skills for the energy sector, support for the car manufacturing sector and support for the steel sector, the two Governments are working together to ensure the best for Wales in terms of industrial strategy and developing new opportunities for the people of Wales.
As the Minister has said, we have many important employers on Deeside—Airbus, Tata, Toyota—but we also have many companies in the supply chain that are very important. We must not only keep those companies post-Brexit, but encourage more to come in.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Deeside is a great success story for the UK economy, not just for the Welsh economy. He is absolutely right that we need to build on that success by drawing in more investment, and that is why the Secretary of State and I will be holding a summit with the Department for International Trade in Wales in the very near future.
One of the biggest infrastructure projects we are about to engage in is the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Will the Minister make sure that this is part of an industrial strategy for Wales? We do not have enough people in this country to complete the work, and we need academies in every constituency in the land to give young people the skills they need to work in this building.
I will obviously not comment on the issue of the refurbishment of the Palace, but I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of getting skills that are relevant to the fabric of buildings in Wales, historic buildings especially. I pay tribute to Coleg Llandrillo Menai, which is doing exactly that—training young people not just in building skills, but in traditional building skills as well.
Leaving the EU: Agriculture Policy
We are determined to get the best deal on leaving the EU. We want a world-leading food and farming industry and the cleanest, healthiest environment for generations. Agriculture is clearly a devolved area, and I am keen for Welsh farmers to add value to their products. We have the capacity and scope to be innovative, not only in growing great products and producing great food, but in processing and selling them worldwide.
It is certainly the case that agriculture policy is currently devolved. Clearly, there will be a repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, but there is an ongoing and positive discussion between Westminster and the Welsh Government in relation to where powers will lie. I say categorically that that partnership is essential for the success of agriculture. That partnership must be not only constructive but objective in respect of what works for the farming industry in Wales and the UK.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who knows the agricultural sector in north Wales and Cheshire extremely well, and who understands the cross-border nature of much farming in Wales. The key point is that we must be aware that we have a great product to offer the rest of the world. It is essential that we go out and sell that product, which is why the Wales Office is forging such a close relationship with the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is essential that we grow the markets for Welsh products, rather than be defensive about the issue.
Is this not a wonderful opportunity to reform agricultural subsidies to decouple Wales from the system in England that rewards people for owning land and not, as they are rewarded in Wales, for producing food? Should we not end the system of paying millionaires and billionaires up to £1 million each a year, while Welsh farmers have to struggle with small subsidies? Can we have Welsh policies for Welsh farmers?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the aim of the Government is to have a farming policy that is right for the UK and right for Wales. He was much more positive about our farming industry in a recent Westminster Hall debate and I agree with the comments he made in that debate. It is essential that we support the farming industry in Wales, while moving forward following our exit from the European Union.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, in view of our decision to leave the European Union, it is essential that we develop an agricultural system that works for farmers in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The common agricultural policy was guilty of the fossilisation of Welsh farming, because it encouraged people not to retire. It is essential to look at the problems created by the common agricultural policy while we design a new system for Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the percentage of Welsh exports that go to the European Union, but he should realise that access to the single market is what is now crucial. It was very apparent from the decision to leave the European Union that we will not be a member of the single market. We need to negotiate the best possible access deal with the European Union and I think that will be possible in due course.
Last Friday, I visited Trewen farm in Botwnnog with the Farmers Union of Wales. This dairy farm has contributed over £150,000 to the local economy in the last three years, yet only three years from now Welsh farmers are set to face a perfect storm. Can the Minister reveal what transitional arrangements will be put in place to safeguard our rural economy?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and the use of the term “perfect storm”. It is an acknowledgement of the press release sent out by the Farmers Union of Wales. I can reassure her that the issue should be about access to the single market, and while the FUW has expressed its concern about the decision to leave the single market, my discussions and meetings with farmers’ unions in Wales, both the FUW and the National Farmers Union, have highlighted access to it as the crucial issue for Welsh farmers.
During Welsh questions last April, the Minister said:
“The extent of Welsh agricultural produce that is exported to the EU shows how important that market is; 90% of Welsh agricultural produce is exported to the EU and we should not risk losing that.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 341.]
Given those comments, will he explain why his Government wish to leave the single market?
At the risk of repeating myself, let me point out that the hon. Gentleman is right that 90% of Welsh farming exports go to the EU, which is why I have repeatedly stated that the issue that farmers in Wales are concerned about is access to the single market. That is the issue that will make a difference to Welsh farmers and towards which the Department and the Government will be working.
EU Single Market: Jobs
Since the vote to leave the EU, we have seen employment hit record highs, and there are now 4,000 fewer people unemployed than six months ago. Trade with the EU is important to Wales, but it is clear that we need to increase our trade with the fastest-growing markets across the world. It is time for Wales, like Britain, to rediscover its role as a great global trading nation.
I hope the whole Chamber will celebrate Robert Burns today.
This week, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government published a White Paper outlining their concerns about Wales and our leaving the EU. What actions will the UK Government take to address the concerns raised by the two largest parties in the Welsh Parliament?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was awaiting the document from the Welsh Government. It was received on Monday, and of course we will work through the details. It will be subject to discussion at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations—the right place for it to be considered and discussed—but much of the language around accessing the single market is not incompatible with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said.
The Supreme Court ruling yesterday concluded that the Sewel convention was a convention and therefore not a matter on which it could rule. Our friends in Plaid Cymru are moving to table a legislative consent motion in the Welsh Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament will also vote on a legislative consent motion. Does the Secretary of State agree, in the spirit of democracy, that the devolved Governments are best placed to determine the future of the people living and working in our nations? [Interruption.]
It is a matter for the devolved Administrations whether they choose to table legislative consent motions, and yesterday’s judgment was quite clear. The approach of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the whole Government is to engage positively with the devolved Administrations—the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Welsh Government—but we will also want to engage with other stakeholders in the nations as well.
North Wales has been designated the central maintenance centre for all European F-35 fighters. Can the Minister assure the House that the aerospace companies in north Wales will be given the same assurances as Nissan that leaving the single market will not result in tariff barriers or a loss of access to European skilled labour?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman highlights the success of Sealand in winning the F-35 contract. It will be the global repair hub. I was there on Monday celebrating and recognising the effects and the impact that employees had on winning that global contract. The significance should not be understated. It offers positive prospects for the supply chain and that centre for decades to come.
The Prime Minister has talked of a bold new trading relationship with New Zealand. Will the Secretary of State relay to the Prime Minister—she is here, so he can do so directly—the genuine concern of many Welsh upland farmers that they could lose access to the biggest market on the continent in favour of a market, and direct competitor, on the other side of the world?
Welsh produce, and Welsh lamb and beef in particular, is world leading, and there are great opportunities as we exit the European Union to explore and exploit new markets. Hybu Cig Cymru specifically recognised that £20 million could be brought to Wales from accessing the north American market. These are the ambitions that we want to have, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will of course put Britain first in any negotiations.
I do not recognise the basis of the question. The automotive sector is exceptionally strong in Wales, partly as a result of the Nissan contract in Sunderland, for which many of the supplier companies are based in Wales. I also draw attention to the great success of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in bringing Aston Martin to Wales. We should recognise and celebrate the fantastic success on that MOD base.
Up to 200,000 jobs in Wales depend on our membership of the European Union, the single market and the customs union. I am not going to go through every sector, but will the Secretary of State seek sectoral deals for important parts of the Welsh economy as we leave the European Union?
It is clear that we want to get the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that the market within the United Kingdom works effectively. After all, the most important market for Wales is the market from within the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman can take confidence from the fact that, on the back of this Government’s policy and success, Wales has been the fastest growing economy outside London since 2010.
Order. Colleagues, we are visited today by Speaker Win Myint, the Speaker of the Hluttaw, the Burmese Parliament. He is accompanied by a delegation of his parliamentary colleagues. I am sure the House will wish to join me in welcoming Mr Speaker and his colleagues.
The Prime Minister was asked—
As the response from the whole House showed, we all indeed welcome the Speaker of the Burmese Parliament and his colleagues to see our deliberations today.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to the friends and family of the police officer who was shot in Belfast over the weekend. The Police Service of Northern Ireland does a superb job in keeping us safe and secure, and has our fullest support.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today. Later this week, I will travel to the United States for talks with President Trump.
I join the Prime Minister in sending good wishes to the police officer who was shot in Belfast.
They are the best drivers of social mobility, and 99% of them are rated good or outstanding, while 65% of their places are in the most deprived areas of this country, so why is the Prime Minister introducing cuts that threaten the very existence of maintained nursery schools? Is it not true that when it comes to social mobility, her actions speak far louder than her words?
I want to ensure, and this Government want to ensure, good-quality education at every age and every stage for children in this country. That is why we are looking at improving the number of good school places. The hon. Lady talks about my record speaking louder than words, so let me point out that I was very proud as chairman of an education authority in London in the 1990s to introduce nursery school places for every three and four-year-old whose parent wanted them.
My hon. Friend raises the question of parliamentary scrutiny. I have made clear, as have senior Ministers, that we will ensure that Parliament has every opportunity to carry out such scrutiny as we go through this process. I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week. I recognise that there is an appetite in the House to see it set out in a White Paper—I have heard my hon. Friend’s question, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) asked a question in the same vein last week—and I can confirm that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published for the House.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing the condolences of, I am sure, the whole House to the family of the police officer who lost his life over the weekend in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the original judgment and the appeal. She has finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides, that there will be a White Paper. May we know when that White Paper will be available to us, and why it is taking so long for us to get it?
The right hon. Gentleman asked for debates. I made very clear that there would always be debates in the House, and there have been and will continue to be. He asked for votes. There have been votes in the House; the House voted overwhelmingly for the Government to trigger article 50 before the end of March this year. He asked for a plan. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), I have set out a clear plan for a bold future for Britain. He and others asked for a White Paper, and I have made clear that there will be a White Paper.
What I am also clear about is that the right hon. Gentleman always asks about process—about the means to an end. The Government and I are focusing on the outcomes. We are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger future for this country, the right deal for Britain, and Britain out of the European Union.
My question was not complicated. I simply asked when the White Paper would come out. Will it be published before or at the same time as the Bill that is apparently about to be published?
Last week I asked the Prime Minister repeatedly to clarify whether her Government were prepared to pay to secure tariff-free access to the single European market. She repeatedly refused to answer the question, so I will ask her again. Are her Government ruling out paying a fee for tariff-free access to the single market or the bespoke customs union to which she also referred in her speech?
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the issue of timing. There are actually two separate issues. The House has voted overwhelmingly that article 50 should be triggered before the end of March 2017. Following the Supreme Court judgment, a Bill will be provided for the House, and there will be proper debates on it in the Chamber and in another place. There is then the separate question of the publication of the plan that I have set out, a bold vision for Britain for the future. I will do that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman knows that one of our objectives is the best possible free trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be out there negotiating for.
Some of this is very worrying for many Members, but, more important, it is worrying for many other people. For example, the chief executive of Nissan was given assurances by the Prime Minister’s Business Secretary about future trade arrangements with Europe, but now says that Nissan will
“have to re-evaluate the situation”
in relation to its investments in Britain.
The Prime Minister is threatening the EU that unless it gives in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe. Labour Members are very well aware of the consequences that that would have—the damage that it would do to jobs and living standards, and to our public services. Is the Prime Minister now going to rule out the bargain basement threat that she made in her speech at Lancaster House?
I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships with the European Union, but I am also clear that this Government will not sign up to a bad deal for the United Kingdom. As for the threats that the right hon. Gentleman claims might happen—he often uses those phrases and talks about workers’ rights—perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this House, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who today said,
“to give credit to the Government…I don’t think they want to weaken workers’ rights”,
and goes on to say,
“I’ve seen no evidence from the conversations I’ve had with senior members of the Government that that’s their aspiration or their intention or something they want to do. Which is good.”
As usual with Labour, the right hand is not talking to the far-left.
The evidence of what the Tory party and this Government really think about workers’ rights was there for all to see yesterday: a private Member’s Bill under the ten-minute rule by a Tory MP to tear up parts of the International Labour Organisation convention, talking down the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) to protect European workers’ rights that have been obtained in this country. That is the real agenda of the Tory party.
What the Prime Minister is doing is petulantly aiming a threat at our public services with her threats about a bargain basement Britain. Is her priority our struggling NHS, those denied social care, and children having their school funding cut, or is it once again further cuts in big business taxation to make the rich even better off?
I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have been very clear that this Government will protect workers’ rights; indeed, we have a review of modern employment law to ensure all employment legislation is keeping up with the modern labour market. One of the objectives I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives was to protect workers’ rights.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about threats to public services. I will tell him what the threat to public services would be: a Labour Government borrowing £500 billion extra. That would destroy our economy and mean no funding for our public services.
The threat to workers’ rights is there every day: 6 million people earning less than the living wage; and many people—nearly 1 million—on zero-hours contracts with no protection being offered by this Government. What they are doing is offering once again the bargain basement alternative.
Will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity today to congratulate the 100,000 people who marched in Britain last weekend to highlight women’s rights after President Trump’s inauguration, and to express their concerns about his misogyny? Many have concerns that in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming meeting with President Trump she will be prepared to offer up for sacrifice the opportunity for American companies to come in and take over parts of our NHS or our public services. Will she assure the House that in any trade deal none of those things will be offered up as a bargaining chip?
I again point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who have introduced the national living wage and this Government who have made changes to zero-hours contracts.
On the issue of my visit to the United States of America, I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early in his Administration. That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—a special relationship on which he and I intend to build. But I also say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States; I am able to do that because we have that special relationship—a special relationship that the right hon. Gentleman would never have with the United States.
We would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap. How confident is the Prime Minister of getting a good deal for “global Britain” from a President who says he wants to put America first, buy American and build a wall between his country and Mexico?
Article 50 was not about a court judgment against the Government. What it signified was the bad judgment of this Government: the bad judgment of prioritising corporate tax cuts over investment in national health and social care; the bad judgment of threatening European partners while offering a blank cheque to President Trump; and the bad judgment of wanting to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven. So will the Prime Minister offer some clarity and certainty and withdraw the threats to destroy the social structure of this country by turning us into the bargain basement she clearly threatens?
We will be out around the world with the EU, America and other countries negotiating good free trade deals for this country that will bring prosperity to this country. The right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about Brexit, but I have to say to him that he is the leader of his party and he cannot even agree with his shadow Chancellor about Brexit. The shadow Chancellor cannot agree with the shadow Brexit Secretary, the shadow Brexit secretary disagrees with the shadow Home Secretary, and the shadow Home Secretary has to ring up the leader and tell him to change his mind. He talks about us standing up for Britain; they cannot speak for themselves and they will never speak for Britain.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and he is absolutely right to do that. I can assure him that we are working generally to improve the safety of our roads. He refers specifically to the issue of the A303 and to the tragic incident that happened on 27 December. We have committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5. I understand that Highways England has recently launched a consultation into the route under Stonehenge, and my hon. Friend will want to look closely at that issue. This is all part of our £2 billion investment in road improvements that will improve connections in the south-west, but I can assure him that we have road safety at the forefront of our mind.
May I begin by wishing everybody a happy Burns day, and by extending congratulations to The Scotsman newspaper, which is celebrating its bicentenary today?
Yesterday, the Government lost in the Supreme Court, and today we have had a welcome U-turn on a White Paper on Brexit. In the spirit of progress for Parliament, and in advance of her meeting President Trump, will the Prime Minister tell Parliament what she wants to achieve in a UK-US trade deal?
First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing a happy Burns day to everybody and in recognising the bicentenary of The Scotsman. I am sure everybody in the House will join me in that. He asks what we want to achieve in our arrangements with the United States. It is very simple: we want to achieve an arrangement that ensures that the interests of the United Kingdom are put first, and that is what I will be doing. We want to see trade arrangements with the United States, and with other parts of the world, that can increase our trade and bring prosperity and growth to the United Kingdom. Then, my aim for this Government is to ensure that the economy works for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.
The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world, and we are proud on our continent to have public national health systems. The United States, on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms, beef raised using growth hormones and chicken meat washed with chlorinated water. Will the Prime Minister tell President Trump that she is not prepared to lower our food and safety standards or to open our health systems up for privatisation? Or does she believe that that is a price worth paying for a UK-US trade deal?
We will be looking for a UK-US trade deal that improves trade between our two countries, that will bring prosperity and growth to this country and that will ensure that we can bring jobs to this country as well. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in doing that, we will put UK interests and UK values first.
I recognise the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, and I can assure him that our commitment in relation to the northern parts of England, including Yorkshire, is absolutely clear. We want to back business growth right across the north, and we are backing the northern powerhouse to help the great cities and towns of the north to pool their strengths and take on the world. Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships have received an additional £156 million in Government funding this week, and we are spending a record £13 billion on transport across the north. As a result, there are more people in work in Yorkshire and the Humber than ever before, and the employment rate is at a record high. That is good news for people in the region and good news for our economy as a whole.
There are a number of organisations that we are part of as members of the European Union. As part of the work that we are doing to look at the United Kingdom’s future after we leave the European Union, we are looking at the arrangements we can put in place in relation to those issues. The pharmaceutical industry in this country is a very important part of our economy, and the ability of people to access these new drugs is also important. I assure the hon. Lady that we are looking seriously at this and will ensure that we have the arrangements that we need.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He has long been a champion of entrepreneurship in this country, and I can tell him that in the industrial strategy we are committed to providing the best environment for business. The Treasury has established a patient capital review, for example, with a panel chaired by Sir Damon Buffini to look at the barriers that exist to long-term investment. We are also increasing investment in venture capital by the British Business Bank by £400 million, and that will unlock £1 billion of new finance. The Treasury is going to be publishing a consultation in the spring examining these issues, and I am sure my hon. Friend will wish to contribute and respond to that.
I am very happy to look at the tragic case that the hon. Lady describes. Our thoughts must be with Chris and Lydia at the terrible loss they experienced. As to the issue of what is happening in terms of the Greek criminal justice system, of course that is a matter for the Greek authorities, but I will look seriously at this case and see if there is anything that the Foreign Office can do.
President Trump has repeatedly said that he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. When she sees him on Friday, will the Prime Minister make it clear that in no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after 11 September?
People voted differently across the country. Parts of the country voted to remain and parts of the country voted to leave. What we do now is unite behind the result of the vote that took place. We come together as a country, we go out there, we make a success of this, and we ensure that we build a truly global Britain that will bring jobs to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and for his constituents.
This week, Milton Keynes celebrates its 50th birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have been the most successful of new cities and have one of the highest rates of economic growth. Does the Prime Minister agree that Milton Keynes has a great future and will be central to delivering this Government’s ambitions?
I join my hon. Friend in marking Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday. I understand that he has secured a Westminster Hall debate on the subject later today, so I congratulate him on that. Milton Keynes is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear plan and strong local leadership. We are providing additional funding for the east-west rail project, which he supported through his chairing of the east-west rail all-party parliamentary group, and the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road scheme. We will see a country that works for everyone. Milton Keynes has had a great 50 years, but I am sure that it will have a great future as well.
The Ministry of Cake in Taunton, a company with a turnover of £30 million, has recently been bought by a French company called Mademoiselle Desserts. The Ministry of Cake trades across Europe and into China. Does the Prime Minister agree that that demonstrates confidence in our economy—in that a European company has bought into it—that we can unlock global trade and that the south-west is a terrific place to do business?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The investment of a French company into the company in her constituency shows people’s confidence in the future of our economy, the fundamental strengths of our economy and that we can unlock global trade. Of course, the south-west is a very good place to do business.
The issue of the detained fast track system in the asylum system is one that I obviously looked at when I was Home Secretary, and we made a number of changes to how we operated it. However, it is built on a simple principle: if somebody’s case for asylum is such that they are almost certain to be refused that asylum, we want to ensure that they can be removed from the country as quickly as possible, hence the detained fast track system.
Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assist in efforts to get an enterprise zone in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale as part of the industrial strategy? It turns out that the Labour council and county council are talking about an enterprise zone-esque project in the area but have not applied for any funding whatsoever. Will she please assist me in this endeavour?
I know what a champion for Morecambe and Lunesdale my hon. Friend is and has been as a Member of Parliament, and I am sure that the Chancellor and the Business Secretary will look at the issue he has raised. I should also say how sad it is that Labour councils are not willing to put forward proposals to increase the prosperity and economic growth in their areas.
First Minister of Scotland: Meeting
When the Prime Minister does eventually meet the First Minister, will the Prime Minister confirm whether she supports the principle in the Scotland Act that whatever is not reserved is devolved? Will she be able to tell the First Minister what powers will come to the Scottish Parliament in the event of Brexit? Will she confirm that the great repeal Bill will not be the great power grab?
I have been very clear, and this was echoed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that no powers that are currently devolved are suddenly going to be taken back to the United Kingdom Government. We will be looking at and discussing with the devolved Administrations how we deal with those powers that are currently in Brussels when they come back to the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that those powers are dealt with so that we can maintain the important single market of the United Kingdom.
It is currently an offence to assault a police officer, immigration officer or prison officer, but it is not a specific offence to assault an NHS worker, whether they are a doctor, nurse or paramedic. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should consider extending a specific offence to cover such people, to make it absolutely clear that the public will not tolerate violence towards our hard-working members of the NHS?
The hon. Gentleman is right that one of the tasks we will have when we leave the European Union is to decide what support is provided to agriculture as a result of our being outside the common agricultural policy. I assure him that we are taking the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom into account when we look at that system and what it should be in future.
Last weekend, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a welcome visit to Ukraine, where he said that freedom and democracy are not tradeable commodities. As we mark the 25th anniversary of relations between our two Parliaments, may I invite my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to declare the continuing support of the United Kingdom for the maintenance of an independent sovereign state in Ukraine, which has been subjected to the most outrageous annexation of part of its property by Russia?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in confirming our commitment to the independent sovereign state of Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has been doing a lot of work with other Foreign Ministers on this issue. We provide significant support to Ukraine, and I hope to be able to meet President Poroshenko soon and talk about the support we provide.
As I also said in my speech last week, I expect that we will be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union, because it will be in our interests and the interests of the European Union to do so. There will be a vote on the deal for this Parliament. If this Parliament is not willing to accept a deal that has been decided on and agreed by the United Kingdom Government with the European Union, then, as I have said, we will have to fall back on other arrangements.
It was a great pleasure to welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Cabinet to Sci-Tech Daresbury earlier this week. I welcome the Government’s industrial strategy, which will bring high-skill, high-wage jobs that will help close the north-south divide. The message is that Britain is open for business.
I and the whole Cabinet were very pleased to be able to visit Daresbury. I was pleased to sit down and meet small businesses on that particular site and to hear their support for what the Government are doing in the industrial strategy. We should be very clear that Britain is open for business. We will be out there trading around the world. We will be a global leader in free trade, bringing jobs, economic growth and prosperity to every part of this country.
I think the number of petitions presented in this Parliament is a matter for the House authorities. The hon. Gentleman also knows that the Government have already taken action in relation to the issue of women’s pensions by reducing the changes that will be experienced by women and putting extra money into that.
Following her excellent EU speech last week, will the Prime Minister consider unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK? Not only is that the decent thing to do, but, by taking the moral high ground, it will be a source of strength going forward in the negotiations. We can always return to the issue of non-reciprocation by the EU, if necessary, later in those negotiations.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has raised, but my position remains the same as it always has been. I expect, intend and want to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom, but, as the British Prime Minister, it is only right that I should give consideration to the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in what will be the remaining 27 member states of the EU. That is why I want that reciprocal arrangement, but, as I said in my speech last week, I remain open to this being an issue that we negotiate at a very early stage in the negotiations. There are a good number of other European member states that want that too. Some do not, but I am hoping to settle this at an early stage.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue about disabled people in the workplace. It is one of which we are aware. Of course, as we see unemployment going down, the ratios do change to an extent. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking very seriously at how we can ensure that there are more disabled people in the workplace. I am sure that he will see the requests that she has made in relation to the APPG.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s meeting with the President of Turkey on Saturday, when we can show our solidarity in the fight against terrorism and deepen our trading relationship? Will she also seek support for a united and independent Cyprus, free from Turkish troops?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. There are important issues that I will be discussing with President Erdogan and with the Prime Minister of Turkey when I meet them on Saturday. On Cyprus, I am hopeful that the talks will continue and that we will come to a solution—we are closer to a solution now than we have been before. I have already spoken to Prime Minister Tsipras and to President Erdogan about the need to ensure that we are creative in the thinking and in the finding of a solution. I had a further telephone call with Nicos Anastasiades over the weekend about this very issue. We stand ready as a guarantor to play our part in ensuring that we see a successful conclusion of these talks and the reunification of Cyprus that people have been working towards for some time.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing a speedy recovery to the police officer who was shot and injured in my constituency in north Belfast on Sunday night. Thankfully, he was not killed—but of course that was not the terrorists’ intention. It is clear that the political instability brought about by Sinn Féin’s collapse of the Assembly is not in anyone’s interests in Northern Ireland. It is also clear that it is Sinn Féin’s intention to try to rewrite the history of the past. Will the Prime Minister make it very clear that the one-sided legal persecution of police officers and soldiers who did so much to bring peace to Northern Ireland will not be allowed to continue?
As the right hon. Gentleman indicates, political stability in Northern Ireland has been hard earned over some considerable time, and none of us wants to see that thrown away. He raised the issue of the current situation with a number of investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland into former soldiers and their activities in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely right that we recognise that the majority of people who lost their life did so as a result of terrorist activity, and it is important that that terrorist activity is looked into. That is why one of the issues that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is looking at is the legacy question and how the issue of investigation on all sides can take place in future.
Social care provided by Labour-led Derbyshire County Council is failing miserably, with serious errors in process leading to shameful consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in my constituency. It is clearly not about funding, as the council sits on reserves of about £233 million. Will my right hon. Friend instigate an urgent review of social care practice at the county council, because the people of Derbyshire deserve better?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The success of social care is not wholly about funding. It is about practice on the ground, which is why we have made it clear that it is important to see integration between social and health care at a local level, and local authorities should play their part in delivering that. This is an issue that needs to be addressed for the longer term as well. It has been ducked by Governments for too long in this country, which is why this Government are determined to introduce a sustainable programme for social care in future.
I was going to say, Mr Speaker, that it brings back memories.
As the first foreign leader to meet President Trump, the Prime Minister carries a huge responsibility on behalf not just of this country but of the whole international community in the tone that she sets. Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the President that he must abide by, and not withdraw from, the Paris climate change treaty? In case it is helpful, can she offer the services of UK scientists to convince the President that climate change is not a hoax invented by the Chinese?
I recognise the role that the right hon. Gentleman has played in looking at the issue of climate change, and I hope that he recognises the commitment that the Government have shown to this issue, with the legislation that we have introduced and the changes that we have brought about in the energy sector and the use of different forms of energy. The Obama Administration signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, and we have now done so. I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure that that climate change agreement is put into practice.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At 2 o’clock last Friday, just 58 minutes before the House rose, and on the day the world was watching the inauguration across the pond, the wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beasties of the Department for Work and Pensions sneaked out their consultation response regarding the medieval rape clause and the pernicious two-child policy. The response included a number of concessions, but not nearly enough to give women and families comfort. I seek your clarification on whether at any point last week a DWP Minister indicated to you or your office their intention to make a statement to the House on this hugely important matter, or should right hon. and hon. Members be left to conclude that the Government hoped that this abhorrent news would be caught up in the avalanche of appalling policies emanating from the White House?
The short answer is no. However, I genuinely wish to thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me notice of her intended point of order. I am aware, as other Members will be, that she has a long-standing interest in this sensitive issue. That said, I must tell the hon. Lady and the House that I have received no notice from Ministers of any intention to make a statement to the House on this subject. That, of course, is a judgment for them, rather than for me. However, I am sure that her words will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, not least by a senior Whip, upon whom I trust we can rely to convey her sentiments to those who need to be aware of them. We will leave it there for now. Having built up a due sense of anticipation, let us now hear the point of order from Mr Ian Paisley.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for preserving me. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Leader of the Opposition said that a police officer was shot dead in Belfast at the weekend. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has clarified, thankfully that is not the case—thank God. But for the family and for police officers generally, could we have that corrected by a Front Bencher urgently so that the record of this House does not contain the spurious suggestion that a police officer was murdered in Belfast?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He will appreciate that in matters of this kind I benefit from advice, and the advice that I have just received, and that I accept—it is my responsibility whether or not to accept it—is that there is no need for any further correction. It was an error. I recognise how upsetting that will have been, but it was a mistake. It has subsequently been corrected, and the hon. Gentleman himself has now quite properly used the opportunity of a point of order to correct it. I do not think that anything further needs to be said. The hon. Gentleman is a wily character and he has found his salvation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that Members from across the House have the opportunity to sign the book of commitment for Holocaust Memorial Day. I am pleased that more than 200 right hon. and hon. Members have signed the book, but that does mean that more than 400 have not. May I, through your good offices, draw to the House’s attention the fact that the book is available for signature at the bottom of the Members’ Staircase between 2 pm and 4 pm?
That is a very helpful notice to colleagues. No disrespect to the hon. Gentleman, because that is very helpful for others, but my office had already planned for me to sign the book when I leave the Chair today, and I certainly shall, as I always do. I think that it would be a wonderful thing if a very large number of colleagues—preferably all colleagues—took the opportunity to sign the book, as the hon. Gentleman helpfully suggests.
Town and Country Planning (Electricity Generating Consent)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the disclosure, consideration and approval of proposals for onshore electricity power stations of 50MW or less; to require the application of Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) terms and conditions in certain circumstances; to require sector-specific collective national workforce agreements in other circumstances; and for connected purposes.
Power plants that produce 50 MW or below are not subject to the terms of national planning consent. Instead, these plants, including those that produce energy from waste, are regulated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This system was supposed to give local people more control over developments in their locality, but it has also created loopholes and cover for unscrupulous employers seeking to undercut and exploit construction workers who work on these plants. That is because the hard-won terms and conditions of the national agreement for the engineering construction industry have not been applied to construction contracts for power stations of 50 MW or less. I raised this issue, and indeed presented this Bill, earlier in 2016, but as my Teesside colleagues who supported me then and support me today—my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Anna Turley), for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) —and the GMB and Unite unions, with which we have worked, know, the problem still exists and has not been dealt with.
Some employers that build these smaller power stations are still using deliberating confusing contracts to employ workers on bogus self-employment terms. Indeed, they are still exploiting migrant workers. Rather than paying local workers the national industry agreement rate for skilled workers of between £16.28 and £16.97 an hour, depending on the competency level involved, they are importing and exploiting migrant workers, paying them between just £8 and £10.
One particularly egregious example is the Croatian company Duro Dakovic TEP. This firm’s model of work is simple: bid for construction subcontracts from companies that refuse to work under the “blue book”, or NAECI terms, and then undercut local wages by bringing over workforces wholesale from Croatia to work at Croatian wage levels. This same firm was exposed by GMB and Unite as underpaying its largely migrant workforce in 2015 when constructing a power station in Yorkshire. That job fell under the NAECI independent audit facility, so Duro Dakovic was made to repay every penny owed to its employees. However, disgracefully, it took the money back from employees under duress once they returned to Croatia. That is exploitation plain and simple, and it demonstrates the disregard that this firm has for all its employees.
Unfortunately, this very firm has since won six further contracts to build energy-from-waste power stations in the UK from the Danish firm Babcock & Wilcox Volund. Unite and the GMB have worked to highlight and tackle this exploitation. Members have organised protests with members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians outside sites owned by BWV in Teesside, as well as other energy-from-waste power stations in Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. National officers from Unite and the GMB have travelled as far as Denmark and Croatia to try to educate the appropriate trade unions about this exploitation of their members.
Despite such hard work, any real solution to this problem must come from the House. The exploitation of migrant employees and the undercutting of British workers have happened only because of an unintended loophole in legislation—namely, that the trade union-negotiated NAECI standards do not need to be complied with in construction contracts for power stations producing less than 50 MW. Requiring these NAECI “blue book” standards to be written into contracts with companies constructing power stations of any size on British soil is the only way to prevent that undercutting and to allow workers of all nationalities to bargain collectively to improve their pay and conditions.
Since the vote to leave the European Union, Members from both sides of House have attempted to address the concerns about immigration that are felt in neglected industrial areas across the country. If, as a House and as a nation, we are to address those concerns, we must take action on such loopholes that allow companies to bring in migrant workers on a temporary basis and exploit them, thereby undercutting the wages and conditions of British workers. These pockets of exploitation lead to resentment among all workers from our communities, who are prevented from seeking and achieving meaningful employment. Instead, when they are able to get work on such sites, they work under confusing contracts that class them as self-employed and can sometimes cause them to pay national insurance contributions twice to benefit their employers.
In this case, as in others, our leaving the European Union presents both the threat that we will lose well-intentioned but inadequate EU protections against such practices, which afford migrant employees the host country’s minimum standards, and the opportunity to strengthen protections to ensure compliance with not only minimum standards, but industry standards such as NAECI. We do not need to wait until we have left the EU to do that; we can act now and put a stop to the manipulation of migrant workers and the undermining of hard-fought employment standards in the UK.
This issue can and should be addressed to protect the integrity of hard-fought collective agreements, and the conditions and pay of workers. I therefore make no apology for raising it yet again and for again presenting this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Tom Blenkinsop, Anna Turley, Sir Kevin Barron, Sarah Champion, John Healey, Andy McDonald, Alex Cunningham and Mr Iain Wright present the Bill.
Tom Blenkinsop accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 131).
[19th Allotted Day]
[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2015-16, Prison safety, HC 625, and the Government response of Session 2016-17, HC 647; and oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 29 November 2016, 14 December 2016 and 18 January 2017 on prison reform, HC 548.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern recent serious disturbances at Swaleside, Birmingham, Lewes, Bedford and Moorlands prisons against the backdrop of a reduction of more than 6,000 frontline prison officers since 2010; notes that a planned recruitment drive has a target of hiring fewer than half the number of officers lost, and that previous recruitment drives have failed to achieve their targets; recognises that violence in prisons is at record levels with assaults up by 34 per cent since 2015, assaults on staff up by 43 per cent since 2015, and more than 60 per cent of prisons currently overcrowded; and calls on the Government to reduce overcrowding and improve safety while still ensuring that those people who should be in prison are in prison.
The last Opposition day debate on prisons took place nearly a year ago to this very day. Back then, as hon. Members will recall, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) opened the debate for the Opposition. He told the House:
“The inescapable conclusion is that the prison system in this country…is not working, contrary to the famous pronouncement of the noble Lord Howard.”—[Official Report, 27 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 333.]
A year on, the conclusion drawn by my hon. Friend remains inescapable.
Since 2010, Conservative Justice Secretaries have cut the number of frontline prison officers by more than 6,000. It was the political decision to impose austerity on the nation and our prison service that brought us to this point. That was married with an erratic prisons policy that veered first this way and then that way. First, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) wanted to reduce prison numbers; he was sacked. Then the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) took a very authoritarian line, introducing benchmarking and book-banning, both of which failed. Next, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) wanted to decentralise and hand autonomy to governors. The current Justice Secretary wants a bit of policy from each—prison policy à la carte.
The number of officers was cut with no check on the number of people being imprisoned, but the effect of that ought to have been obvious. The Government are imprisoning more people than they have decided they can afford. In the 12 months to June 2016, there were 105 self-inflicted deaths—nearly double the number five years previously, and an all-time high.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from this point, may I draw his attention to the Select Committee report that said that if we are to try to cut the cycle of prisoners reoffending, it would be good to try to provide employment for them, particularly by reducing national insurance contributions for employers? While that would not be a silver bullet, would it not play some part in reducing the pressure on prisons if such a policy were adopted by the Secretary of State?
The hon. Gentleman quite rightly says that there is, as I think everybody will acknowledge, a serious crisis in our prisons, which at the moment are overcrowded slums and breeding grounds for crime. He sets out a rather interesting range of options for tackling this but, with respect, his motion merely concentrates on the Prison Officers Association’s answer, which is to spend more money and hire more prison officers, probably with improved pay and conditions. Does he have any views on the range of options that includes reducing the number of prisoners by addressing foolish sentencing policies so that there is room for the rehabilitation measures recommended by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field)?
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there are too many people with mental health conditions in our prisons who should not be there in the first place? Was he as appalled as I was to hear the outcome of last week’s inquest into the tragic death of Dean Saunders, one of 113 people who took their life in one of our prisons in the past year? The inquest found that he should never have been in prison in the first place—he should have been in a mental health in-patient unit.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern, which she raised in Justice questions yesterday. I will deal with the tragic death of Dean Saunders later.
As I said, the Government are imprisoning more people than they have decided they can afford. There were 345 deaths in custody last year. In the same period, serious assaults on staff increased by 146%, and incidents of self-harm increased by more than 10,000. Within the space of just a few weeks, there were prison riots in Lincoln, Lewes, Bedford, and Moorland—not “Moorlands”, as it says in the motion. In December, HMP Birmingham saw what many described as the worst riots at a category B prison since Strangeways a quarter of a century ago.
A lot of the hon. Gentleman’s criticism is predicated on the concept of austerity under this Government, but surely he will concede that the previous Labour Government, in much more benign economic circumstances, released 82,000 prisoners under the end of custody licence scheme, of whom 2,657 were recalled for licence breaches and over 1,200 for reoffending. In better financial times, there was still mismanagement of the prison estate.
The prison system has never been perfect, but under a Labour Government there was not a prison crisis, and under this Conservative Government there is a prison crisis.
In Birmingham, it took 13 Tornado teams more than 12 hours to regain control. Some estimate the cost of the damage as £2 million. The Ministry was warned back in October that urgent action was required in the light of staff worries about personal safety, but it remains unclear whether it did anything at all. Last October, in an unprecedented intervention—
Is my hon. Friend as worried as I am that not only has there been the huge reduction in the number of prison officers, but there seems to be a deliberate strategy to get more experienced, more expensive prison officers to stand down—to retire—and to replace them with cheap apprentices and graduates? There is a real lack of experience in our prison sector as well as a dangerous lack of officer numbers.
I must make some progress, I am afraid.
In the wake of those riots, the Justice Secretary told the House yesterday that more Tornado staff are being trained. Clearly she expects more trouble and expects things to get worse before they get better.
The Ministry has a long list of problems to contend with: overcrowding; understaffing; lack of safety; the quality of delivery from privatised probation services; drugs and drones; and the nearly 4,000 IPP—imprisonment for public protection—prisoners who are still in jail way past their tariffs.
I will not give way.
One prison officer told me that the situation in our Prison Service is like a game of Jenga where it feels as though we are on the brink of the final piece being removed and the whole thing coming crashing down around us. He did not say that lightly. The Government’s White Paper has had a mixed reception from those with experience and expertise in the penal system and penal reform.
I need to make some progress.
Nearly all these problems stem from the axing of a quarter of prison staff since 2010. The Justice Secretary’s colleague, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), asked her yesterday at Justice questions whether she thought that cut was wise. She did not answer; she has the opportunity to answer today.
A future Labour Government will not treat our hard-working, hard-pressed prison officers as the enemy—[Interruption.] I hear the roars of disapproval from those on the Government Benches. Anybody would think they were presiding over a successful Prison Service and there was not a prison crisis. If they would listen rather than roar at me, I would be grateful.
I really do need to make progress, I am afraid.
The ambition set out in the White Paper to increase staffing levels is welcome, but 2,500 officers represent less than half the number of prison officers cut by Conservative Justice Secretaries since 2010, and in order to get 2,500 extra officers, 8,000 will have to be recruited in just two years. I wonder whether the Justice Secretary has confidence that that will happen, because I do not come across many in the justice sector who think it any more than a pipe dream under her management. In the year to September 2016, she had about 400 fewer officers. There is a crisis in staff retention; they are leaving more quickly than she can recruit them. The Prison Officers Association membership has very recently rejected a pay deal offered by the Government. What plans has she made to improve the offer and begin to make those jobs more attractive to the public? She currently faces a recruitment drive that is in danger of failing before it has begun.
Announcements that ex-service personnel will be recruited to the Prison Service might grab quick headlines, but in truth this is nothing new. There have always been former members of our armed forces taking jobs in our Prison Service. The role of soldier and prison officer are not exactly the same, by the way, as prison officers who have been in the Army have told me. The Secretary of State must explain how she can compensate for the fact that, as we have heard, so many experienced officers have left, and are leaving, our Prison Service.
Overseeing a transformation to a prison estate populated by more experienced prisoners and more inexperienced prison officers presents a clear and present danger. Inadequate staffing levels have a range of consequences. Prisons are less safe because staff are far outnumbered. Prisoners are spending more time in their cells because they cannot be managed outside, and prisoner frustration is heightened by the lack of time out of their cells.
I commend my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. Does he agree that one way to reduce the prison population would be for the Government to make better progress in the transfer of foreign national offenders? At the moment, there are 10,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, representing 12% of the prison population. The Government sign agreements, but very few prisoners get sent back.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that important point. In Justice questions yesterday, the Minister with responsibility for prisons, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), said that he was in discussions with the Department for Exiting the European Union about the matter. We need to hear more about the progress of those discussions.
The Justice Secretary frequently points to the emergence of new psychoactive substances as a major factor in the current crisis. Does she know that in Scotland, where prison policy has been stable for some years and where staffing has remained constant, violence has not rocketed as it has across the rest of the prison estate? Scotland has NPS issues, too, but it did not axe staff in vast numbers.
Our prisons are overcrowded. Armley prison, in my city of Leeds, holds nearly twice the number of prisoners that it was built to house. Wandsworth, Swansea, Brixton and Leicester are not far behind; they are all full to capacity with another 50% on top.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he knows that I hold him in very high esteem. Lady Chakrabarti, the shadow Attorney General, said recently that she wanted half the prisoners in the UK prison estate to be released immediately. Is that Labour’s official party policy? My constituents would be very interested to know.
I am certainly not aware of any such policy announcement being made. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are making some strange gesticulations. It is not Labour policy to release half the prisoners. Why on earth would that be the case?
We need a lasting way to manage the prison population. In November 2016, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, appeared before the Justice Committee. Not surprisingly, he was questioned on the prisons crisis, and he offered a view on what could be done:
“The prison population is very, very high at the moment. Whether it will continue to rise is always difficult to tell, but there are worries that it will. I am not sure that at the end of the day we can’t dispose of more by really tough—and I do mean tough—community penalties.”
Prison has always been seen as a punishment. A person breaks the social contract that governs much of our relations with one another, and they may be imprisoned. Members from across the House rightly see prison as a fitting sanction, and it must be right that when a convicted person is a danger to the public, they are kept away from the public until such time as they no longer pose a threat. A significant minority may never be safe to release. But we must ask whether prison is the right place for some of those who offend. We should always reflect on that, because if we do not, we find ourselves in the position that the Government are in now.
I have already said that I will not give way any further.
The warehousing of thousands of people without any support or access to rehabilitation means that when they leave prison, as they inevitably will, they will be in exactly the same position as when they entered. They might still be drug-dependent. They might still be homeless. They might still be in poverty. It is right—in fact, it is our duty—not to be complacent, but to reflect and ask ourselves whether the way in which we deal with at least some of those who break the law is working. With many offenders, it is not. Their stay in prison is too short to teach them new skills, or for them to obtain a qualification or stabilise a drug addiction.
In recent weeks I have met stakeholders who question whether it is worth sending people to prison for a few weeks or a few months, and I have met prison officers who lament that they see the same people over and over again. When stakeholders, people at the frontline and experts raise such matters, we must take them seriously. We must punish and we must deliver smart sentences as well as strict sentences, always asking ourselves what the best way is to protect the public. I firmly believe that MPs must have that urgent discussion.
The number of questions being shouted out by Government Members makes me wonder whether they know what they are presiding over. There are risks with sending people to prison, particularly for the first time. [Interruption.] There is laughter from the Government Front Benchers, but the situation in our prison system is not a laughing matter. They should take this debate seriously.
We throw people into the prison river, and the currents sweep them towards more drugs and more crime than they experienced outside. If rehabilitation fails, it is a failure to protect society. I must ask what the Justice Secretary is doing about imprisonment for public protection sentences. She urgently needs to come up with a scheme to release those whom it is safe to release. She should consider how that can be done—perhaps by releasing those people on a licence period in proportion to their original sentence.
In November last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) published the interim findings of his review into the treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. The stark findings of the review have implications for our prisons. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences in the Crown court for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure was 141 compared with 100 white men. BAME men were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. Those figures ought to be of concern to the Justice Secretary, and she has a duty to find out why that is happening and what can be done about it. The findings are troubling in and of themselves, but such disproportionate sentencing adds to the strain on our prison system.
Rehabilitation is essential to any serious criminal justice system, but we are not yet getting it right. Most people who are in prison will one day leave prison, so if we are to protect the public and keep our communities safe, rehabilitation must be properly funded and taken seriously by politicians as an aim. It must not be treated as a soft option. Between January and December 2014, 45.5% of adults released from prison had reoffended within a year. Of those released from a sentence of less than 12 months, 60% went on to reoffend.
When the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell introduced the transforming rehabilitation programme, the probation service was reckoned to be performing well. Many stakeholders issued a warning against the breakup of the probation service but, as with many Ministry of Justice consultations at the time, the public were simply ignored and the proposals pushed through regardless. Community rehabilitation companies received negative reports last year in Derbyshire, Durham and London.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Durham used to have the best probation service in the country, which did an amazing job of trying to rehabilitate prisoners, but it has, alas, fallen by the wayside because of the Government reforms. Does he agree that it would be nice to see Government Members taking some responsibility for what has happened to our prison and probation system? It is an absolute disgrace that it is failing in such a way.
The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to what he considers to be weaknesses in current sentencing, the approach to IPPs, the approach to rehabilitation and the handling of probation, but he has not come forward with a single positive alternative. In the moments remaining to him, will he enlighten the House about what Labour would actually do, other than simply complain?
I certainly will do so, if the right hon. Gentleman will just bear with me.
The inspectorate of probation’s report of May 2016 found that the work of the national probation service was considered better in a number of important areas. As I have said, privatisation of the probation service has failed. Of course, it is not just down to the Ministry and to probation to support people; if people are leaving prison faced with the same conditions as before they entered it, that will make any meaningful change difficult.
Support is needed: it is needed for employment and for housing. One women’s prison had inmates leaving with nowhere to live, and it was handing out tents and sleeping bags to people when they left. This cannot be a feature of a modern justice system in the fifth-richest country in the world. The Prisoners Education Trust, while welcoming the White Paper, has said that
“in today’s economy, gaining meaningful employment depends on more than just the ability to read and write. If the government is serious about lowering reoffending, it needs to equip people in prison with the attitudes and aspirations”—[Interruption.]
Order. The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), should not shout out. He should not shout from a sedentary position, and he should not shout out while standing up. If he will forgive my saying so, to shout out while standing right next to the Speaker’s Chair is perhaps not quite the most intelligent action that he has undertaken in the course, so far, of a most auspicious career.
I certainly did not take offence when the Government Whip was shouting out, “Are there any policies?” because I did not think that that question was directed at the Opposition.
The reality is that prisons are full of people with a range of problems—those with mental health problems, those addicted to drugs and those who are homeless. It is rarely mentioned that support services focused on issues of that kind have also been victims of austerity. Drugs support has been scaled back, and prisoners are leaving prison with nowhere to sleep. There are too many people in prison with serious mental health problems.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way; I am most honoured. The Opposition motion mentions Lewes prison—it is in special measures, as was raised during Justice questions yesterday—but he fails to acknowledge the huge amount of work that is going into the prison. This is not just about prison officer numbers; there are other issues, such as the huge rise in the number of sexual offenders in Lewes prison, which has made that old Victorian prison very hard to manage. I have not heard any suggestions by the hon. Gentleman about the way forward in helping places such as Lewes to tackle those problems.
The increases in the number of prisoners convicted of historical sex offences and in the number of people in prisons obviously have an effect, but does cutting the number of prison officers by a quarter mitigate that situation or make it worse? It seems to me that the answer to that is quite simple.
Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, I want to turn—[Interruption.] The prisons Minister has an unfortunate habit of heckling at really inappropriate points. He has demonstrated that before and he has demonstrated it again now. I want to talk about the case of Dean Saunders, who tragically committed suicide in Chelmsford prison. An inquest jury found a number of errors in his treatment. Although prison staff recognised that he had mental health problems, they did not follow the procedure under which he might have been moved to hospital. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), has said that he is
“seeking the details of all those cases to see whether there is a pattern”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 156.]
Deborah Coles of the charity Inquest, who supported the family, said that Mr Saunders
“should never have been in prison in the first place. His death was entirely preventable.”
The fact is that there is evidence in abundance from the various independent monitoring board reports and inquest jury findings. The Ministry must ensure that the recommendations of such bodies are acted on.
In conclusion, we need to be tough on crime, wherever it is found, and we need to protect the public. At the same time, we need to make prisons places where effective rehabilitation is a living, breathing reality. We want people to leave prison and become productive members of society, having left crime behind. At present, when it comes to the Prison Service, as in relation to so much else, this Government are failing. They are failing prison staff, they are failing prison inmates and their families, and they are failing the public. Ultimately, the mess this Government are making of our prison system means they are failing society. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals for major reform of the prison system set out in the White Paper; further welcomes plans for an extra 2,500 prison officers, to professionalise the prison service further and to attract new talent by recruiting prison officer apprentices, graduates and former armed service personnel; notes new security measures being introduced to tackle the illegal use of drones, phones and drugs which are undermining the stability of the prison system; welcomes the commitment to give governors in all prisons more powers and more responsibility to deliver reform whilst holding them to account for the progress prisoners make; and welcomes the Government’s proposals to set out for the first time the purpose of prisons in statute.”
Since becoming Justice Secretary, I have been clear that the violence in our prisons is too high. We have very worrying levels of self-harm and of deaths in custody. Tomorrow, we will see further statistics on violence for the period from July to September 2016. The last set of statistics reaffirmed why we need to take immediate action. I have been clear that these problems have been years in the making, and will not be fixed in weeks or months. In fact, in a piece he wrote this morning, the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) acknowledged that there is no “magic fix” for these issues. We certainly did not hear any magic fixes in his speech today.
There may be no magic fixes, but does my right hon. Friend agree with the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) that this Government should take responsibility? They should indeed take responsibility for banning novel psychoactive substances at the request of prison officers, and they should take responsibility for a plan to increase the nu