House of Commons
Tuesday 31 January 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
The first section of our Green Paper on industrial strategy sets out our ambition to make Britain the best nation in the world for scientists, innovators and technical inventors. In support of this, we have announced an increase of £4.7 billion in public research and development funds, which is the biggest increase in support of science for 40 years.
In evidence to the Education Committee last week, Professor Arthur, the president of University College London, spoke not only of the huge sums flowing into UK research from Europe—through Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council, for example—but of the need for a system to replace the mobility of people, networking and the ability to work across multiple boundaries. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if the Eurosceptics in his party prevail and we have a hard Brexit, spending even 3% of GDP on science funding will not be enough to protect our global reputation for scientific research? What is he doing to stand up for the needs of this sector?
The hon. Lady has two eminent universities in her constituency that are going from strength to strength. I agree that it is important that the best researchers from across the world come to our universities, and the Prime Minister said in her Lancaster House speech that that was a priority for our negotiations.
Science funding includes funding for the satellite sector, which is an important industrial base for the UK. The Government have set a target to grow this sector by a further 10% of global share in the next two decades. What more money could be put into the satellite sector from the industrial strategy challenge fund?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We say in the strategy that we should build on our strengths, and the satellite sector is a shining British strength that is creating huge numbers of jobs. It is specified throughout the industrial strategy as an area in which we want the industry to work together to ensure that, in particular, we are training the technicians and engineers of the future, which is what we have been doing.
The industrial strategy rightly points out the crucial significance of investment in science for our future economy and productivity. Given that the USA, Germany and France all outspend us in this area, will the Secretary of State give a commitment that future spending will outstrip theirs to give us a competitive advantage over them?
The hon. Gentleman is a thoughtful Member with regard to these matters, having chaired the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and he will see in the Green Paper that we are candid about the need to maintain the pace. Indeed, we have increased public investment. He was right to mention the US, but actually the proportion of public to business investment is higher in this country than in Germany, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and other countries besides. We are building on strength, but we want to take things further, and I look forward to his contribution to the consultation.
There is great concern about the future of fusion research after Britain pulls out of the EU and Euratom. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that he will continue to support and fully fund the Joint European Torus project and other joint research projects such as ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—after Britain leaves the EU?
The Green Paper makes much of re-announcing the welcome increase in science spending which, following cuts of up to 50% over the last seven years, has finally returned it to the levels under the last Labour Government. Research and development funding, however, remains barely half the recommended 3% target that Labour has committed to. Does the Secretary of State agree that, given the impact of Brexit on UK science, the lack of any overarching vision and the focus on picking sector winners, rather than mobilising the whole—
The hon. Lady does not have it right. She should know—the science sector has welcomed this fact—that we protected funding for science during all the difficult years in which we were recovering from the financial situation that Labour left us. There was a huge welcome for the £2 billion increase, which is the biggest since 1979. In other words, that is bigger than what any Labour Government ever offered.
The UK has the second largest aerospace industry worldwide, with strengths in some of the most technologically advanced parts of aircraft—wings, engines and advanced systems. The sector has annual turnover of around £30 billion and exports of some £25 billion a year.
Leading aerospace part designer and manufacturer Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows in my constituency speaks positively of the support from the Government’s Sharing in Growth scheme, which it says will be key in helping the company to realise its ambitious growth strategy. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the company on its plans and consider visiting its factory in Congleton to learn more?
Rochester and Strood has a proud aerospace history, having had the Short Brothers iconic flying boats. It is now home to Aeromet, an important SME that is part of the supply chain for Airbus. Will my hon. Friend outline how his Department will ensure that the UK aerospace supply chain will continue to have unhindered access to major opportunities in our manufacturing industries?
As my hon. Friend will know, the aerospace growth partnership has been a great success, with the Government working closely with industry. As part of that, the Government have made a joint funding commitment with the industry for nearly £4 billion of aerospace research between 2013 and 2026, so I think that the future is relatively well funded.
Does my hon. Friend see the signing of the contract in Turkey last week by the United Kingdom and Turkey on the new Turkish fighter jet as an endorsement of the skills and expertise of BAE Systems in this country, and does he foresee future deals with other countries?
In the last two years, Glasgow has built more satellites than any other city in Europe, with 100 private and public sector organisations such as Clyde Space contributing more than £130 million to the Scottish economy. This is much credited to Scotland’s long-standing strength in engineering, science and technology. As we face the prospect of a hard Tory Brexit, will the Minister make a commitment here and now that Scotland’s aerospace sector will be protected and that there will be no detriment to this vital sector and its many jobs?
The success of Scotland has been part of a wider UK success. I absolutely recognise the point that the hon. Lady mentions. I was in Glasgow only last week, talking to high-tech companies at Glasgow University, and I can absolutely vouch for their quality.
In my former career as an aerospace engineer—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They have not heard the question yet, Mr Speaker. In that former career, I saw several examples of our aerospace competitiveness being diminished by the political enforcement of collaboration in engineering across Europe. Will the Minister ensure that future collaboration across Europe on aerospace happens where that is productive, not where it suits geopolitical objectives?
The recent “Steel 2020” report noted that steel is a key foundation industry for the UK that underpins our aerospace and automotive sectors, as well as many others. However, in the Government’s 130-page industrial strategy Green Paper, steel is mentioned just once. Can the Minister explain why he is neglecting this important industry?
The gov.uk website and the business support helpline provide information on starting and running a business. Growth hubs also provide access to local and national support. Some 4.8 million people are currently self-employed.
When I started a business, I found that one of the most intimidating elements was employing my first member of staff. What more can the Government do to encourage and support the self-employed to grow their company and become employers in their own right?
We will support entrepreneurs across the UK to ensure that they can access finance and wider support so that they can grow. British Business Bank programmes are already supporting £3.2 billion of finance to more than 51,000 smaller businesses, including start-up loans to 39 entrepreneurs in my hon. Friend’s Braintree constituency.
This matter is particularly close to my heart, given that I was self-employed until a few months ago. Of course, there are many self-employed businesses in rural areas of West Oxfordshire. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will continue to make it easier to start and grow a business by deregulating, creating an attractive tax environment, and helping businesses to attract and seek the finance that they need?
We continue to work hard to make the UK a great place to start and grow a business. According to OECD statistics, we are internationally the third best place to start a businesses, but we are 13th when it comes to the best place to grow a business, which is where my focus as small business Minister is going to lie. I very much welcome the support of my hon. Friend.
North Kensington, an area that the Minister knows, has several fantastic initiatives through which new start-ups have access to shared space. Are there any plans to reduce business rates and provide relief for small companies using shared space initiatives?
The Treasury has no plans specifically for shared work spaces, but at the last Budget, the Chancellor announced £6.7 billion of cuts to benefit all business rate payers. They include permanently doubling small business rate relief and increasing the thresholds from 2017.
The disabled employment programme is an important part of our work in labour markets, and it is backed by many top retailers. We will continue to press this issue and work with the Department for Work and Pensions for greater access to work for people with disabilities.
In order to grow the businesses of the self-employed, they need access to good-quality training. When I met the Doncaster YMCA and its apprentices last week, an issue was raised about clarity regarding funding during the transitional arrangements for the Skills Funding Agency going to the Department for Education. Will the Minister take an urgent look at this?
I thank the right hon. Lady for bringing this to our attention. A new approach to improving access to skills and apprenticeships is a fundamental part of our new industrial strategy. I will raise the matter that the right hon. Lady mentions with the Secretary of State for Education.
Many self-employed people recruit apprentices and others who are seeking employment. Given that the report recently produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies cast doubt on the effectiveness of apprentices, the training scheme and the apprenticeship levy, what are the Government going to do about this?
Last week the Government launched the new industrial strategy, and the new academies programme for improving skills and access to apprenticeships is working with the existing apprenticeship programme to improve both the quality and number of apprentices.
Further education colleges remain an important part of our strategy to improve skills and access to apprenticeships, but they are not the only route to apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy will increase funding for overall access to skills for our young people.
Compulsory quarterly digital tax updates cause real concern to self-employed people and small businesses. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that support is available. Will the Minister tell us what support is available to self-employed businesses and how much money is set aside for that support?
I am sorry; I did not follow all the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, I know that the Treasury is looking into the fairness of taxation as between self-employed people and the rest of the workforce. I will read the hon. Gentleman’s question in Hansard and write to him accordingly.
I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s question. The Prime Minister has appointed Matthew Taylor to undertake a review of employment practices in the modern economy to ensure that while we embrace new technologies, we also protect workers’ rights.
The Taylor review will also look into that very important issue. A worker’s contract with his or her employer is the fundamental basis on which he or she is judged to be self-employed or an employee, and that distinction will be closely scrutinised by Matthew Taylor.
SMEs: Kent and Medway
SMEs in Kent are fundamental to our economy, as they are everywhere else. Through local growth funds, the work of Kent County Council and the business operations of Kent and Medway, the Government will ensure that the area benefits hugely from the increased number of SMEs.
In view of the Government’s commitment to investment in infrastructure, which will assist businesses in Kent and Medway, will the Minister confirm their commitment to the Lower Thames crossing, along with extra investment for Kent roads, which will provide connectivity for local businesses?
The Department for Transport will make an announcement, but my hon. Friend should be reassured that Kent County Council and the relevant business organisations are working closely with my Department to ensure that there are extensive improvements in the transport infrastructure in his constituency and the wider county.
You can be assured of that, Mr Speaker.
The SMEs in Kent and Medway need someone in government to fight their corner. In July 2015, they were promised a small business commissioner who would focus particularly on late payments. The Federation of Small Businesses and others have raised concerns about the lack of power that the commissioner will have, and the fact that 18 months after the position was created, there is no sign of a commissioner. Will the Minister tell SMEs in Kent and Medway, for which I have the greatest regard, and others throughout the country when the commissioner will be appointed, and whether he or she will have proper powers to ensure that companies that do not pay are taken to task?
First, I can reassure the hon. Lady that Kent and Medway is ably championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who asked the original question, but apropos of her specific point, we are in the process of appointing the small business commissioner at the moment; he will be in post by the summer and able to take complaints on the important issue of prompt payment in the autumn of this year.
The Hendry review published its report earlier this month. The Government are considering its recommendations and the issues that would arise from a broader lagoon programme, including the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons. The Government will publish their response to the Hendry review in due course.
As an MP with a coastal constituency, I am a big fan of tidal power, and following the Hendry review it has been estimated that building some 10 tidal lagoon power stations by 2030 could generate 10% of our electricity requirements. So when considering the economics of the Swansea Bay scheme, will the Minister take into account the wider benefits for British manufacturing and technology of becoming a world leader in this clean technology?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise that the question must be considered in the round and not merely on the merits or no of the Swansea Bay scheme. It is the Government’s job to consider the advantages and disadvantages of tidal lagoons as a whole and to take a decision that includes not merely the financial elements, but also environmental elements, the capacity to generate power as part of a wider energy mix and ancillary elements.
The Minister surely knows that all kinds of alternative energy, including tidal power, need good recruits; they need trainees and, indeed, apprentices. Is he not hanging his head in shame this morning because of the report of the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies which says that this Government’s apprenticeship programme is a disaster and should be ripped up and started again? When is he going to get real?
But purely in relation to tidal lagoons; we are not talking about apprenticeships more widely or seeking to shoehorn a personal interest into a question to which it does not ordinarily apply. But the Minister is a philosopher and dextrous to a fault, so I am sure he will cope.
Heaven forfend, Mr Speaker, that I should entertain so unworthy a suspicion as to think the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) might have smuggled some entirely unrelated question into a question on tidal lagoons. May I simply reassure him that skills remain at the centre of the Government’s concerns, and that is why they feature so prominently in the industrial strategy?
The Minister is quite right to say that he will analyse this in the round, because while I think many of us will recognise the economic advantages, particularly over a long period such as 100 to 150 years, the environmental impact will be considerable. Can he perhaps amplify what sort of things he will be looking at, including how tidal lagoons affect fish life, marine life and bird life?
It is of course true that, as well as the economic case and value for money issues that that raises, there will be wider consideration of environmental impacts, but in relation not just to individual schemes as they can be understood now, but to the way in which they might concatenate across a programme of tidal lagoons.
The Government have been very good at supporting the tidal stream generator in Portaferry in Northern Ireland. Can we ensure that we make the most of what is learned from tidal power in devolved Governments and the rest of the UK—not the events in Northern Ireland, but what we generate?
One hesitates to remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a different matter and a different technology from tidal lagoons, but I think he can take it as read that officials and Ministers will be thinking carefully about all the relevant precedents that might bear on this decision.
The question was about the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons to UK energy provision. My understanding is that a limited deployment of tidal lagoons in the Severn estuary alone would contribute about 8% or more of UK electricity demand. Can the Minister tell me if there is any other technology that can provide that sort of power in one location—as a clue, perhaps I can suggest to him that Hinkley C running full tilt without any outages is estimated to contribute about 7% to UK energy requirements?
I dare to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. It is not quite clear what he thinks of as the lagoons in the scheme he describes, but Hinkley Point will be a bigger generator than, certainly, the first round of lagoons, as well as being a higher load and more reliable.
The issues considered by the Hendry review are complex, and the Government will be demanding a period of time to assess the recommendations and determine what decision is in the best interests of UK energy consumers. I have already said that we will not be dragging our heels on this, and we will not do so.
There is huge potential for tidal energy not only in the Swansea scheme but along the south Wales coast and the Severn estuary and along the north Wales coast. However, I am hearing worrying things about the Department dragging its heels on this. Will the Minister assure me that there will be strong ministerial leadership to take the recommendations forward and to get on with the Swansea scheme and others?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman would say that, given that it was the Department’s expectation that the report might be published before Christmas and that it was in fact published only two or three weeks ago. There is no suggestion that the Department is dragging its heels, and nor will we do so, but we will, in the public interest, give the report proper, thorough consideration on value-for-money and other grounds.
In a previous answer, the Minister referred to advantages and disadvantages. Does he agree that the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would not only meet energy needs but provide huge levels of investment in jobs in my constituency and throughout the region? As the Hendry report implies, it could put Wales at the forefront of developing a world-first technology.
I salute my colleague’s proper concern for support and investment in his constituency; that is absolutely right. The wider implications are being considered by the Government, and I remind him that the Hendry review asked for the issues to be considered specifically in the context of power generation, so those things go alongside the wider consideration we are giving to the report.
The Hendry report refers to tidal energy. The Minister will know that the first large-scale tidal steam generator in Northern Ireland, in Strangford Lough, was four times more powerful than any other in the whole world at the time. What consideration will he give to ensuring that the energy being produced in Strangford Lough can be utilised for the benefit of the whole of Northern Ireland?
As I have indicated in a separate debate with the hon. Gentleman, that is a different, although related, technology. It was funded in part by the Government and has produced interesting results. This is a matter for close consideration by officials and we will continue to reflect on the matter. If he wishes to write to me further, I would be delighted to take a letter.
One of the core objectives of the draft industrial strategy is to rebalance the UK economy, with engineering, construction and manufacturing making a larger contribution to economic growth. Does the Minister agree that if we are to achieve that objective, we will need to invest in major infrastructure projects such as the tidal lagoon?
I absolutely share my right hon. Friend’s view that major infrastructure investment is an important part, although only a part, of the wider overall investment that can be made in this country as part of the industrial strategy. He is right to suggest that those wider considerations must be balanced by a tempered assessment of value for money, and that is what we will be giving them.
With all due respect to the Minister, may I tell him that his Department simply not dragging its heels is not good enough? The Hendry report recommends that Ministers
“secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible”.
I can promise that he will have the full support of the Members on this side of the House for doing that, although I am unsure that he would have the same support from those behind him. Will he therefore press the Chancellor for an agreement on the Swansea tidal lagoon, to be announced in the March Budget?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s dexterity in turning three weeks into foot-dragging. Given his rabbinical scrutiny of the Hendry review, I shall simply remind him that it specifically asks the Government to give these issues careful consideration, and that is what we will be doing.
Leaving the EU: Research and Development (Scotland)
As the Secretary of State has already said, the Government are supporting research and development throughout the UK. We protected the resource budget at the 2015 spending review and committed an extra £2 billion in the most recent autumn statement—the largest increase in science funding since 1979.
A hard Brexit will threaten Scotland’s world-class university sector, and the price of the research development investment that we are discussing was a staggering €8.8 billion from 2007-2013. What representations are this Department making to the Treasury and the Brexit Secretary to protect that vital investment?
Scotland is a powerhouse for academic research, and we want to play to one of this country’s great strengths, so we welcome the agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science and technology programmes in years to come. Britain will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to improve and better understand the world in which we live.
The most important investment that we must safeguard is the people who work in science and research. What is the Minister doing to ensure that EU researchers in Scotland are sure of their place as we go through the Brexit process?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech the week before last, we greatly value the contribution that EU nationals make in our institutions. The Government have been exceptionally clear that during the negotiations we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible are if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states were not protected in return.
We invest £2 billion a year in health life sciences research through our research councils and the National Institute for Health Research. Through funding for the biomedical catalyst, we are helping businesses to bring that research to market. We announced in the new industrial strategy that Sir John Bell will be leading work on a strategy to make the UK the best place in the world to invest in life sciences.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Access to finance is key to a dynamic life sciences sector in the UK. In November, the Prime Minister announced a review of patient capital to identify barriers to access to long-term finance for growing firms, looking at all aspects of the financial system. We look forward to the review’s recommendations ahead of the autumn statement.
The industrial strategy will have a major impact on speeding up Genomics England’s ability to sequence the genome. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is working with the Department of Health to ensure that the Government’s investment will be spent effectively to encourage greater productivity?
The industrial strategy Green Paper highlights work on a new strategy for life sciences, bringing together the health system, industry and academia and potentially leading to an early sector deal. The accelerated access review sets out a vision of the NHS embracing innovation, and the Government will respond in due course.
Local Economic Growth
One of our most important reforms has been to devolve power and resources to local areas through city deals, devolution deals and growth deals, in which local businesses can shape the decisions most affecting them. The hon. Lady will have welcomed last week’s announcement that half a billion pounds was devolved to northern local enterprise partnerships, including £130 million to Greater Manchester.
I welcomed most of the announcements in the industrial strategy last week, but the Secretary of State will appreciate that a local area strategy is required for key infrastructure issues such as skills and childcare. What conversations has he had with colleagues in the Department for Education and across local government about the meaningful devolution of skills, early years and education?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the needs of different places should be reflected in decisions that are made locally. Along with the centrality of skills and training, that is a big theme of the industrial strategy consultation, to which I hope she will respond. I look forward to her contribution.
I will indeed. One of the big opportunities is to make sure that the excellence we have in science and research is married with local strengths so that we can have the products of that research, in manufacturing for example, as well as the discoveries themselves.
Northern Ireland has only one very small enterprise zone, which is up in Coleraine and has not really progressed. Can the Secretary of State give any support or assistance to the Northern Ireland Executive, when they are up and running again, for more enterprise zones within the Province?
I declare an interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. The borough of Kettering has had one of the fastest rates of business rate growth in the whole country in the last 10 years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with local government to be fully funded by business rates from 2020, all local councils will have to get far closer to their local businesses in order for local economies to function as best they can?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, as a councillor, he knows how important it is that that very direct connection is made. It is one of the measures going through the House that I was proud to have proposed when I was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and it is something for which local government has long campaigned. I am delighted that it was this Conservative Government who were able to deliver it.
Bank lending is essential for local business success, and yesterday’s HBOS convictions are a stark reminder of the way that smaller businesses were treated by some banks during the financial crisis. Does the Secretary of State accept that lending has fallen over the last year? What is he doing to give confidence in the banks, unlock support and increase lending?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the misbehaviour of the banks, especially with regard to small businesses, when they were inadequately supervised as a result of the destruction of the supervisory regime under the previous Labour Government. That has now been put on a much sounder footing. He will know that the lending opportunities for small businesses have been transformed, but the industrial strategy Green Paper is very clear that we want to make further opportunities available, particularly outside London and the south-east.
Offshore Energy: Humber
The UK is the world’s largest market for offshore wind, and the Humber energy estuary is, in my hon. Friend’s own words, “ideally positioned” to serve that sector. The Secretary of State and I saw that when we visited the new £310 million Siemens turbine blade factory, which has created more than 1,000 very valuable new jobs in the area.
This afternoon the Humber local enterprise partnership and Humber MPs are staging a showcase event to highlight the assets of the energy estuary. Can the Minister assure business leaders that the Government will continue to support the offshore centre, which is based in northern Lincolnshire, and the wider Humber region? Will he or one of his colleagues find time to visit the event this afternoon?
Yes to the event, and yes to the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks about continued support. On top of the growth deal, the city deal and the enterprise zone programme, he will be well aware of the very significant Government commitment to future contract for difference auctions worth £730 million for less mature renewable technologies, including offshore wind. I hope he welcomes that.
That is an extremely important point, and it is part of our calculation of the return on the investment made by the British taxpayer. Good progress is being made, and analysis shows that aggregated lifetime UK content in operating windfarms is 43%, against a track target of around 50%, and the proportion is higher for the value of operations and maintenance contracts, which run at about 70% of value at the moment. This will be a key area of our focus as we go forward with the industrial strategy.
Access to Finance
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with the Chancellor on building the Government’s industrial strategy, which includes ensuring that businesses can access the finance they need. We already help businesses through the business finance and support finder on gov.uk, and we recently launched the finance platforms service, which offers small and medium-sized enterprises that have had finance rejected by the large banks the option of a referral to alternative finance providers.
With many new online alternative finance companies springing up across the UK, what is my hon. Friend doing, first, to ensure that our small and medium-sized enterprises know about these alternative ways of accessing finance, and, secondly, to give them the confidence to borrow from such organisations?
The British Business Bank has created the business finance guide, which is widely distributed and offers comprehensive information about the financing options available to businesses, including alternative sources of finance. The Financial Conduct Authority regulates peer-to-peer lending platforms and is currently reviewing its regulatory regime to ensure that it is robust and up to date.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of bank closures in town centres on the availability of business finance, to ensure that those such as my local one in Holywell, which is potentially losing three banks this year, will still have access to business finance and will still be positive town centres?
The impact of bank closures is, to some extent, ameliorated by the Post Office’s announcement a few weeks ago that it will be enabling both personal and SME banking customers to have a massive increase in face-to-face banking services across the country.
This year the Medical Research Council will spend £655 million on world-class research. Our commitment to the future of the UK as a world leader in biomedical research is unwavering. For example, in November, Her Majesty the Queen opened the Francis Crick Institute, and we will continue to invest in this kind of excellence throughout this Parliament.
Autism is the most expensive medical condition in the UK, costing the economy more than £32 billion a year, according to the London School of Economics, yet we spend hardly anything on autism research compared with what we spend on research into cancer, heart disease and stroke, which cost the economy less. What can the Minister do to encourage more spending on autism research, which is so vital to people in this country?
Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the MRC spent £13.3 million on autism research, and it always welcomes high-quality applications for support on any aspect of human health. Such applications are subject to peer review and are judged in open competition. The Department of Health, through the National Institute for Health Research, also funds research in this area, and the MRC’s centre for neurodevelopmental disorders at King’s College London opened recently, in November.
Since our last questions, with the Prime Minister my ministerial team and I have launched our industrial strategy Green Paper, part of a cross-Government plan to build an economy that works for everyone. Efforts to secure global investment in British enterprise and innovation continue to meet with success, with the most recent example being the £115 million Novo Nordisk investment in Oxford, which is a further vote of confidence in Britain as a place to do both business and science. Today we launch the next energy capacity market auction. Last month, I signed a memorandum of co-operation with the Government of Japan on civil nuclear activities, and on Thursday I announced that we have secured a second mission to space for Major Tim Peake.
As always, my right hon. Friend has been extraordinarily busy, but may I ask my extraordinarily busy right hon. Friend to turn his attention to Morecambe and Lunesdale, as we now have a new link road going straight to the Heysham port and we would like an enterprise zone? Will he help me to get an enterprise zone?
I am never too busy for Morecambe and Lunesdale, and I know what a passionate campaigner my hon. Friend has been for the business prospects in his area. If I may, I will talk to the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, who has responsibility for enterprise zones—I am sure he will be happy to have a meeting with my hon. Friend.
The Secretary of State’s plan to impose arbitrary cuts on the pensions of 16,000 nuclear energy workers, 7,000 of them in Copeland, threatens industrial relations in a key sector. I urge him to take the opportunity, at this week’s meeting with trade unions, to end his attack on workers who power our country and abandon the raid on their pensions before the industry is plunged into chaos.
I met the unions last week, and we had some constructive, although undoubtedly robust, conversations. The discussion continues and we hope it will end constructively.
As my hon. Friend would expect, my colleagues meet representatives of all kinds of businesses, both in the UK and those looking to invest here. We are clear, as the Prime Minister has been, that we intend to pursue our negotiations to secure the best possible access to the single market so that the manifest advantages of the UK continue to be available to companies, here, now and in future.
Of course it will continue. We are in discussions about the mechanics of that, as part of a broader conversation that the Secretary of State and I are having with senior management of the steel industry and trade unions about securing a sustainable future for the industry.
I commend Loughborough University and its vice-chancellor, Robert Allison. It is a fantastic example of an excellent academic institution that makes a big impact locally. I am always happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the leadership of that fine university.
This country and this Government are on track to invest in excess of £8 billion a year by 2020 in continuing the transition to a clean energy system. We are talking about a low-carbon economy that is generating, at the last count, at least 450,000 jobs. As I made clear in an earlier announcement, there are new commitments to contract for difference auctions for less mature renewable technologies, so the Government’s commitment to clean energy is not in doubt.
I very much hope that my hon. Friend’s Committee will engage with the consultation. If we are to have a strategy that endures, it is important that it takes into account the views of all those on both sides of the House with an interest in securing our economic prosperity and future scientific excellence.
Yes I can, and I take a strong personal interest in those matters. The hon. Lady says they are not mentioned in the industrial strategy, but they are. One of the clear pillars of the industrial strategy is a commitment to clean growth, within which are some explicit references to our desire to explore the opportunities attached to higher resource and energy productivity.
As the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s questions last week, this country is fully committed to the Paris climate change agreement—as are all the countries that endorsed the Marrakech proclamation—and we hope that all parties will continue to ensure that it is put into practice.
We want British business and British industry to compete on the basis that they are price-competitive. There are opportunities that come from being outside some of the bureaucracy, which affects small businesses in particular when it comes to public procurement, and those are opportunities that we will be able to take.
I had not planned to stand for topical questions, but may I urge my right hon. Friend not to be swayed by the arguments from the Opposition to spend a specific amount of our GDP on research for scientific projects? If the private sector is unwilling to fund those projects, we should ask serious questions about whether the public sector and my hardworking taxpayers should be asked to foot the bill.
Happily, the private sector—British business —is an enthusiastic and increasing supporter of investment in science and research. Sometimes that is done jointly with important publicly funded institutions such as our universities, and that is one of our strengths as an economy.
In November, the Secretary of State hauled energy companies into his Department to put pressure on them regarding claims that they were generating excess profits. This morning, at the Select Committee, Which? told us that energy companies are dismal when it comes to customer service and prices. Does he agree with that assessment, and will he outline to the House what progress has been made to get a better deal for energy customers since that meeting in November?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Competition and Markets Authority report identified a huge detriment that consumers were facing. There has been some limited response from the energy companies. For example, they have deleted some of their more abusive tariffs, but there is further to go, and we will be making a response to the CMA report in the days ahead.
It has been recently announced that the strategy for the midlands engine for growth will be announced soon. The midlands engine is vital for business in Derby and the midlands, so may I urge the Secretary of State to consider it sooner rather than later?
Last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), said that there had clearly been instances of the pubs code being flouted and that Members should bring such things to her attention. I have a case in her own constituency to bring to her attention, which also shows that the adjudicator is not doing his job. May we discuss this matter please?
I am very happy to discuss the case in my own constituency with the hon. Gentleman, but the Pubs Code Adjudicator is doing a good job. His line of inquiry has received 435 inquiries to date and 121 referrals for arbitration, but I will discuss the problem with the hon. Gentleman.
The industrial strategy makes a clear commitment that future rounds of infrastructure investment will take into account the balance of spending per head as between different regions. On the basis that there is a 60% imbalance between London and the rest of the country at the moment, what balance would the Secretary of State like to see going ahead?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to the consultation. We are very clear that we need to see infrastructure investment in all parts of the country. It is one reason why we have created institutions such as Transport for the North to be able to take those decisions locally.
Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)
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 aggravated murder of, and aggravated domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; to prohibit the use of the term honour killing in official publications; to require the Government to arrange for, and meet from public funds the costs of, the repatriation of the bodies of female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated murder outside the United Kingdom and the provision of assistance to female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated domestic violence outside the United Kingdom in order to enable them to return to the United Kingdom; to provide for the prosecution in the United Kingdom in certain circumstances of citizens of the United Kingdom who commit the aggravated murder of, or threaten or incite domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
Language matters. The use of the term “honour” to describe a violent criminal act—sometimes committed against a man, but more often against a woman—can be explained only as a means of self-justification for the perpetrator. It diminishes the victim and provides a convenient excuse for what in our society we should accurately and simply call murder, rape, abuse or enslavement. I want us in this House to send a clear message that the excuses end here. Even more than that, the term assumes that violence, in particular against women, is culturally sensitive—a sensitivity that allows the perpetrator to use further coercion to prevent the victim from seeking help and to intimidate the agencies of the state to stop them pursuing and prosecuting these violent crimes. The principles that every victim should be treated equally and with dignity and that our law enforcement agencies should respond to every crime with equal vigour are threatened when a separate set of cultural norms and practices are accepted for some victims of domestic violence.
We have one law in our country—one law that applies to everyone, regardless of their heritage or faith. The Bill builds on the progress already made by the strategies on ending violence against women and girls, tackling female genital mutilation and forced marriage; by coercive control laws; and by the brave work done by our Prime Minister to introduce the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I want to place on the record my special thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and their teams, for their continued support and time.
Between 2010 and 2015, 11,000 incidents of crime to which the term “honour” was applied were recorded in the UK. During their constituency duties, Members will have encountered cases in which the police and other agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, have been reluctant to tackle domestic violence in minority communities for fear of being accused of racism or of provoking community unrest. Indeed, the CPS has acknowledged that it needs to improve its understanding of and response and support to victims—victims such as Sarbjit. Sarbjit was abused throughout her marriage. She was battered by her husband and treated as a domestic servant. She was terrorised and went to bed not knowing whether she would be alive the next day. She was told that the honour of her family would be at stake if she complained and that the police would just treat her as a number. Sarbjit told me that she did not feel alive, but nor was she dead. When she summoned up the courage, she called Crimestoppers as well as the police. She risked her life in reaching out. But after statements were taken, she was returned home to her abusers because it was just a “cultural misunderstanding”: shockingly, the evidence of her abusers was believed over hers. Sarbjit was reduced to going to a temple, falling to her knees and begging for help from community leaders. It was a desperate act from a desperate woman. She was sent home again and told to think of her family’s honour. She was trapped and, once she had been let down by the authorities she trusted to protect her, she had nowhere to turn.
Fozia’s husband beat her and secured a second wife. Like many domestic violence victims, she was nervous about asking for help. She told me that when she did call the police—three times—she was treated with indifference as the situation was dealt with as a community issue and an honour crime, not as bigamy and assault as she had hoped. She wanted equal treatment and support under our law, not culturally appropriate interventions.
In what way does the term “honour” describe these crimes, except as the pathetic self-justification of the perpetrator? It is a term used by those who see women as the property of men and who think women’s decisions, lives and loves belong to the family, community or religious institution. This Bill commits us to describing such crimes as they really are and being clear to the police, local authorities, community leaders, the CPS and victims themselves that cultural and religious sensitivities are not a barrier to justice.
We have no record of how many British women are taken overseas by family members to be abused or killed. However, we know that when it happens, their assailants believe that their crimes are beyond the reach of British justice. The Bill would change that, extending the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act, so that if someone is taken from the UK to anywhere in the world to be exploited, the offence can be investigated in the UK because the planning and part of the trafficking took place here.
Seeta Kaur was born in the UK, and she died in India. She was subject to domestic violence throughout her marriage, was terrorised by her in-laws and was told to give her eldest son to her childless brother-in-law in India. She was coerced into travelling to India and was forced to return home without her son. Seeta would beg until she was reunited with him. Her husband and his family saw this as a question of honour. There is no official confirmation as to the cause of Seeta’s death. Her husband said it was a heart attack, but her family bore witness to bruising around her neck and upper chest, and intended to bring her body home. Before they could, Seeta was cremated by her husband in the dead of night. While in shock and grieving, Seeta’s family reported her death as suspicious to the Indian police, but they saw it as a family matter and tried to reconcile the families, even offering the return of Seeta’s children—British citizens—in exchange for dropping the murder allegation. When that did not work, the case was simply closed.
The Bill extends extraterritorial jurisdiction to domestic violence. I hope it will re-emphasise our responsibility to investigate murder aggravated by domestic violence. At present, victims do not have the same level of protection, and there is not the same commitment to investigate, prosecute or provide desperately needed support to victims and families. Crucially, the Bill would end the near impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of domestic violence who often, with the complicity of foreign states, seek to escape justice by taking women abroad so they can continue committing their crimes. In this country, we make no distinction based on faith, heritage or background. There can be no exceptions to equality of treatment before the law or to the pursuit of justice. The words we use and the actions we take must reflect the values that we hold dear.
I am afraid that, for reasons that I will set out, I oppose this Bill as it is currently framed. For the benefit of the morons on Twitter, and for some in this House, I should make it clear from the start that obviously, along with everybody else, I oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but it seems that I am the only one in this House at the moment who equally opposes honour-based violence against men too.
I certainly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) for her wish to tackle the politically correct culture that sometimes surrounds certain cultures in this country and which can be very damaging to those caught up in them. I attended a meeting organised by Baroness Cox where three very brave Muslim women explained how they had been very badly treated by sharia courts. Unfortunately, despite all the people here who claim to be concerned about women, I was the only Member of the House of Commons at that meeting, so concerned were people about the violence that those women had faced through judgments from sharia courts.
This Bill deals, quite rightly, with dangerous political correctness, as it does not get any more serious than murder. I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the term “honour killing”—there is nothing honourable about murdering someone. I would encourage her to keep making this point, as even without legislation she could make some progress. I am afraid, however, that while tackling one element of political correctness, she has opened up another politically correct can of worms.
The main reason I oppose this Bill is that it relates only to female victims and not all victims. I fear that we are going to have a rerun of the debate on the Istanbul convention that we had not so long ago in this House. We cannot let—[Interruption.] I know that people do not like any other opinions being expressed, but this is a Parliament; this is a democracy. [Interruption.]
Order. Members will have noticed that I was keen to move on from Question Time on time today, not least because of the number of would-be contributors to the main Second Reading debate. I do not want matters to be delayed, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
We cannot let this trend of having laws that are unjustifiably aimed at dealing with just one gender take hold, and I will continue to oppose all Bills and motions that do that. Why do we need to have just females mentioned in this Bill? Why can it not be for all victims of these terrible crimes? We do not have an offence of female murder or male murder—we just have murder. There are more male victims of murder in the UK than female victims of murder. If I introduced a Bill that said we are only going to care about the families of the male victims because there are more of them, I suspect that most of the Opposition Members who are complaining would be up in arms about such a Bill that focused only on the male victims of murder because they are in the majority—and the same should apply here. Yes, of course women are far more likely to be the victims of honour-based crimes than men, but they are not exclusively the victims of these crimes. As far as I am concerned, all these things are just as bad as each other.
I am no expert, but I am told that karo-kari, which is the Pakistani term for so-called honour killing, literally means “adulterer” and “adulteress”. These terms have wider definitions than their literal ones to cover all immoral behaviour, and it is quite clear that they cover both sexes and are therefore not gender specific.
In 2007-08, the Home Affairs Committee said that men are also victims of honour-based violence. In January 2015, the Henry Jackson Society published a report on so-called honour killings, where it said that
“men are also victims of ‘honour’ killings. In the cases of male victims reported in the media over the past five years, the perpetrators usually included the families of a current or expartner”.
It went on to confirm that in the UK there were 22 female victims, but seven male victims too. A report by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit says:
“In 2015, 980 cases…involved female victims and 240…involved male victims. This highlights that men can also be forced into marriage.”
The Crown Prosecution Service report, “Violence Against Women and Girls”, says that
“where gender was recorded, female victims accounted for”
“and male victims were”
This means that nearly a quarter of all the victims of these crimes are men. That is not an insignificant number, and it is not something that we should ignore. I understand that this is particularly an issue for gay men, but they would certainly not be included under the provisions of the Bill.
As we are talking about crimes taking place outside this country, we ought to look at the victims of crime over there. The Pakistani Human Rights Commission, which monitors reports of such crimes, came to the conclusion that about a quarter of victims in Pakistan were men. People might want to bear it in mind that The Guardian has reported cases of male killings. The newspaper cited the case of Ahmed Bashir, who died after he was attacked with a sword and a machete in the garden of his west London home. It is very sad that the Opposition do not care about Ahmed Bashir, who was killed with a machete in his own home; it seems that that does not count because he happens to be a man. What kind of Parliament have we become? The Telegraph ran a piece that highlighted the case of another male victim of an honour-based killing. Phyllis Chesler, emerita professor of psychology at Richmond College of the City University of New York, has also written about how male victims are included in honour-based crimes.
There are other issues with this Bill, which I do not have time to go into now, but I believe that its discriminatory premise is wrong. Not all victims are female, and not all offenders are male. We should introduce gender-neutral legislation that is designed to help all victims of crime, whether they be men or women, and to punish all offenders responsible for such crimes, whether those offenders be men or women. [Interruption.] People are saying that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said, but I am looking at the annunciator screen, which reads: “Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)”. There is no mention of men. It is no good saying that this Bill includes men; it does not. That is there on the screen for hon. Members to see, if they cannot hear what is happening. They clearly have not read the Bill. Some people will ask, “Why not support something that might help somebody, if not everybody?” I say, “Why not help everybody from the start?” What possible reason is there for not including men and women in the terms of the Bill?
I end where I started. Of course, we all oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but I, for one, equally oppose honour-based violence against men. To have a strategy for dealing with one but not the other is, in my opinion, not acceptable and not justifiable.
Question put and agreed to.
That Nusrat Ghani, Mr David Burrowes, Michael Gove, Yvette Cooper, Tim Loughton, Robert Jenrick, John Mann, Naz Shah, Craig Whittaker, James Berry, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil and Stuart C. McDonald present the Bill.
Nusrat Ghani accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill to be read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 129).
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
[Relevant document: The First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Mr Angus Robertson.
No fewer than 99 Back Benchers are seeking to catch my eye today, without regard to how many might seek to contribute tomorrow. There will have to be a tough time limit on Back Benchers, the severity of which will depend on the level of consideration shown by Front Benchers, so there is of course no pressure.
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
Given your admonishment, Mr Speaker, and indeed the state of my voice, I give the House warning that I will not take very many interventions. I will take some, but not my normal two dozen.
The Bill responds directly to the Supreme Court judgment of 24 January, and seeks to honour the commitment the Government gave to respect the outcome of the referendum held on 23 June 2016. It is not a Bill about whether the UK should leave the European Union or, indeed, about how it should do so; it is simply about Parliament empowering the Government to implement a decision already made—a point of no return already passed. We asked the people of the UK whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and they decided they did. At the core of this Bill lies a very simple question: do we trust the people or not? The democratic mandate is clear: the electorate voted for a Government to give them a referendum. Parliament voted to hold the referendum, the people voted in that referendum, and we are now honouring the result of that referendum, as we said we would.
Not at the moment.
This is the most straightforward possible Bill necessary to enact that referendum result and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. Indeed, the House of Commons has already overwhelmingly passed a motion to support the triggering of article 50 by 31 March. We will respect the will of the people and implement their decision by 31 March.
Clause 1(1) simply confers on the Prime Minister the power to notify, under article 50 of the treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. Clause 1(2) is included to make it clear that the power to trigger article 50 may be conferred on the Prime Minister regardless of any restrictions in other legislation, including the European Communities Act 1972. Together, these clear and succinct powers will allow the Prime Minister to begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union, respecting the decision of the Supreme Court. This is just the beginning—the beginning of a process to ensure that the decision made by the people last June is honoured.
Given that triggering article 50 is an inevitable consequence of the result of the referendum, does the Secretary of State agree that although it may be honourable for MPs who voted against having a referendum in the first place to vote against triggering article 50—that would be entirely consistent—it would be entirely unacceptable for those who voted to put this matter to a referendum to try to renege on the result of that referendum?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make a little bit of progress, and I will then give way to him.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the explanatory notes to the Bill, which set out the application of the Bill to Euratom. The Bill also gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process to leave Euratom. The Bill makes it clear that in invoking article 50, we will be leaving Euratom, the agency established by treaty to ensure co-operation on nuclear matters, as well as leaving the European Union. This is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate from the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the European Union, including the European Court of Justice. The European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 makes it clear that in UK law membership of the European Union includes Euratom. That is why article 50 applies to both the European Union and to Euratom.
I received an email yesterday from Professor John Wheater, the head of physics at Oxford University, who had the very dubious pleasure of being my tutor for four years in the mid-1990s. He is concerned about the implications for his fusion research programme of our leaving Euratom. Is there any way in which we could postpone leaving Euratom by a year or two, and if that is not possible, what assurance will the Secretary of State give Professor Wheater and his colleagues?
The first thing I would say to my hon. Friend is that there is a two-year timetable, so we are still two years out from this. The Prime Minister has also said very clearly in her industrial strategy and in her speech on Brexit that we intend to support the scientific community and to build as much support for it as we can. When we engage in negotiations after March, we will negotiate with the European Union with the aim of creating a mechanism that will allow the research to go on.
Order. I do not want to have to keep saying this, because I know it is very tedious. I know that the Secretary of State is a most attentive Minister, but may I appeal to him not to keep turning around and looking at people behind him? It is incredibly frustrating for the House. I know that is the natural temptation. [Interruption.] I am sure that he has made a very valid point, but it suffered from the disadvantage that I could not hear it.
The question from the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is an illustration of the fact that the consequences of the Bill go much further than the Secretary of State is telling us. Is not the reason why the Government find themselves in a position of such abasement to President Trump that they have decided to abandon the high ground of the single marketplace, without so much as a negotiating word being spoken? That is why they are desperate to do a deal with anybody on any terms at any time. Why did the Secretary of State lead this country into a position of such weakness?
That is almost exactly the opposite of the case. Since the right hon. Gentleman picks up on Euratom, let me make the point in rather more elaborate detail. Euratom passes to its constituent countries the regulations, rules and supervision that it inherits, as it were, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which we are still a member. When we come to negotiate with the European Union on this matter, if it is not possible to come to a conclusion involving some sort of relationship with Euratom, we will no doubt be able to reach one with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is possibly the most respectable international body in the world. I am afraid he is wrong on that.
Brexit affords huge opportunities for international trade for global Britain, and part of that global trade is with the single European market. Although there may be access to the full market—hybrid access—will the Secretary of State confirm that anything that introduces new taxes, tariffs or duties on British goods is not in our national economic interests?
May I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to keep an open mind on Euratom? There is a danger that years of uncertainty will put at risk the 21,000 new jobs slated to come in as part of the Moorside development, as well as many others across the UK?
The hon. Gentleman made his point very well, and I take it absolutely. He is right that a lot of jobs are involved, as are our standing in the scientific community and our international reputation, as well as individual projects, such as the Joint European Torus project and ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—all of which we will seek to preserve. We will have the most open mind possible. The difficulty we face is of course that decisions are made by unanimity under the Euratom treaty, so we essentially have to win over the entire group. We will set out to do that, and we will do it with the same aims that he has described. Absolutely, yes: I give him my word on that matter.
No, not for the moment.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and ambitious vision for the UK, outlining our key negotiating objectives as we move to establish a comprehensive new partnership with the European Union. This will be a partnership in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to make sure that the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to be heard throughout the negotiation process. I will come back to this point in more detail, so, if I may, I will take interventions on it a little later.
I made a statement to this House on 17 January about the negotiations ahead of us and I do not propose to repeat it, save to say that our aim is to take this opportunity for the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I also set out our 12 objectives for those negotiations. They are: to deliver certainty and clarity where we can; to take control of our own laws; to protect and strengthen the Union; to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland; to control immigration; to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the European Union; to protect workers’ rights; to allow free trade with European markets; to forge new trade deals with other countries; to boost science and innovation; to protect and enhance co-operation over crime, terrorism and security; and to make our exit smooth and orderly. In due course, the Government will publish our plan for exit in a White Paper in this House and in the other place. [Interruption.] I hear the normal, noisy shouts from the shadow Foreign Secretary asking when. I will say to her exactly what I said to her in my statement last week: as soon as is reasonably possible. It is very hard to do it any faster than that.
On 17 January, the Prime Minister also made it clear that this House and the other place will have a vote on the deal the Government negotiate with the EU before it comes into force. Ahead of that, Parliament will have a key role in scrutinising and shaping the decisions made through debate in both Houses, and the work of Select Committees, including the Exiting the European Union Committee, whose Chair, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), is in his place.
Ministers will continue to provide regular updates to Parliament. Further, since our proposal is to shift the entire acquis communautaire—the body of EU law—into UK law at the point this country leaves the EU, it will be for Parliament to determine any changes to our domestic legislation in the national interest. But as the Prime Minister said, to disclose all the details as we negotiate is not in the best interests of this country. Indeed, I have said all along that we will lay out as much detail of our strategy as possible, subject to the caveat that it does not damage our negotiating position. This approach has been endorsed by the House a number of times.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the people need to be better informed about the impact of Brexit? At what point are the Government going to publish their analysis of the impact on jobs of our leaving the single market?
The assertions that people like the right hon. Gentleman made in the run-up to the referendum have turned out to be universally untrue so far, so I do not think he is in a position to lecture us on this matter.
I turn now to the reasoned amendment tabled by the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). As I have already said, the Bill simply seeks to deliver the outcome of the referendum, a decision the people of the UK have already made. They will view dimly any attempt to halt its progress. The Supreme Court’s judgment last week made it clear that foreign affairs are reserved to the UK Government. The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. However, that does not mean we have not paid a great deal of attention to them. We have consistently engaged with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations and the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary. The latter met yesterday in Cardiff, and the meeting was attended by the First Ministers of all the devolved Administrations. In addition, and independent of those meetings, I have had bilateral meetings with the devolved Administrations, and there have been 79 official-level meetings to discuss the interests of each of the devolved Administrations.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland voted to remain within the European Union, and that respect has to be shown to the Scottish people, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, which empowers the Government to act in our interests? Why will he not negotiate to allow Scotland to remain with access to the single market as we demand?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that there was another referendum a little while ago, which was about the people of Scotland deciding to stay within the United Kingdom. That is what they are doing and that is what we expect them to continue to do.
The Prime Minister has committed to bring forward a White Paper setting out the Government’s plan and I confirm that it will be published in the near future. Guaranteeing UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and EU citizens’ rights in the UK, is one of the objectives set out by the Prime Minister. We have been, and remain, ready to reach such a deal now—now—if other countries agree.
Finally, there has been continual parliamentary scrutiny of the Government on this process: I have made five oral statements in the House of Commons; there have been more than 10 debates, including four in Government time; and over 30 Select Committee inquiries. We will of course continue to support Parliament in its scrutiny role as we reach the negotiating stage.
Does the Secretary of State accept that Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union? In fact, my constituency voted 70%, on a 70% turnout, to remain. Does he accept that we do not have a devolved Administration at the moment? Does he have any plans to recognise the situation in Northern Ireland and the damage that has already been done to the Northern Ireland economy, in particular our agricultural economy?
The position of Northern Ireland, the peace process and all related issues were obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind when she went there as one of her first visits as Prime Minister. It will be at the forefront of my mind, which is why we have, without any qualification whatever, guaranteed the retention of the common travel area. On continuing representation, although there is no Executive individual Ministers stay in place, as is the norm with Governments during election times. I wrote to the Executive a week or so ago asking them to send a representative to each of the Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. They have done so, and they have made a serious and significant contribution to the meetings. We are taking very seriously the analysis they have provided of industries in Northern Ireland, including special issues such as the single Irish energy market. They are the sorts of issues that we have put front and centre in the list of negotiating points to deal with. The hon. Gentleman may absolutely take it as read that we take protecting Northern Ireland very seriously.
We have been clear that there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to re-join it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.
Finally, we remain committed to the timetable set out by the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 no later than 31 March. We will provide plenty of time for debate and scrutiny of the Bill, but it is equally vital that right hon. and hon. Members move swiftly to adopt this proposed legislation, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering article 50 by the end of March. The House voted in favour of that timetable in December, and it is providing certainty both at home and in the Europe Union.
I conclude by saying this: the eyes of the nation are on this Chamber as we consider the Bill. For many years, there has been a creeping sense in the country—and not just in this country—that politicians say one thing and then do another. We voted to give the people the chance to determine our future in a referendum. Now we must honour our side of the agreement: to vote to deliver on the result. So, we are considering that very simple question: do we trust the people or not? For generations, my party has done so. Now that question is before every Member of this House. The Bill provides the power for the Prime Minister to begin that process and honour the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom on 23 June last year. I commend it to the House. Trust the people.
We have before us a short and relatively simple Bill, but, for the Labour party, this is a very difficult Bill. [Laughter.] I ask that hon. Members be courteous as I try to set out the position of the Labour party in what are very difficult circumstances. I will try to set that out clearly, and I expect people to be courteous.
We are a fiercely internationalist party. We are a pro-European party. We believe that through our alliances we achieve more together than we do alone. We believe in international co-operation and collaboration. We believe in the international rule of law. These beliefs will never change. That is why we campaigned to stay in the EU. We recognise that the EU is our major trading partner and that the single market and customs union have benefited UK businesses and our economy for many years. We recognise more widely the benefits of collaborative working across the EU in fields of research, medicine, technology, education, arts and farming. We also recognise the role that the EU plays in tackling common threats, such as climate change and serious organised crime. We share values and identity with the EU.
But we failed to persuade. We lost the referendum. Yes, the result was close. Yes, there were lies and half-truths—none worse than the false promise of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. Yes, technically the referendum is not legally binding. But the result was not technical; it was deeply political, and politically the notion that the referendum was merely a consultation exercise to inform Parliament holds no water. When I was imploring people up and down the country to vote in the referendum and to vote to remain, I told them that their vote really mattered and that a decision was going to be made. I was not inviting them to express a view.
Although we are fiercely internationalist and fiercely pro-European, we in the Labour party are, above all, democrats. Had the outcome been to remain, we would have expected the result to be honoured, and that cuts both ways. A decision was made on 23 June last year to leave the EU. Two thirds of Labour MPs represent constituencies that voted to leave; one third represent constituencies that voted to remain. This is obviously a difficult decision. I wish the result had gone the other way—I campaigned passionately for that—but as democrats we in the Labour party have to accept the result. It follows that the Prime Minister should not be blocked from starting the article 50 negotiations.
That does not mean, however, that the Prime Minister can do as she likes without restraint from the House—quite the opposite: she is accountable to the House, and that accountability will be vital on the uncertain journey that lies ahead. She fought to prevent the House from having a vote on the Bill until she was forced to do so by the Supreme Court last week. She resisted Labour’s calls for a plan and then a wider White Paper until it became clear that she would lose any battle to force her to do so. Just before Christmas, she was resisting giving the House a vote on the final deal—a position that she has had to adjust.
That is why the amendments tabled by the Labour party are so important. They are intended to establish a number of key principles that the Government must seek to negotiate during the process, including securing full tariff and impediment-free access to the single market. They are intended to ensure that there is robust and regular parliamentary scrutiny by requiring the Secretary of State to report to the House at least every two months on progress being made in the negotiations and to provide documents that are being given to the European Parliament. The amendments would also require the Government to consult regularly the Governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland throughout the Brexit negotiations. I have recognised on numerous occasions the specific issues and concerns of those living in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and I support the proposition that they should absolutely be consulted throughout the process and that their interests should be borne in mind.