House of Commons
Thursday 2 February 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Attorney General was asked—
Crown Prosecution Service: Victim and Witness Support
Prosecutors can apply for special measures to allow victims and witnesses to give evidence in court unseen by the defendant. The Government are making available the opportunity for vulnerable witnesses to give pre-recorded evidence without going into a courtroom at all. In addition, recent CPS guidance, now implemented nationwide, makes it clear what prosecutors can do to explain what is likely to happen at court, so that victims and witnesses can better understand the trial process and give the best evidence they can.
I am encouraged by the Attorney General’s words, but half of all cases going through the courts at the moment are connected with sexual abuse, and with police investigating no fewer than 70,000 claims of historic child sex abuse this year alone, that figure is likely to remain high. Given the traumatising impact on historic survivors and children especially of reliving their experiences in the witness box, what additional measures are being taken to make the process less intimidating and ensure that appropriate counselling services are readily available?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that the system does all it can to reduce the effect, particularly on vulnerable witnesses, of giving evidence in these difficult cases. That is why I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has decided to extend what I believe was a successful pilot of pre-recorded cross-examination. It means that vulnerable witnesses, particularly children, can give their evidence outside a courtroom environment and have it all done and dusted before the trial begins, which also means that they are not affected by any delays that the trial may then be subject to. That is hugely important, as is the opportunity for prosecutors to speak to witnesses and explain what is going on, and I am pleased to say that that has resulted in much improved satisfaction rates among witnesses for the support they get from the CPS.
Will the Attorney General join me in thanking the NSPCC and Esther Rantzen for their campaigning work to reduce the intimidating environment in courts for children, and will he confirm how many children give evidence in court?
I will have to write to my hon. Friend with the figure he asks for, but I entirely agree with his comments about the NSPCC. It is worth noting that a variety of organisations assist tremendously in the work of the criminal justice system in making sure that all witnesses can give their best evidence. That is in the interests of the whole system, and it is particularly important when we are dealing with children.
I have only attended one trial—a murder trial—where, in the summing up, the family of the young lady who had been brutally murdered had to listen to an absolutely appalling character assassination. It was totally fraudulent, but they had to sit there and listen to that. Has anything been done to stop that horrible practice?
I understand entirely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He will recognise that in a criminal trial it is necessary that the defence case is put. That is what we need to see to make sure that the process is fair, but we are doing what we can to ensure that the experience of those who are in court not of their own volition—because they are the victim of an offence or a witness to it—is as easy as it can be, although we accept that it will never be wholly easy.
Will the Minister outline what steps have been taken to address the 2015 report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate, which revealed that some vulnerable people are being let down by the inconsistency of approach to criminal case file management, and will he say how successful those steps have been?
I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. This was a troubling report in some ways. One of the most troubling aspects is the way in which victims of crime in particular are communicated with by the CPS—the language used and the sensitivity shown. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I have been particularly keen to ensure that the CPS takes those lessons on board and acts on them, and I am confident that it is doing so.
What steps has the CPS taken to support victims and witnesses with mental health issues?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There are many people within the system, both defendants and witnesses, who have mental health difficulties and it is important that the system is sensitive to that. What we need to do is understand better what the particular needs of each witness may be and then respond to them as best we can. The way to do that is to have the maximum number of tools available and ways in which evidence can be given, whether that is pre-recorded cross-examination, as I have mentioned, or the assistance of others in court who can help those who give evidence.
Will the Attorney General ensure that no witness or defendant can give evidence to a court while wearing a full-face balaclava or the burqa?
What is important is that the court and in particular the jury can assess the evidence that a witness gives, so it is important that that witness is able to give evidence in a clear way, so that a jury can assess whether they think that witness is telling the truth or not. Anything that gets in the way of that, I am sure the court will wish to consider very carefully.
Unduly Lenient Sentences
We committed ourselves in our manifesto to extending the scope of the scheme. As a first step, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced that we would extend it to sentences in the Crown court for terrorism offences, and we are working with her to implement that.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for confirming that our manifesto commitment is still on track, but I should also be grateful if he was a bit more specific about the dates on which we might be able to make some headway, because these reforms are long overdue.
My hon. Friend is right to press the Government for a commitment to action. Work is being done with the Ministry of Justice, and both the Attorney General and I are committed to ironing out the obvious inconsistencies in the system, which cause understandable frustration among victims and their families.
Over the last 12 months, how often has my hon. and learned Friend been asked to review sentences handed down by the courts?
The number of sentences continues to increase. In 2015 we considered 713 requests, but of 80,000 passed in England and Wales in that year, only just over 100 were varied by the scheme. I think that that represents a vote of confidence in our judges and magistrates.
Hate Crime: Non-UK EU Citizens
The Government are working closely with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and community organisations to monitor any changes in hate crime levels, and we will continue to do so after the triggering of article 50. However, it is not possible to predict prosecution trends, and the data on the nationalities of victims are not disaggregated.
What steps is the CPS taking to improve the conviction rate for hate crimes against disabled people? Does he support the call by the shadow Solicitor General, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), for parity in the treatment of all protected characteristics in the aggregated offences regime?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that rates of disability hate crime prosecution continue to rise. The rise last year was 41.3%, the conviction rate for hate crime being just over 83%. The total number of hate crimes prosecuted last year was 15,442, which is the highest number to date. I do, of course, take very seriously the helpful and sensible submissions made by the shadow Solicitor General.
What steps is the Department taking to prevent the spread of hate crime by the media?
As we know, in an age of social media it has become all too easy for perpetrators to spread hate and intimidation. The Crown Prosecution Service takes very seriously offences which cross the line to constitute grossly offensive communications, and prosecutions take place regularly. We will continue to work with social media to ensure that the detection of such crimes can be improved.
Legal Costs: Article 50
The case that concluded in the Supreme Court last week dealt with an important constitutional issue. It was absolutely right that the Government both defended their position and appealed against the first-instance judgment in England and Wales to the Supreme Court, where the case was heard alongside connected litigation from the Northern Ireland courts. The figures for the total costs of those cases will be published in due course, but I can confirm that the Advocate General for Scotland and I, who appeared on behalf of the Government, received no additional fee for our work on the case.
I thank the Attorney General for his response, although I am not sure that we have got any closer to learning the figure. Given that every serious legal commentator in the land said that the Government’s appeal was doomed to fail, will he please explain to the House why it was so necessary to waste taxpayers’ money on funding the appeal?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s premise. Let me point out a number of things to him. First, I think that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the right place in which to decide a case of such significance. Secondly, if the Government’s arguments had been as hopeless as the hon. Gentleman suggests, three Supreme Court justices would not have agreed with them. Thirdly, as I have already pointed out, the case was in the Supreme Court partly because judgments in Northern Ireland cases were appealed against to the Supreme Court, not by the Government but by the other parties. The Government responded to those cases, and, incidentally, were successful. Fourthly, the Supreme Court was dealing with arguments presented by the devolved Governments, which had to be dealt with by the Supreme Court. In that instance, the Government were again entirely successful.
Lastly, let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. I think it is a good thing that, in a system governed by the rule of law, a Government are prepared to go to court to argue their case, to make use of appeal mechanisms like any other litigant, and then to abide by the final outcome. That is what has happened, and I think it is a good example of the way in which a rule-of-law system should work.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that when members of the public bring cases on a matter of this importance against the Government in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales and there are conflicting decisions, our Government have no alternative whatsoever but to pursue this matter to the Supreme Court?
I do agree. It is important that the Supreme Court resolved this matter and gave us clarity on what should now happen, and it is now for Parliament to decide what to do next—and I am pleased to see that last night Parliament began to answer the question it had been posed.
When the costs are eventually published, will the Minister ensure that the price that was exacted was for liberty and freedom from the bureaucrats in Brussels, against which it is very difficult to attach any cost?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. This will be an expensive case, but the answer the British people gave should be respected and acted upon, and that, as I say, is now a matter for Parliament—it is no longer a legal matter—and I hope very much that Parliament will answer it clearly.
The Attorney General maybe needs to think again about some of the dubious shorthand that he uses in respect of the devolved cases. The Supreme Court really only made clear judgments in relation to two of the five matters that were referred in relation to Northern Ireland, and on one of them some of its observations are politically telling in ways that the Government are yet to respect.
The other three issues were not determined because they did not need to be, as other aspects of the case were decided as they were. But I am afraid the position is very clear: in relation to the arguments being made, particularly by the devolved Administrations, that there should be the capacity for those Administrations to veto the process of leaving the European Union, the court simply did not agree and rejected those arguments unanimously.
On the subject of the cost to the public purse, I hope, rather than a rerun of all the arguments, which would be very tedious.
I think the whole House would like to know that we got value for money in that judgment, and of course there are lots of rights and obligations in many Acts of Parliament and it is the courts’ job to interpret them. Can the Attorney General explain why the Supreme Court held that the Sewel provisions in an Act of Parliament were not a matter for the courts?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will read the judgment carefully: it says that whereas the Sewel convention might be important politically, it is not a matter for the courts to enforce. That was perfectly properly for the Supreme Court to say. What respect the Sewel convention is given in political terms is of course not a matter for the court. The judgment made that clear.
The operative words are “public purse” and “fees”. Can we stick to that? It would be helpful.
If the Government were genuinely motivated to spend this money by wanting a definitive answer from the courts on a constitutional question, why did they not thank the judges in the divisional court in November for such a clear answer, instead of being in a position where the Justice Secretary had to be pressured into giving a lukewarm defence of them?
No, the Government have always been clear that, at every level, the courts are entitled to consider the cases brought to them and to reach whatever judgment they think appropriate in the light of the arguments they have heard. That was true in relation to the High Court and it is true in relation to the Supreme Court, too. But the hon. Gentleman knows, as an eminent lawyer himself, that the appropriate thing to do if we disagree with the court of first instance is to appeal the judgment. That is exactly what the Government did, doing exactly what any other litigator would do—and, incidentally, exactly what some litigators in this case did in Northern Ireland.
Is it not absolutely remarkable that we have significant numbers of litigants in person in our courts because of the Government’s legal aid cuts, yet when the Government wanted a lawyer, the money was found? Is it not the case in terms of access to justice that there is one rule for the Government and another rule for everybody else?
I am tempted to point out that, as I said earlier, when the Government wanted a lawyer, two out of the three they used in the Supreme Court did not cost the taxpayer anything. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that when cases like this one are brought—and I make no criticism of those who brought these cases so that these issues could be resolved—it is important that they are resolved through proper and full legal argument. That was done through the High Court and then the Supreme Court. That is the right way to get to the answer the Supreme Court has now given, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I have made clear very many times that the Government will honour and respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.
War Crime Investigations: Syria and Iraq
UK nationals can be prosecuted in our domestic courts for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that have taken place abroad. My hon. Friend will know that the UK Government are also working with other Governments to explore international legal mechanisms whereby Daesh can be held to account for its crimes.
It appears that no steps are currently being taken by the International Criminal Court to pursue prosecutions for crimes against humanity or genocide in Syria and Iraq, despite a substantial vote in this House advocating such action. Is the UK taking any steps to use its own legal competences to prosecute UK nationals who might be committing such crimes in those countries?
My hon. Friend will know that the UK Government sought to pursue a route whereby the International Criminal Court would consider offences of this type committed in Iraq and Syria, but that our approach was vetoed by the Russians and the Chinese, so there has been no lack of effort on the part of the United Kingdom. In relation to domestic law, we will certainly pursue those offences as and where we can. She will also recognise that the primary practical difficulty is that of obtaining the necessary evidence, and we are working at international level to determine how evidence can be properly collected and retained in theatre so that it can be used for prosecutions when the time comes.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Statutory Sex and Relationships Education
The Government want to ensure that all schools are safe, inclusive environments where pupils can fulfil their potential, and we are actively considering how to improve the delivery of sex and relationships education, including updating the existing guidance, which was originally drafted in 2000.
New clause 1 of the Children and Social Work Bill would make sex and relationships education compulsory under the safeguarding duties of schools. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will be supporting that new clause on Report so that all our young people can be equipped and empowered to keep themselves healthy and safe?
I very much appreciate the support around the House for the fact that it is time to look at how we can do better in regard to sex and relationships education, and we are actively looking at how best to improve the quality of delivery and accessibility so that children can be supported. As the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), has set out, the Government are committed to updating Parliament further during the passage of the Bill.
Police information released today by Barnardo’s shows a 73% increase in reports of children sexually abusing other children. We know that children are not being effectively taught in our schools about mutual respect, self-respect and consent. Will the Minister consider particular amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill that would address those issues? We are running out of time and letting children down.
I have said that we will provide an update during the next stage of the Bill, but my right hon. Friend is right to suggest that a lot of time has elapsed since the guidance was drafted in 2000, and the world is now a very different place. It is time to look at how we can ensure that children have the right access to what I might rename relationships and sex education, and to ensure that it is high quality education. That is why it is right to ensure that the next steps we take are the right ones, and that they can move this forward for the long term. We need to ensure that the young people in our education system today leave school with not only the relationships education but the broader life skills they need to lead successful lives.
Will the right hon. Lady take on board the fact that successive Select Committees have looked at this matter, and that it is vital not only that every school offers this kind of education but that, critically, we train people to have the right skills to deliver it?
I have said that we need to make progress on this, and I have reflected on the fact that there have now been 16 years in which we really have not done so. When Ofsted produced its recent report on this in 2013, it identified issues around the quality of teaching. As the hon. Gentleman says, this is not just about what our young people should be taught in schools and their access to that teaching; it is also about the quality of the teaching. This is a broader question than simply one of updating the legal perspective of where SRE is taught.
There is a worrying trend among people on the left of both sides of the House that things that they do not like should be banned and that things that they like must be made compulsory. What is wrong with the principle of freedom? What is wrong with parents having a role in deciding what is appropriate for their children to be taught?
I strongly agree that parents’ involvement in ensuring that what children are taught at school is acceptable to them and appropriate is vital. However, the most important voices that now need to be listened to are those of young people and children, who say that they do not feel that they are getting the necessary level of education in this area and want a more up-to-date approach to enable them to deal with the world in which they are growing up.
More than half of lesbian, gay and bi pupils have experienced direct bullying, and LGBT people are twice as likely as heterosexuals to have suicidal thoughts or to have attempted suicide. The Minister will be aware that people are committing terrible homophobic and hate crimes online—crimes for which they would be held accountable offline. The “#no2LGBTHate” campaign is calling on Twitter to take action against users who spread homophobia on the site. Does the Minister support the campaign? What is she doing to tackle homophobic hate?
It is important that we support campaigns that are trying to play a role in reducing LGBT bullying. In September last year, we set out a £2.8 million programme to invest in charities that are working to prevent and address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools in England. The Government have launched their own “Disrespect NoBody” campaign to help young people recognise and challenge abuse within teen relationships. It is important to work in schools to change attitudes due to, as the hon. Lady sets out, the level of discrimination and abuse that many young people say they have received.
I am pleased that the Government are considering the views of charities, campaigners and Members of this House in introducing statutory relationship education. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on plans to update the statutory guidance, which was last updated when I was the ripe age of 13?
I did not realise that my hon. Friend was quite that young. He sets out the serious point that the world has changed immeasurably since 2000. Children now learn about relationships in different ways, but the challenge is that they are learning about them in ways that give them a skewed, inaccurate view of what relationships are about. It is important to look at how we can ensure that the guidance genuinely works and reflects the world as it is today, therefore giving ourselves and our children a better chance to get the education that they need.
The hon. Gentleman’s beard is deceptive.
Will my right hon. Friend have a word with our excellent Secretary of State for Education and identify the best schools in the country that tackle homophobic bullying and sexual harassment together with the parents of their pupils, and roll out that best practice across the country?
The Minister is being invited to talk to herself.
I will not comment on that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that many schools are doing that—I visited a school in Birmingham that is doing great work in this area. Excellent work is under way, but it is now time to look at how we can learn from what works and see that percolate through our school system so that all schools can do a better job for all children on teaching SRE.
Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap is now the lowest on record, at 18.1%, but that is still too high and eliminating it altogether is one of the key targets of this Government. That is why we have extended the right to request flexible working and introduced shared parental leave, and it is why, from September, we are rolling out 30 hours of childcare to the working parents of all three and four-year-olds.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree with the overwhelming evidence suggesting that the £1,200 employment tribunal fees introduced by her Government are creating a significant barrier to women being able to hold their employer to account for gender pay disparities in the workplace? That is all women, not just low-paid women.
The Government take that very seriously, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Courts and Justice will be coming forward with more information shortly. The Government are committed to ensuring that people from all backgrounds can access justice. Although we are very keen to see much more in the way of mediation, and ACAS has dealt successfully with more than 80,000 cases without having to go to tribunal, on Tuesday we launched a consultation on proposals to widen the support available to people under the help with fees scheme, following the completion of the fees review.
The gender pay gap in the north-east is 28%, some 10 percentage points higher than the national average. What is the Minister and the Government doing to address those very stark regional variations?
It is vital, now more than ever, that our economy is able to benefit from everybody’s skills. We simply cannot afford to waste the talents of a single person. That is why, from April this year, we are requiring all employers with more than 250 staff to publish those gender pay gap figures. We are great believers in what gets measured gets managed, but what gets published gets managed even better.
Can my hon. Friend tell the House what the gender pay gap is for 30 and 40-year-olds in each Government Department? Does she agree that the Government should be getting their own house in order before trying to lecture others in the private sector?
I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that the gender pay gap in the Department for Education is only 5.9%. Although that is 5.9 percentage points too high, it shows enormous progress in the Department for Education. Across Government, the figure is just below 13%, and we will keep working until it has been eliminated altogether.
Given that it is now 42 years since Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, why is there any gender pay gap, not only for 30 and 40-year-olds but for people in their teens, twenties, fifties and sixties?
I thought it was 47 years this year, but maybe my maths is wrong. It was certainly a long time ago.
Wasn’t it 1975?
I thought it was 1970. [Interruption.] Anyway, we are agreed that it is a long-standing statute.
Yes, I think we can all agree that it has been a long old time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) is right to point this out. We have legislation that stops people being paid differently for doing the same job, but what drives the gender pay gap is the fact that girls tend to go into lower paid sectors compared with men and, of course, the pay gap really kicks in at around 30 and 40 when women leave work to have children and may not be supported back into the workplace as well as we would want. That is why gender pay gap reporting is so vital.
We are all now better informed.
Racially Motivated Incidents
I hope I can say on behalf of the entire House that all Members are clear that hate crime of any description should not and must not be tolerated. We have been working with the police, EU embassies and community groups to monitor the situation, to provide reassurance and to encourage reporting of racist incidents. Recorded hate crime has now fallen to pre-referendum levels. Police force areas continue to monitor racist incidents on an ongoing basis to ensure that any increases are addressed at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Across the UK we saw a rise in hate crime and religiously aggravated offences following the referendum—it was 41% higher in July 2016 than in July 2015. Will he inform the House of what provisions have been put in place to avoid any repetition specifically in relation to the triggering of article 50?
There are a couple of points to make to the hon. Gentleman. We have put in place the Government’s new hate crime action plan, which is taking a number of steps, for example, to boost reporting. There is also new guidance for prosecutors and a new fund to ensure that we have protective security measures and additional funding in place for community organisations so that they can tackle hate crime. I also gently say to him that the Labour party should look carefully at this morning’s CST report, which clearly indicates a 36% rise in totally unacceptable recorded anti-Semitic crime, related directly to the problems in the Labour party.
I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning the CST report. Clearly, the concern of the Jewish community in this country is that hate crime against Jews is on the rise. He has seen the report and the whole community wants to know what he is going to do about it, so that we stamp out anti-Semitism, once and for all.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I have outlined, it is important that we stamp out all forms of hate crime, which is why that action plan was put in place in July by the Home Secretary. We also all need to look at ourselves. It is clear when we look at the CST report that although we should be pleased about people having the confidence to come forward to report crime—the increase in recording is good—a rise in hate crime of any description, particularly a 36% rise such as this one, is disgraceful. I hope Members from across this House will be doing all they can to stamp that out.
The Minister will be aware that the European Union has been a beacon of hope and a key proponent of equality for citizens’ rights across the globe. Will he categorically confirm to the House not only that the discrimination laws and rights bestowed upon people across the UK will be upheld following a UK exit from the EU, but that citizens living in the UK will not be left behind and have their rights taken hostage by Brexit?
We have been very clear all along that we want not only to stamp out hate crime, but to play an important part in this with our partners right across Europe. Indeed, in the autumn, I spoke at the EU Council on this very issue, and aside from the Commission, we were the only ones from any country to talk about it. We should be proud of the fact that this country has some of the toughest laws in the world on hate crime. Just a few weeks ago, on 19 January, we hosted some 19 countries’ embassies to talk to them about what we are doing and what can be done further to drive out hate crime.
Violence against Women and Girls
Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated, and I pay tribute to the fantastic work of Girlguiding UK, which is tackling this important issue. We are working with it as we take forward the commitment we made in response to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools to review existing guidance and then to look at what further support we can put in place for schools.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. How much training and emotional support is given to girl guides and other young girls who are bullied online?
Tackling all forms of bullying, including cyber-bullying, is a priority for us. We are investing £1.6 million over two years directly in anti-bullying initiatives, including via the Diana award project, which has a focus on digital resilience for young people. The Government have also funded the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop new cyber-bullying guidance for schools and an associated online safety toolkit. My hon. Friend’s question highlights the fact that the world is a very different place for our young people these days, and our guidance, laws and teaching need to stay up to date.
Will the Government support Girlguiding’s “Girls Matter” campaign to update the school curriculum to include sexual consent, online safety, tackling violence against women and girls, and LGBT and healthy relationships?
I have set out my feeling that it is time we look at the guidance that is in place and how we can improve the teaching. That is the right thing to do. We will set out our next steps at the next stage of the Children and Social Work Bill, but we are already doing other things, too. We have already held our first advisory group on looking at updating our guidance on tackling bullying. Through that and the frameworks we have in place, we hope that we can help schools to develop improved codes of practice to combat bullying, too.
Will the Minister confirm that there is co-operation at a comprehensive level, particularly with uniformed organisations such as the Girls Brigade, as well as Girlguiding, to combat this pernicious aspect of the 21st century?
Those sorts of organisations can be vital and incredibly powerful in changing attitudes and helping young girls in particular to understand that they do have a voice and should not accept this sort of behaviour. When I was at the Department for International Development, we worked very closely with Girlguiding on gender equality more generally, and I am pleased that that relationship can continue now that I am at the Department for Education.
A vital part of fulfilling the aims of Girlguiding’s campaign to end violence against women and girls is challenging the attitudes and behaviour of the perpetrators of these crimes. What are the Government doing to ensure there is national coverage for high-quality, accredited, community-based perpetrator programmes, such as the ones I was involved in—I declare an interest—before I became an MP and came to this place?
The work that the DFE does is part of a cross-Government programme on tackling harassment, bullying and intimidation. It is about not only supporting people—particularly young people, in the case of the DFE—who are bearing the brunt of that behaviour, but understanding what is driving it and tackling the root causes.
The Girlguiding survey found that 20% of 13 to 21-year-olds have had unwanted pornographic imagery sent to them, and 5% have had indecent images shared without their consent. If the Government really do want to support the Girlguiding campaign, why is the Department cutting the funding to the revenge porn helpline, which has taken more than 2,500 calls in the past year? How will the Minister ensure that victims of revenge porn have access to bespoke support, as promised in the Government’s violence against women and girls strategy, when she is shutting the only helpline in March?
I do not think the hon. Lady has the right information; in fact, we have not made any announcements in relation to that effect yet. Alongside all the comments made by hon. Members today, it is worth reflecting on the fact that another thing we can do is improve the evidence base in this area, which is why we have included specific questions on sexist and racist bullying in the next wave of the National Foundation for Educational Research Teacher Voice survey. We hope that some of the findings from those questions will be available later this year.
Independent Domestic Violence Advisers
The Home Office has engaged closely with other Government Departments, through the violence against women and girls inter-ministerial group, to oversee delivery of the violence against women and girls strategy, including the commitment of increased funding of £80 million for the services. We have also engaged closely with commissioners and voluntary sector partners on the support provided for independent domestic violence advisers and our move to support better local collaboration and early intervention through the VAWG service transformation fund.
Some 84% of victims reported feeling safer with an independent domestic violence adviser, and just over 1,000 advisers are needed to support the current number of known victims, yet there are currently only half that number. What steps will the Minister be taking to increase the number of independent domestic violence advisers throughout the country?
As I just said, we have increased the funding to VAWG services to £80 million, and we are working with commissioners in local areas to make sure they can deliver the services that they understand are correct for their area and the women who live there.
I am proud that my local authority, Powys County Council, has become a white ribbon authority. Will my hon. Friend the Minister do all he can to encourage all local authorities to follow that example?
My hon. Friend gives a really good example of where local work is delivering really good local results in a way that others can look at. We have to get better, throughout this country, at sharing best practice, and that is a really good example that others can look at.
Gender Recognition Certificates
The Government are continuing our work on our commitment to review the Gender Recognition Act 2004. We have begun stakeholder engagement programmes to look at how the gender recognition process can be improved, as well as looking carefully at international comparisons. We will provide an update later this year.
I thank the Minister for her answer. My constituent Rebecca Cook applied for a gender recognition certificate, but her application was rejected on the basis that the statutory declaration was more than six months old and she
“may have changed her mind.”
Given that the statutory declaration is a lifetime declaration, will the Minister confirm that the six-month time limit will be reviewed as part of the overall legislative review?
I am really sorry to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituent has encountered those difficulties, and he is absolutely right to bring that kind of case to the House today. We have committed to review, streamline and demedicalise the gender recognition process, and we will certainly consider evidence of any administrative barriers to people gaining the legal gender recognition that they want.
Personal, Social and Health Education
We want schools to put high-quality PSHE at the heart of their curriculum, ensuring that all young people are prepared for life in modern Britain. Effective PSHE not only helps provide pupils with key life skills, but gives them the knowledge to understand their rights and responsibilities to respect individual differences and to challenge prejudice and discrimination.
Does the Secretary of State agree that embedding PSHE—life skills as she correctly terms it—will help us to deal with social mobility and productivity, and that we should see proper, age-appropriate teaching across the piece in our schools?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to link this matter with social mobility. We know that strong PSHE can make the biggest difference to young people growing up in more disadvantaged communities. It is important not only that we have healthy, resilient and confident pupils coming out of our education system who are better placed to do well academically, but that we improve our non-academic outcomes, as that is also hugely valued by employers.
The Minister will recognise that the churches play a key role in personal, social and health education. What discussions has she had, or will she have, in relation to that role that churches can play in education?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, because we have a large number of faith-based schools. Indeed, the values that we want to give our young people as they come through the education system are not only British but often underpinned by faith values. Coming back to the point on the economy, PSHE can really help students develop their teamwork, communications skills and resilience—precisely the sorts of things that British business wants.
Department for Work and Pensions Estate
The Government are committed to complying with our public sector equality duty, and we will take account of feedback from our public consultations. We will undertake an equality analysis as part of the detailed planning for service reconfiguration, which will include feedback from public consultations in those locations where this applies.
Last week, the UK Government announced the closure of 15 jobcentre sites in Scotland, including the Lonend site in Paisley. This follows a proposal to close eight jobcentres in Glasgow, which was announced in December. Does the Minister agree that it is a dereliction of duty and an insult to those affected not to conduct an equality impact assessment in advance of these plans, given the hardship that they will cause to thousands of the most disadvantaged people?
The views and opinions from the consultations we are carrying out with claimants who use the services across the country, not simply in Scotland, will be fed into our equality analysis.
The single biggest boost to equality delivered through our Department for Work and Pensions estate is the introduction of named universal credit work coaches and their personalised support. What is the current roll-out timetable?
The roll-out of universal credit is increasing apace, and from September we expect it to roll out to 43 jobcentres every single month. My right hon. Friend is right to point out that work coaches are a crucial part of getting people back into work. As part of the service reconfiguration, we are working to ensure that individual claimants can maintain the relationship with their work coaches.
State Pensions: Working-Class Women
Women reaching state pension age in 2016-17 are estimated to receive more state pension on average over their lifetime than women ever have before. By 2030, more than 3 million women stand to gain an average of £550 a year through the introduction of the new state pension.
Working-class women are more likely to be in manual trades, which take a greater toll on the body as it ages, and to die younger due to the health inequalities from which we still suffer. The Minister did not mention the word “class” in her reply. Will she say right now that she will ensure justice for working-class women and all WASPI women by giving them a fair deal in the spring Budget?
The equalisation of the state pension age has been well rehearsed in this Chamber; and, no, I will not use the word “class” because, to be quite frank, we are all working now.
The whole House will welcome the fact that the Turing law has now come into effect. Alongside that, Parliament this week approved the regulations introducing mandatory gender pay gap and bonus gap reporting for private and voluntary sector employers with 250 employees or more. Transparency over time can make a big difference. It is one of our key manifesto commitments, and the Government are holding themselves to the same high standards that we expect of others. That is why we have now laid regulations for gender pay gap reporting in the public sector, which we look forward to debating in this House at the earliest opportunity.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the recent trends in the number of women in work?
My hon. Friend may be aware that the number of women in employment has increased by 229,000 over the past year alone. The female employment rate is now at a record high of 69.8%.
As of the 2016 autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit measures come from women. The Treasury continues to fail to provide any impact assessment of its fiscal policies or to send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions. Will the Minister therefore commit to ensuring that women do not suffer the same abysmal impact from the spring Budget?
I have just set out that the female employment rate is at a record high, which is good news and we want it to progress. Indeed, it is the third highest female employment rate in the whole G7.
We know that when fathers take an active role in childcare, it is not only great for their relationships with their children; it is also important in eliminating the gender pay gap. That is why we have introduced shared parental leave and extended the right to request flexible working, helping both mums and dads to balance their work life with their family commitments.
The EHRC is an independent body that was established under the Equality Act 2006. It has been subject to a substantial reform programme to ensure that it can carry out its core functions effectively, but it must be able to do that under its own steam because it is an independent body.
I totally agree that such behaviour is unacceptable, and we should not tolerate it in any form. I regularly go running, and I have been stopped for selfies, but never subjected to any catcalling. We can do more. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign and other initiatives have really helped to narrow the gender gap in sports participation. The new Active Lives survey demonstrates that 59% of women are now doing at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is the amount recommended by the Chief Medical Officer, but we can do much more to ensure that there are no barriers to women participating in sport.
I do not know whether the Minister has been stopped for selfies because of the quality of her running, her celebrity status or, more likely, both.
The Government have been very clear: bringing about state pension age equality was an important principle, and one that we have to maintain. We have made £1 billion of concessions to women in this age group but, as the pensions Minister has made clear, there will be no more transitional arrangements.
The Government have been very clear about the fact that they want equality law to be protected when we leave the EU. That is particularly important. Can the Minister update the House on whether that will form part of the White Paper to be published today?
This is an important point, and it is one of the reasons the Prime Minister set out a number of objectives in her speech recently. I am not going to pre-empt the White Paper, which is being published today, but it is certainly important to ensure that we absolutely maintain—and, indeed, continue to advance—issues of equality and rights.
This is an important issue. We have introduced the living wage to make sure that all people get the minimum wage they need to be able to live effectively. We do not have a Treasury Minister on the Bench today, but I will absolutely make sure that one of them responds to the question the hon. Lady raises.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the long-promised consultation on caste discrimination? It was promised by Christmas, and we are still waiting.
It remains, as my hon. Friend suggests, a work in progress, but it will be published very shortly.
According to a report by the Trades Union Congress, between January and March 2014, following the introduction of tribunal fees, just 1,222 sexual discrimination claims were made to an employment tribunal, compared with 6,017 in the same quarter a year earlier. Does that not make a nonsense of the Government’s supposed concern for gender equality?
On Tuesday, we launched a consultation on the proposals to widen the support available to people under the Help with Fees scheme, following the completion of the employment tribunal fees review last year. However, it is also important to point out that ACAS has seen the number of people who are able to sort out their differences via mediation go beyond 80,000, and I think a number of people would be much happier going back into the workplace they have come from having sorted out their problems through mediation rather than tribunals.
This week marks the start of LGBT history month, and, of course, we all celebrate the great achievements the LGBT community has given this country. However, hate crime against the LGBT community remains far too high, with Stonewall saying that one in four LGBT people hide their sexual orientation. Will the Minister take urgent action to tackle that, first by increasing the sentences for those who commit hate crimes against LGBT people?
We do have a lot to be proud of, and the UK continues to be recognised as one of the most progressive countries in Europe for LGBT rights, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must not rest on our laurels. We must make sure that anybody who attacks anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation is brought to justice. LGBT history month is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and recognise the contribution that gay, lesbian, bi and trans people have made to British history, British society and British culture.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Great Repeal Bill
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons will apply to the repeal Bill in the usual way.
Given the importance of the great repeal Bill to the devolved Administrations, will the Leader of the House give a clear guarantee that all Members of this House will be able to scrutinise and vote on all parts of this Bill to ensure that the great repeal Bill does not turn into the great power grab?
Yes, of course. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman himself acknowledges, the so-called EVEL provisions under our Standing Orders do not bar any Member of the House of Commons, from any part of the United Kingdom, from taking part in votes on the different Readings of any Bill and on amendments to any Bill.
Given that we cannot categorically rule out EVEL and that the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that a legislative consent motion will be required for the great repeal Bill, what exactly is the Government’s position?
The Standing Orders of the House apply in the usual way. If any Bill, any clause of a Bill or any amendment to a Bill affects only England, but covers matters that, in Scotland, are devolved, it must, in addition to commanding a majority among Members of the House as a whole, command a majority among those Members representing English constituencies.
The Procedure Committee, on which I sit, produced a report that noted:
“There is an apparent lack of appetite for debate in legislative grand committee at present.”
Given that the Government are tabling programme motions that allow absolutely no time for debate, surely the Leader of the House must share my opinion that current EVEL procedures are a piece of nonsense.
If the Legislative Grand Committee is proceeding smoothly, it suggests to me that most Members from across the House are satisfied with the way in which our Standing Orders are operating. On the hon. Lady’s point about programme motions, may I point out to her that apart from the Division last night on the article 50 Bill, we have had no Division so far in this Parliament on any programme motion moved after Second Reading?
The UK Government continue to tell us that Holyrood is the most powerful devolved Parliament, yet they are not consulting Scotland on the triggering of article 50. Does the Leader of the House agree that by also refusing Scottish MPs the opportunity to vote on all areas of the great repeal Bill, the Government are doing everything possible to stop the voice of Scottish people being heard on Brexit?
Quite the contrary: I think that both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have made, and will continue to make, every effort to ensure that the interests of the people of Scotland are fully represented at all stages of the forthcoming negotiation as part of the package we are seeking for the United Kingdom.
During the referendum campaign, we were told that all non-reserved powers would return to Scotland. Worryingly, the UK Government have not opened any discussions with the Scottish Government about that. When will the Government discuss with the Scottish Government what additional powers may be devolved to Scotland as a result of the UK withdrawing from the European Union?
We have said already, including at the Joint Ministerial Committee, that we are going to talk intensively to the Scottish Government about how to address the issue of powers that return to the United Kingdom from the European Union. If we look, for example, at fisheries—an issue that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, in respect of UK fisheries policy—we see that that also involves third-country agreements negotiated between the EU and other nation states. It involves United Nations conventions. The Scotland Act 1998 says, in terms, that international agreements are a reserved matter. Those are exactly the things that we need to thrash out in detail in the conversations with our colleagues in the Scottish Government.
How about 83A? I whipped Bills through Committee perfectly effectively before we introduced the dismal practice of routine guillotining, but perhaps we were all better behaved and more reasonable then.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend sets an example to all Members of the House with his common sense and good reason. I say again that I think it was perfectly fair and right for this House to change its Standing Orders in response to the different balance of powers that now exists in the United Kingdom as a consequence of devolution.
Restoration and Renewal
I am eager to schedule a debate on the Joint Committee’s report and recommendation to refurbish the Palace of Westminster as soon as possible. That will be announced in the business statement in the usual way. The Joint Committee’s report recommended the establishment of a delivery authority that would develop a business case and budget prior to a final vote in Parliament, following a decision in principle. By its own admission, the Joint Committee was not in a position to provide detailed budgets before the establishment of a delivery authority.
If the Palace of Westminster needs to be renewed and restored, I am pretty sure that my constituents in Kettering would want me to vote for the cheapest option. If that happens to be the quickest, so much the better. Will the Leader of the House make a recommendation to the House ahead of the vote?
That is a matter for the House. It is vital that the Palace is safeguarded in the right way for the reasons that my hon. Friend has indicated. The Government want to ensure that the solution is deliverable and value for money, and are taking their time to consider the detail of the proposed recommendations and the implications very carefully.
“Taking their time” is the understatement of the year! The Joint Committee was chaired by two Ministers, one of whom, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), is sitting on the Front Bench. He was staring at the back of the head of the Deputy Leader of the House, going, “Just get on with it, man.” Get on with it!
There are pressures on parliamentary time—I think the hon. Gentleman is responsible for some of those pressures—but the reality is that the matter is of significant importance, and we will proceed as soon as possible.
I welcome the fact that the Government are taking their time to consider the best option for dealing with this historic Palace. Given the amount of taxpayers’ money involved, will the Deputy Leader of the House reassure me that such a cost will deliver an effective Parliament and a solution that taxpayers believe is genuine value for money.
It is crucial that value for money is safeguarded. Advice is being taken on a range of the technical and governance recommendations made by the Joint Committee report—we have studied it very carefully—and the independent Major Projects Authority is also being consulted.
The Deputy Leader of the House says that there is pressure on parliamentary time. We spent 45 minutes trooping through the Lobbies last night and we will spend hours doing the same next week, so if the Chamber is to be decanted, will that not be an opportunity to introduce modern practices, such as electronic voting?
I am surprised to hear that Scottish National party Members feel Divisions are a waste of time. I am sure they could avoid Divisions if they saw fit.
Is it not the case that the large majority of people in the House of Commons are not in fact Members? There is a constant risk not only on health grounds, with asbestos and the rest, but of a fire, and we certainly do not want a repeat of 1834. Should not those who complain about the cost involved—they are quite likely to come from outside—be told that they have such an absolute right to complain because this place exists?
I recommend any Member of the House who has not read the report to read it, because it particularises in fine detail some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman mentions about health and safety and about risk.
First, people started talking about the great reform Bill—where do all these greats come from?—and now there will presumably be the great reconstruction bill for the House of Commons. All the time I have been a Member we have made do and mended, and we have got on perfectly well. Why do we need to have this reconstruction? Let us just patch things up a bit and carry on as normal.
Again, I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the report. It is decades—in fact, many decades—of patching and mending that has led to patching and mending no longer being practicable in the opinion of the authors of the report, so clearly a number of major issues need to be addressed.
We are out of time, but I really want to hear the last question, not least because the hon. Gentleman is a newly elected and extremely keen member of the Committee about whose name he is concerned. I call Mr Philip Davies.
Women and Equalities Committee
The Government currently have no plans to bring forward proposals to change the name of the Women and Equalities Committee. I have received no representations from the Committee to make such a change. Should the Women and Equalities Committee recommend such a change, the Government would consider it in consultation with the Procedure Committee.
Every single departmental Select Committee is named after the Department it scrutinises. I am also on the Justice Committee, which scrutinises the Ministry of Justice. The only exception is the Women and Equalities Committee, which shadows the Government Equalities Office. Surely this Committee should be called the Equalities Committee. If the Deputy Leader of the House does not agree, will he tell us why women’s issues cannot be included in a Committee called the Equalities Committee?
I suggest that my hon. Friend approach the Chair of the Select Committee of which he is a valued member and invite her to write to the Leader of the House. The matter will be considered in the normal way.
Is my hon. Friend at all worried that members of, for example, the black and minority ethnic or the gay and lesbian communities, might feel that the title of the Committee suggests it will be giving priority to the concerns of women over their own concerns?
I gently say that achieving gender equality is good for everyone. For example, the introduction of shared parental leave allows men to take time away from the workplace to bond with their new children. There are issues to be addressed for women, as discussed in this place earlier today. Names of Committees are a matter for the House and are considered with the Procedure Committee in the normal way.
Will the Minister confirm whether he has received any representations from anyone from a BME community about their happiness or otherwise of the title of the Women and Equalities Committee? As a member of the BME community, may I say that I am very happy with the name of the Women and Equalities Committee?
The hon. Lady’s contentment has been noted. No such representations have been made. If any are made, they will be considered very carefully.
Airport Capacity and Airspace Policy
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about airport capacity and airspace policy.
In October last year, I announced that the Government had selected a new north-west runway scheme at Heathrow as its preferred scheme for new airport capacity in the south-east. Aviation expansion is important for the UK, both in boosting our economy and jobs, and in promoting us on the world stage. Leaving the EU is a new chapter for Britain and it provides us with a great opportunity to forge a new role in the world. We are determined to seize that opportunity, and having the right infrastructure in place will allow us to build a more global Britain. By backing the north-west runway at Heathrow airport and publishing our proposals today, we are sending a clear signal that when we leave the EU Britain will be open for business.
Today, I lay before Parliament a draft airports national policy statement and begin a period of extensive public consultation on the proposals it contains. The draft airports national policy statement is accompanied by an appraisal of sustainability, which assesses the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of the proposed policy. I have published all this information online to ensure that the process is as transparent as possible.
Over the past 70 years, the UK has failed to build the capacity needed to match people’s growing desire for travel. Unless we take action, every London airport is forecast to be full by 2040 and almost entirely full by 2030. Doing nothing is no longer a choice we can afford to make. Without expansion, constraints in the aviation sector would impose increasing costs on the rest of the economy over time, lowering economic output by making aviation more expensive and less convenient to use, with knock-on effects in lost trade, tourism and foreign direct investment.
The Government believe that a new north-west runway at Heathrow best delivers the need for additional airport capacity. The draft airports national policy statement sets out this rationale in full. It is expected that Heathrow will provide the greatest economic and employment benefits, delivering tens of thousands of additional local jobs by 2030 and up to £61 billion of economic benefits, not including wider trade benefits. The scheme will benefit the whole of the UK. I expect Heathrow airport to work with airlines to improve domestic connectivity, including the addition of six more domestic routes across the UK by 2030, bringing the total to 14. This will strengthen existing links to nations and regions, and develop new connections.
Heathrow’s location means it is already accessible to business and the rest of the UK. In future, it will be connected to Crossrail, and linked to HS2 at Old Oak Common. We are also bringing forward plans to deliver western and southern rail access to the airport as quickly as possible to provide greater flexibility, accessibility and resilience for passengers. The Heathrow north-west runway would be expected to deliver the greatest support for freight. As we leave the European Union, we will need to get out into the world and do new business with old allies and new partners alike. A new north-west runway at Heathrow will be at the heart of this. In summary, a new north-west runway at Heathrow would be expected to create new global connections, create tens of thousands of jobs, reduce fares for passengers, provide new capacity for freight imports and exports, and spread the benefits of growth to the whole of the UK. Today we are sending a clear message that the Government are not only making the big decisions but getting on with delivering them.
I am clear that expansion must not come at any cost and that we will meet our legal requirements on air quality and obligations on carbon. The airports national policy statement, if designated, will provide the primary basis for making decisions on any development consent application for a new north-west runway at Heathrow. Heathrow airport would be expected to provide up to £2.6 billion to communities affected by the expansion, including noise insulation for homes and schools, improvements to public facilities and other measures. This includes a community compensation fund and establishing a community engagement board.
For those people whose homes need to be compulsorily purchased to make way for the new runway, or for those who take up the voluntary scheme, Heathrow must honour its commitment of payments of 25% above the full market value of people’s homes and its commitment to cover all costs, such as stamp duty, and moving and legal fees. I am also clear that the environmental impact of expansion must be minimised. Industry-leading measures will be required to mitigate air quality impacts, and Heathrow airport will be required to demonstrate that the scheme can be delivered within legal air quality obligations.
The airport should continue to strive to meet its public pledge to ensure that landside airport-related traffic is no greater than today. Measures will also be required to mitigate the impacts of noise, including legally binding noise targets and periods of predictable respite. The Government expect a ban of six and a half hours on scheduled night flights.
Lastly, construction must take place in a manner that minimises impacts on the environment and the local community. Outside of the planning system, I am clear that there must be conditions on cost and that expansion costs will be paid for by the private sector, not the taxpayer. The Government expect industry to work together to drive down costs. I have appointed Sir Jeremy Sullivan, the former Senior President of Tribunals, to provide independent oversight of the draft airports national policy statement consultation process.
The second consultation that I wish to bring to the attention of the House is on UK airspace policy. I am publishing proposals to modernise the way UK airspace is managed, which will be consulted on in parallel. By taking steps now to future-proof this vital infrastructure, we can harness the latest technology to make airspace more efficient as well as making journeys faster and more environmentally friendly. The policy principles set out in this airspace consultation will influence decisions taken later in the planning process for a north-west runway at Heathrow. It is therefore sensible to allow members of the public to express views on both these issues at the same time.
The consultation will set out our plans to establish an independent commission on civil aviation noise and bring forward proposals to improve how communities can engage and make sure their voices are heard. To complement this, we are proposing guidance on how noise impacts should be assessed and used to inform decisions on airspace options. These proposals aim to strike a balance between the economic benefits of a thriving aviation sector and its impacts on local communities and the environment.
The aviation sector is a great British success story: it contributes around £20 billion per year, directly supports approximately 230,000 jobs across the United Kingdom and supports an estimated 260,000 jobs across the wider economy. I want to build on this success, and this year my Department will begin developing a new strategy for UK aviation generally that will champion the success story of the UK’s aviation sector and put the consumer back at the heart of our thinking. I want to make sure that the sector is delivering more choice for consumers and the country as a whole, and I will come back to the House to update you, Mr Speaker, and hon. Members on our plans as they develop.
Finally, I turn briefly to what happens next. These two consultations will start today and last for 16 weeks, closing on 25 May. At the same time, and as required by the Planning Act 2008, a period of parliamentary scrutiny—the “relevant period”—now begins for the draft airports national policy statement. It will end by summer recess 2017. Although planning is a devolved matter, the consultation will be open to the whole of the UK, as additional airport capacity will benefit us all.
Following consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, consideration will be given to the comments and points raised. In the light of those processes, should the decision be taken to proceed, a final airports national policy statement will be laid before Parliament for debate and there will be the opportunity for a vote in the House of Commons in winter 2017-18.
I will place copies of all the relevant documents in the House; they will also be available online for Members and members of the public. I commend the statement and process to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for Transport for advance sight of his statement.
Aviation is key to ensuring that the UK remains an outward-looking trading nation post-Brexit, and Labour has consistently been pushing for a decision on runway expansion in south-east England, so after years of dither and delay, it is welcome that progress is finally being made. We have been calling for action on airspace modernisation for some time, and although we cannot see it, our airspace network is in dire need of modernisation. It is over half a century old but is still among our country’s most vital pieces of infrastructure. Modernising airspace will involve tough decisions, but the benefits are huge. It is in the national interest for the Government to ensure that they deliver a balanced and sustainable airspace solution.
However, there are outstanding issues, including how Heathrow expansion can be squared with meeting the UK’s climate change objectives and demonstrating that local noise and environmental impacts can be minimised. This can be achieved, but only in the context of a coherent aviation strategy that works for the country, not just for London. It starts with confirming our membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency, as well as taking action on cleaner fuels and improving road and rail access to our international gateway airports.
As the Secretary of State knows, business loathes uncertainty, and aviation is no exception. What assurances can he give that the UK’s continued membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency is and will remain an absolute priority? What does his commitment to leaving the single market mean for leaving the single aviation market? The Committee on Climate Change cautioned against relying on carbon trading for Heathrow to achieve its emission targets, as that option might not always be cheap and available. Will he provide an update on whether he plans to reject that advice?
There is increasing concern about air quality, which is linked to 40,000 early deaths a year. David Cameron’s former aide—now Baroness Camilla Cavendish—claimed that the existing policy on air quality “overclaims and underwhelms”. Given that inadequacy, what further and stringent measures will be proposed to mitigate the expected expansion at Heathrow?
Key to improving air quality, alongside a move to reducing vehicle emissions, is encouraging more people to use public transport to arrive at our airports. Enhancements are needed to Heathrow’s rail services if the objective of having public transport usage of 55% is to be achieved. I invite the Secretary of State to outline what progress he is making and how he can ensure that the business beneficiaries of such enhancements will make a fair contribution. If we are to secure the modal shift to accessing airports by public transport and in the context of the aviation strategy, I invite him to confirm that the National Infrastructure Commission will be asked to inquire into the issue of surface access at all our international gateway airports and seaports.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to fulfilling our legal requirements on air quality and obligations on carbon, and I note the reference to Heathrow striving to meet its public pledge that airport-related public traffic will be no greater than it is today. But it is not simply about the volume of traffic; it is about vastly reducing the emissions that come from such traffic. Much of that relates to ultra-low emission vehicles, which will be key to securing our shared objectives. The modern transport Bill will hopefully progress the agenda considerably, so, finally, will the Secretary of State tell the House when we are likely to see that Bill?
May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his support for my statement this morning? He asked a number of questions, which I shall answer, but I very much welcome the principle of support. This is a long-term project for the country, and a shared vision across this House of the need for expanded capacity is important. I know that there are individual Members who have disagreements, issues and local challenges, but his supportive comments are welcome for the project and I am grateful to him.
Let me seek to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. First, we have not reached a definitive position on the European issue. Obviously the negotiations have not started and we have not yet triggered article 50. I am acutely aware that aviation is one of the sectors that we need to handle with great care, working out the best way of protecting our sector and delivering the right connectivity for the future. I will come back to the House at an appropriate moment and provide more information, but, as he is aware, we are not really in a position to provide detail of the negotiations in advance. However, I appreciate that he will want to understand in due course where we have got to, and we will endeavour to make sure that we keep the House as fully informed as we properly can, given the negotiation process.
As the hon. Gentleman said, aviation is not included in the current climate change target. It is clearly an issue, however, and has been since the recent agreement in Montreal, subject to an international strategy going forward. We are consulting today on things such as the smarter use of airspace. Through airspace reform and the technology that is now available to us, we will be able to avoid, to anything like the degree experienced at the moment, planes stacking over the south-east of England, emitting additional emissions into the atmosphere and using up more fuel. That is one of the benefits that comes from the smarter use of airspace, which will help to make a contribution, as will cleaner, newer generation, more fuel-efficient aircraft, which I think we will see extensively in this country over the coming years.
On the issue of NOx, diesel and emissions on the surrounding roads, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is much more a car issue than a plane issue. It is about the propensity of congested areas to cause a genuine public health problem, so it is a broader issue for the Government to address than simply the airport. We have already made a start, with the incentives that are in place for low-emission vehicles and the expansion of charging points that we set out in the autumn statement. We will also shortly be seeing the Bill that he mentioned—it would have been here by now, had we not had a bit of other business to deal with in the House. The issues in that Bill will be important, but I am well aware, and the Government are well aware, that we will have to do much more on the emissions front. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will come forward in due course with further proposals to tackle what is a broader issue than just airport expansion. It is one that we cannot possibly wait until airport expansion happens to address, and we will not.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of rail services, and we already have significant plans for their development. The arrival of Crossrail and of HS2 at Old Oak Common will make a significant difference to public transport access to Heathrow, as will the proposed modernisation of the Piccadilly line, which will significantly expand capacity on that route. We are now also starting the development work on rail access to the south and the west of Heathrow airport, and he is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is something that we are now working on and the private sector will make a substantial contribution to the costs.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman raised the importance of land and surface access to ports and airports around the country. I can confirm to him that we are looking at this in a variety of forums. As we move into this post-Brexit world and in a world where we need to facilitate trade, I am particularly concerned to ensure that where there are blockages, congestion points or limitations around ports and airports, we take the necessary steps to address those, and we will.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments, and will obviously try to keep him and the House as informed as possible.
Given that for 70 years we have talked the talk on airport capacity over London, it is welcome that my right hon. Friend is now laying down the plans to walk the walk and get on with building Heathrow’s third runway. Given our antiquated planning rules, is he confident that it will be completed by 2040, when the airports reach their capacity? Can he also give a commitment to local communities around all the London airports that the smarter use of airspace will be used in the interim to reduce noise and other disturbance for local communities?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I am absolutely clear that we aim to deliver airport expansion long before 2040. What we have now is a much more streamlined process, set out in statute—it was introduced by Labour and I am grateful for that—for securing the initial consents. If, when we reach the end of this year, the consultation confirms the recommendation that the Government are making and this House does the same, I hope that we will have effectively reached a point of outline planning consent that allows the airport to press on with the detailed preparation work for the construction and the detailed planning consents.
I think that airspace modernisation makes a real difference to communities in the south-east, because it enables us to put planes on much more exact paths. Today, sat-nav technology allows a plane to follow a much more exact route than the traditional beacons did. It enables us to manage approaches to airports, airport descent and ascent rates, and the overall use of airports so that we do not experience stacking around the south-east as we do today. I hope that the second part of the process that I have announced, which I believe is as important to communities throughout the country as the airport expansion, will allow us to ensure that the sector becomes much friendlier to the communities that it affects.
I thank the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement.
We welcome the decision to go ahead with the expansion of Heathrow and the new runway. After many years of waiting, it is time to get on with delivering that, as well as the specific benefits that it can bring. However, building a new runway is meaningless if we do not have access to the air and the EU-US open skies agreement. Does the Secretary of State intend to seek membership of that arrangement?
The Secretary of State mentioned regional airports, which are vital, and I agree that these connections need to be made. What guarantees will he give to regional airports in Scotland, especially the likes of Dundee and Inverness, about routes and slots following the Heathrow expansion? He also mentioned the need to deal with environmental issues and tackle carbon emissions. What targets will he specify to demonstrate ambition above the legal requirements to which he referred?
We and the Scottish Government do not always agree on everything, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and his party, and to the Administration in Edinburgh, for their support for Heathrow expansion. Indeed, following these exchanges, I shall be heading off to the other side of Scotland—to Glasgow—to talk about the importance of my announcement to the United Kingdom as a whole.
The hon. Gentleman asks about regional airports. Heathrow will be under an obligation to fulfil its promises in respect of regional connectivity. I expect this capacity to open links not only between the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, but from within the United Kingdom to Heathrow and the rest of the world. That is important to airports in Scotland, the north of England, and other parts of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland, the south-west, and so forth.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the open skies agreement. As I said earlier, that will be a subject for negotiation. We will obviously seek to provide the best possible arrangements for the future but, whatever the arrangements, the fact remains that there were flights to and from European Union capitals long before the European Union even existed, and that will continue after Britain has left the European Union. We will have strong aviation ties around the world. Of course, this expansion is not particularly about European Union links; it will open up ties between the UK and markets around the world, including emerging markets. It will provide Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England with links to markets where there is great potential and opportunity for the future.
I believe that the Secretary of State is doing his work backwards. How can you consult on airspace strategy when you do not have a credible policy on how to address current noise pollution levels? How can you offer a consultation on a national policy statement when you have no credible or legal plan for reducing air pollution? How can you have consultations ending on 25 May with no credible or legal plans to address critical noise and air pollution levels?
Order. I have no credible, legal, or any other plans or pronouncements to make on this matter at all.
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this. I know the concerns that have been expressed in her constituency, and I respect her very much for what she is doing. One of the difficulties involved in a big strategy decision such as this is that it is impossible to make it without some impacts. I simply give my hon. Friend my assurance that we will take all steps we can to minimise those impacts, inevitable though it is that there will be some.
Let me say two things about pollution. First, we made our decision on the basis of recommendations made to us by the Airports Commission, and subsequent work was carried out by the Government in the wake of more recent developments relating to emissions from motor vehicles. We are clear in our view that the expansion is deliverable within the rules, but the Government intend to go much further to tackle emissions from motor vehicles. The issue of NOx––oxides of nitrogen—emissions is much more about urban congestion than airports. It is something that we have to deal with, and we will have to deal with it much sooner than when we start to expand Heathrow airport in the next decade.
This is a long-awaited and welcome statement. Heathrow is the right place for expansion to link with emerging markets—that is essential for our future economic success. How can the Secretary of State convince us that this really will be an integrated transport policy and that, at the same time as developing links with emerging markets, it will address critical issues of environmental concern, including air pollution? What can he do to convince us that that indeed will happen?
The hon. Lady makes two points. On connectivity, the plans for improved rail access around Heathrow will completely transform it as an integrated hub. The connectivity that HS2 will bring to Old Oak Common, Crossrail, the expanded Piccadilly line and the connectivity that south-west rail access will bring into Heathrow itself will mean it is much more of an accessible integrated transport centre than it has been, and there will be regional connectivity as well.
On pollution, as I have said, we had detailed analysis from the Airports Commission and, since then, from independent consultants. The Government’s judgment is that this expansion is deliverable within air quality rules but, as I have just said, we have a big task in this country to address the much broader issue of air quality. We cannot simply sit with the status quo until the middle of the next decade when this runway opens; we need to have made a big impact before then.
I welcome the Transport Secretary’s statement. For my constituents in Esher and Walton, it will be absolutely critical to have tangible reassurances, including on legally binding limits for noise and air quality, the independent verification of both of those things, and a change of policy on flight paths from the arbitrary policy of concentration, which blights communities such as Molesey in my constituency, to a fairer policy of dispersal. Will the Transport Secretary guarantee to work with me to nail down those local reassurances for my constituents?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend those assurances. The thing that we share in particular across our two constituencies is the stack south-west of London. The changes that the airspace consultation heralds will change that fundamentally, leading to much less stacking and fuel wastage over south-east England. As a result, there will be less emissions from the aviation flying over south-east England, and I think that there will be a much better experience for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
The Department’s re-analysis of air quality involved a qualitative analysis of air quality showing that it was possible that limits would be breached in the areas around Heathrow when the third runway opened. Will the Secretary of State undertake to do a quantitative analysis before the consultation ends that includes real driving emissions and the contribution to air quality problems that the Volkswagen cheat devices have made? Will he give a cast-iron guarantee today that he will not use Brexit as a means of watering down our EU air quality targets?
On the latter point, the Government fully recognise that we have a duty to tackle this problem. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be bringing forward proposals on how we take that further in the future, and the hon. Lady will be aware that my Department has been taking more steps to support the move to low-emission vehicles.
We have carried out further work since the Airports Commission reported, as well as since the Volkswagen emissions issue emerged. It is still the judgment of my team and our advisers that the expansion can be delivered within the current rules but, of course, we intend to go much further than that. We cannot afford not to be much more transformational between now and the middle of the next decade. The problem is to do with not this airport, but our urban areas generally, and we have to deal with it.
I know that it is going to take a lot more than a builder with a bucket of tarmac to do this as the project will involve an investment of not far off £20 billion. It will give a great boost to post-Brexit Britain, on top of the expansion at London City airport. Can the Secretary of State give me his best estimate of when the first plane will take off from the north-west runway?
My hon. Friend and I share an aspiration to achieve that as soon as possible, but the working assumption is that the first plane will take off in the middle of the next decade. Perhaps we should have come to this decision a long time ago, but at least we are doing it now and we will get on with it as soon as possible. However, we have to do it in the right way and sustainably, taking great care of the surrounding communities.
I welcome today’s statement, but for this to be a truly national policy, it has to include the interests of regional airports such as Newcastle, which is so important to the economy of the north-east. This is not just about infrastructure; it is also about taxation. Today, the Scottish Government are halving air passenger duty and they will abolish it by 2021. Will the Secretary of State urge his Treasury colleagues to address the question of air passenger duty for regional airports, because it could damage their ability to compete?
I know the importance of this announcement for Newcastle. When I made my statement to the House in October about the Government’s proposals, I went to Newcastle the following day and met its chief executive. There is clearly enormous support in that area for the expansion of the airport. On APD, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s comments will be noted by Treasury colleagues in the run-up to the Budget.
Order. I thought that one Member who was seeking to catch my eye had exited the Chamber at one point during the statement, but it might be that I was experiencing an optical illusion.
Following the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), I should like to point out that the lethal combination of the new technology, the much more precise flight paths and the Government’s current policy of concentration rather than dispersal will lead to a disaster for the people who are right underneath those routes. It should be possible to use the new technology to create an artificial degree of dispersal, as happened before under the analogue systems. Will my right hon. Friend advance on this consultation with the knowledge that this is a very important issue to address for many of our constituents?
To be slightly parochial, I can say that those of us who represent Surrey constituencies are well aware of the issues around Gatwick airport and the flight paths that planes have been using there recently. My hope is that the consultation will lead to a system that will enable us to be much more careful about managing flight paths so that we can provide respite to communities and decide exactly how to handle approaches to airports, instead of having a rather haphazard set of flight paths. I can assure my hon. Friend that I think we will end up with a better system for his constituents and those in neighbouring constituencies.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State about certain references in the Airports Commission surface access strategic road network proposals, which were published by Highways England in October. The document includes proposals to widen the M4. The Government made a statement to the media two weeks ago to the effect that that would not go ahead, but the answers to written questions that I have received have not been so clear. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those proposals will not go ahead, and that there will be no land or property acquisition in Heston?
I can be absolutely clear about this. I saw those BBC reports. There is no plan to widen the M4, although there is a plan to create a smart motorway on the M4, as the hon. Lady will be aware. There is no plan that I am aware of—or that I have discussed in any way, shape or form—to start buying houses in her constituency for a wider M4, and I have not seen a budget for that either, so she can take it from me that there is no plan to widen the M4.
I commend and support my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he give me an assurance that the rail link to Gatwick airport will continue to be invested in and upgraded?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will be aware that the Government are bringing forward plans to fulfil Chris Gibb’s recommendation of spending £300 million on the route in the short term. We clearly have a modernisation challenge beyond that, and we are looking at how best we can fulfil it. The other issue for Gatwick is the station, and we are in discussions with the airport and Network Rail about what we can do with it. Ensuring that Gatwick has proper modern surface access for the future is also our priority.
I welcome the national airport policy, although I note the warning that aviation could become less convenient to use, lowering economic output. Unfortunately, many airports are turning themselves into long, tedious, meandering shopping malls, which inconveniences travellers. Glasgow airport, for example, has a quarter of a kilometre meander that not only hinders those needing to travel, but inconveniences people with mobility issues, particularly those going to gates for flights to the islands. I exclude London City airport from that criticism, but will the airport policy consider travellers as well as shoppers by at least providing a shorter route for them?
I know what the hon. Gentleman means—we do spend a lot of time walking through the shops—but the counter-argument is that shops are one of the factors that keeps the cost of aviation down, making it more accessible. I am unsure whether I can promise him fewer shops.
Will you look at it?
We will be holding a consultation on the national strategy, so the hon. Gentleman is welcome to make that point, which we will consider carefully. More important is providing better links through Scotland’s airports to Heathrow, and better links to his constituency from airports such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. That is important for better connectivity, which is why the proposal will make difference for him, too.
I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr Speaker, for reasons on which I do not need to expatiate. This is a matter of grave concern to my constituents and I want to pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] Okay, he has moved to a different place. His point was about consultation and engagement with local communities, particularly in Surrey and the areas around Heathrow. That is vital for what is an excellent proposal. I just want to hear the Secretary of State reiterate his commitment to engage with local communities.
A few people have asked why we are holding a consultation at all. Quite apart from the statutory process, we want to hear from people how the proposal would have an impact on them. Regardless of whether Parliament decides that we should go ahead with the proposal, it is essential that, if we do go ahead with it, we listen carefully and, if necessary, refine it to make improvements for those communities. The airspace reforms also provide an opportunity to make a real difference to areas around the airport that are exposed to take-offs and landings.
I continue to support the third runway at Heathrow as the best option for my constituency in Sheffield, but given the delays we are still roughly 10 years away from the runway being up and running. In the meantime, Heathrow is running at around 98% capacity at certain times of day, and demand will continue to increase during that 10-year period. What are the Government’s plans to manage that increased demand over the 10 years before the runway opens?
The truth is that that is a constraint. There is still capacity around London’s airports, and there are some first-rate regional airports near the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The east midlands and south Yorkshire have access to good airports in Leeds Bradford and East Midlands, both of which have done phenomenally well in recent times and are providing more and more international links. However, we are constrained by the fact that the decision was not taken a long time ago, which is why we need to get on with it now.
I have written to the Secretary of State on numerous occasions, so he will know well that airspace management over parts of west Kent, particularly of night flights, is becoming a serious problem for many constituents. While you, Mr Speaker, can enjoy your nights undisturbed, my constituents sadly do not have that luxury.
That is an important point. I have been examining the issue and it is being dealt with in some innovative ways around the country. We will be able to glean from the consultation the public’s views on how we can best manage night flights to minimise the impact on communities. Being able to follow more exact flight paths will make a significant difference and will address some of the issues that I have seen in the many communications that my hon. Friend has received from his constituents that have been passed to me.
Since Cardiff airport was rescued from loss-making private ownership by a public-private partnership, it has earned a top environmental award and is now the fastest-growing airport in the United Kingdom, with passenger numbers increasing 16% last year. Will the Secretary of State welcome the Welsh Government’s purchase of the airport? The Airports Commission report says that connectivity will be improved between the regions and nations of Britain, so will he also guarantee that one of those links will be with Wales?
Cardiff airport has been a great success story, and I pay tribute to all those involved. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) asked about what will happen in the coming years, and we are fortunate in having some very good regional airports that can not only take up the slack in the coming years but will be a crucial part of our overall airport strategy in the future.
As the Heathrow decision goes ahead, demand and inward investment in the west of England, bringing jobs and growth, will ever expand. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our excellent west of England mayoral candidate, Tim Bowles, will be able to join me and colleagues from the west of England in expressing our views on joining the western main line to Heathrow?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have received extensive lobbying from his constituency and elsewhere, and from Tim, saying that that is an important part of what we are doing. Rail access to Heathrow will be a crucial part of ensuring that we can deliver the growth that we anticipate without having the impacts on the local environment that massively increased road traffic might generate. I assure my hon. Friend that we are working very hard on that.
I nearly missed the Secretary of State’s statement this morning because my train was cancelled, which is not an unusual occurrence—it happened yesterday, too. There are already strains on the rail network around Heathrow airport, the draft NPS commits to no net increases in journeys by road and TfL estimates that the cost of upgrading rail infrastructure to meet that commitment will be in the region of £19 billion. Heathrow has committed only £1 billion of those costs. The Secretary of State has told me that he does not accept TfL’s estimates, so what are his own estimates? Will they be funded by the taxpayer?
The hon. Lady and I had the same experience yesterday. My train was not cancelled but, as she is aware, a power failure caused problems on the route—that does happen, unfortunately.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman says that, because of course Network Rail is in the public sector and it was a Network Rail problem. On the subject of airport expansion and the importance of ensuring that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and in other affected areas we do the right thing for local people, I assure her constituents that we will work immensely hard to listen to their views in the coming weeks and to look at ways of minimising the impact of airport expansion. It is something that we need to do very carefully and with sensitivity to those communities, but I simply do not accept TfL’s figures. Heathrow airport will have an obligation to meet the targets that it has set, but I am afraid that TfL’s estimate of £19 billion or £20 billion is just plucked from thin air. I see no evidence whatever to support that estimate.
I welcome the broad thrust of the statement, given the vital role that Heathrow plays as the hub airport not just for London but for the whole south-west of England. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that there will be proper co-ordination between this airport strategy and delivering the type of infrastructure, such as a resilient railway and the dualling of the A303, that will be vital to making sure that this is a success?
I can absolutely give that assurance. My hon. Friend knows that we are now moving ahead with the development process on the A303. I have made funding available for the next stage of work to develop the right solution to the problems at Dawlish. Of course, the other thing that will benefit the south-west is improved aviation links. Newquay airport, which is a bit further west than his constituency, is one of the regional airports that will benefit from that increased connectivity.
The Secretary of State wants 250,000 extra flights over one of the most densely populated parts of Britain—2 million people live in the area—but he has no concrete proposals for dealing with congestion, noise or air quality. How is he going to deal with diesel and other emissions? What about increased freight, which will go by road, not rail? Does he not know that the increases in public transport are already needed to meet local demand? Is he not just passing the buck to somebody else to solve these problems, and not for the first time?
No, I am not passing the buck to anyone else. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the plans for improved public transport connectivity around Heathrow, as I described, he will see that Crossrail, HS2, an improved Piccadilly line, the south-west rail access and the western rail access will entail the kind of transformation to access that Heathrow has never seen before. My belief is that, with tight commitments on the airport developers to ensure that they meet their promises, we can deliver this with lower-noise aircraft, a smart compensation package and benefits for the United Kingdom.
The economic case for HS2 is partly built on the fact that we would reduce the number of internal flights within the UK, yet reports suggest a dramatic increase in their number when Heathrow expands. Can my right hon. Friend clarify the position? What commitment is he making to expand regional airports so that they have international flights and people do not have to come to Heathrow?
On that latter point, if my hon. Friend takes a look at what some regional airports have achieved, he will see extraordinary amounts of international connectivity. I went to Bristol airport recently to open its expanded terminal building, which is going to serve more than 100 international destinations. Our regional airports are already a great success story, and this is meeting an additional need, not replacing what they do. The great benefit from HS2 is not only the connectivity it generates, but the capacity it releases. We have such congestion on the rest of our rail network. In his part of the world, HS2 alone will deliver thousands of extra commuter seats into Euston in the morning rush hour, in an area that is already heavily congested, by taking those express trains off the existing route. So the business case for HS2 is much broader.
I welcome today’s statement and the comments that have been made about long, tedious, meandering shopping malls. I know the Minister accepts Northern Ireland’s uniqueness, but 60% of those who fly from Northern Ireland go to Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. I heard what he has said about Gatwick, but can we make sure that we expand and look after all those airports, so that this suits everyone in Northern Ireland and the other regional airports?
Absolutely, that is important. Those airports are all a central part of our future strategy for aviation and for transport generally. The expansion of Heathrow will have direct benefits for Northern Ireland—for example, Heathrow is recommending a route to Belfast City. It is important that we maintain the best possible links from Northern Ireland to our principal hub airport and through it to those international destinations which are important to businesses in Northern Ireland.
One may wonder why a Member who represents the hills and valleys of mid-Wales should be speaking in this debate. It is simply because my constituents will benefit from the expansion of Heathrow. Therefore, may I ask my right hon. Friend to proceed as quickly as possible to development?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, as the impacts of this proposal will be felt up and down the country. It will be felt in small businesses producing equipment for the new airport. It will be felt in colleges that are training apprentices to work on the new airport. It will affect the regional economies of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right in what he says and I am grateful to him for his support.
On jobs at Heathrow, would support for the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals not be strengthened if employers such as British Airways treated their workforce decently? He knows that the mixed fleet cabin crew dispute is still going on because this underpaid, mainly female, workforce are being treated appallingly by BA. Will he intervene and ask BA, “Why don’t you make an improved offer and settle this matter?”
The hon. Gentleman makes his case well, but he would not expect me to become involved in a dispute of this kind. I simply say that I very much hope that BA and the union will be able to reach a resolution that is mutually acceptable.
I welcome today’s decision, as I think it is the right one for the UK. However, the Secretary of State will be aware that on 23 January we had a black alert on air pollution in London, with 12 local authority areas signalling red alerts. That means there was toxic air, and this is at crisis point in London. If we are going to reassure the people of London so that they continue to support this decision, we need a much more comprehensive air pollution strategy, not the Government’s current plans, which the courts said are “woefully inadequate”.
We have, of course, taken careful note of the High Court decision and such a plan is in development at the moment, but we are doing things in the meantime. In the autumn statement, we released hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding for low-emission vehicles, including low-emission buses, and more money for charging points. This is clearly something we have to deal with now. We have to find the right way to migrate the nature of the cars and other vehicles on our roads to a point where they are causing much less of a pollution problem than they do at the moment.
Very shortly, there will be a UK mainland airport from which passengers and their luggage will be able to fly directly into a UK international airport without any security checks on passengers or their luggage. The decision by Highlands and Islands Airports to remove security checks, particularly for Campbeltown into Glasgow, is an unnecessary relaxation of a system that has worked well. Were the Government aware of that, and are they happy to see passengers and their luggage flying into a major UK airport without undergoing the security checks that every other passenger and their luggage has to undergo?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing that to my attention. I was not aware of it but will look into it.
The Secretary of State may be aware that today the Scottish Government will pass their budget—an austerity budget that cuts £327 million from public services at the same time as slashing air passenger duty. Incidentally, the budget is supposed to go through with the support of the Green party. Will the Secretary of State tell me what assessment his Department has made of the legal requirement for air quality around Heathrow and other UK airports as a result of the slashing of air passenger duty in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman identifies clearly the inconsistencies we all too often see in policies coming from both the Scottish National party and the Green party, and he makes his point articulately. On the emissions around Heathrow, as I said earlier, it is much more an issue of land transport—cars, buses, trucks and vans—than of aircraft. That is why we have to focus our efforts on dealing with the challenge on our roads rather than focusing on aviation. The issue will be dealt with and the pressure taken off Heathrow by our sorting out the issue on the roads.
As I explained in the debate on triggering article 50 yesterday, many in the aviation sector think that Brexit may lead to the sector shrinking, thus negating the need for an additional runway. Given the fact that air service agreements lie outside conventional trade agreements and the ambit of the World Trade Organisation, will the Minister confirm whether any talks have taken place with the Trump Administration on a US-UK open skies agreement?
I can confirm that no talks have yet taken place, but I am expecting to meet my US counterpart in around a month’s time. Discussions took place with the previous Administration and there is good will on both sides to make sure that there is no hiatus in transatlantic air traffic.
I welcome today’s statement, particularly the talk about connectivity with HS2, which will of course be greater if we get an HS2 hub at Crewe. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, once there are three runways at Heathrow, the proportion of slots available to domestic traffic will remain at least the same as it is now?
I am looking carefully at how best to do this, because I do not want a situation in which we retain a proportion of slots, but they are always at 11 o’clock at night. It might not be simply about slots; it might be about getting the right mechanism to make sure that there is the necessary capacity to ensure that connectivity. I probably will not say simply that it will be x slots; we will want to make sure that the package is right to ensure the fair treatment of regional airports.
The Secretary of State will know that 9,000 people have died unnecessarily in London because of poor air quality. Will he guarantee that, post-Brexit, the Government will not dump EU air-quality regulations? He did not give that guarantee in response to an earlier question from the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). What will he do if the airport cannot be delivered within the legal air obligation limits—proceed anyway, change the air-quality objectives, or pull the plug on the runway?
It is very clear that the airport will not be able to secure its development consent order if it cannot demonstrate its ability to meet those targets. It is binding: it will have to achieve them. On the broader strategy, after we have left the European Union, the air quality standards in place in this country will be UK air quality standards, but it is not the Government’s intention to reduce air quality standards; it is our intention to deliver a strategy that cleans up our air, which we will do shortly.
Will the Secretary of State’s airspace policy consultation include new measures to protect the public from the danger of drones? Given the recent reports of airspace near misses, will he act now, before a tragedy occurs?
I can confirm to the hon. Lady that we are indeed consulting on the best regulatory framework for drones. I suspect that that will inevitably lead to some form of licensing for drones of a scale that could be a threat to the public and some limitations on where they can be used. We are listening to the views of the public, the drone development industry and others with a relevant interest to work out the best framework.
I, too, welcome the launch of the consultation. Will the Secretary of State commit to a vote on the national policy statement by the end of this year? I also welcome the inclusion in the statement of the fact that Northern Ireland will enjoy the benefits of Heathrow expansion. In the statement, he refers to six more domestic routes across the UK. Will he ensure that Northern Ireland is one of those?
It is certainly my hope and aim that we can have that vote by the end of the year, because I want to get on with this as quickly as possible. Belfast City is one of the airports identified by Heathrow as being a likely extra route, and certainly it is right that Northern Ireland should have a proper slice of this cake when it is there.
Business of the House
With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
Monday 6 February—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 7 February—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 8 February—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 3) followed by remaining stages of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Thursday 9 February—Debate on a motion on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories followed by debate on a motion on governance of the Football Association. The subjects for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 10 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 February will include:
Monday 20 February—Remaining stages of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords] followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 9 and 20 February will be:
Thursday 9 February—Debate on the sixth report from the Science and Technology Committee on smart monitoring of electricity and gas followed by debate on the effect of the state pension changes on working-class women.
Monday 20 February—Debate on e-petitions relating to a state visit by President Donald Trump.
May I thank the Leader of the House for the statement? I note that we still do not know when the House is rising for the summer recess, so I ask him again to announce that date.
May I add the Opposition’s voice to your letter, Mr Speaker, and the letter from the Lord Speaker about a date for a debate on restoration and renewal? Members need to know what is going on and engineers and everybody else need to keep the House safe, so the sooner that we can have that debate the better.
Mr Speaker, you will not believe this, but on this day in 2004, Roger Federer began his 237th consecutive week run as world No. 1, and that record remains unbeaten. He has now won the Australian Open—possibly because you, Mr Speaker, interviewed him. Roger Federer has had longer to get to the final of the Australian Open than Parliament has had to debate triggering article 50.
This is not a democratic Government. The Government thought that they could trigger article 50 on their own, but the Supreme Court dragged them back to Parliament. The Prime Minister said that the Supreme Court did not tell them what form the Bill should take, but drafting the legislation is the job of the Executive. It is the Court’s job to interpret that legislation.
The Government produced a two-clause Bill, but they were clearly having a laugh, because in the first line, it says, “The Prime Minister may—”. They used the word “may” instead of, possibly, “must”. There is no discretion in this. In order to leave the EU, as the people of Britain have voted for, all the Prime Minister has to do is to give notice to trigger article 50; that is all article 50 is about.
This is a secretive Government who failed to tell Parliament about the misfiring of a missile. That is why Her Majesty’s Opposition has been asking for a plan from the end of last year and for a White Paper since the Prime Minister made a speech to Lancaster House—not this House—which will be published only today.
We cannot trust this Government, because the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was among those who said that £350 million would go to the NHS if the UK leaves. That has now been proved to be incorrect, so how can we trust them now? That is why the Prime Minister has to report back to Parliament on the deals. Will the Leader of the House, in the interests of the British people and democracy, ensure that there is a vote on the final deal made by the Government so that we can protect workers’ rights and EU citizens, retain tariff-free access to the single market and all EU tax avoidance and tax evasion measures, consult with the devolved Governments and ask the Government to publish any impact assessments?
As the Prime Minister’s words yesterday showed, this is not the Government of the NHS. Could we have a statement on the Prime Minister’s response to the letter from 2,000 senior clinicians who said that they have reached unacceptable levels of safety concerns for their patients, and could that statement also say whether hospitals are operating at safe staffing levels? Will the Government publish a response from the Prime Minister to the letter from the Chairs of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Health?
Now we see the recklessness of the Government’s policies. They changed NHS bursaries, which has resulted in fewer people wanting to become nurses. It is the same recklessness that was shown by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who now says that he regrets cancelling Building Schools for the Future. Tell that to the Joseph Leckie Academy in my constituency, which had its allocation cancelled; children now have to be sent home when it rains heavily. With 46% of schools losing funding under the new funding formula, could we have a statement on why the £384 million that was in the education budget has been clawed back by the Treasury? Schools deserve the money now, not in a budget giveaway.
The Leader of the House has failed to respond to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) about her Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, having said two weeks ago that he was not in a position to make a statement. Will he now state the position on that Bill?
The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Burma, Win Myint, was here last week at your invitation, Mr Speaker. Sadly, a key constitutional expert and lawyer for the National League for Democracy, Ko Ni, was assassinated in Burma this week. He just happened to be a Muslim. Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to do all he can to support the Burmese Government in their quest for peace?
Finally, it is World Cancer day on 4 February. Every hon. Member will have been touched in some way or know of someone who has been affected by the disease, so will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all the researchers looking for a cure? On Saturday, let us remember all those who have lost their lives to the disease, wish all those well who are currently going through treatment, and celebrate with those who have beaten the disease.
May I first associate myself with the hon. Lady’s words about World Cancer day? It is probably the case that there is no Member in any party of this House who has not been touched in some way by the case of a relative or a dear friend who has had to fight —sometimes successfully and sometimes sadly not—against this scourge. Like her, I would celebrate the advances of medical science, the skills of oncologists and others who diagnose and treat cancer, and the courage of cancer survivors and their relatives who give them such critical support. Let us keep in our thoughts and prayers those who have been bereaved as a consequence of cancer, and give thanks to those staff in the NHS, and in the voluntary and charitable sector, who work to provide specialist nursing care, including hospice treatment, to people who are having to face the end of their lives.
I turn to the other points raised by the hon. Lady. I want to be able to give the House some news, as soon as possible, on the summer recess and on the restoration and renewal programme, but I am not able to do so today. My understanding is that the Committee to consider the Bill of the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) has now been appointed, but has not yet met.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) mentioned the European Union. I really do think that the line of questioning she pursued this morning was something of a distraction therapy to try to divert attention from the blatant divisions within her party, with different members of the shadow Cabinet and the Front Bench dropping off the perch with every news bulletin. For a two-clause Bill, the second clause of which is simply the short title of the Bill, two full days on Second Reading, including going to midnight on Tuesday, and up to three days in a Committee of the whole House, seems to me a perfectly reasonable allocation of time.
Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s points about school funding. The money to which she referred was allocated by the Treasury to the Department for Education explicitly for the purpose of supporting the full shift of all schools to academy status. The Government, having reconsidered that policy in light of public representations and representations in this place, altered their policy. Therefore, that money was not needed, since those schools were not going to transfer to academy status.
The hon. Lady’s point about Burma is well made. I shall make sure that it is passed back to the Foreign Secretary, but I can give her an unqualified assurance that this Government will continue, through the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, to work to support the cause of building democracy, human rights and community reconciliation inside that country.
Finally, the hon. Lady rightly paid tribute to the stupendous achievement of Roger Federer. It is not only tennis aficionados such as you, Mr Speaker, who will have cheered at his success. Somebody in professional tennis who is in their mid-30s is at quite an advanced age, and there is perhaps a message of hope to all of us that age is just a number and that we can strive for greater achievement whatever age we reach.
What a splendid note on which to finish. The man is an inspiration.
Lidington or Federer?
I do not wish to be discourteous to the Leader of the House, but I actually had Federer in mind.
May we have a debate on the power of clinical commissioning groups in the NHS and the fact that they are unaccountable to the public? Is the Leader of the House aware that a clinical commissioning group covering part of my constituency plans to withdraw services from Bridlington hospital and Driffield hospital? That is not on account of cost, but the clinical commissioning group seems hell-bent on doing it, despite overwhelming public opposition. Does he accept that these plans are totally unacceptable? If we cannot have a debate, will he draw my concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health?
I will not only undertake to draw my right hon. Friend’s concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State, but I can point him towards Health questions on Tuesday 7 February, when he may have the opportunity to question Ministers directly about this issue. Clearly, the details of the health service in his area are not something on which I would be able to comment, but the principle here is that clinical commissioning groups should engage in proper public consultation in their local area as they draw up sustainability and transformation plans for that locality. Ultimately, the local authority, through its health overview committee, has the right, if it believes that services are being wrongly and adversely restructured, to refer the matter to the Secretary of State.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
We like our anniversaries in this place, and I support everything the Leader of the House said about World Cancer day in a couple of days’ time. However, today is groundhog day. I know that most days seem like groundhog day in this place, and I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I always seem to wake up to the news that another Labour Front Bencher has resigned—perhaps Punxsutawney Phil can get a place in the Labour shadow Cabinet.
Three cheers for the Leader of the House for finally getting the White Paper for the Brexit Bill; it has only taken half the time the Bill will take to go through this Chamber, but we have got it at last. Let us hope that it is quite close to the 650 pages we had in the independence White Paper, although I doubt that very much.
This is a Bill the Government did not want and that they are forcing through at breakneck speed, but they must be prepared to listen to the hundreds of amendments that will be tabled to it. I have noticed that in the programme motion there is no programming for a Report stage. That must mean that the Government will arrogantly reject every single amendment without proper consideration. Why are we not getting a Report stage on the Bill as it goes through the House?
May we have a statement on the Government’s intention regarding a second Scottish independence referendum? There is a piece in The Herald today from the Defence Secretary, who seems to rule out entirely a second Scottish independence referendum. We have just heard him on Radio Scotland, where he seemed to backtrack furiously on what he had just said. The Scottish Tories’ leader has said that it would be wrong to rule out a second referendum. Believe me, a Government with only one MP in Scotland telling the Scottish people that they will not have a say in their future could not be a bigger gift to the SNP.
I listened carefully to the response by the Leader of the House to several of my hon. Friends who asked about how EVEL would be applied to the great repeal Bill. He must totally rule it out now. We cannot have a Bill as important as this being considered by two classes of Member of Parliament in this House—one class of Member who has a say in everything, and then the Scottish Members, who can take part only in some of it. Believe me, that could not be a bigger gift to us either.
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s points about the EU withdrawal Bill, I have to remind him that, first of all, this House voted overwhelmingly for the referendum to take place and for the decision to be referred to the British people; and, secondly, only a matter of weeks ago the House again voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering article 50 before the end of March this year. The timetable on this two-clause Bill is designed to ensure that those objectives are upheld.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Report and Committee stages, the purpose of Report is normally to enable the House as a whole to consider the Bill as it comes out of Committee, where it has been considered by a small number of Members upstairs. On this occasion, we have a full two days and time, if needed, on the third day for consideration of amendments by a Committee of the whole House. The hon. Gentleman is really asking for a further extension of the Committee of the whole House.
Finally, on the hon. Gentleman’s points about Scotland, the Prime Minister could not have been more emphatic, on numerous occasions at the Dispatch Box, in making it plain that we are determined to consult the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive about how their interests, and those of the people whom they represent, are affected by the process of withdrawal from the European Union and the negotiations on which we shall shortly embark.
The EVEL arrangements in our Standing Orders can apply only if three conditions are met: first, that the matter in question is devolved to Scotland; secondly, that the same matter relates to England only, or to England and Wales only; and, thirdly, that you, Mr Speaker, have certified the amendment or the Bill as falling within the definitions prescribed under our Standing Orders. Although I cannot possibly comment on a Bill that has not yet been published, it seems to me—given that international agreements are, under the Scotland Act 1998, defined as reserved, not devolved, matters—that the principles embodied in our Standing Orders ought to give the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues considerable reassurance.
This week, three of the six district councils in Dorset voted to keep their own sovereignty and independence. Despite that, last night the chief executive of Dorset County Council announced that other councils in Dorset would apply for a hostile takeover. May we have an early debate on how to prevent ineffective and wasteful councils from seeking to seize by compulsion the assets and powers of their financially sound neighbours?
My hon. Friend is moving on from the sovereignty of Parliament to the sovereignty of Christchurch. A number of us in the House are very aware that there are often different and competing views—shall I put it that way?—among different local authorities in the localities we represent about the possible shape of future local government reform. As I can see from your reaction, Mr Speaker, you and I are both extremely familiar with this dilemma. As my hon. Friend knows, his view and the views of other colleagues representing Dorset constituencies will be attended to very closely by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I urge him to continue to ensure that the views of his constituents are forthrightly represented in that quarter.
May we have a debate about our so-called national airline, British Airways? The manner in which it is treating its workforce, particularly the mixed fleet cabin crew, is a disgrace. They are mainly women and they are low-paid, yet the airline is refusing to settle on the basis of a reasonable offer to them. Would not a debate enable us to expose how our so-called national airline treats its workforce?
Although that is obviously a matter for the company, trade unions and employees concerned, the Government hope that all employers take seriously their responsibilities to ensure that their workforce is fairly rewarded. I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a debate in Government time, but this might be a subject on which to seek an Adjournment debate.
Last week, I attended in the House of Lords a meeting, organised by the Cross Bencher and human rights campaigner Baroness Cox, at which three very brave women told us their harrowing tales of how they have been treated and the impact that sharia councils have had on their lives. It is a disgrace that we have this alternative form of justice in our country. May we have a debate on that to make sure everybody in this country is treated equally under the same law and we do not have sharia councils treating women in such an appalling manner?
It is very important that all of us in this place uphold wholeheartedly the rights that both men and women have under the law of the United Kingdom, and emphasise that whatever private or community dispute resolution arrangements may or may not exist, the legal rights of women and men under law trump any such informal agreements.
May we have a debate about the vexatious use of family courts by controlling and abusive ex-partners who seek to use custody as a way of harassing, intimidating and impoverishing people—often their wives—in order to continue the controlling, coercive and bullying behaviour that they exemplified throughout their relationship?
Like the hon. Lady, I have had cases in which constituents have come to me about that kind of harassment. There may be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to highlight the issue via an Adjournment debate. Ultimately, we have to accept that in individual cases we must rely on the good sense and professionalism of the judge who is presiding in the particular case to hear and make a judgment about the evidence put forward by the two parties and come to a fair resolution.
Mr Speaker, if you visited my constituency, I would certainly take you to one of our three fabulous livestock auction markets. Alongside our livery yards and riding schools, they are key to the fabric of our rural community, yet their future is threatened by eye-watering rises in business rates. Will my right hon. Friend provide time in this House for us to debate why rural businesses are being so unfairly penalised?
In my hon. Friend’s relatively short time in the House, he has already emerged as a formidable champion not only of the Richmond constituency, but of North Yorkshire and rural businesses more generally. The position nationally is that the business rate revaluation will, overall, benefit businesses in rural areas across England, and no small property will have an increase of more than 5% from 1 April because of the transitional relief scheme. If my hon. Friend would care to write to me about the particular cases of the auction marts in his constituency, I undertake to draw them to the attention of the Communities Secretary.
This week we spent 17 hours discussing the European Union, but we did not spend a single minute on the crisis in Yemen, where half the population are still starving. Last Sunday, President Trump authorised the first attack on al-Qaeda in Yemen, causing the death of one American soldier and 14 casualties. When can we have an update on the urgent situation in Yemen? We hold the pen at the UN on this subject. We desperately need a ceasefire. When can we know what is happening?
There will be questions to the Foreign Secretary on 21 February, which will provide an opportunity to raise Yemen. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to take other parliamentary opportunities available to him to focus on Yemen at greater length. The Government have never concealed the fact that trying to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict will be a difficult business. If there were an easy answer it would have been found by now. We continue to support the work of the UN special envoy on Yemen, who is striving ceaselessly to bring about the ceasefire that both the right hon. Gentleman and I wish to see. The Department for International Development continues to do what it can to bring humanitarian assistance to those who are in such need.
This week, a petition raised by the parents of April Jones, who lived in Machynlleth in my constituency, reached 100,000. April was just five years old when she was abducted and murdered. The person responsible, Mark Bridger, is now in prison. The petition calls for tougher sentences for those looking at child pornography on the internet and greater control of internet search engines. Will the Leader of the House urge the Petitions Committee to bring forward an early debate on April’s law as soon as possible?
I understand completely the way in which this appalling and tragic case has shocked the community of Montgomeryshire and the wish of so many people to see this debated in Parliament. As my hon. Friend will understand, it is not for the Government but the Petitions Committee to allocate time to debate e-petitions, but I am sure the Chair of the Petitions Committee will want to consider carefully the case he has made.
As the Government hurtle headlong into Brexit Britain, may we please have a debate in Government time on our future plans for international trade policy? The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are jet-setting around the world promising all sorts of deals to President Trump and President Erdogan, but the House has still not had the opportunity to discuss the principles that will underwrite future trade deals or the process we will follow to ratify them. Is this, as I suspect, just another example of Brexit-on-the-hoof without policy and without scrutiny by Parliament?
I would have hoped that, even while expressing her concerns, the hon. Lady might have paid some tribute to the energy and determination of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for International Trade ministerial team, who are actively seeking to ensure we have the best trading opportunities around the world after our departure from the European Union. There are questions to the Department for International Trade on Thursday 9 February—next week—but of course the Government have already had a number of debates in Government time on different aspects of our departure from the European Union. I shall make sure we look seriously at her case for a further debate focusing on international trade.
How will we use the time next week if you, Mr Speaker, do not select any of these ridiculous and impertinent amendments?
I think the procedure with regard to Committee of the whole House to a certain extent spares you that duty, Mr Speaker, because it falls to the Chairman of Ways and Means. He will, as always, be guided by the rules on order, and ensure that they are properly upheld.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my phenomenally talented 16-year-old constituent, Ali, from Dewsbury, who has just rejected a multimillion pound deal for his latest business venture? Will the right hon. Gentleman facilitate a debate on how the Government can help other young aspiring entrepreneurs?
I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating her constituent Ali. The more we can do to encourage young people not just to understand enterprise but to see setting up an enterprise and giving employment to others as their vocation, the better. I will pass on her case to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, but I know that all parts of Government will want to ensure many more Alis in all our constituencies.
Excitement is mounting in Cleethorpes following the announcement yesterday of a visit next week from the northern powerhouse Minister. Earlier this week, the Humber local enterprise partnership held a showcase event here at Westminster, attended by four Ministers, at which the advantages of economic development in northern Lincolnshire and the wider Humber region were shown to the guests. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the success of the Government’s northern powerhouse policy?
I can see that even now crowds are sleeping out in the streets ahead of the ministerial visit and that Cleethorpes is scarcely able to contain its jubilation as the bunting is strung from lampposts. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government’s approach to economic and industrial strategy is, in particular, to ensure that those parts of the UK that have not benefited from economic growth in recent decades in the same way as the more prosperous cities and regions are able to do so, and that certainly includes Cleethorpes and the other towns and cities in north Lincolnshire. I hope, for example, that there will be some beneficial spin-offs for the wider north Lincolnshire and Humberside region from Hull’s designation as this year’s city of culture. I know that Ministers are keen to champion my hon. Friend’s work.
The Government control the vast majority of business and time in Parliament. Considering the crisis in the NHS and the fact that every Member wants to raise the crisis in relation to their own constituency, can I propose to the Government that before Easter an entire week be exclusively dedicated to the NHS and the crisis in it? I would predict that even in a week we would struggle to find time for every Member to outline their concerns.
All Members, whichever political party they represent, follow closely the challenges and successes of the NHS, particularly in their own constituencies, and are keen to raise these matters with Ministers. There are Health questions next week. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a full week of debate, in the way he wishes, but I would point out that the Government are following through on their commitment to put into the NHS the money that NHS England itself said it needed for its transformation and reform plans. At the 2015 general election, his party refused to match that pledge.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the replacement of the pound coin in March? I am not convinced that the general public have been sufficiently informed that the coin as now constituted will not be legal tender in October or that the slots in vending machines will be able to cope with the new 12-sided coins.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. On 1 January we launched a campaign to raise awareness and to encourage the public to return the current, round £1 coins. The message is clear: if someone has a £1 coin sitting at home or in their wallet, they need either to spend it or return it to their bank by 15 October, when it ceases to become legal tender. For some months we have been running a separate campaign to support retailers and other businesses in preparing for the new coin, so that slot machines, machines in car parks and so on will all have been altered.
Why does the Leader of the House not come clean and admit that his failure to plan for a Report stage in the Brexit Bill means that he intends to turn down every single amendment from the 128 pages of serious amendments? That railroading—for that is what it is—means that the amendments that lie undebated and not voted on will be longer than the White Paper, which, by the look of it, is not substantial enough to stop a door, never mind start an international negotiation.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The reality is that he is opposed in principle to the Bill, and he seeks to argue that parliamentary procedure should be prolonged so that, in effect, we go beyond the March deadline for triggering article 50. The Prime Minister has set out the plans to be followed which this House has overwhelmingly endorsed. The question of how many amendments are selected for debate is a matter not for the Government, but for the Chairman of Ways and Means, who will decide which of the amendments are in order and which are not. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the programme motion that we voted through last night, so he will have seen that it allocates time for the different categories into which the amendments that he described fall. We will have perfectly sound opportunities next week, during the three days that are available for debate, to go through all the amendments in sufficient detail.
As chair of the all-party group for communities engagement, I refer to my letter to the Prime Minister and to the point I made to the Foreign Secretary earlier this week about the treatment of UK citizens at border controls around the world. Can we please have an urgent statement or a debate on that matter?
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are both reflecting on that issue carefully following the recommendations of my hon. Friend and the all-party group. I assure him that the Foreign Office and our network of posts around the world take up individual cases when they come to their attention. However, in the light of what he said, we will look at the case for a systemic procedure for recording such cases.
Yesterday, with the greatest reluctance, many Members genuflected to the authority of public opinion as expressed in a referendum. Will the House show the same respect to the unprecedented number of people who have signed two petitions since Saturday? Some 1,800,000 people have expressed their outrage at the prospect of President Trump enjoying a state visit here, whereas 200,000 have supported the invitation. Can we ensure that we show respect to people’s sense of horror by having not only a debate in the House, but a vote among hon. Members?
The unique feature of the EU referendum was that Parliament passed an Act that expressly referred the decision to the British people. I certainly felt that we were honour-bound to accept the verdict. As for the state visit by the President of the United States, of course people are free to express their opinions, and it is right that the Petitions Committee has allocated time for the petition to be debated. The Government take the view that a state visit is perfectly appropriate. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—including with its elected head of state—matters to the security of our citizens and the geopolitical role of the west, as well as to our commercial and industrial interests. For those reasons, it is right that we should welcome the elected head of the United States of America in the way we have his predecessors.