House of Commons
Thursday 2 March 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
We ran a consultation between 20 December and 28 February on proposals to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. The consultation also sought evidence on the extent of the environmental impact of microplastics found in other products. We are now reviewing the responses to the consultation and any new evidence will be used to inform future UK actions to protect the marine environment.
May I welcome the proposed ban as far as it goes? However, it appears that several products such as make-up and sun cream will be excluded. I therefore urge the Minister to adopt the Greenpeace definition of microbeads, which is,
“all solid water-insoluble microplastic ingredients of 5mm or less in any dimension used for any purpose.”
The US ban has not yet come into force, but we will continue to monitor its progress and consider any learning from that approach. Our proposals so far are supported by evidence, which shows that rinse-off products can damage some marine environments. We have extended the consultation and issued a call for evidence on other matters.
The Government’s progress on banning microbeads is welcome, but other forms of plastic are polluting our seas, including the 15 million plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. The Cornish-based charity, Surfers Against Sewage, has obtained 209,000 signatures to a petition that calls for a plastic bottle deposit-return scheme. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can advance that petition and make progress?
I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. As I informed the House at the previous Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time, we are looking at the issue in the context of the litter strategy. Let me take the opportunity to publicise this weekend’s Great British Spring Clean campaign, in which I am sure many hon. Members will be involved. I also want to advertise BBC Suffolk’s “don’t be a tosser” campaign. Frankly, we do not want people who toss litter about to flood our beaches with the plastic bottles that my hon. Friend mentions.
A microbeads ban would be welcome, as would extending it to more products. However, as has been said, larger plastics that break down and become microplastics in the marine environment are the biggest problem. A deposit-return scheme would make a big difference. What is the Minister doing with the circular economy to try to get manufacturers to design out such products so that we do not have the problem of what to do with them in the first place?
The advance of plastic packaging reflected consumer desire for on-the-go, safe products that individuals can carry. I welcome instances of manufacturers introducing their own recycling schemes. When we were children, we perhaps got pocket money on some of the deposit-return schemes, but we now have kerbside recycling, which has successfully increased the amount of recycled plastics.
The Minister has shown real leadership on the issue and I applaud the Government’s efforts so far. However, for us to make a genuine difference we need other countries to get on board. Will my hon. Friend say more about what she is doing to ensure that we work collaboratively across borders to tackle the problem?
My hon. Friend is right. I understand that the recent explosion of nurdles in the world’s oceans is due to the fact that several containers fell off a ship and the contents were dispersed. We are all stewards of the ocean and we therefore want to work with other countries and support efforts to ensure that our oceans are as clean as they can be.
Having visited the nurdle hotspot at Kinneil, we clearly need to know much more to quantify their impact and presence in our seas in order to eliminate them. To date, the European Union has co-ordinated and funded much of the research by scientists in the UK under the marine strategy framework directive. Can the Minister give any certainty that those scientists will still have funding or opportunities for collaboration with European scientists after the UK leaves the EU?
The United Kingdom is a leading player in OSPAR. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we protect more than half the seas of this region. I am confident that we, and our scientists, will continue to work with many other countries to tackle this global issue.
Leaving the EU: Fisheries
First, may I welcome the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) to her place? It is very good to see her on the Opposition Front Bench and I look forward to working with her.
Mr Speaker, may I convey the sincere apologies of my farming Minister, whose plane has been delayed? He sends his very sincere apologies and we will write to you shortly.
Since the referendum, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers and officials have regularly met representatives from across the fishing industry. Fisheries will be a key area in negotiations. As a coastal state outside the EU, the UK will be responsible under international law for controlling UK waters and for the sustainable management of the fisheries within them.
I have an instinctive sympathy for anybody who is delayed by planes. It is a big part of my life.
The Secretary of State will be aware that before we had the common fisheries policy we had the London convention of 1964, which governed the access of foreign vessels to the six to 12-mile-limit waters. Is it the Government’s intention to remain a party to that convention after we leave the European Union?
There is no doubt that when we went into the EU back in the 1970s fishermen had a very poor deal on the amount of fish they could catch and on quotas. Is there not now a real opportunity to ensure we have better access to our waters and to larger quantities of fish, so that the industry can progress much further?
The Secretary of State knows that our fish processing industry is more important to our economy than the catching sector, and that it is very dependent on imports. We export more than 80% of what we catch, so is not maintaining tariff-free and other barrier-free access to the single European market more important than sterile arguments about fishing rights that could result in battles or worse?
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Our fishing communities around the UK provide a vital vibrancy to local communities and the rural economy, so I do not agree with the suggestion that processing is somehow far more important. We will seek the freest possible access to European markets, but when I was in China last year I signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese worth £50 million, which included UK seafood. It will be very important for us to be able to find new export markets.
Last Friday, I spoke at a seafood processing and fishing industry seminar in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. The industry recognises the opportunities of Brexit, but understandably it has some concerns. I welcome the Secretary of State’s reassurances to date, but can she give an absolute reassurance to the seafood processing sector that it will form a key part of the negotiations?
I had a very happy fish and chip lunch in Cleethorpes with my hon. Friend and I look forward to further such opportunities. He is right to point out that seafood processing is an absolutely vital part of our fishing sector. We are very much taking it into account in our negotiations on leaving the EU and in looking at opportunities around the world.
Despite the fact that we are eight months on from the referendum, at a recent meeting with Scottish Ministers the Secretary of State was unable to provide any information on what powers over the rural economy will flow to Scotland after Brexit. Has Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, let the cat out of the bag today in The Times? It looks like there will not only be a power grab, but a cash grab. When will the Secretary of State come clean and own up to what the Government plan to do with Scottish fishing and Scottish farming?
I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the UK market is incredibly valuable to all our fishing communities. It will continue to be very important. The Prime Minister has been very clear that no powers that are currently devolved will be, as he says, grabbed. They will continue to be devolved. What we are looking very carefully at is the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom as we seek to negotiate Brexit.
Domestic Food Market
Mr Speaker, I apologise for being a little late. I was at the Gulfood exhibition in the Gulf and my plane was sadly stranded because of fog.
The Government want the UK to grow and sell more British food and drink. Through the introduction of a new plan for Government procurement, we have sought to enable Departments to source more local food, and recent successes include the Ministry of Justice implementing the plan in prisons. Last year, exports of food and drink increased by 9% to £20 billion.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The quality heritage of our local food, such as Sussex Charmer and all the great wines produced in the South Downs, is second to none. That is why we have set up the great British food unit—to promote our food at home and abroad. It is also why I have just returned—late, sadly—from Gulfood, the world’s largest annual trade fair.
I remind the Minister that we do not want food at any price. As we have heard this morning, another seven species are in danger in our country because of intensive farming. When will we have good, productive, sustainable farming and start importing less?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. Wight Marque celebrates the Isle of Wight’s brilliant range of food, from locally produced milk to a vast array of fruit and veg. It is a great example of how a little public money and the support of partners can really celebrate the provenance of our local food.
Farmers are facing a critical shortage of seasonal labour, and some are afraid that our food will rot in the ground this year. The Government have been asked to reverse their decision to scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and Ministers say that they are reviewing the issue, but can a decision please be made as a matter of urgency?
While we remain members of the EU, we still have free movement, and fruit farms and farmers can still source their labour from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. We are aware that some have raised concerns about agricultural labour after we leave the EU, and we are listening carefully to their representations.
Does my hon. Friend share the view expressed by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation that leaving the EU can both help farmers increase their share of domestic products and improve animal welfare by preventing the import of goods produced under circumstances not permitted in the UK?
As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government have a manifesto commitment to place a stronger recognition of animal welfare issues in the design of future agriculture policy and to promote higher standards of animal welfare in international trade deals. We intend to implement those manifesto commitments.
Yesterday during a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee, we heard evidence from Gary Mitchell of National Farmers Union Scotland, and two things were made very clear: access to migrant labour for seasonal work is essential for our agriculture sector and the Government are yet to the respond to the representations made by NFU Scotland over these concerns. Will the Minister commit to looking into this and providing an urgent clarification to the agriculture industry on where they stand on migrant labour?
Seasonal Agricultural Workers
There is a lot of interest in seasonal agricultural labour at the moment. DEFRA Ministers engage regularly with ministerial colleagues at the Home Office and other Departments to discuss the issue of migrant labour in the agriculture sector after we leave the EU. We are aware that the availability of labour is a concern for some sectors of the industry. However, leaving the EU and establishing controlled migration does not mean closing off all immigration; it simply means that we will be able to identify where we have needs and put in place suitable arrangements.
Growers in my constituency are worried about fruit going unpicked not only after we leave the EU, but this year. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he will continue to press the Home Office on this issue, and not only on seasonal agricultural workers after we leave the EU, but between now and then?
As my hon. Friend may know, I spent 10 years working in the soft fruit industry; indeed, I will know many of the strawberry farmers she represents. I am also aware that the Secretary of State has taken up a kind offer from my hon. Friend to visit and meet some of the farmers there to discuss their concerns. As somebody who ran a soft fruit enterprise employing several hundred people, I can tell my hon. Friend that I do understand the challenges the industry faces.
But there is an immediate problem in that many of the fruit farmers in my constituency have already entered into contracts for migrant labour for this coming fruit-picking season. They have been concerned about some reports last week that the Government are considering restricting free movement or introducing work permits when article 50 is triggered. Can the Minister confirm whether that is happening, or give them an assurance that it will not happen and they can fulfil the contracts they have already entered into?
The point that we have been making to the industry when we have met it is that while we remain members of the EU—that is, until we leave, not until we trigger article 50—free movement remains. The feedback I am getting is that most farmers are able to source the labour they need from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. We will give the industry plenty of notice of what arrangements we intend to put in place after we leave the EU.
Leaving the EU: Farming
At the recent National Farmers Union conference, I set out five principles that will support a prosperous future farming industry: trade, productivity, sustainability, trust and resilience. We are now in the process of a broad consultation ranging right across farmers, food producers and non-governmental organisations to hear their views as we build a policy that will achieve our twin ambitions of having a thriving farming sector and an environment that is in a better state than we found it in.
Like my right hon. Friend, I meet farmers regularly—mainly through Staffordshire and Lichfield NFU—and they are actually very positive about Brexit and see the opportunities. But I know we export about £20 billion-worth a year overseas and into Europe, so what efforts is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that we continue to have access after Brexit?
We are working very hard right across Government to make sure that we get the best possible deal on market access for our agri-food sector when we leave the EU. There are huge global opportunities for Staffordshire farmers and food producers, and later today I will visit Harper Adams University in neighbouring Shropshire and the chamber of agriculture to hear from the next generation, as well as current farmers, about how we can seize those opportunities.
Our constitutional arrangements today are very different from those in 1972. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that after our exit from the EU the agriculture rules that are currently set in Brussels will not be exclusively set by the UK Government, but will instead be set by the devolved Administrations with the closest knowledge of the local farming industries?
In the great repeal Bill we will be bringing all the acquis communautaire into UK law. We in the United Kingdom will then be in a position to look at what works best for the UK. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am working very closely with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations to make sure that we get the best possible deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The complexity and bureaucracy associated with the CAP cost the industry £5 million a year and 300,000 man hours, so reducing burdens will help our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more of our great British food.
The strength of the farming sector will depend on whether it has an adequate supply of labour. Earlier the Minister of State suggested that there was not yet a problem here, but we know that workers from the European Union are already reluctant to come to the UK to work, so when is the Secretary of State going to make it clear that we are going to have a seasonal agricultural workers scheme? What is the timeline?
The hon. Lady is not correct when she says that people are reluctant to come here. In fact, the Office for National Statistics figures for last year show that there were more migrant workers coming from the EU than ever before, so that is just not true. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has pointed out, free movement will continue until the point at which we leave the EU. We are working closely with the Home Office to assess, understand and put in place good systems to ensure that we continue to thrive in this important sector.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The three crop rule is exactly the sort of measure we should change once we have left the EU. Of course, we want farmers to manage sustainable rotations, to optimise yields and to protect soil, but we can do that without forcing them to grow a specific number of crops on a specific acreage of land.
The National Farmers Union warned last week that the Government’s lack of clarity risked stifling the farming industry. This week, it was reported that the price of agricultural land fell by 7% in the past year due to the uncertainty of Brexit. The absence of any Government planning is plunging farming into a grave state. When will the Government give clarity and a long-term commitment to the farming industry on access to the single market, access to a seasonal workforce and a new long-term agricultural policy?
The Prime Minister has made it clear that our ambition is to have an all-encompassing free trade agreement with the European Union and to retain free and fair access to the European single market. As we have already discussed, we are looking closely at the need for a workforce now and in the future, and we are looking carefully at what more we can do around the world to make a huge success of leaving the European Union.
Trees and Woodland: Carbon Target
We recognise the important role that forestry plays in the United Kingdom as a carbon sink. In 2015, forestry contributed an annual emissions reduction of 17.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to our carbon reduction targets.
The Government take tree health extremely seriously. That is why we promote biosecurity internationally, at UK borders and inland to ensure that pest and disease risks are effectively managed, so that we can continue to actively manage our woodlands and forests and contribute to the carbon reduction targets.
As well as helping to meet the Government’s carbon target, the planting of trees has a wide range of environmental benefits. Does the Minister think that the Department’s plans are ambitious enough to reap the benefits that trees and woodland undoubtedly bring?
I do think that they are sufficiently ambitious. We are absolutely confident that we will hit our target of planting 11 million new trees during the lifetime of this Parliament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will speak to his former right hon. Friend the Mayor of London to ensure that he plants the 2 million trees that he pledged to plant, before he was elected.
The Minister will be aware of the outbreak of sweet chestnut blight near Exeter. I welcome the first national survey of historical woodland, but what more can be done in the short term to prevent the importation of the devastating diseases that are spread by the international plant trade while doing nothing to discourage tree planting and woodland creation?
Leaving the EU: Food Prices
The main drivers of changes in food prices are energy costs and exchange rates, and those forces affect all countries, whether or not they are members of the EU. In 2008, there was a steep spike in food prices, which continued to rise until 2014. Since 2014, food prices have fallen by 6%. Despite the depreciation of sterling last summer, retail food prices have remained relatively stable, with an overall fall during 2016 of 0.5%.
Large numbers of people in my constituency are in work, but they are still in poverty. They are feeling the effects of increases in food prices over recent months. Given that they are so dependent on cheaper EU food products, what will the Minister do to protect them in the longer term?
As I said, the facts do not bear out what the hon. Gentleman says. Food prices have fallen by 0.5% over the past year and by 6% since 2014. We monitor the situation closely. The annual living costs and food survey closely measures the poorest households in particular and how much they spend on food, and the situation has remained remarkably stable over the past decade.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We have some preferential trade agreements in place with some developing countries, particularly to buy sugar from the Caribbean. We want to maintain and secure such arrangements so that we can support developing countries.
The Minister talks about food prices falling, but supermarkets are warning of the potential for food prices to rise significantly this year, which will have a huge effect on every household in the country. Nearly half our food is imported and prices are already starting to rise for the first time in three years owing to the weak pound and inflation. What exactly are the Government doing to help with rising prices in people’s weekly food shop?
As I said earlier, we closely monitor the amount of money that people spend on food, which has remained remarkably stable at around 16.5% for the past decade. We continue to keep the issue under review. I simply point out to Labour Members that the greatest spike in food prices took place in 2008 on Labour’s watch. Food prices have been falling since 2014.
The Minister talks about monitoring, but it was recently revealed that research to inform agricultural and environmental policy once the UK leaves the European Union has not even been commissioned by the Department. The Minister’s warm words are all very well, but the agricultural sector desperately needs long-term clarity and the Government are failing to deliver it. Will the Minister tell us how the Government can have any real understanding of the current situation without adequate research being in place?
I simply say to the hon. Lady that the Department is doing a vast amount of analysis and research to inform future policy. We received a specific parliamentary question about whether we have commissioned direct scientific research on the effects of leaving the European Union, and she is right that we have not, but we do not need to. All our environmental policies are regularly evaluated for their strengths and weaknesses.
Leaving the EU: Fisheries
There is already a degree of self-management of the fishing regime by producer organisations in the fishing industry through our system of trading quotas and markets in both the leasing and exchanging of quotas among producer organisations. However, leaving the EU does create the opportunity to consider how we manage our fisheries and to look at the approach taken by other countries.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have consistently made it clear that leaving the EU means that we will take back control of our exclusive economic zone—the area out to 200 nautical miles or the median line—and that will allow us to look afresh at mutual access agreements and shares of the total allowable catch in shared waters.
They have in common the fact that they are policies that originate in the EU. Leaving the EU obviously gives us an opportunity to review some of those things, but we already have a derogation so that farmers who grow winter crops are able to trim their hedges a little earlier. Certain species are very vulnerable—particularly the yellowhammer, which breeds late—and we want to protect them.
I specifically discussed proposals along those lines with NFU Scotland at the beginning of this year. A consensus is emerging that there needs to be some kind of UK framework, within which we obviously want to ensure that the devolved Administrations can pursue the policies that are right for them. We will work closely with all the devolved Administrations to ensure that, after we leave the European Union, policy works for Scotland and other parts of the UK.
I do not accept what the hon. Lady says. The truth is that we have guaranteed payments up until 2020. We have ensured that the budget is still there, and we have made it clear that, well in advance of that date, we will be able to give farmers throughout the UK a very clear picture of what future support arrangements will look like.
I will update the House on the delivery of the basic payment scheme. As of today, 95.5% of eligible farmers have received their payment, which is good progress but there is still more to be done. Last week I secured agreement from the Treasury that a 75% bridging payment will be available to any farmer with an outstanding claim at the end of March. The window for 2017 applications opened yesterday.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response. In response to my earlier question, the Under-Secretary mentioned our former colleague, the Mayor of London. Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to his work on tackling poor air quality? Will she say whether it is her policy to retain the existing provisions of the air quality regulations in UK law after the UK leaves the European Union?
It is absolutely the case that we will keep all regulations when we leave the EU so that regulations look the same the day after we leave as they did the day before. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are looking very carefully at the whole issue of air quality. We have spent more than £2 billion since 2010 on ultra-low emission vehicles and on trying to reduce the impact of poor air quality. There is more to be done, and we are looking closely at that.
We are determined to hold this terrible disease at bay for the sake of our entire poultry sector, and our robust actions so far have included an amended avian influenza prevention zone from 28 February, which covers all of England and requires mandatory biosecurity for all keepers and the compulsory housing or netting of poultry and captive birds in defined higher-risk areas. That is very important for the entire sector.
Further to what the Secretary of State just said, she must be aware that English poultry producers are concerned about the prospect of losing free-range status because of the postcode lottery of the bird flu restriction system. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association is particularly concerned about the inconsistent approach. What more can she say to assure egg producers throughout the UK that the right measures are being taken to sort out this whole sad issue?
Colleagues will be aware that there was a full housing order until 28 February. With extensive scientific advice, we have gleaned that those places where wild fowl congregate are high-risk areas. That has been extensively peer reviewed on the basis of scientific evidence, which is why we have published a paper to outline the rationale. This has absolutely not just come out of our own heads; in no way whatsoever are we doing anything other than protecting this vital sector.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about an issue I championed while I was responsible for this part of the portfolio. The Government have recently published proposals for improving the laws on the breeding and selling of dogs, among which are proposals that anyone breeding and selling three litters in a 12-month period will need a licence and that no puppies will be sold under the age of eight weeks.
Traditionally, councils were given grants for their flooding responsibilities through the rate support grant. I visited the centre near Jaywick and saw the excellent work that was being done by the council and by many voluntary services, as well as by our emergency service response. I am sure that councils will continue to work, to reflect on what happened, and to monitor whether their schemes continue to be appropriate.
As my hon. Friend will know, we already have in place an agri-tech strategy worth £160 million, which has supported more than 100 different projects to support science and technology transfer in food and farming. In addition, we have food information networks to try to create clusters of innovation in the food sector.
We take the marine environment very seriously, which is why we said in our manifesto that we would extend the blue belt, and that is what we have done, not only around this country’s shoreline but around those of our overseas territories. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to play a leading role through OSPAR, as well as through our role on the Council of Europe and the related Bern convention.
The BBC drama “Resistance” airs tomorrow on Radio 4 and portrays a dystopian future without effective antibiotics, and antibiotic resistance is also the subject of a Westminster Hall debate I have secured for next week. Does the Secretary of State agree that although we are world leaders in work on antibiotic resistance both in health services and in agriculture, the fact that we have recently licensed three new colistin products, which are the last line of defence, shows that there is more we can do?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK has taken a leading role in the work on antibiotic resistance, which we have pushed on to the agenda of the OECD, the G7 and the G20. We can adopt processes to reduce our reliance on antibiotics—for example, through the acidification of water in the pig sector. We can always do better, but some of these critical antibiotics have a role in agriculture, too.
My hon. Friend, like me and lots of other colleagues from across the House, enjoyed that lovely reception at Downing Street and the fabulous Welsh singing. I can absolutely assure him that we will keep Welsh lamb farmers at the heart of any negotiations on free trade agreements.
It was a private meeting. In fact, the agreement was that we would not talk openly about the level of discussions. I found our meeting helpful. We made some progress and got a clear way forward. Such discussions need to take place, and I look forward to more of them in the future.
Has the Secretary of State seen the very positive statement from Associated British Foods, which runs British Sugar, the iconic sugar beet and sugar factory in Newark, saying that it expects that, post-Brexit, the ability to design our own system without EU quotas will lead to up to a 50% increase in its profits and sales, which is good news for farmers and consumers?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Associated British Foods is one of the great British-owned food companies. It is a world leader in sugar and it has driven competitiveness and investment in the industry. I believe that the sugar industry in this country has a great future.
Since 2010, the budget of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been cut by 57%, which means that the Department is struggling to get out plans such as the 25-year farming plan. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury to protect the budget from the 6% cut expected next week?
My Department is indeed involved in a transformation project, which will take out costs, but it will also deliver better and more focused frontline customer service. I am very optimistic about that, and we are looking very carefully at the further efficiency savings that are needed.
Order. I apologise to the House. The House is very hungry today, but, as is so often the case, demand exceeds supply, and it is not possible to satisfy the appetite of all colleagues. We must now move on to questions to the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), representing the Church Commissioners, and to the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), whom we welcome to her responsibilities as representative of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Parish Churches: Wi-fi/Broadband
I would certainly like to welcome the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) to her position and I look forward to working with her at these question sessions.
There has been a lot of interest from colleagues in this question of how to provide the internet to parts of the country that currently have poor provision. Churches play an important role in supporting community infrastructure, and the Diocese of Norwich has led the way. Since 2011, it has been the majority shareholder in WiSpire, which provides wi-fi internet signal boosters to churches across the diocese. We are in early discussions to expand that provision into the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and Ely dioceses.
Obviously, the topography of Lancashire is challenging, so I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s case. In fact, I went to see an example of a wi-fi booster signal, and as long as there is a line of sight between a church tower and another church tower, or a high building, it is possible to provide internet coverage in remote rural areas that currently have no signal. I encourage him to speak to the Bishop of Carlisle and I will give every support in his endeavour to ensure that his constituents are not digitally divided.
Right across the country, church buildings are central to strong local communities. Will my right hon. Friend explain whether it has been possible to provide wi-fi and broadband in listed churches and chapels to help those buildings to remain sustainable well into the future?
I am grateful for that question, because there is a commonly held myth that it is not possible to amend ancient and listed buildings in these ways, but as my hon. Friend will have seen from the success in Norwich diocese, there is no fundamental barrier to putting a wi-fi booster set or a mobile phone booster on the top of a church tower or spire. That is why the Government have welcomed the partnership with the Church of England to try to reach our notspots.
Yes; my hon. Friend is right. I am sure that he would like the Church in Shrewsbury to be actively involved in this. The absolute key to this is knowing where the notspots are. I met the Minister for Digital and Culture, as I think many colleagues in the House did, who has an enormous spreadsheet that shows where the gaps are, and that is now being matched to what the Church can provide. We have offered to help to create a property asset register, so that this matching process can take place, and I hope it will benefit my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Chester cathedral already has a very strong reputation for the provision of excellent services to its visitors and its local community. Indeed, for over 1,000 years, the Church has been a patron of the arts. Churches and cathedrals provide an excellent venue for exhibitions; I am convinced that the cathedral in Chester is a very good venue for them.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for the support that she has given in the past to Chester cathedral’s efforts to increase visitor numbers and therefore, hopefully, to increase worship numbers as well. Does she share my dismay, however, that Arts Council England has declined to support Chester’s bid for support for the major sculpture exhibition that it is hosting this year—the largest in the north of England? Might the Church Commissioners indicate to Arts Council England their support for the cathedral?
Cathedral attendance is rising, in no small part because of the quality of the services that are offered. People enjoy going to cathedrals for exhibitions. The Church of England fully supports Chester’s ambition to hold a similarly significant exhibition. My understanding is that the funding for this is on a rolling programme, so I really encourage the cathedral to apply again, and of course we will provide our support.
It is often new churches that are best configured for a variety of uses. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Richard Coldicott, the incumbent, and the congregation of St Mark’s, Holbrook, in my constituency, on its consecration last week as a brand-new parish church?
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the congregation of St Mark’s on having the vision to create a new church. In fact, the Church of England is opening as many new churches, typically in new developments, as it is closing old ones. Of course a new facility like that is a wonderful venue for the arts and for exhibitions such as those that we are discussing.
Will the right hon. Lady also bear in mind not only exhibitions, but new music? Will she look at a work performed at Peterborough cathedral only a few days ago, “Even You Song”, with a wonderful new libretto by someone called Dr Lucy Sheerman?
I am very impressed to hear about that. When one looks through the list of the exhibitions that are being held in cathedrals up and down the country, one cannot fail to be impressed by the range and depth. May I commend to hon. Members an exhibition about refugees at Southwark cathedral, a mere short step from the House, should they require some respite from the labours of the House and its debates? This is a very current topic, and I commend it to the House.
Many parish churches in the borough of Kettering, particularly in rural villages, are opened up for a variety of community activities, including art exhibitions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an excellent way of getting people into churches who might otherwise never cross the threshold?
My hon. Friend is completely right. The sheer scale of these beautiful buildings creates a backdrop for the presentation of art and the display of sculpture. We have some really interesting and famous examples of sculpture in our cathedrals, including works by Gormley, and indeed Tracey Emin has a piece in Liverpool cathedral. I encourage all Members to encourage their constituents to visit their churches and cathedrals not just for worship, but for the beauty of the art presented within them.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
Official Development Assistance
The NAO audits the financial statements of the Department for International Development annually, and it issued an unqualified opinion on the Department’s accounts for 2015-16. The NAO also produces a number of reports each year on different aspects of DFID’s expenditure. It last reported specifically on official development assistance in 2015. Its January 2015 report, “Managing the Official Development Assistance target”, looked at DFID’s management of its increased budget and at the target to spend 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income on overseas aid.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that our constituents in Lincolnshire have growing concerns about the aid budget. They will be reassured that the NAO is looking closely at it. Can he commit the NAO to looking much more robustly at many of the aid projects, which are of growing concern to our constituents?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the NAO will indeed look robustly at all aspects of DFID’s expenditure. For instance, its reports on the CDC and on St Helena both identified challenges for DFID in overseeing expenditure outside its core area of expertise. The Public Accounts Committee’s report on St Helena concluded:
“Thus far, the Department has unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer.”
Under the Government’s new aid strategy, an increasing proportion of the 0.7% is being spent by Departments other than DFID—it is estimated that the proportion will be 30% by 2019. Will the NAO also look at how that money is spent and address concerns that it is being siphoned off, undermining DFID’s core objectives?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that an increasing proportion of the aid budget will be spent by other Departments. That is clearly a challenge for audit, but one that the NAO is capable of undertaking, because DFID remains responsible for reporting to the OECD on official development assistance spending and for reporting to Parliament on the Government’s performance against the 0.7% target. I can reassure her that the NAO is scrutinising that expenditure extremely carefully.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Polling Stations: ID Requirements
The Electoral Commission has recommended that an accessible proof of identity scheme should be developed and implemented for polling stations across Great Britain. However, the commission has also recognised the potential implications for electors who do not have access to the prescribed identification documents and costed options for introducing identification requirements.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that concern, because some groups will be less likely than the general population to hold certain forms of photo ID. The commission estimates that approximately 3.5 million electors in Great Britain are without suitable ID and would therefore need to obtain an alternative form of identification. It is for that reason that the commission has recommended that electors in that position should be able to apply for identification free of charge, as they can in Northern Ireland.
In welcoming again the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) to her new responsibilities, I hope that I can, on behalf of the whole House, very warmly thank the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who undertook these important responsibilities for several years, and who in fact served on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission from October 2006 onwards. He has discharged his obligations extremely competently and efficiently in the interests of the House, and we know that the hon. Lady will certainly follow in his footsteps by doing so as well.
The Electoral Commission will consider all evidence, and I will relay the hon. Gentleman’s comments to it. It is clear that recent public opinion shows that 82% believe that voting at polling stations is safe. That will be kept under review. It will be for the Government to make recommendations to the Electoral Commission about how that can be improved.
My hon. Friend correctly identified the 3.5 million people who do not have the photographic ID required. Does she agree that the Government are completely short-sighted by ruling out a voluntary voter card scheme that would assist those very people?
The Electoral Commission has been clear that an identification scheme along the lines of that in Northern Ireland would be the best option. I will relay my hon. Friend’s concerns to it, and I am happy to arrange for him to meet the Electoral Commission to make those points more clearly.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Anglican Church (South Sudan)
The Church of England is responding to the crisis in South Sudan with prayer and practical action. The Church of the Province of South Sudan has 5 million members and is spread across 43 dioceses, so there is an opportunity to provide aid right to the frontline through the Church network.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In International Development questions, I asked the Secretary of State to acknowledge the opportunity to distribute aid through the Church network. We should not forget the work of Christian Aid in South Sudan, which is providing direct unconditional grants, equivalent to $93, to families who have lost everything so that they can rebuild their lives.
Bishops’ Report on Human Sexuality
The majority of members of the General Synod voted to take note of the report of the House of Bishops, but the motion did not pass because a small majority was against it in the House of Clergy. Following that, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement committing them to find a way forward.
Was it not very significant that it was the clergy, who are in the frontline of providing pastoral care to their parishioners, who voted down the bishops’ paper? Is it not increasingly untenable for our Church, which enjoys significant privileges in this country because of its established status, to continue to discriminate against its own members simply because they happen to be gay?
There was a narrow margin in the House of Clergy vote—93 in favour of taking note to 100 against—but a majority is required in all Houses. The way forward, as outlined by the archbishops, is that the pastoral oversight group led by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rev. Christine Hardman, will now work on how to be as generous as possible to welcome all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people into the Church and to include them in the work of the pastoral oversight group.
My right hon. Friend may be aware of the case of my constituent, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who was found not to have been discriminated against on the grounds of sexuality when the Diocese of Southwell denied him permission to officiate in the light of him having had a gay marriage, despite the fact that neighbouring diocese would allow him to officiate. Does my right hon. Friend accept that allowing each bishop discretion in how to handle these, admittedly, complex issues is creating unfairness and variances that are quite hard to justify?
It is hard to comment on the specific case. It has come before the House previously, but it is a legal process, which we normally do not comment on, although it has now reached its conclusion. My hon. Friend may not be aware that the Ecclesiastical Committee actually met and was content with changes to the law with regard to the need to protect children and the powers and discretion that bishops have. Changes have taken place and more need to happen.
But discretion is not always good in the Church, is it? Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, has been barred from becoming a bishop in the Church in Wales, which I know is separate from the Church of England, because the other bishops have refused to do what they have done in every other case—accept what the members of the local diocese have wanted.
I am not responsible for the Church of Wales—[Interruption]—because I am responsible for the Church of England. However, I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. This is a really serious matter, and we should heed what the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the head of the Anglican communion, said about the need to have radical Christian inclusivity. The Church of England is working within the current legal and doctrinal context towards a culture change that is inclusive.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
EU Referendum: Campaign Expenditure
The Electoral Commission’s report on the administration of the EU membership referendum, which was published in September 2016, concluded that, overall, the rules on campaigning worked well. The commission has, however, made a number of recommendations based on the experiences in the referendum, which are intended to further improve transparency and the overall effectiveness of the referendum controls. These are now matters for the Government to consider, and the commission looks forward to receiving their response in due course.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for that reply. Given that lead campaigners and several of the campaign groups on both sides of the debate now face investigation regarding their spending, does she agree that that suggests there may be a need for the rules to be made simpler for participants to understand?
The commission announced last Friday that it has opened a number of assessments and investigations into the accuracy and completeness of campaigners’ spending returns. It would not be appropriate to comment at this stage on ongoing cases, but the commission will announce the outcomes when it has concluded its investigations.
Business of the House
Just before we come to the business question, I remind the House that, on Monday, I did indicate that there would be an opportunity for hon. and right hon. Members to pay their own tributes to the former Father of the House—that parliamentary giant, Sir Gerald Kaufman. That opportunity for Members comes today, in the course of business questions. Therefore, I will exercise some latitude in terms of the normal length of questions if colleagues wish to express their own personal and heartfelt tributes. I look forward to hearing what colleagues have to say about a very, very remarkable man.
Mr Speaker, as you said, this is the first business questions since the death of the Father of the House. There is this sense with Gerald Kaufman’s passing of another link being broken with a former political age. His first general election contest was in 1955, when he stood against Harold Macmillan himself in the Bromley constituency—I think without too much expectation of a shock victory on that occasion. Then, of course, he represented successive Manchester constituencies for many years.
This was a man who also served in No. 10 under Harold Wilson and who carried the memories of working alongside him and debating against—in those days through the columns of the press and in his speech-writing capacity, rather than as a Member of the House—his opponents in my party. He went on to serve as a Minister and, for many years, as a senior member of the shadow Cabinet during the Labour party’s years in opposition.
I can certainly say from experience that Gerald’s book “How to be a Minister” is still worth reading—[Interruption.] I suspect that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is looking for ways in which to publicise a second edition sometime soon. I do recall from my reading of Gerald’s book the importance he gave to getting control of your diary and private office at the earliest possible date, and also his sage warning to Ministers to avoid, so far as they could, their numerous invitations to speak at banquets and formal dinners, which inevitably ended with the host denouncing the guest of honour in the most strident possible terms.
Gerald was perhaps most in his element as the Chair of first the Select Committee on National Heritage, and then the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Even those of us who did not share Gerald’s politics knew that he was a man who was passionately committed not only to his own political party and tradition, but to the importance of the arts and cultural values as something that mattered to people in all walks of life in all parts of the United Kingdom. While his interests and enthusiasm in the field of the arts ranged widely, it was perhaps cinema for which he had a particular affection. I do just wonder what we have missed in not being able to hear his comments on the Oscars debacle that took place earlier this week. I suspect that they would have been fairly forceful and waspish in tone.
We mourn Sir Gerald’s passing and we shall miss him in this House. I am sure that everyone, on whichever side of the House they sit, would want to send their sympathy to his family and friends.
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 6 March—Second Reading of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.
Tuesday 7 March—Remaining stages of the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the appointment of the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, followed by a motion relating to Standing Orders.
Wednesday 8 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.
Thursday 9 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 10 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 13 March will include:
Monday 13 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 14 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6, 9, 13 and 16 March will be:
Monday 6 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to high heels and workplace dress codes.
Thursday 9 March—Debate on the second report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on the demography of Scotland and the implications for devolution, followed by a debate on human rights and political situation in Turkey.
Monday 13 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to sentencing for child abuse offences.
Thursday 16 March—Debate on the sixth report of the Transport Committee, “The future of rail: Improving the rail passenger experience”, followed by a debate on Jobcentre Plus office closures.
Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business—I stress that point—the House will rise for the summer recess at close of play on Thursday 20 July and return on Tuesday 5 September.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to spend some time talking about and paying tribute to one of our great parliamentarians and the Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who died at the weekend. You paid a brilliant tribute on Monday. His family described his death as the end of an era; it is for us here in Parliament, too.
As the Leader of the House said, Sir Gerald’s great loves were ice cream and films. Apparently he went to see “Singin’ in the Rain” 20 times in all the cinemas in Leeds when it first came out. He worked on “That Was the Week That Was”, the forerunner of “Saturday Night Live”, with the great broadcaster Alasdair Milne, the future director-general of the BBC. He was fearless in his support for justice internationally and for his constituents. His majority at the last election was 24,000, and that was down to his popularity and his care for his constituents. Today—World Book Day—he is remembered for his iconic book “How to be a Minister”. Before I came into this place—before I met Sir Gerald—I bought that book as a present for my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) when he first became a Minister in the Blair Government. Many hon. Members here, as well as former Members who are now in the other place, have told me how they used that book as their bible.
We have some lovely anecdotes. The Clerk of the House reminded me that on your re-election, Mr Speaker, Sir Gerald was quite keen to get the whole process right, and he proceeded with avuncular dignity. I remember the day; it went off absolutely beautifully and you were re-elected. He loved marmalade, so on a Select Committee trip to the Isle of Mull, to cheer him up on his birthday—it was one of the big numbers—he was made orange marmalade ice cream. On a Committee visit to Rome, some Members had not been there before, so before he went to the ambassador’s dinner, he took them to the Trevi fountain and, of course, to have some gelato. Another Member told me that when Sir Gerald was a Minister, he always gave a lift to Back Benchers in his ministerial car because he knew that one day he would be a Back Bencher. We talk about the greasy pole of politics. I think it is more like the luge, actually—you just get battered as you go down.
Sir Gerald dressed beautifully—I always used to watch him in the Tea Room—and that was probably a tribute to his father, who was a tailor. He was a close friend of Harold Wilson, another great Labour Prime Minister. He was loyal, clever and courageous, and he will be missed from this place. We send our condolences to his family and friends.
I thank the Leader of the House for providing the dates of the summer recess. Everyone is rejoicing because we now know we will rise on 20 July. I wonder whether he could give us an indication of when the state opening of Parliament will be. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House is keen to get his outfit ready, perhaps in keeping with the tribute to Sir Gerald.
I know that the Leader of the House has been busy tabling motions. One, in particular, will be considered on Tuesday 7 March. It relates to Standing Order No. 83. Many lawyers like amendments that read “Substitute ‘the’ for ‘and’”, but I might have to explain the motion to other people, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House could publish an explanatory memorandum and tell us why this is being hurried through on the day before the Budget? I know that the motion relates to things that are happening in Scotland.
The Leader of the House is keen on visiting the other place, so he will be interested to know—I do not know whether he has caught this on the news—that their lordships intend to send back the EU Bill with an amendment, which they won by 358 votes to 256. Will the Leader of the House give us some indication of when the Bill is likely to come back to this House? Will it be in the week commencing 13 March or the week commencing 20 March?
On a point that the Leader of the House made last week, I remind him that, as has been pointed out in a cross-party Select Committee report, the Government’s claim that the NHS will receive an additional £10 billion by 2021 does not accurately reflect
“the impact of the Spending Review on health expenditure…If the spending review period is considered—2015–16 to 2020–21—that increase is £4.5 billion”,
not £10 billion. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House cited the alternative figure.
I thank the Leader of the House for providing me with the closing date for the consultation on the new funding formula, which is 22 March. I appreciate that he has also written to me. The Prime Minister yesterday said that we “have had free schools”, as though they are in the past, but that they continued to create more good places. She said no to grammar schools, but was that a no to free schools? The overall funding of new places through free schools is set at £7.9 billion out of a total of £14.9 billion for new places. Will the Leader of the House comment on the latest National Audit Office report, which found that some free schools opened in areas where there were already plenty of places, thus creating spare capacity that could affect the future financial sustainability of other schools in the area? May we have a statement on whether funding for free schools represents good value for money for the taxpayer, and whether it will fix the problem of school places?
I am trying to rush through my points because I am aware that other hon. Members want to make contributions on Sir Gerald’s life. Given that we will have a debate on International Women’s Day after these proceedings, I want to raise two cases of women who have been arrested and placed in a detention centre. Irene Clennell was married to a British husband for 27 years, and her children and grandchild were born here. She has been removed without warning. A 20-year-old student, Shiromini Satkunarajah, who is about to finish her degree, has also been placed in a detention centre with no warning. Will the Government clarify the policy on the deportation of women who are no threat and who have been caught unfairly by these arbitrary decisions?
It is now 10 years since the Corston report on women in prison. Women who enter prison are more likely to be there for non-violent offences. Last year, 12 women killed themselves in prison in England and Wales, and there were 22 deaths of women in prison. The noble Baroness Corston has called for more Government funding for women’s centres. I know from sitting on the Criminal Justice and Courts Public Bill Committee that the Government had committed funding for secure colleges, but they U-turned on that decision. If that money is there and committed, will the Leader of the House have discussions with the noble Baroness about using it to protect existing women’s centres and create a more sustainable model?
Lastly, I welcome the two new Members: the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is the 456th woman in this place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell). It is good to have another Labour Member from the west midlands. I hope that both hon. Members will be inspired by the life and work of Sir Gerald Kaufman, a great parliamentarian. May he rest in peace.
I happily join the hon. Lady in welcoming our two new colleagues. Apropos of state opening, while I can assure her that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has more than one outfit available for such ceremonial occasions, I cannot yet give her the date that she is seeking.
On the hon. Lady’s point about the motion on the Standing Orders, I have already had a similar request from Scottish National party Members for an explanatory memorandum—we will provide one. The proposed change to the Standing Orders is to recognise the fact that the Scotland Act 2016 has devolved to the Scottish Parliament the right to set the main rates of income tax. Our own Standing Orders on English votes for English laws therefore need to be adjusted to take account of the fact that we may well in future have resolutions or pieces of legislation relating to main income tax rates that are specific to England, or to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not to Scotland, because those matters have been devolved. That is the purpose of the technical change to the Standing Orders.
We will return to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as rapidly as possible after the House of Lords has finished debating it and given it a Third Reading. The Government certainly remain of the view that the Bill is straightforward—it does no more than confer authority on the Prime Minister, as required by the courts, to initiate negotiations by triggering article 50 of the treaty—and we will therefore seek to resist changes that would make the negotiating task more difficult.
The hon. Lady asked about the national health service. The figure of £10 billion is completely accurate. It represents the £8 billion that the head of NHS England said was needed to finance the NHS’s own reform plan, plus a further £2 billion that was allocated to the financial year before the period in which NHS England intended to carry out its reform plan. It is not only that because, in response to the request from the chief executive of NHS England, the Department of Health has front-loaded the funding, so the NHS is getting an additional £4 billion this year to get the reform plan off to the best possible start.
The hon. Lady asked about free schools. I have to say to her that, for me, the key test for free schools is whether there is a demand for them from parents in the area in which they are to be located, because without that, those schools will not be able to survive. The test for free schools, like the test for any other school, is whether they are able to provide the best possible opportunities and life chances, and to improve the achievements of the children sent to those schools. Children only get one chance of an education, and we should be looking for every opportunity to improve the quality of educational opportunities offered to them.
The hon. Lady talked about International Women’s Day and cited two particular cases. Without going into the detail of those cases, the principle is that people—men or women—are detained only if the Home Office or the immigration service has reason to believe that they may be at risk of disappearing and avoiding removal from the country. Such a step is taken only after people have exhausted their rights to appeal and it is clear that they have no further legal right to remain in this country.
The hon. Lady’s point about prisons was perfectly reasonable, but it is one of several important issues to do with prison reform. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary made it clear in her recent White Paper that she is committed to a programme of prison reform that improves the chances of women and men who serve time in prison being treated decently while they are there, as well as giving them opportunities for the type of courses, work and education that mean that they will have a better chance of leading law-abiding lives after their release.
I associate myself with the remarks of both Front-Bench spokesmen about the late Father of the House. He gave me one piece of helpful advice when I first arrived in the House: “On immigration cases, young man”—that is always good for getting my attention—“my strong advice is to ask anyone who comes to see you, ‘Have you got a lawyer?’ If they haven’t, tell them to get one, and if they have, tell them to use the lawyer.”
Speaking on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, I note that the Leader of the House did not announce the business for a week on Thursday. We now have a queue of debates that would fill Thursdays until Prorogation. Early sight of the business for a week on Thursday would therefore be appreciated.
Sadly, on Monday, Mohammed al-Zufairi, a constituent of mine, was murdered at a cash point in Wealdstone High Street. It appears to be a targeted murder, and I am pleased to say that the police have arrested an individual whom they believe to be responsible. May we have a debate on the increase in knife crime in London and the impact that we can make on stopping people carrying knives to ensure that no one else suffers my constituent’s fate?
I happily take on board my hon. Friend’s request for allocating more slots for the Backbench Business Committee at an early opportunity.
May I pass on to the family of my hon. Friend’s constituent my sympathy and sincere condolences? They must be going through the most appalling and harrowing time. There will be an opportunity on Monday 6 March at Home Office questions for my hon. Friend to raise his concerns about knife crime more generally, and he may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate on the subject.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
May I add to the tributes to Gerald Kaufman? The Leader of the House was absolutely right—he summed it up perfectly—when he said that Gerald Kaufman was from a generation that is quickly passing away. Hon. Members relied on Sir Gerald for advice and guidance, such was his experience. For many hon. Members, he was simply a style guru. I remember those long scarves he used to wear. One day he had to be rescued at the entrance to the tube station because his scarf had got caught, and I remember the great efforts that went into ensuring that Gerald was separated from his scarf. I send my condolences to his family and friends.
I welcome the fact that today is World Book Day—I think that Sir Gerald would appreciate that, too. We should pay tribute to the writers of this country. I have the great pleasure and privilege of chairing the all-party parliamentary writers group, and it is right to recognise the wonderful work of all our authors and writers, and to ensure that they are properly rewarded for the fantastic works that they produce.
What about three cheers for our heroes in ermine, although perhaps not from the Government Benches? The people’s aristocrats have spoken and their voice must be heard. Every time I raise the House of Lords with the Leader of the House, he tells me that there are no plans whatsoever to reform the other place, therefore accepting its legitimacy to raise such issues. Will he now listen to the House of Lords and say today that the Government have no plans to use the Parliament Acts if our unelected friends continue to show backbone?
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the dates of the summer recess, but I express our profound disappointment that, yet again, the Government have conspired not to have a long recess that will cover the school holiday periods of every nation of the UK. Once again, my colleagues from Scotland will have to try to make sure they have particular childcare arrangements in place. They will struggle to find an opportunity to have a proper school holiday with their children. Will the Leader of the House make sure that this is the last time we have to deal with this issue and ensure that in future all nations are covered by the summer recess?
We need a debate on how the Scotland Act 1998 operates. Schedule 5 to the Act lists all the reserved powers. If it is not on the list, it is devolved. I looked at the list again this morning and I cannot find agriculture or fisheries on it, so I presume they will be devolved after Brexit. Will the Government confirm that today, or do they intend to reserve more powers?
Finally, next week will see a huge Commons event. I am referring not to the Budget, but to the Second Reading of the driverless cars Bill. Believe it or not, they do share similarities: one is a journey with no one at the wheel heading for disaster and the other is the driverless cars Bill.
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating World Book Day and in paying tribute to authors. It is a welcome trend to find that the public’s appetite for old fashioned hard copy books seems to be increasing in a way that defies many of the predictions of recent years.
On the Scotland Act, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland could not have been clearer yesterday at Scottish questions. As powers are brought back from the European Union following Brexit, additional powers will be exercised by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. What we have to work out, and what the United Kingdom Government are looking at in consultation with all three devolved Administrations, is how that can be done in a way that preserves the integrity of a single market across the United Kingdom as a whole. It will not help food and drink producers in Scotland who sell in large quantities to customers in England if we find, because we have not thought this through properly, trading obstacles in the way of them being able to sell at the least possible cost to those English customers. I therefore suggest that the hon. Gentleman needs to have regard to the interests of Scottish producers.
On the House of Lords debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, I cannot add much more to what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House. However, the hon. Gentleman’s new-found passionate affection for the House of Lords suggests to me that it is not just Mr Farage who has secret yearnings for the honours list.
Those of us who had experience of Sir Gerald’s long life and parliamentary career will choose those parts that affect our own areas of interest, so I hope the House will forgive me if I focus on the crucial role Sir Gerald played, between the years of 1988 and 1991, in shifting Labour party policy away from a stance in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
He started in 1988 by contributing to a policy review. If I remember correctly, it was called “Meet the challenge, make the change.” In it, Labour acknowledged that it would be sensible to get some reciprocation in return for giving up Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Then, after a lively exchange of letters in the national press with the then chairman of the Conservative party, Chris Patten, and others, he ended on 10 July 1991 with the all-important statement that a future Labour Government would continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries had them. This marked the end of a crucial policy realignment.
When the Blair Government, with the support of the Conservative Opposition, voted to renew the nuclear deterrent in March 2007, Sir Gerald made a great speech, referring back to the fact that he famously described Labour’s 1983 anti-nuclear manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. He urged his colleagues not to make the mistakes of the 1980s, and he ended by pointing out what it would mean if Labour went back to that stance:
“Defeating the Government tonight…could so reduce our party’s credibility as to contribute to a Labour defeat at the next election…A cartoon in The New Yorker once showed an army officer in a bunker saying to his assembled troops:
‘Gentlemen, the time has arrived for us to make a futile gesture.’
Futile gestures can be personally satisfying, but what do they get us? I will tell the House what they get us: 18 years in opposition. It is one thing to revisit the scene of the crime; it is quite another to revisit the scene of the suicide.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 344-45.]
Those of us who believe in nuclear deterrence have every reason to be grateful to him for his crucial role in restoring bipartisanship between the Labour Government and the Opposition of the day, which secured the renewal of the nuclear deterrent, and I think the country has reason to be grateful to him too.
As I ought to pay lip service to the fact that this is business questions as well, I will segue from one form of unilateralism to another. May we have a statement from a Brexit Minister about the Government’s assessment of the motives of those with whom we will be negotiating in other countries in not responding to our initiatives and indications that members of their societies who have chosen to live in Britain can continue doing so as long as our citizens can continue living in their countries? Unilateralism, as a principle, is sometimes high minded and sometimes a futile gesture. In the spirit of what Sir Gerald did to the Labour party, we ought to think about whether we really want to leave so many of our citizens exposed to poor treatment by other countries while offering generous treatment to their citizens living here.
The EU27 Governments have been clear that they will engage in negotiations only once article 50 has been triggered, but I am optimistic that a reciprocal agreement on the status of each other’s citizens can be achieved. It is in the rational interests of the UK and all our 27 EU partners, and so I very much hope that it can be an early achievement of the negotiations once they start.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the dates of the summer recess. It was a shame he could not do it earlier, but at least we now know where we stand.
On Sir Gerald, it is rare—it must be many decades since it last happened—that we are unfortunate enough to lose a Father of the House during his incumbency. I am sure the whole House shares my regret that the new Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), cannot be with us today. One of Sir Gerald’s more gleeful tales was of how he had the forethought, when first elected to the House, to take the oath before the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the belief that both were likely to be here for some considerable time and so be contenders for the post of Father of the House. He took great glee in telling that story. I would like to say that I think he probably would not have begrudged the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe his opportunity, but I am not absolutely certain about that, and I would not wish to do Gerald an injustice in any way. Certainly he was desperately anxious to become Father of the House and fully deserved to hold that office.
As everyone has said—like others, I am pleased that some of his family can be here—he was witty, he was brave and he could be extremely acerbic, but he was a very skilled parliamentarian. I see that some of the obituaries have referred to his skill in Committee, and, as somebody who was a Whip when Gerald was a Minister, I can certainly testify to that. Gerald was a Minister of State trying to get a Bill through the House at a time when we did not really have a majority; people would be astonished about that period, and it might be worth their looking back at some of the Hansards of the time. We had a notional majority of maybe one or two, most of whom were too sick to be here at any time unless things were absolutely desperate. So in Committee things were extremely tight, but Gerald was an absolutely brilliant Committee Minister. He flattered the Opposition shamefully and quite disgustingly; he covered them with compliments and praise while just not being able to quite see his way clear to accepting their brilliant amendments to the Government’s proposed legislation.
As people have already said, he was also very good value as a confidante and adviser. I happened to be in Committee with Gerald on a day when we had a Government vacancy—it had been vacant for some little time. I was summoned to No. 10 and I had to say to the civil servant who made the call, “I can’t possibly come. I’m the Whip on a Committee and we have not really got a majority. Don’t be ridiculous, of course I can’t come now. I will come at lunchtime.” That gave me the opportunity to consult Gerald. I had only been a Member for just over a year and was unenthusiastic about the prospect that appeared to lie before me, and I said to Gerald, “Do you think I can ask for time to think about it?” He, like me, had guessed what the summons might mean and the first thing he said was, “Congratulations. That’s fantastic. I’m thrilled.” I said, “Yes, but hang on; can I ask for time to think about it?” He replied: “My dear Margaret, when the Prime Minister sends for you and offers you a post in the Government, you either say ‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ or you say ‘No, Prime Minister.’ You do not ask for time to think about it.” Looking back I am stunned by how naive I was even to ask the question, but it was certainly very helpful advice.
Gerald was also an extremely kind man. As it happens, I have a close personal friend who worked with him in No. 10 and who always spoke about what hysterical and great company Gerald was, but also what a kind person he was. He was—despite the advice he gave to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who spoke earlier—a ferocious advocate on behalf of his constituents. The Leader of the House should probably count himself lucky that he did not have the chance to hear Gerald’s comments on the cases raised by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House on people who were detained without notice. Gerald would have had a lot to say about that, and it would not have been very nice to hear.
I was looking forward to hearing more of the right hon. Lady’s reminiscences. She has reminded us of the length of Sir Gerald’s career and the depth of his experience, and of the wisdom that comes with that experience of operating in this House and in government over such a long period of time.
Like you, Mr Speaker, on separate occasions I saw Gerald Kaufman at his home in St John’s Wood only a few weeks ago: I know that you visited him as did a good friend of mine and that of a number of other hon. Members, Claire Ward, the former Member for Watford. Even just a few weeks ago, Gerald was still saying how keen he was to return to this place, and we are all very sad that he did not.
Those who did not know him saw him as being ferociously vitriolic, and he was in this Chamber. But outside he was a very different man. He had a waspish sense of humour. I had the privilege of joining him in 1993 on the National Heritage Select Committee. The Committee was excellent, the trips were so marvellous and he was such a brilliant Chairman that I stayed with him not only on the National Heritage Committee, but also, for two Parliaments, apart from a brief excursion to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Gerald hated pomposity—that was one of his most admirable features—but he loved outrageous clothes, as hon. Members have already said. I used to go with him to the theatre and the cinema from time to time. His last recommendation to me was to see a brilliant movie called “Hail, Caesar!”, which I duly saw and loved. It could sometimes be embarrassing to go somewhere with Gerald, because if the weather was cold, he would wear a red tea cosy on his head. When I mentioned this to him, he said it was not half as embarrassing as what I was wearing. [Laughter.]
Gerald also loved ice cream. I remember being on a Culture, Media and Sport Committee visit to Los Angeles and attending a meeting that was getting very boring. We were being addressed by a chap from the Foreign Office about something that had nothing to do with our inquiry, and Gerald got up and said, “Thank you very much for your speech.” The Foreign Office official rather foolishly said, “But I haven’t finished.” In the way that only he could do, Gerald turned round slowly and said, “Oh yes you have.” Then we toddled off to get our ice cream. Ice cream, musicals—which he could sing along to; he knew all the words—and Judy Garland were his great loves.
Gerald was a brilliant Chairman of the National Heritage Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He was great fun. He was not party political. I am now going to lose the support of all my hon. Friends by saying that I often found myself defending the BBC, whereas Gerald wanted to abolish it. That was a strange juxtaposition of roles.
He told me not long ago that the present Conservative party chairman—when he was a junior Whip back in 1993—had asked him to take me under his wing because I was rather wild and perhaps he could make me more like a conventional parliamentarian. You can see that that worked!
In short, Gerald was a wonderful man who brightened all our lives. He was a great friend, and he was nothing like the person whom I think the public saw him as. He was self-deprecating, kindly and a great parliamentarian. I think we will all miss him.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving the House this opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Gerald. He inspired so many parliamentarians, as others have said, and he certainly gave me invaluable advice and support during my time as a Minister and as Chief Whip. Gerald was a stalwart member of the Labour party and, with a political career stretching back over 50 years, he knew that principle without power was not enough, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) said. He campaigned tirelessly for a Labour Government. His book “How to be a Minister” remains a classic guide for new Ministers wanting to make their mark. He had an ability to sum up his views with a witty turn of phrase that could be as colourful and memorable as his suits.
It was an honour for all of us when Gerald became Father of the House, and we were very proud to see him take up that role. He took the role extremely seriously. He had always been fiercely protective of the rights of parliamentarians, and I remember him bellowing at the then Leader of the House, William Hague, when he felt that Mr Hague had sided too closely with the Executive against the wishes of Members of this House. Gerald continued to uphold Members’ rights when he became Father of the House.
When I last saw Gerald, he was clearly very ill, but he was still keen to talk politics and to offer his advice. That advice was as insightful as ever. I was greatly comforted to see him surrounded by his loving family, who clearly adored Uncle Gerald.
As so many have said, Gerald made a distinctive mark on our national life, particularly in this place. He will be greatly missed. Given his 10 years of chairing the culture Select Committee, I can think of nothing more fitting than a debate on the importance of the arts to our economy and society and on the devastating effect of Government cuts, particularly on arts funding in the regions. I hope that the Leader of the House will let us have that debate.
I join others in paying tribute to the late Sir Gerald Kaufman. I got the impression that Sir Gerald did not entirely approve of me, which is quite understandable. I was never sure whether that was because I was once the Member of Parliament for Basildon or whether it was down to my views on the state of Israel, but I can say without hesitation that he was a commanding figure in this House and a great orator, and that I would not have wanted to get on the wrong side of him.
I am really glad that Sir Gerald became Father of the House. As a result of his death, I am now No. 14 on the list. As I look around the House, I see a number of colleagues who are in front of me in the queue and note that they are in extremely good health, so I am not holding my breath about my becoming Father of the House.
Turning to my question, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on fake news? An increasing number of constituents complain to me about once reliable websites giving false information and about the number of scams. I have to tell my right hon. Friend that it was announced this week that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway opened an envelope and suggested that I had won the Oscar for leading actor. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend that they opened the wrong envelope and that the award has now been given to its rightful recipient: Mr Tony Blair for his performance at the press conference following the publication of the Chilcot report.
I understand the genuine concern about the wide availability of sometimes deliberately misleading information on various websites. Inevitably, the international character of the web means that addressing the problem is not straightforward, but the Minister for Digital and Culture is convening a roundtable of a broad range of people from the news industry on 14 March and this topic will be under discussion.
I met Gerald Kaufman when I came into the House in 1979. He was part of a wonderful gang of people, including John Smith and Roy Hattersley, who were getting used to being in opposition, which we had to get used to because we were going to be in opposition for a very long time. We would all say that Gerald Kaufman was a great parliamentarian, but when I came into the House—when the wind-ups were taken much more seriously, and when debates were taken more seriously in terms of attendance—the one thing that could be guaranteed was that the House would be packed if Gerald Kaufman was at the Dispatch Box. He was the funniest, most incisive and most brilliant debater I ever saw in this House. I have seen some very good debaters in this House, but Gerald in his prime was peerless. People should remember that.
I look at where Gerald sat for so many years and remember him serving on the Liaison Committee with me as the Chair of a Select Committee. As he got older, the wonderful thing about Gerald was that he did not lose any of his brainpower in his later years. His body let him down, but his brain certainly did not.
As some will remember, last year was the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson. Gerald gave me a tremendous amount of information about when he worked for Harold Wilson in No. 10, and I will tell the House about one little incident. Gerald was in No. 10 one night when the phone rang—it was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the President of the United States, asking to speak to Harold Wilson. Gerald took the phone call and passed it over to Harold Wilson. Lyndon Baines Johnson was begging Harold to send at least a token British force to Vietnam, and Gerald described how Harold listened patiently—he was a good friend of LBJ—and, at the end, said, “I’m sorry, LB. Not even a Scottish pipers band.”
I talked to Gerald about where the party had been, and some Labour Members will remember some of the uncomfortable things from when the Labour party was in trouble. No one has mentioned this, but Gerald was the brains behind Solidarity, the group within the Labour party that wanted to be very careful about a shift to the hard left. That work, with Hattersley, John Smith and a bunch of others, was very important to how the Labour party survived and thrived to win the election in 1997. Labour Members must pay tribute to the man who kept our ship moving towards a decent target.
When I first met Gerald, he had a great friend, Eric Varley. Many people do not remember Eric Varley because he died very young, but he and Gerald were close friends, and I think it right to mention Eric’s name in relation to that period of Gerald’s life when he was a very happy man.
I will tell the House one last story. No one ever wanted to cross Gerald about a film. I remember foolishly going into the Tea Room and being enthusiastic after seeing “Superman” for the first time. Gerald had also been to see it, and he gave a caustic review about everything that was wrong with American cinema at the time, with the plot and with the acting. He said, “But you liked it, Barry, so it couldn’t have been all bad.”
Gerald Kaufman has left a legacy. He did not have any children, but he has left a legacy both in this House, in the country and in his constituency. I used to tease him because Harold Wilson was born in Huddersfield and had to go to Lancashire to get a seat and, of course, Gerald was a real Leeds man who had to go to Manchester to get a seat.
Some people have talked about Gerald’s sense of style, and his wonderful suits pushed the boundaries in some ways. He remained faithful all his life to the same Leeds tailor and would specify the Huddersfield mill in which the cloth would be spun and woven. He was a man of great talent, great common sense and brilliant oratory. We owe him so much, not only as a party or as a House but as a country.
I am afraid I am unable to contribute any anecdotes about the life of the late Father of the House, but I of course associate myself with the expressions of sympathy to his family and friends.
Earlier this week, the all-party group on retail crime met to review a recent survey of the increasing levels of verbal and physical violence against people who work in the retail trade. Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on this serious issue?
I cannot offer an early debate in Government time, but there may be other opportunities. I am sure the entire House shares my hon. Friend’s sense of revulsion at the threats faced by shop workers and others in the retail trade, which should not be tolerated in any decent society. I am sure everyone would agree on how important it is not only that the police try to make sure that such attacks are deterred and that perpetrators are punished appropriately, but that citizens who might have information about them come forward.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House for this opportunity to pay brief tribute to Sir Gerald Kaufman. After my selection as a parliamentary candidate, I was lucky enough to attend many community meetings and events with my next-door neighbour. They would often reflect the causes that Sir Gerald championed, such as the rights of the Palestinians or Kashmir. I particularly remember doing a Bollywood dance routine with him on an open-air stage in Longsight market a couple of years ago. I have to say, his dance moves showed up my own, even though he was well into his 80s at the time.
Whatever the event, what was quite remarkable was the admiration and extraordinarily high esteem in which Sir Gerald was held by his constituents. I genuinely do not think I have come across another MP who was so widely admired by their constituents. It was largely because he was such a fierce champion of their interests both in Parliament and in Manchester, but also because he was so assiduous in his dealings and communication with them. Residents often told me how they had written to Sir Gerald and received a hand-written reply. Sometimes, the replies would reflect his sharp tongue; a particular favourite of mine was:
“I agree with your concerns on this issue. Unfortunately there’s no point in me writing to the chancellor because he’s useless and won’t listen to me.”
Perhaps the only thing sharper than Sir Gerald’s tongue and mind was his dress sense. In Parliament, we will miss his remarkable suits and shirts almost as much as the people of Manchester, Gorton will miss his quite remarkable service.
I, too, add my commiserations to the family of Sir Gerald. He was not only a legend in this place, but had a formidable career before he arrived here, working for the BBC on satirical programmes such as “That Was the Week That Was”. I must say I was a bit too young to watch them, but I have seen some of the stuff that went on.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows, in 2020, Plymouth and the UK will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower ship leaving Plymouth to found the American colonies—