House of Commons
Thursday 9 March 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
I will group this question with questions 11 and 16.
When you get to my age, Mr Speaker, it is so difficult.
As the Prime Minister said in Glasgow last week, as we bring powers and control back to the United Kingdom we must ensure that they are the right powers, at the right level, so that the UK can operate effectively in the interests of all its citizens, including the people of Scotland. Where powers should best sit will be a matter for further consultation and discussion across the United Kingdom.
I remind the Secretary of State that on 27 November, in The Sunday Times, the Secretary of State for Scotland stated:
“Whatever the circumstances, no powers will be re-reserved to Westminster.”
In Scotland, we know that such vows are not worth the paper they are printed on. Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that powers currently exercised by the European Union will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
Those are two different questions, if I may say so. It is unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is not present, because he would have been able to tell his colleagues in the Scottish National party that for many years I have been a strong advocate of devolution. Indeed, I was the first Conservative Member, and probably the only Member outside the SNP, to call for fiscal autonomy for Scotland back in the days of the first devolution Bill. I take this issue very seriously indeed, but there is a distinction between the current exercise of powers over matters such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment by the Scottish Parliament and matters that are dealt with by the United Kingdom Government in the EU on behalf of the whole United Kingdom, with heavy consultation.
Talking of devolved powers, last month the Prime Minister ventured north to tell Scotland just how poor the Scottish NHS is, despite all evidence to the contrary, including information about public satisfaction and A&E waiting times. If the situation is so bad, will the Secretary of State tell us when we will receive our share of the £350 million a week so that we can fix it?
I have generally exercised a self-denying ordinance about not attacking the domestic policies of the Scottish Government, because I think that those are matters for them to worry about, and their day job should be their main interest. The aim here will be to secure the best outcome for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland, and for Scotland not to lose in any way.
Because we are so generous on these Benches, I shall give the Secretary of State another chance to answer the question. Notwithstanding the key principle of the Scotland Act 1998 and what he said that the Prime Minister had said at the Scottish Tory conference on 3 March, will he please assure us categorically that when non-reserved powers are repatriated from Brussels, they will come directly to Scotland?
I think that the Scottish National party needs a bit more originality in its questions as well.
The simple fact is that no powers that are currently exercised by the Scottish Government will be removed from the Scottish Government. As for other powers coming back from the EU, we will consider—in conjunction with representatives of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, when they are back in place—what is best for the United Kingdom and the constituent nations thereof. It is very important for us to have as much devolution as possible, but it is also very important for us not to damage the United Kingdom single market, which is four times as valuable to the Scots as the EU single market.
I wonder whether, during the discussions and negotiations, my right hon. Friend raises an issue that the Scottish National party is constantly putting on the table, namely a special arrangement for being in the single market. Recently, the Partido Popular in Spain made it absolutely clear—I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has translated this for the Scottish National party and its leader in particular—that its policy, and that of the other parties in Spain, was that there would be no special arrangement for the SNP, and that, should the SNP seek to leave the United Kingdom and rejoin the European Union, it would be vetoed by Spain on both counts.
My right hon. Friend has made his point as well as ever. I believe that this issue will arise again in a later question on the Order Paper. The simple truth is that it is not solely a technical matter within the United Kingdom; it is also something that we must deliver diplomatically.
Is my right hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that the Scottish nationalists appear to oppose any devolution of powers from Europe back to the United Kingdom and Scotland? It seems that they would rather be governed entirely from Brussels than see some of those powers returned to this place, where they have a great influence, and others returned to Holyrood, where, temporarily, they have a near majority.
My right hon. Friend highlights an important point: what matters in this negotiation is the outcome, not the mechanism. The Scottish Government have laid a great deal of emphasis on their own preferred policy of separate membership of the single market, but the simple truth is that what we want is a good outcome in terms of access to the single market for everybody in the United Kingdom, and that will achieve exactly the same aim in a different way.
In terms of powers for the Scottish Parliament, the people of Scotland were promised a week before the vote that Scotland would decide its own immigration policy in the event of Brexit. Next week we have a crucial vote on EU nationals—we have another opportunity. If this Government will not use their powers to give EU nationals the certainty they require, will they give those powers to the Scottish Parliament?
Again, we are talking about aims, ends and means. On the Joint Ministerial Committee, the Scottish Government have raised the very important issue of the immigration needs of Scotland. I have relayed their questions to the Home Secretary and I expect that when we come to a UK immigration policy, it will reflect the needs of every part of the United Kingdom.
I look forward to having the Secretary of State’s support for his leave campaign’s promises on immigration power being given to Scotland. As part of that and on the issue of EU nationals, will he consider the 2012 European Court of Justice judgment in the case of Zambrano v. Office national de l’emploi, which gave EU nationals with primary caring responsibilities the right to reside in the member state of which their dependent child or adult is a national?
I am not familiar with the individual case the hon. Gentleman raises. I will look at it in detail and come back to him, as is my normal approach. I say this, however: the European Court of Justice will not rule over the United Kingdom after the date of Brexit. That does not mean that we will not have a very humane, sensible and straightforward policy with respect to things such as family relationships, which the hon. Gentleman talks about.
We will want to have reached agreement on our future partnership within two years of the article 50 process. Article 50 is clear—we did not write it—that it should take two years to negotiate the withdrawal, and any deal must take into account the new relationship. We recognise that a cliff edge for business or a threat to stability would be in neither side’s interest. A phased process of implementation in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new relationship is likely to be in our mutual interest, and that will be to everyone’s benefit if that is what we agree.
The tech sector is clear that the UK needs a watertight legal agreement on international data flows from the day we leave the EU; transitional arrangements just will not do. The best route will be an adequacy agreement, as other means are currently under legal challenge. As it took seven years to negotiate an adequacy agreement with Bermuda, what is the Secretary of State doing, with colleagues, to ensure that we avoid a cliff edge on data flows?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, because that is central not just to IT and database industries, but to every industry now. The difference with Bermuda is that it was not at a point of identity of data standards when it started its negotiations. We will be at a point of identity at the point of departure, and we will undoubtedly have to agree some regime whereby we maintain equivalence—not identity, but equivalence—thereafter. It is unlikely that we will need transitional arrangements on that; it is much more likely that we will need an ongoing relationship on it.
Blaenau Gwent has relied on EU structural funding in recent years and, though we are leaving the EU, the need for infrastructure investment remains really high. Infrastructure has a long lead-in, so will the Secretary of State tell me what transitional arrangements will be in place to ensure that Blaenau Gwent gets the best deal to boost its economy after 2020?
The Treasury made it clear, very rapidly at the beginning of this process, that it would underwrite agreements made with the European Union that carried on beyond the point of Brexit as long as they met value-for-money requirements. The responsibility for making that judgment in the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will lie with the Welsh Government, so I do not see that there is a risk there. Beyond 2020, the EU will have its own budget arrangements anyway, and we will be in the same position.
Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that the very last thing he is going to do is to accept any blandishments from those on the other side of the House, and that he is going to start discussing in detail—in this House or elsewhere—the transitional arrangements with the EU?
Of course my right hon. Friend is right. This is not about some arrangement to extend the discussions or the negotiations; it is about practical implementation issues that may well turn out to be in the interests of both sides, and it is in those circumstances that we would achieve them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be important to encourage co-operation between the regulators during any transition period for financial services, to ensure that we have an orderly transition to the new arrangements with Europe?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the ongoing streams of work in Whitehall involves arranging to talk to the regulators, and some of those discussions have already happened. The Governor of the Bank of England has commented on the need to maintain stability after Brexit, and that will be an important part of our negotiations.
Because of the Government’s decision to leave the single market, lots of agreements will cease to have effect the day after we leave. One of those is the agreement that allows British airlines to fly to any airport in the European Union. Given that airlines sell tickets up to 11 months in advance, what assurance can the Secretary of State give to passengers that the tickets they buy before we leave the European Union will still be valid after we leave?
The right hon. Gentleman is partly right. Many of the arrangements for European routes are partly dependent on the EU, but there are also bilateral and other arrangements. He is exactly right to suggest that we will be setting out to ensure that those forward contracts stand.
Further to what the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), has just said, will the Secretary of State tell us whether the transitional arrangements will be discussed right from the beginning of the negotiations? Transitional arrangements cannot be left until the last moment; they need to be hard-wired into negotiations from the very beginning.
They will undoubtedly be part of the early discussions, but the need for transitional arrangements will depend on what the final arrangements will be. If we do not know where we are going to end up, we cannot have a transitional arrangement. Also, our overarching offer of a comprehensive free trade arrangement will remove the need for transition in some areas, although not in the highly regulated ones. The Chairman of the Select Committee was exactly right to suggest that aviation is one of those areas, and it is not the only one. The original questioner, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), mentioned data, which is another area in which regulation will matter. In many cases, however, such arrangements will not be necessary.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he sees as the main differences between agreed interim arrangements as part of a phased process of implementing our future relationship with the EU, as sought by the Government, and a negotiated transitional deal?
The reason that we have specified this in detail was that the term “transitional arrangements” meant several different things to different people. For example, some thought that it would be good to have a departure deal and then to spend years in a transitional arrangement carrying on the negotiations. We have specifically differentiated that from what we are talking about; that is not what we want. We want the decisions to be concluded within two years, but implementation might take longer in a whole series of areas, including customs and financial services regulations.
Common Travel Area: Republic of Ireland
One of the core principles guiding our approach to the exit negotiations is to protect our historic ties with Ireland and maintain the common travel area. There is a strong joint commitment from the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, and the UK Government to deliver a practical solution that allows for the maintenance of the common travel area. I welcome President Juncker’s recent statement that the EU does not want hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he believe that the EU recognises the serious impact that trying to force Ireland to reimpose a hard border would have not only on the tens of thousands of people who cross the border every day for work or healthcare or to study, but on the peace process, in which the EU has been heavily involved?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but we have seen some welcome comments from the other side in the negotiations. Following a recent meeting with the Taoiseach, President Juncker said:
“During the Brexit negotiations, the EU and Ireland must look to minimise the impact”.
Michel Barnier has also said that the EU must do its utmost to uphold the success of the Good Friday agreement. We remain fully committed to preserving and maintaining the Belfast agreement and its successors, and we will continue to work hard on that with our allies.
I welcome the strong commitment to the CTA in the White Paper. Shrewsbury has benefited for many generations from Irish citizens coming to work in our community. Will the Minister give them an assurance that their rights will be protected in UK law, much of which predates our membership of the EU?
Absolutely. I assure my hon. Friend that we remain committed to preserving the rights of Irish citizens within the UK. Irish citizens have had special status within the UK since well before the establishment of the EU, and that is rooted in the Ireland Act 1949 and reflected in British Nationality Acts. That status provides Irish citizens in the UK with additional rights beyond those associated with common membership of the EU. The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will be always be a special relationship between us.
The Crown dependency of the Isle of Man has strong links with Northern Ireland, the Republic, and the rest of the United Kingdom, and when the Justice Committee met representatives of its Government, their No. 1 ask was to ensure that it remains a part of the common travel area between the three. Will the Minister reassure them and us on that point?
Absolutely. We greatly value the work of my hon. Friend and his Committee on such issues and look forward to reading the report of his inquiry into the implications of Brexit for the Crown dependencies. The Crown dependencies, including the Isle of Man, have been part of the common travel area for nearly 100 years, and we are committed to preserving that arrangement. We set out in the White Paper that we will work with the Crown dependencies, as well as with Ireland, on improving the CTA.
Do the Government appreciate that the Good Friday agreement was not a single event, signed, sealed and put on a shelf 20 years ago, but a process of normalisation of relations and of free movement of goods, people, and so on? If the Government do realise that, will they ensure that they respond to the real fears in Ireland that Brexit represents a turning back of the clock on the precious new normality that has developed over the last 20 years?
The right hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of such issues and that the Good Friday agreement was certainly not just a moment in time—we talk about the Belfast agreement and its successors. We recognise the need to work continually on such issues and to work on them jointly with our friends and allies in the Republic and with the Northern Ireland Executive.
If the common travel area can continue to operate between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU and has its own rules on immigration, why could it not operate between Scotland and the rest of the UK if Scotland stays in the single market when the rest of the UK leaves?
It is reassuring to hear the Minister’s words on this issue. He will know the level of concern across this House and out there in the country. If he has not read it, I recommend to him the recent House of Lords report, page 63 in particular, which states that we cannot assume that this matter will become part of the article 50 negotiations. If that does not happen, he must act quickly to reassure the people of Ireland and the UK and ensure that it is done either as part of the article 50 negotiations, or that it happens in time, because certainty is needed more than anything in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Lady is right that we need to do everything we can to provide certainty, and we will take on board the suggestions of the House of Lords report. However, I welcome the statements we have seen from the Commission showing that it is taking a strong interest in this subject.
When the Brexit Select Committee visited Dublin recently, we were told that a United Kingdom default to World Trade Organisation rules would be catastrophic for the island of Ireland, with the re-imposition of a border. Can the Minister reassure the House that he will continue to resist siren calls to move towards WTO rules, if for no other reason than the effect on Ireland?
Will the Minister further outline how the election of the Northern Ireland Assembly has affected firming up the common travel area? How does he intend to take that forward in the interim while waiting for the Assembly to reconvene? Further, what role does he envisage the reconvened Assembly having in that process?
We are fully committed to ensuring that as we establish our negotiating position, the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced. The UK Government have a clear role in providing political stability in Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is doing everything he can to secure the resumption of devolved government. It is important that everyone engages constructively to reach a positive conclusion as quickly as possible. We are not contemplating anything other than the return of devolved government.
Would it not help enormously if the UK Government made it clear that they want to make both the common travel area and the Good Friday agreement, and all its strands, explicitly named features of the framework for future relations between the UK and the EU?
We are listening and speaking to as many farming organisations and institutions as possible as we develop our negotiating position. I have met a range of representatives of the agricultural sector, including all the UK farming unions, and have attended the stakeholder roundtables of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, one of which focused on farming and horticulture.
Louth and Horncastle boasts highly productive farms that produce excellent food. Will my right hon. Friend reassure our farmers that encouraging British food production and maintaining high-quality standards will be uppermost in his mind during the exit process?
The British farming industry is noted throughout the world for the quality of its produce. Outside the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to redesign our policies to make them work for us and to ensure that our agriculture industry is competitive, productive and profitable, and also that our environment continues to improve.
Farmers in Eddisbury apply the highest standards of welfare to their livestock and the produce deriving from that livestock. What safeguards will be put in place to ensure that produce that does not meet those high standards does not affect the competitiveness of our farmers?
Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point because animal welfare and traceability are important elements of British agricultural production. We are committed to high animal welfare standards and will continue to push for those standards to be maintained in international trade arrangements.
British farmers face a triple threat from the vote to leave the European Union: the loss of the common agricultural policy subsidy; cheap imports from countries with lower animal welfare and traceability standards; and potential tariffs on exports to the single market. What is the Minister doing in particular to mitigate that third threat, as we could see tariffs of up to 40% on lamb?
The hon. Lady makes very important points, but this Government have already demonstrated their commitment to supporting the agriculture industry by supporting common agricultural policy pillar 1 until 2020 and giving support for pillar 2. On tariffs, as she will know, this Government aim to achieve the best possible free trade agreement with the continuing European Union and to ensure that whatever customs arrangements are put in place are frictionless and for the benefit of both Britain and the EU.
The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point that is at the forefront of the Government’s mind—in fact, the Prime Minister has discussed this very issue with the Taoiseach. Indeed, all the Ministers in the DEXEU team have had similar discussions, and I have had very recent discussions with representatives of the Irish Government too.
Single Market and Customs Union: Manufacturing Sector
The UK manufacturing sector is world leading, and we are determined to secure the best deal for it which enables it to go from strength to strength. We are aiming to agree a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU, including zero tariffs, that is more ambitious than any other trade deal agreed with the EU to date.
In North Tyneside, Smulders, a Belgian company, has filled a void in the manufacturing market left when this Government failed to back OGN. The company hopes to create up to 400 new jobs and expand even further. What guarantees can the Minister give that will allow it the same benefits it currently gets with access to the single market and customs union after Brexit?
I had a discussion just this week with the Flanders chamber of commerce, and it recognised the important issue of bilateral trade between Belgium and the UK. I am pleased to say that it fully realised the need for frictionless agreements once we leave the EU, and of course this Government are committed to that.
It is clear that if we are to seek free trade agreements around the world, we will not be able to remain in the customs union as it currently stands. Having said that, we seek arrangements with our EU partners that will enable us to construct customs arrangements that are as frictionless as possible, for the benefit of both the EU and the UK.
The post-Brexit fall in the pound has led to a boost in manufacturing exports, with 45% of north-east manufacturers expecting orders to rise over the coming year, but it has also led to an increase in import costs. These costs will only increase if customs checks are required at borders. What is the Secretary of State planning to do for north-east manufacturers to make sure that costs at borders are not being increased for products they are making?
Of course, north-east manufacturing is at the forefront of the Government’s mind; the hon. Gentleman will know that with Nissan we arranged a state of affairs that will allow it to continue to manufacture in the north-east. He is right to say that we do not want to see customs arrangements that impede trade with the EU, and we are looking to agree arrangements, for our mutual benefit, that are as frictionless as possible.
But is it not the case that when the UK leaves the EU we will be its largest export market? Does the Minister not agree with my favourite politician at the moment, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s Finance Minister, who says that if the Germans or the EU were to cause any damage to the UK, it would be increased tenfold for the EU?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point: the UK market will be the biggest export market for the continuing European Union after we leave. I am glad to say that that is recognised not only by Herr Schäuble but by the Belgian chamber of commerce, with which I spoke earlier this week.
Does the Minister agree that, although we hope for the best, the chaotic patchwork of EU institutions and election cycles may mean that a deal is not done in two years? If that is the case, will he consider the case for investing in the roads to the channel ports and, indeed, in frictionless and modern borders, to ensure that we have a seamless flow of trade in future?
I agree with my hon. Friend about frictionless agreements. We have a huge advantage in that Britain is, of course, currently a member of the European Union, so our standards and regulations are in complete alignment. I was heartened to see that Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator for the European Union, has recognised that a deal is doable in two years.
Although we will not continue to be a member of the single market, as I indicated previously we are looking to achieve a very good free trade agreement with the continuing European Union, which would be very much to the mutual benefit of the UK and the European Union.
As my right hon. Friend considers the customs union, may I urge him to look at the experience of close trading partners around the world? The US and Canada trade half a trillion dollars of goods annually, Norway does 70% of its trade with the EU, and China buys 30% of Australia’s exports; none of them has seen fit to form customs unions with each other.
The fact that the oil and gas industry is a high priority for the Government was shown by the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday. Frankly, rather than talking bleakly about the future of the industry, the hon. Gentleman should urge his colleagues in the Scottish Government to work strongly with the United Kingdom Government to ensure that arrangements can be made that are satisfactory for the industry.
One of the advantages of our leaving the European Union is that we will be in a position to design our own package of trade defence instruments, which I would think Opposition Members would welcome. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the ongoing cross-Government work on that?
Clearly, any arrangements we strike will have to be WTO-compliant, but my hon. Friend is entirely right. British industry has recently experienced many difficulties, not least in the steel industry, in which he has a particular interest. He will know about the support the Government have given to that industry.
This week, a report by the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union concluded that
“America’s significant commercial and financial presence in the UK has been premised in large part on UK membership in the European Union—the largest, wealthiest and most important foreign market in the world to U.S. companies.”
Do the Secretary of State and the Minister recognise the importance of our relationship with the single market to those non-EU countries with which the Government are keen to build trade and investment?
Well, the significance of that and the “America First” policy is yet to be demonstrated.
On 24 January, the Secretary of State told the House that he is seeking
“a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]
Will the Minister confirm that that is still the Government’s aim?
Thanks to the new opportunities that will open up for the UK after we leave the EU, the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that the UK will have the fastest growing economy in the G7 over the next 30 years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates that manufacturing has nothing to fear from our leaving the EU?
The UK has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that our rights and traditional liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the European Union does not change any of that. That is the approach we will take as we enter negotiations, and I can confirm that the Government have no plans to withdraw from the European convention on human rights.
We will be putting the great repeal Bill in front of the House at some point in the near future. That will carry into British law the existing law of the European Union and the case law that goes with it. But British human rights have not depended on the European Union; they have been intrinsic to our history and our tradition, and we—I most of all—will continue to defend them.
I very much welcome what the Secretary of State said about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. With that in mind, will he consider giving his support to a fourth summit of the Council of Europe to look at the way forward for the Council and how human rights could be strengthened through the European Court of Human Rights?
Is it not a human right to have some certainty about the future? Is the Secretary of State not aware of how many talented, hard-working and entrepreneurial people who have come to this country have no idea whether they can stay here? The Government are now demanding that to be able to stay, people must have full health insurance for life.
As I was saying, Mr Speaker, I am not sure whether certainty about the future is a human right, and I am certainly not sure whether the House would necessarily extend it to the hon. Gentleman. The simple truth is that we have a large group of people—some of them European citizens and some of them British citizens abroad—to whom we want to give certainty across the board about their right to remain, their right to healthcare, their right to welfare, and so on. I have now seen, one way or another, representatives of around half the member states, and it is plain to me that they all treat this issue seriously and want to see it dealt with early in the negotiations. That is the Government’s policy—to ensure certainty for everybody.
Article 50: “Scotland's Place in Europe”
I am going to get the hang of this, Mr Speaker. I ask to group questions 11 and 14. In a few years, I will get used to this place—then I will retire.
I said retire, not resign.
We are working closely with the Scottish Government to ensure the best deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK as we leave the European Union. We share many objectives, including having an open and outward-looking country, ensuring access to labour, collaborating on science and research, protecting workers’ rights, having a smooth and orderly exit process, and guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals in the UK and of UK nationals in the European Union. We should also agree that there should be no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union. They should not be created.
Who knows what the Scottish people will think of such an imprecise answer to a specific question? Let me try something else that may help the Secretary of State. How many trade negotiators have been recruited to deal with matters such as the very specific and unique needs of some sectors of the Scottish economy?
Many trade negotiators have been recruited, particularly by the Department for International Trade. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raises the question with that Department, because it has been very busy at that in recent months. The simple truth is that the British Government share the hon. Gentleman’s aims for his constituents and for the people of Scotland—namely, we want the best possible deal, which will be best for the Scottish economy, for Scottish business and, most of all, for Scottish people.
Following on from the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), I am glad to inform the Secretary of State and, indeed, the House that an STV poll shows that support for independence has gone up to 50:50. Given the Secretary of State’s intransigence and his Government’s determination for a hard right-wing Tory Brexit, which way does he think that poll will tip as he continues in his intransigence?
First, I do not recognise the phrase “hard Brexit” or, for that matter, “right-wing Tory Brexit”. Secondly, I am not a great believer in polls when it comes to referendums; they do not exactly work very well. If the hon. Lady wants to go with polls, perhaps she should go with the poll of the Scottish people, who say they do not want another referendum.
I respect the desire of the Scottish Government to contribute to the Brexit process, and that of the Welsh, Northern Irish and some English regions. May I urge the Government to reflect on all representations made and proceed with a policy that works for the whole United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is the intention of the Government, which is why we are going for a comprehensive, overarching free trade agreement that will deliver extremely beneficial results for Britain and—I stress this point—for the European Union as well.
The Prime Minister, supported by my Department, will agree the format of negotiations with our counterparts once negotiations have begun. In the meantime, she will be informed by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), which will ensure that we negotiate the best possible future for the United Kingdom, representing all its constituent parts.
Regarding Scotland’s role in the article 50 process, Supreme Court president, David Neuberger, said on 24 January that it was a political decision whether formally to involve the devolved Administrations in the process of leaving the EU. Will the Minister tell us what role the devolved Parliaments will have in the passing of the great repeal Bill?
Of course, we have formally involved the devolved Administrations in our preparations through the JMC process, and we continue to engage in that process. With regard to the great repeal Bill, a White Paper will be published and the devolved Administrations will have their opportunities to respond to that, as will hon. Members across the House.
As we have said, we have not made the final decisions about repatriation. That is something we will want to discuss with the devolved Administrations, as I think the Welsh Government have suggested. The Treasury has already made important guarantees that cover devolved Administrations as well as Government Departments.
In devising plans for Brexit and involving the devolved Administrations, Ministers will have drawn on the advice of a large number of UK and foreign consultancy firms such as Accenture. The Press Association and others want to know how much this has cost. Will the Minister confirm the spend to date on the likes of Accenture, PwC, City legal firms and others in supporting the Government on Brexit?
EU: UK’s Financial Contribution
Neither the United Kingdom, nor the European Union, publishes an aggregate audited figure representing the total net financial contribution since the UK joined the EEC, but details of annual UK public sector contributions to the EU are published in a document entitled “European Union Finances”, the latest edition of which was published in February in 2016.
A one-word answer with a figure would have been more helpful than the answer the Minister has given me. I suspect that the answer is that a massive amount of money is being handed over by British taxpayers to the European Union. As in any good divorce, that will entitle us to a huge share of the EU’s assets or to massive financial compensation if we do not get that.
My hon. Friend is right—it is rather a lot; but the issue is to what extent the United Kingdom is liable for payment of anything, and if so, how much. The point is this: the United Kingdom has always adhered to its international treaty obligations, and it will continue to do so. It will adhere to those obligations, but, similarly, it will insist on the rights it has pursuant to those treaties, and that is the basis on which it will approach these negotiations.
Non-UK EU Nationals: Residency Rights
As the Secretary of State has reiterated, and as we have repeatedly made clear, we want to secure the status of EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals living in other member states, as early as we can. We know from my right hon. Friend’s visits around the EU that many member states agree with us on this, but we can protect the status of UK nationals in the EU only through formal negotiations.
I have had constituents come into my surgeries in tears because of the uncertainty about their future. They cannot apply for new jobs, they are worried that they do not know what their status will be if they apply for a university course, and they cannot apply for mortgages. These are not itinerant migrant workers—these are people who have made their homes and lives in Bristol—and they need assurances now from the Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is always a champion for the universities and students in his patch. The UK is already a leading destination for science and innovation, with some of the world’s best universities, three of which are in the world’s top 10. We intend to secure the best possible outcome for UK research and innovation as we exit the European Union.
I thank the Minister for his response. International collaboration and access to European research funding drive the efficiency, excellence and impact of UK research, and our country’s university sector is renowned for its high levels of international and European collaboration. Will he confirm that continued research collaboration will be a priority for the Government, particularly in relation to the Erasmus+ scheme, as we negotiate our exit from the European Union?
The Prime Minister has been clear that Britain will remain truly global—a best friend and neighbour to our European partners—but reach beyond the borders of Europe as well. We recognise the value of international exchange and collaboration in education and training as part of our vision for the UK to be a truly global nation.
The Prime Minister is today meeting other EU leaders at the European Council in Brussels. They will be discussing issues such as migration, jobs and competitiveness. The Prime Minister will be telling them that we remain strong advocates for free trade, and I expect her also to take the opportunity to underline our desire to see a strong and stable European Union even after we leave. Indeed, that has been a centrepiece of my message during my recent trips to meet counterparts in Europe. We want to see a strong UK and a strong EU. Rather than aiming to divide and conquer, as some have suggested, we want the EU to be strong and successful. That is why we are aiming for a comprehensive new partnership between the UK and the EU, which we are clear will be beneficial to all.
Yes, I can. I went to—I think—nine of our fellow member states in three weeks, and others have come to see me. The overarching response has been a positive one; it has been one of support for the general approach, and it has been one that seeks a constructive outcome, not the penalty outcome that was talked about by some earlier. It is certainly true that they also think of our approach as very logical, so I think that gives us great cause for optimism in the negotiations.
Clearly, the Government want to trigger article 50 next Wednesday or next Thursday. They will then have to set out their proposals in detail so that the EU can respond. For months, they have hidden behind the bland phrases “frictionless borders” and “frictionless trade”. This is the last opportunity before triggering for the Secretary of State to spell out what those phrases actually mean.
The Prime Minister has said that the approval of Parliament will be required for the final terms of our withdrawal agreement with the EU. She has also promised that that will occur before the withdrawal agreement is sent to the European Parliament for its consent. The House of Lords has now voted by a large majority to amend the article 50 Bill to reflect those commitments. All very straightforward. If the Prime Minister intends to keep to her commitments, why would the Government not support that amendment when it returns to this House on Monday?
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I go further. This House made an undertaking, without opposition at all, on an Opposition day, to do nothing to undermine the negotiating capacity of the United Kingdom, and I am afraid that that is what the amendment would do.
It is pretty straightforward. If we have a comprehensive free trade agreement, then there will be no tariffs, one hopes, and very few non-tariff barriers, certainly no new ones. That makes it easier for the customs arrangements—the administrative arrangements —to be straightforward and simple.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that reform of the common agricultural policy represents a positive opportunity for the farming industry. Does he agree that, among other measures, rewarding farmers with payment for acting for the public good—for example, storing water on land as a flood resilience measure, which would be very beneficial in Somerset—would be very helpful?
My hon. Friend has highlighted how much of an advantage it will be to the UK to be in a position to design its own agricultural and environmental policies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to speak to the London Irish Construction Network, which is an opportunity to stand alongside a Republic of Ireland Minister and show the commitment from both sides to the Belfast agreement and the common travel area. We remain absolutely committed to the Belfast agreement and all its successors, including the principle of consent.
The new owners of Vauxhall have suggested that the takeover will be good news for the UK motor parts supply chain post-Brexit. Is it not the case that far from multinationals being deterred from using the UK as a springboard into Europe within the EU, European multinationals will be using the UK as a springboard for exports to the rest of the world?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The comments from the head of Peugeot were fascinating in what they show about what a business that is seeking opportunity can do. We are seeking to create the maximum possible opportunities for our own companies domestically and European countries that want to come here.
I certainly will do that. I have not read the report yet, but if the hon. Lady will send it to me or give me the contact details, I will read it. She is dead right; the departure from the European Union does open up opportunities for stronger relationships with Africa, both economic and otherwise.
The EU Commissioner for Security and the head of Europol have both made it clear in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs how important it is to maintain our current policing and security co-operation with Europe. I know that my right hon. Friend is committed to continuing that co-operation. Are his counterparts in Europe as committed as he is?
After the issue of European migrants—European citizens—in the UK, that is the second issue that has come up among the Nordic and Baltic groups in particular, and with Germany and the eastern Europeans. It seems to me that we have a great deal to continue to offer the European Union, and we absolutely intend to do so, because we intend to meet our responsibilities as a global citizen and country.
We have not yet seen an end to the tampon tax, but the moment we leave, I am sure it will be one of the first things I have on the agenda for talking to the Chancellor about. The hon. Lady should bear in mind that we are using the funding from the tampon tax for all sorts of incredibly important causes, which she will know better than I do. We will continue with that until the moment we can repeal it.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government tread warily regarding the possibility of any resurrection of the merger between the London stock exchange and Deutsche Börse while we are engaged in complex negotiations about equivalence regimes in financial services?
The UK legal services sector is worth some £21 billion to our economy. A good percentage of that comes from legal services provided into the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend meet the Bar Council and the Law Society to discuss what they need to retain access to that key market?
The short answer is that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has already met them, but we will do so again. This is a very important sector. People sometimes underestimate the size of the general services sector, which is as big as the City. We have to keep that in mind.
Not at all. I cannot see how one can make the economy more of a priority than to make it a centrepiece of the negotiation. We seek a comprehensive free trade agreement, and the purpose of that is nothing but economic. Of course, out of it will flow other things, but it is economic first and centre.
Following on from that question, is it not a fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility has increased the growth forecast for this year by nearly 50%? Surely, that is a vote in favour of coming out of the EU, and not what the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) said.
I think, frankly, the whole economics profession is beginning to take a lesson in predictions about the effects of Brexit. My hon. Friend is right. There has been a dramatic uptick in the current year’s growth, and in the forecasts for ’19, ’20 and ’21, as it turns out. The simple point is that many companies are coming here now, such as McDonald’s, WhatsApp, Google—I could go through a whole list—[Interruption.] I will not do that, Mr Speaker. Those companies are showing what they believe by voting with their feet.
These concerns have been met pre-Brexit by the Treasury underwriting the commitments up to and through Brexit. Of course, the hon. Lady has to remember that the European Union will have a complete budgetary review in 2020. We will be giving clear attention to priorities such as this when we come to write our own budgets after 2019.
While all EU regulation will be transferred into UK law at the outset, divergence will inevitably begin over the years. What is my right hon. Friend doing to prepare British businesses so that they are aware of all the changes that will be made and can continue to export to and trade with the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the approach of the great repeal Bill, which is to ensure stability and continuity. We are of course engaging with British business and we will continue to do so throughout the process across the country and in every sector.
I repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I said earlier: no powers exercised by the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government will be taken away. We will debate with all the devolved Administrations—not simply Scotland—the level at which it is appropriate to exercise these powers after exit.
The Government have said that they want to secure the rights of British nationals living in Europe, but what about British nationals living in this country who are married to European nationals whose futures have been thrown into doubt by the repugnant position that the Government have adopted? Is it not time to end the doubt for those people?
Of course we do not want any doubt on the part of any citizen in Europe, British or otherwise, in Britain or on the continent. The simple truth is that most of the people I have seen in the decision-making tier, as it were, of European Governments agree with us: the issue of British citizens and European citizens has to be dealt with together, and will be dealt with as a matter of priority.
May I push the Secretary of State further on the answer he gave my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) regarding frictionless trade? Is the Secretary of State saying that trade tariffs remain on the negotiating table?
From my recent discussions with senior Members of the German Parliament, it is very clear that we are not going to get barrier-free access to the single market if we no longer operate free movement. Do Ministers yet recognise that reality?
That is not the response I am getting from the Ministers I have spoken to around Europe. What they have come back with is that they want a constructive outcome, and the only way to get a constructive outcome is to have a comprehensive free trade arrangement.
Under the common agricultural policy, some of the richest people in this country get millions of pounds in handouts from the taxpayer, which must surely be wrong. When we are in charge of our own agricultural policy, would it not be a good idea to put a cap on how much people get, just as we have a benefits cap?
Before we come to the business question, I want to mention that today is the birthday of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I am sure there will be veritable rejoicing in the streets on this happy occasion—at any rate, at least in Perth and North Perthshire. Happy birthday to the hon. Gentleman.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 13 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill followed by continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 14 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments followed by conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 15 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the National Citizen Service Bill [Lords], followed by motion relating the appointment of lay members to the Committee on Standards, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 16 March—Statement on the publication of the 10th report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee entitled “Lessons still to be learned from the Chilcot inquiry”, followed by a statement on the publication of the sixth report of the Health Committee on suicide prevention, followed by a debate on a motion relating to energy prices. The Select Committee statements and the subject for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 17 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 March will include:
Monday 20 March—Second Reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 23 March will be:
Monday 20 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to the cost of car insurance for young people.
Thursday 23 March—Debate on the first and second reports of the International Development Committee entitled “Syrian refugee crisis and DFID’s programme in Nigeria”.
Finally, I inform the House that, because of diary commitments on Monday, the Prime Minister expects to update the House on this week’s European Council on Tuesday next week.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Perhaps it will be a case of him singing to us, rather than us singing to him.
Are we any nearer to having a date for the Queen’s Speech? I am sure that the person delivering it would like to know when it is.
I gave the inaugural Emily Wilding Davison memorial lecture at Bedford College and Royal Holloway yesterday. As you know, Mr Speaker, she broke into the House of Commons a few times, most memorably on census night. It was said that she knew the House’s maze of pipes and hidey-holes far better than all the other suffragettes. She therefore had a lot in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
May I press the Leader of the House on a date for the debate on restoration and renewal? Members need to know that and need to have their say. It might be helpful, at the time of the debate, to have a display so that Members can see what is at stake and have an informed debate, rather than one based on speculation. I know that a date has been mentioned, but perhaps that was just a gentleman’s agreement and ladies are not allowed to know.
I note that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is coming back to the Commons on Monday. Once the Bill goes through, it will truly be the end of the Thatcher legacy, because the former Prime Minister signed up in 1981 to EU enlargement through the accession of Greece, in 1983 to the declaration on more European integration, in 1986 to EU enlargement through the accession of Spain and Portugal, and in 1987 to the Single European Act to create a single internal market. Yet she was also able to say no: she renegotiated the EU budget in 1984, said no to the 1985 Schengen agreement, and said no to the 1989 social charter—wrongly, in my view. Margaret Thatcher was a remainer and a reformer; the same cannot be said of this Government.
And so to the Budget. It is not so much “Spreadsheet Phil” as Punxsutawney Phil from “Groundhog Day”. He is being chased back down his hole by the self-employed and the Brexiteers. There was no mention of the most challenging events that will happen to this country in the next few years. He did not use the word “Brexit” once—not verbally, not in his speech, not in the Official Report. What he did say was that he
“will not saddle our children with ever-increasing debts.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 811.]
Will the Leader of the House clarify whether that means tuition fees will be abolished? The Chancellor talks about Germany’s productivity being better than ours. Germany abolished tuition fees. Maybe that is something we can learn from Germany.
The Chancellor said that money was available for investment in school condition. Given that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) said he regretted cancelling the Building Schools for the Future programme, will the Leader of the House make representations to the Chancellor to enable all schools allocated funds under the scheme to receive them without having to make bids that take money away from frontline services?
Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the money for research for 1,000 PhDs is a grant or a loan? I thought I heard the Chancellor say “loan”, but I cannot find it in the Official Report. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not want to hear they should just leave the Chamber.
You think it’s rubbish; we don’t think it’s rubbish.
Was the Leader of the House aware of the discussions around the gentleman's agreement in Surrey? Will he launch an inquiry or make a statement to the House? An MP was involved “who has worked really hard behind the scenes”, and there is a reference to a Member whom we both know very well. May we have a statement on what exactly is on offer under this deal? Step one: councils threaten to increase council tax. Step two: they make a phone call to the Communities Secretary, who then pops over to No. 11 in his car. Then, lo and behold, there is a deal—a gentleman’s agreement that is not transparent and is just for Tory councils.
Will the Leader of the House ensure a breakdown of all business rates goes to each council when the transition is made, so hon. Members do not have to make freedom of information requests of their councils? The council tax burden will now shift totally and utterly to local taxpayers. Oxford Street in my constituency does not have any businesses. This will have a direct effect on many of our constituencies.
The Prime Minister said, when she first stood in Downing Street:
“When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few”.
Yet the Prime Minister made it clear the Government are promoting selective schools. Can the Leader of the House confirm that children who cannot afford tutors, who will enable them to get into selective schools, will be given help? Schools are good because of the hard work of the pupils and their teachers. The Government cannot take credit for that.
The Chancellor talked about the “last Labour Government” but we are thinking about the next Labour Government. It is the next Labour Government who will have the last laugh.
Finally, it was a male-dominated International Women’s Day. Maybe next year there will be no “Spreadsheet Phil”, but “Spreadsheet Justine”. I want to bring women back to the centre. Gandhi said that if you educate the mother you educate society. How can we forget what was said about Ginger Rogers: she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels? There is the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky. Finally, there is the new hashtag: #neverthelessshepersisted. That is what we all have to do to get true equality. A belated happy International Women’s Day to everyone.
May I first deal with the questions from the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) about two items of business? I cannot yet give a date for the Queen’s Speech. As the House will know, this depends to some extent on the exchange of amendments between the two Houses. We are not in a position to make an announcement yet.
I cannot be specific about a date for a debate on restoration and renewal. However, the Government’s position remains that we intend to hold it before the Easter recess, as I said in answer to the business question a few weeks ago.
I disagree with the hon. Lady that we should get rid of tuition fees. It is not unreasonable to expect students to make a contribution towards the cost of that university education when their income in later working lives reaches above a certain threshold. I would have hoped that, rather than revisit the argument about tuition fees, she welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday of the Government’s drive to improve the opportunities provided by, and the quality of, technical and vocational education in this country. That is key to giving the maximum possible chance in life to those children who are unable to go to university or who choose not to do so. It is an absolutely essential part of tackling some of this country’s long-term structural economic problems to do with the lack of competitiveness in a very fast-changing international economy.
I do not know how many times Ministers will repeat from the Dispatch Box that there is no special sweetheart deal. I was astonished that the hon. Lady claimed that there is something available to Conservative councils that is not available to Labour councils. I was sitting on the Front Bench yesterday when I heard the Prime Minister say in terms that the local authorities that would be first in the pilots for 100% return of business rates in the 2017-18 financial year were Labour authorities. Those Labour authorities have welcomed that opportunity to be in the first set of pilots. We are saying to Surrey and every other council not included in that first round that, if they meet the criteria, they can apply for participation in the second round in 2019-20. That has always been and remains the position.
On grammar schools, the Government said in the Green Paper that was published shortly before Christmas that we would consider and consult on ways in which the admissions system to selective schools might be altered to try to give the maximum possible opportunity to children from poorer families and families that do not have a history of sending people on to further and higher education of getting those places at selective schools. The problem with the Labour party is that its views on education are stuck in the past. It seems extraordinary, and an increasing anomaly, that, at a time of great diversity in the provision of secondary schools of various types, including specialist schools of the type the Prime Minister described yesterday, there should be an arbitrary legal ban on the creation of new selective schools as part of that broader mix. That is the challenge the Government are seeking to address.
I am more than happy to join the hon. Lady in welcoming International Women’s Day in the way she described, and in paying tribute to all of those in this country who have played a part in advancing opportunities for women. Women and men from all political traditions in this country have supported them. We might also pause and reflect on the fact that women in some countries around the world can be put at great personal risk by standing up publicly and pressing for the type of civil rights and opportunities women have in this country. In celebrating what has been achieved here and in other countries, we should remember that the real heroines are those who fight for equal rights in those countries where there is real danger.
Last week, I hosted a celebration on 25 years of Dr Sodha’s chiropractic—I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House piloted a private Member’s Bill through the House promoting chiropractic. May we have a debate in Government time on the use of chiropractic in the national health service as an alternative to giving people medicine?
While I am on my feet, Mr Speaker, may I gently remind my right hon. Friend that the House rose early again on Monday? The Backbench Business Committee has a queue of debates that could fill those slots were they made available by the Government.
We do try to ensure that the Backbench Business Committee has its full allocation of slots. It is not entirely for Ministers to determine how many Members participate in any debate, or for how long they speak. Sometimes Members in all parts of the House speak for far longer than their Whips may wish them to, and at other times the debate finishes early, but that is not entirely in the Government’s gift.
My hon. Friend’s point about chiropractic was well made. Looking back on the growth of the profession over the last 25 years, I think that the increasing availability of chiropractic treatment as a complement to traditional medicine has brought huge benefit to patients in all parts of the country, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be lucky enough to secure an Adjournment debate to celebrate that achievement further.
I thank you for your birthday wishes, Mr Speaker. I shall always be a year older than you.
As well as being my birthday, today is Budget Boxing day, and, if anything, Budget Boxing day is more interesting and more revealing than Budget day itself. It is on Budget Boxing day that we start to hear the useful clarifications, the climbdowns and the justifications for broken manifesto promises, which usually involves the Chancellor of the Exchequer scurrying around the broadcasters and trying to do all those things at once. May I suggest that a statement on Budget Boxing day would be a way of resolving that? The Chancellor of the Exchequer could come to the House and provide all the useful clarifications, start all the climbdowns, and justify all the broken manifesto promises.
We in Scotland are grateful for the £350 million that we are to secure in Barnett consequentials as a result of the Budget, but we note that Scotland will receive exactly the same amount in a year as the NHS is supposed to receive in one week after Brexit. That is hardly going to offset the £4 billion-worth of cuts that we will face over the next 10 years.
I note that three days have been set aside for consideration of Lords amendments “if necessary”, as the Government attempt to ping that pong from the heroes in ermine who continue to stand up to them. What will happen if the paddles are still out on Wednesday, and we are still at the table? Will the Government enforce the Parliament Act? What impact will that have on the article 50 process? And may we encourage the people’s aristocrats to persist in the remain cause?
Lastly, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has any explanation for the behaviour of the Prime Minister on the Front Bench yesterday? She looked as though she was swallowing a fish. It was almost like Mike Yarwood doing an impersonation of Ted Heath. Will the Leader of the House go back to No. 10, and tell the Prime Minister that this is no “plaice” for such behaviour?
First, let me wholeheartedly wish the hon. Gentleman many happy returns of the day. It is obvious that the first thing he did this morning was unwrap his birthday socks and tie, and I am sure that they were just what he had always wanted.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the article 50 Bill. It is entirely routine for the Government to announce provisional business in case there is a need to debate Lords amendments. The House of Lords has a perfectly proper role as a revising Chamber, but it also knows that it is an unelected House. I hope that it will want to give very careful consideration to the views that this House takes on its amendments next week, and will accept that, ultimately, the view not just of the elected House but of the British people, expressed in a referendum, should prevail.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the impact of yesterday’s Budget statement on Scotland. I would have thought, particularly on his birthday, that he might have had a cheery word for the fact that, because of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement, the Scottish Government’s resource budget will increase by £260 million through to 2020 and its capital budget by almost £90 million through to 2021. This builds on the £800 million increase to the Scottish Government’s capital budget that was delivered via last year’s autumn statement. Scotland, like all parts of the United Kingdom, is benefiting because of the action that the United Kingdom Government are taking to ensure a stable economy, economic growth and sustainable public finances.
As has been said, yesterday was International Women’s Day, yet my constituents were shocked to learn, via the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children this week, that no fewer than 55 cases of female genital mutilation took place in Peterborough in the final three months of 2016. May we have a debate on prosecutions of the perpetrators of this evil trade, so that we can protect our young girls and women? FGM is not culturally acceptable, and it is time that we tackled it and drove this abominable practice from our country forever.