House of Commons
Thursday 23 March 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Colleagues, in respectful memory of those who lost their lives in yesterday’s attack, and of all the casualties of that attack, we shall now observe a minute’s silence.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
Oral Answers to Questions
DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL TRADE
The Secretary of State was asked—
Medical Research and Development (Israel)
As we begin our questions today, it is appropriate that we recommit ourselves to the values that this Parliament represents. Those who carry out such wicked and depraved actions as we saw yesterday can never triumph in our country. We must ensure that it is not violence, hatred or division, but decency, goodness and tolerance that prevail in our country.
The United Kingdom and Israel have a strong and important trading relationship, with nearly £5 billion in bilateral trade last year. We will continue to liaise closely on strengthening our trading links, including in important sectors such as medical research and development. The Life Sciences Organisation within the Department for International Trade currently supports companies wishing to export to Israel from the earliest stages of research and development through to manufactured medicines and medical devices.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in expressing sincere condolences to the victims of the terrible atrocity yesterday, and particularly to the family of PC Keith Palmer, who died so that we can carry out our democratic duties.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Companies in the Israeli economy are responsible for more than 100 million prescription drugs consumed in this country every year, and one has recently launched the ReWalk device, whereby people are encouraged to develop. Will he set out what further plans he has to ensure that we benefit from Israel’s pharmaceutical industry?
UK industry will have a strong and important trading relationship with Israel, and the Department for International Trade supports and will continue to support life science companies from Israel that invest in the UK, and those seeking to export from the UK. The companies range from large multinationals to small and medium-sized companies such as the one my hon. Friend mentioned. We support all stages, whether that is by facilitating investment in research and development or setting up commercial operations, such as manufacturing, to export from the UK.
I, too, express my condolences to the families of all those who died, and I wish the very best for those who were injured.
One notable thing about Israel’s trade relationship with the EU is that Israel is part of Horizon 2020. Has the Secretary of State considered whether, after Brexit, we should stay in Horizon 2020 and the European Medicines Agency?
The latter decision will be part of our negotiations. We have made it clear that our intention is to roll over in full the trading agreements that the EU currently has with third countries. That will include Israel, on the basis of the current negotiations.
In his trade discussions with the Israeli Government, will the Secretary of State convey the House’s sympathy for and solidarity with Israel, which has so often suffered the same kind of terrorist attack as we suffered in this House yesterday?
What we have in common with all terrorist attacks is the fact that such acts of savagery against the innocent can never be justified or excused by creed or by politics.
May I echo the opening words of the Secretary of State and indeed the condolences that have been expressed for the police officer and the families of others affected by this tragedy?
The world-leading Institute of Cancer Research in the London borough of Sutton already does a lot of work with Israel. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the post-grads who work at the institute, a third of whom come from the European Union, will be able to carry on working in those projects for years to come?
The Government have already made it clear that the United Kingdom wishes to see an early resolution on the status of EU citizens. Those who collaborate with our research institutes do so on the basis of the quality of the research, and I am sure that that will continue.
Trade Facilitation Agreement
The World Trade Organisation agreement on trade facilitation entered into force on 22 February 2017 once two thirds of WTO members had accepted the new agreement. This is a very significant event. Once fully implemented, the agreement could add more than £70 billion to the global economy, and of that we expect a benefit to the UK of up to £1 billion.
I should say for the benefit of the House, because there was a quizzical air in the Chamber, that Question 2 was withdrawn. That is a situation which is not dissented. I can see that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) is in his place, but the question was withdrawn.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the work he is doing to try to secure a bespoke trade deal, and to his Ministers for the work they are doing as well. We do not want to fall back on to WTO rules, but, if we did, what would happen to airlines, digital data flows and trade and services?
There is a difference between some of the agreements mentioned, which are bilateral agreements, and WTO tariffs that largely apply to goods. We hope to get a comprehensive agreement with our European partners across all the sectors that my hon. Friend mentions so that we will see no interruption to the business as we have it today.
The WTO trade facilitation agreement’s coming into force last month brought about great reforms such as reducing fees on imports and exports and quickening clearance procedures. What impact will the reforms have on UK businesses that are importing and exporting?
UK exporters in particular will benefit from the customs reforms being introduced, and implementing the agreement will reduce delays at the borders of participating members and improve the trading environment for businesses engaging in international trade, making it easier and cheaper for UK businesses to export their goods across the globe.
May I associate the Democratic Unionist party with the sentiments that have been expressed for the innocents who were murdered yesterday? Our thoughts and prayers are very much with those who were injured.
With the initial period of this agreement now under way, will the Minister determine how we can enhance and further build capacity in this area? Does he believe that lessons learned here can and will affect our approach to Brexit, trade and negotiations?
As most European Union countries are already higher than the bar set by TFA, that will not have a huge effect on intra-European trade, but it will have a beneficial impact on European exporters, especially if they are exporting to markets such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest benefit of the trade agreement is likely to be felt.
Will the Secretary of State give some reassurance to Welsh lamb and sheep farmers, who have faced 40% tariffs under WTO, and ensure that if we do have a trade agreement with New Zealand we will not be flooded with New Zealand lamb?
When we get to the point at which we begin to have those discussions, we will want to take into account a balance between UK producer interests and UK consumer interests, and we will also wish to ensure that we are making a contribution to a global liberal trading environment that benefits everybody.
This agreement is potentially of greatest advantage to the least developed countries, in which we have put very considerable investment. Will the Secretary of State continue to drive forward that agenda?
Yes, and we have actually invested a large amount of money in supporting the agreement itself and in ensuring that it can be introduced in as beneficial a way in as many countries and as quickly as possible, because, as my right hon. Friend correctly says, this agreement will have the greatest benefit to some of the poorest countries in the world, which is why the United Kingdom, under Governments of both parties, has been so supportive of it.
For well over a century the UK has not had security of food supply, but has instead always relied on imports. What will WTO tariffs of up to 40% do for the price of food for hard-working families already squeezed by the Tory Government’s policies?
The hon. Gentleman perhaps unintentionally raises this important point: where we have genuinely free trade it benefits consumers, and where we can have an open global trading environment, it is likely to make the incomes of those on low incomes in particular go further. We should welcome an open trading environment, which I hope the Scottish National party does.
The Department for International Trade provides market access, support and advice to UK businesses both in the UK and in 109 markets overseas. Through the GREAT campaign we build the global appetite for British goods and services, and give UK companies access to millions of pounds’ worth of potential business through the digital services offered on the great.gov.uk website.
My hon. Friend the Minister leads the buy British goods campaign. Does he agree that taking companies that make British goods on trade delegations is an excellent way of ensuring that companies make the most of our opportunities as we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Trade delegations give an opportunity for small businesses to be put in front of buyers, and the Department for International Trade runs about 1,000 of them every year; I have been on a number, as have my colleagues, and they are extraordinarily successful in developing opportunities.
What steps is my hon. Friend the Minister taking to help first-time entrepreneurs become first-time successful exporters?
The great.gov.uk website is a tremendous opportunity, whereby entrepreneurs, many of whom are very tech savvy, can take advantage of the opportunities that we provide through our subsidised access to global e-marketplaces. They can also access the advice we provide through the website for exactly that type of business—they are supported as well.
May I ask the Minister specifically what advice there is, and what the Government are doing, to help small businesses in that respect?
The Department for International Trade has available a network of international trade advisers throughout the English regions who can be contacted through local chambers of commerce and are specifically there to hand-hold individual companies that need help.
Is the Minister looking at the trade differences between the English regions? One of the reasons that lots of people in the English regions outside London voted to leave was that they did not feel they were getting the benefits of the European Union. What is he going to do to help those areas improve their trading links?
We certainly look at foreign direct investment into the regions through trading links. That is why we see inward investment in areas such as Sunderland, which has benefited from Nissan. The right hon. Lady’s point about trade is absolutely right. The UK needs to trade more with the rest of the world—just 11% of businesses that could conduct such trade are actually doing so. One of the prime concerns and objectives of the Department for International Trade is promoting trade to the whole of the UK to ensure that we up our offer to the rest of the world.
What steps is the Department taking to enhance trade between India and the UK?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has certainly held meetings in India, and we are having ongoing talks to try to facilitate opportunities there. I will visit India in the next couple of weeks with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to explore more opportunities with financial services.
May I associate myself and my colleagues with the Secretary of State’s remarks about yesterday’s terror attacks?
The Federation of Small Businesses reports its members’ concerns that there should not be a cliff edge when we leave the European Union. Smaller businesses want to continue with tariff-free access and to minimise non-tariff barriers. What is the Minister’s Department doing to support small businesses and allay their concerns?
The Department for International Trade absolutely shares those desires for a disruption-free exit from the European Union. We are certainly representing those interests to the Department for Exiting the European Union, which is tasked specifically with the objectives described by the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify the United States as our single biggest trading partner, with 23% of the UK’s exports going to the United States. We are waiting for confirmation of when we can start having conversations.
May I associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s opening remarks? We will have an opportunity to pay our respects later, but we are grateful that we are here because of the bravery of others.
The rise in Scottish exports has been one of the major success stories in the Scottish economy over the past decade. What lessons does the Minister believe the rest of the UK can learn from this, given that we have seen exports double in the past 10 years?
Like everybody else, I am delighted that exports from Scotland have done particularly well, but I stress that trying to promote exports is part of an ongoing process through the whole UK, not just one region. I celebrate the fact that Scotland has a number of tremendous exports, particularly Scottish whisky. Nearly £4 billion-worth of whisky is exported from Scotland, and the rest of the world sees a great deal of value in the brand.
International Trade Ministers and officials regularly meet British businesses to discuss trade policy matters. These discussions have included our position in the WTO, work under way to avoid the loss of trade preferences that UK firms currently access via EU trade arrangements, and future trade negotiation priorities. The Department for Exiting the EU is also engaged fully with British businesses.
As an EU member state, we are party to free trade agreements with countries such as Mexico, South Korea and South Africa. Is it the responsibility of his Department or the Department for Exiting the European Union to negotiate the grandfathering or replacement of those agreements?
I can absolutely confirm that DIT leads in every sense on the trade negotiations with the rest of the world. The Department for Exiting the European Union is restricted to the European Union.
How does the Department intend to help businesses trading with non-EU countries overcome trade barriers such as tariffs and rules of origin requirements if the Government are unable to secure continuation of preferential trading terms?
When we leave the European Union, it is the intention of the Department for International Trade to carry over the existing trade deals that we enjoy through our membership of the European Union. Countries such as Mexico, for example, have trade deals with the EU, and it is our intention to carry over such trade deals in the first instance in order to avoid any cliff edge.
The Minister will be aware of statements made by the head of the PSA Group, following the takeover of Vauxhall-General Motors group, that when new models are awarded plants across Europe will be judged on their competitiveness. A 10% tariff on cars would have a huge impact on the competitiveness of the UK car industry, so what contingency plans do the Government have to ensure that the UK car industry remains competitive?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point; he speaks on behalf of his constituents in an area that manufactures these vehicles. It is the intention that the UK can achieve tariff-free, customs-free access to the single market. That benefits not only the UK car manufacturers that produce 1.9 million cars, but the European manufacturers that export to the UK.
Many countries breach WTO rules by using a whole series of non-tariff barriers such as local content requirements. What discussions have the Government had to get the WTO to enforce those rules, and what can we do to ensure that those countries are persuaded against this practice?
My hon. Friend is right. Non-tariff barriers are incredibly disruptive to free trade, and we take that very seriously. We will be looking at our own system of trade remedies, but at the moment everything has been done through the European Union. We need to start engaging in that. To a certain extent, we have had conversations with other countries through the joint economic and trade committees, where we can deal with that.
The Government will know that WTO rules are not something that we fall back on, but the ultimate foundation of all international trade. Will the Minister bear in mind the advice of Economists for Free Trade, which has said that a UK free trade policy could add 4% to GDP in the long term and reduce consumer prices by 8%?
Free trade is absolutely the key to giving prosperity to the world, including the UK—it is a huge benefit to developing nations, as well as developed nations. For consumers, there is the opportunity to have market choice, and therefore price choice, which can be incredibly helpful to the economy.
Tech City UK published its excellent “Tech Nation” report yesterday, showing that investment in digital companies in the UK is 50% higher than in any other European country. I know that my hon. Friend and his fellow Ministers are supporting the tech industry strongly, but has he made an analysis of how WTO rules will affect it?
The Department for International Trade is carrying out an analysis of how WTO rules will affect every sector of our economy. This is an ongoing process, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the technology sector as one in which this country is leading, and that is a fantastic opportunity.
Mr Speaker, you and I have been in this House for 20 years, and after yesterday’s attack, I have never felt more proud or more grateful to be speaking in this Chamber.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the need to deploy WTO trade remedies? We know that the Government opposed anti-dumping measures in Europe that would have protected British industries. Earlier, he spoke of a balance of interests between UK producers and UK consumers. If there is to be a balance, how many specialist staff has he recruited to deploy successful anti-dumping measures and protect vital UK jobs in the steel and ceramics industries from dumping by China?
We will bring forward our proposals on this to the House in due course, but at the moment we are looking to adopt a rules-based process to deal with it.
The Department for International Trade has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation, including through overseas direct investment, to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to acknowledge Sir Martin Donnelly, who leaves our Department after 36 years in the civil service. He is a great and distinguished civil servant who will be very much missed by my Department and more widely.
Last weekend, we learned that the Secretary of State’s Department is secretly working on a 10-year transitional arrangement with the EU, based on the WTO general agreement on tariffs and trade. Will he confirm that the Scottish Government and all other devolved Administrations are being consulted so that the interests of all the nations of the UK are represented, should a trade deal not be reached in time?
The Department is not working on a secret agreement with anybody, including the European Union. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to press reports about the possible use of WTO rules to ensure a smooth transition at the point when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
The Department for International Trade works with, and will continue to work with, key UK suppliers, potential and existing inward investors, foreign Governments and offshore wind developers. The UK is building a competitive and innovative supply chain that creates and sustains jobs, exports and economic benefits for the UK as we leave the European Union.
Now that the Secretary of State has revealed to The Sun his plans for a trade Bill in the Queen’s Speech, will he do Parliament the courtesy of publishing a trade White Paper that sets out clearly what markets he wishes to liberalise and what measures he will take in future trade agreements to protect and enhance International Labour Organisation principles, sustainable development, human rights, environmental protection, intellectual property rights, food standards, future options on state-owned enterprises and the ability to nationalise particular sectors? If he develops an informed, consultative international trade policy, the Government may be able to restore confidence that they are holding trade dialogues that are backed by a clear and strategic plan.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Should the Government intend to introduce legislation on this issue in the Queen’s Speech, we would want a consultative process so that stakeholders could make their views known. It is important that we do that in a very collegiate way, because that is, as he said, the way to maintain and maximise confidence.
Our aim is absolutely to keep the UK as a leading aerospace—and, indeed, space—nation. We will continue to work with the industry through the aerospace growth partnership and to promote foreign investment, boost exports and grow high-value jobs here in the UK.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to celebrate the activities of this creative industry sector. However, since we have not started the article 50 process, we have not entered into any specific talks.
Just over a week ago, we held our first conference with Commonwealth Trade Ministers. That gave us an opportunity to look at how we might maximise intra-Commonwealth trade and at the differences between our trading systems. That will help us to move towards greater consistency in the rules that we apply so that all in the Commonwealth can get even greater benefit from a system that is growing faster than the global economy and should be much more beneficial.
As we withdraw from the European Union, we will be having continued discussions with our partners about how we intend the process to be notified.
The subject of product standards is incredibly important. My hon. Friend will be aware that the great repeal Bill will bring across a great deal of what relates to the European Union, and that Bill will contain detail about product standards.
What influence can my right hon. Friend bring to the showcasing of great British beer in embassies around the world?
We give great priority to all great British exports, and let me give my hon. Friend a personal commitment that I will take an unusually strong personal interest in the request that he makes on the regular trips that I intend to take in the coming months.
One problem that we have faced in recent times is that although the European Commission has been relatively forward-leaning on digital issues, European Union members have prevented the Commission from taking forward some of the measures of liberalisation that would, in fact, help this country and others. As we leave the European Union, we will want to see what advantages there are for the United Kingdom in liberalising our economy, especially so that the digital economy and e-commerce can flourish.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Exiting the EU: Disability Rights
I would, of course, like to add my condolences to those already expressed by colleagues to the families of the victims of yesterday’s attack, and especially to the family of Keith Palmer.
I can assure the House that the Equality Act 2010 and the public sector equality duty, which incorporates a number of EU directives on equalities, will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU. Additionally, we continue to be signatories to the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which is binding in international law.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but she will be aware that a lot of her Conservative colleagues are desperate to do away with many of the regulations. As we go forward post Brexit, will she guarantee that there will be no rush to deregulate and there will not be a reduction in the statutory protections available to disabled people?
The hon. Gentleman mentions my colleagues, but I remind him that the Conservative party has a proud history of protecting disability rights. It was under a Conservative Government that we passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which made it unlawful to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities. The UK is a world leader in support for disabled people, and we are proud of the work that we do to support people with disabilities and health conditions, both in this country and abroad.
There is already a lot of fear and anxiety as this Tory Government have substantially reduced disability support with the powers they already have. How then can we trust this Government’s word? Will the Minister set out exactly which of these rights will be safeguarded following Brexit?
Our reforms to welfare are about making sure that we give more to those who need it most while encouraging those who can do so to get into work. That is why people with the most severe disabilities have had their payments increased and protected from the benefit cap and the benefits freeze.
Over 160 Members have signed a prayer against the new personal independence payment regulations. The period for praying against those regulations comes to an end on 3 April. A debate has been arranged in the other place next week, but to date the Government have refused to arrange a debate and vote on the Floor of this House. There is a huge democratic deficit, as the regulations will come into force under the negative procedure. Why are the Government refusing to hold a debate on the new PIP regulations in this House?
As the hon. Lady will know, the usual channels decide when debates will be held in this place. It is not for me to give such a date today.
The Welfare Reform and Work Act was scrutinised by both Houses and gained Royal Assent in March 2016. An impact assessment of the policy was published during the passage of the legislation. The policy strikes the right balance between protecting vulnerable people and encouraging families who receive benefits to make the same financial decisions as those who support themselves solely through work.
The respected Women’s Budget Group calculates that these cuts will disproportionately affect Asian families, costing them £16,000 by the next general election compared with a cost of £13,000 for larger white families. Should not the Government have carried out a comprehensive equality assessment on this and other Budget measures, and taken action to end this disproportionate effect?
As the right hon. Lady will have heard me say, the policy was available for scrutiny during the passage of the Bill. Since 2010, we have worked hard to make sure that families who are reliant on benefits make the same decisions as families in work. Our reforms are about encouraging more people into work.
For the very reason that my hon. Friend has just given—those on welfare benefits should have to make the same choice as those in work—will she reassure me that there will be no U-turn on this policy?
As I have said, the reforms are aimed at helping working parents and they are removing barriers to work for ordinary men and women across the country. Ordinary working families rely on the Government to provide economic stability and we are starting from a position of strength. I assure my hon. Friend that we have looked at the regulations carefully, and we have taken this decision to restore fairness in the benefits systems.
May I, too, associate myself with the comments made by right hon. and hon. Members from across the House?
The Prime Minister wants to transform the way in which we think about domestic violence, and I am sure that the Minister supports her in those efforts, but does the Minister accept that that is completely undermined by introducing the rape clause without parliamentary scrutiny? Will she encourage her colleagues to scrap this pernicious tax?
The hon. Lady will recall that there was a debate on this subject in Westminster Hall in October. I am aware that there have been repeated requests for further scrutiny and debate on this subject, and the usual channels have considered them.
I associate myself with the Minister’s comments about PC Keith Palmer. We will always owe a debt of gratitude to him and our hearts bleed for his family.
From 6 April, new mothers will not be able to claim tax credit or universal credit for their third child. What communications has the Minister had with women who are pregnant now to tell them that they face an unexpected drop in income because of this Government’s choices?
Of course, the hon. Lady will know that no existing family will be a cost loser as a result of this policy. We consulted widely on the exceptions and how to implement them, and we have worked hard with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to make sure that information is available to all staff who have to communicate the policy.
Women’s Voting Rights
First, I would like to set out my own condolences to PC Keith Palmer’s family and all those who were affected by the terrible incident yesterday. I would also like to say a big thank you to the emergency services and the House of Commons staff, who I felt were outstanding yesterday. The kind of people who perpetrate these sorts of attacks need to understand that they will never disrupt our democracy, because democracy is part of our country’s DNA. That is why oral questions are happening perfectly as normal today.
This is a fantastic time to be able to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage. We now have our second female Prime Minister, who I know is committed to encouraging women in politics, and the proportion of women MPs has finally reached 30%. However, there is much, much more to do. In the Budget, we announced a £5 million fund to support projects to educate young people about the important milestone that is coming up and to inspire women to get more involved in politics at all levels.
As we mark 100 years since women were given the right to vote, will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the election of two female Prime Ministers, the first of whom made our country and the world better places in which to live, and the second of whom will make our leaving the European Union a great success?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am extremely proud that it is our party—the Conservative party—that has delivered not only the first two female leaders of the major political parties represented in Westminster but, critically, the first two female Prime Ministers of our country. One of them shaped the Britain we live in today; one of them will shape the Britain we live in tomorrow. It is long overdue that we celebrate the centenary that is coming up.
Women won the right to vote—they fought for it, as they have had to fight for so many rights. I want to make that clear. What is the Minister doing, as we approach the year in which we celebrate that struggle, to ensure that all women in the country today are registered to vote, as many are finding individual registration difficult?
The Government are committed to ensuring that everybody who is entitled to vote in our country, women included, is registered to vote. I very much hope over the coming months that we can all be role models and inspirations for a new generation of young girls growing up in our country, and encourage them to play their role in our democracy not just in this Parliament, but in councils and other community groups around the country.
This House benefits hugely from the much broader representation that women and all those from different backgrounds bring to it. As chair of the all-party group for women in Parliament, may I ask the Minister to commit the Government to highlighting women’s suffrage, which was hard fought for and should be highly valued and used?
I absolutely give my hon. Friend that commitment. We announced £5 million in the Budget to help community groups around the country to celebrate and highlight this important centenary. When I arrived here as a Conservative female MP just over 10 years ago, there were fewer than 20 others. We now have a huge number, but we need to do more. We all need to work together to say that politics is a place that should have more women in it. It is important that we see that happen.
While it is welcome that next year we will celebrate 100 years of votes for women, those women were also campaigning for economic equality. How then, 99 years on, can the Government justify the fact that 86% of Treasury gains come from women?
One of the Government’s important achievements is getting more people, particularly women, into work. Indeed, there have never been more women in work. However, women’s economic empowerment is vital—it is one of our biggest economic growth levers, not just in the UK, but around the world. I was on a United Nations high level panel that recently completed a second report to hand over to the Secretary General in New York. That will provide a platform for delivering global goal 5 of the sustainable development goals.
Child Tax Credit (Rape Victims)
The Government consulted on the exception in October 2016 and responded in January 2017, outlining the finalised policy. Since then, we have been developing guidance and working with stakeholders to plan for the delivery of this exception in the most sensitive and compassionate way possible.
The rape clause exception in the two-child limit on tax credits is not just unworkable, but inhumane. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Will the Minister act urgently and seek to persuade her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to reconsider the proposal in order to protect women’s rights?
We know that this issue is difficult and sensitive. The exception will use a third-party model, whereby women can request the exception through engaging with a third party, who will be a recognised healthcare professional. We are setting up procedures that are mindful of the sensitivities involved. Neither DWP nor HMRC staff will question the claimant about the incident, other than to take the claim.
Food Security (East Africa)
The scale of the humanitarian crisis we are facing in 2017 is unprecedented. Once again, the impact falls disproportionately on women and children. I am proud that the UK is leading the way, stepping up DFID’s life-saving emergency assistance for those affected by food insecurity in east Africa, with women and girls at the heart of that response.
The Minister is right that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the food insecurity crisis in east Africa, and I recognise her experience in dealing with such matters. What further discussions has she had with the Secretary of State for International Development about not just immediate, short-term aid, but long-term rebuilding, especially access to education for women and girls, which is the best route out of poverty?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced £100 million to support South Sudan in particular. More broadly, we need to look long-term, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is leading a big push to ensure that girls and women, wherever they are in our world, have education. It is vital if women are to take their proper place in our society.
Millions of impoverished women and girls in developing countries spend much of their life fetching and carrying very heavy loads of water to and from their homes. Their lives would be vastly improved if DFID encouraged proper sanitation and water facilities.
I agree with my hon. Friend and, indeed, substantial investment has gone into improving water and sanitation. It is a basic issue, but it makes a tremendous difference to being able to lift up women and girls.
We simply cannot afford to miss out on the talents of half the population. Increasing the number of women in STEM industries is vital for economic growth and to eliminate the gender pay gap. That is why we are improving the quality of STEM teaching, funding programmes such as the Stimulating Physics Network and the further maths support programme, and raising awareness of career opportunities through STEM ambassadors.
I recently met Katie Goodwill, an apprentice from Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick, who in November won the gold medal in CNC turning at a 2016 world skills show. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Katie as a role model for other women and girls, inspiring them to take up STEM careers?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating his constituent, Katie Goodwill, on her fantastic achievement. Role models are so important—that is why more than 40% of our STEM ambassadors are women. They are helping to inspire the next generation, just as I am sure his constituent Katie will.
It is important to encourage women and girls into non-traditional careers, but will the hon. Lady ask the Ministers responsible for expanding apprenticeships why there are no targets for increasing the number of girls on apprenticeships in traditionally male areas? There has been a lost opportunity to challenge that.
I certainly will have conversations with my colleague in the Department for Education, but the right hon. Lady must remember that there are no such things as girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs, and we have to get that message across from the earliest stages of kids’ engagement with the education system. That is why we have chosen to focus on increasing the take-up of STEM subjects, which lead to the more technical apprenticeships and jobs.
The engineering education scheme is a brilliant scheme for encouraging primary schoolchildren of both sexes to get interested in engineering. What can the Government do to support that scheme and promote it in schools across the country, including in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that scheme and others that make such a difference up and down the country. She should also be aware that we are investing an additional half a billion pounds in developing technical skills for 16 to 19-year-olds via the new T-level certificate. We are encouraging girls to take advantage of that scheme to gain valuable industry skills and experience.
All the evidence suggests that one of the best ways of getting girls and young women to go into STEM careers is to change STEM to STEAM—that is to ensure that every young person in this country, and particularly girls, has a really strong arts education in their school. What will the Government do to ensure that schools do not cut music teaching and drama education, and ensure that every youngster gets a good arts education?
The Government have taken unprecedented steps to ensure that we continue to invest in those subjects, and that they continue to have massive focus in our schools. We are also publishing online guidance—“Your daughter’s future”—that helps parents to support their daughters in careers choices, so that they ensure that they include all those important subjects when making decisions about their future.
Domestic Violence Refuges
Refuges provide vital support for victims of domestic abuse. We are investing £40 million over this Parliament in services to support victims of domestic abuse, including refuges. We expect local areas to assess their need, and to provide services and support to meet that need.
Domestic violence refuges are unique within the supported housing sector because many who need them have to flee a long distance to be safe. By relying solely on local authorities to commission refuge services, the Government are failing to maintain a strategic approach. We are now seeing patchy provision with, for example, the recent closure of the last remaining refuge in Cumbria. Is the Minister monitoring the number of specialist refuge services and specialist providers that have closed since 2010? If not, how can he be assured—
Order. I am extremely grateful but we have got the thrust of it. We really do need to be briefer. That was far too long.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We recognise the importance of refuges. That is why we are exempting refuges from the 1% social rent cap policy, and exempting them from the local housing allowance rate until 2019-20. We are working closely with organisations that provide refuges to ensure that we get the new system for supported housing right, so that we can continue to provide those refuges, which are so badly needed.
I warmly welcome what the Government are doing in this crucial area, but what work is being done with local authorities and social housing providers on the next stage, which is ensuring that there are enough homes for women and their families to return to that provide a safer environment?
I reassure my right hon. Friend that we are working closely with housing associations on that important issue, and particularly on getting the funding stream right for supported housing. We are also working on bringing badly needed new supply on stream.
Women in Work
I am delighted that there are now more women in work than ever before, and that the female employment rate is nearly 70%, which is the highest on record. The female employment rate has increased by more since 2010 than it increased during the three previous Parliaments combined.
Recent figures show that record-breaking numbers of women are in work under this Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only by creating a stronger, fairer economy that works for everyone that we will continue to see records being broken?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that. We want to ensure that all women can fulfil their potential. That is why the Government have extended the right to flexible working and introduced shared parental leave. From September, we will double the 30 hours childcare offer.
According to Maternity Action, 54,000 women are forced out of work each year due to maternity discrimination. What steps are the Government taking to address that unacceptable gender inequality?
Maternity discrimination and pregnancy discrimination in any form is utterly illegal and must be tackled. Women must feel that they can bring cases forward, which is why we are committed to ensuring people from all backgrounds can access justice. The introduction of the early conciliation service through ACAS has meant that people have to avoid the stress of going through an employment tribunal hearing.
Personal Independence Payments
Recent changes to the PIP regulations clarify the original criteria used to decide how much benefit claimants receive. This is not a policy change, nor is it intended to make new savings. It will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Minister, in response to the Labour Front Bench, batted away suggestions that we need a full debate and vote on the Floor of the House on this issue, but given that the Government’s own equality impact assessment says that 164,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions will be affected, does she not think it is her job to go to the DWP and tell them we want a proper vote?
Supporting people with mental illness is a priority, which is why we are spending more on mental health than ever before, and an estimated £11.4 billion this year. PIP does ensure parity between mental and physical conditions, and it achieves this by looking at the impact of conditions on an individual, not which conditions they have. As I have previously said, it is of course up to the usual channels to decide whether there will be further debate on the subject.
We celebrated International Women’s Day this year with a budget for potential and a budget for equality, including £20 million of funding to combat violence against women and girls, £5 million for internships and £5 million to mark the centenary of women getting the vote for the very first time. Next month, the gender pay gap reporting regulations will come into force. I want to thank Members from all parts of the House for their constructive support as we take forward amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, enabling statutory, age-appropriate relationship education in primary schools and relationship and sex education in secondary schools.
The European Social Investment Fund has supported a Cardiff-based charity, Chwarae Teg, to deliver a range of successful programmes to help women in Wales achieve pay equality and progress in Welsh workplaces. One example is the £8.6 million for the Agile Nation 2 project. Can the Minister provide a guarantee that post-Brexit the Government will provide equivalent replacement funding for Chwarae Teg?
The Government are proud that we now have the lowest gender pay gap on record. We are absolutely committed to making sure that that continues post-Brexit.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health looks into these incredibly serious issues very carefully. I will raise my hon. Friend’s concerns with him.
The bottom line is that the best route for all of us as women is to be able to have the chance to have a working life and a career. That is why we have more women in employment than ever before, something the House should welcome.
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) had a question on the Order Paper. She is here and it could be topical. She should be heard.
Absolutely. The Department for Transport set out an ambition for women to represent at least 20% of new entrants to engineering and technical apprenticeships in the transport sector by 2020. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills visited the Crossrail Academy recently. The academy is exceeding the target: 27% of its apprentices are female.
Some 54,000 women are forced out of work due to maternity discrimination. Will the Government look at reducing the extortionate fees for employment tribunals, and will the Minister specifically look at extending the time for application from three months to six months?
We are consulting on proposals to extend the support that is available under the help with fees schemes. We propose that the gross monthly income threshold for a full fee remission should increase to £1,250, which is broadly the level of the national minimum wage.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that only 36% of headteachers are women? In my constituency, the Affinity Teaching Alliance, led by local headteacher Sarah Watson, is working on an innovative programme to change that. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sarah Watson on enabling many more women to take up senior teaching posts, and does she agree that that is the best way to get the most out of our workforce?
I would indeed like to congratulate Sarah Watson. Improving flexible working in the teaching profession is one of the best things we could do to ensure that women can get to the top, and later this year the Department will host a summit with teachers to discuss how we can make more progress in that regard.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a long-standing commitment to equalise the state pension ages of men and women, and we continue to look very closely at the state pension age in general. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, welcomes the increase in longevity. The Government have made big concessions with regard to cost—we have already committed more than £1.1 billion—and there will be no further concessions.
After yesterday’s shocking events, I know that the whole House will want me to express our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this outrage. A police officer, PC Keith Palmer, was killed defending us, defending Parliament and defending parliamentary democracy. Arrangements have been made for books of condolence to be placed in the Library and Westminster Hall. Our hearts go out to all those directly and indirectly touched by yesterday’s events.
I should like to thank all colleagues, staff of the House and Members’ staff for their forbearance in very stressful circumstances yesterday. Naturally, the parliamentary security authorities have already taken measures to ensure that Parliament is safe in the light of the attack. In due time, the Commission, which I chair, will consider, together with our Lords counterparts, what sort of review of lessons learned would be appropriate. However, let the security personnel who protect us—police, security officers and Doorkeepers—be in no doubt whatsoever of our profound appreciation of the way in which they discharged their duties yesterday, matched by other staff of the House. That means that this morning the House has been able to resume its business undeterred.
Yesterday, an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy, but today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid, and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism. We meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy, and the values that it entails, will always prevail. Those values—free speech, liberty, human rights and the rule of law—are embodied here in this place, but they are shared by free people around the world.
A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather to celebrate what it means to be free, and he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children. This was an attack on free people everywhere, and on behalf of the British people, I would like to thank our friends and allies around the world who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time. What happened on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon sickened us all.
While there is an ongoing police investigation, the House will understand that there are limits to what I can say, but, having been updated by police and security officials, let me set out what, at this stage, I can tell the House. At approximately 2.40 pm yesterday, a single attacker drove his vehicle at speed into innocent pedestrians who were crossing Westminster bridge, killing two people and injuring around 40 more. In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know that the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks, and we are in close contact with the Governments of the countries of all those affected. The injured also included three police officers who were returning from an event to recognise their bravery; two of those three remain in a serious condition.
The attacker then left the vehicle and approached a police officer at Carriage Gates, attacking that officer with a large knife, before he was shot dead by an armed police officer. Tragically, as the House will know, 48-year-old PC Keith Palmer was killed.
PC Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country. He had been a member of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that. He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved. He was every inch a hero, and his actions will never be forgotten. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I know that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family, and to the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in yesterday’s awful attacks. I know also that the House will wish to thank all those who acted with such speed and professionalism yesterday to secure this place and ensure that we are able to meet, as we are doing today.
At 7.30 pm last night, I chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, and will have further briefings and meetings with security officials today. The threat level to the UK has been set at “severe”—meaning an attack is highly likely—for some time. This is the second highest threat level. The highest level—“critical”—means that there is specific intelligence that an attack is imminent. As there is no such intelligence, the independent joint terrorism analysis centre has decided that the threat level will not change in the light of yesterday’s attack.
The whole country will want to know who was responsible for this atrocity and the measures that we are taking to strengthen our security, including here in Westminster. A full counter-terrorism investigation is already under way. Hundreds of our police and security officers have been working through the night to establish everything possible about this attack, including its preparation and motivation, and whether there were any associates involved in its planning. And while there remain limits on what I can say at this stage, I can confirm that overnight the police have searched six addresses and made eight arrests in Birmingham and London.
It is still believed that this attacker acted alone, and the police have no reason to believe that there are imminent further attacks on the public. His identity is known to the police and MI5, and when operational considerations allow, he will be publicly identified. What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that—some years ago—he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic: he was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue, and as Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley confirmed last night, our working assumption is that the attacker was inspired by Islamist ideology.
We know the threat from Islamist terrorism is very real, but while the public should remain utterly vigilant, they should not, and will not, be cowed by this threat. As Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley has made clear, we are stepping up policing to protect communities across the country and to reassure the public. As a precautionary measure, this will mean increasing the number of patrols in cities across the country, with more police and more armed police on the streets.
Since June 2013, our police, security and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted 13 separate terrorist plots in Britain. Following the 2015 strategic defence and security review, we protected the police budgets for counter-terrorism and committed to increase cross-Government spending on counter-terrorism by 30% in real terms over the course of this Parliament. Over the next five years, we will invest an extra £2.5 billion in building our global security and intelligence network, employing over 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and more than doubling our global network of counter-terrorism experts working with priority countries across Europe, the middle east, Africa and Asia.
In terms of security here in Westminster, we should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into Parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gates. If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed. The police heroically did their job. But, as is routine, the police, together with the House authorities, are reviewing the security of the parliamentary estate, co-ordinated with the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility for the security measures in place around the Government secure zone. All of us in this House have a responsibility for the security and safety of our staff, and advice is available for Members who need it.
Yesterday, we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best. We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of PC Keith Palmer, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way. On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city. That they have lost one of their own in yesterday’s attack only makes their calmness and professionalism all the more remarkable.
A lot has been said since terror struck London yesterday. Much more will be said in the coming days. But the greatest response lies not in the words of politicians but in the everyday actions of ordinary people. For beyond these walls today, in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country, millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives. The streets are as busy as ever, the offices full, the coffee shops and cafés bustling. As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and aeroplanes to travel to London and to see for themselves the greatest city on Earth. It is in these actions—millions of acts of normality—that we find the best response to terrorism: a response that denies our enemies their victory, that refuses to let them win, that shows we will never give in; a response driven by that same spirit that drove a husband and father to put himself between us and our attacker, and to pay the ultimate price; a response that says to the men and women who propagate this hate and evil, “You will not defeat us.” Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today: our values will prevail. I commend this statement to the House.
Order. Colleagues, I am advised that we have been joined today by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault—Sir, we appreciate your presence and your fitting display of solidarity with us—who is accompanied by a number of his colleagues and also by the deputy Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan).
I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming our colleagues from France here today, and I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks. What happened yesterday within metres of where we sit now was an appalling atrocity. The police are still piecing together what took place and what lay behind it. It behoves us all not to rush to judgment, but to wait for the police to establish the facts, to stay united in our communities and not to allow fear or the voices of hatred to divide or cower us. Today, we are united by our humanity, by our democratic values and by that human impulse for solidarity to stand together in times of darkness and adversity.
I express my condolences to the family and friends of police officer Keith Palmer who gave his life yesterday in defence of the public and our democracy. We thank the police and security personnel who keep us safe every day on this estate, and we especially pay tribute to the bravery of those who took action to stop the perpetrator of yesterday’s assault. The police and security staff lost a colleague yesterday and continued to fulfil their duties, despite their shock and their grief for their fallen colleague, which many of them expressed to me when I was talking to them late last night. We see the police and security staff every day. They are our colleagues. They are fellow workers. They are friends. They are neighbours. As the Prime Minister said, when dangerous and violent incidents take place, we all instinctively run away from them for our own safety; the police and emergency services run towards them. We are grateful for their public service yesterday, today and every day that they pull on their uniforms to protect us all.
I want to express our admiration for the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), whose efforts yesterday deserve special commendation. He used his skill to try to save a life.
Innocent people were killed yesterday walking across Westminster bridge, as many millions of Londoners and tourists and all of us in this Chamber have done before them. As the Prime Minister said, the injured include people of 10 nationalities. We send our deepest condolences to their loved ones and to the loved ones of those still in a critical condition, including the French schoolchildren so welcome in our capital who were visiting from Concarneau in Brittany. We send our sympathies to them and to the people of their town and their community.
We thank all the dedicated national health service staff working to save lives, including all those from St Thomas’ hospital who rushed straight over to the scene of the incident to try to support and save lives. Many people will have been totally traumatised by yesterday’s awful events—not just all of us here, but those who were watching on television, worried for the safety of their friends and loved ones—so I ask in this House and in the country, please, that we look after each other, help one another and think of one another. It is by demonstrating our values—solidarity, community, humanity and love—that we will defeat the poison and division of hatred.
I join the right hon. Gentleman and you, Mr Speaker, in expressing our gratitude for the support and solidarity that the French Government have shown us at this difficult time. Like many other countries on the continent, France has obviously felt the horror and trauma of terrible terrorist attacks, and we are grateful to the French Government for the support that they have shown us.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in his description of the police officers. Every day they put on that uniform, they do not know what they will confront in the course of their duties. It is a fact often forgotten when people see the police officer walking on the streets that, actually, they put their life on the line for our safety and security. They show enormous bravery, and we are grateful to them all.
We are also grateful, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to all those from the emergency services, to those from the hospitals and to others who rushed forward to give aid and support to those who had been injured at a time when they knew not what else might be happening in the vicinity and whether they themselves might be in danger.
Finally, as the right hon. Gentleman said, at this time it is so important that we show that it is our values that will prevail, that the terrorists will not win and that we will go about our lives showing that unity of purpose and the values that we share as one nation as we go forward, ensuring that the terrorists will be defeated.
I join my right hon. Friend in everything she says in respect of the deaths and injuries that have taken place, and I join her in sending our condolences to the families and the injured.
My right hon. Friend has set exactly the right tone. Those of us who are privy to the information and background of these matters know very well that it has been little short of a miracle that, over the course of the last few years, we have escaped so lightly from the evil that is, I am afraid, present in our society and that manifests itself in these senseless and hideous acts of violence and evil. We have been very fortunate in that our security services have been immensely diligent and helpful in preventing such attacks, but she may agree with me that the House will simply have to be resolute in accepting that such attacks cannot always be prevented and that, as a society, we have to accept that we are going to have to fight this evil with rational democratic principles in order to get rid of it and that, in reality, there are no shortcuts that will ever enable us to do that.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. In a sense, he refers to the fact that a number of plots have been disrupted in recent years, and it is easy to forget that when the threat level is at severe it means that an attack is highly likely. We live in a free and open country, we live in a democracy, and as he says it is not possible to ensure that we can prevent the possibility of any attack, but we can work as hard as our security services and police do precisely to try to prevent attacks. They have worked hard and have been doing a good job, and they continue to do a good job, in keeping us safe and will do so into the future.
If we are to defeat this evil, my right hon. and learned Friend is right that we will defeat it through our democracy and our values. We must defeat, of course, the terrible ideology that leads people to conduct these horrific attacks.
I begin by associating myself and my hon. and right hon. Friends with everything that has been said by the Prime Minister, by the leader of the Labour party and by you, Mr Speaker. Today of all days, we are reminded that, notwithstanding our differences on political and constitutional issues, we are as one in our dedication to democracy, the rule of law and harmony between peoples of all faiths and none.
I personally wish the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary well as they work very hard on our behalf with the security and intelligence services to deal with the aftermath of the appalling indiscriminate terrorist act yesterday. Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of PC Keith Palmer and of all other casualties. We are all hugely grateful to all the police, security and intelligence staff and first responders who ran towards danger without concern for their own safety, and I include in that our colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).
Today is not a day for detailed questions, so will the Prime Minister accept on behalf of the Scottish National party, and no doubt every Member of this House, our huge debt of gratitude to all police and security agency staff who are working so hard to keep everyone in the country safe? Does she agree with me that no terrorist outrage—no terrorist outrage—is representative of any faith, or of any faith community, and that we recommit ourselves to strengthening the bonds of tolerance and understanding?
Finally, is it not best to follow the advice of Brendan Cox, the husband of our murdered MP colleague, Jo Cox? He said:
“In the days to come I hope we will remember the love & bravery of the victims not just the hatred & cowardice of the attackers.”
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words. He is absolutely correct that now is a time for us to come together to promote the values of tolerance and understanding to which he referred, and to recognise that what motivates the terrorists is a warped ideology and a desire to destroy the values that we share and that underpin our democracy—those values of the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and understanding, and democracy itself. We should be absolutely at one in ensuring that those values prevail. Finally, as he says, we should remember the bravery of the victims and the bravery of those who keep us safe, day in, day out.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s powerful statement and add my prayers to hers for those who have died and those who are suffering, and particularly for Keith Palmer, our wonderful and brave police officer. We have faced such threats before from those of twisted and violent ideologies, as the broken stones of the arch through which we enter on a daily basis bear testament to. Time and again, they have failed; they will always fail because we are a beacon of freedom in this place, and that is why they target us. But as they fail, may I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that as we extoll our righteous defiance in the face of such evil, we lace it with compassion, tolerance and hope?
I absolutely share the thoughts that my right hon. Friend has set out. He is right: this place is a beacon of freedom, and we should never forget that. We should be absolutely resolute in our determination to defeat this evil, but we should also be optimistic and hopeful for our democracy and our society in the future.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for early sight of it. I also thank her for her words from the steps of 10 Downing Street last night, which were both unifying and defiant, and in which she really did speak for us all. We always know that the police keep us safe, but yesterday, in the most shocking of ways, we saw how true that really is. In my prayers are Keith Palmer, his family and all the victims of yesterday’s outrage, and they will continue to be there. I am, and we are, beyond thankful to the police, the NHS, the emergency services and the staff of this House for keeping us safe and being so utterly dedicated to their roles. Those who attack us hate our freedom, our peaceful democracy, our love of country, our tolerance, our openness and our unity. As we work to unravel how this unspeakable attack happened, will the Prime Minister agree with me that we must not, either in our laws or by our actions, curtail these values? Indeed, we should have more of them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is of course right that, as others have said, we should ensure that our values of democracy, tolerance and freedom prevail. It is exactly those values that the terrorists are trying to attack. It is our very way of life that they wish to destroy, and that is why it is so important that, out there, those millions of citizens are going about their lives, as they would do normally, showing, in the very smallest of ways, but each and every one of them, a defiance of the terrorists.
Although yesterday’s dreadful events took place within the boundaries of my constituency, I know that the Palace of Westminster is close to the hearts of not just the 650 of us but of many millions of our fellow countrymen and, indeed, people who live abroad. I thank the Prime Minister for speaking so very eloquently for the nation, both on the steps of Downing Street yesterday evening and in the House today. She reminds us all that the greatest tribute that we, collectively, can pay to those so tragically murdered is to ensure that we go about our business as normally as possible and maintain the values and liberties that our forefathers fought so hard to win on our behalf.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is so important that we continue to show not just that we value those freedoms and liberties, but that we espouse and, in every action, embody them, because it is those that the terrorists wish to attack. Those freedoms and liberties were hard fought, and there are parts of this Palace where in the past there have been many arguments about them. We must ensure that they remain, and that we show, in our actions, in our deeds and in our words, that they remain at the heart of our democracy.
I thank the Prime Minister for her words here today, and also her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. At this very difficult and important time she spoke for us all, so I thank her for that.
We are so proud of the bravery of PC Keith Palmer, so sad for his grieving family, but so grateful for what he did to keep us safe. I wish to add my tribute to all the police and the parliamentary staff here in Westminster who acted with such calmness and professionalism yesterday. I wish to pay tribute, too, to the emergency trauma team at King’s College hospital who are caring for the injured. This was an horrific crime and it has cost lives and caused injury, but as an act of terror it has failed. It has failed because we are here and we will go about our business. It has failed because, despite the trauma that our staff witnessed outside their windows, they are here and getting on with their work. It has failed because, as the Prime Minister so rightly said, we are not going to allow this to be used as a pretext for division, hatred and Islamophobia. This democracy is strong, and this Parliament is robust. This was an horrific crime, but, as an act of terror, it has failed.
The right hon. and learned Lady speaks very well and I utterly agree with her words.
Some of us were present 38 years ago and nearby when Airey Neave was martyred. The lesson that we learned then was not to damn a community because of the actions of a single person. The message from the imam at the Worthing House of Prayer and Peace was:
“We will always be with those who work for peace.”
May I suggest that we try to disappoint those who calculate that publicity and public reaction will work in their favour by making sure that we work together?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Metropolitan police are bringing together a number of faith leaders for a meeting today to show the importance of that coming together. They are of course working with communities up and down the country, especially with those that are concerned about the possible reaction that might take place, to reassure them that the job of the police is to keep us all safe.
May I join others in commending the Prime Minister for her statement last night and her statement today? In her tone and in substance, she has spoken for the whole country and I commend her for it. May I also echo those who have said that, in the coming days and weeks, we must not allow anyone to try to divide our country on the basis of faith or nationality after these attacks? The reality is that, across London and across the country, we are united against these attacks; that is who we are.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the country is united. People of all faiths and none are going about their business in defiance of the terrorists. Their very clear message is that they will not be cowed, and that is a message that this House gives very clearly today: this country will not be cowed by these terrorists.
I too send my sympathies to all those bereaved or injured in yesterday’s horrific attack. As we reflect on what happened, we must ask if it is time to consider whether the police who guard sensitive sites known to be of interest to terrorists, such as Parliament or airports, should routinely carry personal protection weapons, even when those officers are not part of the units formally tasked with armed response?
Over the nearly 20 years that I have been in this House, the level of security on the parliamentary estate has been enhanced significantly, and the number of armed officers on the parliamentary estate has been enhanced significantly. As to whether individual officers undertaking particular duties are routinely armed, that is an operational matter for the police themselves. They are best able to judge the circumstances in which it is best for individuals to have such arms. Of course, we have seen a significant increase in the number of armed response vehicles and the number of counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers. It is a sad reflection of the threat that we face that it has been necessary to do that, but we have been doing so. But, as I said, my right hon. Friend’s specific question is really an operational matter for the police.
May I too commend the Prime Minister for her words last evening and today, when she spoke for all of us and for the entire country? PC Keith Palmer and his colleagues are the reason we are here today and on any other day. He embodied the rule of law, which we stand for, and stood in harm’s way for all of us. We remember and pray for his family, all the victims who suffered yesterday and the bereaved. We must remember, too, and always will, the bravery of the emergency services, the police, the security forces and our own parliamentary staff and, indeed, the goodness and decency of ordinary members of the public who rushed without regard for their own safety to help people—that includes our hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).
We must uphold the values of this place—our democratic values. We have learned in Northern Ireland that the way to overcome terrorism is by working together politically, and in every other way, to ensure that our democratic values, the rule of law and human rights are all upheld in every way that they can be. We must rededicate ourselves to that in the future.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman—we are able to be here today because of the bravery of our police officers. He rightly referred to the emergency services and others—members of the public, as he said—and to the staff of this House and of this Parliament who calmly went about their jobs to ensure that everybody was safe yesterday. As he said—he referred to the experience in Northern Ireland—the way to defeat terrorism is by working together and upholding our democratic values.
As a Back Bencher, it seems to me that both the Prime Minister and the leaders of the opposition parties have set exactly the right tone today and prove that it is values that unite this kingdom. When this Chamber was completely destroyed in the war, Mr Churchill and Mr Attlee decided that not a single day would pass without our carrying on our work. The Prime Minister and her opposite number have shown today that the best way to defeat terrorism is to prove that we will not be moved from our values and our place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He refers to a specific example in the past when, once again, Parliament upheld our democracy and showed our values in the face of evil, and we continue to do that today.
The Prime Minister is dealing with this outrage in a calm and assured way. Does she agree that an effective counter-terrorism strategy designed to prepare, protect and pursue would be inadequate without the strand of prevent? In that vein, will she assure the House that across all 43 constabularies there will be neighbourhood policing teams visible to, and contactable by, the public, which is a crucial strand in feeding information on terrorism to the counter-terrorism organisations?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. As he knows from his experience, our counter-terrorism strategy does indeed embody those four pillars, including the pillar of prevent. The action that is taken to prevent terrorism, violent extremism and extremism will come in many forms, but it is important that individuals within communities feel that they are able to give information when they are concerned about somebody within their community, or perhaps within their family, and what is happening to them. It is important that there are those opportunities for them. There will be a variety of means—some through policing and some through other opportunities—where people can go and give such information, not just only for the protection of us all but often to the benefit of the individual concerned.
May I commend the Prime Minister for her very fitting statement? When police officers die, they leave behind husbands, wives, sons and daughters. The Police Dependants’ Trust was set up to support the dependants of police officers killed or injured on duty, following the brutal murder of three police officers in Shepherd’s Bush in 1966. Will the Prime Minister join me in encouraging people to donate to the Police Dependants’ Trust via pdtrust.org/donate?
I am very happy to encourage people to do exactly as my hon. Friend suggests. It is a valuable organisation, providing help and support to the families who are left behind. As we have all said, they have to live forever with what, for us, has been an act of bravery from their family member, but which, for them, is a tragedy and a trauma.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s words, as she speaks for all of us with the backing of all parties today. She was right to say that this was an attempted attack on Parliament and democracy that failed because of the bravery of PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life doing a job with others to keep people safe. It was also a violent, cowardly attempted attack on our freedom, by mowing down people who were just walking along a bridge. As our hearts go out to them, does the Prime Minister agree that that attack on freedom also fails, not just because of communities’ resilience and determination but because of the perhaps unique partnership in this country between the police and communities of all faiths and across all parts of the country, and that that partnership working will be crucial to our making sure that the terrorists never win?
The right hon. Lady is right; it was a cowardly attack. Parliament has particularly focused on the attempt to attack Parliament, but the mowing down of innocent men, women and children who were just going about their business in a variety of ways—many had come here as tourists to enjoy the great delights of this wonderful city—was an absolutely cowardly and appalling act. We have a unique bond between our police and their communities, and it is important that the partnership and bond continue.
May I commend the Prime Minister’s statement? I also commend the Prime Minister for her reassuring dignity and resolve. She has shown why she is proving to be a superb Prime Minister, and why we are proud to have her as our Prime Minister. Of course, our hearts go out to the victims, and we honour the police, who risk their lives every day and, unfortunately, too often give up their lives to keep us safe. Will the Prime Minister assure us that she will ensure that police forces up and down the country, and the security services, will always have the resources they need to carry out their job of keeping us all safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I indicated in my statement, we have taken steps to enhance the resources available for our security and intelligence agencies, and for our police forces, particularly those working in counter-terrorism. As I indicated in my answer to an earlier question, we have looked, in recent times, to increase the number of armed response vehicles available not just here in London but in other parts of the country. Of course, we constantly look at making sure that our response is appropriate, but we are very conscious of the job that our police do, day in and day out, and we give them the support that they need.
I speak for my party, Plaid Cymru. I commend the Prime Minister for her words today. All of us being here today is not a show of defiance. It is a show of respect for the dead and the injured, respect for democracy and respect for our duty to our constituents. One man cannot shut down a city and lock down democracy. Does the Prime Minister agree that we must not react to such a warped ideology with unworthy responses?
What is absolutely appropriate is the response that this House has shown today: it has shown gratitude for the bravery of our police and our emergency services; it has shown respect and concern for those who have been the victims of the terrible attacks that took place; but, also, it has shown normality, and that is what is important as we defy the terrorists, and as we work to defeat them.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. I have been an MP for 25 years, and I have seen the police play many roles around the Palace of Westminster, one of which is to give advice to members of the public about where to go. None of us will have passed Carriage Gates without seeing members of the public having their photographs taken with the police—that too is one of the things the police do. One of the other things they do is protect our democracy, as we saw yesterday—with brutal consequences.
I am very proud of the police and everything they do in defending our democracy. Keith Palmer was one of us; every one of the police who protect us is one of us. The tribute to Keith and the police is that we are here today and that our proceedings are going on. We have the arch that was spoken about before, which is a lasting memorial to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our democracy. I hope that, at an appropriate time, following discussion with the family, we may be able to look at a lasting memorial to Keith, in order that each and every one of us will know that there are people putting their lives on the line for our democracy today.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I am sure the House authorities will wish to consider the point that he has made. If I may just reflect on his earlier remarks, it is a particular characteristic of policing in the United Kingdom that our police are able to have that link and that bond with members of the public, at the same time as they are doing the very difficult job of keeping us safe. We see it so often when major events take place—royal weddings, the Olympics and so forth—but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we see it day in and day out here on the parliamentary estate.
As we mourn those who were so cruelly cut down yesterday, give our grateful thanks to the police and to the emergency and security services for their exemplary courage and devotion to duty, and show as a country, by our determination to carry on, that we will not be cowed, as the Prime Minister put it so eloquently, does she agree that we will need to show the same determination to stand up against anyone who seeks to sow division or to stir up hatred in the wake of these cowardly attacks?
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We must be very clear that the voices of evil and hate will not divide us; that should also be a clear message from this House today.
While our hearts go to all those people who were wounded and murdered yesterday, and to all the people who sought to help them, I would like, with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, to turn for just a moment to PC Keith Palmer, whom I first met 25 years ago when he was Gunner Keith Palmer at headquarters battery, 100 Regiment Royal Artillery. He was a strong, professional public servant, and it was a delight to meet him here again only a few months after being elected. In recognition of the work that he did and that the other police officers and public servants in the House do, would my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister consider posthumously recognising his gallantry and sacrifice formally?
I thank my hon. Friend for not just the compassion but the passion with which he has spoken about an individual he knew, and he bears witness to the tremendous public service that Keith Palmer had given this country in so many ways, having served in our armed forces and then come to this place and made the ultimate sacrifice here, at the heart of our democracy. I can assure my hon. Friend that the issue he has raised will, of course, be considered in due course.
Yesterday, we saw absolutely the best of security, policing and the emergency services. We also saw the camaraderie that got people through the lockdown, when we had staff stuck in offices all over the estate. I make a small plea that people will take the bravery and determination of yesterday, but that they will also remember to talk among themselves and support their staff; and that instead of burying any feelings of fear from yesterday, they will let that out, so that there is absolutely no scar remnant within this place as we go forward.
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. It is all too easy for us to come to this Chamber to show our gratitude, rightly, for the bravery shown by those who protect us, but to forget that for all the staff who were caught up in this, it could have lasting impacts. I understand that there are moves afoot to ensure that, as I said in my statement, Members can access help and support for themselves and their staff, should they wish to do that. But, actually, just allowing people to talk about what happened is often the best remedy.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement this morning and for her message last night in Downing Street. As a former Metropolitan police officer, may I pass on my condolences personally to Constable Palmer’s family, and to the pedestrians and everybody who was involved yesterday?
As someone who served on the counter-terrorist command here in London in the 1980s, when the IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army and middle eastern groups were bombing London apart, I know only too well the challenge that is faced by the police. I know that the Prime Minister has already been asked about resourcing, but may I reinforce that point by asking her to ensure that in the area of counter-terrorism the Met police and all police forces, as well as the security forces in general, want for nothing?
I reassure my hon. Friend that through the refresh of the strategic defence and security review we did a major exercise in which we looked at the resources that should be available for all aspects of counter-terrorism. That is, of course, about the security and intelligence agencies and the police, but other parts of Government have a role to play in counter-terrorism as well. Extra resources are going in, as I indicated in my statement. Of course, we want to ensure that all who are involved in acting against terrorism have the support that they need to do the job that we want them to do.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s words and those of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Does the Prime Minister accept that this is not about our personal security, as Members of Parliament, or about the security of this building? PC Keith Palmer died defending the values of, as the Prime Minister put it, “free people everywhere”. Is not the proper response over the coming days, as more facts emerge, to stand firm for those self-same values of free people everywhere?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As he says, it is not about individuals in this House or this building; it is about what we stand for, and we should stand absolutely firm for those values.
May I start by commending the Prime Minister for a very powerful speech, and particularly for the tone in which it was delivered? Yesterday, we saw an attack on this centre of democracy and on the citizens of 10 countries. The message that we need to take away from here is that not only is this evil ideology an attack on western countries and on the values that we hold so dear, but it seeks to destroy the way of life of people across the globe. I hope that the message will go out to all decent and civilised countries that we must all redouble our resolve to deal with this evil.
I have been struck by the number of messages I have received from a number of foreign leaders to whom I have spoken in which they have been absolutely clear that we stand together in defiance, as he says, but also in ensuring that we will defeat this evil.
We recognise the immense bravery of all concerned yesterday, but should we not also recognise that, unfortunately, terror attacks are likely to continue for years to come and, needless to say, this country is not unique in Europe, let alone elsewhere, in having such onslaughts against us. Arising from what the Prime Minister said, may I just tell her that, during all the years of sustained IRA bombing, I as a Member of Parliament did not receive any letters at all or have anyone come to my surgery telling me that we should change our policy in combating terrorism? I have to say that illustrates once again that our people are simply not appeasers.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I believe the British public stand with this Parliament in wanting to see us in defiance of terrorists, defeating the terrorists and showing that the values of democracy and the rule of law—the values of free people everywhere—underpin our way of life. I think people recognise that, and they want to see this House endorse it.
I support all that the Prime Minister has said and done, and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this evil act. The assistant police commissioner, Mr Rowley, said in 2016 that two people a day are being turned away from extremism, that it is often members of an individual’s own community who are alerting the authorities and that it is communities who defeat terrorism. May I ask the Prime Minister what further steps we are taking to engage with all our communities so that we can work together to defeat the non-violent extremism that often leads to violent extremism?
My hon. Friend is right that it is important we defeat such extremism and deal with it at that earlier stage. A lot of work is being done within communities and working with communities. Obviously, there is the work that the police do to encourage people within communities to come forward with information when it is possible to do so and they have such concerns. That is important: people need to have the confidence of feeling that they can do that. It is important to create the environment within communities where people who recognise there are those who are trying to destroy our way of life actually feel able to take action about it. My hon. Friend is right: bringing communities together is an important part of what the Government are doing on a number of fronts.
Order. I had intended to call another Birmingham Member, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who, sadly, has left the Chamber. In the absence of that hon. Member, let us hear the voice of Jack Dromey.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her leadership at a bleak moment for our country? As the brave guardian of Parliament, Keith Palmer fought for his life yesterday; the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) fought to save his life. May I say of the hon. Gentleman that he is one of Parliament’s finest?
In backing our police to defeat terrorism, does the Prime Minister believe we should heed their wise words that to demonise and divide is to play right into the hands of the evil that is terrorism?
We should not be making any attempt to demonise individual communities. We should recognise that it is individuals who are terrorists, that they are adhering to a warped ideology—a warped ideology of evil—and that that is true whatever the origin of the terrorism, because there are different ideologies. This House has been struck before, as we know, and has felt terrorism of a different sort hitting a Member of this House. We must ensure that we do not demonise communities, but work with them to identify and to isolate those who wish to do us harm.
In the wake of yesterday’s evil, tragic, but unfortunately not wholly unexpected attack on this place, there will be a review, as the Prime Minister has said, of the response of our excellent police and security services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in an open and free democracy such as ours there will always be a balance between our security, and public access to and the transparency of our democracy, and that if that balance is not maintained, unfortunately, the terrorists will have won?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is a balance. We live in an open and free democracy. We want members of the public to have access to their representatives and to this place, and for Members of this place to have easy access to it. That is part of how we operate. It is important, as we look ahead and ask whether anything more needs to be done, to recognise that we should not in any way destroy the values that underpin our democracy, because if we do that, as he says, the terrorists will have won.
For the first time in this House, I want to agree with everything that has been said by every Member who has spoken so far. May I add thanks to two more groups of people who have not yet been mentioned: the staff at Westminster Abbey who received people who left this House; and the firearms officer who acted in a way that he had been trained to, but probably never expected to? We owe him our thanks.
The Prime Minister knows better than any of us that this sort of attack—it looks like a lone-wolf kind of attack—is the hardest for our security services to prevent. Its prevention, as her remarks have made clear, is best achieved by our celebrating our values—the values that meant that among the victims, there were people of 11 different nationalities—our openness and our democracy. What can she do to help to ensure that everybody in Britain—every child and everyone of every religion—is given the opportunity to learn about those values and celebrate them, because I think that is the best way to keep us safe in future?
I join the right hon. Lady in commending the staff of Westminster Abbey, who played a role in supporting people from Parliament yesterday, and the firearms officer, who had to make a split-second decision about what to do. It is not an easy job; it is difficult. Officers are trained to do it, but when the point comes, it is a difficult decision to take. We are grateful that he did that, with the consequences that we know about.
It is important that we celebrate our values. An important element in countering the extremists is to ensure that the values that we share are championed and resolutely put forward. The right hon. Lady asked what I would do, but it is for everybody in this House, as we go about our business as Members of Parliament, to encourage that celebration of the values that we share.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for the resolute, brave and courageous way she has stood up for our country and say how proud we are of her? Does she agree that one terrorist will not destroy our country, 10 terrorists will not destroy our country and 10,000 terrorists will not destroy our country—in fact, no amount of terrorists will ever destroy our way of life, because they are just trying to destroy what we in this place represent: freedom and democracy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Terrorism will not destroy our way of life; it will not win. We uphold those values of freedom and democracy; they underpin our way of life. They are what the terrorists are trying to attack and they are what the terrorists dislike, but we must ensure that we uphold those values. As he says, no number of terrorists will defeat this place or defeat those values.
PC Keith Palmer did not return home from work yesterday to his family so that the rest of us in this House could. We should never forget that sacrifice, and every single day we should pass our thanks to the staff and security of this House and the emergency services. Will the Prime Minister join me in cherishing what happened here yesterday when staff who were terrified and frightened came together and all supported each other? That, in itself, is a way to say to terrorism that it will never win.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. As he says, the way that people came together, showed that camaraderie and supported each other at a difficult and uncertain time for individuals in the parliamentary estate was a very important message to the terrorists.
It is reported that what happened yesterday was an act of Islamic terror. Does the Prime Minister agree that what happened was not Islamic, just as the murder of Airey Neave was not Christian, and that both were perversions of religion?
I absolutely agree. It is wrong to describe what happened as Islamic terrorism; it is Islamist terrorism—a perversion of a great faith.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and wish her and her Cabinet well in their deliberations as we move forward. I echo everything that has been said about those who were killed, their families and the other victims. Will the Prime Minister ensure that every effort is made to support the victims and families, and the police officer whose role was to stop the terrorist in the end?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that that support will be available. Of course, the Metropolitan police already have in place the necessary support arrangements for those who have been injured and the bereaved families. I have also asked the Government to look at what further support can be made available for victims in a wider sense, because there will be people who were not physically injured in the attack yesterday, but witnessed it or were caught up in it, for whom there may be other scars. It is important to provide that support.
Parliament is a different place this morning. On my way in from the tube, I realised that millions of people live with the after-effects of terrorism. At almost this time yesterday, in my summing up of a Westminster Hall debate, I said of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood):
“I understand that his experience of terrorism is something that is not known to the rest of us”.— Official Report, 22 March 2017; Vol. 623, c. 360WH.]
I could certainly repeat that assertion this morning about his experience yesterday afternoon. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should use the honours system to recognise those who made a contribution yesterday, including my hon. Friend?
As I indicated earlier, proper consideration will be given to the issue that my hon. Friend raises. I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) yesterday evening, and we should all recognise not only that he showed huge professionalism in putting his past training to use in the hope of saving PC Keith Palmer’s life, but that he did so in the middle of a terrorist attack, and he is someone who knows the trauma and tragedy of losing somebody in a terrorist attack.
I very much associate myself with the Prime Minister’s statement and everyone’s comments, and I pay tribute to all those involved. We are thinking of the victims and their families. I am the sister of a police officer in uniform, and when police officers go out of the front door in the morning, none of us really knows what they will face. Yesterday hit all of us and was particularly hard for those of us who have family in uniform. I am pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will give all the support she can to the victims, their families and all those who were affected.
The hon. Lady speaks well on this. When I was Home Secretary, two events always brought home to me the commitment, bravery and dedication of police officers. One was the National Police Memorial Day service, when the police recognise those who have fallen, and the other was the police bravery awards, where groups of police officers are recognised for brave acts that they have undertaken. What always struck me—and, I am sure, other hon. Members who have been at that ceremony—was the matter-of-fact way in which our police officers, whatever they had done, whomever they had dealt with and whatever injuries they had suffered, would say that they were just doing their job. We owe them a great deal.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tone with which she has reacted. She has genuinely spoken for the nation in this moment. Yesterday, many of us from the House were gathered in Westminster Abbey, in lockdown. In a stunning moment, people from left and right, of the Muslim, Hindu, and Christian faiths and of none, gathered in Westminster Abbey, in sanctuary, surrounded by luminaries of our political past, of left and right. I support others who reminded us today that what happened was not an act of faith, but the distortion of faith and that, in the strength of all our faiths coming together in this country, we will defend the values we cherish.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That shows the importance of all our faiths working together, recognising the values we share. As he says, this act of terror was not an act of faith. A perversion—a warped ideology—leads to such acts of terrorism, and it will not prevail.
My prayers are with all those who were injured, with all those who lost their lives and their families, and particularly with PC Keith Palmer, who made the ultimate sacrifice. This attacker and people like him are not of my religion, nor are they of our community. We should condemn all who pretend to be of a religion when they are not, because if they were of a religion, they would not be carrying out acts like this one. We have to stay united, and show them that they cannot win on these grounds and that we are here to stay.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the comments he has just made and for the stance he has consistently taken on terrorism. He has been very clear that, as he says, this is not of his religion. A perversion and a warped, evil mentality leads to these acts of terror.
I join hon. Members in saluting my fellow Dorset county Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), for his quiet bravery yesterday. It is a hallmark of his character that he stands below the Bar of the House today.
Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree with these words, which were written by a worker on the London underground yesterday afternoon? They were penned on a public notice board shortly after the events. My judgment is that he or she spoke for the whole country, irrespective of faith or creed, when they wrote: “All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London, and whatever you do to us, we will drink tea and jolly well carry on.”
I think that is a wonderful tribute. In a very simple way, it encapsulates everything hon. Members in the House have said today.
Like many Members, in the 16 years I have been a Member, I have walked every day through Carriage Gates and said a small prayer for the safety of those who stand there to protect us. From now on, I will add a prayer for the soul of PC Keith Palmer.
Among the bravery and professionalism we saw yesterday—I say this as a former teacher who took children on many school trips—were the actions of the teachers, both those injured in the attack and those who were in the House during the lockdown, who kept the children educated, entertained and calm, on a day and on a school trip when they saw, witnessed and heard of things that they should never have to see.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It must have been particularly difficult for those children who were here and caught up in this. We should commend the work of their teachers in offering that reassurance and calm. We must particularly recognise the role of the French teachers of the French group. The last thing people expect when they bring a group of young people to visit another country is something terrible like that happening. They will have acted to support the other members of that group who went through that trauma, and will continue to do so.
As we were evacuated from the House yesterday, I too met several stoical school groups, who had been involved with visits organised by the parliamentary education service. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such visits, as promoted by you, Mr Speaker, are vital and help to provide an antidote to hatred and intolerance?
I absolutely agree. Those visits are also important in helping to promote the values we share. The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked earlier how we can ensure that we are promoting those values. The work that Parliament does by bringing in schoolchildren and showing them the work of Parliament and the values of our democracy is an important part of that.
My thoughts are with PC Palmer’s family and the families of all the victims of yesterday’s terrorist attacks. We are so grateful to the emergency services, and everyone who protected us and the wider public.
The Prime Minister speaks for the whole country in her message of unity, but does she agree that the painstaking work begins now, in the days ahead, for all hon. Members in our constituencies in providing reassurance and maintaining that unity? It is in the days after such events that we must be vigilant against those who try to exploit attacks and cause backlashes and intolerance against different communities. Does she also agree that the role of the media is critical in ensuring that we maintain our resilience, and that sense of defiance and solidarity?
The hon. Lady is right. There is an immediate focus on the event that has taken place, but, as she says, it is in the days afterwards that some may try to sow division and hatred in our communities. We all have a role to play in ensuring that does not happen.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and offer my condolences to all affected. I am from an armed forces family, so I know that at these times it is all the more important to show our resolve. I also hope that we will continue to support all those affected, because although trauma may not have an impact straight away, it can have long-term impacts and effects. We must reach out in compassion, for that is what sets us apart from terrorists.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Sadly, over time with a number of incidents we have come to learn more about the importance of providing that support. It is not just about an immediate reaction. For some, the impact of an attack can kick in quite a while later, which is why we are looking at the support available for victims.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s statement. I hope she agrees with me that Great Britain’s police force is the greatest in the world. For those of us who have served as police officers, I pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer who stood serving and protecting this House unarmed when duty called. He went towards the face of evil and made the ultimate sacrifice. Lone wolf terrorist attacks are notoriously difficult to defend. What, if anything, can be done to make sure this kind of event does not happen again?
In terms of protective security, work will be done with the parliamentary estate to see if anything more needs to be done. The best way to defeat the terrorists is through intelligence—finding out information about the potential for attacks in advance and then preventing them. As I said in my statement, since June 2013, 13 terrorist plots have been disrupted in this country. That is due to the hard work of our police, security and intelligence agencies. They work day in, day out to keep us safe and they will continue to do so.
I think everyone who works on the parliamentary estate has at some point considered what they would do if a day like yesterday ever happened, but for those of us who work alongside our families on site it is of particular concern. Will the Prime Minister join me in saying a specific word of praise for the staff at the House of Commons nursery for their actions yesterday? Many of us can attest to the fact that looking after just one toddler in a confined space for a number of hours is not easy, but yesterday they looked after all the children in very difficult circumstances, all the time keeping in touch with some very worried parents. I was in the nursery during the lockdown. Their courage, care and steadfastness was exemplary and much appreciated.
I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in commending the work of the nursery staff. It must have been particularly difficult with very young children in what was an uncertain and difficult circumstance. I am sure they did an excellent job and I am happy to join him in commending their work.
I join all the tributes that have been paid. I think those of us who were locked down in the Chamber will also want to pay particular tribute to Mr Deputy Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and to the Leader of the House for keeping calm and carrying on, and keeping us informed about what was going on. I also pay tribute to the Hansard reporters who kept democracy going and reported, three hours after the business had finished, the live recording of the proceedings up to the Adjournment of the House. That is a tribute to the continuity of our democracy.
Yes, indeed. I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the actions of both the Chairman of Ways and Means and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House yesterday. Very calmly, they were able to reassure Members of this House at a time when nobody knew everything about what was happening and only very limited information was available.
Yesterday showed us the worst of humanity, but it also showed us—much, much more—the best of humanity in the actions of the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), PC Palmer, and the firearms officer who shot down the person who wanted to terrorise all of us, our country and our democracy.
I have been touched by the number of people from my constituency—of Christian faith, of Jewish faith, of Muslim faith, and of no faith—who have contacted me in the last two days. I pay particular tribute to the chairman of the mosque in Leeds, who contacted me to say that his thoughts and prayers, and those of all members of the Muslim community in Leeds, were with all of us at this difficult time. There will be prayers in mosques, synagogues and churches across our country in the days ahead.
I join the hon. Lady in that. I think that all faith communities in the country will be coming together and, as she has said, will be remembering those who have suffered as a result of the attacks. In their coming together they will be showing again that they represent the values about which we have talked, and which are so important to our way of life.
The Prime Minister has been exemplary in this instance, as, indeed, she was in relation to Hillsborough, in my view. I congratulate her on that.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) was absolutely right when he said that Keith was one of us. One of the things that we saw yesterday was that the parliamentary family is a very big family: it includes cooks, cleaners, Clerks, Doorkeepers, and all sorts of people who make our democracy function and who are, in many ways, far more important than we are.
When a Member of Parliament dies in action or is killed in a terrorist incident, as Ian Gow and Airey Neave were, a shield is put up in the Chamber, and I hope that—sadly—there will soon be one for Jo Cox. Surely, whatever other tributes and medals there may be in the future, it is time for Keith to have a shield here, because he was our shield and defender yesterday.
The bravery shown by PC Keith Palmer and his act of sacrifice should be recognised in an appropriate way, but as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, what that should be is a matter for the House authorities.
Yesterday, on Westminster Bridge and in New Palace Yard, many members of the public and Members of the House attempted to give life-saving aid to those who had been injured. Since then many of us will have asked ourselves whether we would have had the same skills had we been in close proximity to deliver that aid. Will the Prime Minister join me in encouraging those who now seek to acquire such skills to do so, and perhaps to contact their local branch of St John Ambulance with a view to taking lessons?
My hon. Friend has made an important and very good point, and I join him in that encouragement. The vast majority of Members of the House would probably not have had the skills that would have enabled them to act in that way, and it is a very good message that perhaps more of us should go out and acquire those skills.
A key aim of any terrorist is to exploit the completely natural and inevitable sense of public interest, grief and sympathy in order to sow disunity, disruption and fear beyond the physical act of terror itself. May I ask the Prime Minister to build on her commendable words about the resolution of the British people? Does she think that we should also take time to reflect, both in the Chamber and outside—and that includes the media—on how we can balance the public interest and people’s feelings of grief with seeking not to give the oxygen of publicity to whatever cause a terrorist seeks to promote?
The question of the oxygen of publicity is obviously important, and I think we should all reflect on the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. He referred to the actions of the media. We have talked about a number of people who were caught up in what happened yesterday, but we should not forget that many journalists were caught up too, either on the periphery of the parliamentary estate or within the estate, and continued to do their best to do their job in reporting faithfully what was happening. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that how these matters are addressed and reported is an important consideration. We want to ensure that it is not possible for people to use such actions either to encourage others or to try to sow division.
I would like to add my words of condolence and gratitude to those already so eloquently expressed. Yesterday, two of my constituents were caught up in the attacks, one of whom was eight months’ pregnant, and they have asked me to pass on their gratitude and thanks to the House staff and the police for the consideration with which they were treated during the five-hour lockdown.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, just as we continue to go about our daily work, so those whom we represent must continue to see this House as their House, and must be encouraged to come here to see, and participate in, the democracy which puts our values into action?
That is an important point: it is part of our democracy that members of the public—the constituents we represent—are able to come to this place and to learn about this place, and are also able to access their elected representatives at this place. We should ensure that that will always continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) mentioned the House of Commons staff, who showed exemplary behaviour in the face of adversity yesterday. I want to pay particular tribute to the nursery manager, Anjali, who was very reassuring and calm in dealing with the nervous parents who had very small babies on site. This was every parent’s worst nightmare, and Anjali and her colleagues stayed calm under a terrorist attack.
May I add that people who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Islam do not speak for the Muslims in this country, do not speak for the Muslims in this city, and certainly do not speak for me.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her words, and, again, for the warm way in which she has spoken of the action of members of the House of Commons staff who were looking after the small children in the nursery. She is absolutely right: the terrorists do not speak in the name of a faith; they have a warped ideology.
The murderer who used both his car and a knife as indiscriminate weapons of murder yesterday cared not what the faith was of the people he killed, or about their nationality. Does it not say everything about why our values will prevail and the values of murder will not that, after the police had shot him, they attempted to save his life?
It absolutely does show the values that underpin our way of life that the police’s first thought then was to try to save that individual’s life, and that is what the police do; it is what they have done in previous incidents as well. As the hon. Gentleman says, that shows the values that are at the heart of our society.
I commend the Prime Minister on her strength of character and leadership at this time: cometh the hour, cometh the woman. We thank you, Prime Minister—God will bless you, and all that you do.
We are all aware of the policy review that will take place. It will make recommendations for enhancements, and may I ask for an assurance that they will be conveyed to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and, further, that there will be co-operation on this with the Republic of Ireland, which is very important for us in Northern Ireland, so that security is enhanced and strengthened?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Obviously, it is important that any lessons learned here on this parliamentary estate are shared with the other representative Parliaments and Assemblies across the United Kingdom.
This morning I spoke with the imam of Swansea University mosque, Sheikh Mohsen, who wanted to share his deepest sorrow, shock and condolences with the family of Keith Palmer and all the bereaved families, and to say that Islam is of course the Arabic word for peace and that these acts were not carried out in the name of Islam. Extremists, whether Islamic fundamentalists or right-wing terrorists, are trying to divide our communities and we should stand united, shoulder to shoulder, against all terror. Will the Prime Minister send a message to Muslims in Swansea and throughout Britain that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend our shared values—our freedoms, our democracies, our human rights—in a land and a community that we all share?
This act of terror was not done in the name of a religion; it was done, as I said earlier, as a result of a warped ideology. All acts of terror are evil acts underpinned by warped ideologies of different sorts, but whatever the ideology, it is an attempt to divide us and to destroy our way of life that drives the evil acts of the terrorists. We stand together with the Muslim community and with other communities around this country and say that what unites us is greater than what divides us. We must be very clear that we share the values of democracy, of the rule of law and of freedom. These are what make the society in which we all live.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all colleagues for what they have said and for the way in which they have said it.
Business of the House
With permission, Mr Speaker, before I announce the business, I should like to update colleagues on one or two practical matters following the terrorist attack yesterday. As is apparent to us all, the security checks and the rules on access to the Palace remain, for the time being, more restrictive than those to which we have become accustomed. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not only accept the need for patience and compliance but ensure that their staff understand the need for these arrangements at present.
Allusion was made in earlier exchanges to the possible health needs of staff and others who may have witnessed what took place yesterday, and I want to take this opportunity to remind all colleagues of the parliamentary health and wellbeing service based at 7 Millbank, which is available to provide that kind of support to staff as well as to Members. The books of condolence for PC Palmer are now open in the Library, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall. Finally, on this point, the Chapel in the Undercroft will be open all day for any Member or staff member who wishes to say prayers or to reflect, and your chaplain, Mr Speaker, will be conducting short services there at 12.30 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm, which anybody is welcome to attend.
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 27 March—Remaining stages of the Bus Services Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 28 March—Consideration of Lords amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill followed by debate on a motion on the conflict in Yemen. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 29 March—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] followed by opposed private business that has been named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration.
Thursday 30 March—Debate on a motion on animal welfare followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 31 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 April will include:
Monday 17 April—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 18 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and for mentioning where staff who work in the House can get extra support if they need it. I should also like to thank him and his deputy for the leadership they showed yesterday. This is a sad day, because we have lost a superhero who has kept us safe every day. His family are suffering, and they are trying to make sense of his death. Their lives will be utterly changed, but we will always remember Keith Palmer.
I also want to thank colleagues, who were extremely patient yesterday, as well as the year 12 politics students from Dr Challoner’s High School, who were up in the Gallery, and the pupils from a primary school in Birmingham. I especially want to thank the police, the security service and the emergency services for all they did to protect us and keep us informed in their usual professional manner and for the dedication that they show as public servants, day after day, allowing us to go about our lives safely. I also thank the Serjeant at Arms and the magnificent team of Doorkeepers. We all know how good they are every day, but on behalf of us all, I want to offer them an extra-special thank you for their calm professionalism and kindness in dealing with the situation yesterday. It is a real tribute to the House service. The Clerk of the House and his team also ensured that decisions could be made promptly and sensibly.
The Prime Minister said that this is business as usual, so I will proceed with business as usual and ask the Leader of the House a question. The convention is that there is a debate when a statutory instrument is prayed against, so may I express my concern that that convention has not been followed in the case of early-day motion 985 on personal independence payment regulations and early-day motion 948 on tuition fees and awards?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (S.I., 2017, No. 194), dated 22 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 February, be annulled.]
Under those regulations, those in psychological distress are denied access to additional support. Epilepsy Action is deeply concerned about the regulations and how they affect people with epilepsy or other long-term conditions. For students, the inflation-linked rise represents a 2.8% increase, and if that continues, fees could rise above £10,000 in the next few years. The House rose early on Tuesday, and the last Opposition day was a month ago. The Government seem to be thwarting the Opposition, preventing effective opposition by controlling the business in that way, so may we have time for a debate on those two important statutory instruments?
Article 50 is triggered next week, and there will be a vast amount of legislation to enact, so will the Leader of the House ensure that White Papers, draft legislation and an impact assessment are made available before the Bills are published? Will he ensure that the Government use secondary legalisation not to stifle debate, but to allow Parliament to scrutinise that secondary legislation?
May we have a debate about leaving the BBC alone? Back Benchers may have time on their hands, but they said in a letter sent round by many hon. Members that the BBC is focusing on regretful voters, which is absurd. I have had emails from people who voted to leave and have regretted it, but the letter contains not a single piece of evidence—it was all opinion. After all, the Opposition have had to put up with the fact that the new editor of the “Today” programme used to openly support the Tory candidates for Mayor of London and the fact that the current editor of the Evening Standard is a former Tory Chancellor. More importantly, there should be no intimidation of or pre-emptive strike on a public broadcaster.
Another manifesto promise has been broken. While the consultation on the new funding formula closed yesterday, the Government promised in their 2015 manifesto a real-terms increase in the schools budget during this Parliament and that
“As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools.”
However, nearly half of schools would face a funding cut. In Walsall South, schools face a reduction of £490 per pupil. May we have a debate on the impact of the new funding formula to set out the losers and the losers, because every school will be a loser? Schools will bear the brunt of unfunded rises in pay, pension and national insurance contributions that could amount to between 6% and 11% of their budgets by 2019-20.
This is the last business questions for the Leader of the House and me before the Easter recess, so I again want to thank the Clerk of the House, his staff, the Library, the Doorkeepers, and you, your Deputies and your office, Mr Speaker—everyone who has made my work as shadow Leader of the House easier. I wish everyone a happy Easter. Finally, I want to say, from every corner of this United Kingdom and every corner of the world, blessed are the peacemakers.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and associate myself unreservedly both with her final remarks and with the tributes that she rightly paid not only to the police, but to the staff of the House for what they did yesterday in their various roles.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that I intend to be here for a business statement next Thursday. I would be very sorry to lose her across the Dispatch Box, but perhaps this is another Opposition Front-Bench change that has been heralded in advance.
The hon. Lady asked about a number of pieces of forthcoming business, and I can tell her that the Government will make provision for debates on the two statutory instruments about which she expressed concern. I cannot give her a firm date yet—work is happening and discussions are continuing through the usual channels about the precise date—but time will be found.
On the items of European legislation that will be needed, there will of course be ample opportunity to debate their content and impact. Although it is no secret that I expect the repeal Bill to include some secondary legislative powers, the scope and definition of those powers will of course themselves be subject to the full parliamentary process. The definitions and scope will have to be agreed by both Houses of Parliament through the normal process of enacting a Bill into law.
On education, it is a fact that more is being spent on schools than ever before, but the national funding formula, to which the hon. Lady expressed particular objection, has been the subject of a consultation that closed only a couple of days ago. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will now consider the responses of local authorities, schools and others to that consultation, and she will come forward with the Government’s proposals in due course. For a long time, it was common ground between political parties that the existing funding formula is grotesquely unfair in that it provides, in some cases, for a child attending school in one authority to receive almost twice as much funding as an equivalent child in a comparable school in a different local authority, despite the basic cost of providing education being the same. That is why the Government committed themselves to introducing a national funding formula.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the BBC. I note that she did not allude to the presence of a former Labour Cabinet Minister in a senior role at the BBC, although I suspect he has probably been airbrushed out by the current Labour party leadership. For as long as I have been in this place, robust, strongly held and strongly expressed views about the BBC, for and against, have been voiced by Members on both sides of the House. My feeling is that, if hon. Members have a sin in that respect, it is that we spend too much time watching or listening to political and current affairs programmes. When I think of the BBC, I think of the Proms and Radio 3, which enable me to approach the subject with a degree of serenity.
We are urged to follow business as usual, which is difficult given what happened yesterday, not because any of us is affected by terrorism but simply because we are so horrified and saddened by those events and the terrible deaths and injuries. We wish everyone well, and our thoughts are with those who have suffered as a result of these terrible murders.
I will try to engage in business as usual by asking this of the Leader of the House. Many of us were surprised to learn that the apprenticeship levy, which is a good idea that has been rightly passed on to local, upper-tier and unitary authorities, has wrongly in turn been passed on to schools. Schools in my constituency of Broxtowe find that they are paying £300 or £400 but are receiving no benefit from the levy. They are having to pay the burden, which is wrong. When will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate on that outrage?
Although we rightly return to business as normal to demonstrate that our democracy and our free society will not be disrupted by terrorism, it is important that we always remember that the families of those who lost their lives and the families of those who were severely injured will have to live with the events of yesterday for the rest of their days on this earth. We should have that in mind, too.
On the apprenticeship levy, the situation my right hon. Friend describes in Nottinghamshire is not, as I understand it, the case for every local education authority in the country. My understanding is that some local education authorities have decided to deal with the levy themselves, rather than pass it on to schools, but I will draw her concern to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I join him and the Labour shadow Leader of the House in all their tributes to the members of staff who worked so exceptionally yesterday. I commend him for the leadership he showed in the Chamber yesterday, for which I thank him. It is appropriate and right that we continue our business as normal. We will not be deterred from our important work on behalf of all the people we represent.
This institution lost one of its own yesterday, and I express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Keith Palmer and to the families of all the others who lost their life. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, one of the things I have noted is the inspiring resilience and determination of this great city and its people. We are all Londoners today. As a tribute, perhaps we could consider a debate on the value of our emergency services to this nation, on the risks they take on our behalf, and on their immense contribution to keeping our nation safe. That would be a fitting tribute from us, as Members of Parliament, to the memory of Keith Palmer.
Because of the events here, the Scottish Parliament suspended its business yesterday and no vote was taken on seeking a section 30 order so that a legal referendum can be held to determine the future political arrangements of Scotland. That vote will now happen next Tuesday, and it is anticipated that it will be passed. The will of the Scottish Parliament will be expressed, and surely it is incumbent on this House to respond positively to the democratic voice of the Scottish Parliament. There can be no good reason for the voice of Scotland’s Parliament to be ignored, so will the Leader of the House tell us how this Government intend to respond, and how they intend to respond positively, to what is agreed in our national Parliament?
It is also beyond pernicious that this Government will seek to put through the rape clause via a negative statutory instrument without any debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) attempted to secure a debate on that issue. Will the Leader of the House please reconsider? Something so important should rightly be debated on the Floor of the House.
Article 50 will be triggered next Wednesday, but I cannot see anything in the business statement to say that there will be a statement or some sort of debate in the House of Commons, so will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be at least a statement next Wednesday to mark this immensely depressing event?
Finally, as we all go home to our friends and families this afternoon, it is right to remember that one of our number who worked in this House will not have the same opportunity and advantage as we have today.
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I associate myself with his condolences to the victims of yesterday’s attack and his salute to the emergency services and others.
On the hon. Gentleman’s political questions, I have said that the Government will find time for the statutory instrument to be debated. Of course the fact that that particular statutory instrument is subject to the negative resolution procedure was authorised by the Act of Parliament from which it is delegated, so the power was debated and approved by this House during the Act’s passage.
On the substance of the policy on the third child of a woman who has been subjected to the ordeal of rape, the Government recognise that that is a very difficult and sensitive issue, which is why we have adopted a third-party model to allow us to make sure that neither Department for Work and Pensions nor Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff will question the mother about the incident. Instead, staff will simply take the claim and receive the supporting evidence from a third-party professional, which seems to us to be the right balance between making sure that mothers get the support they need without the need for unnecessary, intrusive processes while providing the right assurance that additional support goes to those for whom it is intended.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about article 50, I must say that we have not been short of opportunities up till now, but I am sure that before long there will be an opportunity for the House to debate that decision or for questions to be posed.
On the debate in the Scottish Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear that we believe that now is not the time for a second referendum—particularly given that the 2014 referendum was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity—and that the United Kingdom Government and all three devolved Governments ought now to work very closely together to ensure that we get the best possible deal for all the people of every part of the United Kingdom in the forthcoming European negotiations.
I commend the Leader of the House for his calm and reassuring presence in the Chamber yesterday and, through you, Mr Speaker, I commend Mr Deputy Speaker; both performed magnificently in the Chamber yesterday.
May we have a timescale for a statement or debate on the fairer funding formula for schools? Preferably, the Government will scrap their current proposals, which are frankly unjustifiable. The formula will take money from schools in Bradford district, which is one of the worst-performing local authorities in the country with regard to education, and transfer it to some of the highest-performing local education authorities in the country, which is absolute madness. Every school in my constituency will lose money. How quickly will the Government realise that their proposals are unjustifiable and unacceptable?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will come forward with a response as soon as possible, but as the consultation on the draft national funding formula proposals concluded only this week, it is reasonable that she should have a while to consider the detailed representations that have been put forward by a number of different parties. Nevertheless, she will come forward with a response, and I promise my hon. Friend that there will be an opportunity for the Government to debate any proposals that are then submitted.
May I begin with an apology to Members of the House for my absence over recent weeks? I too add my thanks to Members, staff and security personnel for their activities yesterday. There is, though, one group of people we have forgotten about a little. Hundreds of members of the public were in this building yesterday for dozens of different meetings and dozens of other reasons. Over many hours, they showed great compliance, patience, forbearance and fortitude while the security situation was being resolved outside the confines of this building. We put on record our thanks to them.
I thank the Leader of the House for the notice that next Tuesday’s debate on the crisis in Yemen will be protected for 90 minutes, meaning that we will have a decent length of time to discuss the dreadful ongoing situation there. I also thank him for notice that we have two debates next Thursday: one on animal welfare and, of course, the pre-recess Adjournment debate. If at all possible, will he give early notice of any time allocated to the Backbench Business Committee in the weeks beginning 18 April and 24 April?
I am sure the Leader of the House is aware of this, but there is an anomaly in the Standing Orders. When we return on 18 April, the House will meet at 2.30 pm, but, under Standing Order 10(2)(b), Westminster Hall will commence at 9.30 am, which is an inconvenience not only to Members but to the staff of this House. A Backbench Business Committee debate is scheduled for that morning, to be led by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who will have to leave her constituency on Monday, a bank holiday, to get here in time.
It is good to know that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is in fine fettle once more. I think I speak for Members across the House in saying that it is a pleasure both to see him here today and to hear his inimitable voice.
It is indeed good to see the hon. Gentleman back in his normal place for these exchanges on Thursdays. I will do my best to make sure that he and his Committee have early notice of any allocated time in the weeks beginning 18 April and 24 April. I take his point about the anomaly in the Standing Orders. I have already spoken to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip to see whether we can look for a way to make life easier for the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows).
Mr Speaker, I am sorry that I was such a poor substitute for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee.
I was unsuccessful in the shuffle at Women and Equalities questions, so may I ask the Leader of the House for an early statement on the position of the promised consultation document on caste discrimination? It will allow the Hindu community in particular the opportunity to put its perspective on why this unwanted, unnecessary and ill-judged legislation can be removed from the statute book.
My hon. Friend raises a matter that I know is very important to his constituents, and he does so eloquently. I will suggest to the Minister concerned that she write to him about the Government’s current position. As he will be aware, this particular decision involves not only a policy commitment but the allocation of legislative time, which is currently under pressure from many Departments.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s assurances about support for staff after yesterday’s tragic events, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you said about the Commission, under your chairmanship, looking at the lessons learned and particularly the issue of support for staff.
May we have a debate on the work of the Taylor review before it completes, so that we can feed in our views on insecurity at work, particularly the huge growth in zero-hours contracts, the increase in the use of agency staff, and bogus self-employment?
The right hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable point, although of course there is nothing to prevent individual right hon. and hon. Members from making representations to Matthew Taylor. The best advice I can give her is to seek a Backbench Business debate.
It certainly is good to see the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) back in his place. I am glad that it was a back problem, rather than a heart problem.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on developments along the Thames estuary? Last week, the North Thames Fisheries Local Action Group was awarded £800,000, which will be spent on further enhancing the culture and heritage of the Thames estuary.
My hon. Friend asks his question in a great historical tradition, because Magna Carta itself mentions the importance of maintaining fish weirs in the River Thames. He has drawn attention to one of the great successes of recent decades: the renewal of marine and river life in the estuaries of the Thames and other rivers that serve our country’s great industrial cities. I hope the money that was announced recently will enable that development to be taken further forward.
May we have an early debate on rules of origin documentation, particularly the fivefold or sevenfold increase that will be required when this country leaves the customs union?
I agree that that is an important subject, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be ingenious enough to raise it in the course of numerous debates we will be having on European issues in forthcoming months.
This is not the day to labour the point—I do not expect the Leader of the House to reply to this in any detail—but when we finally have the long-delayed debate on whether the House should leave this building in the full decant that is proposed, we should, in the light of what has happened in the past 24 hours, give great consideration to both the symbolism of this place and the security considerations of dispersing MPs and peers around Parliament Square.
The security of not just Members, but of staff—let us never forget that there are something like 14,000 passholders to the parliamentary estate—is at the forefront of the consideration by the parliamentary officials who have been leading on this matter. I can assure my hon. Friend that, whatever is finally approved by this House and the House of Lords, as these works are carried through, on whatever timescale and in whatever fashion, security will continue to be at the forefront of everybody’s mind.