House of Commons
Thursday 20 April 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Air Quality National Framework
The UK has made significant progress in improving air quality in the past decade, with lower emissions of all five major air pollutants. However, the UK is among 17 European countries, including France and Germany, that are not yet meeting EU emissions targets for nitrogen dioxide in parts of our towns and cities. To help to address this, the Government last year consulted on a clean air zone framework, which will be published shortly.
Following three humiliating defeats in the courts for failing to address the 50,000 deaths a year in this country due to poor air quality, and where the Government defended the indefensible, Justice Garnham ordered the Government to produce a new air quality plan by this Monday. Labour believes we need to go further with an air quality national framework as part of a clean air Act. What are the main pillars of the plan and how much resource has the Secretary of State allocated to addressing the UK’s poor air quality?
It is a great shame that the hon. Lady criticises this Government, who since 2011 have committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and support greener transport schemes and have set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of clean zones. In addition, in the autumn statement we announced a further £290 million to support low-emission buses and taxis, retrofitting and alternative fuels; and, as I say, we will consult on our plans to improve nitrogen oxide emissions very shortly.
I do not want to be intemperate with the Secretary of State, but this is just so much pie in the sky. Every time we have Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, she says that something will happen soon. When are we going to have our big natural environment report? When are we going to stop people being poisoned in our cities and towns like Huddersfield, and when are we going to see action—now, not next week, next month or next year?
Let me be very clear: the Government are totally committed to cutting harmful emissions that worsen our air quality. We have made great progress already in the past decade, which is more than the Labour Government did. Emissions went up on their watch. We absolutely recognise that there is more to do and we will publish our proposals very soon.
I am very concerned about people who bought diesel cars thinking that they were the best way forward. Will the Secretary of State discuss this matter with the Transport Secretary, the Treasury and the devolved Administrations to ensure that these people are not penalised? We need to find a way forward that looks after them.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. In taking steps to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions, we have to take into account the impact on ordinary working families and businesses. As the Prime Minister made very clear, we completely understand that people bought diesel cars under incentives from the last Labour Government. They bought them in good faith and we need to ensure that they are not penalised for the actions they took.
I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government are looking at all possible areas both to reduce emissions of noxious substances such as nitrogen oxide and to ensure that we have good mitigation across the board to try to support ordinary working families. All types of mitigation are on the table.
Northern Ireland has very low air pollution with all areas in the low pollution band, but it is essential that the national framework is truly nationwide and encompasses Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that that happens?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had discussions right across the devolved Administrations on this subject. The UK Government and all the devolved Administrations take it very seriously. We are working together closely and we will make an announcement in due course.
Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards Regulations
The great repeal Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law. Over time, we will have the opportunity to ensure that our legislative framework is outcome-driven and delivers on our overall commitment to improve the environment within a generation. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties, champion high standards in environmental protection and continue to seek to influence other countries to do so.
Ensuring that environmental regulations are introduced in the great repeal Bill is fine: that is very important. At least as important, however, is ensuring that those regulations are permanent. Will the Government commit themselves to placing no limit on the timeframe within which regulations will remain in place to protect our health?
The country decided to leave the European Union last year. We are trying to provide as much certainty as possible to ensure that regulations continue to exist as part of UK law, and, as a consequence, that will be the case. It concerns me that the hon. Gentleman thinks we are somehow going to rip up the rule book, because that is far from being the outcome. We want a better environment for our future generations, and that is what the Government will deliver.
The Minister knows very well that the EU environmental regulations have been very helpful to people like me—and you, Mr Speaker—in holding the feet of HS2 to the fire when it comes to protecting our environment. Will she undertake not to allow any diminution in the protections that are afforded to areas of outstanding natural beauty, and to ensure that our exiting of the European Union does not hand HS2 a blank cheque enabling it to ride roughshod through our countryside?
May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for a national framework rather than ad hoc local decision making, especially given that emissions are currently declining? Will the Minister bear that in mind while she is working on the EU air quality regulations? In drawing up the framework, will she take account of all causes of air pollution, properly cost the alternatives—I am thinking particularly of the costs to drivers and the taxpayer—and urge the Government to stop demonising diesel drivers?
I think it fair to say—and we have said it at this Dispatch Box before—that when we are tackling air quality issues we must work with local communities, because the solutions will vary and there must be targeted interventions. I am afraid—well, I am not afraid—that our Government are not demonising diesel drivers at all. It was the Labour Government who introduced incentives for people to start using diesel. It happens to have been the current Mayor of London who stood at the Dispatch Box in his last year in the Brown Government and said that Euro V emission standards would solve the problem. We know that that is not the case, but we are clearing up the mess. Together, we can work across party lines to ensure that we have cleaner air for the people whom we all represent.
One of the environmental standards that we can improve outside the European Union as much as inside relates to the state of the oceans. As the Minister knows, a massive amount of dumping of plastics is damaging sea life and coral wellbeing. A huge United Nations conference will take place between 5 and 9 June. Ministers will be busy doing other things, but what will this Minister do to ensure that the British voice is properly heard to ensure that something is done to clean up our oceans?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we launched our litter strategy recently. We know that a great deal of the litter that ends up in the marine environment comes from the land, and we must proceed with our work on that, because marine conservation is particularly important to us. We have continued to extend our blue belt, not only around the this country’s coastline but in overseas territories. As my hon. Friend pointed out, a general election will take place in the middle of the oceans conference, but I can assure him that the interests of the United Kingdom in providing global leadership will be well represented.
While the great repeal Bill may bring short-term stability and a working statute book when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it remains to be seen whether this Government, or indeed future Governments, will take any action to erode the UK’s existing environmental policies. What assurances can the Minister give the constituents who have written to me expressing deep concern about environmental protections post-Brexit?
I can only continue to try to assure the House, and the hon. Lady’s constituents, that we made it very clear in the manifesto on which we stood in 2015 that we wanted to be the first Government to leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it, and that is what we will do.
On 24 November 2015, the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), announced that the UK Government would ban lion trophy imports by the end of 2017. What progress has been made in that regard, and what reductions in trophy lion hunting does the Minister expect to be made following the review of international treaties when the UK has left the EU?
I did not quite catch the opening of the hon. Gentleman’s question, when he referred to something from 2015, but I assure him that all these imports are undertaken on a case-by-case basis and that we continue to work with other countries to ensure that we conserve important species throughout the world. It is a key issue in which the UK is a global leader. We will continue to work with other countries and to have an influence.
The consultation closed on 28 February and we are currently examining the responses. Our intention is to introduce legislation this year, with a ban on manufacturing expected to apply from 1 January 2018 and a ban on sales expected from 30 June 2018, as was outlined in our proposals.
I strongly support the Government’s plans to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, but they account for probably only about 4% of the micro-plastics polluting our rivers and oceans. What are the Government doing to tackle the other types of micro-plastics which we want to stop polluting our oceans?
The consultation also sought to gather evidence on the extent of the environmental impacts of micro-plastics from other sources. We are reviewing the responses to that consultation, and any new evidence will be used to inform actions to protect the marine environment. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are also looking at the litter strategy, the use of plastic bottles and on-the-go consumption, but I remind her that we need to be careful as we take that forward as a lot of microbeads and plastics are the outcome of, for example, recycled bottles that are made into fleece.
I was recently rummaging through my wife’s collection of shampoos, and to my horror I found a plastic container of Olay anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing lotion, complete with exfoliating microbeads. Obviously, neither the Secretary of State nor her Minister would ever need to use such a product, but will the Minister get on the telephone to the chief executive of Procter & Gamble and tell him that selling that sort of product is completely outrageous and that it should be withdrawn from the market at once?
What I find extraordinary is that Lady Bellingham, who is a flawless picture, would even need these products. I am sure my hon. Friend will be buying flowers later today to make up for this.
It is fair to say that we are working with manufacturers now and a lot of them are already starting to remove these products proactively. That is good news, but we want to ensure that that avoidable pollution is taken out of our environment permanently.
Food and Drink Sector
We regularly meet EU counterparts at Agriculture and Fisheries Council and at Environment Council. Food and drink issues are routinely on the formal agenda and are frequently discussed at informal bilaterals, too.
The great and noble county of Lincolnshire is the bread basket of England and much of the food that we eat comes from that county. Glyphosate has been proved to be harmless by scientists. It is used by farmers in the safe production of wheat and the food we eat, so can the Minister assure me that once we regain control of our destiny its use will be reauthorised?
As my hon. Friend knows, the European Union is currently reviewing the use of glyphosate, but the European Food Safety Authority, the food safety agency for the EU, as well as the German authorities that led the work are very clear that it is a safe product. The UK has therefore consistently backed a position in line with the science to continue to authorise glyphosate.
My first DEFRA question, on 18 June 2015, was on convergence uplift. Now, €230 million should have flowed to Scottish farming. Since then, the Minister has demonstrated an uncanny ability to procrastinate, which my children could only envy. However, this is not children’s homework or getting to bed on time; it is fundamental money that is important to Scottish farming and it is now a matter of trust. The Minister wants us to believe that we can trust this Government with post-Brexit UK policy. Where is that money? How on earth can Scottish farming trust this Government and the Tories?
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this a number of times, and he is aware that the review that we intended to carry out last year was delayed because of the referendum, which has clearly changed the context dramatically. We continue to have discussions with Scottish industry; indeed, just yesterday I met NFU Scotland to discuss future agriculture policy.
What can be done to encourage the European Union to promote the processing of foodstuffs in developing countries? I am thinking particularly of olive oil and coffee, where the value added tends to be within the European Union.
The UK and indeed a number of other European countries have preferential trade agreements in place to support developing countries and give them tariff-free access to the European market. This is important to the development of some of those countries, and the issues that my hon. Friend raises are regularly discussed at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
The fishing industry in my constituency is an important part of the food-processing sector. As part of the discussions with EU ministerial counterparts, what efforts will be made to ensure that there is no border in the Irish sea, thereby permitting fishermen to fish in both parts, as they currently can?
As the hon. Lady will know, there has been an issue with the voisinage agreement, a long-standing agreement between the UK and the Irish Republic. There had been an issue with the Irish courts on this, and I discussed it just a couple of weeks ago with the Irish Minister, when we also talked about the arrangements we might have after Brexit.
Like my constituency neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I have the honour of representing a constituency whose farmers feed the country. Will my hon. Friend the Minister work to ensure that farmers in Louth and Horncastle and beyond are not put at a disadvantage with their EU competitors when these exciting new trade deals are negotiated?
My hon. Friend represents an important farming constituency, and I reassure her that I worked in the farming industry for 10 years and am passionate about it. I have been going up and down the country in recent months meeting farmers to discuss their concerns. We have a fantastic opportunity now on leaving the EU to design a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose.
Press reports earlier this week suggest that the Danish Government may press for restrictions on UK fish imports to the EU if the Danish fleet loses access to UK—mostly Scottish—fishing waters when the UK leaves the EU. That would have very serious implications for Scottish fish producers, who currently export in the region of almost half a billion pounds-worth of fish to the EU every year. What conversations has the Minister had with his Danish counterpart this week, and what solutions is he proposing?
As I said, I have regular meetings with all EU counterparts; indeed, I believe that the Danish Minister is planning a visit to the UK in the next few weeks, and I hope to meet him then. The hon. Lady should not worry about the opening positions that people might take in a negotiation: what matters is not what people ask for but what the UK Government are willing to grant. I simply say this: the Scottish fishing industry does not want to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the EU. It wants to leave the EU and the common fisheries policy; it wants to take control of our waters.
The fishing industry is vitally important to my constituency. Will the Minister update fishers there and around the UK about if, and when, the Government will trigger their intention to withdraw from the 1964 London fisheries convention?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: there is a 1964 London fisheries convention which has access arrangements for a number of countries. As we have made clear on numerous occasions, we are looking at this very closely, and, as the Prime Minister said just two weeks ago, we hope to be able to say something on this shortly.
Since 2015, DEFRA has opened or improved terms for over 160 markets for agri-food commodities. Increasing access to markets is a priority set out in the food and drink international action plan. We work with industry to identify and prioritise new markets and increase export value.
In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I have recently invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister to come to the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be important to show him the whole of the value chain in agriculture, in which we do so well?
I commend the work that my hon. Friend does in building relations and important trading links with Nigeria, which is an important trading partner. It is also an important market for some fisheries products, including mackerel. I am delighted to hear that he has invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister here to see some of the great work that we do through the supply chain and some of the technology that we use to reduce waste in the supply chain.
Does the Minister recognise that it is crucial to place the needs of the agricultural sector at the heart of the Brexit negotiations? Is it not clear that if the Government do not get their act together, a bad Brexit deal would leave British farmers and food producers facing the double whammy of cheap food imports and tariffs on their exports?
Access to the UK market is incredibly important for European countries as well. We export around £11 billion-worth of food and drink to the European Union, but we import some £28 billion-worth of food from the EU. That is why farming unions across the EU are telling their Governments that they must have a free trade agreement with the UK.
But how do the Government intend to deliver on these promises? The Country Land and Business Association is saying that the Government should admit that they cannot design a workable new agricultural policy in less than two years because DEFRA simply does not have the capacity to do so. The Government’s failure to reach an agreement could leave our farmers unable to compete at home and abroad. What specific guarantees can the Minister provide here today to rural communities across the country that farming subsidies and tariff-free trade will be guaranteed under a Tory Government?
We have some tremendously talented policy officials in DEFRA and in our agencies, and they have been working closely on the detail behind the design of future agricultural policy on some of those issues. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she is going to make an offer to the other European countries of a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement.
One of the markets that farmers in northern Lincolnshire are hoping to expand is the production of crops that can be converted into bioethanol fuel. However, they are concerned about the Government’s commitment to this market. Can the Minister reassure them that this is a market for future expansion?
We see a role for bioethanol fuels, but we are also keen to ensure that we do not lose too much good agricultural land to biofuels. My hon. Friend will be aware that this is predominantly an issue for the Department for Transport, and I would invite him to raise it with that Department in the next Parliament.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has just pointed out, markets are not only country-based but product-based. The UK has a tremendous market for lactose-free milk, most of which is imported. What can we do to encourage UK producers to develop that product and manufacture it in the UK?
We have a strong dairy industry in this country, and there are lots of opportunities of that nature. We have established the food innovation networks, and we have the agritech fund and a number of other funds to support innovative product development of that kind.
Leaving the EU: Food Prices
Energy prices and exchange rates are the key drivers of change in agricultural commodity markets, and they affect all the countries in the world, irrespective of whether they are members of the EU. Following the sharp spike in food prices in 2008, they levelled off in 2014 and fell by about 7% over the following two years. In the past year, they have seen a modest increase of about 1.3%.
I thank the Minister for his response, but the fact is that the Office for National Statistics is reporting a surge in food prices that is likely to continue. Children are returning to school hungry after the Easter holidays and elderly people are being admitted to hospital malnourished, but still the Government refuse to measure hunger and food poverty levels in this country properly. Is it not the case that they refuse to measure those things because if they did so, they would have to admit some culpability?
No, the hon. Lady is wrong; we do measure them. We have the long-standing living costs and food survey, which has run for many years and which includes a measure for household spending among the poorest 20% of households. I can tell her that household spending in those poorest households has remained steady at around 16% for at least a decade.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Farmers across the south-west are rightly very proud of the high-quality food that they produce, be it beef, lamb, milk and so on. What opportunities from leaving the EU does the Minister see to ensure that they get a fair price for that food in the future?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have recently had a call for evidence and a review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Representations have suggested extending its remit further up the supply chain, and we are considering those representations. The Groceries Code Adjudicator has made a good start to improving the relationship between producers and supermarkets in particular.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had regular meetings with food processors. Just two days ago, I had a meeting with the new president of the Food and Drink Federation, and this issue has been raised. According to the Office for National Statistics, some 30% of employees in the food processing sector are from other European Union countries. The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to safeguard and protect the rights of the EU citizens who are here and that she would expect that to be reciprocated—and that that can be agreed early in the negotiations.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. As I mentioned earlier, we give preferential trade access to some developing countries: the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are especially important in sectors such as sugar. It is important for them to develop those industries.
Ivory Trade Ban
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue and I share her concerns. She will recognise that we want to get the proposals right, and we will consult as soon as we can.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: robust enforcement will be important to ensure that the rules are effective. She will recognise that the police and border agencies do an excellent job of enforcing the current rules. We will work with them on how best to enforce the new measures, but she will also recognise that our strategic approach to tackling the illegal wildlife trade is about enforcement, strengthening criminal justice and tackling demand, so that together we can help to solve the poaching crisis.
Seasonal Agricultural Workforce
I very much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency last week. It was a great pleasure to meet some of her growers, including those at Oakdene farm, to discuss seasonal labour. I am very aware of the horticultural sector’s concerns about labour supply issues. The Government plan to commission advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and to consult with businesses later this year.
I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Kent to visit one of my local fruit farms and listening to the growers who assembled there, especially as it was during the Easter recess. Can she give me an update on the discussions that she has had with the Home Office about introducing the much-needed seasonal agricultural permit scheme?
I visited not only my hon. Friend’s constituency, but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), so I had a lovely day in the county I grew up in. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) is right that this is an important issue. The Government have assessed the need for a pilot seasonal workers scheme, and have decided that the evidence shows that one is not needed. As I have said, the Migration Advisory Committee and a consultation with businesses later this year will seek to determine exactly what the need is, and the Government are committed to making a huge success of the food and farming sector as we leave the EU.
As this is the last DEFRA questions before the election, I remind the House of the Government’s twin ambitions for food, farming and the environment: to grow more, sell more and export more great British food; and for us to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Only last week we published the first ever national litter strategy for England and announced a £10 million grant scheme to restore England’s iconic peatlands. We look forward to putting our case to the country.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend can still do the sums. The Government have taken several measures to make the inshore fleet more economically sustainable. For example, we have permanently transferred unused quota from over-10 metre vessels to the under-10 metre fleet, representing a 14% uplift to the under-10 metre fleet. We continue to top-slice the quota uplift, which is now more than 1,000 tonnes, in order to help the under-10 metre fleet.
Contrary to what the Minister of State said earlier, recent inflation figures reveal that food prices are rising at their fastest pace in three years, adding over £21 to the average household shopping bill in the last three months alone. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on a soaring cost of living that is affecting millions of families?
As I pointed out in answer to an earlier question, we saw the biggest spike in food prices in 2008 due to energy prices. Food prices fell by around 7% between 2014 and 2016. It is true that there has been modest increase over the last 12 months of 1.4%.
Rising food prices simply add to the burden on those with little money for food. The Food Standards Agency recently reported that one in four low-income families struggles to eat regularly, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that disabled people are more than twice as likely to live in food poverty. How much longer can the Secretary of State refuse to monitor and publish figures on UK food insecurity and food bank usage?
As I said earlier, we have always monitored spending on food through the living costs and food survey, and food spending among the poorest 20% has been stable at 16% for over a decade. This Government have put more people in employment than ever before, taking more people off benefits and giving them an income. That is how to tackle poverty.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of natural flood management, which I saw for myself on a recent visit to Leicester when I launched a £1 million competition for natural flood protection. In the right place, it can absolutely help alongside more traditional measures. We are investing a total of £15 million to fund natural flood management schemes across the country, which will help to support many communities that are at risk of flooding, and we will continue to build the evidence.
We have already addressed the issue of seasonal workers in the agricultural sector, and it is important that we assess the needs there. As for workers who already work and have made their lives in this country, the Prime Minister has said that it is absolutely her intention to ensure that those rights are protected, provided that the EU reciprocates. It is exactly right to look after British workers who have moved to the EU at the same time as protecting the valuable contribution that EU citizens make in the UK.
My hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on that issue, which he and I have discussed on numerous occasions. The Government are committed to giving consumers as much transparency as possible and to improving labelling wherever we can. He understands that there are some difficulties—there is no single definition of halal or kosher, for instance—that make compulsory labelling complex. He is also aware that the European Union has been looking at the issue. Obviously, once we leave the EU there will be an opportunity for us to look at all these issues.
The hon. Lady might be aware that a significant decision was taken by the people of the United Kingdom last summer to leave the European Union. We have been clear about our ambition to make a huge success of the food and farming sector, and to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. On what that means for our plans, it is essential that we consult widely with all the stakeholders. They have clear evidence and ideas to give us for a future outside the EU that is more successful than ever.
As I said in response to the earlier question, the evidence is fairly clear. EFSA has studied the matter, and it believes that glyphosate is safe. It has always been the UK’s position to follow the science and the evidence on pesticide decisions, which is why we support the reauthorisation of glyphosate. We will continue to have an evidence-based, science-based approach to these issues when we leave the EU.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need good science, good technology and good innovation? What will she do about the fact that ChemChina has taken over Syngenta, a leading scientific research company largely based in my constituency but with research centres in Jealott’s Hill? Syngenta is the fifth leading innovation company in our country that the Chinese Government have absorbed—ChemChina is not listed on the stock exchange, even in China. What is she going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that pesticides and crop protection products are quite an integrated industry across the world. It is not uncommon for foreign-owned companies to be based and operating in the UK. We have some of the world’s best scientific expertise in this area, which is why companies choose to locate here.
I am delighted that we launched our litter strategy for England on 10 April. The strategy will seek to cut the £800 million annual bill to taxpayers for cleaning up after litter louts. We have delivered on our manifesto commitment to let local councils fine small-scale fly tippers. We have also given local authorities the power to seize and crush vehicles that are involved in fly tipping, and we are ensuring that community payback is used to clear up litter and fly-tipped waste.
Food processors in my constituency operate integrated processing, distribution and packaging plants across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. What assurances can Ministers give those companies that there will be no border restrictions that inhibit their operations between the UK and Ireland after Brexit?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Prime Minister has made it clear that she wants a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are looking closely at the issue of border controls, particularly in respect of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. We talk regularly to industry on the issue, and we have a meeting with some of the devolved Administrations later today in which we will be looking at precisely these sorts of issues.
Lamb is trading at significantly lower prices this year than it did last year at this time. New Zealand lamb comes in during the winter, when our lambs do not, and there seems to be too much New Zealand lamb in our major retailers and not enough British lamb. I would like the Minister to bring it to the attention of the major retailers that British lamb should now be in the shops, which should not be packed with New Zealand lamb.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. At Easter, people really want to buy high-quality west country, Welsh and Scottish lamb, and indeed lamb from every part of the United Kingdom. We faced an issue this year, in that prices were actually very good during the winter, which meant that a number of sheep producers decided to sell their lamb early and so there has been less British lamb available at this time of year.
Will the Secretary of State be pushing for a total ban on ivory sales in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, equivalent to the unrealised pledge in the 2015 manifesto?
As I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) earlier, we are working carefully on the proposals and we hope to publish a consultation in due course.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), we in the west midlands are seeing a terrible spate of fly-tipping on a commercial scale, including of hospital waste and household waste. May I ask the Minister seriously to help the farmers with the costs of deterring these serious criminals from dumping such hazards on their land?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We know that fly-tipping is a particular problem at the moment, which is why the Environment Agency is working with councils and with farmers to try to prevent waste from being dumped in the first place. We will continue to pursue waste crime as an urgent priority. People who despoil our countryside and our streets deserve to be sentenced to the full, but we need the evidence to do that, which is why sometimes these things can take time to develop.
Yes, absolutely. As I said, the Home Office is looking closely at future needs for businesses. We absolutely recognise that for businesses in the UK to thrive they will need access to some of the brightest and the best from around the world, and the Migration Advisory Committee and a consultation with businesses will be looking at those needs later this year.
Cleaning up the nation’s bus fleet is an important part of tackling air quality, but does the Secretary of State agree that smaller companies such as Southgate & Finchley Coaches in my constituency will need time to adapt, particularly where the cleanest vehicles are not yet available on the second-hand market?
My right hon. Friend is correct to point out that we need to work with industry. I know that the Department for Transport has been proactively working on plans for some time with manufacturers to make those improvements, so that as a nation we can make the technological changes to vehicle emissions that are important in improving our air quality.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
Cancer Drugs: Funding
I can inform the House that the NAO published an investigation into the cancer drugs fund in September 2015, which set out the facts relating to the fund to inform consideration of what had been achieved. The NAO’s investigation followed up on a number of concerns raised during the earlier work on progress in improving cancer services. The investigation found that all parties agreed that the fund was not sustainable in its form at the time, and that NHS England was proposing a new arrangement for the fund. It also noted that NHS England did not have the data to evaluate the impact of the existing fund on patient outcomes.
I can indeed. This is a very serious matter that everybody wants to improve, so the Public Accounts Committee followed up on the National Audit Office investigation and recommended that the Department of Health and NHS England make better use of their buying power in order to pay a fair price for cancer drugs and improve data on patient outcomes. The NAO also followed up on several related issues in an April 2016 report. It recommended that the Department and NHS England should, in collaboration with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, consider affordability and ensure best prices for high-cost drugs.
The findings show that although 40 cancer drugs were available through the cancer drugs fund in 2013-14 and 2014-15, some 71% of patients were covered by the 10 most common drugs. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that surely that indicates a need to move those 10 drugs on to the NHS list? Does he believe those findings have had any effect on Government policy on cancer drugs and the cancer drugs fund?
I would like to ask the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), what the Church of England is doing to help to protect churches throughout Northumberland from the theft of metal from their roofs.
Mr Speaker, do you wish me to reply to the question? The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission cannot respond to it.
Thank you for that compliment, Mr Speaker.
Is the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) aware of the real challenge, which has been brought to my attention by the excellent team at Huddersfield royal infirmary, that it is rare cancers that are the problem because they are very expensive to develop drugs for? There is a special case to be made for the treatment of and supply of drugs for these rare cancers. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that minority group?
I am aware of that group, and the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We all hear in our constituency surgeries the heart-rending cases of people who are denied life-saving drugs. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee are fully aware of this issue and are going to continue to put pressure on the Government with regard to the cancer drugs fund to ensure full transparency so that we are always aware of the problems and can assure affordability for all our citizens.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Religious Dress and Symbols: Workplace
The Church of England was very concerned by the judgment of the European Court of Justice that stated that blanket bans on the wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs do not amount to cases of direct discrimination, because that conflicts with the pre-existing rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. By leaving the European Union, we presumably stand some chance of resolving such inconsistencies.
Yes, and it was completely at odds with the statutory purpose of the Church of England, which was put far better than I possibly could by the head of the Church, Her Majesty the Queen, when in 2012 she made it clear that the Church of England
“has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
That is what we should be able to do if we can resolve this inconsistency.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
Leaving the EU: Value-for-money Scrutiny
I assure my hon. Friend that, among the many opportunities provided by Brexit, there is a chance to revise the National Audit Office’s work programme. In fact, it is determined by the Comptroller and Auditor General and is regularly revised. Taking back control and leaving the EU will be a major task for Departments, but of course some Departments will be more affected by Brexit than others. The NAO is keeping in close touch with all Departments as they make their Brexit preparations. That is likely to mean additional work for the NAO, not least the audit of the new Department for Exiting the European Union.
Eventually that will indeed be a matter for the NAO. We are currently at a very early stage of our work: we are simply ensuring that all Departments, particularly the Department for Exiting European Union, have their tackle in order for this monumental task. I am sure that all Government Departments will do it most efficiently.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should declare an interest, as I sit on both the Public Accounts Committee and the Commission itself. Further to the question of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), I asked the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office what concerns he had about the additional workload on his Department as a result of Brexit. He has many concerns, as intimated by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), but said that he needs to know the details of the Brexit deal on the table before he can properly ascertain the impact. Is the hon. Gentleman confident that we will know the detail of this Brexit deal in 18 months’ time?
The hon. Gentleman is leading me astray. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, which is charged with the budget of the National Audit Office and its work programme, I am not sure whether I am qualified to comment on the nature of the negotiations. I can give an assurance that the Comptroller and Auditor General believes that that is now a fundamental and really important part of his work. There is so much that could go wrong with efficiency in Government Departments in this task, and we will be keeping a beady eye on matters. With the hon. Gentleman’s help on the Commission, we will ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General has adequate resources to ensure that the interests of taxpayers are protected.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Marriage: Preparation and Aftercare
I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing support of the institution of marriage. I am very pleased to tell the House that, since he last asked this question in 2011, the Church of England has launched the successful new initiative, “Your Church Wedding”, which is designed to increase the profile of church weddings, highlight the possibility for those seeking to be married, and offer more consistent marriage preparation and aftercare.
I am very grateful for that answer, but the fact is that marriage rates have unfortunately declined in recent years. I know that my right hon. Friend will agree with me that there is nothing inevitable about that, given that for a decade, between 1962 and 1972, they rose. As this is a real social justice issue, with the decline in marriage rates having a particularly significant impact on lower-income families, will the Church appoint a bishop to promote healthy marriage, with the aim of spreading best practice in every single parish across the country?
I genuinely believe that this new initiative will spread best practice. I am sure that all bishops regard themselves as a bishop for marriage. However, there is no doubt that there has been a decline in church weddings, and that is in part due to the fact that there has been liberalisation of the legislation around where couples can get married. None the less, we should celebrate the fact that they want to get married. I will finish with one good new trend: women over 65 are getting married in increasing numbers.
Number of Vocations
The number of people selected for training for ordained ministry within the Church of England has been stable for some time. However, the age profile of serving clergy means that larger numbers are retiring, leading to an overall decrease in the number of active clergy. The Church seeks to address that by increasing by 50% the numbers training for ordained ministry: an increase from about 500 to 750 by 2020.
Quite simply, we need to make it easier for people who feel the call to enter ministry to do so more flexibly. The Church offers not only a three-year residential course to become an ordained minister, but part-time peripatetic provision. As a result of the apprenticeship levy, resources will be available to the Church for people to learn on the job. That should make it a whole lot easier for people to enter ministry.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that the number of vocations would be improved if the Church of England did more to protect its churches in Northumberland from metal theft, which leaves young ordinands with a lot of logistics to deal with when they should be focusing on their parishioners?
I must congratulate my hon. Friend on her ingenuity in raising the very important and serious matter of metal theft—an ordained minister cannot practise without a roof on their church. This is a serious problem. The Church of England offers guidance, and I refer hon. Members to the ChurchCare website. There is a range of metal substitute products that can be used even on listed buildings. Currently, there is a pilot system for marking lead, which is designed to help scrap metal dealers so that they can identify when stolen goods are being presented to them. This is a serious matter, and we are working closely with Government Departments to try to make it harder for the criminals to impede the desire of those who wish to minister in the Church and to make sure that the roof stays on.
I do not have information on Yeovil specifically, but advice is available on the Church’s website for every diocese—unfortunately, every diocese is affected by this serious crime. In addition to the deterrents I outlined in my previous answer, there is a system for fixing or locking lead—perhaps I should not give it away in the House, because then the criminals will know about it. It is pertinent to my constituency, where that system was used after the second theft of lead from a church roof. The deterrence means that even in the dead of night it is possible to catch evidence of the crime taking place. I recommend the Church’s website.
Christian Communities: Africa
As this is likely to be the last question today, Mr Speaker, please allow me to congratulate the parliamentary unit of Church House on the splendid way in which they have briefed me throughout my two years as Church Estates Commissioner, for none of us can be complacent about returning to our existing posts after the general election.
This is a serious question. The Church of England and the offices of the two archbishops are in regular contact with the Church in Egypt, South Sudan and Nigeria directly through the Anglican Communion Office. They are most concerned about the recent attacks in Egypt, where on Palm Sunday 44 people died at St George’s church in Tanta.
The 2017 World Watch report by Open Doors states that persecution increased for the fourth year in a row during 2015-16, with murders of Christians in places such as Nigeria and Egypt, as the right hon. Lady mentioned. What practical measures can the Church offer to communities in such countries?
I attended that Open Doors event here in Parliament, where a Nigerian pastor spoke movingly about the violent persecution of himself and his congregation in northern Nigeria. With regard to Egypt, I am pleased to say that Bishop Mouneer has secured intensive security measures for the Christian Church in Egypt, including emptying the streets around churches and cathedrals of cars, and putting extra police on duty to protect worshipers before services begin.
Persecution and Detention of LGBT Citizens: Chechnya
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on allegations of persecution and detention of LGBT citizens in Chechnya, Russia, and on what discussions the Government have had with their counterparts on the issue.
The arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of over 100 men in Chechnya because of their sexual orientation is of deep concern to the UK. Credible reports suggesting that at least four people have been killed and many have been tortured are particularly shocking. Statements by the regional Government in Chechnya that appear to condone and incite violence against LGBT people are despicable.
We condemn any and all persecution, and call on the authorities promptly to investigate and ensure that perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice. That would be in accordance with international human rights commitments adopted by the Russian Government to respect the human rights of all individuals.
The Minister of State, my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns, released a statement on 7 April outlining the Government’s concern at the reports and called upon the Russian authorities promptly to investigate and ensure that perpetrators of human rights abuses are indeed brought to justice.
The Foreign Secretary has expressed his serious concerns through social media. Officials from the British embassy in Moscow reiterated those concerns directly to the Russian Government on 13 April, and we are working with international partners in Russia as part of wider lobbying efforts. The EU made a statement on behalf of member states at the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on 6 April, and the UK permanent representative to the Council of Europe delivered a statement on behalf of the UK in the Committee of Ministers on 19 April.
Thank you for granting this urgent question this morning, Mr Speaker.
I praise the Minister for his sincerity on this issue, which he takes very seriously, and for his comments. This is truly a shocking anti-gay campaign, involving over 100, and possibly several hundred, men. I praise the non-governmental organisations and journalists in Russia, the UK and elsewhere who have brought this issue to public attention. We are talking about detention, beatings, abuse and electric shock treatments, and—I do not say this lightly—some have talked about gay concentration camps. We have also heard of at least four killings.
The LGBT community in Cardiff South and Penarth has repeatedly raised this issue with me, and PinkNews tells me that its petition on it is its most signed ever. LGBT Labour wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue last week; sadly, it did not get a reply, and the matter was just passed on to the Foreign Office. There have also been representations from MEPs from all parties.
President Putin already has a record of persecuting the LGBT community. He also takes a keen interest in Chechnya, so is he turning a blind eye, or is he complicit in the actions of President Kadyrov? Let us remember that President Kadyrov’s spokesman said that you cannot detain people who simply do not exist.
Shaun Walker of The Guardian expressed the horrors we are seeing. He described the situation of an individual who, at least once a day, had metal clamps attached to him that
“sent powerful electric shocks through his body. If he managed not to scream, others would join in, beating him with wooden sticks or metal rods”
“to know the names of other gay men he knew in Chechnya.”
If we had any doubts about the brutality of this regime towards the LGBT community, we need not have them any longer.
I praise the Minister’s sincerity on this issue, but I have to ask why it has taken the Foreign Secretary so long to speak out—a tweet simply is not enough. We have also not heard clear condemnation from the Prime Minister. Has she or the Foreign Secretary spoken directly to the Russian or Chechen Governments? Have they called in the Russian ambassador? Does the Foreign Secretary now regret his cancelled trip to Moscow, where he could have raised these atrocities in Chechnya, not to mention those in Syria? Was the issue raised in the G7 discussion about sanctions on Russia? Will the Minister say more about what is being done to co-ordinate with EU colleagues and the United States on this issue?
The Foreign Secretary tweeted that the situation was outrageous, but the Foreign Office has referred questions on whether we will provide refuge to people fleeing this horrendous persecution in Chechnya to the Home Office. As yet, there is no clarity, and I hope the Minister can provide some.
Let me say at the outset that I applaud the hon. Gentleman for raising this topic, and I hope it is one around which the House can unite without any party politics, because the strong, united message he is calling for is exactly the one we should be sending.
The actions in these reports are utterly barbaric. One of the most disgusting things I have seen is a Chechen security source stating that these arrests are part of what he called a preventative clean-up. That followed a request by an LGBT group called Gay Russia simply for licences for gay pride parades in the North Caucasus—the group had not yet even applied for a permit in Chechnya.
Human rights groups report that these anti-gay campaigns and killings are orchestrated by the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. He has carried out other violent campaigns in the past, and this time he is directing his efforts at the LGBT community. Sources have said that he wants the community eliminated by the start of Ramadan. Such comments, attitudes and actions are absolutely beyond contemptible.
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Government fully condemn this action. We do use all engagement with Russia to make our voice clear, and I did so, personally, with the deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Vladimir Titov. I met him two or three weeks ago, and we spoke about general human rights matters, but also about Chechnya. I hope the House will be fully united in giving the strongest possible siren message to Russia, and to Chechnya in particular, that this kind of activity is beyond contempt and not acceptable in the world in which we live.
May I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for the support that you have given to the LGBT community ever since you have occupied the Chair and prior to that?
It is absolutely right that this issue should be raised here, as it has been determined that we have more openly gay Members of Parliament in this Parliament than anywhere else in the world. I was asked in 2010 why I came out. It was partly to send a signal to other people who were troubled about their own sexuality to give them hope and confidence—to say that if people like us can be open about our gayness, then hopefully they will be able to take from that some form of moral support that may help them to do likewise.
We have made fundamental changes around the rest of the world in looking at climate change, for example. We made massive advances when we brought countries together on that issue. Can we not do the same on LGBT issues so that we can have LGBT change throughout the world? May I suggest to the Minister that one area that might be worth a lot of attention is the Commonwealth, where some of the countries that are part of our family of nations have slid back on LGBT rights? Will he place some concentration on that and show that the British Government are going to lead the way on LGBT change throughout the world?
Indeed. One of the other strong messages as we approach a general election is that candidates in any party will be able to stand and be openly gay without being in any way ostracised by their own party, or indeed, we hope, any part of the electorate. That in itself sends a strong message to the world. It is a great tribute to the House and our democracy that over the past 15 years or so we have seen all parties have gays sitting on these green leather Benches. Whatever the outcome of the election, long may that continue. I also hope that that will be reflected in the Commonwealth in the years to come, as my hon. Friend suggests. We must campaign within Commonwealth countries to make sure that they do not fail to reflect the standards that we in the House reflect with regard to the LGBT community.
May I add my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question today? I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for bringing such an important matter to the House and speaking so eloquently. I also thank the Minister for his response and pay tribute to his long and proud record of standing up for LGBT rights: he is a brave and much-needed pioneer in that regard within his party. I well recall an article by Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail in 2002—I am sure that the Minister does as well—entitled, “I’m sorry, Mr Duncan, if you’re gay, you’re not a Tory”. Thank goodness that in this country that kind of reprehensible prejudice has been consigned to the dustbin of history.
However, there is no room for complacency. This appalling and disgusting prejudice still represents official policy in some parts of Europe, and we must do something about it. In recent days and weeks, we have heard reports from Russian LGBT organisations and human rights NGOs documenting the most terrible abuse, and we have all read them with great distress. This is nothing short of officially sanctioned policy from the Chechen authorities, but the Russian Government, who bear ultimate responsibility for their citizens’ safety, appear to be looking the other way, and that is scarcely any better.
A week ago, LGBT Labour wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in which it asked particularly that she
“meet with the Russian Ambassador as a matter of urgency to demand answers; and to ensure that the Foreign Office is doing all it can with the Russian Government, and our European and international partners, to free those who have been detained and to shut the camps down.”
We are speaking today with a strong and unified voice. However, while I applaud, of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s raising the matter as deputy Foreign Secretary, it needs to be escalated. I hope that as a result of this urgent question we get an undertaking from the Government that it will be raised at a much higher political level. This is a matter that Prime Minister should take an initiative on—she should call in the Russian ambassador and demand some answers.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her tone. I had actually forgotten about the Hitchens article—I am not sure that I want to be reminded of it—but at least I can take pleasure in the fact that now I am but one of many on the Tory Benches. I hope that my statement can be seen as reflecting the Prime Minister and the entire Government’s personal condemnation of the situation. I note the right hon. Lady’s wish to see the issue raised to a higher level of political comment.
In another of the most contemptible elements of this whole issue, a representative of Chechnya’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Kheda Saratova, who is supposedly charged with the task of upholding human rights in the republic, has said that she would not accept an application for help from a gay person, because the persecution of gay people should not be condemned in Chechen society, even if a person is killed by their own family. The LGBT community in Chechnya is at risk not just of persecution by the Chechen authorities, but of falling victim to so-called honour killings by their own family members. They are not safe inside Chechnya and, as I said earlier, what is happening in that republic is beyond contemptible.
I agree entirely with the Minister’s condemnation of this terrible occurrence. Building on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that, although many Members, including me, will be unable to attend next week’s plenary part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, because of the general election, some of our colleagues will be there? Will he have a word with Ambassador Christopher Yvon to see whether the matter could be raised, for example, in the free debate during next week’s plenary part-session? It is important that the matter is raised continually in an international environment, to put more pressure on Russia and the Chechen authorities.
The scenes and stories emanating from Chechnya are beyond comprehension and utterly sickening, and we share the sentiments expressed by others. Although we may still have many challenges on LGBTI equality in the UK, we are fortunate that we have come a very long way and, in having that greater freedom, we absolutely must use our voices, whether we are members of the LGBT community or not. We must say, loudly and clearly, that we condemn this horrific brutality.
For the Chechen authorities not only to deny the attacks, but to claim, incredibly, that no gay people exist in their province is at best extraordinary and at worst deceitful. We fully endorse Amnesty International’s call to action to protect those at risk in the region, and the UK Government can do more to protect LGBTI people around the world. The Scottish National party manifesto called on the UK Government to establish the position of a special envoy to promote the rights of LGBTI people around the world as an integral part of UK policy. Will the Minister consider that for his party’s forthcoming manifesto? May I also appeal to him and his colleagues to act on our proposals and put all the pressure he can on Chechnya and Russia to stop these abhorrent abuses and the persecution of gay men and the wider LGBT community? We cannot stand idly by and let this happen. Those facing abuse must know that we care and that we are standing up for them.
I am pleased to say that I broadly agree with the hon. Lady and that all that she wishes to see us do is enshrined across the board in our Government policy, including through the Department for International Development, the Home Office and our foreign policy, and so it will remain. In that sense, I think we should all be envoys in what we do internationally. Indeed, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in Russia regularly meet LGBT activists and attend LGBT events, such as QueerFest and the Side by Side film festival in St Petersburg, so that we can provide visible support. We have also provided support to organisations such as Stonewall and helped to facilitate Sir Ian McKellen’s visit to Russia last year, during which he met LGBT activists in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. I think that his powerful messages about UK values resonated, at least with Russia’s next generation.
Is there an element of reversion to type here, in that it was always a feature of totalitarian regimes to vilify minorities as a matter of routine political management? Equally, it was typical of the former Soviet Union to identify any person who posed a political threat, to brand them as gay and to detain them in a mental institution.
This reminds us that those of us who are gay are phenomenally lucky in this country. I remember meeting an 83-year-old lesbian activist in Russia in 2009. I asked her how she got away with it, and she said, “I think President Putin thinks that women don’t have sex after the age of 80. How wrong can you be?”
The serious point is that we should pay tribute to those who are standing up at the risk of their own lives, and I am glad that the Government are acting on that, but is this not all part of a piece? President Putin appointed Kadyrov as President in Chechnya, and he was elected with 98% of the vote—that does not seem at all bizarre, does it? He and Putin have both repeatedly abused human rights. They have used violence to excess, and they have always resorted to violence, even when they have had the opportunity to use a peaceful means to provide a solution. Will the Government make sure that people who engage in such activity, and those who are involved in the murder of British people working in Russia, do not enter this country?
Oh yes, I did—[Interruption]—and I know I do not look it.
Much more seriously, what the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely right. This is part of a wider picture across Russia, although I say again that Chechnya appears to be the worst example. Within the constraints of our ability to influence what happens in any country, we have to speak loudly and collectively, and we must be brave and courageous. At a diplomatic level within the country we will do our utmost to continue to put pressure on the regime and ensure that it understands that in the modern world, this kind of activity is barbaric, and that it can no longer be allowed to continue.
I start by thanking the Minister for his very forceful statement. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I have written to the Russian ambassador. I echo the calls made by other Members today for the UK Government to call in the Russian ambassador and ask him, in particular, what will be done to protect the journalists who were involved in leaking this story. Clearly they, as well as the LGBT community, are now at risk. Finally, have any lessons been learned since the G7, where our Government unfortunately failed to secure sanctions against Syria and Russia, about how to improve co-operation to ensure that action is taken against Chechnya at an international level?
I think the right hon. Gentleman has deviated slightly from the collective tone of the House. As I think he will appreciate, what happened at the G7 was in response to fast-moving events following the gassing of people in Syria.
As I said a moment ago, on the issue of gay rights in Chechnya or, indeed, anywhere else in the world, we need to speak with one voice not only in this House but by working together with other countries and NGOs. We must make sure that the world collectively homes in on the likes of Chechnya, and Russia more generally, and makes it clear that they are completely out of step with the rest of the world and that they will, over time, lose all credibility and become increasingly derided. It is high time for them to grow up and understand what the modern world is all about.
I congratulate my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), on exposing the latest manifestation of the barbaric treatment by Russia of the people of Chechnya for over a decade. I pay tribute to Lord Judd, the Council of Europe rapporteur for many years, who reported fearlessly on the terrible things happening in that country. We entirely support the opposition, which should be worldwide, but we should reflect on the fact that this terrible activity is spreading. One reason for that is the fact that there is now less pressure on countries to improve their human rights, because they do not have the incentive of joining the European Union, which demands high standards. We are, sadly, going back to barbaric treatment not just in Chechnya but in many other countries, including Turkey.
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the noble Lord Judd for all the efforts he has made over the years, but I say again that it is for all of us to work collectively across parties, across countries and across all organisations to ensure that the simple rights for people, which should never be denied them, are upheld in all countries across the world.
Considering how this may be misrepresented abroad, particularly in Russia, is it not important to emphasise that this is first and foremost a matter of human rights, and certainly not a matter confined only to those who happen to be gay? Is it not interesting that this is being discussed 50 years after the House of Commons changed the law on homosexuality? If there is a debate in July near the anniversary of the actual date when the legislation was passed, I would hope to be here—I will certainly do my utmost to be here—to explain why I was pleased to vote for the change in the law. I think I am the only Member who did so now remaining in the House.
The way the hon. Gentleman is going he will be here in another 50 years’ time. He makes a very valid point about the importance of promulgating the truth. When we hear absolute, blatant propaganda, we should not shy away from robustly countering such lies. For instance, Kadyrov’s spokesman has called reports of persecution and murder absolute lies themselves. Indeed, as we heard earlier, he added that “there are no gay men in Chechnya” and that
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist”.
Even worse, he went on to say that if they did exist, their own relatives
“would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
It is the use of language like that that appears to condone the outright murder of someone simply because of their sexual orientation. That is utterly unacceptable and condemns them in the eyes of the decent world.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I am delighted to be called to speak. My concern is not just as a member of the LGBTI community, but in the broader sense of the profound impact of social, economic and political impoverishment on all Chechen society. Whether we like it or not, Kadyrov has in some terms the fundamental support of his nation, as a region of the Russian Federation. How we undermine that is through investment in foreign aid to tackle human rights abuses across the world. Will the Minister commit now, on the Floor of the House, that in fighting for LGBTI rights and other human rights in places like Chechnya, his foreign aid budget will not change after the general election?
We should all commit to fighting prejudice wherever we find it. I hope that, in the election on 8 June, that will be one of the views we all hold as we present ourselves to the electorate. The hon. Gentleman raises a deeper point, which is that the House needs to understand foreign affairs, to take an interest and to debate countries such as Chechnya. I hope that early in the next Parliament the opportunity will present itself, so that the arguments we are beginning to hear today can be made even more loudly after 8 June.
The House rightly speaks with one voice in condemning the abhorrent acts in Chechnya, but this is not the first time the Russian Government have been found wanting when it comes to human rights. They need to be constantly reminded that they should honour their international human rights obligations. How can we ensure that other countries are similarly robust in explaining that to the Russian Government, not least because those members of the LGBT community in Chechnya must be feeling so insecure at the moment?
We work through all collective European and other organisations, and, of course, through the United Nations more widely. Because we speak frankly, we have had a rather scratchy relationship with the Russians recently, but we will not shy away from raising these issues both frankly and forcefully. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will maintain a policy of robust engagement with the Russians, and that it will include matters of this sort.
All Glasgow weeps at this news, and when I return there later this afternoon there will be a vigil in George Square at which politicians and ordinary people will express their horror at what is happening in Chechnya.
I must disagree with some of my colleagues, in that I see no need for this matter to be escalated to the Foreign Secretary. I think that the Minister is a very capable Minister, and a deeply thoughtful Minister.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). Is it not time for us to join countries such as Canada in having an envoy on LGBT rights who will report directly to the Prime Minister? I also echo what was said by my hon. Friend from Clydebank and—in the context of the Commonwealth—by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans): now is not the time to cut the foreign aid budget.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words—unusual, I have to say, during this particularly fervent political period, but deeply appreciated nevertheless. I am contemplating their inclusion, in quotation marks, in my election address.
I note what the hon. Gentleman said about an envoy. It is not for me to say what our policy will be on that, but my personal observation is that a dedicated envoy is not always as effective as action by all Ministers across the board, and, indeed, by all Members of Parliament. If that is in the hon. Gentleman’s manifesto, however, we will let the people decide.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on raising this important human rights issue. May I add a word of caution about complacency? We have a united voice in the House of Commons, but when I paid an official visit to part of the European Union, towards the east, I found disturbing evidence of the lingering influence of attitudes of this kind, so we should not be complacent. I was particularly worried when I saw examples of some pretty virulent propaganda in Austria. We should be on our guard wherever this kind of human rights rears its ugly head.
I think we should take those as serious words of wisdom from a senior Member of the House. We must always look at our own supposed allies to make sure that they have not got—let us call them diluted views. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that Europe, for starters, must be united if we are to make our voice clear and resonant in the wider world.
Having tabled an early-day motion on this very subject earlier in the week, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing the urgent question and to you, Mr Speaker, for permitting it. Will the Government assure us that members of the LGBTI community in Chechnya will be granted asylum in the United Kingdom should they flee and seek refuge on our shores?
In February, the Foreign Secretary announced the £700 million empowerment fund to come from the aid budget to project soft power and human rights. How is that fund being used to promote LGB rights and equal rights campaigners and to support civil society in Chechnya and elsewhere? May I echo the points of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) because the Minister has not yet confirmed the Government’s commitment to the 0.7% aid target? This is precisely a demonstration of why that target is so important.
The hon. Gentleman makes proper reference to the empowerment fund, for which, I understand, bids are currently in play. Given the election, I imagine that that process will be forestalled slightly, but I am confident that within many of those bids there will be programmes designed for the promotion of human rights in many of the countries at which the fund is directing its efforts.
I pay tribute to the amazing work of Yorkshire MESMAC, which is based in Leeds and first brought these appalling abuses to my attention. The abuses are chilling, horrific and evil, but also a clear breach of international law. What discussions has the Minister had not only with EU partners but with the United Nations to look at an initiative to stamp out this appalling persecution, wherever it may happen?
The appalling treatment that LGBT people face in some countries makes it all the more important that officials here making decisions on sexual orientation-based asylum cases get them 100% correct. Will the Minister at least make representations to the Home Office that no asylum case should ever be refused solely on the basis that a person can return home and hide their sexuality?
Points of order should really be raised after the business question. Does it relate to the urgent question? No. The hon. Gentleman is such a patient fellow. We can always hear from him later. In fact, there will be a great sense of anticipation in the House as to what he is planning to raise.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 24 April—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Tuesday 25 April—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 26 April—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Digital Economy Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Digital Economy Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Finances Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 27 April—Consideration of Lords amendments.
The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received. The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts.
Since this is probably going to be the last weekly business statement in this Parliament, may I take the opportunity to thank the staff of the House for the service that they provide to every one of us throughout the Parliament, and to wish them the opportunity to put their feet up a bit over forthcoming weeks?
Secondly, I wish particular good fortune to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have decided that they will not seek re-election. Each of them in their own way has striven to represent the interests of their constituents during their years here, each of them has brought particular experiences and political commitments to the causes for which they have fought, and all of them have contributed to building democracy in this country, and I place our thanks on record.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the very last week of this short and eventful Parliament; I will save my further thanks for the end of my response. This was an eventful Parliament, not least because of the death of PC Keith Palmer, Leslie Rhodes, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and now Andreea Cristea, as well as the injury of many others. As the dean of Southwark cathedral said at the memorial service for PC Keith Palmer, they died in the shadow of the clock that counts the minutes, the hours and the years of our lives. And, of course, our beloved colleague Jo Cox should have been fighting this election. We need to remember them as we campaign, during the election, for a country that is tolerant and just.
The Prime Minister wants stability and to strengthen her hand in the negotiations, but blames the opposition parties for calling a general election. This is about her dithering and confusion, and watching her back. First, what an arrogant alleged statement it is that she should presume to know the outcome of an election. Secondly, what have her Government been doing for the last nine months? Thirdly, can the Leader of the House confirm that if the Government win, we will not enter into a rolling programme of snap elections during the negotiations?
The Prime Minister wanted to trigger article 50 without a vote, but the courts said that we live under the rule of law and that Parliament should have a say—this is a democracy, not a dictatorship—and there has been silence from the Government since July 2016. Her Majesty’s Opposition called for a White Paper on the Government’s plans for Brexit in October 2016, but there was silence until a speech in Lancaster House, not this House. Mr Speaker, I do not know what the matter with the Government is; they seem to be afraid of you and of making statements in the House. I find you very personable—except when you say “Order, order.” Only later did the Government set out their 12 points of principle. Finally, a White Paper was published in February. Her Majesty’s Opposition insisted on a final vote on the deal and forced the Government to agree, because we are a representative democracy. As the Prime Minister sat in front of the great portrait of Robert Walpole to sign the letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, she forgot to mention Gibraltar, one of our overseas territories, where 96% of people voted to remain—no wonder she forgot to mention them.
The Government therefore appear to be speaking for the 52 %, while Her Majesty’s Opposition will balance the views of the 52% and the 48% and speak for the country. The confusion lies within the Prime Minister’s party, not within the Opposition. Of course the Government want a general election, because they need a new manifesto. Every day the Government break a manifesto pledge. There was no mention of lifting the cap on grammar schools in the 2015 manifesto; that became Government policy, and it is now stalled by opposition from all sides of the House. An increase in national insurance contributions for self-employed workers was ruled out of the manifesto, but then became Government policy, and then there was a U-turn. The manifesto said nothing about doing no harm to the vulnerable, yet their cars are being taken away as they wait for their personal independence payment assessments; many hon. Members have written on behalf of their constituents to stop the vulnerable losing their only mode of transport before they can appeal the decision.
This is a dithering, confused Government who cannot make a decision for the good of the country, so may we have a final debate next week on what leadership and stability really look like? We on this side of the House say it looks like this: for children, it is protecting Sure Start and free school meals for all primary school children; for students, no increase in tuition fees; for working people, a £10 minimum wage that will lift them out of poverty, not the living wage of £7.50; for society, investment in our public services, with local authority grants that are based on the need to protect local services, such as police forces and libraries, not special deals for special friends; ensuring small businesses thrive by preventing late payments; supporting those who care for others by an increase in carer’s allowance; and for senior citizens, protecting pensions and compensating women affected by an increase in the state pension age. Policies for the seven stages of life—that is what this country needs. No dithering, no confusion, just clear vision and strong leadership. Her Majesty’s Opposition, in government, will work for a tolerant, fair and dynamic United Kingdom.
I should like to echo the Leader of the House in thanking all the House staff for their brilliant support. I should like to thank you, Mr Speaker, and your office, and the Leader of the House, his erstwhile deputy and his office for all their help. I also thank my office and everyone who has made my job easier, including my Chief Whip, who tells me to cut out the jokes. Tomorrow will be Her Majesty the Queen’s 91st birthday. She shares her birthday with my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for whom it will be a significant day. I hope he will not mind my saying that it will be his 60th.
Oh, it is the right hon. Lady’s birthday as well! I will not say what her age is. [Interruption.] She is 21, as are we all. I echo the Leader of the House’s thanks to those Members who are standing down. They have given their lives to public service, and we thank them all. Finally, I should like to say that it has been an absolute privilege to be the shadow Leader of the House.
I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s final gracious words, and with her tributes to those who lost their life in the recent terrorist attack and to our late colleague, Jo Cox. I hope that it will not be long into the life of the new Parliament before the permanent memorial to Jo can take its place in the House of Commons. I know that that will be welcomed and supported by every Member of this House and of the next House of Commons. I join the hon. Lady in wishing many happy returns to Her Majesty, to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). As my right hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, I can tell her that whatever number might be appended to her years, nothing can diminish her vigour or her commitment to working on behalf of her constituents. Like her, I have always enjoyed and appreciated my relationship with our other constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Indeed, following the last boundary change, I became an elector in the Buckingham constituency, and I now have a particular interest in the outcome there.
If the hon. Gentleman peruses Mr Speaker’s previous election material, he might find the answer that he is seeking.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) asked me a number of questions. I have to say that, when it comes to Gibraltar, her Front Benchers have a very short memory. People in Gibraltar have not forgotten how the last Labour Government tried to sell that territory down the river, or how they sought a joint sovereignty agreement. That proposal was rejected by the people of Gibraltar by a margin of well over 90% in a subsequent referendum.
The hon. Lady made a number of assertions about policies that I am sure will be debated in the country in the weeks to come. I simply say that all of us in this House, whatever political perspective we bring to these matters, want the kind of public services in which we can take pride, and which work effectively for our constituents who are vulnerable and in need of help. It is the belief of this Government and this party that the foundation for effective public services is a strong and growing economy. Under the plans put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, any chaotic Government of his would be incapable of funding public services, because they would bankrupt the British economy, raise taxes on ordinary working families and pile yet more public debt on to the next generation—a betrayal of young people.
The hon. Member for Walsall South said that she looked forward to the Leader of the Opposition being in a position to form a Government, but we know that three quarters of her parliamentary colleagues had no confidence in his ability to continue as the leader of the Labour party. Few Labour Members of this outgoing Parliament will be able to say with a straight face that they really have confidence that the Leader of the Opposition should be entrusted with the government and leadership of this country.
Order. Pursuant to what the Leader of the House said about our late and esteemed colleague, Jo Cox, I advise the House that the memorial to her had been scheduled to be installed in the Chamber next month. That date fell within what will now be the election campaign, and therefore a rescheduling is essential. The matter was discussed by relevant colleagues, the Jo Cox Foundation and me yesterday, and it is fully intended that the installation will take place very soon after the start of the new Parliament.
Notwithstanding my advanced years, I appear to have gained no more wisdom, because I wish to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on my and his favourite subject, and no doubt yours, Mr Speaker: High Speed 2. We need an emergency debate on HS2 next week, because in evidence to the Transport Committee yesterday, the boss of HS2, David Higgins, indicated that its failure to consider conflicts of interest led to the fiasco of its key contractor, CH2M, withdrawing from a £170 million contract. I want to know who will take responsibility for that, especially as this is a massive project—the largest infrastructure project in this country. We need to examine whether senior management are fit for their roles and should be in charge of such large amounts of taxpayers’ money at a time when we will be away from this place and unable to scrutinise them. May we have an emergency debate on HS2 next week?
My right hon. Friend is right to pursue this matter of great importance to her constituents and mine, and those in other constituencies along the proposed route. The failure of due diligence that Sir David Higgins acknowledged should not have happened. I am glad, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made it clear in his evidence to the Transport Committee yesterday that he gives a high priority to fair and transparent procurement in HS2, and all such projects for which he has responsibility.