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Topical Questions

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 27 April 2017

Before I answer, may I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for your forbearance in these Question Times, and for everything else you have done for this House in the past several years?

We have a clear plan for Britain, one that fosters a deep and special new partnership with the European Union, and serves the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom. We want that new partnership to be underpinned by a comprehensive free trade agreement that gives UK companies maximum access to European markets, and European companies the same access to UK markets. Membership of the single market involves maintaining all four freedoms, including free movement of people, which is therefore inconsistent with our desire to take back control of our borders. Britain is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. It is in both our interests to see the European Union succeed socially, politically and economically. That will be our policy in the coming years.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that as part of that plan the Government are committed to the putting the rights of EU citizens into British law via the great repeal Bill, and that nothing will affect those rights unless it has the consent of this House?

My hon. Friend is right. One thing that I think people have missed and he has picked up on is that any change in those rights would require primary legislation in this House. In addition, our plan is to put through the great repeal Bill and have subsequent consequential primary legislation that will underpin those rights. I have made those points to many of my opposite numbers, the interlocutors for other member states, and said that this will be taken at the same time as protection of British rights abroad. They have all understood and welcomed that. I am very confident that we can get a deal that will protect all of the, I think, 4 million in very short order.

Let me pick up on that theme. As the Secretary of State knows, about 3 million EU nationals are very anxious about their status when we leave the EU. Labour would unilaterally guarantee their status from day one. Under this Government, all they can do is apply for consideration for permanent residency, but as the Brexit Select Committee warned in March:

“The current process for consideration of permanent residency applications is not fit for purpose”.

The Secretary of State knows how important this is. Have things improved?

I respect the hon. and learned Gentleman’s concern in this area. Let me be clear about that. However, I would say to him that the system there now is not designed to deal with 3 million. That has been made plain. In fact, if he goes on the Home Office website, he will see that it says not to make an application now—there is no need to. When we move the primary legislation it will be a matter for the Home Office, but I believe it will be very simple when it comes to that point.

As the Financial Times reported yesterday, the Home Office is now saying, “Don’t apply”. Is that the Government’s official position for EU nationals—“Don’t apply for permanent residency”? Is that how they will deal with that anxiety?

What that is about is a reflection of what is on the Home Office website, which essentially points out that EU citizens do not need to apply for their rights to be underpinned. That is the approach we are taking. The hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that for the next two years, irrespective of anything that the Government do, all the existing rights and privileges continue to apply. There will be no change in that respect. Before we come to the point of exit from the European Union, we will have made that very clear in primary legislation.

T3. From Donna Nook to Chapel St Leonards, the Lincolnshire coastline is the best place in the country for a traditional seaside holiday. However, the coastline also has pockets of deprivation, and investment in infrastructure, such as broadband, traffic solutions and renovated beach huts, are key to the local economy. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the coastal economy, and the rural economy, will be central in preparations for our exit? (909896)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; indeed, leaving aside the north Wales coastline, hers is one of the most beautiful in the UK. Coastal communities contribute an important part of our economy. They are part of the study that we have been undertaking, and we intend to make sure that their interests are reflected post-Brexit.

T2. The Prime Minister called the general election in the name of building unity to strengthen her EU negotiating position. However, this is the Prime Minister who sent “Go home” vans around parts of urban Britain with high immigrant populations, this is the Prime Minister who aided and abetted the most disgraceful campaign against the first Muslim Mayor of our capital city, and this is the Government who, with their hard Brexit allies, seek to call anyone who calls into question their negotiating strategy a bunch of saboteurs. Is not the truth that, far from uniting this country, this Tory Government and its Ministers have been dividing it since they took office? (909895)

If the hon. Gentleman wants an answer to that, the first place he should start is on the streets of Britain, where he will find massive support for our Prime Minister, massive respect for our Prime Minister and a belief that she will deliver the best outcome in the Brexit negotiations.

T6. Last week I met staff from Norwich manufacturing firm Teknomek, a small firm with impressive productivity and export links to Ireland and the continent. Firms such as that need the freest possible trade in services and goods between Britain and the other EU member states. Will my right hon. Friend look for security, stability, certainty and simplicity for small firms up and down the country? (909902)

We fully understand the importance of these issues to SMEs, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Let me repeat for the umpteenth time in this Question Time that we are pursuing a bold and ambitious free trade agreement, which will benefit firms such as those and others around the country.

Thousands of my constituents work in Edinburgh’s financial sector, which is the second largest in the UK. Following the EU 27’s announcement this week that they intend to exclude the financial services sector from any future trade deal with the UK after Brexit, will the Minister tell me what contingency planning he is carrying out to protect my constituents’ jobs?

I would say to the hon. and learned Lady, as I said in answer to an earlier question, that we seek a comprehensive trade deal, which absolutely would include financial services. However, as I said previously, we have engaged with the Edinburgh financial services sector, which has been clear with us that access to European Union markets is enormously important, but even more important is its access to the United Kingdom as a whole and Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.

T4. As my right hon. Friend proceeds with the immense task of delivering a responsible and good Brexit for the country and, most especially at these difficult times, for Mid Sussex, does he agree that we cannot pretend to be a global player without running an open economy, with an orderly, non-bureaucratic immigration policy that allows our businesses and public services to access the people and skills that they need? (909900)

The first thing I will say is that Mid Sussex is in good hands. My right hon. Friend is right: the balance that any Government strike when they control their own immigration policy and borders—which is something that he has fought for down the years—not only provides proper security and proper policy, in terms of the delivery of social services and housing, but at the same time allows our businesses, universities, research centres and financial centres to take part in the battle for talent that makes our country one of the greatest in the world.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for putting up with me so tolerantly for a long time? I warn you, however, that I will make every effort to come back and be troublesome in future. May I also surprise you by asking a topical question? People such as me were remainers. We accept the will of the British people, but we are darn sure that we want a great deal for this country and we are very worried that this election will get in the way. Has the Secretary of State seen this morning’s reports that the pharmaceutical industry is going to move out of Britain for two reasons? The first is Brexit and the second is the fact that we have not put sufficient resources into our national health service.

Before I answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, may I say that he is the one person who has got me a rebuke from Mr Speaker in the past? I look forward to him coming back and continuing that tradition. Pharmaceutical industries have relocated here and companies such as GlaxoSmithKline have increased their expenditure here. As for the other aspect of that attempt by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, it seemed to me to be putting pressure on the spending of the national health service. That is an issue for the Health Secretary, who will make sensible decisions in the national interest, and not in that of an individual industry.

T7. Pendle is home to a cluster of outstanding aerospace businesses, including Euravia, Senior Aerospace Weston, Merc Aerospace, T&R Precision Engineering and, of course, the crown jewel, Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sector is absolutely vital to the UK economy, and will he assure this House that it will have a strong voice in the negotiations under a Conservative Government? (909903)

May I say that Pendle has a strong voice going into the general election? Aerospace is a key industry for this country, which is why, as I said earlier, we have paid so much close attention to it. We will make sure that we continue to have the most important aerospace industry in Europe.

Far from there being an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS following Brexit, we are likely to face an NHS staffing crisis and slower access to cancer drugs and treatments because of the loss of the European Medicines Agency. Is the Secretary of State going to put that sign on a bus in the next few weeks?

One of the oddities of the Labour party’s position is that on the one hand it says, “You must represent everybody,” which is entirely proper, but on the other hand it wants to revisit—

I will answer the question when the heckling stops. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is getting ready for the hustings in his constituency—they may be the last he takes part in. I am not going to revisit the arguments of the past. I am going to work on delivering the best outcome for the future.

Order. As this is the last day and, other than points of order, we will be suspending, my instinct is to hear colleagues who want to ask questions, but I hope that they will not expect to be heard without limit. Therefore, if colleagues now want briefly to put their questions to the esteemed Secretary of State and his colleagues, I am open to that. I call Suella Fernandes, who will speak with great brevity, I am sure.

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that financial services in London, Edinburgh and throughout the country will be able to benefit from principles of equivalence and mutual recognition as an alternative to passporting, to ensure that that sector remains open and thriving, as stated recently by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will continue to work closely with the regulators to ensure that we have some of the best, and best regulated, financial services in the world.

The Secretary of State is a wise man, and we all read his wise article in The Irish Times on 5 September last year, in which he said that Ireland did not have to choose between Europe and the United Kingdom but could commit itself to expanded trade and commerce with both. Ireland is a big market for England, but it is not the biggest. Given the Secretary of State’s wise words in Ireland, what patience has he with those who suggest that England would want trade barriers with its largest market in Europe, and, with exports worth £50 billion, its second largest export market in the world—Scotland?

Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, let me say this to him. He is an old friend of mine, and, politics notwithstanding, I wish him well. As for the answer to his question, I do not want to see any trade barriers within the United Kingdom, which, of course, is why I support the Union.

While all of us in this place want a good negotiated settlement, it is vital to some, not least those in the agricultural sector, which stands to lose significantly if there is no deal. Will my right hon. Friend continue to reassure us that despite the necessary shorthand of our approach to the negotiations, the need for the agricultural sector to be secure is uppermost in his mind, and that the sector will not be disadvantaged either by no deal or by the terms of trade in new arrangements with other countries?

My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that the agricultural sector is the most sensitive to the issue of tariffs, and indeed to the issue of customs, because of the nature of the product, which, for instance, is often biodegradable. However, that is also true the other way round. We are an enormous market for France, Bavaria and many other agricultural areas in Europe. We have at dead centre the aim of securing frictionless trade in that sector in the future, and we are confident that it is in the interests of the whole European Union, not just us.

Will the Secretary of State tell us why we are going into this premature election? Those of us who voted to remain in the EU have fully accepted the decision that was made, and voted for the triggering of article 50, as did those in the other House; so that is not the reason. Will the Secretary of State confess today that the real reason we are having this election is the Government’s wish to escape from the promise that they made two years ago—a five-year promise—not to raise taxes, and to respect the triple lock? Is it not true that what lies ahead on the economic front is a great sinkhole into which our economy will fall in a tailspin?

I note the attention paid to your call for short questions, Mr Speaker, but I will give the hon. Gentleman’s question a short answer. Throughout this process the Labour party has maintained its interesting schizophrenia, first saying, “We respect the outcome of the referendum”, and then, at every turn, trying to thwart it. Labour Members say, “You have a mandate to leave, but not on those terms.” Well, when the election is over, we will have a mandate on those terms.

Will the Secretary of State consider holding a west midlands Brexit summit with the new mayor of the west midlands—who we hope will be Andy Street—and with key regional businesses, so that we can ensure that the interests of the west midlands are considered in the Brexit negotiations and that Brexit delivers for the west midlands as well as for the rest of the country?

One of the best things that could happen to the west midlands would be the election of Andy Street, and I will make time to see him as soon as he is elected.

London is the pre-eminent economic force in the country. What assistance and co-operation has my right hon. Friend received from the Mayor of London and, indeed, local authorities in London, to ensure that we have a smooth, clean Brexit that benefits the capital and the country as a whole?

My hon. Friend is dead right. The financial sector in London is, of course, the largest, but it is not the only one that is important. We should not forget that Scotland has a major financial sector. All the Ministers in my Department, the relevant Ministers in the Treasury, and, when appropriate, the relevant Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been in constant communication with the whole sector, with all the representative groups in the sector and, indeed, with a large number of companies in the sector.

To give him his due, I have also received representations from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and have had very useful conversations with him. He has had the grace to recognise that we in the Government also have the best interests of London at heart.

What kind of deal does the Secretary of State think he is likely to get if he and the Government refuse to pay their dues in Europe? Surely negotiations are about give and take.

It is interesting that the Scottish National party wants to give €60 billion; I had not realised that up until now.

My constituents in Bromley and Chislehurst welcome the emphasis given to financial services, our largest employer. Does the Secretary of State also recognise that financial services are important to the Crown dependencies, which require protocol 3 access, which will be lost upon our leaving the EU, and also to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar? Will he make sure that those two key areas also get the full benefit of our ambitious free trade deal?

My hon. Friend is just about old enough to remember that I have had to defend Gibraltar before. We succeeded then; we will succeed now.

Blaenau Gwent was a net beneficiary from the EU. To boost our economy, we need continuous investment for jobs, so will the Minister commit to the same high levels of infrastructure investment for the future?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have guaranteed structural fund payments to 2020. He must also understand that responsibility for delivering infrastructure in Wales lies with the Welsh Assembly Government, so no doubt he will be speaking to his colleagues as soon as Parliament has risen.

I thought we were about to hear the mellifluous tones of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), who has periodically bobbed and then ceased to do so, but we are gratified if we are going to hear the hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I had earlier wished to ask about the pig industry, a very important industry across East Anglia. Can the Minister tell us what prospects he sees for the industry? It is an industry that does not have subsidy from the public purse, but which has made huge gains, particularly in China where the pigs’ ear deal added £5 per carcass? What prospects does he see for this important sector?

Given my hon. Friend’s surname, I am sure that he will be declaring his interest. I assure him that the Government fully understand the importance of pigmeat to the economy of this country. I have had a meeting with the National Pig Association, and I am glad to say that it is very positive about the future.

Can the Secretary of State name one power or policy area that he can definitely guarantee will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the event of Brexit?

In an earlier question reference was made to the English regions, which are of course an EU construction. They divide great counties such as Lincolnshire between the east midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber. Is it too much to expect a future Government to scrap these regions when we regain our independence, or at the very least ensure that Lincolnshire is in one of them?

Taking into account the state of devolution, how will Northern Ireland be represented in the preparations for the United Kingdom to leave the EU, and, specifically, how will the Minister be able to meet the intricate needs of Northern Ireland at this time?

We continue to urge all parties to come together so that the devolved Assembly can be restored and we can engage with all parties and communities in Northern Ireland to ensure that their views are represented throughout this period. Earlier this week I attended the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, where there was huge interest in maintaining strong and positive relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

How can any negotiator achieve any concession from any other negotiator if it is known in advance that he will not walk away if no concessions are given?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He crystallises the point on “no deal is better than a bad deal”, and he clearly demonstrates why the Labour proposal, apart from being completely impractical, would never be deliverable.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee regional aid for the west midlands after Britain leaves the EU? More importantly, we have a very fine candidate for the mayor’s job in the west midlands: Siôn Simon.

The west midlands is certainly one of the powerhouses of this country that will be important for powering the economy after we have left the European Union. These are matters that will be discussed in the fullness of time with the new mayor, Andy Street.

Three years ago, David Cameron and I launched my first election campaign, at British Sugar in Newark. Three years—and approaching three elections—later, the sugar industry continues to employ hundreds of my constituents in Nottinghamshire, keeping the fields of the county full of rich beet crop. Furthermore, the sugar industry is intensely optimistic about the prospects for Brexit. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acquired a reputation as something of a bruiser over the years, but with his 13 years of experience at Tate & Lyle, will he retain his sweet tooth as he approaches the negotiations?

I must admit that I am standing here wondering whether I should declare an interest, on behalf of my pension fund if nothing else. Of course we will fight for the interests of the sugar industry as much as we do for everything else, and we will be successful.

Energy is the largest sector in my constituency. We have wind farms, nuclear power and gas. We even have a tunnel under the bay to carry electrical cables from one end of Cumbria down into Lancashire. EDF Energy is the largest employer in the constituency, and it is continually reinvesting and has plans to expand. Do my right hon. and hon. Friends agree that this is a sign of things to come?

We have had a number of meetings with the energy industry, including EDF Energy. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further, because ensuring that we continue to have the energy to power the British economy in the years ahead will be a vital part of our considerations.

Can the Minister confirm that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will not affect the border and immigration controls that people from the EU are currently subjected to as they enter the United Kingdom?

Clearly it is part of our negotiating aims to have free and frictionless travel as well as trade. Obviously there will be more control of our borders in the future, but it will not be designed to inconvenience people. It will be control designed to deliver the national interest and to keep this a free and open country that welcomes people from all over the world in the way we have done for centuries and will do for centuries to come. Was that the last question, Mr Speaker?

In that case, I should like to wish everyone in the House a happy six weeks, and I look forward to seeing some of them here again.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and also for his kind remarks about me earlier.