House of Commons
Thursday 7 September 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Membership of the European Economic Area
1. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on plans for the House to vote on continued UK membership of the EEA. 
The United Kingdom will no longer participate in the EEA agreement once we leave the European Union. The United Kingdom is a party to the EEA agreement in its capacity as an EU member state, so on exit day the EEA agreement will cease to operate in respect of the UK. It will no longer have any practical relevance to the United Kingdom. We are considering what steps, if any, we might need to take to confirm formally our withdrawal from the EEA agreement as a matter of international law.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but I am afraid that article 127 of the EEA agreement, to which the United Kingdom has been a signatory since 1993, clearly states that any country wishing to leave the European economic area must give formal notice of at least one year. Will the Secretary of State therefore please confirm that such notice would have to be given to leave the EEA and that, given the fundamental constitutional, political, legal and economic importance of such a decision, the decision to leave the EEA would be subject to a debate and a vote?
There is actually agreement that when the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, the EEA agreement will no longer operate in respect of the United Kingdom. As such, the Government’s legal position is clear: article 127 does not need to be triggered for the agreement to cease to have effect, but we are looking at it just to make sure, for clarity purposes, that we meet its requirements.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that continued membership of the European single market, which some Opposition Members seem now to be advocating, would negate many of the advantages of leaving the European Union, while requiring us still to accept decisions that we could no longer influence? To that extent, it would actually be worse than continued membership as a full member.
Yes, my right hon. Friend is quite right. The simple truth is that membership of the European Free Trade Association, for example, which would be one way to retain EEA membership, would do exactly that: it would keep us within the acquis, and it would keep us within the requirements of free movement, albeit with some limitations, but none of those have worked so far. In many ways, it is the worst of all outcomes. We did consider it—I gave it some considerable thought, maybe as an interim measure—but it seemed to me to be more complicated, more difficult and less beneficial than other options.
The Secretary of State has given an equivocal answer on whether there might need to be a vote on the EEA. Will he consider whether we should also have a vote on the settlement bill and, indeed, on the cost of the Nissan deal set out in the rather heavily redacted letter I have here?
Well, the heavily redacted letter was not from me, so I am not entirely sure what the right hon. Gentleman is referring to, but the answer, generally, is no.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we have already had a vote, and that was on 23 June last year? The British people decided to leave the European Union. Does he agree that one of the things we can now look forward to is being able to do trade deals with a number of countries throughout the world, which we are now constrained from doing as members of the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point: we are able to make trade deals once we leave the European Union, and that will give us enormous benefits, because as the European Commission itself admits, 90% of world trade will be outside the EU, not within it, in the coming decades.
The Secretary of State set out his position on the EEA. On 15 August, he told the “Today” programme that transitional arrangements should be
“as close as possible to the current arrangements”.
Two days before that, the Chancellor and the International Trade Secretary said in a joint article that Britain would leave the customs union and leave the single market. Both positions cannot be right. Will the Secretary of State step up to the Dispatch Box and tell us what form of transitional arrangements the Government are seeking to negotiate?
I did that only a couple of days ago. I will come back to the point, but for the House’s interest, I will read a small part of a LabourList article—I read LabourList all the time, of course—by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who opened this question. He said:
“On Sunday Keir Starmer used an article in The Observer to call time on the ambiguity that had come to define Labour’s approach to Brexit since the referendum”—
the ambiguity, right? He said, “It was an approach”—this is the best bit—
“that…served us well on 8 June”.
What was that ambiguity? Tell leavers you want to leave; tell remainers you want to remain. That ambiguity, of course, could not last, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, it was never sustainable. That is the ambiguity of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just asked his question.
Now, our position is very clear. The transition arrangements will meet three different requirements: to provide time for the British Government, if need be, to create new regulatory agencies and so on; time for companies to make their arrangements to deal with new regulation; and time for other countries to make arrangements on, for example, new customs proposals. That is what will be required. That is why we need to be as close as we are to our current arrangements. It does not mean that, in the long run, we are in either the customs union or the single market.
There is plenty of material for colleagues to include in their Second Reading debate speeches if they so wish. The material might be better located there.
I asked the Secretary of State his position and he started with my position. If he wants to swap places—any time.
Given the progress to date, and knowing that we will go back to this answer, what prospects does the Secretary of State genuinely believe there are for bespoke transitional agreements being agreed, negotiated and implemented by March 2019? Knowing how anxiously businesses are looking at this, when does he anticipate being able to tell them what the arrangements will be, because they need to make arrangements?
That is a very legitimate and sensible question. I believe that the benefits of a transitional arrangement go both ways—they are symmetrical. They apply equally to France, Holland, Germany or Denmark as they do to us. That is some of the read-back we have been getting. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been travelling around Europe himself and he will no doubt have picked up that same read-back. We are finding that the Commission is open to discussion of transition. We have raised it only briefly at each of the last two meetings because it does not fit within the current four groups of negotiation, but I think there is a very good prospect.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
2. What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on (a) workers’ rights and (b) environmental protection. 
The UK already goes beyond EU minimum standards in a number of employment areas, and similarly we have a long history of environmental protection. We are committed to safeguarding and improving both. The EU Withdrawal Bill will ensure that EU-derived workers’ rights and environmental protections that currently apply will continue to be in place in domestic law on exit, and will enable those laws to continue to function effectively. It will then be for Parliament and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures to make any future changes to EU-derived law.
Britain already has one of the most competition-friendly economies in the world, according to the OECD, but some Conservative Members want to use Brexit to dismantle workers’ rights and erode environmental protections. [Interruption.] The EU brought us—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry, but there is huge pressure of time today, and we do not have time for descriptions. What we need is short, pithy questions, preferably not heckled extensively, so that we can get down the Order Paper.
The EU brought us parental leave for families, it brought us—
Order. I am sorry, but I explained that what I need is a single-sentence question, not a series of descriptions.
Will the Minister assure the residents of Stockton South that their rights will not be eroded and that workers and the environment will not end up paying the price of Brexit?
Yes, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman and his residents. I can reassert the Government’s commitment not to roll back workers’ rights. As I have said, the UK already goes beyond EU minima, and it will be for Parliament in future to determine the future course of the law.
First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box? In the course of the debates about the so-called Henry VIII powers, will he remind everybody that section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 actually, for 40 years, gave a British Government the kind of Executive authority that was never granted before, and that in leaving the European Union we will be giving Parliament back its power to scrutinise?
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend; of course I agree with him. I am invigorated and excited to find that Parliament is reawakening to the need for full and proper scrutiny of secondary legislation.
Does the Minister recognise the risk of an impending governance gap with regard to environmental legislation? At present, the Commission and the European Court of Justice perform the vital role of both monitoring and enforcing laws. Domestic mechanisms like judicial review simply do not go far enough. What new institutional mechanisms is he going to look at to make sure that he leaves the environment in a better state than he found it?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding the House that we are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it.
How will you do it?
She asks how we will do it. The Bill makes provision for Ministers to bring forward statutory instruments that will correct deficiencies that would otherwise arise as we bring EU law into UK law. I very much look forward to the debate on the particular instruments.
May I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench? I welcome his comments to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is completely wrong, because leaving the European Union will enable us to take our full role on international bodies such as the International Plant Protection Convention, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. We will be able to adapt the world conventions Ramsar and Bern to our own environment, our own landscape, our own flora and our own fauna. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I do agree with my right hon. Friend, and I am most grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to put on the record again that we will uphold all our commitments to international law in relation to the environment.
Despite the Minister’s assurances a few minutes ago, clause 9 as it stands will give the Minister the almost unlimited right, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny, to wipe out any workers’ protection that he chooses. Given that they are promising not to do that, will the Government commit today to amending that clause at Committee stage so that the erosion of workers’ rights is explicitly excluded from the powers that that clause will bring?
The powers in the Bill have been drawn widely in order that this country and this Parliament can meet the imperative of delivering a working statute book on the day we leave the European Union, to deliver certainty, continuity and control and, on the area that the hon. Gentleman raises, in order to implement the withdrawal agreement in a way that allows us to leave the European Union smoothly and successfully.
I will not give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for today, but I will say to him that as the junior Minister responsible for the Bill on behalf of the Secretary of State, I will look with the utmost seriousness at the amendments that are tabled. What we will not do is accept any amendment that compromises the fundamental purpose of the Bill, which is to deliver certainty, continuity and control as we leave and to allow us to make the necessary changes to UK law to implement the necessary withdrawal agreement.
The Government believe that clause 9 is necessary because of the huge volume of legislation that will have to go through simply to tidy up potential anomalies in legislation. I am offering them a way out. Why are they so determined to bring in legislation that they do not intend to use, when they will have their work cut out for them to bring in the legislation that they do need? Why will the Minister not commit to putting into legislation the promise that he has just given to the House at the Dispatch Box?
With respect, the hon. Gentleman may be confusing clauses 7 and 9. I look forward to the fullest debate on these matters on the Floor of the House when we come—I hope, Parliament willing—to Committee stage.
May I add my congratulations to my colleague on his appointment to the Front Bench? It is very well deserved. Is not the right way for the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) to secure the rights of workers, and to secure the environmental protections that he wants, to vote for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill? If the Labour party succeeds in blocking the Bill, those protections will no longer exist.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations and his support, and I look forward to his support in future. He is absolutely right: the best way for Members of this House to ensure that they serve their constituents by delivering a working statute book, and delivering the continuity of the rights and protections currently in EU law and applying to the UK, is to vote for this Bill and to support its passage through the House.
3. What assessment he has made of the progress during negotiations on reaching agreement on the future status of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU27 after the UK has left the EU. 
As the House will be aware, and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out, our Department has prioritised this strand in negotiations. We recognise the importance of providing swift reassurance to 4 million people—EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU. In August, we agreed to protect the rights of frontier workers, cover future social security contributions and protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
Businesses across my constituency and throughout the country are worried, not just about retaining staff but about attracting the brightest and the best. Heathrow, which is just outside my constituency, employs thousands locally, and medical research firms contribute massively across the country. What can the Minister say to assure them that Brexit will not destroy their competitiveness?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We do want to make sure that as we look towards the future and towards a new immigration policy after we have left the European Union, we can meet the needs of business and our economy. I am glad that the Home Office has commissioned work from the Migration Advisory Committee looking at all sectors of the economy and all parts of the UK, to make sure that we can continue to attract the brightest and the best.
Will my hon. Friend reiterate and emphasise the Government’s commitment to settling the question of EU nationals, giving them the stability they need through securing their rights, including keeping families together?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We have set out in our paper a fair and serious offer to maximise certainty for people— individuals and families—and it is important to remember that this applies equally to EU nationals living in the UK and many of our own nationals living across the EEA.
Some of the proposals the Government have apparently been considering on the future of EU migration may apply from the day on which we leave the European Union. Irrespective of the status of any leaked document, does the Minister agree that the Government should not make any changes that would prevent them from securing a transitional deal to protect jobs and the economy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I will not comment on any leaked documents, but of course it is important that we secure certainty and continuity for citizens in this process. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out very clearly our commitment to establishing interim arrangements, and we look forward to discussing those issues in the context of the future partnership, which will be crucial to securing results on both.
Does my hon. Friend agree that striking a positive position with respect to future migration from the EU will be really important not just for the labour market, where we have skills shortages at all skill levels in the economy, but as one of the keys to help secure the best possible final trade deal with the EU?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is very clear from what the Prime Minister has said that even after we have left the EU we will continue to want to seek talent from Europe. We will continue to strike that positive attitude, but it is important in the interests of both UK and European citizens that we get on with the discussions, proceed at pace and secure a deal that provides maximum certainty.
Perhaps I have given the Minister time to think about actually answering my question about making a commitment not to introduce any new migration rules from 2019 that will impact on a transitional deal. Looking beyond 2019, let me also ask: given that the Government are committed to the principle of reciprocity in any deal on citizens’ rights, would he be happy for UK citizens living and working in the EU to be subject to biometric screening and fingerprinting?
The hon. Gentleman has asked very theoretical questions about future policy, and I am not going to get into commenting on other Departments’ policies that have not yet been published. What is important is that we negotiate in good faith to secure the best outcome for UK citizens and for EU citizens, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Support for Farmers
4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. 
We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament. We are working closely with a range of stakeholders, as well as the devolved Administrations, to maintain stability for farmers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will introduce an agriculture Bill to support our vision for a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive, productive and profitable, as well as to protect our precious natural environment for future generations and to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide stability for farmers as we exit the EU.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. He is aware that the UK farming sector is highly reliant on EU labour. What discussions has he had with DEFRA and others about the potential reintroduction of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme?
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Government keep our position on seasonal workers under review. Until we have left the EU, employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors are free to continue to recruit EU workers to meet their labour needs. It remains the Government’s policy not to operate migration schemes for non-EEA nationals coming to fill vacancies at lower skill levels while employers have unrestricted access to labour from elsewhere in the EU. I note, however, that the Home Office told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this year that a new SAWS could be introduced very quickly—in five or six months—once the need for such a scheme has been identified. I hope my hon. Friend is reassured that we will have the agility to meet those needs.
I hope that Ministers are listening to the people who gave evidence to the EFRA Committee that food will end up rotting in the ground if we do not have the labour force to dig it up. May I urge the Minister to accept that this is not just about subsidies for farmers, but about access to the market—and tariff-free access to the market? Unless that is resolved, our farming industry will collapse.
Of course we wish to secure tariff-free access to European markets, and indeed to markets across the world, but these are matters for negotiation. I am sure the hon. Lady would join me in saying to the EU that it is in all our interests to move swiftly to discussions on our future agreements.
British farmers are among the most efficient in Europe. Will Brexit not give us a chance to design an agricultural policy in their interest, not that of inefficient farmers in Europe?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a unique opportunity for the UK to craft agricultural policies that suit our unique needs, which I hope will be to the benefit of the UK and our farmers.
13. Welsh farmers and fishermen need assurances now that the UK and Welsh Governments are working together. How often will formal ministerial discussions on agriculture and fisheries take place in the next three months, and will these meetings be open to formal scrutiny? 
I am very grateful for that detailed question, and I look forward to answering the hon. Lady in writing.
Leaving without a Deal
5. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on (a) the economy and (b) employment levels of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. 
A future partnership between the UK and the EU is in the interests of both sides, and I am confident that we will secure a good deal for the UK as a whole. A responsible Government, however, should prepare for all potential outcomes, including the unlikely scenario in which no mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached. The Government are undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work across a range of scenarios to assess the economic impacts of exiting the EU. As the House has agreed twice, however, we will not be publishing any information that would prejudice our negotiations.
The CBI president, Paul Drechsler, has said that the implications of falling back on to World Trade Organisation rules and a no-deal scenario would open up a
“Pandora’s box of economic consequences”
and that the UK could face tariffs on 90% of its EU exports by value. Will the Minister reassure business, therefore, that the UK will not walk away from these negotiations with no deal?
It is our intention to do what is in all our interests—the mutual interest of all the nations of the EU and the UK—which is to secure a deep and special partnership, including a broad and deep free trade agreement, and I look forward to doing so. I think, however, that the WTO is one of the great achievements of liberalism against the forces of economic nationalism, and I look forward, in whatever circumstances we leave, to the UK playing the fullest part in the improvement and development of the WTO.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to refer to Ludwig von Mises, but no doubt that awaits another of his answers in due course.
I hope that the Minister still believes that no deal is better than a bad deal.
I agree with my right hon. Friend and refer him to what the Chancellor famously said on “Marr”: what we cannot do is accept some kind of punishment deal. An environment in which the UK trades with the world while having control of our own tariffs, taxes and domestic regulation is one of which we should not be afraid.
Does it remain Ministers’ ambition to secure barrier-free access for the UK to the European single market, and is not the only way to enjoy the benefits of the single market to comply with the rules of the single market?
We recognise that the freedoms of the single market are indivisible and that the people of this country wish for Parliament to set its own laws and for a UK migration policy that meets with their democratic consent. It is the ambition of Ministers to secure trade with the absolute minimum of frictions, and I hope and look forward to doing so.
19. The potential of not having a deal raises the issue again of a transition, and the Secretary of State said earlier he thought that there were very good prospects on that point. Given that the purpose of a transition is to give certainty to business, is not the only logical timeframe for a transition one that runs from when we leave to when a new comprehensive deal is signed? 
The Government have agreed that the country would benefit from a period of implementation, but how that works and the destination to which we will be heading remain matters for negotiation.
Dublin III Regulation
6. Whether the Government plan to continue to apply the Dublin III Regulation after the UK leaves the EU. 
20. Whether the Government plan to continue to apply the Dublin III Regulation after the UK leaves the EU. 
The Prime Minister has been clear that we will continue to co-operate with our European partners on migration and asylum as we leave the EU. In our negotiations, we will discuss the exact nature of this co-operation as part of our future partnership, but as the Secretary of State said in his statement to the House on 5 September,
“We are a country with a strong tradition of tolerance and generosity, and if anything, I expect that to grow after we leave, not diminish.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 64.]
Will the Minister guarantee that unaccompanied children who are orphaned or have no idea where their parents are will still have the right to be reunited with family members—whether they are brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or grandparents—who are living in the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union? They are, after all, the most vulnerable children: the most vulnerable to traffickers and to others who seek to abuse them.
The right hon. Gentleman is right: we should absolutely seek to continue our policy of generosity towards those children and ensure that our family reunion policy remains generous. We have reunited, and continue to reunite, many refugees with their immediate families: we have granted more than 23,000 family reunion visas over the past five years. Obviously, I cannot set out the details of what we will agree with the EU, but we intend to agree on significant co-operation in this space to ensure that we can continue to bring families together.
Several hon. Members rose—
I would call the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) if he were here, but he is not, so I will not—but we will hear Mr Andrew Slaughter.
The problem with Dublin III, apart from the fact that we do not implement it very well, is that unaccompanied children have to get into the EU, often making perilous journeys, to apply under its provisions. Will the Government consider extending the provisions if we leave the EU, so that wherever people are in the world, they can apply under those terms?
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s question will have been heard. It is not really a question for my Department, but we certainly intend to establish co-operation with the EU on these matters and to continue to have as generous a policy of family reunion as we have had to date.
UK Food Safety Standards
7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the maintenance of UK food safety standards after the UK leaves the EU. 
The UK Government are committed to maintaining food safety standards and ensuring that the UK has an effective food safety regulator. The Food Standards Agency is a science and evidence-based Department, responsible for protecting public health and consumers’ other interests. Any proposed changes in UK food safety rules once we have left the EU and are no longer subject to EU regulations would be subject to a rigorous risk assessment by the agency. Our absolute priority is to protect public health and consumers’ other interests in relation to food, and we will continue to base that on the best scientific evidence available.
Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State for International Trade, who is on the record as having said that he is “relaxed” about the diminution of food safety standards post-Brexit, or will he now distance himself from those remarks?
The Government are committed to maintaining food standards, which will be a matter for the House of Commons to decide in future. I remind Members that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will bring EU law, as it applies to the UK, into UK law, so that it will continue to apply.
The Government know that the UK relies on the EU for 25% of our food and that we grow just 15% of our own fruit and 55% of our own vegetables. The Minister is nostalgic for decades past, but—assuming that the Government do not intend UK households to return to consuming Spam and tinned peaches—can he assure us that he is not considering imposing tariffs on EU food imports?
The House has heard the word “fantasy” since it reconvened after the recess, and the hon. Lady has now put before it a fantastical proposal. We will ensure that the UK continues to enjoy the widest range of products available in our shops.
8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure a flexible approach in the Government’s negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. 
Both sides in the negotiation are clear about the fact that we want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership. We have said repeatedly that, to achieve that end, both sides must demonstrate a dynamic and flexible approach to negotiations. In papers published by the Government, for instance, we have made it clear that we stand ready to protect the voting rights of EU nationals living in the UK. There will be give and take as the negotiations progress, but the destination is clear: a deep and special partnership that sees both parties emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared values, leading in the world and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens.
Given that a transitional arrangement is likely to be required, and if the Government are to be flexible, a simple solution to consider is an off-the-shelf arrangement with some modifications. Would the Government be willing to consider rejoining the European Free Trade Association and then the European economic area, with suitable and appropriate amendments and modifications?
As my hon. Friend will understand—he heard me say this earlier—we considered that in some detail before the Lancaster House speech. We concluded that it did not meet the requirements for which the British people voted and that it would not be as easy to negotiate as an alternative bespoke transitional arrangement might be.
Now that the Secretary of State has accepted that there will need to be transitional arrangements, is it the Government’s policy that the UK will continue to make payments into the EU budget for that period, however long it lasts?
I think this must be the 20th time I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I am not going to negotiate from this Dispatch Box, and he should know that. What I will say to him is that the transitional arrangements as we have described are an implementation period—or phase, or any of all the other different words used for it—and are there for one purpose: to ensure, in his words, that we avoid a cliff edge. That is not just true of us: it is not just the UK that has come to this conclusion—some time ago as it turns out—but so have the other members of the European Union, and one of the things we have been doing in the past six to nine months is ensuring that they understand from their point of view precisely how valuable to them a transitional arrangement will be.
It is right that we meet our financial obligations when we leave the European Union, but past contributions we have made have funded vital infrastructure across Europe, including eastern Europe, which will have a long-term financial benefit for the EU. Has this been discussed in negotiations and used to mitigate our final bill when those negotiations conclude?
We have made that very plain: the words used are that we expect to respect our international obligations but also to have our rights respected. That point has been made very clear. One of the reasons why the last negotiating round was perhaps a little tenser than the previous one is that we were making it very plain what we judged the legal basis to be, and that was not always comfortable.
What assurances can the right hon. Gentleman give to financial services companies and other firms that are seriously concerned that they now face the cost and uncertainty of three successive rule books: the single market, the post-single market transition and the post-transition agreement?
As ever, the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and that does mean that we will want to ensure there is a single transition, not two different transitions in and out of the transition period. That is why, as the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) quoted me as saying, I said we want the transition arrangement to be as close as possible to the current circumstance. It will be remembered, too, that when I responded to the right hon. and learned Gentleman I said there are three effective sets of criteria: one, time for the Government to accommodate; two, time for other Governments to accommodate; but, importantly too in his context, time after the decisions for financial services and other industries to do their own accommodations.
Last week, Michel Barnier said it was not fair that EU taxpayers should continue to pay for Britain’s obligations, but is it fair that British taxpayers should continue to pay for the EU’s obligations in circumstances where we may not be benefiting from subsidy schemes post-withdrawal?
My hon. Friend raises a point that we have already raised with Michel and the remainder of the team. At the moment, the Union’s negotiating team are taking the approach of stressing what they term legal responsibilities, and we are challenging them. When we get to the end of that, we will make some decisions about political and moral responsibilities, and also negotiating outcomes, and that is where the decision will, I suppose, be made.
The Government took flexibility to new heights over the summer, taking just under three weeks to jettison one of only two proposals set out in their customs arrangement paper on the basis that they represented “blue sky thinking”. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many of the other proposals set out in the various future partnership papers are effectively just creative ideas that are unlikely to survive contact with reality?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman was paying attention the day before yesterday: I said to him then that blue sky thinking, talking to an American audience, is a description of an imaginative approach.
May I gently say to my right hon. Friend that I would have thought that what everybody is trying to do is to form some kind of consensus? I think we all agree that we have a very, very short period to negotiate all manner of highly complex agreements, including a transitional period agreement. So may I suggest to him that, rather than keep ruling things out, we put everything back on the table and look at what we call “Norway for now”, which we would simply adopt as a transitional period until such time as we come to a final arrangement with the EU?
Well, my right hon. Friend can be as gentle with me as she likes. The simple truth is that, before the Lancaster House speech, we went through a process of considering what the best negotiating strategy would be, in some detail. We looked at who would have to negotiate with, where the compromises would have to be made and what the gains would be. We came to the conclusion that the route we are now taking, involving discussions with the member states initially and now with the Union and a transition based on maintaining the important components of what we currently have, is the best way to do it.
9. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on changes to VAT rates after the UK leaves the EU. 
The Secretary of State and the Chancellor are working together to deliver the UK’s departure from the European Union. Our future relationship with the EU, including on VAT, will be subject to negotiations. Any decisions on VAT rates will be taken by the Chancellor as part of the normal Budget process.
Our children go back to school this week, and parents are still paying a fortune for branded school uniforms. Cutting VAT on uniforms for older children would save some £200 million, but this cannot be done under current EU law. My constituents have asked me to ask Ministers to raise this matter whenever the negotiations turn to VAT.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, which I know has been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will be heard by the Chancellor. However, I would gently point out to her that VAT raised £120 billion in 2016 and provides essential funding for public services, including education.
Does the Minister look forward, like me, to the days when these protracted discussions are concluded and the Chancellor will have the liberty, which we did not have as members of the EU, to set tax rates across the whole range?
That is exactly right.
10. What discussions his Department has had with universities on their priorities for the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. 
17. What discussions his Department has had with universities on their priorities for the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. 
As we leave the European Union, the Government are committed to ensuring that Britain remains a global hub for education, science and research. I am delighted to see this week that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have been ranked as the top two universities in the world. To maintain our success, the Government are listening carefully to the sector’s views. This week, we published our discussion paper on science and innovation. As the UK leaves the EU, one of our core objectives is to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives, and the paper explores how the UK and the EU can achieve that objective together.
This country has three of the world’s top universities, as well as a vibrant life sciences sector, as indicated by the life sciences industrial strategy. The sector needs global talent and reassurance, but I know from talking to people at the University of Suffolk and the University of Cambridge that some have sought not to give academics and students that reassurance. What reassurance can the Minister give me that the scaremongering is untrue and what assurances can he give to our university sector?
My hon. Friend is rightly a champion for the excellent universities in her area. As the Prime Minister has made clear in the EU exit White Papers, one of our greatest strengths as a nation is the breadth and depth of our academic and scientific communities. Britain remains the second most popular destination in the world for academic study. We have already offered assurances to EU students starting a course in the 2018-19 academic year or before, and they will continue to be eligible for home fee status tuition fee loans and applicable maintenance support. I share my hon. Friend’s ambition for our university sector to act as a magnet for talent from around the world.
The University of Gloucestershire in my constituency admits students from across the world, including the EU, benefiting the local economy and community. What steps are being taken to amplify and underscore the message that the UK continues to warmly welcome overseas students to study here, in Cheltenham and beyond?
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I have just given. He is absolutely right, and I would add that the Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to examine student migration and to report back next year. As she made clear in her commissioning letter, and has been echoed in our own science paper, international students enhance our universities, both financially and culturally, and often become important ambassadors for the United Kingdom in later life, so we will continue to welcome them long into the future.
The Prime Minister boasted yesterday about the number of Nobel prize winners that this country had had, but the truth is that many of them were migrants who started their lives elsewhere in the world and came to this country to study in our universities. Should we not be proclaiming that fact as part of our proud inheritance?
We are, and we will continue to do so.
Will the Minister please reassure the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England that he values their collaboration with their EU counterparts and that he will prioritise doing everything he can to ensure that that collaboration continues?
I refer the hon. Lady to the paper we published this week, which sets that out clearly. We see a huge advantage both to the UK and the EU in continuing that collaboration, and we look forward to discussing it as we move towards talks on the future partnership.
UK Workers’ Rights
11. If he will include within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill proposals for a mechanism to ensure that UK workers' rights and protections remain in line with EU rights and protections after the UK leaves the EU. 
21. If he will include within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill proposals for a mechanism to ensure that UK workers' rights and protections remain in line with EU rights and protections after the UK leaves the EU. 
We do not need to be part of the EU to have strong protections for workers. As I explained earlier, the UK already goes beyond EU minimum standards, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not change that. In future, it will be for Parliament and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures to decide on changes to employment law. The Government have committed not to roll back workers’ rights and to ensure that we keep pace with the changing labour market.
That is very interesting, because the Secretary of State for International Trade wrote in the Financial Times in 2012:
“To restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden… It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable”.
Is it not the case that we cannot trust the Tories with workers’ rights?
It is certainly not the case. I will say to the hon. Gentleman once again that this Government are committed not only to protecting workers’ rights, but to ensuring that workers’ rights keep pace with the changing labour market, as evidenced by the Taylor report, which the Government are currently considering.
We have heard very warm words about protecting workers’ rights, something which will be tested over time, but will Ministers detail today the precise mechanism that they will use to work with trade unions and employers to ensure that Britain does not become the low-standards capital of Europe post-Brexit and to maintain workers’ rights over time?
This Government want to win the race to the top. I think I can say that we want to ensure that this country is either at or heading towards the top of every index of human prosperity, wellbeing and happiness, and we will work towards that end.
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend on his appointment. Whether in relation to workers’ rights or more generally, does he agree that had the British people wanted to be subject to EU law, they would have voted to remain in last year’s referendum? Does he agree that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill actually restores powers to Parliament and that a vote against it is only a vote to ensure that the UK automatically keeps pace with EU law with no say of its own?
Of course my hon. Friend makes an important point, for which I am most grateful. An easy way to automatically keep pace with EU law, whatever it might be, would have been to remain in the EU, but the public did not choose to do that, so Parliament will decide the law in future and it will be for Parliament to scrutinise any proposed changes.
I warmly welcome the Minister to his place. Does he agree that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is not the great repeal Bill but the great continuity Bill? Workers’ rights will not be undermined by the Bill; they are already enhanced when compared with the EU.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The original name—the great repeal Bill—was inspired by the greatness of its constitutional significance and certainly not because of any changes it makes to workers’ rights which, as we have said, will continue unchanged.
12. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the timetable for the UK leaving the EU is met. 
14. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the timetable for the UK leaving the EU is met. 
We aim to get the right agreement for the United Kingdom and the European Union. Government officials are working at pace, and we have said repeatedly that both parties will need to demonstrate a dynamic and flexible approach in each negotiation round. Flexibility and creativity are needed from both sides, and we have already said that we are willing to meet as frequently as required. We want to reach an agreement about our future partnership by the end of March 2019. From that point, we believe that a time-limited interim period will be in the mutual interest of the United Kingdom and the European Union, allowing people and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union to adjust to the new arrangements.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Our future trade relations with the European Union are clearly vital, and it is good news that a queue of trade deals is potentially in the offing for when we leave. Given our unique position with the EU, it is surely perfectly possible to conclude a trade agreement by the time we leave in March 2019.
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The Bill that we will debate later today is designed with exactly that in mind. The unique nature of the free trade agreement that we are seeking to agree with the European Union is that we all start from exactly the same standards. The previous question related to maintaining the same standards for labour law and other matters, but those standards are actually already better. My hon. Friend is right that our unique position is the key to getting a fast, effective and wealth-creating trade agreement.
People and businesses in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are confident about the opportunities that lie ahead after Brexit. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that he will ignore some of the ill-judged rhetoric coming out of the Commission about teaching us a lesson and focus instead on securing a deal that works for our mutual benefit?
I think I should say, in the interest of maintaining amity across the negotiating table, that Mr Barnier clarified that he did not intend to say “educate”. He meant that he wanted to bring everybody up to speed on the benefits, as he sees it, of the single market. Both sides want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership for the future, and that is what we intend to do. It is in neither side’s interest for there to be a cliff edge for businesses or a threat to stability. The UK and the EU will work together to agree provisions for an interim period that will allow people and businesses in both the UK and the EU to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. That will minimise disruption, give as much certainty as possible and meet the wishes of my hon. Friend’s constituents.
Nowhere is the timetable for leaving the EU more important than in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Press reports today indicate that there will be a special relationship in how we work the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Can the Minister give us some idea of those discussions and of what has happened so far?
At the moment, I can talk only to the discussions within the European Union negotiating group. From the beginning we were very keen to start on this as quickly as possible. We understand, of course, that the conclusion we get will be dependent, to some extent, on all the other decisions on borders. How much special arrangement we have to make will depend on how open the borders are generally. We have made very good progress. At the last round in particular, the Commission was concerned that continuing with the common travel area would impinge on European Union citizens’ rights. We have persuaded the Commission that that is not true, and it has basically accepted our argument.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that, every time he speaks at the Dispatch Box, the key wealth-creating areas of this country feel more and more uncertain about their future? We are haemorrhaging people. We cannot recruit people to the City of London and financial services, we cannot recruit people to universities and we cannot recruit people to manufacturing. For goodness’ sake, man, get on with the job.
Perhaps I will organise a visit for the hon. Gentleman to see Mr Barnier himself. We have taken action in all those areas. We have taken action to underpin the funding of universities. In industry, we have seen the Nissan arrangements. We have talked to the financial services sector about what we expect to happen, and we have particularly talked about an implementation period with them in mind—not just them, but them in particular. Plenty of action is being taken to improve the certainty and clarity on where we are going.
Finally, Charlie Elphicke.
18. It is important to be robust on the timetable, but it is also important to be robust in the face of Brussels’ demand that we send more money. We should not be bullied or blackmailed; we should be strong as a nation. 
I hear my hon. Friend loud and clear. We have been very clear that the UK and the EU will have financial obligations to each other that will survive our exit from the EU. The Commission set out the EU position in July, and we have a duty to our taxpayers, as he says, to interrogate that position rigorously, which is what we did line by line in the last round of negotiations.
Order. We had not moved on to a new question. We were on the same question, but two different Ministers appeared at the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) should feel very gratified to have a dedicated Minister to attend to his particular inquiry. That is something he can tell his grandchildren in years to come.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
Since our last Question Time, the Government have made important progress towards delivering the result of the European referendum and grasping the opportunities that Brexit can provide. In the negotiations with our European counterparts, we have found important areas where we agree—on pensions, healthcare and Northern Ireland, for example—and we are now working on those areas where we do not agree. We have provided more clarity by publishing papers on a range of issues. Finally, later today we will debate the repeal Bill, which will give effect to the result of the referendum while providing the legal certainty that will avoid unnecessary disruption. I believe the Bill should command the support of all those who believe in securing a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union.
Leaving the EU single market and customs union would be an unprecedented act of self-harm to our economy, especially if the UK Government fail to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if he fails to reach a deal within the two-year deadline, the UK will remain a member of the EU under the existing terms?
No, I will not. The vote of the British people was very clear: they wanted to leave the European Union and take back control, of both borders and laws. That would not be possible if we simply stayed inside the single market under the current terms.
T2. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, EU legislation giving protections to food from particular geographical areas, such as the Cornish pasty, our clotted cream and the Cornish sardine, came into force in 1993. Has his Department had discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about similar arrangements carrying on after we leave the EU? 
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government fully support the UK’s many world-class traditional food products, including those from Cornwall. We recognise the importance of protecting the name and status of high-quality UK food products, such as those currently registered under the protected food name and geographical indications schemes. We are working closely with DEFRA on this important issue. The Government are also engaging directly with producers, actively considering how best to ensure that traditional food products are protected once the UK has left the EU.
T5. Whenever I hear the Secretary of State explaining what will replace our current relationship within the EU, whether he is on the single market, the rights of EU nationals or whatever, it always sounds like a cut-and-paste, second-best, Heath Robinson version of events. I just wonder whether he ever, even for a moment, thinks it is possible he may be mistaken. 
It would probably be a unique foray at this Dispatch Box for a Minister to admit error, but let me say this to the hon. Gentleman: I said at the beginning that this is a negotiation; it will take time and go in directions that we do not necessarily expect, and there will be give and take in it. That is as close as I can get.
T3. Later today, this House will get to debate the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill for the first time, which, as we know is a very important piece of legislation that provides certainty and a smooth exit for this country from the EU. Will the Secretary of State set out for the House, and indeed for the country, what the consequences would be of this Bill not being passed? Does he agree that any Member who seeks to block its passing is not acting in the national interest? 
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is precisely right. The purpose of the Bill is to establish continuity, for several reasons. The first is to provide certainty for business, an issue raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). The second is to ensure our ability to carry out a free trade deal which will be unique in the world. The third is to underpin all the rights and privileges that we have promised to our country down the years, including employment rights, consumer rights and environmental rights. All those things are vital in the national interest, so he is exactly right.
T7. How should employers in my constituency that I have visited in recent months today assess the risk of ending up with tariffs or additional regulatory barriers to exporting to the single market when we leave the EU? 
Those employers should have confidence that it is in everyone’s interests, ours and those of all the nations of the European Union, to deliver tariff-free access between our markets. I would say to those employers that they should have a great deal of confidence that we will therefore secure the deal.
T4. The purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to provide continuity and a working statute book on the day we leave. Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that a vote against this Bill is a vote for chaos and for uncertainty? 
My hon. Friend is exactly right about that, and she allows me to reiterate one other point: all the talk from Opposition Members has been about changing things in this Bill. The Bill is about maintaining continuity; it is about keeping in place the aims and purposes of all the European law that we currently have—and will have the day after we leave.
The purpose of any transitional arrangement is, as the Secretary of State said, to avoid a cliff edge, and to give continuity and certainty to the UK economy. But the Chancellor and the Trade Secretary published an article last month saying that during any such period the UK would not be in the single market or the customs union. What is the purpose of a transitional arrangement that undermines the very stability and continuity it is supposed to achieve?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I suspect it would have been in his question earlier if he had had the chance to ask it. The simple truth is, as I have said, that we are starting from the aim of maintaining as much continuity as is necessary to anything that might change in the final settlement. So we will do that. Because we are not in the European Union at that point—legally, we will not be—we will not be formally members of the single market and the customs union. We may well seek a customs agreement for that period and a similar arrangement on the single market provisions, but we cannot make that decision ourselves; there is a negotiation to be carried out with the EU.
T6. Does the Minister agree that the system of secondary legislation contemplated by the Bill that we will be debating later today provides the best and most flexible means of ensuring that the United Kingdom is left with a coherent statute book when we leave the European Union? Does he not also agree that there will be general bemusement in this country that the Opposition are seeking to oppose that Bill? 
May I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done in the Department? The quality of the work I inherited is a testament to the leadership he provided in the Department. I am most grateful to him. He makes a good point: secondary legislation is a long-standing mechanism for making detailed changes to the law, with the scrutiny procedure for each instrument agreed by Parliament. Since their introduction, every Government have used statutory instruments and every Parliament has debated and approved statutory instruments.
The Minister earlier extolled the benefits of the World Trade Organisation should there be a no-deal scenario, but there is no automatic equivalent to the single aviation market or the open skies agreement. What contingency are the Minister and his team making to protect our aviation industry?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. The Government are well aware of those issues, and we continue to develop our contingency plans not only in those areas, but right across Government.
T8. Constituents of mine are the bedrock of the success of world-beating companies such as Spirax Sarco. Does my hon. Friend agree that the withdrawal Bill must be the opportunity to cement employee rights, not erode them? 
I do agree with my hon. Friend, and I think we have had a good canter around the issue today. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to once again say that the Government are committed to protecting workers’ rights to ensure that they keep pace with the changing labour market and that nothing in the withdrawal Bill will change that.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am in an indulgent mood. I call Rachael Maskell.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Businesses are in desperate need of confidence. When will the Secretary of State confirm that he will have the transition arrangements in place, because we will leave the European Union in just over 18 months? Businesses are making their plans now and need answers.
I would say two things to the hon. Lady: first, we will do that as soon as is feasible within the constraints of the negotiation; and secondly, if she is concerned about business confidence, I say to her that the best way to guarantee stability is to vote for the Bill this afternoon.
Many farms in Wales straddle the border with England. Will my hon. Friend outline how he is ensuring that the voice of cross-border communities is not being ignored in discussions over Brexit and devolution?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We would be happy to meet him and his constituents to address this important issue. The Bill sets out a framework that protects common UK frameworks while we have the conversation with the devolved Administrations as to where they are needed. I think that is a sensible approach to protect the interests of farmers and businesses across the UK.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 11 September—Conclusion of the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).
Tuesday 12 September—Second Reading of the Finance Bill followed by motions relating to House business.
Wednesday 13 September—Opposition day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 14 September—General debate on abuse and intimidation of candidates and the public during the general election campaign.
Friday 15 September—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 October will include:
Monday 9 October—General debate. Subject to be confirmed.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to those caught up in Hurricane Irma, which is causing great damage to many areas of the Caribbean.
Today, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will have the first of its two days of Second Reading on the Floor of the House. It is a key piece of legislation that paves the way for an orderly exit from the EU and fulfils the will of the British people.
Finally, Select Committees provide vital scrutiny in this place. I have been working hard to ensure that we establish them as soon as possible, and I am grateful for the co-operation of colleagues from right across the House who have worked quickly to bring forward the names of elected Committee members. I am delighted to draw colleagues’ attention to the motion in my name that will ensure that the Select Committees can begin their important work next week.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and for tabling the motion on Select Committees. It has been drawn to my attention that the Chair of the International Development Committee does not appear to be on the list; I hope that will be rectified soon. Her Majesty’s Opposition have been ready for the Select Committees to start since July; nevertheless, they will be taking evidence next week, so I thank the Leader of the House for arranging that.
We have had R and R—rest and relaxation—and we have had rock and roll, although I did not get an invitation to Glastonbury. All that is left now is restoration and renewal. Will the Leader of the House please tell us when we are likely to have the debate on restoration and renewal? The House needs to consider the proposals as soon as possible.
Look at what the Government have done to our children who were expelled because they missed out on a few grades. We teach our children that it is okay to fail; that is how we learn from our mistakes, and sometimes that is the spur that leads children to go on to do better things. We had the bizarre situation of parents having to threaten judicial review just to get their children back into education. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education to make it clear that every child can have an education? Some headteachers do not appear to be abiding by the law.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to make a statement on the fiscal rules? It seems that the Ministry of Justice broke Treasury pay rules for civil servants for a six-month period from last October by increasing the overtime pay rate for prison staff by £5 an hour. The Opposition agree with that increase, but I understand that there are Treasury rules. We need a statement on whether or not there are fiscal rules. We could do with that clarity for the NHS, because our nurses need to be paid.
The cherry-picking season is over. Look at what the Government have done to our health service. The Secretary of State for Health picked a fight with Professor Stephen Hawking, who rightly told him to stop the slide towards privatising the health service—a person who can explain a black hole against a Secretary of State who cannot even recognise a financial black hole. The sustainability and transformation plans are the second reorganisation of the NHS under this Government. There is a crisis in social care, £100 million will be spent on recruiting GPs from abroad, and the health service needs a cash boost of £350 million. After the Government’s defeat in the House of Lords yesterday on their decision to abandon the 18-week target time for treatment, will the Leader of the House please ensure that the Secretary of State comes to the House to explain this shredding of Government policy, because we have had silence from him? Otherwise, what is the point of the Secretary of State?
There has been more pain and distress for our constituents, as highlighted in last week’s United Nations report on people with disabilities. The report said that the UK has failed to ensure that the UN convention on disabled people’s rights is reflected in current law. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will respond to the report, which found a persistent employment and pay gap for disabled people?
The Leader of the House mentioned the Brexit Bill; look what the Government have done to the Brexit negotiations. They should have allowed the civil service to use position papers to present the facts. That way, we would not now be seeing the whole thing unravelling. Clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill state:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate”.
Never before have Ministers been given such unfettered powers. Will the Leader of the House confirm how many statutory instruments will come before the House? Is it likely to be more than 500? Fewer than 1,000? Anyone from any party who believes in parliamentary democracy, the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers should be against the Bill. The Government are playing Jenga with our economy and our rights.
As if that is not enough, the Government want to fix the Standing Committees. They do not have a majority in Parliament, but they want a majority on Standing Committees. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will not insult the British people, who did not give them a majority, and that they will ensure that the result of the election is reflected in the Standing Committees?
I wish to touch on the eminent people who have recently died: our friend in the other place, Lord Garry Hart, who was a leading planning lawyer before he come to the Lords; Michael Siefert, who sent his lawyers to give free legal advice to people during the miners’ strike; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster; and of course Heather Heyer, who was mown down in Charlottesville for opposing racism and anti-Semitism.
Finally, I wish to draw the House’s attention to a film that is doing the rounds— “Dennis Skinner: Nature of the Beast”. What Members will find is that, like the sovereignty of Parliament, the beast of Bolsover will endure.
Splendid. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is even smiling. Marvellous.
May I thank the hon. Lady for that tour de force? I must also thank the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), because, in trying very hard to help a potential colleague of mine to unseat him—
It didn’t work though, did it?
It was great pleasure to visit Bolsover and to see at first hand what an excellent job he has done over so many years. It is a great pleasure to see him here, but there is always another election. That is the great thing about our democracy—there is always another one.
The hon. Lady has raised a number of broad issues. I will try to deal with them all in turn. First, she caught me slightly unawares when she mentioned a Committee that may be missing from the list on Monday’s motion. I am checking that as we speak, but may I assure all colleagues that all of these scrutiny Committees will be established on Monday at the close of business following a decision by the House. Let me be clear that if there has been an omission, it will be rectified. She and I both played a part in last night’s farce, where we were running around like idiots trying to sort out the order. I am very grateful to her for her help yesterday.
The hon. Lady talks about education and wanting to hear more about inclusion. May I assure her that this Government are determined to see that every child has a good education? There is much to be proud of: 1.8 million more children are in good and outstanding schools than in 2010. That is really something of which we can be proud. Delivering a good education to every child is vital.
The hon. Lady mentioned the fiscal rules. There are very clear Treasury fiscal rules. She will be aware that, because of the difficulties in certain prisons, there has been some short-term support for prison officers. I am not aware of all the details that she mentioned, but I will certainly take them away and write to her about them.
Stephen Hawking is a very eminent and highly regarded person, but I am afraid that I absolutely agree with the Secretary of State for Health, who said that he is just completely wrong to be talking about privatisation of the NHS. The Government are fully committed to a free health service at the point of delivery, as are all parties across the House.
On the UN inquiry into the rights of persons with disabilities, we are very disappointed that the report does not accurately reflect the evidence that we gave to the UN. The Government are working to improve accessibility, including by improving building regulations and guidance to local authorities, strengthening accessibility requirements for transport and working right across Government services to improve the accessibility of the information that we provide for those with disability.
Very importantly, on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the hon. Lady talks about Henry VIII powers. I want to assure all Members that what the Bill seeks to do is to bring into UK law the entire body of EU law. The point of doing that is to provide continuity and certainty and a smooth transition as we leave the EU. Let me talk about the powers that are used to do that. May I give the example of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016? We can all understand that Henry VIII powers are used there so that as any new legal high is created, we can update the legislation to ensure that it is then banned to keep people safe. The Bill is about that kind of use of Henry VIII powers, so that we can finally define the terms that are necessary. About half of the legislation in the last Parliament contained Henry VIII powers; there is nothing new or unusual about their use. They are of course always subject to scrutiny, either by a Committee of the Whole House or by Committees as a part of this House.
Finally, I join the hon. Lady in noting the passing of a number of eminent and high-profile people who have contributed a great deal to our communities over many years.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the update on the business. We should also pay tribute to Edward du Cann, the former chairman of the 1922 committee and an eminent Member of this House, who has sadly passed away.
May we have a debate in Government time—I note that there is an opportunity for a general debate when we come back in October—on housing policy? It is the single biggest issue affecting this country right now, and the need to get young people the opportunity to have a home of their own is absolutely crucial. We need a strong debate to get answers from the Government on how this will be implemented in the future.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I think we all agree that being able to get a home of one’s own is crucial for every young person and for everyone in our society. I am pleased to tell him that nearly 900,000 new homes have been delivered since 2010, including nearly 333,000 affordable homes. Annual housing supply in England amounted to 189,000 additional homes between 2015 and 2016, an 11% increase on the previous year. My hon. Friend will know plenty of ways to ensure that the subject is debated in the House, and I am sure that a lot of colleagues will be interested in taking part.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) has just left the Chamber, because I think that we are looking forward to sequel after sequel of the film—I particularly look forward to “Beast II: The Return”. Let us hope we have many more of these events.
I welcome back all right hon. and hon. Members. Today we have the first day of a two-day debate on the Second Reading of the repeal Bill, as we continue to progress in this clueless, delusional Brexit folly. Two days to debate this unprecedented power grab with all the horrors of these Henry VIII powers. It is almost certain that these two days of debates will be heavily subscribed, with many Members having only a few minutes to put their constituents’ many concerns to the House.
It gets worse than that, Mr Speaker, because according to the programme motion there will be only eight days for the Committee of the whole House to negotiate setting up of a new legal framework for the UK and disentangling ourselves from an institution that we have been a member of for decades, with all the attendant regulations, directives and treaties. To put that in context, there were 41 days for the Maastricht treaty, 25 days for the Lisbon treaty and 39 days on entering the European Union when it was just the Common Market. Eight days for leaving the European Union—it is almost beyond a joke, and the Leader of the House must come back with a sensible programme motion that allows a sensible amount of time for us to debate the thousands of amendments that will surely have been tabled by the time we come back in October.
After your rebuke yesterday, Mr Speaker, and all the faffing around we had in supplying all the names for the Select Committees, one would have thought we would at least have had a motion on the Order Paper today to get the Select Committees up and running. I appreciate that there are a lot of constraints and that we have got the motion for Monday, but that will also mean a lot of pressure on Select Committees wanting to meet next week. What is the difficulty and the problem with all this?
Then we have the thorny issue of the Standing Committees. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right: the Government have no reasons to expect to have a majority in the Standing Committees of the House. They do not command a majority. This is a House of minorities, and that parliamentary reality and arithmetic must be reflected in the Standing Committees. Does the Leader of the House understand and appreciate that she is in a minority in the House and that all the Committees must recognise that reality?
The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the programme motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. What I can say is that it has eight days in Committee, with eight hours protected every day. It is important for hon. Members to appreciate that the Bill will provide a base for the UK’s departure from the EU. There will be a large number of subsequent Bills on new policies, systems and processes that relate to the UK’s departure from the EU, so there will be many opportunities for all colleagues throughout the House to have all their views taken into account. As we have said time and time again, it is absolutely clear that we want to be a consulting Government, to take into account views right across the House and to provide sufficient time for all colleagues to make their views known.
The hon. Gentleman’s others points about Committees are rather churlish. We have made every effort to establish the Select Committees as soon as we possibly could. They have been established faster than in the previous two Parliaments. It is extremely churlish; what he actually demonstrates is opposition for opposition’s sake. He does not even have the decency to recognise that the House is responding to a genuine request from Select Committee Chairs right across the House to get a move on and do it, and we have done it. He does not have the grace to say thank you or to appreciate that fact. He merely—this is important—wants to oppose for opposition’s sake. That is simply not constructive. It is a great shame that he takes this approach at a time when the House needs to come together to look at what we can agree on, not simply make small and petty points.
Several hon. Members rose—
I must advise the House that although there is extensive interest, as always, in business questions, there is a ministerial statement to follow. Approximately 60 Members also wish to contribute to the debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and I have to take account of their interests. So exceptionally—and colleagues know it would be exceptionally—it may not be possible today to get everybody in. The chances of my doing so will be greatly enhanced if the premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike is observed.
Over the summer, many of my constituents in Aldridge-Brownhills have once again had to endure the litter, rubbish, antisocial behaviour and noise caused by unauthorised Traveller encampments on public open spaces and village commons. Even our local football club, Walsall Wood, has been affected. I am sure the House understands the upset and frustration this causes. Can we please have a debate in Government time to look at the matter, including at the powers available to councils and police, and—really importantly—the impact on our local communities?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, which is of great interest to Members throughout the House. I am sorry to hear about the issues she has faced in her constituency. The police and local authorities have a wide range of powers available to address the issue. They can direct trespassers to leave the land, and remove any vehicle and property if there is a suitable pitch available on a caravan site elsewhere. Failure to comply with a police direction is a criminal offence. It is really important that the police and local authorities work together to address the issue.
I think the phrase that the Leader of the House was looking for earlier was “scalded cats”. In Tyneside, we would say, “scadded cats”. I note that there are two days of general debates in the business that she announced this morning. One is next Thursday and the other is on the first day back after the conference recess. As she is aware, the Backbench Business Committee has not yet been established but I, as elected Chair, am already receiving inquiries from Members about the availability of time. Will she ensure that when the Committees are established on Monday, that includes the membership of the Backbench Business Committee? I understand that there are still some vacancies on the Conservative side, but can we ensure that the Committee is established notwithstanding any such vacancies?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am trying to get every Committee established just as soon as possible. I will look into that specific point and let him know perhaps later in the day.
I thank the Leader of the House and her assiduous Parliamentary Private Secretary for responding so quickly to the requests led by the Chair-elect of the Public Accounts Committee. Indeed, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your intervention in getting the Select Committees up and running from next week.
May we take advantage of the fact that there is a suspension of the usual arrangements in Northern Ireland to get a statement from the Government once and for all bringing forward a plan for a statute of limitations to protect our veteran servicemen from prosecution for acts that occurred during the troubles—many years ago—that have been investigated many times in the past? It is not right that criminals and terrorists go free while veteran servicemen face the possibility of long terms of imprisonment.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reflecting particularly on your role, Mr Speaker, in ensuring that we have Select Committees up and running soon. He raises an important point about the statute of limitations. Yesterday, the Prime Minister made it clear that there has been a review of bodies looking at legacy issues, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will take the issue up separately with the Secretary of State for Justice.
I welcome the fact that Select Committees will be appointed on Monday. Further to the previous answer from the Leader of the House, I would be grateful if she could assure the House that the International Development Committee will be added to the list for the vote on Monday so that it can meet for the first time next week.
The hon. Gentleman raised this point earlier. He is right: there was an administrative oversight in the last-minute running-around, and it will be rectified. I can assure him that his Committee and the Brexit scrutiny Committee will be on the Order Paper for Monday.
They might momentarily have been forgotten. The hon. Gentleman has never been, and will never be, forgotten.
May I thank the Leader of the House for taking time out of her busy day yesterday to attend the launch of “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, which is supported by 44 Back-Bench Conservative MPs? It contains 18 practical policy proposals, such as strengthening prisoners’ family ties and promoting greater support for veterans’ families and for fatherhood. Does she agree that this subject has long needed more consideration by Members of this House, and will she meet a small group of those 44 MPs to discuss how more parliamentary debate time can be provided for it?
I strongly congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent work that has gone into the families manifesto. It is a very important piece of work. A number of Ministers are very interested in it, and I would be delighted to meet her.
Has the Leader of the House noticed that Huddersfield University has won the prestigious global teaching university of the year award? In a year when Huddersfield has also become a premiership football club and the new Doctor Who comes from Huddersfield, will she congratulate our university and our team on their success?
I am delighted to congratulate Huddersfield. That sounds like a bit of a hat trick. Carry on!
May I echo the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for a general debate on housing, to deal with the issue of leasehold reform? There are substantial abuses of leaseholders in my constituency and many other constituencies. If that bid fails, I would request that the regeneration of town centres—particularly the town centre of Winsford—be included for debate.
My hon. Friend raises a point that constituents raise with a number of MPs. It is very important, and I certainly share her desire to see its resolution. I encourage her to seek the opportunity for a debate on it.
The Leader of the House may be aware of the real anxiety of organisations such as Mencap, which provide vital services for people with learning disabilities, that they face demands for back pay of up to six years following a change of guidance on so-called sleep-in shifts. Many organisations fear that this will push them under, and they need the Government to step in to provide support. There has been a moratorium on enforcement action until 2 October, but with the House not sitting then, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Business Secretary comes to the House to clarify the position and provide reassurance for these organisations?
I am well aware of the issue the right hon. Gentleman raises, and the Government are looking at it. I will certainly make a point of taking it away and seeking feedback from the Department.
In the recess, the Government made a welcome announcement about action to counter the risk posed to aviation by drones. What follow-up will there be so that we can see that action implemented as soon as possible?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very important question. This is an exciting and innovative new industry, and we are very keen to harness it effectively, but he rightly raises concerns around safety that the Government take equally seriously. He will be aware that registration and testing will be introduced for users of drones of 250 kg and above. Further measures, such as a ban on drones flying at certain distances from airports and at certain heights, are being considered, and we will make further announcements on that in due course.
Months ago, a report commissioned by the Government and only released after freedom of information requests found that the Ministry of Justice’s own approved methods of restraining children in young offender institutions and secure training centres can actually kill children or leave them disabled. Will the leader of the House ask her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to make a statement explaining why the Government have continued to preside over this and failed to act on it yet?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. It is not something that I am particularly aware of, but if she would like to write to me I will certainly raise it with the Ministry of Justice.
I used to serve on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is little known in this House but which looks at statutory instruments to advise on whether they fall within certain criteria. When EU directives came before the Committee, even if they made no sense at all and did not so comply, we still had to recommend to this House that they were passed. Will the Leader of the House confirm that if we are going to use Delegated Legislation Committees to discuss important EU matters, those Committees will, as usual, be open for any Member to attend and speak at, the instruments will be voted on, and, more importantly, will then come to the whole House to be voted on, so that, whatever the Opposition like to believe, there will be proper scrutiny?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a really important point, which is that this House will scrutinise all legislation relating to EU withdrawal and to our future policies post EU in the usual way, and that that democratic oversight will be continued for the duration of this period.
Despite serious underfunding and rationing in Vale of York clinical commissioning group and the acute trust, it has been placed in the capped expenditure process. Over the summer, it emerged that this process seems to be changing day by day. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health to say exactly what the process is and to ensure that our health service is properly funded to meet local demand?
As the hon. Lady will be aware, NHS funding will be over half a trillion pounds from 2015 to 2020, and we have protected and increased health funding. As regards local sustainability and transformation partnerships, where work is under way to change processes locally, there is broad consultation under reconfiguration tests, where there must be support from clinical commissioners, clinical evidence, patient and public engagement, and support for patient choice.
Colchester’s Lib Dem and Labour-run borough council has recently introduced a very unpopular fortnightly black bag scheme that is leaving my residents to deal with rats, other vermin, flies and maggots. It is totally unacceptable. Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate in Government time to discuss local councils ignoring the wishes of residents and failing to address their concerns?
Speaking as an ex-Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it is interesting how litter is always one of the biggest concerns of everybody in our country. Litter is right up there, and so what happens to it is a vital issue. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) shouts “Rubbish!”, and he is quite right—it is a very important issue. Regular litter collections are incredibly important. I am sure that my hon. Friend will take every chance to raise that with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Although I was present to vote in the first vote last night, I was not able to do so because I was locked not in the lavatory but in the lift. Were it not for a Conservative party researcher, I suspect I would still be in the lift. It is very unsatisfactory, in our first week back after the recess, that there are problems with the lifts. Will the Leader of the House ensure that they are serviced? Surely, with all the maintenance men around, they ought to be.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you are as concerned as I am to hear about that. I will certainly look into the matter; I assure the right hon. Lady that I will take it up later today.
The situation is extremely irregular, and the right hon. Lady has my sympathies. I hope that she will not take it out of good humour if I say that I am rather surprised that the lift dared.
In August, 15 Gypsy and Traveller motorhomes and caravans invaded the popular open green space at the foot of the Ise Lodge residential estate in Kettering. Rubbish and human faeces were left in the undergrowth; the local convenience store had to employ a security guard; and widespread harassment, alarm and distress were caused to the local settled community. The police refused to use the section 61 powers open to them to request the Travellers to move on. May we have an urgent statement from the Home Office that it will review the powers available to the police so that we can have an effective system to protect the settled community from the intimidation caused by Gypsies and Travellers?
This is an incredibly important issue that is raised time and time again at business questions and at other times. I know that all Members suffer from the problem of unauthorised Travellers’ camps. The reality is that the powers to tackle them do exist, but the police and local authorities need to work together to make sure that they use them, and that they use the enforcement possibilities that are open to them.
May we have a debate on the labour market and labour shortages? Yesterday the all-party group on migration published a report highlighting employers’ concerns about so-called low-skilled jobs after Brexit—that they will no longer be able to recruit EU workers to these roles, and that the language stigmatises such roles, which makes it more difficult to recruit UK workers to them. Will the Leader of the House read the all-party group’s report and encourage her ministerial colleagues to do so?
I am always delighted to read all-party group reports, so I am happy to do that. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office will be coming forward with proposals on new immigration rules as we take back control of our borders, and that the Home Secretary has made it very clear that she will ensure that we have the right balance between the excellent work that is done by many EU and other migrant communities in this country, and, at the same time, taking back control of immigration. She will ensure that there is the right balance between what our country needs by way of immigration and fairness to those who already live here.
Almost 1,000 of my constituents are Travellers. I know many of them, and they are good people. Their reputation is being destroyed in our community by the action of a small minority, who over the summer have destroyed gravestones, damaged village greens, intimidated residents and damaged businesses. This cannot go on. Nottinghamshire police are highly constrained by the powers available to them and looking to the Government, and to a cross-party agreement, to move things forward. May I echo the comments of other Members from across the House who have called for a debate in Government time about how we can move this issue forward, for the benefit of the whole community, and specifically of the Traveller community whose reputation is at stake?
My hon. Friend is looking at a different aspect of the matter, namely that legitimate and well-mannered Travellers who take account of local communities are being run down by those who behave appallingly and who cause so much heartache, mess and concern in so many communities. Hearing the mood of the House, I am happy to take the question away and look at whether we can provide time. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the Chairman-elect of the Backbench Business Committee, is also hearing this, and he may well be prepared to make time for it in his Committee.
Will the Leader of the House give us some Government time to have an urgent debate about the quality of decision making of the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos—or Independent Assessment Services, as it now seems to be known? I have a paraplegic constituent with schizophrenia who was called for a medical. When I raised concerns with the MP complaints team, I received the stock reply that PIP entitlement is determined by how a disability affects an individual rather than a particular diagnosis. Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the DUP are devoid of compassion and common sense? How many paraplegic schizophrenics does she think would not qualify for enhanced care in the mobility component of PIP?
I must say that individual members of staff of—I think the hon. Gentleman means—the DWP are actually working incredibly hard, very often in very difficult circumstances. We all have particular constituency cases that we need to pursue with quite a lot of vigour to make sure that constituents can get through a system that is sometimes not sufficiently attuned to their individual needs. I certainly encourage him to talk to Work and Pensions Ministers, who I am sure will be very interested in the case and keen to help him.
As somebody who lost many relatives, including my grandfather, in the Kashmir earthquake, I know the dire consequences of natural disasters. May we have an urgent statement on the Floor of the House about the floods in south Asia? They are affecting 41 million people, have cost 1,200 lives and are affecting our fellow Commonwealth members.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I am very sorry to hear of his own very sad personal experience. I can tell him that in Nepal the Department for International Development has set aside £400,000 for the Red Cross and the Nepal Red Cross Society for monsoon flood response to help 30,000 people, most of which is earmarked for water, sanitation and hygiene. In Bangladesh, the UK’s contribution of £660,000 to the flood response will help over 60,000 people. In India, as the Government have not requested international assistance, DFID’s response has been through the Start Fund global consortia of non-governmental organisations, which responds to small and medium-sized emergencies, with a donation of £325,000 for Nepal and £400,000 for India.
At the end of this month, Sneyd Green community centre in my constituency may well be closing its doors, after seven years of attempting to carry out a community asset transfer. Local volunteers, led by John Reynolds, have worked tirelessly, but have simply not received the support they should have received from the local authority. May we have a debate in Government time about what the big society really looks like now, and about what support can be provided to volunteers in such a situation?
I pay tribute to the excellent work of volunteers. I know that a lot of people work tirelessly as volunteers and find it very frustrating when trying to get such things done. I encourage the hon. Lady to talk to one of the Communities and Local Government Ministers and see whether anything can be done at this late stage to try to help this along. Otherwise, she may wish to apply for an Adjournment debate to get the Minister to respond on the Floor of the House.
Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate on the proposals announced yesterday by Babcock DSG to close three of its sites across the UK, including the only military land support repair workshop in Scotland—at Forthside in my Stirling constituency—with the threatened loss of 56 highly-skilled jobs?
We are always incredibly concerned to hear about the prospect of job losses. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are very strict rules on consultation and about working closely with those affected to ensure that all decisions taken are fair. However, if he wants to write to me specifically about this, I will see whether I can bring it to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
British Steel pensioners are concerned that proposed changes will result in their losing out on the proper uplifting of their pre-1997 service. May we have a statement from the Government on the proposed changes to the British Steel pension scheme and on how they will ensure that pensioners are not short-changed?
I am happy to take up that matter with the relevant Department on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.
During the recess, I visited Abercrave farm and the Dan-yr-Ogof show caves in my constituency, where the owners have installed small-scale hydroelectric schemes. These are outstanding examples, being invisible to the eye in beautiful national park countryside, based on private investment and providing much-needed green energy. May we have a debate on how we can help rather than hinder the development of further hydro schemes around the country?
I do not think we hinder in any way, but are keen to encourage the development of renewable electricity. It is something that this country has done extremely well at—we are one of the top performers across the EU in terms of the speed at which we are starting to use green electricity—and I would be happy to talk further to my hon. Friend about what measures we can take. Or he might want to arrange an Adjournment debate.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am afraid that we are now running very short of time, so I am looking for single-short-sentence questions. It is really a matter of good faith. If people want to ask a single-short-sentence question, that is fine, but if they want to include a long preamble, it is better they keep it for the long winter evenings that lie ahead.
May we have a debate in Government time on the impact on higher education institutions of the UK’s immigration policy throughout the Brexit process and beyond?
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important issue that is of great interest to all of us. There will be lots of opportunities over the next few days, during the debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, to raise the issue, and later in the year during our discussions on immigration.
Big Ben’s bongs are silenced. They are loved by the community and international visitors. May we please have a debate about why this has happened? Is it beyond the wit of man for ear defenders to be worn by the workers? [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend will be aware that there are strong views on this matter—she will have heard Opposition Members shouting her down over the prospects of a debate—but my view is that this is an important issue. The House of Commons Commission met last night and agreed to continue with the cessation of the bells for the time being but also to consider alternatives to leaving the bells off.
May I add my calls to those of other hon. Members for an urgent debate on Travellers? There have been very real problems with them in my own constituency. The legislation is in need of urgent review.
As I have said to others, I can hear that this is an important matter. There have been big problems over the summer, and I will certainly take this up.
The growth in the spirits market, particularly gin, whisky and other spirits, both here and in exports, is important to our economy. Indeed, there is a Lakes distillery now in Cumbria. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the importance of this sector and of reaching a sector deal, and does she agree that such a deal must be UK-wide, not limited to any particular part of the country?
My hon. Friend raises a valuable point. I travelled around Europe this summer and saw the fantastic UK spirits now available there and the increasing exports. Spirits are an increasingly important UK export, and I would support any efforts he wants to make to ensure we give them the right level of priority.
Over the next couple of months, the new Mersey crossing will open, and it will be tolled, contrary to promises made by Conservative Ministers. May we have a debate either on the tolls on the new Mersey crossing or, failing that, on why Ministers are so willing to break their promises?
The Government are guilty of investing a huge amount in infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure, right across the country. I am not aware of the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises about broken promises, but if he wants to write to me, I can take it up. I want to reiterate, however, that we are fully committed to improving road and rail transport across the UK, and our record is extremely strong.
May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the shocking and sickening revelation on BBC’s “Panorama” about Brook House immigration detention centre? It showed the shocking behaviour of G4S staff and how our immigration detention system is not working, with committed criminals who should have been deported being held alongside asylum seekers not convicted of any crime.
We would all agree the footage was shocking. The hon. Gentleman might well wish to raise the matter at the next Home Office questions.
Given that the Chancellor has said in Leeds this week that the Government are now willing to consider devolution proposals from 17 Conservative and Labour councils in Yorkshire, is it time for a statement next week on devolution in Yorkshire?
It is certainly time for the hon. Gentleman to raise this at oral questions, with Ministers separately or through an Adjournment debate.
Awamiyah, a predominantly Shi’a district in Saudi Arabia, has been surrounded by siege barricades since Government attempts to relocate residents in order to redevelop the neighbourhood in May 2017. There are many reports of heavy clashes between Saudi citizens and military forces, and entire blocks have been demolished. Thousands of local citizens have fled—
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has breached his one short sentence. I am waiting for the question mark.
Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on the matter?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman has raised a very specific and incredibly important issue, and the Foreign Office will certainly examine it closely. I should be happy to raise it on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf; alternatively, he can raise it in the usual way through the Foreign Office.
May I pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson)? Many of my constituents tell me that they will have to pay up to £80 a month more just to get to work as a result of the Mersey crossing toll charges. May we have a debate on what the Government will do to prevent them from being penalised by what is, in effect, a jobs tax?
As I said to the hon. Member for City of Chester, the Government have invested a huge amount in infrastructure. This sounds to me like a question that needs to be put during Transport questions, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me, I can take it up with the Department for Transport on his behalf.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the viciously successful campaign by the British company Bell Pottinger to stir up racism in South Africa by working for the corrupt Gupta brothers, who are linked to President Zuma?
I read about that myself, and on the face of it, it seems very concerning. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Bell Pottinger has been removed from its trade body as a result. He may well wish to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate, or in a question to a Minister.
May we have a debate in Government time on bank closures, which are ripping the heart out of communities across the country? In my constituency, the last bank in the northern town of Amlwch has now been closed without consultation. The public want to know why the Government are saying nothing, and why Parliament is not discussing the issue.
I hope to give the hon. Gentleman a bit of good news about that. There are very clear rules governing how banks can close—there must be broad consultation and assessment—but not enough people know that the Post Office has now agreed with all the major banks to provide basic banking services. Given that post offices are open at weekends and for longer hours, that can often provide a very good alternative.
My constituent David Hemphill suffers from myotonic dystrophy, and previously qualified for a mobility allowance of £224 a month. When that was removed in December, he lost his mobility vehicle and was instead given an Access to Work grant for taxis, which costs £560 a month. May we have a statement, or a debate in Government time, about the detrimental costs of such changes to the public purse?
That does sound like a bizarre decision. The hon. Gentleman will, of course, want to raise the matter directly through one of the MPs’ hotlines or with Ministers, and I encourage him to do that.
In June we were told that the much-delayed clean growth plan would be published after the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when it is published, there is a parliamentary debate about it?
As the hon. Lady would expect, in such circumstances there is normally some kind of ministerial statement, either written or oral. Alternatively, she may wish to organise a Back-Bench debate when the plan is published.
The question of the shortage of nurses in Rochdale—which reflects the national shortage—was raised with me during the summer. May we have a debate in Government time about how the Government plan to increase nurses’ pay, and also to ensure that we are training enough nurses?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the number of nurses on wards is up by nearly 12,000. We are increasing investment in the NHS, increasing the number of training places, and so on. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise issues relating specifically to Rochdale, it might be a good idea for him to do so during Health questions.
Across Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire, the closure of community care beds is causing great concern to my constituents and those of my neighbours. The decisions were referred to the Secretary of State for Health under the 2013 regulations, but there has been no response. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the accountability of clinical commissioning groups? Those who spend public money and commission public services should not be outside the realm of public scrutiny.
I do not think it would be true to say that clinical commissioning groups are not subject to public scrutiny—they most certainly are—but I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman has a particular concern about a CCG, Ministers will respond to it.
May we have a debate on the Home Office’s shambolic visa system, with case after case throughout the summer of artists and academics, especially from Africa and the middle east, being denied entry to the United Kingdom, affecting festivals, research tours and business? Will a Home Office Minister come to this House and answer the concerns of some of my constituents, who are trying to arrange these visas and are beginning to believe a covert travel ban is in place?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are millions of visitors to this country every year; the Home Office manages those processes extremely effectively. If he has specific concerns about individuals, he might wish to take that up with Ministers, but there is no sense in which there are any travel bans operating in the United Kingdom, and nor is the system unjust or inefficient.
Drug policies in Holland have delivered a prison crisis in that they do not have enough prisoners to fill their prisons. Drug policies here have created chaos in our prisons and a record number of drug deaths, including psychoactive drug deaths, last year. May we debate which country has got its policies right?
In the UK we have always been very clear: we do not believe that permission to use drugs is of any benefit whatsoever, and we will continue to make every effort to reduce drug offending and to encourage people to get clean from drugs.
May we have a statement from the Government on when they plan to reconvene the Joint Ministerial Committee, so that devolved Administrations can be fully involved and consulted on the Brexit process?
There is a great deal of consultation going on, as the hon. Gentleman knows, between the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government. That will continue, and there will be plenty of opportunities for further consultation in the weeks and months ahead.
When Tony Newton was Leader of the House in 1995, in a Conservative Government, he accepted that if the Government lost their majority in the House of Commons they should not have a majority in the Committees of this House considering legislation. Why on earth does this Conservative Leader of the House think that this Government are any different? They have no majority in the House; they should have no majority in the Committees.
The House is speaking through the usual channels about the business of the House and there will be more discussion about that next week. Motions will be on the Order Paper in good time for the House to be able to consider and discuss it.
During the recess I met with I Am Me Scotland, an inspiring group working to tackle disability hate crime in Renfrewshire and beyond. With 62,000 hate crimes being committed against disabled people each year in the UK, may we have a debate on this most heinous of crimes?
It is a very important point to make that it is horrible to see any abuse of individuals, particularly those with disabilities, and I absolutely encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate on that subject.
It was clear from this week’s statement on Grenfell that little progress is being made, especially on rehousing residents, so may we have weekly reports to the House until further notice, to concentrate Ministers’ minds on this issue?
I think that is really very unfair: Ministers have been very focused on trying to alleviate the suffering of those victims of Grenfell. The Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and others have come before this House many times to update. What they have not wanted to do is force residents into accommodation that those residents do not wish to take. The offers have been made, and there is a total focus on ensuring we do everything we can for those people.
As a Government Minister, the Leader of the House voted to give an additional £16 billion for private renewal and then a £34 billion tax giveaway package for the wealthiest, while maintaining the public sector cap. Will she make a statement explaining why she thinks that is fair and saying whether the UK Government are going to follow the Scotland Government’s lead and scrap the cap?
To be very clear, what we have to do in any Government is have the right balance in priorities for spending. It has to be right for the people who are doing the amazing work they do in our public services, but also right for the taxpayers who have to foot the bill. When we came into office, we had the largest peacetime deficit ever, and in the ensuing years we have been trying to get back to living within our means. The alternative is that we leave the debts for the next generation, and that would be completely unfair. So balance in spending priorities is absolutely key.
In 2015, Wales introduced the opt-out system for organ donation. In the following year, there was a 19% increase in kidney donations. Scotland is about to introduce a similar system. Is it not about time that those awaiting organ donations in England were also given a right to live?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point, and I am very sympathetic to it. Last year, we saw the highest ever rates of organ donation, but we want that number to rise further so that everyone who needs a transplant has the best chance of receiving one. This is organ donation week, and the campaign is focusing on the importance of people talking about this and telling their family about their wishes. We are committed to continuing with campaigns that raise awareness, but we will also be looking closely at how the situation in Scotland and Wales affects donation rates. I also want to highlight the need to encourage black, Asian and minority ethnic donors, and we are looking at more ways of doing that.
Will the Leader of the House comment on the possibility of including topical questions in the devolved nations’ questions that fall before Prime Minister’s Question Time? We seem to be shortlisted on a number of questions, week in and week out, and we can hold no one to account.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, and I am very happy to take it away and discuss it with colleagues.
May we have a statement on the powers of the Financial Conduct Authority? Its slowness in taking action against sky-high interest rates in the rent-to-own sector has left hard-up families paying through the nose for cookers and for cots.
It is incredibly important that financial conduct is carried out meticulously, and the regulator has strong powers to ensure that people behave appropriately. There are all sorts of issues around financial conduct at all times, and I think the FCA does a good job, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a particular issue, I recommend that he tries to arrange a Westminster Hall debate on that specific point.
Two years on from the Syrian boy being washed up on a beach in the Mediterranean, there is still a crisis affecting children in Europe. May we have an urgent debate on what can be done to speed up the process of reuniting the child refugees who are sleeping rough in Calais with their families in Britain?
The situation for children is incredibly harrowing. This country has made huge strides in trying to reunite refugee children with their families, with relatives and with other people in the United Kingdom. We continue to be one of the most generous donors in trying to establish safe havens for children closer to home, to avoid their getting into the hands of people traffickers, making appalling journeys and losing relatives on the way. There is always more to be done, and the hon. Gentleman might well want to arrange for an Adjournment debate on that subject.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to make a statement on Hurricane Irma, which is already affecting and is set further to affect Caribbean islands and the south-east United States with devastating effect. Much as I appreciate the wish of the House to move on to the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, I am sure everyone appreciates the importance of informing the House about the latest position on this unfolding catastrophe.
As with any hurricane, one can never be sure of its ultimate effect until the extent and location of its inevitable damage has become clear. However, its predicted force has put everyone on the highest state of alert and preparedness, to which end the Foreign Office crisis centre and Department for International Development planning were all put on to the highest state of readiness over two days ago. The FCO crisis centre has two important functions: one is to organise the fullest possible consular assistance to UK citizens abroad; the other is to monitor the path of the hurricane and co-ordinate every conceivable UK response, in particular to those British territories affected.
Hurricane Irma, having reached category 5—the highest possible category—hit three British overseas territories yesterday: Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands. Today, we expect the hurricane to affect a further UK territory: the Turks and Caicos Islands. The hurricane yesterday also caused damage in the independent Commonwealth countries of Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis, and we expect it to affect the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas today. It will most likely affect Cuba and south-eastern Florida tomorrow. The hurricane is heading westwards and remains strong. We have an initial assessment of the severity of the damage it has caused. I will outline for the House what we know so far. Montserrat was swiped by the hurricane yesterday, but our initial assessment is relatively positive. Fortunately, the damage is not as severe as first thought. In contrast, however, Anguilla received the hurricane’s full blast. The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and, in places, critical. We expect further reports to make clear the full nature of the devastation, and Anguilla’s port and airport remain closed. The British Virgin Islands were also not spared the hurricane’s full force when it passed through yesterday morning. Our initial assessment is of severe damage. We expect that the islands will need extensive humanitarian assistance, which we will of course provide.
The hurricane is expected to hit another British overseas territory later today. The Turks and Caicos Islands lie in the hurricane’s predicted path, and officials in London and in the territories are working intensively on disaster preparedness. They are also liaising with their counterparts in the Cayman Islands for assistance. The French and Dutch territories on Guadeloupe and St Martin have also been hit. The initial assessments are of widespread damage, but the more detailed assessment continues. No British nationals have yet contacted us to ask for assistance from these islands. Two Commonwealth realms were affected by hurricane Irma yesterday. Antigua and Barbuda’s less populated island, Barbuda, was most severely affected. Antigua, and St Kitts and Nevis were less badly affected than many had feared, with only minor damage. We expect that the hurricane will affect the Dominican Republic and Haiti today. It will sweep on through the south-east of the Bahamas later, and tomorrow is predicted to hit Cuba and southern Florida.
Officials in London and the territories have been working throughout the day and night to assess and quantify the needs of our territories, and to co-ordinate a cross-Government response. Officials in London are maintaining contact—although sometimes difficult—with our Governors’ offices in the territories. The Governors’ teams are themselves working closely with the territories’ Governments to respond to the crisis. The Royal Naval ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay is already in the Caribbean and should reach the affected territories later today. The ship carries Royal Marines and Army engineers, and her primary task is the protection of our overseas territories. She is loaded with a range of equipment, vehicles, tents, stores and hydraulic vehicles specifically intended to respond to such disasters. In addition, DFID stands ready to charter flights to deliver additional supplies as appropriate.
I spoke last night to the London representatives of the British Virgin Islands. I was in our crisis centre yesterday afternoon and last night and have been based there this morning. At 8.45 pm last night, the Foreign Secretary spoke to Anguilla’s Chief Minister Victor Banks. The Foreign Secretary also tried but was unable to contact the Premier of the British Virgin Islands, but Lord Ahmad has been in contact with the Governor this morning. We will be working in support of the overseas territories’ Governments to develop the best possible assessment of their immediate and longer-term needs. To that end, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will chair a meeting of COBRA at 2 o’clock this afternoon. Our priority is to support the territories’ Governments in meeting their immediate humanitarian and security needs, including shelter, water and accommodation. We have four UK Aid humanitarian experts in the region who are helping to co-ordinate the response. We will assess, with the territories’ Governments, their long-term reconstruction requirements, as we have done in the past.
As the House will appreciate, the relationship between overseas territories and their parent countries differs. While French territories are directly governed, that is not the case with our overseas territories. While that means that our responses will, of course, be different, we will seek to achieve the same objectives and are taking immediate steps to do so.
The Prime Minister called President Macron this morning to discuss our respective responses to Hurricane Irma. They agreed that the devastation the hurricane has wreaked is terrible, with unconfirmed reports emerging of a number of fatalities. The Prime Minister updated the French President on our response, noting that DFID humanitarian advisers have already deployed to the region to conduct damage assessments and provide humanitarian support, and that RFA Mounts Bay is already near the area. They agreed to co-operate closely, including with the Dutch, to understand the extent of the damage and to co-ordinate our relief efforts.
We will all do our utmost to help those affected, and I undertake to keep the House updated as required.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for allowing me to see it in advance. I start by associating myself with his remarks in sending the House’s deepest sympathies to the people whose lives and livelihoods have been lost to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
Many thousands of British tourists visit the Caribbean every year for their holidays. What is the Government’s estimate of the number of UK nationals currently in the countries that have been hit by Hurricane Irma, or that are likely to be affected in the coming days? What requests for consular assistance has the Foreign Office received from British nationals in the countries affected? What assistance are the Government ready to provide in response to such requests? What efforts are the Government making to communicate with British nationals across the region to make sure that they know what help is available to them?
Of course, holidaymakers are by no means the only people who will have been affected: the damage for those who live in the region will be both profound and lasting, particularly because of the effect on the tourism industry. Many of those people may also be British, given the number of UK overseas territories in the Caribbean.
The Minister has given us the Government’s initial assessment of the impact of Hurricane Irma on overseas territories such as Anguilla, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands, but what discussions has he had, or does he intend to have, with the Governments of those territories about the effects of the hurricane? And what discussions has he had with the Governments of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda that have also been affected? What efforts are the Government making to work with the authorities in those areas on their reconstruction plans? What reassurances can he give that the UK stands ready to provide not only the immediate humanitarian and security relief that is needed so urgently but a sustained commitment to reconstruction, which will be so important in the longer term?
Finally, I am sure the Minister will commit to providing regular updates to the House on the progress of reconstruction efforts, and particularly on the steps the Government are taking to assist with those efforts. I am also confident that the Government will update the House following the Cobra meeting this afternoon.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady both for what she said and for the tone in which she said it, because the House will want to send a united message of concern. We all just want to do the very best for those who, in many cases, have been devastated by the ferocity of this hurricane.
Of course, many tourists will have left because there was some notice that this hurricane was likely to come, and this is not peak tourist season. We have not yet had any direct individual requests for consular assistance, but we all have concern that, beneath the rubble, there will be cases that require our urgent personal response.
Our focus, of course, is not just on tourists; it is on everybody. We have complete overall concern, particularly for our overseas territories that are affected, and to that end we have £12 million immediately available through our rapid response mechanism for disaster relief and recovery. The Secretary of State for International Development is here with me, and her Department, like the Foreign Office, is on full alert and is doing its utmost. The Department has a great wealth of expertise to deploy, and I speak not only as a Foreign Minister but as a former DFID Minister. In the long-term, we will of course always meet our full legal obligations under the International Development Act 2002 to our overseas territories. I assure the House that we are pulling out all the stops to make sure that we do our utmost to provide urgent assistance, once we, using the professionalism DFID has, have carried out the assessment to make sure we know who is in greatest need. We can then use our adeptness and flexibility urgently to address those who most need our help.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, for the comprehensive nature of the response we appear to be preparing and for the undertaking that we will provide all necessary immediate humanitarian assistance. I welcome the fact that he has spoken to the London representatives of the BVI. Will he confirm that he will be happy to act as the personal contact of the London representative of the Government of Anguilla, too, so that she can keep him personally updated? For the longer term, there is some anxiety that the overseas territory of Anguilla does not receive direct aid from DFID; it receives it only indirectly through the European Union. May I take it that the welcome notification about the £12 million will mean that we are equally as committed to the long-term recovery and reconstruction of Anguilla as we are to meeting the immediate humanitarian need?
First, let me say that we are endeavouring to contact everybody, although this is difficult in some cases. There is always a distinction between DFID funding that is Official Development Assistance-eligible and that which is not, but we will make all the assessments we possibly can, in order to give the help that we would like to give wherever we find that the need is severe. We will, as my hon. Friend requests, focus on all the help, and we have dealt with many hurricanes and typhoons in the region before. Indeed, four years ago, as the Minister, I gave some assistance to St Lucia and St Vincent, which had had all their bridges swept away. It was because we had the professionalism required to assess the damage that we knew how best to respond to it. Our response is flexible, which again reflects DFID’s professional competence.
I, too, am grateful for advance sight of today’s statement. There is no doubt that the devastation across the Caribbean is both grave and a tragedy. Naturally, our thoughts and wishes go out to all those waiting to find out whether or not they are in the path of Hurricane Irma—those in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and Florida; and to those who have already been hit in the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Puerto Rico and St Martin, which we hear is “almost destroyed” and in Barbuda, whose Prime Minister says that the island is “totally demolished” and “nearly uninhabitable”. We encourage the Minister to send as much urgent aid as possible to them.
The upgrading to hurricanes of storms Jose and Katia, making it three in the Caribbean basin, is terrifying. The prospect of Jose hitting locales we have already seen hit, amid the devastation, is unthinkable. The world is witnessing the increased prevalence of hurricanes. In the past three years alone, Texas has had three 100-year to 500-year events, leading to warnings that this is the “new normal”. We are seeing the major impact of climate change, and we must step up actions on this at the highest priority. Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Barbuda and the larger, neighbouring island of Antigua, told the BBC’s “Today” programme:
“The science is clear. Climate change is real, in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”
Will the Government express our solidarity and sympathies with the communities affected, especially those on the devastated island of Barbuda, through communication with their Prime Minister? What efforts have the Government made to note how many UK nationals have been caught up in the path of this devastating hurricane?
Finally, as part of the UK’s much-vaunted “special relationship” with the United States, what pressure are the UK Government putting on Donald Trump to change his stance on the Paris climate change agreement, and to be part of the solution and not the problem?
I of course hear what the hon. Gentleman says about climate change. There is no doubt that many parts of the world are facing a greater incidence of severe weather, but I hope he will allow me to confine myself to the urgent nature of our response to people in desperate need, rather than engage today in a debate on the broader issues. Our priority is primarily the overseas territories, but it is not confined to them. Thus, we will be focusing in the first instance on the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and, by the look of it, the Turks and Caicos Islands. That is why the crisis centres in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are working joined at the hip to ensure that our response is as effective and as rapid as possible.
I would like to add my thanks to the Minister for coming to give a statement to the House today. Clearly this is a very devastating but unfolding situation. Can he reassure us that he will continue to keep us updated on the work and progress of his Department and those involved?
I am happy to give that assurance. I can tell the House that in my experience these things come in phases. We have to start with the urgent cases of injury and homelessness and the need for food and water. Then there is the very important process of the follow-up to ensure that issues of infrastructure and reconstruction are properly planned for and delivered.
I spoke a few moments ago to Kennedy Hodge, an Anguillan student who has arrived just today in Chesterfield. He laid out the scale of the devastation in Anguilla, which is quite unlike anything they have seen before. The Minister was at pains to explain the difference between our relationship with our overseas territories and that of the French Government with theirs, but if he is to make good on achieving the same objectives that the French have set out, he will know that we need a great deal more resource. The French Government have put a lot more into St Martin than we have into Anguilla. Will the Minister lay out the resources we will be able to provide not only militarily to deal with the immediate humanitarian catastrophe, but to support the Anguillan Government with the help they will need with schools, hospitals, the airport, the prisons and all the devastated infrastructure? They will need that support to get back on their feet.
I quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying in respect of Anguilla, because there have been some comments in the media comparing our response with that of the French, but I very much hope I can give him and the House genuine reassurance. We are very well practised in emergency response. We place a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel in the area almost every year—I think it is every year—in anticipation of hurricane risk. In this case, the hurricane has been extraordinarily severe, but the advantage of having the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel is that we do not trap response resources in a country or on an island when they might be more importantly needed on a neighbouring island.
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel has flexibility. It has the ability to make and deliver water. It has bulldozers and a helicopter. Crucially, we may have resources on an island and the roads get blocked, but if we have a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel with a chopper, we can get to the people in need very quickly. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel is a fantastic resource of which we should be very proud. It has marines, military engineers, resources, food and supplies, and it can deploy flexibly according to the urgency and need caused by the devastating path of a hurricane, because we never know where the need is greatest until the hurricane has happened. I say again that we can supplement the initial urgent response with other relief flights provided by DFID out of the disaster relief funding we have. Over time, the House will see that our response proved effective and good for the people we are there to look after.
My thoughts go out to people such as Victor Banks, Orlando Smith and Don Romeo, whom I worked closely with and have been trying to contact. Does this immediate crisis not highlight a conundrum? While the overseas territories have preferential treatment and first call on the DFID budget, the nature of middle-income status does not recognise the real environmental risks that small island states have. How can the Minister leverage his time at DFID and the Foreign Office to ensure that that little conundrum can perhaps be solved under his time and service?
May I first acknowledge my hon. Friend’s service as a Foreign Office Minister? He has great knowledge of this field. He is really asking me to dissect and explain, or even give an intellectual thesis on, what one might call the “ODA conundrum”, in which some cases qualify for overseas development assistance funding but not others. When it comes to hurricanes and typhoons, the argument may well be, “We wish you had spent money in advance,” and so on. I am sure that greater thought will be given to the issue, but DFID will do its utmost with the resources it has to address need wherever it is able to do so.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor states that had Hurricane Harvey happened 20 years ago, it would have been a “1-in-2,000-year event”. We now have Irma, with a new trail of devastation and loss of life, as well as appalling deadly floods in south Asia. Helping those in danger rightly has to be the immediate priority, but will the Minister engage with the wider question of what the Government are doing to get global climate change action back on track? It is vital and urgent that we do, and we are currently failing.
That priority cuts across the Government. Our main focus today is on emergency relief, but preparedness for severe weather incidents is part of many DFID programmes, to ensure that flooding is reduced, buildings are solid and infrastructure holds up. The kind of the advanced work to which the hon. Lady implicitly refers is deeply entrenched in many of the programmes around the world on which DFID spends its money.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. The Foreign Office crisis centre and DFID have done us proud by springing into action, and I welcome the £12 million fund that my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier. However, the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma will be exacerbated by another storm: Hurricane Jose. Has the Minister had the time to take into account the extra damage that Hurricane Jose could cause and what that might mean for any relief efforts in the region?
I have been concentrating very much on Irma, but I shall go immediately and find out what I ought to know about Jose. The serious point is that the Government wanted to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to let the House know what we know and to share, openly and transparently, a clear picture of what we had prepared and what we wish to do. As I said earlier, I am sure we will update the House in due course, or as appropriate, to explain what we have done subsequently.
First, I was involved in getting aid to Montserrat in the past; will the Minister explain further what damage the hurricane has done to the island? He said it was swiped by the hurricane, but I do not know what that means. Secondly, there was an interesting BBC science programme last night on preparing to go to Mars, with scientists in the United States seemingly well advanced in the process. If we are preparing to go to Mars, why can we not predict hurricanes much earlier? The Minister may not be able to answer that question, but it is an interesting one.
The right hon. Lady will forgive me if I focus more on Montserrat than on Mars. I am very familiar with Montserrat, which of course had its own problem with the volcanic eruption many years ago. The damage assessment we have is that fortunately Montserrat has not been severely hit. The hurricane passed over and did not cause the widespread disruption and demolition that at first we feared.
Our attention is currently on those countries affected by the hurricane, and it is right that the Government’s focus should be on them. However, back in 2015, Storm Desmond initially had a great impact on America before subsequently having a huge impact on this country, particularly affecting the lives of many people in Carlisle and Cumbria. Will the Minister confirm that, although his priority is clearly the countries in the Caribbean, other parts of the Government will ensure that this country is prepared for the potential fallout from such hurricanes and future ones?
Yes, I would like to think that, as a sophisticated first-world country, we do as a matter of fact always have contingency plans—plans for a civil response of that sort. I am sure that the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. As regards a specific backlash from this hurricane, I am sure that the scientists will be working on it very energetically already.
Our heart goes out to all those who have been affected. Some of the very poorest people will be those who have lost absolutely everything in this, as so often happens. The rich will be able to rebuild their mansions, but the poor will not. The Minister is right to focus on the immediate issues, but if we are to build resilience—there will be another incident like this—do the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos not need to have a broader tax base in the end?
As a Minister in the Department for International Development, I focused in great detail on the Turks and Caicos Islands, which was pretty well bankrupt and its deficit was growing. So, yes, part of the set of conditions that we set down for them for restoring their finances was to improve their tax base. I can point to a very positive record of this Government, answering exactly the question that the hon. Gentleman has asked. Implicit in his question is that, if we are to reconstruct a devastated island, we must ensure that it builds things that will withstand hurricanes in the future. If we have rivers that will not flood, riverbanks that have gabion baskets to make sure that they can contain the water and houses that can withstand a greater ferocity of wind, then out of this disaster can come an opportunity for better resilience in the future.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement, which, in its comprehensiveness and succinctness, was a model that other Ministers would be well advised to follow. In relation to his last point, we have an absolute duty to protect our overseas realms and territories from environmental disasters. Is there a plan to hurricane-proof as much as possible key infrastructure in these realms and territories?
I like to think that being short and precise is my hallmark.
Across many of DFID’s programmes around the world—for example, ones in Bangladesh, which suffers from flooding—building in resilience is a crucial part of its entire philosophy. In as much as that can also be incorporated into a country’s planning, it must be both welcomed and encouraged. I must point out to the House that we do not govern those countries, but we can encourage them to govern themselves in a way that introduces exactly the sort of standards that my hon. Friend has described.
I have been shocked to see the absolute devastation in places that I have personally visited. Having been through a hurricane and a tornado myself, I know just what a frightening and unpleasant experience it can be. It is absolutely shocking, and our thoughts and prayers are with all those people. I welcome very much what the Minister has had to say, particularly about RFA Mounts Bay and the facilities that it can provide. Will he look at the possibility of a second RFA vessel going into the region one or two weeks later with necessary infrastructure supplies and relief efforts, particularly if there is further devastation in the Turks and Caicos? Are our search and rescue personnel on standby to provide assistance? They do an excellent job in these crises. Have they been used yet?