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
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?
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.
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
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.]
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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? (900653)
Leaving 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 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.
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? (900661)
Dublin III Regulation
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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
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. (900663)
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?
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.
14. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the timetable for the UK leaving the EU is met. (900655)
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.
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.
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?
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? (900715)
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. (900719)
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? (900717)
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.
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? (900718)
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? (900720)
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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?
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.
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 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?
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.
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?