Tuesday 12 September 2017
[James Gray in the Chair]
Foreign Direct Investment 2016-17
I beg to move,
That this House has considered foreign direct investment into the UK in 2016-17.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. You might be forgiven for thinking that foreign direct investment is rather a niche subject for a Tuesday morning, but it is vital, particularly in the context of Brexit and of course international trade more generally. I am delighted to have secured this debate. The timing is especially apt after last night’s vote on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and our consideration of the Finance Bill later on today and into this evening.
FDI refers specifically to cross-border investments made by residents and businesses from one country into another and—importantly—with the aim of establishing a lasting interest in the enterprise that is operating in a foreign economy. I hope that this debate will focus on inward investment into this country—into UK companies —by foreign companies and enterprises. I will explore several main themes, including investment in the UK in the context of Brexit. I will give specific figures on FDI and statistics for 2016-17, and describe how FDI is spread across the regions, which is certainly important for me as a Member of Parliament from the south-west. I shall also discuss opportunities for FDI after Brexit and put some specific questions to the Minister.
First, let me talk about investment in the UK generally. As The Economist points out this week, many people warned of a slump in our economy following last year’s EU referendum. The expectation was that investment would decrease and that FDI itself would dry up, but that has not happened. Companies such as Google, Nissan, Toyota, Amazon and even Snapchat have shown that Britain is still a great country in which to invest.
Toyota recently announced an investment into the UK of more than a quarter of a billion pounds for its plant near Derby. Nissan is increasing its production in Sunderland by a fifth, doubling the amount of parts that it sources from within the UK and stepping up production by about 20%. Importantly, as we look to the future and electric vehicles, Nissan is investing strongly in this country, particularly in Sunderland. Google has invested £1 billion in 3,000 more jobs, and Amazon recently announced that it was taking over 15 storeys and 600,000 square feet of a new building in Shoreditch, which is even more than it originally promised back in 2014. That shows that London really is the capital of research and development, certainly for Amazon, which is also increasing the number of jobs.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on a vital subject. He mentions London, but I would like to mention my home turf of Scotland. I am sure he is aware that Scotland was recently voted the most beautiful country in the world by the readers of a certain travel publication, but is he also aware that for the last five years in a row, Scotland has been the top location in the UK outside London for FDI? In fact, despite the warnings of naysayers and prophets of doom, 2016 was a record year, with 122 FDI deals done in Scotland during that year, which was up from the previous year. Does he agree that an industrial strategy with an emphasis on education and skills, combined with proactivity on the part of the Department for International Trade and business-friendly taxes, can help to make all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom irresistible to foreign investors? Should we not all be very positive about our future outside the European Union?
I completely agree that we should be positive about our future outside the EU. The whole purpose of the opening part of my speech was to show that, even after last year’s EU referendum result, the situation has not been all doom and gloom. I will talk about Scotland and the regions a little later in my speech, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Even though we are all a little tired after last night, many of us have turned up here today because this is an important subject.
I urge the hon. Gentleman not to be too optimistic. During my career in Parliament, I have spent a long time as chair of the all-party group on manufacturing and I have tried to encourage investment in this country. At the moment, proposals from Japan, China and America are very tentative. They think that, as we go through the Brexit process, some sensible solutions will be reached regarding our access to the European market, but nothing is definite yet. There are lots of things hanging. I have just come back from New York, and what I find is that nobody in financial services in New York will accept or even apply for a job in London at the moment—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member and he knows very well that that intervention was too long. The previous intervention was from a new Member, the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), and he can be excused both for its being rather lengthy and for reading it, which is not something one would normally expect. I remind Members that interventions should be short, and they should be direct questions, not mini-speeches.
Thank you for that reminder, Mr Gray. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for his intervention. Last night was a late night and we can anticipate that tonight will be a late finish as well, but this is an important debate and I am very grateful that he is here in the Chamber this morning.
The hon. Gentleman is right—I am a glass-half-full, optimistic kind of person. However, we must not take a rose-tinted view, and I will say later that we should anticipate where there will be bumps in the road ahead. It is right that we do that, but where FDI is still happening in this country—even though the doomsayers said that it would not happen—that is a good early sign. Nevertheless, he is right that we have to look out for bumps ahead, and I will talk about the south-west region in particular.
Amazon is creating 450 new high-tech jobs in the UK, in addition to the 5,000 Amazon jobs that are already here. That is a real demonstration that Amazon and other companies believe that this is a good country in which to do business. I do not know whether you are on Snapchat yourself, Mr Gray—
If you are, perhaps we should all get on to Snapchat. It has opened its new global hub right here in London, which again shows that it believes in this country in a post-Brexit world. There may well be bumps ahead, but let us look at the facts and the evidence of what has happened so far, while also being cautious about the future.
Having looked at the general picture, let me give some specific details of FDI. The latest report on inward investment results from the Department for International Trade, which is from 2016-17, showed that there were more than 2,260 inward investment projects in the UK. The good news is that that is up by 2% on the previous year and the investments secured over 75,000 new jobs, which is a huge number. However, there is one reason to be cautious, on which I specifically challenge the Minister. We are told that the jobs figure is down by 9% from 2015-16, so I invite him to explain why that is. Obviously the number of projects being invested in is still rising, but why are the jobs figures not quite as high as before? Of course I welcome the jobs that are being created and retained; in the south-west region alone, there have been nearly 3,500 new jobs and I very much welcome them.
Let me turn to the specific regional figures. As one would expect, London and the south-east is the region of the UK that attracts the most FDI. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned Scotland, which receives the next largest amount of FDI. Again, that shows the strength of the whole United Kingdom, which is good for our United Kingdom. However, I challenge the Minister specifically about the south-west, my own region—other speakers will no doubt champion their own region. Although I welcome the 3,500 new jobs in the south-west, I invite the Minister to ensure that there is sufficient FDI in the regions outside London and the south-east.
The hon. Gentleman will know that Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, where corporation tax is 12.5%. We hope to neutralise that and have corporation tax at the same rate. Does he agree that although there is a lot of FDI in Northern Ireland, as we move forward after the vote last night, we will remain part of the United Kingdom out of the EU and the future is bright?
I am very grateful for that intervention. I will mention Northern Ireland in relation to the “Britain is great” project. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As I said earlier, I am optimistic about the future of our country in a post-Brexit world.
Foreign direct investment is important for a number of reasons. It is important for job creation, which I have touched on, and for growth. Businesses in receipt of FDI have been shown to be more productive. All those things raise living standards, and they are why I challenge and invite the Minister to ensure that all regions across the United Kingdom—the south-west in particular—benefit. It is right and proper that London and the south-east attracts FDI—it is to be expected that our capital city should be the largest recipient of FDI—but I ask the Minister to ensure that all regions are attractive.
I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on youth employment.
Although foreign direct investment into Scotland has been increasing, the Scottish National party’s constant pursuit of a second independence referendum creates economic uncertainty, and businesses are loth to go into such an environment. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the SNP were to drop that desire, we would see more inward investment into Scotland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are always hearing about business certainty. What do businesses want? They want to be able to anticipate what is going to happen, to know about the future, and the prospect of another referendum hanging over Scotland creates uncertainty. We have heard comments in exactly that vein from businesses across Scotland, so I am grateful for that intervention.
Picking up on the point about a second referendum, the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) will be aware of the comments made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with regard to that, but he might also be aware that many businesses, including the London Insurance Group, to which I spoke recently, were looking favourably upon Scotland and the opportunity it offered because of Brexit and the threat it posed. He might also be aware that Mark Harvey, a senior EY partner in Scotland, said that according to recent research,
“the EU Referendum vote and its aftermath may be having an influence on global perceptions of…the UK”.
So Brexit, not a Scottish independence referendum, is the greatest threat to the UK’s competitiveness.
I beg to differ. In my speech I have shown that, even after the referendum, FDI and investment more generally are still coming into this country. What I heard in the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway is that businesses in Scotland want the certainty of remaining part of the biggest single market which, as far as they are concerned, is the United Kingdom and not the European Union.
Before changing portfolios, the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) served briefly on the all-party parliamentary group on youth employment. Each month we track the job figures, and month by month in recent years they have looked very good. The youth unemployment figure is now 12.2%, which is within touching distance of record lows, and the global employment rate is at its highest since comparable records began.
I welcome those figures, which are great news for youth employment across the UK. Does the hon. Gentleman know and welcome the fact that Scotland’s youth unemployment figures are also at a record low? In my constituency, there is only 8% youth unemployment. Is that not something to celebrate?
I completely agree, and I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s intervention. The figures are a sign of strength in the United Kingdom, not in the separatist agenda that she and her party would pursue. I of course welcome all record levels of youth employment, whether in Scotland, London or my own region. I appreciate the short time that the hon. Lady spent on the all-party group on youth employment. I invite the Minister to consider how we can pull out all the stops to ensure that the figures keep going in the right direction. That is the challenge as we near full employment, or as full as we might be able to reach.
One of the most popular measures for boosting FDI are enterprise zones, in which companies receive preferential tax, planning and other financial incentives. That measure is most popular among non-UK companies, which have constantly advocated the creation of such zones. I am delighted that the Dorset Green Technology Park, just outside my constituency, was recently announced as an enterprise zone. Such zones promise the creation of engineering excellence, and this one will generate 2,000 new jobs and 20 new employment units as the result of a massive £2.5 billion investment. Although the park is just outside my constituency, I firmly believe that it will benefit the whole of Dorset, bringing an extra opportunity for attracting FDI into the region.
Northern Ireland was mentioned, and I want to hear from the Minister about his Department’s “Invest in Great Britain and Northern Ireland” campaign. As we look forward to the challenges and opportunities this country faces, the whole of the United Kingdom must go forward together. I invite particular attention to be paid to regions such as the south-west—and of course other regions represented by Members here today—where there is a risk of their being left behind or slipping behind.
I end on this point: to foreign investors, the United Kingdom is an attractive place in which to invest and with which to do business, but I strike a warning note for the Labour Front-Bench team. Foreign investors, just like domestic businesses, like our low rate of corporation tax. They like our country for a number of reasons, but one of them is the corporation tax rate, which at 19% is the lowest in the G7. That has not resulted, as some argued it would, in our having to compromise on the tax take, which is so important. In fact, the tax take in 2016 was £6.6 billion higher than in 2010. So we must also keep an eye on that and ensure that businesses keep investing in this country.
Much of the Brexit debate is about how we divide up the national cake. This discussion about foreign direct investment is about ensuring that our cake is even bigger in the first place. I firmly believe in the importance of FDI and the opportunities that Brexit can present to us, and I look forward to hearing from other hon. Members and the Minister in due course.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) on delivering such an excellent and comprehensive speech. Like he, I am a glass-half-full person, who looks optimistically towards the future, and the facts, as I hope to illustrate, will indicate that things are very bright. If we try to be positive and look forward we can find solutions and see the good things. It is not always good to dwell upon the negative things; it is good to be aware of them but not to dwell on them.
Northern Ireland, as such a small country, is somewhat reliant on foreign investment and it is clear that we have the expertise and knowledge to attract investment from all over the world. I want to give a Northern Ireland perspective, because the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole referred to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I say that often; I have said it every day since I came into this House back in 2010, to emphasise that we are very much part of the United Kingdom and that we are all together—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
Northern Ireland secured 33 foreign direct investment projects during 2015-16—as the Minister knows, we have some good stories—which created more than 2,000 jobs. Despite the usual Brexit warnings that scream that FDI will be affected by our leaving the EU zone, I read a piece by an economist that states:
“From a Northern Ireland perspective, the type of inward investment we have been winning has been back office functions, which may not need the access to the single market, if its function is to serve a parent company. Investor motives for investing here would back that up, with a strong majority of investors citing the skilled workforce as the main reason for investing here.”
Backing that up, figures in yesterday’s press indicate that the region of the United Kingdom with the strongest growth rate is Northern Ireland. So there is an indication that we are growing and that Northern Ireland is, for once, leading the way.
Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away with all these good feelings about the future, he would surely agree that our productivity is absolutely awful, looking carefully at UK performance. Many people who would like to invest in this country are worried about low productivity rates. Productivity is much higher in Yorkshire, which has a much bigger population than Northern Ireland and some of the places he has mentioned. We are doing very well and manufacturing is still alive and well. People would be much better off investing in manufacturing in Yorkshire than coming to Northern Ireland.
I am always happy to receive an intervention from the hon. Gentleman. He is definitely an optimist as he is a Huddersfield Town supporter, and that is an indication of optimism at its highest. I wish him well, although on Saturday I hope Leicester beat them. I digress slightly, but there are ways of doing better and we need to address productivity.
I will illustrate that point in some of my comments about Northern Ireland and how our economy, productivity and employment grow. In Northern Ireland, we have a skilled, dedicated workforce. Regardless of our place inside and outside of Europe, the fact remains that people are interested in investing in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom. The fact that we are world-renowned for our research, our cyber-technology and our skilled workforce means that we can attract the investment that we so need. We are already playing above our level in Northern Ireland. We lead the world with some of the technology we have developed, and some of that skill can be found in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell).
According to the figures, foreign direct investment projects into Northern Ireland were down 62% to just 15 in 2015, but at the time, the economic development agency Invest Northern Ireland claimed that the figures did not reflect the full picture. Invest NI said that the full picture is that there were 35 direct investment projects in that tax year, but because those projects had not started, they were not part of the figures. The original figures were wrong and gave the wrong indication. The new figures show that the investment, new jobs and new projects are significant.
No matter the predictions that come our way from economists one way or the other, our duty is to promote our abilities and industries and attract that inward investment. I seek to do that, and my colleagues and Members from all parties travel worldwide seeking to do that. Many from Northern Ireland do the same.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as we reach the era of the post-Brexit vote, where there will hopefully be less uncertainty, some of the regions of the UK—particularly Northern Ireland—will need to be able to avail themselves of the advantages that access into the EU as well as access beyond the EU provide? That is particularly so with the land border with the Irish Republic.
My hon. Friend concisely puts the issue into perspective. We need to have cognisance of our special relationship with the Republic of Ireland, but we also have to look at the advantages we will have elsewhere across the world. We are most effective when we are attracting investment in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other Departments. It is always good to see the Minister in his place, and we look forward to his response to the points we are making. Will he touch upon some of the facts with Northern Ireland as well?
It is useless to brush over the changes that Brexit will bring. There will be changes, but the changes need not be bad. Opportunities exist in the new markets emerging in Asia—opportunities that my constituents, such as Lakeland Dairies and Glastry Farm ice cream, are already making use of. Lakeland Dairies had a meeting with the Minister about those opportunities at the end of July. It is trying to secure another contract for milk products and milk powder in China. We and the Minister are working hard, and we are moving forward. Such companies are successfully casting their net to the middle east, and our local economy is reaping the dividends.
The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are doing all we can to aid companies and support them in their quest to secure jobs and enhance their businesses. On Thursday last week, Glastry Farm ice cream, which is based in my constituency—it is a small firm that started as a farming enterprise, but is now up and running —secured a new contract with Heathrow and another contract in Dubai. It is moving into the middle east, which is real progress for a wee firm from outside Ballyhalbert on the Ards peninsula, and it has been helped by Government policy in this place and by the Minister responsible back in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We cannot go into panic mode due to the uncertainty of Brexit and the way the Europeans will treat us as they continue—I say this respectfully—in unhelpful mode. We must focus on what can be achieved. We can secure and capitalise on other forms of foreign direct investment. The parliamentary briefing outlines that for UK investment abroad, the EU accounted for 43% of the total UK FDI stock in 2015, compared to 23% for the USA and 34% for all other countries, yet net investment flows from foreign investors into the UK were £21.6 billion in 2015, up from £15 billion in 2014. That shows the trend, success and positivity, and goes back to my comment about the glass being half full. The facts back that up, and that is what we want to say. Inward FDI flows from the United States were £20.1 billion, the highest recorded value since 2011. That is another positive fact. Inward FDI flows from Europe fell, with a disinvestment of £12.1 billion in 2015, compared with a disinvestment of £8 million the year before. Again, that is positivity. Net direct investment earnings generated in the UK by overseas investors were £47.9 billion in 2015, down slightly from £48 billion in 2014. The EU accounted for £18.8 billion of that, and the USA accounted for £17.5 billion.
I am aware that while the figures illustrate the issues, they are not the whole picture. There are a lot of figures out there, and they show me that as per usual we give more to Europe than we get out of it. We need to focus on our relationship with the USA and other trade partners. We need to look towards Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, the middle east and South America, which have potential and possibilities. I have said it before, and I will say it again: the sky will not fall down because we leave Europe. It will not all be darkness and gloom, but it is our job in this Chamber to ensure that we play our part in securing investment from those who wish to invest and can do so. We have the skills, expertise and workforce, and that speaks a great deal more globally than saying we are a member of the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) on securing this important debate. He made an excellent speech surveying the issues before us today.
We have already heard that, a year after Britain chose to leave the European Union, FDI into our country is higher than it has ever been. The good news is that that is not just the case this year: Britain is consistently one of the world’s leading destinations for inward investment. While the UK accounts for just 3% of global GDP, we are able to attract up to 15%—five times as much—of the world’s foreign direct investment. We must always remember, however, that foreign direct investment is not just some financial statistic on a piece of paper. FDI creates real jobs—some 70,000 last year alone, of which 70% were outside London. FDI raises productivity with new management practices. FDI drives innovation, which fuels our future prosperity.
Having spent my professional life before politics working with and investing in businesses from California to India, I know that while our future trading relationship with the EU will of course influence FDI decisions, it is important to put that one factor into proper context. The pages of the Financial Times may talk of little else these days, but it turns out that only 20% of FTSE 100 annual reports even mentioned Brexit this year.
Mr Gray, imagine yourself in the shoes of a CEO of a global company deciding where to make your international investment. When you look at all the factors that drive that company’s investment decisions, you will soon see that Britain is excelling in almost all the areas relevant to you.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. When businesses look to relocate, they pay attention to corporation tax, but they also think about the tax that their employees will pay. Does he agree that it is a mistake for Nicola Sturgeon to make Scotland the most overtaxed society in the United Kingdom?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point. I am about to come to the various factors that drive such decisions. A competitive tax regime, particularly for employee taxation, is a key part of that.
When it comes to human capital and a research base, Britain is home to four of the world’s best 10 universities. When it comes to a competitive corporate tax regime, our corporation tax rate of 19%, as we have heard, is the lowest in the G7. When it comes to supporting entrepreneurs, our enterprise investment scheme, seed enterprise investment scheme and entrepreneurs’ capital gains tax relief are second to none. When it comes to the regulatory costs facing companies, Britain is ranked by the World Economic Forum among the best large economies in the world. When it comes to getting a company the finances it needs, Britain boasts the most liquid capital markets anywhere in the world.
Lastly, when it comes to a legal framework that people can rely on to protect their investment, a third of the world’s population lives under the security of the English common-law system. Those are the key drivers of foreign direct investment, and I am proud to say that on every measure a Conservative Government have delivered, ensuring our universities are well funded, reducing corporate tax rates while increasing tax revenues, creating the SEIS and EIS programmes to fund hundreds of thousands of new businesses, and cutting pages and pages of unnecessary red tape. We can look at the outcome of all of that. Today, almost half of Europe’s billion-dollar start-ups were founded here in the United Kingdom, and the World Bank ranks Britain as the best major economy in the world to do business in: better than in the United States, Germany and France.
Although taking Britain out of the EU on the best possible terms is, of course, an important task, more important still will be the task that lies beyond it. Just as Britain never owed its success to Brussels in the past, we cannot expect Brexit to guarantee our success in the future. Staying at the world’s cutting edge will require constant dynamism from the Government. From my own experience, I point Ministers to three areas. First, at 1.7% of GDP, our research and development investment is still below the OECD average of 2.4% and half the rate found in Germany. Secondly, our nation’s infrastructure, from mobile telecoms to runways and airports, has not kept pace with the growth of our prosperity, and, according to the World Economic Forum, deters investment. We rank very low among large growing economies.
Lastly, our skills base lacks enough young adults with technical qualifications. Only 10% of adults hold such a qualification, putting us towards the bottom of the OECD league table. It is a shame that, among 16 to 24-year-olds, literacy and numeracy are no higher today than they are among people in their late 50s and 60s. I am confident that the Government understand those three challenges. Their new industrial strategy has the potential to keep Britain on the cutting edge.
However, I remind the Minister that we do not live in a static world. Everywhere we look, countries are innovating and looking at ways to attract human and financial capital and corporations to their shores, and we ourselves must constantly innovate. We need to look at smart regulations and infrastructure decisions that hold things up. We must continue, in spite of the current climate, to support free enterprise, for it is the best way to ensure our nation’s future prosperity, raise living standards and pay for the public services that we value.
The $250 billion that overseas businesses invested on our shores last year were not brought here by Brussels decree. That capital came because international investors know that our citizens’ ingenuity, our Government’s leadership and our nation’s world-class institutions will always provide them with a return. I am confident that, under this Conservative Government, that will continue to be the case for many years to come.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I welcome the debate secured by the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) and the opportunity to discuss foreign direct investment from a Scottish perspective. It has been a record-breaking year, as it has for the UK. I hear much positivity about post-Brexit, but we must remember that nothing has actually happened yet and things are very much in a state of flux.
The hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) mentioned universities. I do not know whether he is aware that last week Scotland was ranked as having five of the top 200 universities in the world, which is a huge achievement.
I welcome that fact, but does the hon. Lady agree that the Scottish Government could do more to improve access to those universities? She will be aware that students from poor and disadvantaged families are twice as likely to go to university in England as they are in Scotland, and that is something the Scottish Government should focus on fixing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for that intervention. He knows that the scrapping of tuition fees in Scotland has meant access not only to university but to employment and to college. That has been welcomed across the board. A university place is not always the full picture. Youth employment in Scotland is lower than anywhere else in the UK because of the SNP Government’s investment in a youth employment Minister—the first in these islands—and making sure that students do not leave university with tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds’- worth of debt.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I want to make some progress.
Scotland has performed well in terms of FDI, so I will indulge in talk about some of Scotland’s unique opportunities. The combination of natural resources, a highly skilled labour force and a long-standing reputation for innovation make Scotland a prime destination for foreign direct investment. The SNP Scottish Government have taken action to grow our economy and ensure that Scotland remains an attractive destination for business, boosting investment to record levels. As a result, 2016 was a record-breaking year, and, outside of London, Scotland is the best place in the UK for FDI. Places such as Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh are in the UK’s top 10 cities for attracting FDI. Our attractiveness to international investors is recognised through investments in recent years from the US, with 43 projects; France with 14 projects; and Germany with seven.
The latest annual survey on the attractiveness of locations to international business by Ernst and Young shows that Scotland now takes more than one in 50 of all investment projects based in Europe. That is a clear indication that Scotland in Europe is vital, and that Scotland is firmly established as a location of choice for global investors.
I think we have to acknowledge that the Government are taking Scotland out of Europe against its will, which will be a wrecking ball not only to Scotland’s economy, but to the rest of the UK’s economy. When we have these debates and discussions in one or two years’ time, I will be interested to see where we are. It is important that Governments work together on things such as foreign direct investment. That is not to say that there has not been support from the UK Government—of course there has—but we also have to recognise the flipside of the coin. The hon. Gentleman spoke about his own constituency in Northern Ireland. He must surely recognise the challenges and issues that will come down the line for Northern Ireland as we go through the Brexit process, especially as Northern Ireland relies so heavily on foreign direct investment. Recent research suggests that people will look less favourably on the UK because of the message it has sent as a result of Brexit. That is surely a concern for him.
The wrecking ball was not the Brexit referendum; in Scotland, where the hon. Lady and I live, the wrecking ball was the independence referendum. Law firms went out of business, conveyancing stopped, the housing market slowed dramatically and businesses stopped moving to and investing in Scotland. I know people who were planning to come to open branches of their business who stopped immediately. People do not like the uncertainty and they see our being part of the United Kingdom as a strength, not a weakness.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but he will not be surprised that I completely disagree. The Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was one of the most open and engaging democratic processes that Scotland has ever gone through, in complete contrast, unfortunately—I know we digress, Mr Gray— to the Brexit referendum process, which was squashed into a short time period, with no proper engagement and no proper information. I am now talking to businesses across my constituency and across Scotland that are increasingly turning to the notion of Scotland as an independent country within Europe, because of the mess that this Government are making of the Brexit process, and the absolute devastation that it will cause to the Scottish and UK economy.
Global professional services firm Genpact plans to create more than 300 jobs in Glasgow over the next five years, following a decision to expand its European operations in Scotland. Those roles will encompass digital solutions, risk management, insurance claims, business process transformation and customer services. I recently met members of the insurance sector who were extremely concerned that, if they cannot remain in the single market and customs union and retain the ability to passport their services, services such as aviation and even household insurance will be under threat. Unless we have clear detail from the Government about their plans for a transitional arrangement, there is a real threat to the insurance sector, which will have a significant knock-on impact on businesses and sectors across the UK.
Welcome news on FDI comes with the caveat that many of those decisions were taken up to three years before last summer’s vote to leave the EU. A senior EY partner in Scotland has voiced caution over the longer- term outlook, saying:
“The research suggests that the EU Referendum vote and its aftermath may be having an influence on global perceptions of the UK’s medium to long-term attractiveness. Western European investors are twice as negative as Asian and North American investors.”
That should be of concern to us all. He continued:
“Decisions on the majority of investments made in 2016 would have been made up to three years ago, which helps to explain the UK’s solid performance last year, but signs of a slowdown are on the horizon.”
The Scottish Government released their programme for government recently. It is important to recognise the work that they are doing. The SNP Scottish Government have established a board of trade and are setting up innovation and investment hubs in Dublin, London, Brussels, Berlin and Paris. They are investing in Scotland’s future by setting up a multi-billion pound infrastructure plan and a £500-million Scottish growth scheme targeting growth, innovation and export-focused SMEs, and start-ups by young people.
Much has been made of youth unemployment. The low rate of youth unemployment in Scotland—only 8.2%; one of the lowest rates in Europe—is absolutely fantastic. It is good to see the rest of the UK following suit, but we have to ask ourselves what that will look like in one, two or three years’ time, as we go through the Brexit process.
The programme for government presented by the First Minister last week included bold initiatives to boost the Scottish economy, such as the creation of a Scottish national investment bank and the doubling of business enterprise expenditure in research and development, from £871 million in 2015 to £1.7 billion in 2025. The Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon are taking real, decisive action, but they are doing it with one hand tied behind their back. Foreign direct investment will continue to be hugely important to Scotland and the rest of the UK, but we need real answers on what this Government will do to support not only Scotland, but the rest of the UK as we leave the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.
We should celebrate the United Kingdom’s long-standing success as the premier destination for EU inbound investment, but we should also be under no illusions about the scale of the challenge facing the UK in retaining current investment, let alone building on it. As research from Michail Karoglou, David Bailey and Nigel Driffield of Warwick Business School shows, of all relevant recent events only two positively affected the long-term trend for FDI: entry to the European Economic Community and entry to the single market in 1992. Only two events caused a reduction in the long-run level of inward investment flows: Britain leaving the exchange range mechanism under John Major, and Harold Wilson’s devaluation of sterling. After both those events, it took an average of four years for the level of FDI to recover. If anyone in this room or elsewhere thinks that there might be just a short-term blip or no blip at all, the evidence from history suggests that we need to think very carefully. The uncertainty caused by Brexit is cause for concern.
Let us look at some of the figures behind our FDI position. In 2016, the UK remained the premier preferred destination for inward investment projects, but despite a rise in the number of projects, the UK’s market share in Europe fell from 21% to 19%. Meanwhile, we are losing ground in emerging growth industries, high-growth markets and in the attraction of investment from emerging powerhouse economies such as China. Celebrating the number of investment projects is all well and good, but what really matters is the value of those projects and their wider contribution to the economy.
Figures from fDi Markets investment monitor suggest that in the 10 months before the referendum, investment flows were $42.7 billion, and in the 10 months after, the figure dropped dramatically to $28 billion. If we are to evaluate fully the vital work that the Department for International Trade undertakes, we need to see the economic value—really drill down into those figures and look at the value of the projects for each financial year, notwithstanding commercial sensitivities that might prevent the release of information on a case-by-case basis. It might be an idea to see exactly how the Department allocates investment projects to specific annual statistics, so we can avoid what happened in January this year, when the Secretary of State was widely ridiculed for including projects unveiled years ago.
The Government will concentrate on the success stories, but it is important to learn from the failures as well. The recent decision by Nestlé to relocate some 300 jobs making Blue Riband biscuits to Poland is a case in point—I have pointed out elsewhere that failure to find £1 million to save 300 jobs. The fall in the value of sterling has of course made it cheaper to invest here, but as Nigel Driffield and his colleagues point out, the benefits of a favourable exchange rate are set against the uncertainties of changes in our access to the EU. Their research also shows that investors like to return profits to their home countries, so a low-cost investment may be of less interest than might appear at first glance.
The UK has traditionally been seen as a relatively easy place to do business, ranking seventh in the latest World Bank Doing Business ranking. That is in part due to a skilled and educated workforce, the dominance of English as the global business language, a robust regulatory framework, a strong legal system and a wide array of supporting service industries, but the main reason in recent decades has been our access to the largest free-trading area in the world. The big challenge, therefore, is to maintain our attractiveness as we leave the EU—hence the need for strong transitional arrangements, the avoidance of a cliff edge and a seamless move to post-transitional arrangements. A link with trade policy and a robust industrial strategy are also essential.
The hon. Gentleman talks about maintaining our attractiveness to international investors after we leave the EU. Does he think that Labour’s proposed 50% increase in our corporation tax rate to 26% would make it more or less likely that international investors would want to invest here in the UK?
The evidence is mixed on whether the fall in corporation tax since 2010 has had benefits in attracting inward investment. Under our proposals, we would still have the lowest corporation tax in the G7. Although investors like the idea of a low-tax economy, they equally dislike the consequences. Recent research by the London School of Economics shows that the downside implied by a low-tax economy of poor public services is profoundly unattractive. The approach that the Prime Minister set out at Lancaster House may be the preferred route for many Conservative MPs who want to shrink the state, but as well as continuing to damage our NHS, schools and pensions, such a policy will restrict the Government’s ability to deliver the very infrastructure and skills that foreign investors want and need.
The view of our investors is set out starkly in EY’s UK attractiveness survey. EY said that it has been a “mixed year” and that it is
“difficult to make a clear assessment of the UK’s performance attracting foreign direct investment and maintaining its appeal to investors since our 2016 attractiveness reports, because every positive indicator is offset by an equivalent negative development.”
It added that,
“the UK’s share of European R&D projects slumped from 26% to 16%, its lowest since 2011. With software projects also slipping despite a Europe-wide increase, these results raise concerns over the UK’s future performance in key growth sectors.
Europe was the leading origin for projects into the UK…Cross-border investments in Europe grew in 2016, with Central and Eastern Europe becoming an important area for higher value-added FDI such as R&D. As European value chains become increasingly integrated, investors appear concerned about the UK’s future access to these value chains.”
The EY 2017 global survey of investors’ perceptions
“reveals a split between current plans and future expectations…Some 31% of investors expect the UK’s FDI attractiveness to decline over the next three years, while 33% expect it to improve.”
Before we get too excited about the net positive figure, EY states that those figures are
“significantly worse than the long-term average, and 50% of investors based in Western Europe expect the UK to become less attractive.”
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. If I may say so, it is a rather glass-half-empty sort of speech compared with some of the other contributions. He is absolutely right about some of the notes of caution in EY’s attractiveness survey, but does he accept that there are also positive noises coming from it, including that the UK remains hugely successful in attracting FDI?
I read out the key point about the mixed picture. We must do everything we can to retain our existing successes as well as build new ones—that is the thrust of what I am saying—but there is no point in the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues pretending that there are not great challenges and causes for significant concern. I was tempted to say in response to his earlier comment that he has rose-tinted glasses half full. [Interruption.] It is too early in the morning for that, isn’t it? That one is a work in progress—I will leave it in the locker.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right about a positive attitude; I do not disagree with him. Of course we have to be positive and do everything we can—some of my questions for the Minister are along those lines—but it is worrying that the EY report shows a sharp fall in how global investors rank the UK’s attractiveness on key criteria, such as education, transport infrastructure, local labour skills, political stability and access to the European market. There has been a year-on-year decline of up to 30% in some of those criteria, which is unprecedented in the past decade. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said just last month, as the Bank reduced its growth forecasts, that Brexit uncertainty was holding back investment. Of course, in the past year we have grown more slowly than our competitors—a fact that supports that comment and some of the other analysis I have described.
Mr Carney’s comments go alongside AIB’s decision to suspend investment in the UK due to uncertainty about the UK’s future. Two Japanese banks are establishing European bases in Frankfurt, and reports suggest that JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are considering relocating significant business operations. Japan is a major investor in the UK, with some 1,000 UK businesses under Japanese ownership generating an estimated £72 billion of turnover last year. The Japanese ambassador estimates that 10,000 Japanese firms operate in the UK, employing 140,000 people. Many of those jobs are in the UK’s flagship automotive industry with big players such as Nissan, Toyota and Hitachi.
At a meeting with a firm this morning, I spoke to someone who attended a conference in Japan at which the UK and Japan looked at Brexit and how they could work together. For the record, he told me that there were positive contributions with respect to Brexit from firms in the United Kingdom and firms in Japan. They see possibilities and opportunities, and that should be recorded in Hansard.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point. Japanese firms have already invested here, as have other foreign firms. They need to do everything they can to maximise their existing investments and to be in a position where it makes sense for them to build on those investments. That comes back to what the Minister has to say and what the Department has to do to enhance our position so that those investments continue to deliver and attract additional investment.
The hon. Gentleman is making a detailed and informed speech. To counter the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), Mitsubishi, which is a major employer in my constituency, has significant concerns about its ability to continue to invest and grow in Livingston and across the country, due to issues such as market access and the continued employment of EU nationals. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that companies such as Mitsubishi should be able to continue trading in Scotland and across the UK?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for showing that there is a balance between two viewpoints: our foreign investors’ desire to continue their investments, make the most of them and build on them is set against their very real concerns. I am glad that she touched on the challenges with respect to skilled workers’ ability to come here and stay here, given that we have such serious skills shortages.
Nissan’s car plant in Sunderland employs 6,100 staff and an estimated 24,000 additional jobs are linked to it through the domestic supply chain. That fact and the hon. Lady’s point about Mitsubishi demonstrate just how important Japanese investment is for our car industry. The previous Labour Government helped to establish the Automotive Council UK, which turned around the struggling UK car sector and has contributed so much to making it a success story. Labour intervened to boost that vital industry—the 2009 car scrappage scheme played a key part in increasing demand for new cars. In contrast, the Government’s current inaction is a serious threat to the industry’s ability to compete.
The threat to UK car industry jobs is very real, and is compounded by the recent sale of Vauxhall to PSA Group, with the possibility of job losses as a consequence of any restructuring of UK operations. The Prime Minister is alleged to have told PSA that her Government are committed to the UK car industry, but the investment figures show a very worrying picture and serious concern on the part of investors. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders quoted in the Financial Times suggest that investment in the UK car industry fell to just £322 million in the first half of 2017, compared with last year’s £1.66 billion.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly referenced the UK’s service sector in his various speeches and appearances before the House, but the Government have been largely silent on how they intend to ensure the future strength of this sector, which is vital to our economic success. The passporting regime is critical to the ongoing ability of UK-based banks to engage with EU-based customers, and it has been essential to decisions by US and Swiss banks to use London as a centre of operations, but uncertainty about its future continues; as a result, decisions are being taken to relocate to the continent.
The Government have finally decided to produce a trade White Paper in advance of the upcoming trade Bill. The fact that they have taken more than a year to do so may well have had a significant impact on investment appetite—often, decisions are made years in advance of committing capital to investment projects—and the trade White Paper must address the critical issues faced by domestic and foreign investors alike. Investors need to know what the Government will do to encourage investment across the United Kingdom, including the devolved Administrations and regions; whether the Government intend to prioritise support for certain industry sectors in preference to others; to what extent those industries will be able to continue to operate within global and, in particular, intra-EU supply chains, and what impact the rules of origin regulations will have on their capacity to continue to participate therein. Furthermore, what trade defence mechanisms do the Government intend to introduce and how will they use trade remedies to address any unfair practices undertaken by foreign competitors? What efforts will the Government make to ensure that standards are maintained in order to prevent unfair market distortion as a result of imports from markets with less stringent regulations and standards? What efforts will the Government make to maintain regulatory equivalence with key markets? What investment dispute settlement mechanisms does the UK intend to pursue in future trade agreements?
Labour has been clear about what our trade priorities will be and how we will seek to ensure that all of Britain benefits. We have addressed that in our manifesto. We recognise that the UK’s ability to continue to be a premier destination for FDI is essential to our future prosperity and to creating the jobs and economic growth we need. Now the Government need to minimise uncertainty and set out how they will reassure and support investors and deliver an attractive strategy that encourages foreign investors to continue to come here and to invest more.
Many investors come here precisely because of our access to the EU. The Government need to set out how they will maintain that access in financial and professional services, in manufacturing and across the economy. Time is fast running out. Investors are worried—remember those SMMT figures for the car industry and the actions of Japanese banks. Those are not isolated examples. Businesses want to know how their investments will be supported and enhanced; they need to know that trade policy is linked to an industrial strategy. Piecemeal deals for one business at a time are not an industrial strategy, however much they are welcome to the businesses, workers and communities in which such businesses are located. The future of FDI is vital to our national interest. The Government must intervene now.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) for securing the debate. It is encouraging to see him coming along, and he has been supportive of the work of the Department for International Trade since he became a Member of Parliament.
The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about this Government’s ambition to build a global Britain, which is about being the most passionate advocate for free trade in the world. That means championing British business in global markets; remaining a hub for global inward investment and a source of outward investment; and building a competitive trade policy for when we leave the European Union. I have been struck by one thing in the debate, which is that everyone across the House seems to believe in that idea of global free trade and a global Britain. It is encouraging to have no protectionist dissenters among us in Parliament, and that is a good thing for this country.
For the first time since 1983, a Department dedicated to international trade exists to drive forward that global ambition and meet the global challenges that face us. Personally, I am delighted that, following a departmental reorganisation, I am now the Minister for Investment, covering foreign direct investment and a renewed emphasis on overseas direct investment out of the country. Responsibility for FDI, which was previously held by UK Trade and Investment, now falls directly under the remit of the Department for International Trade—we are the Department responsible for going out and harvesting opportunities from around the world and bringing investment to the UK.
We intend to leverage our presence in 108 markets around the world—we are in 179 diplomatic posts in 108 countries—where we will harness the capabilities of the most revered diplomatic network to bang the drum for UK plc to overseas investors. Trade and investment is a key pillar of the Government’s industrial strategy, and I will convene colleagues from across Government to ensure that we target investment in the right areas and build an economy that works for everyone throughout the UK, including in all our devolved regions.
As we have discussed, FDI creates jobs, develops our skills and makes us more innovative. Global investors do not simply provide capital, but facilitate the transfer of technological know-how and new ideas, which increase our skills base and our productivity. Billions of pounds have poured in since the referendum from the likes of Toyota, Facebook and Google. To respond to the point about Japan made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), FDI from Japan actually rose in 2016-17, with new jobs provided from Japan rising from 2,600 in 2015-16 to more than 3,500. Global investors therefore continue to see opportunity in the UK. They realise, as the Government have said all along, that Britain remains open for business.
The Department for International Trade was established just over a year ago. As I said, this is the first time since 1983 that we have had a Department dedicated exclusively to promoting trade policy and investment. That was as a consequence of the EU referendum result. Our purpose is absolutely simple: to turn the UK into the most passionate advocate for free trade.
We have heard a number of people speaking about the changes brought about by Brexit. I for one was a very passionate remainer; I campaigned fervently to stay in the European Union. As a Minister in the Department for International Trade, however, I absolutely recognise that we have enormous opportunities around the world that we must go out and seek. As last night showed us, we must not disrupt the will of the electorate and try to frustrate the Brexit process. We must realise that the remain side lost and that we must get on with this, embrace the opportunities, and not hold back and come up with a fudge that prevents us from striking new free trade deals with countries which we could not otherwise do.
The DIT promotes the UK as a destination for investment by providing specialist support for foreign investors in 60 markets worldwide. In 2016-17 we supported the creation or safeguarding of more than 91,600 jobs through our work with foreign direct investors. That equates to nearly 50 new and safeguarded jobs per project that we undertake. A key part of our investment approach is to leverage the power of the GREAT Britain campaign, the Government’s flagship international marketing and branding platform for the UK. It represents the whole of the UK and is present in more than 144 countries. The GREAT campaign effectively signposts the wealth of opportunity in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
In January we launched the Invest in GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland international campaign to promote the UK as a natural choice for overseas investment. Since its launch, the campaign has generated more than 600 inquiries, which have so far resulted in 89 qualified leads for investment into the UK. The campaign’s focal point is a new website—invest.great.gov.uk. One of the key aims of the marketing activity is to direct traffic to the website, where prospective investors can find out more about the UK as a destination for investment.
We have a strong global footprint. The UK leads Europe in foreign direct investment and is third in the world for inward FDI stock. DIT welcomed a record-breaking number of FDI projects to the UK in 2016-17, at 2,265—up 2% on 2015-16. The level of FDI stock in the UK is currently at £950 billion. Inward investment into the UK is estimated to have created and safeguarded nearly 108,000 jobs in 2016-17 alone.
According to official figures, just 1.1% of registered non-financial businesses in the UK are owned by foreign investors, but they account for 34% of annual turnover and 38% of gross value added. Only one European country featured among the top six individual countries of origin for foreign investment projects in 2016-17. The USA was our largest source of investment. American FDI stock in the UK stands at £252 billion and accounts for 27% of inward investment stock. The whole of the UK continued to attract FDI, with parts of England and Scotland seeing growth above the national average. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole that the south-west had one of its strongest annual results in 2016-17, with a 13% rise in FDI projects to 101.
Although those figures look very good, it has been said that the jobs numbers are not keeping pace with the increase in the number of investment projects. It is fair to say that we need to do more work to analyse how those numbers are collected. The data are collected on the basis of investment projects. If, for example, somebody invests in a new factory in the midlands costing £50 million, they would have the same representation as somebody opening a chip shop in Barnsley for £50,000. We need to do more work to understand exactly how much money is coming in and how many jobs are being secured.
More productive businesses coming to the UK will not necessarily employ more people. Higher productivity does not necessarily increase the number of people employed, but we see different patterns, from one year to the next, with different types of business coming to the UK. Ultimately, we want to create the wealth of this country, which includes good, high-paying, productive jobs; that is absolutely crucial to what we do. Moreover, and I will return to this point later, we are keen to spread that activity throughout the entire region—most people say from John O’Groats to Land’s End, but I say from the Scilly Isles to Shetland. We are absolutely determined to ensure that that work leaves no part of the United Kingdom untouched.
Global investors repeatedly say that the strength of the UK’s economic fundamentals is the reason they choose the UK. They cite our political and regulatory stability, our transparent rule of law, our low regulatory environment and our low-tax economy, including some of the lowest business tax rates in the G20. We have some of the best universities in the world—and now the top two—feeding a highly skilled workforce and fostering world-leading R and D hubs across the country. We speak the international language of business, and the UK offers a perfect time zone for global trading, where someone can do business with China in the morning and with the US in the afternoon. There is also our cultural diversity and quality of life—but not, sadly, our weather. Those economic fundamentals mean that the UK is now considered one of the easiest countries in the world with which to do business. It is ranked seventh, according to the World Bank. At the start of 2016, the UK had 1 million more small businesses than it had in 2010—a total increase of 23%—and our tax system ranks in the top 10 most business-friendly in the world.
The prospect of taxation was raised, and the shadow Minister responded to the prospect of a Labour Government introducing higher taxes. He was absolutely right that if he adheres to the manifesto pledge from the recent election, the business tax rate would merely rise back to where it was at the beginning of the coalition Government.
Indeed, lower. A really important point is that businesses look not necessarily at absolute numbers, but at the direction of travel. One of the things behind businesses coming to this country is the fact that the direction of travel for businesses taxes—which, frankly, raise only about 8% of total taxation—is downward. That creates a greater opportunity for business. If businesses see that direction of travel reversing and taxation going up, they will not know where it will stop. The problem is the direction of travel, not the absolute numbers.
I do not want to wander too far from FDI, but most businesses I talk to tell me that improving the incentives in taxation is more important to them than dealing with the taxation of the results and successes. It is the tax level in business rates that needs reform, not the rate of corporation tax. Does the Minister agree?
The hon. Gentleman is right that taxation is not simply about the headline corporation tax rate. It includes, of course, business rates, and businesses that operate factories do not necessarily pay the higher business rates for retail spaces, which are calculated per square foot. It is also about national insurance and various other taxes, so we need to bring together a package. Taxing a population too much stifles growth and investment into that economy. The whole package has to come together to ensure that the businesses that invest in the UK can be confident that the Government recognise that those businesses’ taxes—not just business rates, corporation tax and national insurance, but all the money that gets paid to workers, who then pay tax and spend money and pay VAT—buy the hospitals, schools and public services that we value so much in this country. It is vital that we get the business environment right and attract businesses to this country to ensure that we continue to provide the public services that all of us, across the whole of the House, hold so incredibly dear. We do not want to lose any of them.
The hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) talked about business certainty and the uncertainty of Brexit, and so far people like me, the remainers, have been proved wrong—thank goodness, because none of us wants anything to go wrong with our economy, and we are very keen that things progress. The prospect of a second independence referendum, which the Scottish National party could put forward, although Westminster would not necessarily recognise it, is creating more uncertainty. Businesses need to know what is going to happen. One thing we can say about Brexit is that it is a quantifiable uncertainty: we know that, in the worst-case scenario, our trading relationship will go to World Trade Organisation rules.
What was not decided and resolved during indyref 1 was the fundamental issue of what currency Scotland would use. I think it will be very difficult for businesses to invest in Scotland if they do not even know in which currency they will do their accounts and charge their customers. I do not want to castigate the SNP; I want to work hard with Scotland—and, indeed, Northern Ireland, Wales and all the regions—to ensure we are working together to the benefit of the whole of the country. We see Scotland not as a different part of the United Kingdom but as our friends, whom we want to support. I am incredibly proud, as Minister with responsibility for the food and drink sector, that I spend a lot of time dealing with the Scottish Whisky Association, which generates £3.9 billion-worth of exports and benefits all of us in this country. That is fantastic. We are going to do whatever we can to support the devolved Administration in their efforts to boost investment in Scotland. We do not see Scotland separately; we will always be there to help, and we are doing as much as we can to ensure investment comes into Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) raised our industrial strategy, and said that we need to look at science research and innovation, the skills agenda and infrastructure. The industrial strategy is about delivering those incredibly important things, and we need to look at supporting business to grow—also in the industrial strategy—and several other areas. My hon. Friend referred to three important and fundamental points, and the industrial strategy is part of the package. In some respects, the Department for International Trade is the sales force of the country. We are the hard-working salesmen with a trolley bag behind us going through airports around the world making sure we are banging the drum for British business. At the end of the day, the product that is being sold is the industrial strategy, plus a number of other items. We are out there. Of course, we feed back and say what the international world is saying; that is very important.
The industrial strategy is about building an economy that works for everyone, improving living standards, creating good jobs for all and cultivating the conditions for competitive, world-leading businesses to start and grow. Encouraging trade and investment is one of the key pillars of the industrial strategy. The right investment in the right areas builds world-leading sectors and develops our skills base. Targeted investment also strengthens our supply chains, putting UK companies in a better place to work together and present a “Team UK” offer for some of the biggest global contracts.
The industrial strategy will use our record investments in infrastructure to unlock and drive growth in every part of the country and it will use major new investments in research to support innovative businesses across the country. I want to reiterate the point that we are a Department for the whole of the UK. We will look to attract investment across all of the English regions, all of the devolved regions, including Greater London, the midlands engine and the northern powerhouse, and, of course, the south and south-west. We will also work with our partners in the devolved Administrations, because investment in one part of the UK has a positive knock-on effect for all of us in every part of the UK.
In March, I launched the midlands engine investment hub, which acts as a focal point for FDI. Its priority is developing and articulating a pan-midlands FDI offer. The northern powerhouse investment taskforce was established in 2016 as part of the cross-Government northern powerhouse strategy, of which trade and investment is one of the main strands. FDI into the northern powerhouse continues to rise. In 2016-17, it grew by 5%, attracting 348 projects and creating nearly 15,000 new jobs.
I think it is fair to say that the south of England looks to the super-region, and quite a significant amount of FDI comes into the region near London because London is a natural hub. However, I have recently been to visit boat-builders as far afield as Falmouth, just about 20 miles from the end of the country, where we see truly global brands such as Pendennis yachts building luxury yachts for oligarchs and big investors around the world. It is a great topic of ridicule: those who have yachts and those who have not. None the less, those who build yachts provide jobs. It is important to remember that building those luxury boats brings in a lot of money. There are some fantastic businesses down there—Rustler Yachts is another—and we are all about promoting every one of those businesses. It is important that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole can take back to his constituents that we are working hard on that.
The shadow Minister also made a great deal of reference to the Automotive Council UK, the car industry and what is going on in terms of investment. It is right to highlight the car industry, which is an amazing example of a great success story in the UK. By the way, we can look at the experience of Jaguar Land Rover as a historic example. It has always been a great British brand that has built some fantastic cars, but it is the Indian production techniques that have turned it into a truly profitable and successful business. The foreign direct investment coming into JLR and continued investment of the UK demonstrates more than anything else how productivity and jobs are increased by FDI.
The Minister is right about JLR, the value of the FDI from Tata and the partnership between Government and investor in achieving that. Is he aware of comments from the head of JLR last week who said that, should we end up paying the tariffs implied by the WTO, that would cost his business £1.1 billion extra a year? Does he share my concern? I urge him and his colleagues to do everything they can to avoid ending up in that situation.
Absolutely. I met the chief executive of JLR and he shared those concerns with me. We have concerns—actually “concerns” is the wrong word. We are striving to have a Brexit that feels, in every commercial sense, exactly the way things are at the moment.
It is worth bearing in mind that the history of trade negotiations has been one where we have started with a bad position and tried to work out how to go forwards. People go into a negotiating room and say to the two people across the table, “This is how we trade”—let us say it is under WTO terms—“How are we going to improve this?” What is fascinating about the proposed free trade arrangement with the European Union is that, for the first time ever, people are suggesting that we will have negotiators going into a room, saying, “We have the best outcome that we could want in terms of free trade. How are we going to make this worse?”
It is in everyone’s interests to maintain the trading relationship we have, whether we be in the UK or the European Union. It is a different dynamic, but from the conversations we have with people and businesses in the European Union—bear in mind that we also talk to them about what they want from Brexit—it is crystal clear that no one wants to run into a position where WTO tariffs are being charged. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we get to a tariff-free and customs-free outcome of Brexit.
On tariffs, does the Minister share my concerns and those of others, including business, about the comments made by the EU negotiators that no progress has been made because issues such as the border in Ireland and the position of EU nationals have not been sorted out, and trade agreements cannot be struck until that point? Similarly, his boss has said that the UK Government do not have the capacity to strike trade deals. Surely that is of significant concern to him and to others.
The hon. Lady is mixing up a couple of things. The Department for International Trade is doing trade deals, but not the one with the European Union; that is being done by the Department for Exiting the European Union, which does have the capacity to strike that trade deal.
On the wider piece, we are currently having conversations with 15 countries where we are looking potentially to strike trade deals. It is worth bearing in mind that America finds running three trade negotiations at a time slightly taxing and would not want to do more than that. We are trying to do 15, and we are getting on with it. We have 350 trade negotiators and have taken on Crawford Falconer, who has an extraordinary amount of experience. We have therefore upskilled to do that.
To return to the automotive industry, the shadow Minister is right. Since Brexit, we have seen Nissan commit. We have also seen Toyota commit, and we have seen BMW commit to build electric motors in Cowley. That is significant. On the question, “Is Brexit holding this up?”, it is not.
It is widely agreed that FDI has a positive effect on the host country, especially when the supportive business environment is strong. That increases productivity. The Department for International Trade will lead the way in convening the whole of Government to ensure that the UK remains an attractive destination for FDI in Europe and one of the most attractive in the world. A global Britain will always welcome foreign investment for the innovation it spurs and the skills it brings.
As a vital part of the Government’s industrial strategy, inward investment will fuel science and innovation, upgrade our infrastructure and cultivate the world-leading sectors that will allow our businesses to thrive on the global stage. The debate has demonstrated the important role that foreign investment plays in building a stronger and more sustainable economy that works for all. While we have one or two differences of opinion, it seems that the House is united behind the idea of a global Britain.
I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about his optimism and about strength and growth in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) talked about his business background and what a good place this country is to do business in. He also set out some challenges and constructive suggestions as to how we can improve our productivity and attractiveness.
We heard some notes of caution from the hon. Members for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who both cited EY’s attractiveness survey. The hon. Gentleman did accept that it was a mixed picture but that there was some positivity there. I urge him to look to that positivity: the UK remains hugely successful in attracting FDI and has clear potential and opportunities to sustain that success in a post-Brexit world.
I am grateful to the Minister for his words, particularly in relation to my region, the south-west. My constituents will be reassured. My remaining challenge to him and his Department is to ensure that they look out for all the regions—as he said he would in his speech—and continue to do that as we go forward, forging new trade deals.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered foreign direct investment into the UK in 2016-17.
Princess Royal Hospital Telford
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Shropshire’s NHS Future Fit process and the future of services at the Princess Royal Hospital, Telford.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Like all Members, I come to the House to champion the needs and concerns of my constituents at every opportunity that presents itself. That is what the people of Telford have sent me here to do. Without doubt, the issue that has caused the most concern and anxiety to my constituents over the years is the future of our Princess Royal Hospital. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) is here, as the hospital is sited in his constituency and his constituents are as affected by the issue as mine.
The reason our hospital has caused our constituents so much concern and anxiety is that for the past four years our local hospital trust has been deliberating how best to deliver emergency care for Shropshire in the future. While we would all agree that that is an important decision that is worth getting right, no one could have imagined that no resolution would have been found four years after the deliberations began.
Despite very public and sometimes acrimonious debates playing out in the media, not a single communication has been sent to my constituents explaining to them what the hospital trust proposes for the future of our hospital. By contrast, my constituents have received a constant barrage of claims directly from our local council. Every time they get a council tax bill or email from the council, the council claims that our A&E and our women and children’s centre—a brand new and much-valued asset in our town—are under threat of closure. Although the hospital trust tells me and others that those claims are entirely untrue and wholly misleading, the trust has not at any time publicly contradicted the council; nor has it told my residents that the information they have received is misleading or untrue. As the deliberations have dragged on without any resolution, my constituents have become increasingly anxious and uncertain about the future, and they are becoming angry.
It is worth putting this into context. Telford is a rapidly growing new town, with an expanding population, set in the heart of rural Shropshire. We have significant pockets of deprivation and health inequalities, and worse health outcomes and lower incomes than our more affluent neighbours in rural Shropshire. We also have lower car ownership, so residents are much less able to travel long distances to access care. The council has told us that our A&E and women and children’s unit are definitely being considered for closure. We are told that those services will be taken from an area of greatest need and moved to the more affluent neighbouring county town of Shrewsbury—is it pronounced “Shrowsbury” or “Shroosbury”?
My hon. Friend says “Shrowsbury; I say “Shroosbury” and so do all my constituents. That highlights one of our great differences.
The hospital trust has reassured me that it is not the case that services are being moved, but it is my constituents who need reassurance. I make the simple plea that the Minister put on the record that, whatever delivery model the hospital bosses decide for the future of emergency care in Shropshire, our Princess Royal Hospital will continue to have A&E care delivered by emergency consultants, and that our brand new women and children’s unit will continue to deliver services to women and children.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. The women and children’s unit, which opened two years ago and cost the taxpayer £28 million, is very welcome in Telford and central and east Shropshire. Does she agree that the same arguments that prevented the women and children’s unit from relocating to Shrewsbury two years ago are even stronger today because of the expansion of Telford and environs? The demographics of the county also show that the majority of its children are in the youngest part—Telford and its localities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the women and children’s unit is a vital resource in an expanding population with many young women and children. That is because Telford is a new town; many people come to build a new life and build their family. That resource is vital to us, and the concept of moving it elsewhere so soon after it has been brought to Telford is farcical. I am assured that that is not happening, but we need clarity. At the end of the day, if people keep telling us something, ultimately we are going to believe it is true.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. She will know that both our hospitals—Shrewsbury and Telford—are in the same hospital trust. I pay tribute to the way that she has campaigned on this issue. Does she agree that the Labour-controlled Telford and Wrekin Council is behaving highly irresponsibly in whipping up these fearful campaigns and trying to frighten constituents about the long-term consequences of Future Fit? Will she go further in encouraging it to act more responsibly and in telling the Minister that the council ought to be spoken to about not whipping up such levels of concern?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have seen some shameless politicking around this issue. The local council has weaponised our hospital year after year, which is not helping the process of reaching a decision. I will talk about that in more detail later, because it is a vital point. The council should be working constructively with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and me to try to get the best possible hospital emergency care for all our constituents, but that is not happening now. That is why it is important to highlight this issue and bring it to the Minister’s attention.
There is no avoiding the fact that the body charged with deciding what our future emergency services will look like has been inept in its communications. Despite the growing uncertainty, anxiety and ultimately anger of my constituents, not once has that body been willing to communicate with them. Although a consultation is planned at some point, year after year goes by and that has not happened. Each year, my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and I come to this House to beg the Secretary of State for Health to intervene, and each time nothing happens. We have moved no further forward.
For many years people throughout the country were fed up with Whitehall and Westminster and successive Secretaries of State for Health interfering in local health decisions. The Government recognised that, and as part of the devolution agenda said that local health decisions should be made by local doctors, clinicians and medical practitioners. Does my hon. Friend accept that that is right? Does she also therefore accept that those decisions are being made locally, and without interference from Whitehall, which is part of the misinformation, disinformation and fake news campaign of the Labour-led Telford and Wrekin Council?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is a process led by local clinicians who were supposed to come up with a local decision that suited local people. However, that has not happened, and I see no light at the end of the tunnel. The process is in stasis; there is utter paralysis in the decision-making process, and all the while our Labour council is making hay with the total vacuum of information. We cannot go on saying, “It is nothing to do with Government. It is supposed to be a local issue,” because that has not worked. I will come on to the difficulties that that is now creating in recruitment and retention of vital consultants, who make the whole service operate for everybody.
It is not right that the local decision makers are failing to contradict our local council. It is not right that they are not standing up to some of the bullying rants that we hear day in, day out on our airwaves and read in our local newspaper, in which the local council tries to convince the electorate that the A&E and children’s services will close. The mixture of fear and the weight of NHS bureaucracy keeps the local decision makers like rabbits in the headlights. Nothing is happening.
In fairness to those tasked with delivering this decision-making process, they will not have reckoned on the weaponising of our local hospital for political purposes and have not factored that into the work they are doing. We have seen the local council threatening the NHS with judicial review. We have seen the local council sending out letters with every council tax demand claiming that our hospital is at risk. It has been organising street protests, whipping up anger, misleading people and misrepresenting the proposals, and turning public meetings into events where our local clinicians, who are doing the best possible job for our patients in Telford, say they have felt intimidated and unable to do their job.
The propaganda machine in Telford is well oiled. At every coffee morning that I host, and at every school I visit, someone will ask me, “Why are you closing our hospital? Why do you want to move services away from your home town to Shrewsbury?” That technique has totally failed to win elections in Telford, but it none the less has successfully created huge anxiety and prevented the evolution of our emergency care for the future. Playing politics with our hospital has been the trademark of Telford’s council leadership, with complete disregard for the consequences for our area and our future healthcare. Instead of working constructively for the best healthcare for our people, they have simply engaged in a never-ending war of words, whipping up anger and even trying to bring down the local health trust officers.
Instead of a brand new facility that we could all be benefiting from and new investment, now we have dwindling services that do not meet the needs of local people, despite the best efforts of staff. That paralysis has put our services at risk. It has led to difficulties in attracting and retaining staff, so much so that there is now a genuine risk that insufficient staff may lead to night-time closures of our A&E—and if that does happen, I hold the Labour leadership of our council totally to blame.
My constituents have lost out in these political games. We have hours of council officers’ time being spent, constant activity of the council PR department and expensive lawyers threatening the NHS with legal action. We do not even know how much of our council tax has been spent on this, although we do know that £100,000 has been set aside for campaigning activities, which really should not be the role of a local council. The time has now come when it is not enough to stand by and for Ministers to say that this has nothing to do with Government. I accept fully that it did have nothing to do with Government, but it is evident that because local politicians have hijacked the process, it is now wholly out of control. It is also evident that the local NHS has spent millions on a decision-making process that has failed to reach a decision.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and I have pleaded with Ministers time and again, year after year, but we are still no further forward. Nothing has changed, and our constituents are none the wiser about the future of their hospital. I invite the Minister to try to give some clarity to my constituents. They deserve to know what is proposed on this most important of issues. If the council is misleading them and providing them with misinformation, they deserve to know that too. This issue matters to my constituents. I am here to represent their needs and concerns, and that is what I am doing today. It is not good enough for Government to wash their hands of something that matters so much to my constituents and the future of our town.
I invite the Minister to work with me, with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who is responsible for hospitals, and with the Secretary of State for Health to try to find a practical way to end the complete paralysis that has ruined the prospect of great emergency services in Telford. There is money to invest in better emergency care but we are not even able to access that money in funding rounds because we cannot reach a decision. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Gray. It is also a great pleasure to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan). She articulated the case on behalf of her constituents with considerable passion, and I will do my best to address some of the points she made.
My hon. Friend talked about the activities of the council with regard to this ongoing issue. I have to say, as the Conservative MP for Thurrock, which has a Labour council, that it all sounded very familiar. I am afraid that perpetrating fake news is in the DNA, and Labour does not like to have lost successive elections. I am sorry that she has had to tolerate that, but I am even more sorry that her constituents have had to.
When we discuss the future of our local health services, we want to take the community with us. Naturally our constituents get worried about change; they are always worried about the possible diminution of services. The only way we take the community with us is by having real dialogue, based on real proposals and real facts. The fact of the matter is that all the council is doing is engaging in speculation, and I personally find that deeply irresponsible. It is not the job of anybody involved in local leadership to foment fear, and I really do regret those actions. Sadly, I am afraid we cannot expect any better. I am really pleased that my hon. Friend has taken advantage of the opportunity today to make the case for her constituents and to highlight those issues. The way we will take people with us on any change in the health service is by mature discussion and reflection and by advocating on our constituents’ behalf.
I would like to reiterate the point that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made. We all voted for the Bill to ensure that local communities were empowered to make these decisions. It is right and proper that local people at the coalface of providing these services are empowered to make the decisions to improve them and make them future-proof. However, in our case, it really has broken down. The most important thing the Minister can do is to work with her officials to ensure that changes are made when we cannot get an agreement in a locality, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) said, this has continued for four years, causing a great deal of concern and instability for the hospital trust.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and will make two points in response. He is absolutely right; the whole purpose of how we structure the NHS now is that communities are empowered to make decisions. That is why it is all the more irresponsible for the council to be engaged in this speculation. The reality is that no decision will be taken on the future of services until the consultation has taken place and all those responses have been analysed. The community will have its say before any change, and anyone who suggests otherwise and is engaged in speculation really should not. Could my hon. Friend remind me of the second point he made?
The point I wanted to make was that certain communities in the United Kingdom have come together, across parties and across the whole of the county. Northumberland, where this process has worked very well, is a case in point. Unfortunately, in areas such as ours, where a council is acting deliberately provocatively and from a political perspective, that has not come to fruition. I want the Minister to ensure that her Department takes that on board when planning for future ways to improve this process.
It is a matter for reflection that this has been going on for four years, which generates considerable uncertainty. Clearly we should reflect on that, to ensure that the process becomes more efficient. Equally, it takes time to have those debates. I know that the particular issues under consideration here are quite difficult to grapple with. The important thing is that the local NHS is seen to be leading the debate and not allowing anyone else to fill that vacuum when there are decisions to be taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Telford invited me to make some comments. Obviously there are limits, but perhaps I could set out the process, so that we can put in context exactly where we are now. As I mentioned, all service changes will be based on the fact that they deliver real outcomes for patients and will be taken forward in consultation with the local community. Ultimately, the most important factor is that this is what is best for the health service in the area, driven by clinical leadership. Again, it really should be the local NHS leading this debate, and not local authorities filling the vacuum.
The issues that my hon. Friend raised affect not only her and my hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), but also service users in Wales. As she alluded to, it has now been four years, so everyone knows that change is in the air. Until the vacuum is filled, there will continue to be uncertainty. I expect the CCG to bring forward a consultation, to have an open discussion as soon as it can. I urge everyone to participate fully in the consultation and I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Telford to lead that debate. Where there are issues that she is concerned about, she should challenge the local NHS leadership, and where there are things that she welcomes, she should highlight them.
The proposed service changes should meet four key tests: they should have support from GP commissioners, be based on clinical evidence, demonstrate public and patient engagement, and consider patient choice. Until those four criteria can be met, no decision can be taken.
On the clinical evidence points, there was a so-called independent review, which the two clinical commissioning groups—Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin—and the NHS hospital trust commissioned. KPMG undertook that review. How independent it was and how knowledgeable KPMG, headquartered here in London, is of Shropshire’s health system is questionable, but I will just ask the Minister this. On clinical evidence, does she agree with me that if the demographics show that the younger part of Shropshire county is in Telford, it would not make sense to relocate the new—two-year-old—£30 million women and children’s unit from Telford to Shrewsbury, where there is an older, or elder, population?
Of course everybody wants to be able to access health services as close as possible to where they live, and my hon. Friend’s points about demographics are sensible. However, it is also important that we build critical centres of excellence. Where everything is together in one place, people can get better care. Wherever these services are ultimately located, there is a strong case for the children’s unit to be by strong A&E services, but obviously that needs to be tackled as part of the debate. My hon. Friend questions whether the KPMG study was objective. These are really serious questions that he should put to the local NHS leadership when we get into open consultation. I know he is looking for comfort from me, but I am not best placed to make the decision sitting in Whitehall.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; she is being very generous. Does she agree, though, in terms of transparency and openness and the fact that the public purse will have paid for the KPMG report, and given the seriousness of the issues, that that report should be published in full, in its entirety, for the public to see, in particular the Shropshire Star, which has done an excellent job in holding the local authority’s feet to the fire, to use one councillor’s term, on some of its most outrageous claims about this process?
It surprises me that the report is not in the public domain, according to what my hon. Friend has just said, if it is informing the approach that is being taken. I tend to take the view that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and if things are not done in an open and transparent way, the conditions are created for exactly the kind of speculation and scaremongering that we have been talking about. Having said that, I reiterate that the consultation has not yet started. It is very important that when the consultation does start, the CCG makes extremely clear the basis on which it is going forward with the proposals that it chooses.
I do not need to advise my hon. Friends of exactly what we are talking about. Clearly, they know more about their local healthcare situation than I do, and it is clear that local NHS leaders have to address significant challenges in bringing forward the entirety of their proposals as they affect the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. I understand that they are 18 miles apart. In some areas of the country, that might not seem far at all, but when we are dealing with communities that have very separate identities, they could be oceans apart. That is another reason why we need to be very clear in our dialogue with those communities about why we are bringing forward the conclusions that we are.
Clearly, at a time when there is no money, things that it would be nice to have are not possible. It would be nice to duplicate services in both locations, but frankly that is not a luxury open to us at this stage in the economy, so where there is duplication of services, where we could bring them together and make a better service as a result, we should explore that. It is up to the local clinical leadership—there is a clear task and challenge for them—to demonstrate that whatever they bring forward will deliver better outcomes for patients. When it comes to winning over public hearts and minds, the public will not get away from the fact that services are being moved away from them. Automatically, there is a diminution of service in their mind, but bringing services together can often make a better service. We can see, with patient outcomes in particular circumstances, where that has been achieved. I therefore encourage the CCG to bring forward as much evidence as possible in making its case.
Of course, we all understand that whenever the consultation takes place, after four years of quite feverish speculation on some parts, people will be nervous. I encourage all my hon. Friends to continue this debate in public and with Ministers, so that we can reassure the public that we have their best interests and those of patients at heart with whatever decision is taken. As I have said, the more transparent and open the debate is, the better. Perhaps between them, my hon. Friends can lead the CCG to have those public discussions, away from the council, away from organised intimidation at public meetings, which will not lead to the best outcomes for patients at all. I have witnessed this myself. The left is very good at organising mobs at public meetings, but the last thing we want is for local clinical leaders to bring forward proposals in the best interests of serving the community and then be intimidated, by those who shout loudest, into changing their views because they are faced by a herd.
This is a very important point for the Minister to perhaps share with the Department for Communities and Local Government and other Ministers. Of course councils have the right to challenge processes. Even though Telford Council’s leader and all his team are completely bereft of any medical credentials, they have the right to challenge, but we need to consider whether they have the right to use taxpayers’ money for political campaigns. I think that the Minister will be interested to see some of the literature that Telford Council has sent out and perhaps share it with her colleagues at the DCLG, to see whether we can do anything more to tighten up the rules on how councils spend their council money.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Local authorities are all a function of who leads them, and some leaders are prepared to go further than others when it comes to engaging in debate. I also observe that there is currently an inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life into abuse. Perhaps it could look beyond the abuse of parliamentary candidates and consider the kind of intimidation of clinical leaders at public meetings that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford has referred to, because this is all part of the space of public debate, and it is not helping our democracy that debates are taking place in unhelpfully fevered situations. We recognise of course that emotions will run high and that people will be passionate about the issue. We live in a mature democracy; we should be able to have our debates and discussions based on mutual respect and fact, but I am afraid, from things that my hon. Friend has described, that that has perhaps been missing.
In the short time I have left, I will just say that I hope the CCG brings forward its proposals as soon as possible, because the sooner the debate gets out in the public domain, the more informed it will be.
Question put and agreed to.
UK Nationals in the EU: Rights
[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered negotiations on the future rights of UK nationals in the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I am grateful for the opportunity to consider the negotiations on the future rights of UK nationals in the European Union and I look forward to constructive clarification of the Government’s position on the matter from the Minister.
According to the United Nations Population Division, 1.2 million British people currently live in the European Union. The largest communities are in Spain, with 309,000 people; Ireland, with 255,000; France, with 185,000; and Germany, with 103,000. It is estimated that of those 1.2 million British people living in another European Union country, about 800,000 are workers and their dependants. It is worth pointing out that, contrary to widely held assumptions, only 20% are pensioners. Some 70% to 80% are working, often cross-border.
This subject is one of the most sensitive in the current negotiations, in part because it affects so many people directly. In yesterday’s debate in the main Chamber, I said that we should not be leaving the European Union. I will not revisit that point today, although I will say that it would be by far the simplest resolution to the problem facing some 4 million people. Today’s debate will be largely about UK citizens in the EU, but there is a clear link—reciprocity, to use the Government’s favourite term—between the two groups.
I have a particular interest because some 9,000 non-UK EU nationals live and work in and around Cambridge. Unison, the public service union that I worked for before entering Parliament, estimates that it has some 70,000 members who are non-UK EU nationals. Some from both those groups will be lobbying Parliament tomorrow, in an event organised by the 3 Million, British in Europe and others. I hope hon. Members will take the opportunity to meet them and listen to their concerns. I found the lobby in February quite harrowing, listening to people’s concerns—as I do for many of the people who visit my surgeries and are from families that face a completely unexpected and totally uncertain future.
I am conscious that many others wish to speak, Mr Streeter, so I will try to set out the current position succinctly. I will try to be balanced—as in any negotiation, both sides have taken positions that might look unfair to an impartial observer, and one hopes that the differences will narrow as the process develops. It is perhaps worth observing at the outset that the very idea of a negotiation on the future of 4 million innocent people leaves more than just a bad taste. As has been said many times, people are not bargaining chips. Many of us wanted an absolutely clear settlement at the outset, regardless of reciprocity, to give certainty and to calm fears. I was personally assured, as were others, by people close to Government that this would be achieved quickly—within months. That is not what has happened, and I fear that whatever is said, we are in a negotiation.
In the UK Government’s position paper published in June, “The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union: safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU”, there is much about the position of EU citizens in the UK, although many of us were disappointed by the substance, and the reaction from the EU was not positive. Conversely, there is very little in that document on the future rights of UK nationals in the EU. The Government paper states:
“The Government’s objective is to ensure continuity in the immigration status of EU citizens and their family members resident in the UK before our departure from the EU (including their ability to access benefits and services). At the point that the UK leaves, EU citizens lawfully resident here (and their families) will be able to continue their activities in the UK. The Government will not discriminate between citizens from different EU member states in providing continuity for the rights and entitlements of existing EU residents and their families in the UK.
The UK fully expects that the EU and its member states will ensure, in a reciprocal way, that the rights set out above are similarly protected for UK nationals living across the EU before the specified date. Firstly, UK nationals in the EU must be able to attain a right equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside. Secondly, they must be able to continue to access benefits and services across the member states akin to the way in which they do now.”
That is all fine, but it guarantees nothing at all. It is, as with so many of the other Government papers regarding Brexit, merely an expression of hope.
Sadly, the EU has made it crystal clear that the offer that our Government have tabled is not acceptable, and therefore reciprocal rights cannot be expected as no withdrawal agreement will be confirmed on these terms. Whether one has any sympathy with the EU position or not, that is the fact: there will be no reciprocity for UK nationals in the EU on the basis set out in June. Both sides are unwilling to make a unilateral offer, so there is no clarity for the 4 million.
Reciprocal rights are only a possibility if the EU thinks that the Government’s offer is sufficiently beneficial to the rights of EU citizens, and currently it does not. The latest joint technical document on citizens’ rights has been published. It sets out the UK and EU’s positions, helpfully highlighted in green for agreed positions, yellow for those that need work or clarification, and red for those on which the UK and EU disagree. Sadly, there was a lot of red. The lack of clear guarantees in the UK’s offer on comprehensive sickness insurance, future family members, the role of the European Court of Justice, administrative procedures surrounding the documentation that the UK proposes for EU settled citizens, criminality checks, healthcare, and rescinded status after two years’ leave, are all raised as problems by the EU. Equally, there is a range of issues on which the UK is unhappy with the EU offer, such as the residence rights of UK nationals within the EU, voting rights in local elections and the protection of posted workers.
There is a particular issue concerning those who on paper are British citizens, but who in some cases may not even have set foot in the UK. In the second round of negotiations, the UK proposed that children and other family members should have post-Brexit rights as “an independent right holder”. Currently, the EU position is that these citizens should have the status of “family member” post-Brexit. That implies that we could have a situation where a child born to UK parents in the south of France, who is completely fluent in French and whose entire life has been made in France, could find themselves with no protection under the withdrawal agreement if their 18th birthday falls a few months after Brexit. In contrast, an adult who takes the last Eurostar to France the day before Brexit could receive more protections than that child. That does not seem acceptable to me.
It is possible that the imbalance of the number of EU citizens in the UK versus the number of UK citizens in the rest of the EU 27 can at times result in many forgetting that there are 1.2 million British citizens in Europe. That is 1.2 million people who have decided to start a career, enjoy their retirement, start a family or study, and essentially establish a life outside of the UK, because they have had the right to do so. Many British children have been born in EU countries to British parents and have not pursued the path of dual nationality because it was not necessary to do so. There was simply no need. What will happen to the rights of the children who turn 18 after Brexit? Some will argue that these children should seek dual nationality, but what about those living in Spain, Austria or the Netherlands, where dual nationality is not an option?
I apologise that I cannot stay for the entire debate, Mr Streeter, but I am glad to have the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend whether he has also considered the potential conflict of law. Where a British child resident in another European country is involved in a parental dispute—separation or divorce—it may not be clear which legal system will prevail in deciding the family law issues.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Sadly, I suspect that we could spend much of the afternoon considering yet further such problems.
All these difficulties confirm what many of us have argued from the outset—that a negotiation would be difficult and a unilateral guarantee was needed, even just to get the discussion going. It is not about exchanging these rights for those rights, but about having a genuine conversation, trying to do the right thing, and moving into a position where we have a genuine discussion rather than get locked in to a winners-losers negotiation, which seems to me all too likely to remain deadlocked for a very long time, not least because there are many players involved.
I suspect that it is not always clear to everyone in Britain that it is not just the Commission negotiators who must be satisfied; the European Parliament has a key role as well, and it is not very impressed either. Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s chief negotiator, has been fairly definitive. In his statement, he said:
“The European Parliament cannot be clear enough that sufficient progress means progress across the board, and not just in one or two areas.”
“To be precise, the European Parliament will remain vigilant regarding citizens’ rights and will continue to push for full rights for EU citizens in the UK as well as UK citizens in the EU. It is a core mission of the European project to protect, not to diminish, the fundamental rights of all citizens… The European Parliament specifically seeks to fully safeguard the rights concerning family reunion, comprehensive healthcare, voting rights in local elections, the transferability of (social) rights, and the rules governing permanent residence (including the right to leave the UK without losing this status). Simultaneously, we seek to avoid an administrative burden for citizens and want proposals which are intrusive to people’s privacy off the table, e.g. proposed systematic criminal checks. Last but not least, the European Parliament wants the withdrawal agreement to be directly enforceable and to include a mechanism in which the European Court of Justice can play its full role.”
For the Parliament to be satisfied, as it must be, movement is required on both sides, but I suspect that it will be harder for the UK Government, not least because of the Prime Minister’s continuing aversion to the European Court of Justice. In previous debates, I have described it as a fetish, but whatever it is, it is a problem. It is not just this Government’s Achilles heel; it is their Achilles legs, arms and body too, and it creates problems in considering directly the rights of UK citizens resident in EU member states.
If the European Court of Justice no longer has any jurisdiction over the UK’s treatment of EU nationals, a reciprocal agreement would work the same way for UK nationals in Europe. We are therefore leaving UK nationals vulnerable to the domestic laws and national courts of member states, without any protections. We need an international referee to ensure that countries comply with their obligations on citizens’ rights. The EU demands that it be the ECJ, but the UK Government say no, so what should it be? What is likely to be acceptable to both? The conundrum not only dogs this discussion but is a problem across the piece.
Turning to another problem, the UK’s creation of settled status comes saddled with a range of problems that, if reciprocated, will seriously compromise the rights currently enjoyed by UK nationals in the EU. The UK condition that EU settled status in the UK can be rescinded after two years’ leave is unacceptable to the EU, as well as to me and many others. To understand why, think of it in reverse: imagine a UK academic from my constituency, Cambridge, who has been living and working in Rome and who is offered the opportunity to do a different job at a UK university, on a temporary basis, for a couple of years. Would they take it, knowing that they might not be able to return to their home in Rome? That is not a hypothetical example but an everyday occurrence.
To be at the leading edge of research and study, we need global flexibility. It is not just about economics; there are many situations in which someone might have to move for a period of two years or more, such as for family reasons. We must think through the real-life consequences of the proposals. When we do, we can see the problem.
I apologise, Mr Streeter; I too cannot stay for the whole debate. A constituent of mine has told me about her son, who is married to a German woman and lives in Germany with her and their two young children. She says that it is all very unsettling. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of legal certainty is causing great distress, disrupting family life and interrupting people’s ability to pursue their careers?
I agree. The human cost has been completely underestimated. Whatever the final outcomes, the stress and unhappiness being caused now are real.
As I have said, the Government maintain that reciprocal arrangements are the way forward and will best guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, but if our treatment of EU nationals here is seen to be ungenerous, where will that leave our people in the European Union? It need not even be by design. In the past month, some EU citizens in the UK have received mistakenly sent letters threatening them with deportation. We are told it was an error, but clearly we do not want that to be reciprocated. Sadly, the 3 Million campaign has been compiling compelling evidence of discrimination against EU nationals across employment, housing and a range of services ever since the referendum. We do not want that reciprocated either.
Last week, the Home Office’s immigration plans were leaked. Many people—rightly, in my view—reacted with outrage. Are we really going to restrict the rights of EU family members to enter and remain in the UK, and police that with biometrics? Is that the kind of treatment that we want reciprocated?
My hon. Friend is describing convincingly this Government’s catalogue of errors involving leaks and letters wrongly sent. Regarding discrimination, is he aware of the figures released by the House of Commons Library? In 2011, 49% of British citizens living elsewhere in the EU were over the age of 50, compared with only 15% of EU nationals here. In our aging society, age discrimination is another thing to consider.
I was not aware of that statistic, but it helps to build a powerful and compelling case. I suggest that in general the Government need to rethink their tone, strategy and approach to the negotiations, as well as their aims, because progress so far has been so slow.
Last week, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament met and published a statement which said that,
“a clear majority of group leaders were of the view that continued lack of clarity or absence of UK proposals on separation issues as well as the latest developments in Brexit negotiations meant that it was more than likely the assessment on ‘sufficient progress’ on the first phase of Brexit negotiations is unlikely to have been met by the October European Council.”
Progress is likely to remain glacial, which takes me back to the point about the uncertainty that many people face.
Although progress may be glacial, fear and uncertainty will certainly not grow as slowly—quite the opposite. The millions of people affected by the failure to secure a settlement deserve better. It is not too late for our Government to change tack and realise that a generous unilateral offer is far more likely to secure progress than a bit-by-bit, step-by-step battle of attrition. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply. He is a decent man, and I live in hope that he might surprise us, but I suspect that he may not be in a position to do so.
I apologise, Mr Streeter. I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), the Opposition spokesman, my hon. Friend the Minister or you, but the curse of conflicting appointments has landed on me, and I must be elsewhere at 3.30. I will stay and hear as much as I can of the debate in the meantime.
I am acutely aware of the importance of the EU citizens employed in my constituency. If I removed the EU citizens among the ancillary staff in my hospital—never mind the highly qualified surgeons and others—the hospital would shut. If I removed the equivalent people from the care homes in my constituency, those would shut. If I removed the Lithuanian bakers from Speciality Breads, an excellent and award-winning company in my constituency, that company would have great difficulty finding replacements. The largest greenhouse complex in Europe is in my constituency. It is the size of about six football pitches and grows tomatoes hydroponically, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those tomatoes are harvested by Poles and Romanians. Why? Despite my requests and the company’s endeavours, it cannot recruit British labour to do the job, not because of price but because it is hard work and there are not enough people available to do it.
I accept entirely the arguments about the necessary people—not merely the highly qualified and skilled, but the semi-skilled and unskilled—from the European Union and beyond who work, live, enjoy life and pay taxes in this country. However, this debate is about the plight—I use the word advisedly—of United Kingdom expat citizens living in what will be the remaining 27 member states of the European Union. Most of them are in France and Spain; significant numbers are in Italy and Greece, and there are many others dotted around.
There is an imbalance of about three to one between European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and Brits living throughout the rest of the European Union. Moreover, the European Union citizens—by and large, but not exclusively—are working. The overwhelming majority of the UK citizens are retired, so they have much less room for manoeuvre, and they are very frightened people.
I have certainly seen evidence to suggest that the age profile of UK citizens living overseas is different from that of EU nationals living in the UK. What is the evidence for the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that the overwhelming majority of UK citizens in the rest of the EU are retired? I think those were his exact words.
I think we can accept—well, maybe we cannot, but I accept from personal knowledge—that most Brits who live in France outside Paris and in Spain outside Madrid, as the majority do, are not necessarily over retirement age but are retired or semi-retired. Some are working online. There is a significant number of them, and they are frightened people.
I have become involved because many years ago, under the last Labour Government, I had to fight a battle to secure payment of disability living allowance as an exportable benefit to UK citizens living in the European Union. That decision was taken by the European Commission. Shamefully, and in spite of the best efforts of the then Minister Jonathan Shaw—a very decent man and a personal friend—it took us a long time to secure the payment, but eventually it was made. Within the European Union, there is an understanding that certain benefits are exportable, mainly the disability living allowance—now the personal independence payment—attendance allowance and carer’s allowance. Mobility allowance is not a health benefit and therefore not exportable. That was another battle that we fought but lost.
A significant number of UK citizens are receiving those benefits throughout the European Union. Contrary to popular belief, they are not rich retired people living on yachts in Cannes sipping gin and lying in the sun. Generally, they have worked in the United Kingdom all their lives, paid their taxes and national insurance contributions and for whatever reason—perhaps health, or the climate—found it desirable to live in the Mediterranean or in France. They have no flexibility in their incomes, which have fallen quite dramatically because of the fall in the pound, as many of them are living on United Kingdom state retirement pensions and little else.
If I say to hon. Members that those people live in genteel poverty, I mean it. It is genteel because they have a roof over their heads and they own their property, but having sold up and moved out from the United Kingdom, they are now faced with a choice between a rock and a hard place. Do they stay and face losing perhaps their healthcare and certainly their exportable benefits?
I agree absolutely that there are no guarantees that UK citizens will continue to receive those benefits after exit, because many benefits depend on reciprocal arrangements. Is the hon. Gentleman saying, as I would, that the UK Government should now make it clear whether they intend to continue those benefits for UK citizens in the rest of the European Union after Brexit, irrespective of what the EU 27 decide in respect of their nationals?
Not just no—it happens to be the case that many people who live in mainland Europe could not, for example, secure private healthcare insurance at their age, in any meaningful sense. That may not be the case for the 3 million people from the rest of the European Union living in the United Kingdom, many of whom are working. There is a disparity between the two causes.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on frozen British pensions. As hon. Members will know, significant numbers of elderly people who paid their taxes in the United Kingdom all their lives have moved to Canada, Australia or New Zealand and found their pensions frozen at the point of departure because we have no reciprocal agreement. That is why this point is so important. We do have a reciprocal agreement with other countries, such as the United States, so pensions there are uprated. This results in the ludicrous situation in which a pensioner living in Canada on one side of the Niagara Falls has a frozen pension, but another on the other side of the falls, 200 yards across the river in the United States, has an uprated pension. There is a real danger that if we cannot reach a bilateral agreement with the 27 other member states, we could find ourselves with pensioners moving to or living in other countries in the European Union with frozen pensions.
These are significant issues. There are a significant number of frightened people who want and need answers urgently. I am aware that I have taken up a lot of time, and I apologise. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in person with my hon. Friend the Minister.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate and on his powerful opening speech.
I wish we were not having this debate. It is an absolute disgrace that, 15 months after the referendum and six months after article 50 was triggered, so little progress has been made on a reciprocal citizens’ rights deal, despite three rounds of negotiations between the Secretary of State and his European counterpart.
As the UK and EU’s joint technical note recently showed, there are still several areas of disagreement on the future rights of EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU, including future family reunions, the cut-off point for settled status, rights of onward movement within the EU, and legal avenues to enforce rights. A British national who lives and works in Italy, for example, may move freely to other EU countries to live and work, but has no guarantee of maintaining those rights after Brexit, not least because our Government have not made a similar reciprocal offer. For example, a German university lecturer in my constituency—there are a number of them—is currently allowed to spend a few years working on a research project somewhere else in Europe and then come back freely to Durham to continue his work at the university, but we simply do not know whether he will be able to do so in future.
My second area of concern relates to the avenues of legal redress available to UK nationals living in the EU after Brexit. The Prime Minister seems to have an ideologically imposed red line regarding the role of the European Court of Justice after Brexit. If the UK leaves the EU and its courts, and the Government enshrine citizens’ rights in UK law, to be enforced by UK courts and some kind of independent monitor, UK nationals in the EU could lose the right to take cases to a higher European court. They will then have recourse only to the national courts of the country they are in, which may not be able to enforce the rights given by any agreement between the UK and the EU. Labour wants the Court of Justice of the European Union, or a similar court-like institution, to oversee compliance with any future agreement.
The Government could have made all this easier by making a unilateral offer to guarantee EU nationals in the UK their existing rights, which is what a Labour Government would do. That would not only have been the right thing to do morally, by providing assurances to the 3 million EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK and who have been left in a limbo and unsure as to their future status; it would also have been a good gesture with which to begin negotiations and would make it simpler to seek reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the EU. Instead, 3 million people living in the UK and 1.2 million UK nationals in the EU have been used as bargaining chips by the Government in their negotiations, which is simply outrageous.
We all know from work in our constituencies that EU nationals make a large contribution to our economy and society. As I mentioned in the Chamber yesterday, there are 2,500 European workers in the health and social care industry in the north-east, carrying out vital services in our community. However, we should not value people only by their economic worth or the services they carry out; they are members of families, friends, neighbours or colleagues. They are close to us. The lack of clarity and the limited offer from the Government are causing anxiety and anguish.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point and I hope the Government are listening, because this issue is absolutely fundamental. More than one in seven of my constituents is an EU national and most of them are living in a relationship, or simply sharing property, with UK citizens. Even though I was not seeking to canvass them, this was the biggest issue on the doorstep at the election. It is a constitutional outrage that we are putting millions of people—people who are productive but who also want to make their home here—in this position.
My hon. Friend makes a really excellent point, and I hope that the Minister is paying attention to it. I think we have all had hundreds of letters and emails from constituents who are EU nationals asking that the Government guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
Anecdotally, I have been told of job adverts that contain the words, “Europeans need not apply”. There seems to be increasing evidence of discrimination and hostile working environments for EU citizens living in the UK. Will the hon. Lady condemn in the strongest terms the Government’s lack of action to tackle this, to make sure that the UK remains a place that people want to come to, and to send the message that all citizens are equal?
I think that what the hon. Lady describes is a challenge to the Minister.
As I was saying, many of our constituents are very worried that they will have to uproot their families by the end of March 2019. That is only 18 months away and it is completely wrong that people’s lives are still being negotiated over, which is causing this amount of concern. I hope we get some reassurances from the Minister that the Government are making progress and that we will get details of a reciprocal agreement very quickly, so that we can put at rest the minds of our constituents and those of UK citizens in the EU.
I will start by being quite clear about one thing: the rights of UK citizens living in the European Union have been put at risk by the vote that took place 15 months ago. If the British Government cared so passionately about the rights of those UK citizens living in other EU states, why did they not give them a vote in that referendum? However, we are kind of beyond that now. Like many other people in this Chamber, I am sure, I wish we were not where we are now, but we are where we are. As has already been said very eloquently by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), we are 15 months down the line, we are well into the negotiations, and we still have no certainty about the position of UK citizens living in other EU states or the position of EU nationals living in the UK.
My constituency email box is full of emails about EU nationals who live and work in Edinburgh South West and who are uncertain about their ongoing position, but I am also starting to get quite a lot of emails from former constituents who now live abroad—UK citizens in the EU—who are worried about their position. I will quote from a typical email, which I received earlier this week when the correspondent realised that this debate was happening. A former resident of my constituency who is now resident in France, she is very worried and uncertain about many things. Here are some of the questions that she raised:
“Will my British son be able to attend University in Edinburgh post-Brexit…without having to pay prohibitive ‘international’ fees?...will my daughter, currently training as a nurse, be able to choose to work in France after her course, which ends after Brexit?...will my husband and I be able to aggregate our pensions (we have paid contributions in both the UK and France) and retire in the country of our choice? ...as our parents age, will we be able to bring them to France to look after them, or alternatively, would we be able to return to the UK to look after them, perhaps for several years, without losing our right to live in France? ...will my daughter’s French girlfriend be able to settle with her in the UK if that is what they want to do?”
These are all perfectly legitimate questions to which, prior to the uncertainty created by the EU referendum, there would have been certain and clear answers—one of the many joys of the EU. Now, however, as a result of a referendum that was fought in a void of information, people asking such questions are gravely uncertain.
The United Kingdom created this problem and it is incumbent upon us to make a generous gesture to try to resolve it. I and other Scottish National party MPs have said many times on the Floor of the House and in hustings throughout the election campaign that Government Members often say to us, “If you make a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, then you are selling down the river the rights of UK citizens living in Europe.” My reply to Government Members is, “No, because we started this problem. We started it and it is incumbent upon us to make a generous gesture.” We are constantly told by the Brexiteers and some Government Members that the UK has so much to gain from these negotiations and so much to offer the EU that the EU will be desperate to give us the terms that we want. If that is the case, why not make a generous gesture?
People should not just take my word for this. In the last Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and I sat on the Exiting the European Union Committee. That Committee produced a unanimous cross-party report that made the following recommendation:
“EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU are aware that their fate is subject to the negotiations. They do not want to be used as bargaining chips, and the uncertainty they are having to live with is not acceptable. Notwithstanding the assurance given by the home secretary, we”—
the cross-party Committee—
“recommend that the UK should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.”
We made that recommendation because we had heard evidence from UK citizens living in the EU that that was what they wanted. It was not just the odd random person who came to give evidence to us. We took evidence from UK citizens representing groups of British people resident in France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, and to a man and a woman they said that they wanted this unilateral guarantee to be given. Let us stop messing about and using people as bargaining chips. Let us make that unilateral guarantee without further delay.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this debate. I will address the reality of the issue rather than some of the myths around it. I represent Reading, a town with a large population of EU nationals who play a significant role in our local NHS, in the IT industry that is a core part of the town’s economy and in many other services. I should also declare a personal interest in that my sister-in-law is German and she too is facing deep uncertainty at the moment.
I was concerned last week when a document entitled “Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU” was leaked by the Home Office, because it gave a very unfortunate window into the Government’s thinking on this important matter. In the document, it was proposed to drive down the number of EU migrants by offering them residency for a maximum of only two years, and it was suggested that only those in highly skilled occupations would be considered for permits that would stretch that period for a few more years, despite the repeated warnings from business and the public sector of the significant negative impact that that would have. That is of great concern, and I hope the Government will rethink.
The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system that ends the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring family into this country. That could lead to thousands of families being split up. This is serious: such a heavy-handed approach drives a cart and horses through both businesses and families in my constituency and across the UK. The ill will generated by such an approach would harm our remaining negotiations with the EU.
Having stepped down from threatening the EU with no deal, I urge the Minister to be more collegiate in his approach. He should denounce the paper and take a more even-handed and much more reasonable approach. Perhaps he should listen to the Labour proposal and offer unilateral guarantees, to create a climate of good will and a positive negotiation with our European partners.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
On Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill last night, this House voted to pursue one of the most treacherous attacks on our democracy that we have seen for many decades—and that is the constitutional experts speaking. In the debate, many Members also addressed the substantive issue of the impact of an uncertain, disorganised, panicky, unplanned Brexit on all of us—on our lives, our economy, our jobs, our rights, our protections and our standards. The debate today is on just one aspect of the implications of Brexit. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for securing this debate and British in Europe for its excellent briefing.
For 40 years, UK citizens have been able to travel to and move freely in and around the EU. An estimated 1.2 million UK citizens live there now, and about 3 million EU citizens live in the UK. Like other colleagues who have spoken today, I also have a large number of EU nationals living in my constituency who have written to me about their concerns. All of those 4 million-plus people are employees, or they have set up businesses, or they are studying, or have retired, or have married cross-nationally. Many European and UK citizens have parents of different nationalities, so they start their lives seeing their future rooted in more than country.
Since the referendum last year, the threat to freedom of movement has meant that UK citizens who move country may have to worry about visas. They benefit from many reciprocal arrangements such as in health and social care. Their nationality until the referendum has been no bar to owning property or setting up businesses, or to developing a career and moving up the career ladder at work. They have been able to plan and have a family, build friendships, get healthcare and benefit from local community services for themselves and their children and often for their parents, too. They can grow old, knowing they can benefit from reciprocal health and social care arrangements. They can come and go between their current home country and their original home to return permanently or simply to visit friends and family.
Let us remember that many UK nationals in other EU countries have set up businesses that support us British when we go on holiday, whether we are going to the campsites of the French coast, on pilgrimages to Lourdes, on city breaks, or skiing in the Alps. British-owned businesses play an essential part in local economies, providing employment for UK and local young people. My son spent four months working in France before he went to university. The uncertainty also affects UK people living here and planning their future. I met a couple at the weekend who have lost work contracts because of Brexit. They wanted to bring forward their retirement to France, but now they are uncertain about what that will mean. Brexit has put an end to all planning. Investment, certainty and security are all out of the window. Fifteen months have elapsed since the referendum result, but we still have no more certainty from Government, so I look forward to what the Minister will say today. The referendum result was bad enough for all those people, but the Government’s shambolic approach to all things Brexit has made everything even worse.
The British in Europe group briefing raises a host of concerns very eloquently: not just the lack of detail on proposals, the ring-fencing on citizens’ rights, cut-off dates and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, but specific concerns about equal treatment, the reunification rights of family members, especially children, settled status, work and professional qualifications, and planning for students. For the sake of the wellbeing of the 4 million-plus UK citizens living in other EU countries, and EU citizens living here, as well as their families, their employers and employees, Labour Members seek a full and unconditional offer on citizens’ rights. The Prime Minister’s limited and conditional offer on such rights is too little, too late. The Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens living in the EU in a legal limbo.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the considered way he presented his thoughts. This aspect of Brexit is incredibly important. It is about the reciprocal arrangement that needs to be in place to ensure that the people who live, work and play a part in our local economy can and will continue to do so, as will British nationals living and working in the EU and making contributions to their local economy.
Hon. Members know that I supported leaving the EU. I am a confirmed Brexiteer and my constituency is of the same mind, but I recognise the issues for EU nationals in my constituency. It seems the situation will be mutually beneficial—indeed, that is what the figures indicate. As usual when it comes to European issues, Britain gives more than it receives. The latest available data suggest that in 2015 there were around 1.2 million British citizens living in EU countries compared with 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK. It is not hard to work out that it is in everyone’s interest to make arrangements to continue to benefit those who are working.
I am puzzled and a little concerned about the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. The claim that Britain gives more than it receives in relation to EU migration falls back on the fact that there are more EU nationals in the UK than there are UK nationals in the EU. That implies that immigrants take from communities rather than put back into them, but in my constituency, immigrants who have come into Glenrothes in the centre of Fife from the European Union have contributed greatly. I want them to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
In two seconds I will be saying the same thing. I have been very clear from the outset of Brexit that our leaving Europe is not a purge of non-British people from our shores. It is the ability to ensure that those who come here and make the most of what we have to offer also give back locally. In the two major sectors of agri-food in my constituency of Strangford, 40% or 50% of the workforce is European. They are needed, so we sought assurances from the Prime Minister. When the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she visited my constituency at my invitation. She understood the issues, although we did not get assurances from the Prime Minister or the Minister at the time.
It is important to mention that the people who live in the Republic of Ireland can travel across to Northern Ireland to work, and people in Northern Ireland can travel across to the Republic of Ireland to work. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who spoke earlier, referred to nurses in hospitals and care workers. Such matters are important for me as well.
The current system as described in the briefing paper shows that free movement is central to the concept of EU citizenship. It is a right enjoyed by all citizens of the European Union. All EU citizens have a right to reside in another EU member state for up to three months without any conditions other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport. After three months certain conditions apply, depending on the status of the EU citizen and whether they are a worker or a student. Those who opt to exercise their free movement rights are protected against discrimination in employment on the ground of nationality. The provisions in relation to social security are clear. EU citizens who have resided legally for a continuous period of five years in another EU member state automatically acquire the right to permanent residence. To qualify for permanent residence, students and the self-sufficient must possess comprehensive sickness insurance cover throughout the five-year period. I mention the stats because it is important to have them on the record.
It is clear that the Government’s White Paper that was published in June, which sets out proposals for the status and rights of EU citizens in the UK after the UK's exit from the EU, allows for those who are EU citizens present in the UK before a cut-off date and with five years’ continuous residence in the UK to apply for a new settled status that is akin to an indefinite leave to remain. I need the provisions to continue in my constituency.
I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. I know we are all aware of these points, but they bear repeating out loud. I do not see how anyone can have a problem with securing our shores and ensuring that those who live here, work here and pay in here have protection. By the same token, it should naturally apply that those who live and work in Europe should have the same protections. I know that the Minister is a fair, honourable and compassionate man. I look to him for a way forward, to alleviate the fears of hon. Members on this side of the Chamber. My mum was a great person—mums are great people, because they always tell stories about what is important. She always said that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If we are going to allow 3 million people to remain here to live and work, surely 1 million Brits in the rest of the EU can do the same.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate and making such forceful opening comments. The Prime Minister’s limited and conditional offer on citizens’ rights is too little, too late. EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU must not be used to bargain with. We are playing with human lives. The Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens who live in the EU in a legal limbo.
I am fortunate that in my 20s I went to live and work in Madrid. It was an easy transition and I was proud to be an EU citizen, able to work in one of the many EU countries. I would like my daughters to be able to do the same, but the Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens in strife. As has been mentioned, it would have a huge human impact. We have heard examples. Many EU citizens live in my constituency and they are deeply concerned about the Government’s haphazard and harmful approach to the negotiations and towards citizens’ rights. Cardiff North is a deeply diverse and happy community, with citizens of many EU countries living and working alongside each other. Yet from the outset the Government set themselves against those people, communities and families, and the businesses that depend on them. The heavy-handed, arrogant approach has left many wondering what that will mean for them and their right to live and work in the UK.
I have been contacted by many constituents who are deeply worried by the situation. Katrin is a German citizen. She has lived and worked in the UK for 14 years and is worried—anxious beyond belief—about what the situation means for her. She was granted a British passport for her daughter, but is now being asked by the Home Office to submit a new application for permanent residency. She has no stability and is anxious about her future. That is happening at great emotional and financial cost to her family.
Jamie is a taxi driver. He and his wife moved here from Madeira in 1991. Both their daughters were born in the UK. In October 2016 Jamie and his wife applied for permanent residency and his wife was successful. The Home Office refused him, saying that his employer could not provide enough evidence that he was a resident. All the people I have mentioned are understandably worried, and cannot get the answers that they need.
Those two examples are a drop in the ocean of emails that I receive—I am sure that many colleagues receive such emails as well. It is a disgrace that we do not yet have an agreement to put an end to the uncertainty. As has been said, it is 16 months since the referendum and no progress has been made on reciprocal rights, so I urge the Government to set out a clear position and outline a reciprocal deal to give certainty and reassurance to all the people affected.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
In August, I visited Cyprus, where my parents were born. During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting the British high commissioner. I was surprised to learn from him that more than 40,000 UK citizens live in Cyprus, which, as hon. Members will be aware, is an EU member. Some of those 40,000 citizens are retired people who have decided to spend their autumn years in the glorious sunshine by the Mediterranean, enjoying the delights that the island has to offer. All is well and good, as long as we remain in the EU, but a number of unanswered questions are causing great uncertainty and concern.
The fear is that, to get tough on immigration, the UK Government could marginalise those UK citizens’ rights. For example, at present EU citizens automatically have the right to have an elderly parent, sick relative or EU spouse join them in the UK, and that is reciprocated in other EU countries. If that right were to be curtailed it could have a devastating effect on UK citizens settled in EU countries, who would not be able to have their family members join them. In June the Prime Minister rejected the EU’s offer that the rights of all EU citizens affected by Brexit, including those of UK nationals living in other EU countries, should be protected for life. She made in return a far weaker proposal, which left UK citizens abroad concerned and confused as to why the UK Government was throwing away their rights.
Healthcare is another issue of great concern to UK citizens living in the EU. As we get older we tend to be more reliant on healthcare, and it is of huge benefit to have the blue European health insurance card. I have one here, and it means that were I to fall ill abroad I would get the healthcare I needed, even without travel insurance. Settled UK citizens living in EU countries, who might have long-term ailments and conditions, could find that the withdrawal of that benefit was critical to their health. Would they have to go back to the UK to receive medical care? What if they were not registered with a GP? Would they be able to get access to the treatment they needed in the UK? At present the UK reimburses UK pensioners if they are treated in another EU country, but if that arrangement were stopped and the UK citizen’s sole income was the state pension they could be left with crippling hospital bills to pay. What if the UK citizen was married to a non-British, non-EU citizen? Could they bring them back to the UK, if they needed urgent medical treatments there?
There are many other unresolved issues in the negotiations, such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications for workers, the complexities of the two-year rule and the rights of frontier workers, to name but a few. The bottom line is that the Prime Minister and her Government have been woefully bad at negotiating a good deal for UK citizens abroad, by trading away their rights for the chance to control immigration. The offer of protection for the existing rights of all EU nationals affected by Brexit should have been grabbed by the Prime Minister with both hands. At a stroke, that would have reassured and calmed the fears of UK citizens and EU nationals living in the UK.
What does my hon. Friend make of an email that I had from David Hulmes, an ex-constituent, now in Lyon in France, who says that the EU position was initially generous but seems to have hardened? The reason he gives is the settled status after Brexit, which is insulting, inhuman to people who have been living here for years, and should be scrapped.
I am in total accord with my hon. Friend’s very good point.
People who have been resident in the UK for many years have received deportation letters. One of my constituents received such a letter after being resident for more than 20 years. The argument that the Prime Minister and her team would be able to negotiate a better deal for UK citizens living in EU countries is fanciful at best. All that seems to have happened since article 50 was triggered is that we are all six months older. The Government need to wake up to the fact that it will be expected that reciprocal arrangements will be made with the EU negotiators, and that the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries and EU nationals living in the UK must be protected. Anything short of that will be seen as a serious failure.
Like many who have spoken today I appreciate the chance to speak in the debate, but am deeply angry that it is still necessary, because the questions should have been settled on 24 June, not left unsettled and uncertain 15 months later.
I do not see any conflict, or any need for a trade-off, between the rights of people from one country living in another and the rights of people from that other country living in the first. The UK Government should have unilaterally and immediately moved to give absolute guarantees, not to give rights to European Union nationals living here but to respect the rights they already have and always will have, and they should have done so not to use that as a bargaining position or a negotiating manoeuvre but because it was morally and ethically the right thing to do. The Governments of the other EU nations, individually and collectively, should also have moved quickly, to give unconditional guarantees to respect the rights of UK citizens living in their countries, not because it would have looked good on the negotiating table but, again, because it was morally and ethically the right thing to do.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the majority of the burden to fix the mess must rest with the UK Government; let us face it, the UK Parliament created this mess. No one in Europe asked for an EU referendum. No one in Europe asked the Prime Minister to make the unilateral decision that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market—that was not even a question on the referendum. We have never had a vote by the people of these islands on whether they want to leave the single market, or whether they want to give up on the benefits of the free movement of people.
I do not have time to comment on all the contributions we have had, but we have heard many interesting comments from Members on both sides of the Chamber, complimenting, for example, the significant benefits that EU citizens bring to each and every one of our constituents. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who is no longer in his place, propounded and compounded the old myth that the vast majority of people from the UK who live abroad are retired, with the implication that somehow they do not really contribute to their host nations. They do. Their contribution is different perhaps to that of EU nationals to the UK, but it is still a contribution, and such people are often greatly valued by the countries in which they live.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that walking away with no deal threatens Scotland’s world-leading higher education and research sector? Our researchers have to be able to move freely to the EU, and European researchers to our universities and research centres, so that we benefit mutually from the expertise.
I absolutely agree, and it is not only Scotland’s exceptional universities that are under threat; every research-based university and institution in the United Kingdom is in danger of losing out because of short-sighted folly.
One thing the debate has demonstrated is the absolute folly of those, particularly on the Tory Benches, who still try to tell us that we could just walk away today without a deal and it would make no difference. What a betrayal that would be of the 4.5 million people who, right now, are worried about whether their basic human rights will be respected: the right to continue to live in the house they already live in, and the right for their children to keep going to the school they already go to and keep playing with the same friends. Those rights are not ours to give and take away; they are rights that people have because they are human beings. For Ministers even to use phrases like “bargaining chips” to deny that they are treating people as such, makes it clear that somewhere, deep down inside, that is part of the thinking.
Every time we have discussed in the Chamber the rights of EU nationals living in the United Kingdom, the chorus of protest from the Conservative Benches has always been, “We are very concerned about the rights of UK citizens and UK nationals living in the European Union.” Today, those Members have been given a full 90-minute debate in which to express those concerns, and where have they all gone? They can turn up in their hundreds in the middle of the night to vote for the process to start removing the rights of those UK nationals, but when it comes to speaking out for them it is another matter. I can understand that some of them had other things to do, but when 320 of them cannot stay for the full 90-minute debate, that tells us more about where their beliefs and values really lie than anything we might say.
It is now six months since the Brexit Secretary told us that reaching an agreement on the rights of nationals in each other’s countries would be
“the first thing on our agenda”.
He went on to say:
“I would hope that we would get some agreement in principle very, very soon, as soon as the negotiation process starts.”
We are now a third of the way through that negotiation process, and the Library, in analysing the joint technical note of 31 August 2017, has indicated that there are five areas on which agreement is close and 20 on which it is nowhere near. In other words, in one third of the available negotiating time the progress on our No. 1 priority is that 80% of it is nowhere close to being agreed. That is what happens when human beings are used as bargaining chips instead of saying, right at the beginning, “This is what we’re going to do because it’s the right thing to do.”
We should never forget that the position of the UK Government in relation to the two sets of citizens is very different: we can ask other people to respect the rights of UK nationals living overseas, but we can absolutely guarantee the rights of non-UK nationals living here. Once again, I repeat the call for the UK Government to do that, not because it might make the Europeans do something we want them to do but because morally it is the only acceptable course of action.
The debate should have concluded on 24 June. The reason it has not is that the Government’s obsession with being seen to get hard on immigration has got to the point where any price, but any price, is worth paying. The economic price of losing our membership of the single market will likely be counted in hundreds of thousands of jobs and losses of tens—possibly hundreds—of billions of pounds to our economy.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the insurance giant, Chubb, is just one of the latest large companies to announce plans to move their headquarters from London—to Paris, in this instance—after Brexit. Would he consider it likely that those EU nationals who can still come to the UK—and still want to—might not have jobs to come to?
It is not just that they might not have jobs to come to; the question is why on earth they would want to come when they look at the welcome they get from a leaked Government draft proposal that wants to start discriminating against people depending on the letters after their name, or when they have seen the unbridled joy on the faces of Government supporters when it was announced that every week since the referendum has seen a reduction of 1,000 in net migration from the European Union. In other words, the Government’s message to EU nationals is, “We are going to say that you’re welcome, but we’re actually happy that every week 1,000 people just like you have given up on the UK and gone to live somewhere else because they no longer feel they have a welcome future on these islands.” That should make us all feel utterly ashamed.
At its heart, the European Union was set up primarily as a trade union, an economic union. It is described as a political union, which it clearly is not. Fundamentally and most importantly, the European Union is now a social union, about the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe. Who could possibly want to see further division between those peoples? Union between the peoples of Europe should be what we all strive for. The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) hit the nail on the head perfectly in the first few minutes of her speech—and, indeed, in the rest of it. We have spent far too long talking about constitutions and politics, quotas and legislations, and not enough talking about human beings. Today, we are talking particularly about the plight of well over a million human beings who just happen to have birth certificates that say they were born in these islands. Their rights are important, as are those of the 3 million people who live here but were born elsewhere, and those of the 60 million people who will have to cope with the aftermath of this mess, long after some of us are no longer here.
I hope that there is still time for the Government to wake up to the folly of what they are doing. It is not too late for them to say, “We have messed up completely; the only way to get out of this mess is to agree to remain in the single market and to agree that the free movement of citizens between the nations of Europe should continue in perpetuity”.
It is a pleasure to wind up the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) not only on securing the debate but on his characteristically comprehensive introduction to the issues that UK nationals in the EU face. I am also pleased by the level of interest that Members have shown in this debate, at least on the Opposition Benches. It is disappointing to see the Government Benches empty and the contributions of Conservative Members who seek to champion the rights of our citizens so limited.
Since the referendum, we have clearly been talking a lot about citizens’ rights, but much of that debate to date has been framed in terms of the EU nationals within the UK. That is inevitable and understandable, because those are the people who live in our constituencies and are pressing us with their concerns. They are worried about their future, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) articulated so passionately. Their issues are also those of the 1.2 million Brits living and working in the EU. They also want to continue their lives with certainty. We talk about the number of Poles and other national groups working in the UK, but it is worth noting that the Brits abroad are the largest single national group affected by Brexit. Their concerns should be central to the Government’s concerns, just as we are rightly concerned about EU nationals who live alongside us.
The interests of the Brits abroad are represented by the British in Europe group, which is represented here today. Tomorrow, it is joining with the3Million campaign in a day of action to highlight concerns and to lobby us here in Parliament. They are campaigning together not simply because their worries are the same, but because under the principle of reciprocity what will apply to one group will inevitably apply to the other. In looking at what the Government expect for UK nationals in the EU post-Brexit, we need to look at what they are proposing for EU nationals here, because that signals their expectations for British citizens in the EU27.
Last week, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) highlighted, we got some indication of Home Office thinking. The Government have been backtracking on the paper ever since, but they are clearly considering some of those proposals; otherwise they would not have been in the paper in the first place. I do not expect the Minister to comment on leaked documents any more than he did when I pushed him on the issue last Thursday at Brexit questions, so instead I will ask him about some of the general issues that happen to be in the paper. For example, is he prepared to see British citizens in the EU subject to biometric screening and fingerprinting? Would he want British citizens in the EU to have time-limited residency permits? We are quickly approaching the September round of negotiations and the 4.2 million citizens affected are yet to have firm reassurances on their future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) highlighted, some 100 EU nationals received erroneous letters from the Home Office threatening deportation, despite assurances I received from the Home Office—we have raised this issue from the Opposition Front Bench—in a written answer back on 30 March that that would not happen.
We have also had the appalling dossier from the 3 Million compiling discrimination against EU nationals in work, goods and services in the UK. I first took that issue up with the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union, and I received no commitment for action. The Minister is raising his eyebrows. I received a sympathetic letter saying that such discrimination was illegal, but I am yet to receive even a response to my letter asking, “What are you going to do about it?”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, which is not that the Government have done nothing—although they have done nothing positive—but that they have sent out so many signals that make European nationals in this country feel unwelcome. There is a climate of uncertainty—I would even say fear—out there, and he is making exactly the right point: is that how the Minister wishes British citizens in Europe to be treated? It is disgraceful.
My hon. Friend raises a point that I was going to make. In the absence of a satisfactory reply from DExEU, I am relieved that the Government Equalities Office has launched an investigation. Clearly such discrimination is totally unacceptable and we need an investigation, but we also need action and more than action on those cases. We need to do more than send a signal to employers and landlords. It is precisely the lack of clarity created by the Government and, frankly, the uncertainty created by their willingness to use citizens’ rights as a bargaining chip that are creating the hostile environment in which this sort of discrimination takes place.
UK citizens in the EU are also facing uncertainty. I am sure the contribution from the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) was well meant, but I want to take this opportunity to correct the record. There is a common misperception that all the UK nationals abroad are retired on the Spanish coast or Cyprus or other places, but in actual fact 70% to 80% are working and running businesses. There are different figures, but they are of that order. Those running businesses are often doing so on a cross-border basis, which raises some specific issues. Will the Government commit to pressing for UK nationals in the EU27 to be able to enjoy the same cross-border rights after Brexit as they have now? Simply securing the right to remain is not enough. People need to earn a living, so what progress are the Government making on securing the mutual recognition of professional qualifications? For many, those qualifications are essential to their livelihoods. Brits in Europe are concerned about their future. They need certainty and clarity on freedom of movement and issues such as family reunion rights, which I hope the Minister will address in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) highlighted the way that the Government are maintaining this ludicrous position on the overall negotiations that no deal is better than a bad deal. Having no deal risks cutting our citizens adrift and leaving them in legal limbo, just as it does for EU nationals in the UK. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to rule out the ludicrous idea that having no deal is a satisfactory conclusion to our negotiations. The interests of this important group must not be neglected. It is essential that the rights they currently enjoy continue to be protected, and part of that protection is robust enforcement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) pointed out, the Prime Minister has set herself an unacceptable and untenable red line on citizens’ rights and the European Court of Justice. That position is guided either by narrow ideological interests or simply by a need to keep some of her hard-line Back Benchers happy, but let me turn the question around. Would the Minister be content for the recourse of any British citizens in the EU over any matter to be limited under the agreement to national courts in the countries in which they live? Should their rights be subject to changes in domestic legislation of a single EU member state? Should they and EU nationals in the UK not be able to have recourse either to the ECJ or a similar court-like body overseeing the agreement on citizens’ rights? Is it not the case that anything else would be untenable? As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and many others have pointed out, we would not be in this mess if the Government had offered certainty from day one in the way that the Opposition were asking. Will they offer it now?
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on calling this debate and I thank all those who have contributed. I hope I can provide some constructive clarification, as he challenged me to do. The future of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK is an incredibly important issue, as we have heard from so many Members today.
All hon. Members here will be aware that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have prioritised the strand of negotiations on citizens from the start of the negotiating process, and we have welcomed progress in those negotiations from the other side. It is essential that we provide certainty and continuity to the 4 million people affected—3 million EU citizens living in the UK and, as hon. Members have said, 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU.
In June, we published our policy paper on safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU, which a number of hon. Members have referred to. It clearly set out the UK’s position across a number of key areas of citizens’ rights, including residency rights, access to benefits and public services, and—as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) just touched on—mutual recognition of professional qualifications. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that the paper made it very clear that that was without prejudice to our commitment to the common travel area and arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those areas are, of course, being dealt with in a separate strand of the negotiations, which is also making good progress.
We are all agreed that it is of great importance that we reach a swift resolution through negotiations with the European Union on citizens’ rights. We have been engaging on those matters at pace, and I hope I can show hon. Members that we are making progress. Hon. Members have focused today on the status and rights that UK nationals are afforded in the EU, but as many have said, it is important that we secure the rights of EU citizens choosing to make their lives in the UK as well.
Rights for UK nationals who have already built a life in the European Union have been a key focus of negotiations in the first few rounds. It is essential that we provide certainty and clarity on all the issues as soon as we can. We have held positive and constructive discussions and there is clearly a great deal of common ground between our respective positions. We have taken significant steps forward in both the July and August negotiation rounds. Someone suggested that we did not agree on two thirds of issues, and agreed on a third, but the reverse is true. In our published tables, there are many more green issues than red or yellow ones. Importantly, many of the areas in dispute are where the UK’s offer is currently going beyond that of the European Commission.
I am happy to plead guilty to being the hon. Member in question. I think the figure that I quoted was 80% to 20%, taken directly from the House of Commons Library analysis of the August negotiations. Is he telling us that the Library researchers have got it wrong?
I would never dare criticise the Library researchers, but we have agreed on more issues through July and August, and there are many more green issues in the papers than red ones.
As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) set out, many UK nationals are worried about whether they will be able to continue to access healthcare in the member state they have settled in. That is why we have placed great importance on resolving that issue. In the August round, we agreed that we would protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for those EU citizens in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, present on the day of exit. That means that British residents and pensioners living in the EU will continue to have their healthcare arrangements protected both where they live and when they travel to another member state, by using their EHIC card, which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate held up earlier.
We also set out our intention to continue to uprate pensions for UK citizens living in the EU, subject to a reciprocal agreement. We know that it is important for many UK nationals to be able to continue to work across borders after we exit—the hon. Member for Sheffield Central raised that point. That is why, in the last round of negotiations, we agreed that we should protect the rights of frontier workers, which I know is particularly important for the Gibraltar-Spain border.
On aggregation of social security contributions, we have agreed to protect social security contributions made before and after exit by those UK and EU nationals covered by the withdrawal agreement. That means where an individual has moved between the EU and the UK, their contributions will continue to be recognised—for example, when determining their state pension entitlements. As we have previously set out, such pensions will be uprated every year, as they are now.
Although we are making good progress, there of course remain areas of difference between our position and that of the EU. As shown in the joint technical note that was published on 31 August, it is clear that we want to go further than the EU in some areas. For example, the EU does not plan to maintain existing voting rights for UK nationals living in the EU, but we think that that is an important right. We want to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK to stand and vote in municipal elections, and the reciprocal voting rights that UK nationals enjoy when living in the EU.
The EU is also suggesting that UK nationals currently resident in the EU should not be able to retain onward movement rights if they decide to move within the EU. We have always been clear that we should seek to protect that right for UK nationals currently resident in EU member states, and we will continue to push for that during negotiations. Furthermore, we are seeking to ensure that individuals who have started but not finished their qualifications—as in one of the examples the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) gave, about a nurse in training—continue to have those qualifications recognised after we leave. We recognise that that is a hugely important issue for many UK nationals in the EU; we will return to it in future rounds of negotiations.
Progress in those areas will clearly require flexibility and pragmatism from both sides, but I am confident that we are close to agreeing a good deal for both UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. A number of hon. Members touched on the important issue of family reunions. Our policy paper on citizens’ rights set out that family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years, irrespective of the specified date. We believe we have taken an expansive approach to the issue, and we hope that the EU will do the same for UK citizens. We remain open to exploring that and potential methods of dispute resolution over time with the EU, to understand their concerns and to look at all constructive suggestions.
We are, of course, keen to move on to discussions about our future relationship and the future partnership between the UK and the EU. I would like to respond to some of the remarks made by colleagues throughout the debate on the immigration system that the UK will implement once we withdraw from the EU. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) on that issue. As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said, I will not comment on leaked drafts; however, we have repeatedly been clear that we do not see the referendum result as a vote for the UK to pull up the drawbridge. We will remain an open and tolerant country, which recognises the valuable contribution that migrants make to our society.
Since the referendum, we have engaged with businesses up and down the country to build a strong understanding of the challenges and opportunities that our EU exit brings, including access to talent. We are very aware of the importance of future mobility in particular sectors. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and the hon. Members for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) all mentioned the importance of research. I draw their attention to our recently published paper on science and research, in which we made it clear that researcher mobility is associated with better international networks, more research outputs, higher quality outputs and, for most, better career outcomes. We said in that paper that we will discuss with the EU future arrangements to facilitate the mobility of researchers engaged in cross-border collaboration.
The UK is a world leader in research collaboration and we recognise that the ability of UK citizens to travel within the EU, and EU citizens to contribute to our science base, is vital to that co-operation. We are carefully considering the options open to us. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impact of any changes we make to sectors of the economy. The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to build an evidence-based picture of the UK labour market to further inform that work.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet and a number of other hon. Members spoke passionately about the contribution of EU citizens to their constituencies, but it is right that the point has been made—by Members on both sides of the House—that UK citizens in the EU also make an important contribution. We will set out initial proposals for a new immigration system later in the autumn, and we will introduce an immigration Bill to ensure that Parliament has a full and proper opportunity to debate that system, which will apply to EU nationals in future.
Of course, many British citizens will also wish to live and work in the EU after the UK’s exit and we will discuss those arrangements with the EU in due course. Our embassies and ambassadors across the EU have engaged extensively with communities and expats in individual countries. Throughout this process, as we seek to reach agreement with the EU about citizens’ rights, we will want to do everything that we can to reassure those people.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) gave a couple of concerning examples from her constituency of people who are well established in this country and deserve that reassurance. If she writes to me or the Home Office about those cases, we will look into them in detail and make sure those people get the reassurance that they undoubtedly should receive. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the Home Office; I know an apology has been given for those letters. Throughout the negotiations, we will seek to secure the best deal possible for UK nationals—
Order. There is sadly no time for Mr Zeichner to respond, but I thought it was important to let the Minister inform the House. We now move on to our next debate. Would those leaving the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly?
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Proposed Prison: Port Talbot
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the proposed new prison in Port Talbot.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Brady. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
Wales will become one of the only countries in the world to be a mass importer of prisoners if the Westminster Government get their way and impose a super-prison on Port Talbot. It is not needed or wanted, nor is it the answer to the chaos in the English prison estate. I will focus on three key reasons why the Government must halt the imposition of that unwanted prison on the community of Baglan in Port Talbot. First, I will outline the big picture: Wales does not need more prison spaces. Secondly, I will look at the tangible effects it will have on a community already teetering on the brink of economic disaster. Finally, I will make the case that the prison fails to meet basic planning criteria, putting local residents and future inmates at huge and unnecessary risk.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, earlier this year the Ministry of Justice opened Europe’s biggest prison in north Wales—HMP Berwyn in Wrexham. Once fully operational, it will have the capacity to hold in excess of 2,100 male prisoners. That will already mean that there are 800 more spaces than inmates in the Welsh prison estate. Nevertheless, the UK Government are charging on with plans to develop a second mega-prison, which Wales does not need or want—this time in the south. The new prison planned in Port Talbot will hold up to 1,600 prisoners. It is not necessary to have won a Fields medal to work out that that would mean 2,400 places more than are required for Wales in Wales.
There is a distinct possibility that HMP Port Talbot is being built in anticipation of the Government’s closing Cardiff’s Victorian-built prison, but even taking into account the possible closure of HMP Cardiff, a surplus of some 1,600 prison places remains. Does the Minister believe that Wales is on the verge of a mass crimewave, or is he planning to import hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prisoners into Wales?
The new build is part of a UK Government-led drive to reform the crisis-hit prison system in England, which currently holds thousands of people more than it was designed for. Why is Wales to be adorned with another one of these monstrous prisons? The answer is obvious: Scotland has control over its own prison estate and justice system, and so does Northern Ireland. Wales does not, so at the whim of Westminster it is subject to becoming a penal colony for English prisoners.
I oppose the whole concept of these so-called super-prisons, in which hundreds of inmates are housed. The left-leaning Howard League and the Centre for Social Justice, founded by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), agree that such prisons do not succeed in rehabilitation. I am afraid it all comes down to penny-pinching. HMP Berwyn will be the cheapest prison to run in England and Wales, according to the Government’s own forecasts. Wales is an affordable penal colony.
The second, and undoubtedly more important, issue I want to press upon the Minister is the potentially devastating effects the imposition of the prison could have on the community. I welcome the work of Councillor Nigel Thomas Hunt and Bethan Jenkins AM, who have been very diligent in this matter. Both are passionate, locally grounded activists who spent months gathering evidence, much of which I am using today, to refute the Government’s case for imposing the prison on their communities.
As I am sure we are all aware, Port Talbot has been through some tough times of late, but the answer is unequivocally not to turn Wales’ industrial powerhouse into a penal colony on an industrial scale. The primary argument invoked by both the Government here and the Labour Administration in Cardiff is that of jobs, but a little scrutiny shows that case to be very flimsy. The Minister may have more up-to-date estimates, but at the time of the prison’s announcement, we were told that HMP Port Talbot would create about 200 jobs. However, if Swansea and/or Cardiff prisons were to close, in keeping with the UK Government’s policy of closing old prisons and their justification for building new super-prisons, Port Talbot prison would not even replace the jobs lost in other prisons.
In total, HMP Swansea and HMP Cardiff employ almost 600 staff. If they were both to close and be subsumed by a prison in Port Talbot, there would be a net loss of 400 jobs, according to the Government’s own estimates. To put it another way, the Government’s main justification for building this super-prison—the need to modernise the prison estate—will result in the closure of other Welsh prisons and a net loss of jobs, undermining HMP Port Talbot’s purported main benefit for the community. I warn the Minister that if he even countenances the notion that any jobs created by the super-prison will make up for the Government’s pathetic response to the steel crisis, he is unlikely to be met warmly on the streets of Port Talbot.
That is before we get to the issues surrounding the prison’s location. There are 11 schools within a one-mile radius of the site. Not only does that pose an exceptional safety risk, but it means that thousands of children will grow up in the shadow of that totem of failure. The Minister has already confirmed that inmates may be considered for “temporary release” into the community. It is clear that many prisoners moved from across the UK are expected to end up staying in the local area after their custodial sentences are served. Indeed, their families may well move to follow them while they are serving their sentences. Those who are imposing this prison on Wales must acknowledge and understand the additional cost to Wales in terms of healthcare and policing, as well as the additional burden on the community of Baglan when families move to the area following inmates and inmates stay in the community after their release. Will the Minister outline whether the Government expect to offer any kind of compensation to the local emergency, health and other public services, which will face a higher burden if the prison is built?
Of course, we must not forget the role that the Labour Welsh Government have played. The Baglan site is in fact owned by the economically inept Welsh Government in Cardiff. In reality, the Labour Government in Cardiff could stop this now, and I implore the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who is here today, to lobby his party colleagues in Cardiff to do so.
Finally, I would like to inform the Minister of a technical but crucial stumbling block for the proposed prison. Council officials have confirmed that the proposed site is on a C1 floodplain, putting it in the highest bracket of flood risk areas. Under the Welsh Government’s planning regulations, as laid out in technical advice note 15, the proposed Baglan Moors site is wholly unsuitable and may contravene devolved Welsh planning law. The prison increases the chances of flooding for more than 1,000 homes in the area. Questions must surely be asked about the safety of building a prison in an area so susceptible to flooding. Think of the huge implications a flood would have for those caring and maintaining order within the facility. Equally, it has the potential to create huge obstacles for emergency services—those who would be responding to incidents in the area—which would in turn endanger staff and inmates.
I appreciate that that is a piece of technical Welsh planning legislation, which the Minister might not be familiar with, but I hope he will take the chance to review the issue and recognise that the Baglan Moors site is fundamentally not suitable for a super-prison. Given the clear lack of need, the impact on the local community and the serious planning issues the prison faces, the Minister must surely recognise that Baglan Moors is not a suitable site for a super-prison.
Port Talbot is a proud place with a proud history and resilient people, but Westminster will not be forgiven if it turns Wales’ largest industrial centre into an industrial-sized penal colony. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for securing this debate.
The proposals for a new prison in my constituency have caused consternation among many local residents. Their frustration has been exacerbated by the Minister’s reluctance to visit the constituency and to hear the concerns of residents directly from them. Back in March, I warned the Minister that if he did not engage comprehensively with the local community, speculation would grow. Six months on, the Minister has failed to engage with the community, with the result that speculation is indeed rife, and there is guesswork and hearsay. When the Government fail to give us the information we need, what else do they expect?
Every piece of information we have had on the proposals has had to be teased out of the Ministry of Justice by letters, questions in the House and written parliamentary questions. Fundamentally, the argument has come down to why the land in the Baglan industrial estate was selected by the Ministry when a far more suitable location is just 10 minutes down the M4 at Felindre. The Minister said that the Felindre site came a close second in the evaluation that the Ministry of Justice conducted. I strongly urge him and his officials to look at it again. The site meets the Ministry’s criteria and ticks boxes that Baglan does not.
My argument has three key components, of which the first is health and safety. The road infrastructure around the Baglan site is already well used, and at peak periods in the morning and at the end of the school and working days, traffic comes to a standstill from the sheer volume of vehicles on the surrounding roads and the M4. Port Talbot is a well known pinch point on the M4, and as recently as two years ago junction 41 underwent a trial closure. Given the proximity of the proposed prison to a large residential area and to local schools, with traffic movements at peak periods creating bottlenecks and no alternative route to alleviate the problem, should there be a serious incident at the prison, during those peak periods emergency service vehicles would struggle to attend, potentially putting the lives of prisoners and prison officers at risk.
The Felindre site, on the other hand, has good access from the M4, with a dedicated exit at junction 46 and its own access road along the B4489. The volume of traffic dissipates by the time it reaches junction 46, making access for emergency vehicles easier in the event of a serious incident. The site is also much closer to a full accident and emergency unit, whereas the hospital close to the Baglan site has only a minor injuries unit.
The second component of my argument relates to the economy. The Minister indicated to me that he ruled out the Felindre site because it had been awarded European Union funding for business park development. But the Baglan industrial site is part of the Port Talbot enterprise zone, created at the height of the steel crisis to encourage business activity in the area. The steel crisis demonstrated the need for the labour market in Port Talbot to diversify and not to be so reliant on the steel industry. The creation of the enterprise zone and the enhanced capital allowance that came with it, which the site has, are key components in encouraging business not reliant on the steel industry to come to the area. A prison simply does not fit into that objective and would undo the hard work carried out to make the area attractive to business. The land should therefore be used for the purposes for which it was intended and not for the construction of a prison. Conversely, the proposals are having the opposite effect on businesses in the industrial estate, a number of which have expressed to me and publicly that they will leave the area if the prison is given the green light.
Thirdly, there is the matter of construction. The Felindre site is more suitable because of its status as a brownfield site; the Baglan site is a greenfield site and it is marshland. Were the Government to push ahead with building on the Baglan site, they would incur substantial additional cost by having to build on marshland. Businesses that built on other parts of the land had to pile-drive to a considerable depth to put down foundations, only to construct buildings considerably lighter than a prison. That would have huge consequences for neighbouring properties and businesses, and the costs would balloon. The Felindre site has already been developed and the Government would encounter none of those problems there. The site already has developed infrastructure works and land reclamation, as well as the good access links I mentioned.
The Felindre site offers the Minister the same benefits as the Baglan one, but with the additional benefits that I have set out. The fact that the Felindre site is further away from residential areas and schools also means that it does not carry with it the same hurdles that the Baglan site does, certainly in terms of local community consent. I therefore conclude by urging the Minister to guarantee that he will go back to his Department and look again at Felindre as a more appropriate site to locate the prison.
To give some context, we are investing £1.3 billion to create an additional 10,000 “new for old” prison places with better education facilities and other rehabilitative services to help prisoners turn their lives around. In Wales, as has been mentioned, in February we opened HMP Berwyn to provide 2,000 uncrowded and efficient prison places. We have also begun work on building a new houseblock at HMP Stocken, re-roled HMP Durham and HMP Holme House, announced our plans to redevelop HMP Glen Parva and former HMP Wellingborough, and announced a programme of four further builds, which includes Port Talbot in south Wales.
The prisons being built in Wales are therefore part of a much broader context, which is about improving our prison estate throughout the entire country. As well as creating modern prisons that are fit for the 21st century, the proposed new builds will act as a boost to regional economies across the country. They will create up to 2,000 jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries, and new opportunities for local businesses.
Of course. We would all like the prison population not to be as high as it is, but punishment must fit the crime, and if people commit offences, they should be sentenced to prison. Of the two best ways to reduce the prison population, the first is to cut reoffending so that the one in two people who leave our prisons and reoffend are stopped from doing so, which means that we need modern, purpose-built prisons that can deliver education and employment training. Secondly, we must stop the conveyor belt from low-level crime to custody, which means reforming our probation services. We are working on those things in the Department.
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the probation service. I understand that a review of probation is ongoing, in particular the transformation of rehabilitation, but I have not had the opportunity to ask whether there is a date for it to be published.
The probation service review is ongoing. As the hon. Lady may know, the results of the first part were published in a written ministerial statement just before the summer recess, outlining the additional investment that has gone into the probation companies. We will be publishing the next set of results as and when they are ready. I cannot give her a firm date, but it will be shortly.
The substance of the debate is the Port Talbot location of the proposed prison, as discussed by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). When assessing where to build new prisons, the Ministry of Justice worked closely with the Welsh Government to identify suitable sites for a new prison build in Wales. We undertook a comprehensive evaluation of more than 20 sites in south Wales, ensuring that various factors were taken into consideration, such as preference for sites located along the M4 corridor because of their accessibility and the travel time benefits they would bring.
After careful consideration, Port Talbot was selected as the best potential site for a new category C prison build in Wales. That was for a number of reasons, including the capacity of local infrastructure to support the prison and the potential to maximise the benefits of investment in the local community. In addition, the site is owned by the Welsh Government, who are supportive of our work to progress these plans. As I mentioned, supply and demand for prison places are misaligned. For example, we do not have enough category C prison places in south Wales; the proposed prison at Port Talbot would address that shortfall.
The Minister began to explain the infrastructure decision and why the Baglan site was considered to have better infrastructure than the Felindre site, but he did not give any more detail. As I said, junction 46 gives far easier access than junction 41, so why was Felindre considered to have poorer infrastructure than Baglan?
Infrastructure is not just motorway access but the local infrastructure of the area. For a category C prison, which would effectively be a resettlement prison, ease of access to employment is important, so that prisoners can be released on temporary licence and come back easily. It is also important that local people can work in the prison without having to commute long distances, not to mention ease of access for prisoners’ families to visit them. All those things are taken into account when we look at local infrastructure.
Thank you, Mr Brady—as ever, you are hot on procedure.
A modern prison at Port Talbot will support the rehabilitative culture that is essential to making communities safer. A fit-for-purpose establishment will ensure that families can visit inmates in a relaxed atmosphere, which is particularly important for children. We will ensure, as far as possible, that local labour is sought from Port Talbot and the surrounding area and that local businesses benefit. As a guide, in the design and build of HMP Berwyn, around £83 million was spent with small and medium-sized enterprises in addition to the £38.2 million that was spent on local businesses. The construction of HMP Berwyn provided jobs for unemployed people, apprenticeships and more than 2,000 days of educational work experience for local young people.
Based on the success of HMP Berwyn, where we estimate that up to 1,000 jobs will be created, the new prison at Port Talbot could generate up to 500 jobs and contribute £11 million a year to the regional economy. Some 66% of HMP Berwyn’s staff came from the local area.
We are talking about job creation and enterprise. What does the Minister advise me to say to local businesses in the Baglan area that have already said that they will shut up shop if the prison goes ahead, which would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs?
The hon. Gentleman passionately represents the views of his constituents. As he is aware, there is a statutory consultation process. We have extended the time available for that consultation, which will give us the opportunity to listen to the concerns of residents and respond appropriately. When a change of this scale is proposed, it is not unusual to get the kind of reaction that he has received. The onus is on the Ministry of Justice to explain to local residents what is happening and what the benefits are, and we will do that as we go through this process.
I know that the hon. Gentleman would like me to personally engage in this process, but the Prisons Minister does not have expertise in taking residents through a consultation—no MP does. However, experts in the Department have been through this process in other parts of the country, including Berwyn, and they will take his constituents through their understandable concerns.
There will definitely be officials from the Ministry of Justice there. I want us to go through this process, as we do with every other prison in the country. The Minister cannot just start popping around the country running consultations for all the new prisons we are building, but the hon. Gentleman has exchanged letters with me all summer and my door is always open for him to come and represent the views of his constituents, as he has done by raising the issues here. I promise that I will take everything he raises on board. Contrary to what he said about having to winkle out answers from the Department, he has used all the formal channels available to a Member of Parliament, and I dare say that he has received a response every time he has made an inquiry about this prison.
We are obviously focused on infrastructure and the benefits for the community. We are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to develop innovation in the construction and delivery of new prison buildings. That is in line with the UK industrial strategy and will create new job sectors in the industry.
We have touched on stakeholder engagement, which is important. As I said, we are engaging with the Welsh Government and Members of Parliament, and with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council to develop its plans for the Port Talbot site. We are pleased to have had the support of the leader of the council, Councillor Rob Jones, and the Welsh Government throughout the process.
All those issues will be flushed out during the consultation process. It is not in the Department’s interest to build a prison on a floodplain if that is a serious technical constraint. We should leave that to the experts to decide; I am not an expert and neither is the hon. Lady. The consultation and all the analysis will have to run their course, as they would in the build of any prison.
We value the contributions of local stakeholders in helping to shape the site’s development. As I have said, we will have two days of public engagement. The first event will focus on the statutory planning processes and will be a key avenue for residents to make representations about our proposals and for the Ministry to help residents to understand our plans for the site. In addition, the statutory process requires a 28-day public consultation prior to the planning application being submitted, after which the development proposals will be subject to the standard 13-week planning process. We have not even got to the planning application stage yet; there will be many opportunities for residents to contribute, to help shape the proposals and raise objections to the process.
I know that the hon. Member for Aberavon, who is an assiduous constituency MP, will hold his own public engagement event on 20 September. I welcome the interest in his plans, and I will speak to my officials to ensure that he gets the support that he needs for that event. I appreciate that some in the community are concerned about the creation of a prison at Port Talbot. We will work with the community as the project progresses, using the lessons we learned from the prison we built at Berwyn, to mitigate those concerns. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government, who remain committed to the project on the Port Talbot site, and we will work closely with them when developing the planning event to address the local community’s key concerns.
Although it is too early to give an estimate of the cost of designing and building the new prison, we will ensure best value for money for taxpayers. Funding arrangements for health and police services were mentioned; we will engage with relevant public sector partners to ensure that they are able to develop suitable plans for the new prison.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing the debate, and the hon. Member for Aberavon on bringing up important issues that need to be aired with projects of this kind. I certainly do not see that as a nuisance; we need to go through this process and listen to residents. I hope that as we do, the work that is already under way to make our prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation will become apparent and show what this site can deliver for both prisoners and the wider community.
Question put and agreed to.
Bereavement Leave: Loss of a Child
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of bereavement leave for families who lose a child.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I am pleased that the House has the opportunity to debate the provision of formal statutory leave for those parents who suffer the unimaginable pain of losing a child, and the wider bereavement support that we can offer.
The genesis of the debate is the all-party parliamentary group for children who need palliative care, of which I am honoured to be a member alongside several hon. Members in attendance today. I pay tribute at the outset to Together for Short Lives for both the work it does in supporting the APPG and the voice it provides for babies, children, young people and their parents when a short life is expected. I also thank the other charities supporting the debate, including CLIC Sargent, Rainbow Trust, Children’s Hospices Across Scotland and Bliss. I also highlight the work of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss—and, in particular, that of its co-chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who has pursued this incredibly sensitive issue with dignity and determination.
The Conservative manifesto may have had more than a few faults, but the commitment on page 70 that a Conservative Government would
“ensure all families who lose a baby are given the bereavement support they need, including a new entitlement to child bereavement leave”
rightly attained wide support across the population. More than 5,000 children die every year, leaving many thousands of parents to go through that personal tragedy, and 60% of those deaths occur in the first year. While this issue is always tricky to discuss—I have two children under three, and many people in the Chamber and in our constituency and Westminster offices have personal experience of it—it is vital that we talk about it, show support to parents in that tragic situation and help to give them some reassurance that their jobs and pay—the last thing anyone in that situation should have to worry about—will be protected. It is right for Parliament to look at the rights given to parents.
The APPG for children who need palliative care was therefore concerned that bereavement leave was not referenced explicitly in the Queen’s Speech. The initial driver for hosting the debate was to obtain assurance from the Government that it had not been lost in the fray. Happily, that concern has been somewhat superseded by the announcement that the Government intend to support the private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). That is welcome news. The Bill will address the existing discrepancy whereby parents who lose a newborn, or whose child is stillborn, are entitled to full parental leave, but someone who loses an infant, toddler or older child at any point after which parental leave may be taken is reliant entirely on the good grace of their employer. Of course, we are still a long way from that Bill becoming law, and, as we know, private Members’ Bills often do not reach the end point, so we must continue to ensure that the Government keep to their word.
The debate is also timely in the light of Baby Loss Awareness week, now in its 15th year, taking place in a few weeks’ time, between 9 and 15 October. It is a collaboration between 40 UK charities to raise awareness about the issues surrounding pregnancy and baby loss. This year’s main focus is a call to improve bereavement support for families affected by baby and pregnancy loss. I am sure the whole House will join me in supporting Baby Loss Awareness week.
It is evident that the standards, quality and consistency of bereavement care vary wildly across the UK, with bereavement care training not being mandatory and so not readily available. Far too many health boards both north and south of the border do not have dedicated bereavement rooms in their maternity units. Could this Government and the Scottish Government do more to recognise the importance of bereavement services and ensure that they are being commissioned for families? I certainly think they could.
In Scotland—Mr Brady, I appreciate that provision of health services is devolved—more than 5,800 babies are admitted into neonatal services. The care that those babies receive in the first hours, days and weeks of their life is critical to their survival and lifelong health. We know that the healthcare professionals delivering such care every day are committed to bringing about the very best outcomes for babies and their families, yet we also know that services right around the UK are under pressure.
Research by Bliss Scotland has shown that, in common with the position in England, many neonatal units across Scotland consistently do not meet national standards on safe staffing levels, and units often cannot offer parents facilities to stay with their critically ill baby so that they can be involved in their care. Similar pressures exist throughout children’s services units for older kids. Family-centred care must be embedded in relevant hospital units, with guidance outlining minimum standards on the level of free accommodation and other practical and financial support packages available to parents. In my constituency, about 89 babies who need specialist care to survive are born each year. While many will go on to thrive, sadly some do not. Many other families have the joy of a healthy and happy child being brought into the world but then suffer the pain of loss years later due to illness or tragic accident.
Given that we know parents with a child receiving vital care will incur significant financial expenditure on items such as parking, travel, food and drink, and childcare for other children as well as loss of earnings, it is surely right that, if the worst follows, the Government are there to provide some assistance in those darkest of hours. Indeed, in the west of Scotland, those additional costs are estimated to be about £200 a week, and that is in a pretty urban area. The cost for parents in rural parts of Scotland is significantly higher. Introducing statutory bereavement leave seems the very least we in this place can do, at a cost of what—a few million quid? The value of the peace of mind and reassurance that would give to parents whose world has disintegrated around them is immeasurable. Paid leave would give parents the time to make decisions based on their needs rather than their financial situation. It is a law we want, but never want to rely on.
We may want to believe that all employers, large and small, will be sympathetic to employees—indeed, many do provide discretionary compassionate leave—but the truth is that not all are. A recent survey run on behalf of Child Bereavement UK found that almost a third of those who had suffered the loss of a loved one in the past five years felt they had not been treated compassionately by their employer. A father of a baby born at 26 weeks, who died aged three days, was called during his two-week paternity leave by his employer and told that, because his son was dead, there was no child to look after, so he was being treated as absent without leave and asked when he would be returning to work. The man did not work for a small business that was perhaps a bit backward in its approach to human resources; he worked for a large multinational company with more than 20,000 employees in the UK. Some form of statutory protection is therefore needed.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 merely allows employees to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. As Ministers have rightly recognised, holding down a job at the same time as dealing with grief can be incredibly difficult. Therefore, more must be done. I am pleased that the Government are intent on providing parents with the support they need, but we must consider whether the availability of leave should be restricted to parent carers or extended to legal guardians and others who may have had formal caring responsibilities. At the very least, we need to look more carefully at the definition of “parent”, and who should be entitled to leave.
I also question whether we need to build flexibility into the system, and not assume that parents suffering from grief will want simply to take two single weeks in blocks a short time after the death of a child. Organisations such as Together for Short Lives and Rainbow Trust have asked for the period during which leave can be taken to be extended to 52 weeks.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I am delighted to have the privilege of taking forward a Bill on this matter, which was first introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), to try to ensure that people get bereavement leave in such circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) has clearly thought long and hard about some of the issues. Will he be willing to work with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester to ensure that we get the provisions right from the start so that the Bill looks after those who are affected by these terrible tragedies?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I would be honoured to work alongside him and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester in taking this issue forward and ensuring that it gets to where it needs to be. Given the findings of the Taylor report regarding the modern world of work—I know the Minister has been closely involved with that report—the increase in self-employed individuals and the wider discussions around extending benefits to them, could the Government take steps for an equivalent benefit to be offered to self-employed parents?
I want to finish by talking about the support we might need to give employers—particularly small employers —in dealing with employees in such a situation. Child Bereavement UK noted:
“Fear of returning to work and facing colleagues, loss of confidence and increased sick leave are not uncommon. Ability to concentrate, make decisions, meet deadlines and maintain performance and productivity levels can all be at least temporarily compromised, and there can be higher incidences of job-related injuries and accidents.
This not only has the potential to impact on a bereaved employee’s ability to work effectively, but can also have a knock-on effect on other employees, who are often at a loss as to how to respond when a colleague returns to work after bereavement, and over time may feel that accommodating the needs of a bereaved colleague places added pressure on them.”
A survey by the Rainbow Trust found that more than half of parents who were working at the time their child died did not feel they were given enough time to cope, and that 50% took at least one month off work. Paid bereavement leave needs to sit alongside a wider package of bereavement support, both for the parents, through psychological support, and for employers, through ensuring that they are able to put in appropriate frameworks and bereavement policies to manage the needs of not only the employee concerned but the business and wider workforce.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I welcome the Government’s commitment to supporting the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), as I hope that Members across the House will. I have a family in my constituency who lost a young child in very difficult circumstances—they do not wish to be named—and their point to me was that when somebody is bereaved there is often a lot of support at the time, but the psychological consequences continue long after that support has gone away and people forget what happened. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that ongoing psychological counselling support should be made available to bereaved parents, and that the training for employers should convey the importance of such ongoing counselling?
I could not agree more. Grief affects everyone differently, and it can sometimes be months or even years before the true ramifications and consequences of someone’s experience really hit home. Grief can also potentially be the start of a cycle of behaviour that can lead to far more destructive circumstances, particularly in the family home. It is not uncommon for families who have suffered an extreme bereavement situation to end up breaking down completely, often, as the hon. Lady mentioned, because support in the early days and weeks might be good, but there is not sufficient follow-up to ensure that people do not go down the wrong path.
I hope that we, as a party, make good on our manifesto commitment. I have not been in this place for very long, but we seem to spend a lot of time beating each other about the head, so it is nice, every once in a while, to find something we can all work on together in a positive manner. I sincerely hope that this is one such issue. I look forward to hearing what other hon. Members have to say, and I thank them for coming to support the debate.
At least five Back-Bench Members want to contribute. For the convenience of the House, I will say that I would like to move on to winding-up speeches by 5.10 pm at the very latest. I will not impose a time limit now, but I suggest that, if hon. Members could keep their contributions to no more than six or seven minutes, we might hope to get everybody into the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton)—I deliberately say my hon. Friend, knowing that his vote in Newton Mearns will probably go down as a result of being friends with the Scottish nationalists—on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to serve with him on the APPG for children who need palliative care. I pay tribute, as he has, to Together for Short Lives for providing the secretariat and for the campaigning work it does on this very emotive issue.
As my colleague suggested, the pain of losing a child is unimaginable. I spoke about it in the summer Adjournment debate before recess, and I pay particular tribute to the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who have all spoken publicly and very bravely about their own experiences. It takes an awful lot of courage to do that. I very much welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I will try not to echo too much of what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire said; I will raise a few points around bereavement leave before broadening the debate out a little. As the hon. Gentleman said, we applied for the debate at a time before paid bereavement leave was included in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on securing his private Member’s Bill and I absolutely look forward to being there with him and voting for it when it comes before the House.
The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire outlined how self-employment might not be within the scope of the Bill, and I understand that there might be reasons for that, but we need to find a way, perhaps via the Department for Work and Pensions, to ensure that some sort of equivalent financial benefit for the self-employed makes its way into the Bill. We know that almost 5 million people in the UK are self-employed, which is the highest number on record. As the economy begins to change and evolve, that number will obviously only get higher, so we need to be mindful of that when drafting the legislation.
I echo much of what the hon. Gentleman said about bereavement support. I know that some bereavement support has been found to be patchy, particularly in England. I am intrigued to see how Scotland’s health boards compare when we get those data via the freedom of information request that I know Together for Short Lives has submitted. One area of good practice in Scotland is the funding of children’s hospices. We have taken a distinctly different route. We have increased funding for children’s hospices to parity with adult hospices, which has been very much welcomed across the sector.
Although I am not an English MP, I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to consider similar moves to address inequitable funding. In England last year, local authority contributions to the cost of providing children’s palliative care in the voluntary sector dropped by 61%, while the cost of providing complex care actually increased by 10%. Before I say any more on palliative care, I declare an interest: my mother is employed by Icare Scotland, which provides palliative care for children and babies across west central Scotland. At this juncture, I pay tribute not only to my mother, but to the staff and volunteers. It takes a really special kind of person to dedicate their lives to doing that job.
That leads me on quite nicely to my next point, about some of the challenges in investing in children’s palliative care, particularly in the workforce. Statistics show that 11% of children’s hospice posts are currently vacant, which is a real issue that the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government have to look at. How do we fill some of those vacancies and solve some of the challenges in workforce supply?
I also pay tribute to CHAS—Children’s Hospices Across Scotland. It is a charity that provides the only hospice services in Scotland for children and young people with life-shortening conditions for which there is no known cure. It runs two children’s hospices—Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch—as well as a home care service. It supports 415 families across Scotland, but can currently provide support for only one in three families who require it. I am delighted to support CHAS by taking part in the great Scottish run next month.
I very much echo Together for Short Lives in its letter to the Prime Minister—I do not know whether it has been answered yet—calling a national strategy on children’s palliative care and for quite rightly pointing out that the system needs to be a bit more joined up. We cannot have parents who have experienced the loss of a child having to have that same conversation over and over again. I think any national strategy could tease some of that out.
One issue that I had not planned to touch on is burial fees—it is more pertinent to Scotland, so I hope the House will indulge me for a few moments. I appreciate that it is a very difficult topic, but there are inconsistent burial fees across Scotland. I am ashamed to say that my local authority of Glasgow is the most expensive for burying children. It costs £637 for the burial of a child aged between seven and 15 and £426 for those aged one to five. We have 32 local authorities in Scotland and some do not charge at all. As with many of the points made by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire, the burying of a child is an incredibly difficult time for some families, and we need to move away from burial fees. I join him in calling on all 32 local authorities to scrap these outrageous charges.
The final item I will speak about is one on which I have spoken quite a few times since entering Parliament in June: the baby benefit bar. Some 49,000 families across the UK have a child with a life-limiting or life-shortening condition. There is currently a cruel anomaly within the Department for Work and Pensions, whereby the mobility component of the disability living allowance is not paid to children under three. That impacts on around 2,700 families, but it could be made right with the stroke of a pen. It is an inconsistency in Government policy. Once again, I call on the Government to take action—we are talking about approximately £8 million. Ultimately, time is not on the side of these families, so the best thing we can do is to be on their side. I very much hope that when the Minister sums up, she can give us some good news about ending the baby benefit bar.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) on securing this debate on one of the most important topics as we approach the private Member’s Bill season.
There is no question but that losing a child is one of the most traumatic experiences that any parent has to go through. Having gone through that experience myself at the end of 2014, I know that when you become a Member of Parliament, you feel, like any parent who has been bereaved, that you want to do something to try to make a difference. You want to try to do something to ensure that as few people as possible go through the same experience that you did, of losing a child, and where they do, you want to ensure that they have the best bereavement care possible. Some parents do that by raising lots of money for their local bereavement suites and for the fantastic charities that have been mentioned. As Members of Parliament, we have a unique position and a unique voice—when we speak, the nation’s media listen—but we also have an amazing platform in this House to actually change legislation and change Government policy.
There were two things that I wanted to do on entering the House in this specific regard. The first was the formation of an all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, which we did on a cross-party basis with a number of colleagues, in particular with my co-chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). We are doing a huge amount of work to try to reduce baby loss and to change Government policy in that regard, and we are having a lot of support from the Government.
This is also about bereavement care, and that is where the parental bereavement leave idea came up. If someone suffers a stillbirth, which we did, they have two weeks as a parent—as a father or, in regular maternity leave, as a mother—in order to grieve and to come to terms with what has just happened, but if you lose a child after six months, you do not have that right. You do not have any right to paid leave.
Although the vast majority of employers up and down this country are excellent employers that act with compassion, kindness and understanding when one of their employees loses a child, sadly there are employers out there that do not act with compassion and act with huge insensitivity. The examples are all out there. Sadly, it is not even just small employers; it is often large employers and, I am sorry to say, even some Government agencies and large public sector bodies. Although people are entitled under law at the moment to some immediate time off and a reasonable amount of time, that is wholly subjective, and sadly there are employers that put huge pressure on their employees to go back to work too soon. That creates huge social and emotional problems for the individual. The leave is really important, because you need that time to grieve and to come to terms with what has just happened, but you also need the time to make some really important arrangements.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) has taken the baton and run with it, with his private Member’s Bill, and that the Government have been so supportive. I would particularly like to praise the Minister and the Secretary of State, who have both been hugely supportive, and indeed the Prime Minister, for ensuring that this went in the Conservative party manifesto. As we all know, private Members’ Bills are very difficult to get through and are nearly always destined to fail without Government support.
This is a common right across Europe. Indeed, it is a relatively common right across the world, to varying degrees. We have an opportunity here, with this private Member’s Bill, to have world-leading rights in this area, by having two weeks’ paid leave for any parent who loses a child. That is an incredible ambition. It is a real statement of intent, not only for the Government but for the House, that we take so seriously the trauma of losing a child. It is not in the natural order. It is not right, and people do need time to come to terms with what has happened and to grieve.
I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire for securing today’s important debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for taking the baton and running with it, and the Government for supporting the private Member’s Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) on securing the debate and on passionately setting the scene for us all.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I was present for his Adjournment debate on this subject in the last Parliament. I remember the debate well and the contributions made by other hon. Members. I remember the understandable personal pain that each of them felt and how we were much moved by their speeches.
I cannot begin to speak about this sensitive issue without first offering my most sincere and heartfelt sympathies to all families who have lost a child. It is sad to lose a parent—I was devastated when I lost my father—but it is the natural cycle of life. To lose a child goes against the natural order of things, as all four of the speakers in the debate have said. I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of pain that it would cause; it is unspeakable and unimaginable.
Even though none of us truly want to think about this, as it comes too close to home, we must do what we can to ensure that the response from employers is adequate. That is our role here. I was quite shocked, and indeed angered, when the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire mentioned a large employer of 20,000 people that dictatorially instructed its worker to get back to work. I cannot begin to believe such lack of feeling. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that case.
Every week, 10 children and young people die from cancer in the UK. That figure simply shocks and saddens. We all know many charities that we work for and help. CLIC Sargent has care teams that provide bereavement support through more than 300 home visits, and it gave palliative care to around 250 children and young people just last year. That charity is just one example; there are many others.
I have been asked to raise a number of points, which I hope to do now. It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in her place. We know that she understands very clearly how we all feel, which will be reflected in her compassionate response to the debate.
Children’s hospices and palliative care charities provide lifeline support for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, and of course for their families as well. However, children’s palliative care is woefully underfunded and under-resourced. For example, on average, adult hospices in England receive 33% of their funding from statutory sources, whereas the figure for children’s hospices is 22%. I know that there are many claims upon the Government, but here is a really crucial issue that we need to address. Unless that funding gap is addressed, we as a country are seen to be placing greater value on the life of an adult than that of a child. That can never be the case, and I know it would not be.
In England, local authorities’ contribution to the cost of providing children’s palliative care in the voluntary sector fell significantly, by 61% between 2014-15 and 2015-16, when the cost of providing complex care increased. There was a drop in the funding and a rise in the need. It is simply unsustainable for local authorities to contribute just 1% to the costs incurred by children’s palliative care charities.
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that very often it is the parents of these children, who have suffered the most loss, who do incredible work in raising funds for the likes of children’s hospices right across the United Kingdom. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them. The death of a child is always tragic and sometimes unexpected. I know that we all, through our constituency offices, see many parents who have children with life-limiting conditions. The parents are their strongest advocates and fight so hard for them. When that child goes, there is a huge gap in their lives, and they do sterling work for the likes of the hospices.
I thank my hon. Friend for her words. Those who fight hardest are those who have walked the road, taken the journey and personally experienced the heartache and pain.
Together for Short Lives, another wonderful charity, is calling on the Government to follow the example of the Scottish Government. I pay tribute to the Scottish Government and to my colleagues here from the Scottish National party, who are part of that, perhaps not directly in Scotland but through the party, for their contribution. That Government have allocated £30 million over five years for children’s hospices so that there is parity with funding for adult hospices. They recognised the need and did that. I see good done in many places across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is good done by different regions, and that is an example of good done by the Scottish Parliament. Children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions in England, Northern Ireland and Wales deserve the same recognition, opportunity and support as those in Scotland.
May I highlight quickly the importance of faith and the need for the Church? Many of us in this Chamber have personal experience of that. It is important that there is recognition of the importance of the Church and the role that it can play when tragedy hits.
I will conclude because I am conscious of the time. It is hard to know what to legislate for, because there cannot be enough paid leave to heal the wound that is left by the loss of a child, but there should be enough paid time to ensure that someone is back to being able to function like a human being. There cannot be enough of a grant to provide a decent send-off, but a grant should be available to those who have cared for their child and are financially strained because of the requirements of that care. Often the burden of the care is not just financial, but emotional and physical. There cannot be enough free hours in hospital car parks to ease the burden, but help in that respect can ease the load. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do to help these families emotionally, I believe, unless we have expertise in this regard, which is why I am looking to Churches and to those of the cloth to provide support.
What we can do is support families practically through end-of-life care and then bereavement support. That is why I am standing with the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire, who made the proposal today, and with all the other hon. Members who have made and will make contributions, including the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), and the Minister, and asking that every person here and every group represented here does the right thing and supports that proposal.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) for securing the debate and congratulate him on doing so. He is a constituent of mine, and the last time I spoke across the room from him was in Ralston community centre during a Ralston community council meeting, and I visited as his MP. These are somewhat different surroundings from the community centre, but there we are.
I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) by paying the utmost respect to those hon. Members who have direct experience of losing a child but have found the courage to speak about their personal experience. By sharing their profoundly moving experiences, they have added so much not just to debates in this place, but to the wider debate. This House, if I may speak for it, is very grateful to them and very sorry for their loss.
I have friends and colleagues who have had to endure the unimaginable pain of losing a child. Although our first daughter was born more than six weeks premature, my wife and I have been very fortunate in her continuing health—touch wood—but we saw at first hand the raw pain of parents clinging to hope over the life chances of their newborn. Sadly, for some, what should be the happiest moment of their lives turns into the most traumatic.
This is an emotional debate, and in my view anyone who goes through the tragedy of losing a child should receive all the support and help that they require. I was shocked to learn as an employer when dealing with a bereaved parent for the first time that under the Employment Rights Act 1996, the statutory bereavement leave provision contains no minimum requirement. The amount of time off that a parent is allowed is whatever is considered reasonable by the employer. I would have hoped that most employers would give parents as much time as possible to help them to deal with the loss of a child, but as we have heard, that does not appear to be the case. In a national survey conducted last year, less than one third of British adults who were working at the time of their bereavement said that they felt supported by their employer. That highlights the need for a layer of protection, and I welcome the Government’s attempts to introduce a statutory requirement for paid leave in the event of the death of a child. There will be competing views on how much time should be provided to bereaved parents. The charity Bliss says that two weeks should be the minimum statutory entitlement. That would be a welcome start, but I believe that two weeks is not enough.
Any forthcoming legislation should be accompanied by revised guidance from ACAS on bereavement in the workplace. That would help to ensure consistency across the working environment, with both employers and employees being aware of their rights and responsibilities.
When discussing this issue, we should also take account of the level of bereavement support payment for low-income families with children who have suffered bereavement. The cynical “simplification” that has taken place with the introduction of that payment has resulted in 75% of claimants being worse off under BSP than they were under the previous system. In addition, the new payment is not planned to rise in line with inflation, meaning that it will lose value over time, even though funeral costs, as we have heard, continue to rise. I urge the Minister and the Government to examine the wider support in place for bereaved families, in particular the level of support provided via bereavement support payment.
Our goal in improving the system should be to provide the best level of support to parents who have lost a child, and to do so in a way that does not require parents to navigate a complicated administrative process. I am heartened by the cross-party consensus that seems to exist in this place and I look forward to working with colleagues to help to improve the system.
We have just under 25 minutes to take the SNP spokesman, if she would like to contribute, the Opposition spokesman, the Minister and the Member who moved the motion, if he would like to make a brief response at the end. Again, I will not recommend specific times, but I am sure that all the speakers will be conscious of the time limits.
Thank you, Mr Brady.
The loss of a child is of such magnitude, is such a life-shattering experience, that leave for bereaved parents cannot simply be left to the good will of employers but must be put on a statutory footing. I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) for initiating this important debate and for his sensitive and consensual approach. I also state for the record, even though the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is no longer in his place, that like everyone else who has participated in the debate, I am extremely supportive of his private Member’s Bill. From what I have heard today, I think that everyone in this Chamber will support it.
Of course, any decent employer would respond to such a tragedy by being understanding, but as I have said, we cannot leave it simply to the good will of employers. The examples given by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire show why that is the case. The law should—indeed, it must—recognise the effect of such an event on any working parent in any industry or sector and provide them with statutory support and protection.
Today, I stand to speak on behalf of the parents who suffer the devastating loss of a child from the perspective of someone who had to bury her own son. Like the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), I feel a duty and a drive as a Member of Parliament to make things better for those who have the terrible misfortune to go through such an event. Under the law when it happened to me, my leave was protected, as the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire pointed out, because my son was stillborn at full term. My maternity leave of six months was still available to me. Leave was not available to my husband and he coped as best he could, taking very little time off work but still stumbling through his grief.
It is time the law recognised, with rights to paid leave, the loss of a child and its effect on bereaved parents at whatever stage in the life of the child the loss takes place. According to Child Bereavement UK, 28 young people under the age of 25 die every day. That is 28 families torn apart. No one can adequately describe what it is like to bury their own child. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, it goes completely against the natural order of things. There is the numbness, the sense that the world has ended, and the inability in the midst of that shock to comprehend how the world can possibly continue to turn and go about its business. The loss of a child cannot be quantified by a set period of time, but the law must do what it can to create some kind of statutory space to grieve.
When you lose a child, the challenge is not whether you can go back to work on Monday; the challenge is how to keep going when breathing requires a conscious effort and getting out of bed in the morning becomes a goal in itself. Even months and years later, you can be doing ordinary, mundane tasks, and quite unexpectedly a wave of grief will wash over you like a tidal wave, taking you completely by surprise. As the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) pointed out, ongoing support in such circumstances would be welcomed by many parents.
I spent months unable to leave the house and lost interest in the world. Eating became a thing that had to be done, not something that I wanted to do. Every morsel that you put in your mouth is a struggle. Many parents who have been through that will identify with it. Yes, the loss of a child can often give way to thoughts of suicide for parents. After all, the entire future that you envisaged for yourself has changed irrevocably and only a gaping shadow of grief that will stay with you forever seems to be left.
About 60% of childhood deaths in the UK occur within the first year of a child’s life. Emotionally such a loss cannot be prepared for, and it can never be truly and fully recovered from, but with support, parents find a way forward. Gradually they find a way to build a semblance—often it is only a semblance—of some kind of life around the shadow that is forever cast over their life. The loss of a child becomes an integral part of your life and lives with you every single day. Of course, all loss is hard to bear, but the loss of a child is the loss of a parent’s investment in the future. Our children are the physical embodiment of our investment, hopes and confidence in the future. When that is gone, what is left? The magnitude of the loss must and should be recognised by society, and protections and support enshrined in employment law—for the self-employed as well, as has been pointed out.
In these terrible circumstances parents go on because there is no alternative. They find a way to cope for the sake of other people in their lives who love them and need them—perhaps their other children or their spouse—but such parents need rights enshrined in the Employment Rights Act, recognising the devastating loss of a child and the awful, horrific effects it can have, and giving them time to grieve, with full pay. This must be a fundamental workplace right for parents in any civilised society. What decent employer could possibly object to that? I urge the Minister to pursue this measure with all due haste, and for all parents who go through this nightmare, to put paid bereavement leave for the loss of a child on a statutory footing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. We have had a very moving debate, full of passion, consideration, reflection and a lot of agreement on the issues involved. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) on securing such an important debate.
The death of a child, as has been said, seems to go against the natural order of things, because all parents expect their children to outlive them, yet in the UK in 2015, more than 10,000 babies, children and young people up to the age of 25 died. That is 28 people a day. There are some things, such as registering a death, arranging a funeral and notifying family and friends, that have to be done immediately following a death, and they take time, as anyone who has lost a close family member will know. Whether that death has followed a long period in hospital or has come as a sudden shock, parents also need time to grieve. It is true that some people may find it helpful to return quickly to work, but others may need much longer before they are ready to start work again, and there is currently no statutory right to paid bereavement leave for parents following the death of a child.
Bills were introduced to remedy that position in 2013 by the then Labour Member for Glasgow South, and in 2016 by the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). The latter Bill would have created an entitlement to at least two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for parents after the death of a child, at a rate that mirrors statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave. The private Member’s Bill on the issue promoted by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is due to be debated on 20 October. As we have understood throughout this debate, there is a real opportunity for cross-party agreement on this issue.
I understand that the Bill has Government support and that the Minister’s Department has been consulting with employers, employee representatives and campaigners to better understand the needs of bereaved parents and employers. Will the Minister please update Members on those discussions and on the Government’s view on the form the legislation should take? Will she give a commitment that the Government will allow sufficient time for the Bill to reach the statute book?
The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the right of an employee to have reasonable time off to deal with an emergency, such as a bereavement involving a dependant. The employer does not need to pay the employee for this time off, and what “reasonable” means is unclear. That can lead to problems when an employer chooses to ignore its moral responsibility to its staff. Of course, many employers treat requests for compassionate leave in situations like this sympathetically and do not try to force their employees to return to work before they are ready. They may offer paid leave and even have a compassionate leave or bereavement leave policy in place—for example, Facebook announced in February that it would allow its staff to take up to 20 days’ paid compassionate leave for the death of an immediate family member. However, a 2014 survey of HR professionals found that the average time that an employee in the UK takes off from work after the death of a close family member was five days. A TUC report published last week documented the increasing difficulty that employees have in obtaining leave for family reasons, especially when people are in insecure work, such as on a zero-hours contract. The study dealt with caring responsibilities rather than the death of a child, but—difficult as it may be to believe—there are employers that will pressure people to return to work immediately after their child has died.
The fact that we are debating this issue today owes much to Lucy Herd’s campaign for entitlement to parental leave following the death of a child. After her son Jack drowned in 2010, her then partner was only entitled to three days’ leave, one of which had to be for the funeral. Lucy’s online petition gained more than 230,000 signatures, and research published by the National Council for Palliative Care in 2014 found that 81% of people questioned believed that there should be a legal right to paid leave after bereavement on the death of a child or another immediate family member.
If someone is forced to return to work when they are not ready, they can find it impossible to function properly. In some cases the stress can cause them to become ill, and may actually lead to them taking more time off because of illness than if they had not initially returned so quickly. Respondents to the survey of HR professionals in 2014 overwhelmingly said that employees taking time out for compassionate reasons had no adverse effect on staff resourcing. In fact, the survey found that companies that did not offer paid compassionate leave were more likely to experience problems with staff resourcing.
That chimes with the findings of the National Council for Palliative Care’s research, in which a majority—56%—of people questioned said that they would consider leaving their job if their employer did not offer proper support in the event of a bereavement. However, the reality is that many people cannot afford to do that or, indeed, to take unpaid leave. Bereaved parents may face financial pressures in addition to having to cope with their grief. Most families suffer an immediate loss of income after the death of their child, owing to the cessation of benefits such as carer’s allowance, disability living allowance and child benefit. Families may also have got into debt if their child was in hospital or a hospice for a prolonged period.
I turn now to the details of how paid bereavement leave could be provided, because it is important that legislation takes account of the realities that bereaved parents face. Does the Minister agree that the legislation should allow bereaved parents as much flexibility as possible in when to take their paid bereavement leave and how it is taken? In some cases, for instance, it may take time to arrange a funeral because a post-mortem has to take place or family members have to travel long distances. Parents may also find that it is only after a certain time that the full impact of their child’s death hits them and they need to take time off. Will the Minister ask her colleagues at the Treasury to consider whether the entitlement to paid bereavement leave could be taken more flexibly than in one or two week blocks?
Around 60% of childhood deaths occur within the first year of life, and most babies who die very early in infancy will have spent most, if not all, of their lives in hospital. At the moment, if a baby dies while their mother or father is still receiving parental leave, that leave will continue until it would have concluded if their child had lived. However, a father may well have already used the entitlement to two weeks’ paternity leave, as well as their annual leave, even if their child dies within the first four weeks of life. If the baby has spent a long time in hospital before he or she dies, their mother may soon be due to return to work, or at least reaching the point where statutory maternity pay stops. Either parent in that situation may find it very difficult to obtain more time off work if their baby sadly dies after a prolonged hospital stay. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government support the right for bereaved parents to take statutory paid bereavement leave in addition to statutory paternity and maternity leave?
Finally, in this debate we have considered a statutory right to paid leave when someone is employed; however, parents who are self-employed or unemployed also need to make the necessary practical arrangements if a child dies, and to grieve. The Chancellor said in his March Budget that the most significant remaining difference in the entitlement to social security of the employed and self-employed was in relation to parental benefits, and that the Government would consult over the summer on options to address the disparities in that area. Can the Minister therefore tell us whether the Government believe—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this tragic issue, and I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) for securing this important debate and for his thoughtful remarks. I also thank the all-party parliamentary groups mentioned in this debate for their positive work.
I reassure all hon. Members that the Government remain committed to supporting the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on parental bereavement leave and pay, which comes on the heels of a similar Bill brought last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), to whom I shall return in my remarks. I met the two of them today to flesh out some of the details of the issue.
Unquestionably, the death of a child is traumatic and deeply upsetting for any parent. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that the loss of a child or baby is the worst form of bereavement that a human can suffer, a point reinforced by other Members in their contributions. It consigns most sufferers to a lifetime of grief, which, at best, if they are fortunate, they learn to live with over time. That was powerfully put by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) in a speech of great impact. I extend my heartfelt condolences to her and to all Members, and all observers of this debate, who have been personally affected by this terrible, life-changing event.
The Government expect employers to be sympathetic and flexible when employees request leave in such circumstances, but acknowledge that that is not always the case. I have been upset to hear from several hon. Members about the survey, and about individual instances of inhumane behaviour that I do not think that any amount of human resources training could begin to address. We recognise that without a statutory entitlement to time off following the death of a child, the situation will not rectify itself.
Our manifesto committed to ensuring that bereaved parents can take time away from work to grieve for a lost child. As I have mentioned, the Government remain fully committed to that. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester for the huge amount of work that he did during the last Parliament, which led directly to the making of that commitment in the Conservative party manifesto. I know that a similar commitment was made in the Labour party manifesto.
The particulars of the Bill are being carefully considered, so it would be premature to go into too much detail about the proposals, but I will of course bear in mind the detailed questions and suggestions from the shadow Minister and discuss them with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and with Treasury officials. Officials in my Department met interested stakeholders over the summer and had some fruitful discussions, which have helped to shape our thinking. I was heartened to hear that there is wide support for the Bill among employer and employee groups, charitable organisations and parents alike.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the importance of bereavement services. The quality of care that bereaved families receive can have long-lasting effects. The Government have invested £35 million to improve birthing environments from that perspective. The improvements include better bereavement rooms and quiet area spaces at 40 hospitals. There is, of course, more to do, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) amply demonstrated in his contribution.
I am mindful of time. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I only have five minutes left and a number of questions to answer.
The Government are supporting Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, to work with other baby loss charities and royal colleges to produce a national bereavement care pathway to reduce variation in the quality of bereavement care provided by the NHS. I noted the intervention by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) about the evolving needs of bereaved parents, some of whom will need to access bereavement services long-term. That point was reinforced by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. Sands is also working on a project for NHS England on the role of bereavement midwives.
The Department of Health has published “Health Building Note 09-02: Maternity care facilities”, a guideline on the design and planning of maternity care facilities in new healthcare buildings and the adaptation and extension of existing facilities. In line with the guidance, we expect new build or redesigned maternity units to include facilities for parents and families who suffer bereavement at any stage of pregnancy or in the immediate aftermath. The standard of neonatal care across Scotland, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire has rightly pointed out, is a matter for the Scottish Government, but I share his concerns and encourage him to take it up with Scottish Ministers.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on the work of children’s hospices and palliative care services in Scotland, which should be brought to the attention of Health Ministers in the UK and, if possible, of those working on the national bereavement guidelines.
The self-employed were mentioned. Those who are self-employed and bereaved face different challenges from people who are employed, but no less demanding ones. As Matthew Taylor argued in his review of employment and protections, the tax that people pay and the entitlements that they receive are linked, so it is right that we consider the wider arrangements for the self-employed in a holistic way that includes tax benefits and rights. The Government will come back to the Taylor review, including those matters, with a full response before the end of the year.
Since 2010, we have taken steps to equalise the state benefits provided to the employed and self-employed, including giving the self-employed access to the full rate of the new state pension for the first time, so there is a precedent. We agree with the principle of equalising benefits for the self-employed, but that should happen alongside reforms to taxation, which will need to be considered carefully over the longer term. The self-employed will need to be consulted as part of those deliberations.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the ACAS guidance document for employers, “Managing bereavement in the workplace—a good practice guide”, which was developed with the charity Cruse Bereavement Care for people who have lost a loved one. I hope that the valuable work done by so many hon. Members to raise awareness of this terrible issue will have an impact on employers, as well as on the health services and wider society.
Hon. Members raised the important point that some employers struggle to know the best way to support staff in these circumstances. We support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, which will put matters on a statutory footing, but there is a lot more that employers can do. It was disturbing to hear of the survey showing that only a third of people who suffered this terrible experience felt adequately supported by their employers.
The ACAS guidance highlights the important role that employers can play and their duty of care to employees, and includes specific advice about parents who lose a child. Most importantly, it helps employers understand how grief might affect their employees. It provides practical steps that employers can take when they are notified by their member of staff, in the immediate aftermath, and when the employee returns to work. The guidance has been well received by employers, and we will consider how we can continue to work with ACAS to promote it further and embed a cultural change in companies up and down the country, given the importance of the issue.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. It has come at a valuable time in our thinking.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).