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Commons Chamber

Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2017

House of Commons

Wednesday 25 October 2017

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Jobcentre Closures

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the proposed closures of jobcentres on local communities in Scotland. (901324)

Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some into neighbouring offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams, moving them into better buildings, or placing them into shared local authority space, all of which can lead to better customer service.

In Glasgow, unemployment has consistently been higher than the national average, child poverty is rising, and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years. How can Ministers justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people struggling to access the labour market?

I can confirm that Glasgow will continue to have a considerably higher concentration of jobcentres not only than the large cities in England but compared with most other large cities in Scotland. We have redesigned the estate to make sure that we can provide well for our client base, but from bigger jobcentres. There are a number of things we can do from larger jobcentres to help unemployed people that it is not so straightforward to do from smaller ones.

Bridgeton jobcentre in my constituency will close and people will have to take two buses to get to Shettleston. Will the Minister give a commitment that not a single one of my constituents will be sanctioned for being late because they could not get there on time because of his cuts?

We expect people who are not in work to have the working week effectively available for their job-search activities, including visiting the jobcentre and, of course, applying for jobs. As I think the hon. Lady already knows, the rate of sanctions is down significantly. The vast majority of people do not get sanctioned every month, and we run a policy of having a reasonable approach. If people have a good reason for not being at an appointment, they will not be sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the need for jobcentres is declining with the growth of online services, but in the constituency of Glasgow East, which has one of the highest claimant rates in Scotland, at around 35%, many do not have access to the internet and 51% are not IT literate; yet the Government are still closing three jobcentres, one of which serves three homeless shelters. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of closures on service users, many of whom rely on face-to-face interaction with jobcentre staff?

We did of course make an assessment of the effect of the changes. Where the changes would involve people having to travel more than 3 miles or 20 minutes by public transport, we had a public consultation. [Interruption.] In one case, we changed the plan in the light of the consultation, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) well knows. We think it is right to move to larger jobcentres in which we can do more. They are better equipped and have computers to ensure that that facility is there, and there are specialists in the jobcentre who can help people with the computers and get through the problems of digital exclusion that the hon. Lady mentions.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am afraid it is not very convincing or particularly reassuring. He knows full well that equality impact assessments have been conducted, as the Secretary of State for Scotland told me in response to my letter. The Secretary of State also said in his letter that if I wanted to access that equality information, I would have to make individual freedom of information requests for every single jobcentre. It is outrageous that the Government are covering up this vital information. They claim to value openness and transparency, but they refuse to publish information that should be freely available, no matter how much it shames them. I have in my hand an FOI request—

Order. I am sorry, but I need a single sentence and a question mark at the end of it. There is a lot of pressure on time. I apologise to the hon. Lady, but she is taking far too long. She must be very quick.

The key point is that an equality impact assessment is not just a document; it is an entire way of thinking and working and it runs throughout these processes. I can confirm that we have been absolutely compliant with our duties under the Equality Act 2010, as we should be.

Brexit: Further Devolution

2. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901325)

8. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901331)

10. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901333)

14. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901338)

We are in agreement with the devolved Administrations that common frameworks will be necessary in some areas but, as I have made it clear, we expect that there will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration.

We hear about this powers bonanza all the time, but the Prime Minister was unable to give us details on Monday, and it seems that the Secretary of State was unable to do so yesterday at the Scottish Affairs Committee. Let us give him another opportunity: can he name one power that will definitely come to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

We hear repeatedly from the Scottish National Benches about engagement with the Scottish Government, and this engagement will be with the Scottish Government. That is where the discussions are going on in relation to the transfer of powers. I am absolutely certain that, at the end of this process, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it does right now.

Among all the fluff of that answer, there was absolutely no substance. For a second time, may I ask the Secretary of State what new powers will be coming to Holyrood as a result of Brexit?

Order. Mr Linden, you are a most over-excitable individual. Calm yourself. I understand your interest, but the question has been put—[Interruption.] Order. There is no need for excessive gesticulation. Whether or not you like the answer, Mr Linden, you must pay the Secretary of State the respect of hearing it, preferably with courtesy.

This is all about grandstanding; it is not about the substantive issue of ensuring a transfer of very significant powers from the 111 powers that were listed to the Scottish Parliament. I believe in devolution. I am committed to devolution and I want to see the maximum number of powers transferred. The Scottish National party does not believe in devolution.

Can I, for the third time, ask the Secretary of State to name one power that is coming? If he is struggling for powers, may I suggest that he considers immigration, so that we can tackle things such as the skills immigration charge, which will be causing a skills shortage and damaging the economy in my constituency?

I can give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer on the last part of his question. Immigration is not being devolved to Scotland. The Smith commission process identified those areas of responsibility to be devolved, and immigration was not one of them. The Scottish National party accepted that report and, on the basis of that, we implemented it in the Scotland Act 2016.

I am disappointed that, after three questions, we still have not had an answer. On immigration, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State was disinclined to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Perhaps he will listen to Nobel laureate Joe Stiglizt who, over the weekend, said that Scotland should have the powers to go its own way in migration policy. He knows a bit more about this than we do, so is he right?

I seem to remember that Professor Joe Stiglizt supported independence for Scotland, but the people of Scotland knew a bit more than the professor and decided to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend has been crystal clear that Brexit offers opportunities and powers. The SNP talks down Scotland, and specifically Aberdeenshire, the city that has managed to recover from the oil downturn. Why cannot it recognise that the new powers and EU withdrawal offers opportunities to Scotland, specifically to Aberdeenshire?

I am disappointed that the SNP is here in Westminster adopting this sort of pantomime approach to the very important issue of powers rather than engaging in a constructive way. Fortunately, it appears that the Scottish Government are adopting a more responsible approach, which is why there are substantial discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments.

12. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the new inquiry on devolution and Brexit launched by the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs? As well as promoting discussion among the governments of the United Kingdom, we want to promote discussion among the parliamentarians in the four parliaments of the United Kingdom in order to resolve these very difficult issues. (901336)

I very much welcome the contribution to the debate of my hon. Friend’s Committee. Of course, it is very important that there is engagement across Parliaments, and I will be appearing before both the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament in the next couple of weeks.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as its trade with the EU. Does he find it confusing, as my constituents and I do, that the SNP is quite happy for us to stay in one single market, but advocate Scotland leaving the greatest single market right here on its doorstep—the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that some of the powers and responsibilities that come back from Brussels are subject to UK-wide frameworks so that we can continue to benefit from our internal market in the United Kingdom.

Leaving the EU will inherently make the Scottish Parliament more powerful as we take back control from Brussels. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP Government’s confused EU policy would simply see the new powers gained handed straight back to Brussels?

It is very important that the 500,000 yes supporters who voted to leave the European Union are absolutely clear that the SNP’s position is to take Scotland right back into the EU.

We all know that the Tories have a dubious record on devolution. After all, they opposed the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the first place. In stark contrast, the Labour party laid the foundations for the Scottish Parliament and will always act in its best interests. The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Parliament will get new powers eventually. Well, new powers require additional resources to deliver, so will he tell us how much more money the Scottish Parliament will obtain to fund these new powers? Will he also guarantee, unequivocally, that Brexit will not result in the Scottish Parliament’s budget being cut?

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of devolution. I have been in this Parliament to see through both the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016, which have seen a significant transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament. I am determined that Brexit will see a further transfer of powers and responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament. Of course, it will need to be done in an orderly way, which will be the purpose of clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We will work closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to ensure that that transfer of powers is orderly.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Scotland’s two Governments—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—should work together in co-operation to get the best Brexit deal for the people of Scotland?

The London School of Economics has said that a hard Tory Brexit will cost Scotland £30 billion, the Fraser of Allander Institute has said that 80,000 jobs could go and a former Department for Exiting the European Union official has said that Scotland will be get the hardest impact. The Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday that economic impact assessments are available for Scotland. Will he release them to the Scottish people so that they can examine them and know the full scale of this disastrous Tory Brexit?

It would not be Scotland questions if we did not hear from the doom-monger-in-chief. Let me be quite clear, as I was in my appearance before his Committee. Both Governments have carried out important analysis, which they will share and discuss, but this Government—as Parliament has approved—will not be publishing anything that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.

In evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, the Secretary of State suggested that a common framework should not be imposed on the devolved Administrations by the UK Government but should instead be the output of a collaborative process. Will he confirm that that is indeed the Government’s position?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s important question, which gets to the heart of the issue—in marked contrast to the pantomime stuff we had earlier. I can absolutely confirm that. A UK framework does not mean the UK imposes a framework; it means agreement is reached between the UK Government and the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Four times the Secretary of State has been asked to name a single power that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and four times he has declined to answer. I see little point in asking him a fifth time, but let me ask him this: when will the Government publish a schedule setting out which powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and which will not? [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) really should not walk across the line of sight.

I am grateful for the apology. It was unfair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard).

If the hon. Gentleman had not prefaced his question with those initial remarks, he would have asked a sensible question. I have set out that there is a dialogue ongoing with the Scottish Government in relation to the 111 powers. I set that out in much more detail at the Committee for which he was present yesterday, so I will not repeat what I said, but I am hopeful that, in early course, we will be able to publish exactly that sort of list.

The right hon. Gentleman’s refusal to name a single power, or even to set a timetable for saying when he will do so, can lead us to only one conclusion: that there are forces in his Government that do not want to see any powers devolved at all. How does that sit with his Department’s responsibility to protect the devolution settlement?

I have rarely heard such complete and utter nonsense. I will be judged by the Scotland Office’s record on devolution, and that means implementing the Calman commission in full, implementing the Scotland Act 2016 in full and taking forward the return of powers from Brussels, with a presumption of devolution. We will deliver, and the people of Scotland will see that we have.

Oil and Gas Industry

3. What steps the Government are taking to support the oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901326)

4. What steps the Government are taking to support the marine oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901327)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK, fisheries, and the oil and gas industry.

My right hon. Friend will know as well as I do the importance of the oil and gas industry in north-east Scotland. Considering the recent decision by the First Minister in Scotland to abolish the Energy Jobs Taskforce, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government remain fully committed to our North sea industries and will work with colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure the brightest future for the oil and gas industries in the north-east of Scotland?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I share his disappointment. Through challenging times, the broad shoulders of the UK Government have supported the oil and gas industry to the tune of £2.3 billion. We have invested in surveying the seabed, established a new independent regulator and invested in developing world-leading infrastructure, research and technology through the Aberdeen city deal. [Interruption.]

These are very important matters affecting the people of Scotland, and I think we ought to respect them by having some attention to our proceedings.

I welcome the announcement last month of the Scottish Business Taskforce. Would my right hon. Friend like to expand on what its role will be with the oil, gas and sub-sea industries, which are predominately based around my constituency?

I recognise that my hon. Friend, although a new Member, has become a champion of the oil, gas and sub-sea industries. I can confirm today that the Scottish Business Taskforce, which was announced last month, will meet for the first time on Friday. The taskforce will provide expert advice and guidance on how best to support our most important sectors—not least oil, gas and sub-sea—and strengthen Scotland’s economy. I will be announcing its membership later today.

It is difficult to see how we can support the oil and gas industry in Scotland when the Secretary of State refuses to release the assessment of the impact of Brexit on the Scottish economy. Will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Brexit was correct today at the Exiting the European Union Committee that that assessment has been shared with the Scottish Government? When will it be shared with the Scottish people?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not follow the Scottish Affairs Committee’s deliberations; he used to be a very prominent member of it. I made it very clear yesterday that there was a sharing of analysis, as is appropriate between Governments, but we will not be publishing anything that will be detrimental to our negotiations, and that is what the people of Scotland would want.

Given that, as we have heard, information has been shared with the Scottish Government, would it not be appropriate to make it public and perhaps to impress on the Scottish Government that they should also do that? The people of Scotland should see what the impact of Brexit is going to be in order to make a proper assessment of it.

We are regularly called on to respect the Scottish Government. I respect the Scottish Government and this Government respect the Scottish Government—that is why we are working with them on Brexit. But it would not be in the interests of Scotland or the United Kingdom to publish any information that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.

VAT

5. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on VAT exemptions. (901328)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK.

Will the Secretary of State have a word with his very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about VAT in Scotland to try to help clear up the mess created by the Scottish Government when they centralised police and fire services in Scotland, making them liable for VAT?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

Borderlands Growth Deal

Only last week I hosted a meeting with local MPs to review progress. I am pleased to report that we are driving forward the innovative, cross-border borderlands deal and hope to agree a deal next year that will see investment to transform the local economies within the borderlands area. [Interruption.]

I want to hear the question and I want the people of Dumfries and Galloway to have the chance of hearing it.

Hear, hear to that. Will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring that local communities have the opportunity to feed their thoughts into what the final deal will look like?

I am sure that the people of Dumfries and Galloway will be absolutely delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says. I was very pleased to receive a submission from all five local authorities involved in the borderlands growth deal. I hope that we can now move forward with local communities being able to include their ideas and contributions in this process.

There is a risk that the Secretary of State is prioritising the borderland deal over the Ayrshire growth deal. In a simple written question, I asked how many meetings he has had on the borderland initiative, with who, and on what dates. His answer was that he has had numerous meetings. Will he answer the question directly, or otherwise I will report him to the Procedure Committee again?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman displays an unpleasant SNP trait of seeking to create division within Scotland. I want to see all areas of Scotland benefit from growth. At least the people of Ayrshire know that in their new Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), they have a real champion of Ayrshire.

Brexit: Joint Ministerial Committee

7. What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (901330)

The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations provides a valuable forum for the UK Government and devolved Administrations to discuss exit issues. We held a very constructive meeting on 16 October and I hope to convene another meeting shortly.

It was agreed at the last JMCEU that common frameworks would be needed in certain areas. What update can the Secretary of State give the House on talks with Scottish Government Ministers on the establishment of common frameworks for progressing, and is he able to identify areas where the need for common frameworks is anticipated?

I gave very extensive evidence on this matter to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to access the transcript.

13. When the time comes for decisions to be taken about the fate of the 111 devolved powers coming back from Brussels, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those decisions will be taken by consensus at the JMC rather than unilaterally by the UK Government? (901337)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), he would know that the position is that although there is a UK framework, the framework is agreed between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Universal Credit Roll-out

9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on families in Scotland. (901332)

Families are benefiting from real, positive employment outcomes as people move into work faster and progress in work. Of course, and rightly, extra support is there for those who need it.

Almost 2,000 universal credit claimants in my constituency, along with thousands more across Scotland, are stuck in limbo after seeing the vote in this place to pause the roll-out but no action from the Government. What is the Secretary of State doing to reassure and represent those people?

We will continue with the roll-out in a very careful and staged way. It is happening over nine years, and we continue in very active dialogue with Members across the House and people outside it.

Welfare Powers Devolution

11. What progress he has made on the transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016. (901335)

We have made significant progress on the Scotland Act 2016 welfare powers. All DWP sections of the Act have been commenced, and we are working with the Scottish Government to support them in taking on these responsibilities, to ensure that the transition is safe and secure.

I am surprised to hear that only a small portion of the powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Government are being used, given the complaints that we hear from some Members in this House. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is yet another example of the Scottish National party griping rather than governing?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the people of Scotland agree that it is of concern that we have no clear plan from the Scottish Government for how they will use many of the powers. This Government are focused on delivering for the people of Scotland. It is time for the SNP to stop ducking its responsibilities and use its considerable powers to do so as well.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I am sure that all Members from across the House will want to join me in wishing all the home nations teams the very best of luck in the rugby league world cup, which starts this week.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Social care services in England are in crisis. Since 2010, the local council in Manchester has had its annual social care budget cut by £32 million. By March, the Government will have taken £6.3 billion out of social care. Why will the Prime Minister not match Labour’s commitment and invest £8 billion in social care in next month’s Budget?

As I have said in this House before, we recognise the pressure on social care as our population ages. I have said before that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term answers to this. In the short term, we have made extra funding available to local authorities. The announcement made in the last Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was for an extra £2 billion for local authorities. In the medium term, we need to make sure that best practice is observed across all local authorities and NHS trusts. Delayed discharges are higher in some cases than they are in others, and we need to make sure that best practice is followed. In the long term, we need a sustainable footing for our social care system. That is why we will, in due course, be publishing a full and open consultation on ideas and proposals to ensure that we can have a sustainable social care system in the future.

Q3. The Prime Minister will be aware of the vital role that supported housing plays for many vulnerable people in Torbay. What reassurances can she give me about the ongoing support that the Government will give to those vital services? (901386)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and this is something that we have been looking at very closely over the past year since my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) commissioned work on it in September last year, when he was Work and Pensions Secretary. I can confirm that we will be publishing our response to that consultation on Tuesday 31 October, and it will look at a wide range of issues. We need to ensure that the funding model is right so that all providers of supported housing can access funding effectively. We need to look at issues such as the recent significant increases in service charges, making sure that we are looking at cost control in the sector.

I can also say today that as part of our response to the review, we will not be applying the local housing allowance cap to supported housing; indeed, we will not be implementing it in the wider social rented sector. The full details will be made available when we publish our response to the consultation.

I join the Prime Minister in wishing the rugby league team all the very best in the competition. I hope they win it.

Last week, the House voted 299 to zero to pause the roll-out of universal credit. Will the Prime Minister respect the will of the House?

As I have said before, we acknowledge the fact that people have raised concerns with universal credit. That is why, as we have been rolling it out, we have been listening to those and changes have been made. Perhaps I could just update the House on where we are on the roll-out of universal credit. Currently, of people claiming benefits, 8% are on universal credit. By January of next year, that will rise to 10%. The roll-out is being conducted in three phases, and the intention is that it will be completed by 2022, so it is being done in a measured way, and I am pleased to say that four out of five people are satisfied or very satisfied with the service that they are receiving. Universal credit helps people into the workplace and it makes sure that work pays, and that is what the welfare system should do.

I would have thought that if only 8% of the roll-out has taken place and 20% of the people in receipt of it are dissatisfied with it, that is a cause for thought and maybe a pause in the whole process. Last week, only one Conservative MP had the courage of their convictions to vote with us on suspending the universal credit roll-out. Then a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly, Angela Burns, said:

“For the life of me I cannot understand why a 6 or 4 week gap is deemed acceptable.”

She called universal credit

“callous at best and downright cruel at worst”,

and concluded by saying she is “ashamed” of her Government. Can the Prime Minister ease her colleague’s shame by pausing and fixing universal credit?

As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman, we have been making changes to the implementation of UC as it has gone through the roll-out, but let us be very clear about why we introduced universal credit. It is because it is a system—[Interruption.]

Order. Members are getting rather over-excited. The question has been put, and the answer will be heard.

We introduced universal credit as a simpler, more straightforward system that ensures that work pays and helps people into the workplace. Let us look at what happened in the benefits system under Labour. Under Labour, the low-paid paid tax and then had it paid back to them in benefits. Under Labour, people were trapped in a life on benefits for years. Under Labour, the number of workless households doubled, and Labour’s benefit system cost households an extra £3,000 a year. What the Conservatives have done is given the low-paid a pay rise, given the workers a tax cut and ensured we have a benefit system that helps people into work.

Under Labour, 1 million children were lifted out of poverty. Under Labour, we introduced the principle of the national minimum wage—opposed by all Tories over there.

If the Prime Minister is not prepared to listen to Angela Burns, perhaps she could listen to the architect of universal credit, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who said:

“One of the reasons I resigned from Government was I didn’t actually agree with the additional waiting days. This is something the government needs to look at”.

Does the Prime Minister agree with him?

This is the answer that I have given not just three or four times in this PMQs but in previous PMQs: as we look at universal credit roll-out, we look at how we are introducing it. The right hon. Gentleman talks about what happened under Labour, and I am happy to talk about what happened under Labour—[Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise and finger pointing on both sides of the Chamber. The responses from the Prime Minister will be heard, as will the questions from the Leader of the Opposition and every other Member without fear or favour.

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about rolling out new benefit systems, but let us think about what happened when Labour rushed to introduce tax credits. I was not the only Member of Parliament who had people in my constituency surgery who had filled the forms in properly and given information to the authorities only for the Government to come back years later and land them with bills for thousands of pounds. That is what happens when you rush into a system rather than introducing it properly, as we are.

I thought that we had passed a threshold last week and that the Prime Minister was going to answer questions, but we obviously have not achieved that yet. Labour introduced working tax credits to help people on low pay out of poverty and it made a very big difference. The sad truth is that universal credit is in such a mess that councils are forced to pick up the Bill. Let me give an example. Croydon Council, which piloted the scheme, is now spending £3 million of its own budget to prevent tenants from being evicted due to rent arrears caused by universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think that it is right or fair that hard-pressed local authorities, having their budget cut by central Government, should have to dip into what little money they have left to prevent people from being evicted when they know full well that it is this Government and their system of universal credit that are causing the problem?

Labour introduced working tax credits and then clawed thousands of pounds back from people who were working hard. The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of rent arrears and I know that Members have concerns about people who are managing their budgets to pay their rent. For the vast majority of people on universal credit, managing their budgets is not an issue. After four months, the number of people on universal credit who are in arrears has fallen by a third, but we recognise the issue so we are working with landlords. We have built flexibility into the system so that landlords can be paid directly, and I want to be clear that nobody can be legally evicted from social housing because of short-term rent arrears. That is an important point for us to get across to people, but I come back to the essential point about universal credit: this is about a welfare system that helps people into work, makes work pay and does not trap people in a life on benefits for years.

I note that the Prime Minister could not say anything about people being evicted from the private rented sector because of universal credit problems. The costs in the benefit system are being driven by low pay and high rents. In 2015, the then Chancellor, her former friend, promised a £9 an hour living wage. However, in the March Budget it was sneaked out that the Government’s minimum wage would reach only £8.75. The welfare state was not created to subsidise low paying employers and overcharging landlords, so will the Budget in November put the onus back—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Hoare, I expect better of you. You were much better behaved when you were at Oxford University—what has happened to you, man? Calm yourself.

My question is this: will the Budget in November put the onus back on to employers to pay a decent wage so that workers can make ends meet?

Of course we want to ensure that there are higher-paid jobs in this country. That is precisely why we are investing in the economy for the future. It is precisely why we are investing in our infrastructure and investing in skills for young people, and it is why we are introducing a modern industrial strategy. The right hon. Gentleman says the welfare system was not created to subsidise employers who are paying low wages. That is exactly what Labour’s working tax credits system did.

The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission reported that low pay was endemic in the United Kingdom. One in four workers are permanently stuck in low-paid jobs. That is why Labour backed a real living wage of £10 per hour to make work pay. The Government do not really know whether they are coming or going. The Conservative party and the Government say they have full confidence in universal credit, but will not vote for it. They say they will end the NHS pay cap, but will not allocate any money to pay for it. The Communities Secretary backs £50 billion of borrowing for housing, but the Chancellor says it is not policy. The Brexit Secretary says they are planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Chancellor says they are not. Is it not the case that the Government are weak, incompetent, divided and unable to take a decision—[Interruption.]

Order. I said that the responses from the Prime Minister would be heard and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman will be heard. You can try to shout him down and other Members can try to shout the Prime Minister down. It will not work. End of.

Is it not the case that this Government are weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country?

Of course we want to see people earning higher wages. Of course we want, as we are doing, to be able to ensure we can invest in our public services. But the way to do that—the way to have a higher standard of living, to have higher wages, to invest in our public services, to have a better future for people in this country—is to build and continue to build that stronger economy. You do not build a stronger economy by losing control of public finances. You do not build a stronger economy by uncontrolled borrowing. You do not build a stronger economy by hitting people with the highest taxes in our peacetime history. You do not build a stronger economy by voting against progress in our Brexit negotiations. You do not build a stronger economy by planning for capital flight and a run on the pound. That is what Labour would do and we will never let it happen.

Q5. Some people in Plymouth are campaigning, by way of a petition, to say that lifeboats must be launched immediately when a fishing vessel is overdue. I believe this is irresponsible and puts our valiant lifeboat crews in peril if they do not know where they are going. We know this in Cornwall. Will the Prime Minister look at making safety grants available, so that all fishing boats can have an AIS, or automatic identification system, locator beacon on board? This would cost well under £4 million, even if every registered fishing vessel under 15 metres got a grant to cover the whole cost. My late husband had one aboard his boat. (901388)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. As she has just said, I know this is an area where she tragically has personal experience. I would like to commend her for the work she has done in this important area and for championing these causes. She is right: launching a lifeboat whenever a fishing vessel is overdue may be the wrong decision. It could, as she says, be dangerous for the crew involved. That is why the coastguard takes the time to gather valuable information before deciding how best to respond. On the issue she raises, a number of grants are available from various safety schemes. I encourage all those involved in fishing to make the most of the grants that are available.

What is absolutely key is ensuring we have controlled migration in this country. That is what the people of this country want and what the Government are delivering.

An American couple, the Felbers, moved to Scotland and invested £400,000 to run an award-winning guesthouse in Inverness. They contribute to their community and the local economy, yet they will be deported because of a retrospective change to Home Office rules. Will the Prime Minister meet me and their MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), to discuss this case and the systemic problems with UK migration?

There are no systemic problems with UK migration. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss the case he has raised, but it is absolutely right that the Home Office work to ensure that the immigration rules are properly applied and that action is taken according to those rules.

Q9. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have composed myself. I was greatly cheered last week, as I am sure were many colleagues in the House, to hear the German Chancellor say that a final deal on Brexit was going to happen. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my assessment that we will get a good deal that works for our country, for the EU and, possibly more importantly, for my constituents? (901392)

I agree with my hon. Friend. Our job is to get the best Brexit deal for Britain. I believe we can get it and that it will benefit all parts of the UK, including his constituents, and that we will maximise the benefits of leaving the UK while maintaining the greatest possible access to EU markets. That is what we are continuing to work on and the vision I set out in my Florence speech, and as we know, the EU is now preparing its response.

Q2. The Prime Minister has previously stated her commitment to apprenticeships. In my constituency, however, the apprenticeship levy has not been helping those for whom it was designed. What steps will she take to ensure that apprenticeships help those from lower-income backgrounds? (901385)

Apprenticeships are important. Under the Government from 2010 to 2015, we saw 2 million more apprenticeships created, and we are committed to a further 1.9 million being created. This is important. The important point about apprenticeships is that they are an opportunity for young people not to feel encouraged down an academic route when that does not work for them. When I meet apprentices, many say that it is the best thing they have done, and we want to make sure they are available for all those who could benefit from it.

Q12. Cherwell tops the leader board for new housing. Will the Prime Minister assure me that the right roads, school places, post boxes and especially healthcare provision will be in place to support both my new constituents and the ones I have at the moment? (901395)

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend and say how pleased I am that Cherwell District Council is doing what we want to do and what we recognise we need to do to tackle our dysfunctional housing market, which is to build more homes? She is right, however, that infrastructure is also an important part of that, which is why we have committed £15 billion for our road investment strategy, why over half a trillion pounds will be spent on the NHS during this Parliament, and why a record £41 billion will be spent on core funding for schools this year. That, I am pleased to say, is the record of Conservatives in government.

Q4. In 24 hours, the people of Dundee will wave off the bid for the 2023 European Capital of Culture. It is a fantastic bid that will generate 1,500 jobs and add 5% to local GDP. Will the Prime Minister, notwithstanding her current difficulties with Europe, back this bid, given that it comes from the most innovative and forward-looking city in the whole UK? (901387)

Of course we are always willing to back bids from any city in the United Kingdom to become the European city of culture. I welcome the fact that Dundee has put forward a bid and is part of the process, but, as I have said, we want to support all cities in the United Kingdom that are submitting bids.

It is a criminal offence for those, such as teachers, who are in a position of trust to have sexual relationships with young people under 18. However, a constituent came to me recently distressed about exactly such a relationship between his 17-year-old daughter and a middle-aged driving instructor. While—if consensual—that is not illegal, I am concerned about the possibility that young drivers might be at risk of being groomed by predatory instructors. Does the Prime Minister agree that driving instructors are, by the nature of their work, in a position of trust, and should be covered by the same rules as teachers? If so, will she ask the relevant Minister to work with me on the issue?

I am concerned to hear about the constituency case that my hon. Friend has raised. I recognise the position, and the role that driving instructors play. I will ask the appropriate Department to look into the matter, and to get in touch with my hon. Friend to obtain further details of that case.

Q6. In March 2017, the Prime Minister told the House that Parliament would be given a meaningful vote on the terms of the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill. This morning, in the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State told us that that vote might not take place until March 2019. Will the Prime Minister please explain how it is possible to have a meaningful vote on something that has already taken place? (901389)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in negotiations with the European Union. The timetable under the Lisbon treaty allows the negotiations to take place until March 2019, but, because it is in the interests of both sides, and it is not just this Parliament that wants to have a vote on the deal—there will be ratification by other Parliaments—I am confident that we will be able to achieve that agreement and that negotiation in time for Parliament to have the vote to which we committed ourselves.

We enter a week of commemorations of the centenary of the Balfour declaration. Will my right hon. Friend re-dedicate us to the pursuit of peace and justice for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but will she also celebrate with pride our small national contribution to the creation of a democracy in the middle east, a sanctuary for those who have suffered from anti-Semitism and fear its rise again, and, in the state of Israel, a true friend of the United Kingdom?

We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the state of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride. I am pleased about the good trade and other relationships that we have with Israel, which we are building on and enhancing. However, we must also be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour declaration.

We recognise that there is more work to be done. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, which is an important aim. I think it important for us all to recommit ourselves to ensuring that we can provide security, stability and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through such a lasting peace.

Q7. Trying to get a decision on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is becoming like groundhog day. Swansea is ready, and the investors are ready. May I ask the Prime Minister when she will be ready? (901390)

As the hon. Lady well knows, that raises a number of complex issues. We were grateful to Charles Hendry for his review. The relevant Department —the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—is still considering his report, and we will respond in due course.

Does the Prime Minister agree that as we leave the EU and take control of our land management policy, our manifesto commitment to plant 11 million trees is a critical part of the holistic countryside management framework that we can now build to ensure long-term home-grown wood for our housing industry, as well as increasing our natural carbon capture potential and reducing flood risks?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we did commit in our manifesto to plant 11 million trees. We are putting that at the heart of our work to protect the environment for future generations. I am pleased to say that since April 2015 we have planted just over 2 million trees, but we do have much more to do, and we will be continuing to work with landowners and stakeholders on this issue. My hon. Friend is also right that it is not just about the look of the countryside; it is also about the role that trees play in reducing flood risks and helping to hold carbon dioxide.

Q8. The Prime Minister has spoken on mental health, and I thank her for that. When she was Home Secretary, she outlawed police cells being used for those in mental health crisis. Today, however, parts of our mental health system are in crisis. In my North Durham constituency children, young people and families are waiting two years for autism assessments. The Secretary of State agrees that that is unacceptable. What is the Prime Minister going to do to turn her well-intentioned statements on mental health into action? (901391)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are taking a number of courses of action in relation to mental health, but he raises the specific issue of the autism diagnosis, and the length of time that takes in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has promised to look into this and will be doing so, because we are very clear that we want to ensure that adults and children should not have to face too long a wait for an autism diagnosis. The Department of Health is working with partners to help local areas address these issues where there are long waiting times for an autism diagnosis, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published clinical guidance which sets out that assessments should begin within three months of referral. Obviously it is for the Department of Health to be working with those local areas to make sure it is possible to achieve that.

Tomorrow at Cornwall Newquay airport the Bloodhound will carry out its first live test run in the next step on its quest to achieve the land speed record. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the whole Bloodhound team, especially driver Andy Green, a successful test run, and does she agree that such projects show that the UK continues to lead the world in innovation in science and engineering?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in wishing the Bloodhound team well; indeed, I have met some of the members of the team in the past. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s other point: this continues to show what a world leader in science and innovation the United Kingdom is. We have some of the world’s best universities, with four of them in the world’s top 10, and we have more Nobel prize winners than any country other than the United States. This is a record of which our country can be proud, and I am sure we will all be proud of the Bloodhound team and its achievements.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree that the potential downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary— 479 professionals lost, over 300 hospital beds cut, and a 90-minute journey to the nearest A&E—is not in the best interests of my constituents? Will she meet me to discuss the detrimental impact this will have on Colne Valley and the surrounding area? (901393)

The principle that we want to base all these decisions on is that service changes should be based on clear evidence and led by local clinicians who best understand the local healthcare needs. I understand that Calderdale and Kirklees Councils have referred the proposed changes to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, and I know he will be considering the issues very carefully, and will be coming to a decision in due course.

Next year is the centenary of the first woman Member of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what leadership and encouragement to the women and girls in his constituency to take part in public life the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) has shown in his remarks?

It is important that we mark this centenary next year, and recognise the role that women have played in this House and in public life. I want young women and women to be able to see this House as a place they actively want to come to—that they want to contribute to their society and respond to the needs of constituents and make a real difference to people’s lives. That is what I am in it for, that is why I have encouraged more women to come into this House, and I am pleased to say that we have more women on our Benches than ever before.

Finally, all of us in this House should have due care and attention for the way in which we refer to other people and should show women in public life the respect they deserve.

Q11. Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament voted by 91 votes to 28 to ban fracking in Scotland. May I ask the Prime Minister why she would not consider following Scotland’s lead and introduce a moratorium in the rest of the United Kingdom in order to carry out a full evaluation of the health and environmental consequences of this controversial technology, and in order for the public to be consulted? (901394)

This is an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I are simply going to disagree. I think that shale gas has the potential to power economic growth in this country and to support thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industries and in other sectors. It will provide a new domestic energy source. We have more than 50 years’ drilling experience in the UK, and one of the best records in the world for economic development while protecting our environment. The shale wealth fund is going to provide up to £1 billion of additional resources to local communities, and local councils are going to be able to retain 100% of the business rates they collect from shale gas developments. We will be bringing forward further proposals in relation to this during this Parliament. This is an important potential new source of energy, and it is right that we should use it and take the benefits from it for our economy, for jobs and for people’s futures.

I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the terrifying incident on Sunday in which a gunman held hostages at a bowling alley in my neighbouring constituency of Nuneaton, a facility that is enjoyed by my own constituents of North Warwickshire and Bedworth. Will she join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) in praising the excellent work of Warwickshire police and the West Midlands ambulance service in ensuring that the situation was brought to a swift conclusion without any casualties?

Of course we were all concerned to hear about that incident as it was taking place, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton in commending the professionalism and bravery of the Warwickshire police in bringing it to a swift conclusion and of the ambulance service in ensuring that there were no injuries. Our emergency services do an amazing job in protecting us; they do not know, when they put on their uniforms in the morning, whether they are going to be called out to exactly this sort of incident. I was pleased to welcome a number of our emergency services personnel to a reception in Downing Street on Monday. What they always say is that they are just doing their job, but my goodness me, what a job they do for us!

Q13. On 29 March, I asked the Prime Minister whether she would help the people of New Ferry after the huge explosion that had devastated the town centre. She said that she was be happy to help and that support would be offered to the community in the future. Two weeks later she called a general election, and her Government seem to have all but forgotten about the people in New Ferry. Well, she may have forgotten but my constituents have not, so I ask her again: precisely when will her Government put their hands in their pockets so that the people in New Ferry can rebuild their town and their lives? (901396)

The Government have not forgotten about this issue. I understand from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that we are waiting for the local council to produce proposals and a business case for those proposals, and we will of course look at those proposals seriously.

In acknowledging the hard work that the men and women of RAF Benson in my constituency did in the Caribbean, will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the Puma Mk 2 helicopter was ready and available for work in the Caribbean within a couple of hours of having arrived there?

I am very happy to commend the work of all those at RAF Benson and indeed all those in our military and the volunteers who were able to provide support after the devastating hurricanes that took place in the Caribbean. I am also happy to agree with my hon. Friend that, contrary to some of the stories that were being put about, we were there, we were there on time and we were able to act very quickly to give people that support.

Q14. We can all agree that no one should ever be persecuted on account of their sexuality. Last week at the PinkNews awards, the Prime Minister said that we had come a long way on LGBT+ rights, but there is still much more to do. May I ask her to start on that remaining work today by promising that the Home Office will never again deport LGBT+ asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to be persecuted with the instruction that they pretend to be straight? (901397)

This is an issue that we take seriously. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it was a Conservative Government who actually changed the rules on asylum seeking to introduce the category of those who could face persecution in their country of origin because of their sexuality. I am pleased that that was able to be done, and I am sure that the Home Office treats all these cases—I want it to treat all these cases—with the sensitivity that is appropriate.

As of 2016, 17% of premises in Scotland were without superfast broadband, compared with just 11% for the UK as a whole. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Scottish Government to do more and to engage constructively with Departments here in Westminster to deliver this crucial service to communities in Scotland?

Order. All sorts of very curious hand and finger gestures are being deployed, each trying to outdo the other in terms of eccentricity and, possibly, of prowess, but I am interested in hearing the Prime Minister’s reply.

I say to my hon. Friend that we all recognise the importance of broadband and of fast broadband being available to people in our constituencies. He is absolutely right—the Members of the Scottish National party come down here and spend a lot of time talking about powers for the Scottish Government, but actually it is time that the Scottish Government got on with using their powers for the benefit of the people in Scotland.

Q15. In the past fortnight, we have heard the announcement of the loss of many hundreds of jobs in Lancashire at BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury, which comes as a hammer blow to workers and their families. Today, I want to raise the proposed closure of the Alstom factory on Strand Road in Preston, which will mean the loss of another 180 jobs. We keep hearing hype about the so-called northern powerhouse, so why are aerospace companies and train manufacturers in the north shedding jobs by the hundred? (901398)

I recognise that this is a worrying time for the workers involved. We will obviously ensure through the Department for Work and Pensions that they have the support they need to look for new jobs, and that does include the rapid response service, which gives particular support to people in these areas. However, in relation to the decision by BAE Systems, for example, I can assure the House that we will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry, and I hope that all Labour Members will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry. I am very pleased that just last month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence signed a statement of intent with Qatar, committing it to the purchase of 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE. Last year, the Ministry of Defence spent £3.7 billion with BAE and is working with it to maximise export opportunities for Typhoons and Hawks in the future to ensure that we can retain jobs here in the United Kingdom.

When it comes to tackling homelessness, prevention is better than cure, so I am delighted that the Government backed my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. However, one of the obstacles for people who choose to rent is putting together the deposit and getting help with the rent. Will my right hon. Friend look at a scheme that would provide 32,000 people a year with the opportunity to rent for an investment of £3.1 million a year? Not only would it do that, but it would save the public purse up to £1.8 billion over a three-year period.

I thank my hon. Friend. He has long campaigned on homelessness and its prevention, and I am pleased that we were able to support his Homelessness Reduction Act, which will be an important contribution in this particular area. On his specific issue, he has made a pre-Budget representation to the Chancellor, who I am sure will be looking at it very carefully. On the more general issue of helping people to buy and helping them with deposits, I am of course pleased that we have been able to announce an extra £10 billion for our Help to Buy scheme, which does make a real difference to people and enables them to get into homes.

The workforce, the unions and the management at Bombardier in Belfast deserve enormous credit for the way in which they have responded to the threats to their jobs and livelihoods coming from the United States, and from Boeing in particular. Can the Prime Minister assure us that she will continue building on the good work that has already happened through herself, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and that she will continue to work with us, the unions and management to ensure that the threat of tariffs is removed, that the C series is a success story and that thousands of jobs in Belfast and across the United Kingdom are protected?

I am very happy to give that commitment. A lot of work has been done in relation to this issue by me, the Business Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers with our opposite numbers in America and Canada. We will certainly continue that work. Obviously, the most recent announcement in relation to Airbus and the C series is important. We want to ensure that those jobs stay in Northern Ireland, because we recognise the importance of those jobs to the economy of Northern Ireland and, obviously, also to the people and their families.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I refer you to the Committee of the whole House on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on 7 February 2017.

Yes, it was a Tuesday. Very well remembered.

The then Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), gave a commitment in this House that this House of Commons would have a vote on the arrangements for our withdrawal from the European Union before our exit. He said,

“we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 264.]

He went on to say:

“It will be a meaningful vote. As I have said, it will be the choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 273.]

This morning the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union that the vote, which the then Minister committed to happening before we leave, could actually happen after we leave the European Union. As such, that is in clear breach of the commitment given by his own Minister that

“it will be the choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not.”

Obviously we will not have that choice if we have already left the European Union by the time of a vote. It seems to me that this House, on behalf of the people we represent, cannot take back control unless we have that vote.

Mr Speaker, can you advise on what we, as a House of Commons, can do about the, at best, contradiction or, at worst, false impression given to the House during the debate on 7 February?

They were there, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) chunters from a half-sedentary position. We will come to him in a moment. I am saving him up; it would be a pity to waste him too early in our proceedings.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I was indeed present at the Committee this morning, and I heard exactly what the Secretary of State said and the questions that were put to him. I am sorry to have to say that the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) has misunderstood the situation. The question the Secretary of State had was whether or not he thought there would be an agreement before midnight on 29 March 2019 and he indicated that he thought it might be reached a nanosecond before midnight on that day. He was then asked whether that meant this House would not be able to vote on such an agreement until after 29 March, and he said that obviously it will not be able to vote on an agreement until after 29 March if there has not been an agreement until 29 March. That was the point he was making, and it was a perfectly sensible one.

I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing a bit of extra information to me, which, in one form or another, he has been doing for over 30 years. I am greatly obliged to him.

I do not think that at this point we need the intervention of the hon. Member for Wellingborough, and I will come to the former Europe Minister, but what I would say to the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) is that, put very simply, what he is seeking is an assurance that there will be a vote on a final deal before Brexit happens—if I understand him correctly, that is what he is asking. What I would say to him is that these are matters of political debate. He quoted a very clear commitment from several months ago. Different interpretations have been placed upon proceedings in a Committee this morning, but the hon. Gentleman, beyond advertising—I do not mean that in a pejorative sense—his considerable irritation with what he heard this morning, is presumably keen to ensure that he gets what he thinks he was promised. He is also, presumably, keen to get my advice on how to go about it, and the answer to that is: there will be a great many debates on European matters in this Chamber, not only in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but on many other occasions. I absolutely anticipate that the hon. Gentleman and others will be making the same points repeatedly. That also is not pejorative. As I often say, repetition is not an unknown or rare phenomenon in the House of Commons; people have a point and they tend to return to it again and again and again, almost, if you will, in the spirit of campaigning, and that is perfectly proper. So there will be lots of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman, here in Parliament and doubtless outside as well, to press his case with the intellect and eloquence he has brought to bear on our proceedings over the past seven years. I keenly anticipate his contributions from one side of the argument and those of the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Wellingborough, to name but two, on the other.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not actually the former Europe Minister, but I am grateful to you for calling me. I was at the evidence session this morning and I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said. He said that Parliament would not be likely to get a vote on the future arrangements with the European Union until after March 2019. That makes a material and significant difference to this House’s ability to have a meaningful input and a meaningful say on the content of those negotiations. So at the risk of repetition, following on from what my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) have said, I ask your advice on what this House can do to make sure it has a meaningful say and input on these most important of negotiations, rather than being used as an after-the-fact rubber stamp.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As somebody who was also in attendance at the Select Committee meeting—indeed, I was the person who asked the question of the Secretary of State—my understanding is that which has been reflected by my Labour colleagues. If the Government had changed their position on something of such constitutional significance, would it not be in order that that change should be brought before this House in a ministerial statement?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems that different members of the Committee heard different things from the Secretary of State this morning, so would it not be better to wait until the record of the meeting has been published, as then it will be clear what the Secretary of State did say? I did not hear what these Members have alleged they have heard.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know he always likes to be helpful to the Chair and to the House. He anticipates me, but he is right in doing so. There will be a transcript of the proceedings, and I rather imagine that, in conformity with the usual practice of the House and of our distinguished Committees, it will be published sooner rather than later. I know it will then be subject to the beady eyes of colleagues on both sides of the Chamber and on both sides, if I may put it that way, of the Brexit argument. They will read into it what they wish and pursue their cause as they choose.

What I would say to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) is that if there is a material change in Government policy or intended practice on a very significant matter, it is customary that there should be a statement to the House. It would not always be an oral statement, but it might very well be an oral statement. The House knows very well that there are means by which to secure the attendance in the Chamber of a Minister if such a statement is not proffered. The position of the Chair is that the Chair does not seek to take sides on this matter. The Chair simply seeks to facilitate the expression of opinion. I would add that in addition to all the other debates we might have on these matters, there will in due course be legislation returning to the House, and it is a matter of public record that very large numbers of amendments have been tabled to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. At the Committee stage, the Chairman of Ways and Means will make a proper and judicious selection, based upon advice but deploying his own judgment, and at Report stage that responsibility will fall to me. I think Members know that I always will the fullest possible debate on the widest range of issues pertinent to a Bill, and so both sides of the argument can always feel that they have a friend in the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you recall what you were doing six years ago today. I suggest you were recovering from a mammoth session in the Chair, following a Backbench Business Committee debate, in prime time, when 81 Conservative Members declined to accept the advice of their Whips and voted for a referendum on the European Union. How could we mark that event, sir? Does it not show that Backbench Business motions do have an effect on Government policy?

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is right on a matter of parliamentary history and precedent. I well recall that debate. It was a very significant debate, and I am going to vouchsafe to the hon. Gentleman something he probably did not know—he might not even want to know, but he is going to know. I regularly refer to that debate, together with the debate on Hillsborough and a number of others, as an example of a very significant debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee—it was significant not just because of the quality of the debate, but because it had an impact on public policy. These references are in speeches that I make at universities and in front of other forums around the country, most recently at the invitation of the Hansard Society. I do not suppose the hon. Gentleman is such a sad anorak that he wishes to attend to all of my speeches on these occasions, but I am giving him the highlight.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise another issue of public policy: the contaminated blood scandal. What with “Sky News” today running a story about what appears to be a 1987 Cabinet cover-up related to the contaminated blood scandal, and with the consultation for the public inquiry having ended last week, have you, Sir, had any indication of when the Government are going to come to the House to make a statement about when that public inquiry will be set up? They promised that it would be done in a speedy manner.

I have received no such indication, but if memory serves me correctly, the hon. Lady has raised this matter in the House many times, including on an urgent basis. I seem to recall that she did so at the tail end of the 2010-15 Parliament and has done so on several other occasions since. Like the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the hon. Lady is a most versatile, experienced and dextrous parliamentarian, and she knows the opportunities that are open to her. I have a hunch that she is going to try to take advantage of them.

If there are no further points of order, perhaps we can come to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) has been so patiently waiting.

Live Animal Exports (Prohibition)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the export of live farmed animals for slaughter or fattening; and for connected purposes.

The export of live farm animals can cause immense and unnecessary suffering to many of the animals involved. There is evidence that public concern on this issue dates back as far as the 1950s, and even further in the case of the export of horses. I am sure that many Members present will remember the mass protests that featured on our TV screens during the 1990s.

The objection to the live export of animals for slaughter is essentially twofold. First, some countries in Europe have far weaker animal welfare rules than we have. Secondly, there is a real risk that the rules on the transport and slaughter of animals that are supposed to apply throughout the European Union will not be enforced effectively once the animals leave our shores.

Figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency show that every year around 40,000 sheep are exported from Britain for slaughter on the continent. The long journeys are stressful for the animals, and in some cases they result in suffering caused by overcrowding, high summer temperatures and animals sustaining injuries en route.

Many of those 40,000 sheep are sent to France. Regular film reports by the organisation L214 have revealed inhumane and illegal slaughter practices in French slaughterhouses. In one shocking case, a slaughterman is seen stabbing a knife into the eye of a conscious sheep. A 2016 report by a French Assemblée Nationale committee of inquiry confirmed that there are serious welfare problems in French abattoirs. In my view, and in the view of many of my constituents, it is not acceptable for the UK to send animals to die in such horrendous conditions.

Around 20,000 calves were exported from Northern Ireland to Spain in 2016, and 3,000 were exported from Scotland to Spain. On the Scotland exports, the animals are first shipped to Northern Ireland and then taken by road to the Republic of Ireland, from where they are sent on a 20-hour sea journey to northern France. Finally, they are driven all the way through France to Spain.

Scientific research indicates that young calves are not well adapted to cope with such lengthy journeys. Their immune systems are not fully developed and their bodies’ capacity to control their internal temperature is limited, making them particularly susceptible to both heat and cold stress. Morbidity and mortality following transport can therefore be high. Once they are in Spain, it is entirely permissible for calves to be reared in barren conditions without bedding. Keeping animals in such conditions would be illegal in the United Kingdom, where we apply tougher rules than the EU minimum.

The Bill is drafted to cover all parts of the UK. Animal welfare is devolved, but exports are a trade issue and therefore a reserved matter. Although the Bill would cover and ban exports for either slaughter or fattening, it would not prohibit the export of animals for breeding. Because of their higher value, breeding animals are generally transported in better conditions, so their transport does not give rise to the same animal welfare concerns.

Because the Bill deals only with exports, it would not prevent the transport of animals from the Scottish islands to the mainland. It also includes an exception to allow the cross-border export of live animals from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland to continue. That is essentially a local trade and I have seen no evidence to indicate that journeys are excessively long. Nevertheless, the exception is framed to try to ensure that the Republic of Ireland could not be used as a back-door route for continued live exports from the UK to mainland Europe.

The fear has been expressed that were a ban to be introduced, there would be a risk of challenge under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, but WTO rules provide for certain clear exceptions to their general prohibition on trade restrictions, one of which covers public morals. The WTO appellate body has ruled that it is possible for animal welfare matters to fall within the public morals exception. For example, the United States ban on the import of cat and dog fur and the EU ban on seal fur remain in place, despite both being members of the WTO.

There are therefore good grounds to believe that the UK would be able to defend a WTO challenge, were one to be made, by showing that the export ban proposed in the Bill would be a proportionate response to the deeply held concerns of many members of the UK public, with strong opposition to live exports dating back around half a century. Indeed, only recently the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals delivered to the European Commission a petition with more than 1 million signatures, expressing grave concern about the suffering caused by the poor enforcement of rules on the long-distance transport of animals. Signatures came from many countries throughout Europe.

Over the years, there have been repeated calls for this harsh trade to be brought to an end—I first got involved in the issue some 18 years ago, when I was a Member of the European Parliament—but, so far, all attempts to ban it have failed. They have failed because a ban would contravene EU law. In 1992, the Conservative Government then in power sought to restrict live exports and refused licences to export sheep to Spain. Their decision was overturned by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it would breach EU rules on the free movement of goods.

Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, we have the opportunity to make the decision here, in this House, on whether to allow or prohibit the export of live animals. But that will be the case only if we leave the customs union and the single market. If we do not, we will remain subject to the restrictions that make a ban impossible today. That provides a further important reason to respect the result of the referendum and create a new partnership with our European neighbours, outside the customs union and the single market.

The case for a ban has been made clearly by a wide-ranging coalition of animal welfare organisations, including Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and World Horse Welfare. The Conservative manifesto states:

“As we leave the European Union, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.”

The Bill provides the Government with an opportunity to do exactly that.

We need to deal with not only the slaughter trade but the export of calves for fattening, which can also lead to serious and unnecessary suffering. Nor should we just “control” the trade; we should end it. Nor should we wait until the UK leaves the EU to take action; we should put a prohibition on live export on the statute book now, to come into effect on exit day, as soon as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. The time has come to end this inhumane, cruel and unnecessary trade, which has no legitimate part to play in modern farming. Exports should take place on the hook, not the hoof. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Theresa Villiers, Zac Goldsmith, Craig Mackinlay, Richard Graham, Henry Smith, Caroline Lucas, Angela Smith, Kelvin Hopkins, Sir Roger Gale and Kate Hoey present the Bill.

Theresa Villiers accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 117).

Opposition Day

[3rd Allotted Day]

Social Care

[Relevant documents: Eighth Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2016-17, Adult social care: a pre-Budget report, HC 47, Ninth Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2016-17, Adult social care, HC 1103.]

I beg to move,

That this House notes the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to a funding proposal for social care which would have no cap on care costs and would include the value of homes in the means test for care at home; further notes that this proposal would leave people with a maximum of only £100,000 of assets; calls on the Government to confirm its intention not to proceed with this commitment; and further calls on the Government to remove the threat to withdraw social care funding from, and stop fines on, local authorities for Delayed Transfers of Care and to commit to the extra funding needed to close the social care funding gap for 2017 and the remaining years of the 2017 Parliament.

After the debacle of the dementia tax, there has been continuing concern that the current and future issues about the funding of social care are not being addressed. The worries stirred up by the Conservative party during the general election will not be resolved without a better idea about what the future now holds for social care.

One place where people were expecting to hear some discussion on this was at the party conferences in September, but if we thought that we would hear about it in the conference speeches of the Secretaries of State responsible for social care, we were sadly let down.

At the Labour party conference, I talked about the crisis in social care and how it was failing those who need care and their families, failing unpaid family carers and failing hundreds of thousands of care workers. People needing care and their carers face the greatest impact. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, there are 400,000 fewer people receiving publicly funded care and, sadly, more than 1.2 million people now living with unmet care needs, many of whom are isolated and lonely.

My hon. Friend is raising a very important issue, which is leading to a lot of suffering among elderly people in particular. Will she make reference to the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, which, almost two decades ago, recommended free long-term care for all? That is where we should be.

I will talk about how the Labour party will take forward proposals on the future of social care. We wait to hear what the Government choose to do. My hon. Friend is right that there is a driving need now.

The number of people—1.2 million—living with unmet care needs will inevitably rise without an injection of new funding. A lack of publicly funded care means that the task of meeting care needs falls more heavily on unpaid family carers. Many carers have to give up work because of the demands of caring, which has a real impact on their finances and future career prospects. The case for listening to carers and giving them more support is overwhelming. We were expecting a new carers’ strategy this spring, or, at the latest, in the summer. Some 6,500 carers had taken the time over and above their caring responsibilities to respond to the Government’s consultation. However, the Care Minister told me that the responses will merely be taken forward into a new consultation on social care.

Katy Styles, a carer and a campaigner for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, contributed to that consultation and hoped that her voice would be heard, alongside 6,500 other carers. She told me:

“Not publishing the National Carers Strategy has made me extremely angry. It sends a message that carers’ lives are unimportant. It sends a message that Government thinks we can carry on as we are. It sends a message that my own time is of little worth.”

That is a shabby way to treat carers—the people who provide more than 50% of the care in this country.

The hon. Lady refers to unpaid carers. Labour’s motion references the Communities and Local Government Committee report on adult social care, which looked at the German system of social insurance. Under that system, payments are made to family members to remunerate them for that care. Has she read that report, and is it something that she is willing to look at in further detail on a cross-party basis?

I will come on later to discuss how we should proceed and whether we should proceed on a cross-party basis. The hon. Gentleman’s point about carers and family carers is important. The plain fact of the matter is that there was nothing for carers in his party’s manifesto. We had announced that we were going to lift carer’s allowance at least to the level of jobseeker’s allowance. That is the only improvement that was discussed during the general election. He should turn to his own Minister and his own party and ask them what they will do for carers.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s tone in this debate. It is very valuable. I know that she has taken an enormous interest in this subject, even when it has not fallen within her Front-Bench responsibilities. These debates are very helpful in educating people about difficult issues. I am happy to accept that we did not handle this issue well in the general election. The mistake that we made was not being clear about the current system, which is why her reference in the motion to our proposal without setting out the current system in which people can potentially lose all but £23,000 of their assets is disappointing. Such information would have helped to contribute to the public debate.

We will come on to that. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to get into the mess that his party made, the truth is that we legislated a number of years ago to lift the asset floor to £118,000. What his party did during the election was drop that to £100,000. At the weekend, we learned that there was an intention to make it only £50,000. He should be clear about what his Front-Bench colleagues were trying to do. Since then, all we have heard is a deafening silence.

We need to focus on the crisis in social care now. We on the Labour Benches have raised many times just how fragile the care sector is after years of swingeing budget cuts by the Government. A survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services reported that more than two thirds of councils had reported closures of care providers in the first five months of the financial year. Nearly half those councils had had homecare providers handing back contracts.

My hon. Friend refers again to local authority care homes. In my constituency, three superb local authority care homes were forcibly closed effectively by Government policy. They were loved by the residents. They had full-time, permanently employed trade union staff and were supported and applauded by the local healthcare professionals. They were all closed. Now we have only the private sector, which is in crisis.

It is very important that we bear in mind that the 1.45 million workforce in care will have been local government employees and will have enjoyed local government terms and conditions. We have talked many times about the fact that they are not now paid the minimum wage or travel time. They are very badly paid, with no pensions in prospect.

As my hon. Friend knows, in my constituency, which neighbours hers, we have a real problem in recruiting and retaining care workers, many of whom tell me that they can get better paid work in the local Asda than by doing the job that they love. Does she not agree that that is in part due to the fact that private providers, who would like to pay their staff more, cannot do so because of the insufficiency of the value of the contracts that they receive from the local authority?

That is absolutely the case. In fact, in a recent meeting with Unison, I was told that, in our area in Greater Manchester, one person could be paid more for putting toppings on to pizzas at Morrisons than for providing care—often to people with dementia or to those who really need that help.

The hon. Lady talks about a squeeze in funding. On that basis, does she agree that it would be right to ask those who do have the means to contribute more towards their social care in the home?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is one of the reasons why his party’s dementia tax policy failed so badly. Suddenly to bring hundreds of thousands of people into means-testing using their homes was one of the biggest flaws in the policy that the Conservative party floated.

I will now make a little bit of progress on the state of care, because the fragility of the care sector is a key issue. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) about closures in his area, but councils cannot even influence these closures much any more because home care providers are handing back contracts. Indeed, one in five councils in the ADASS survey reported closures in all three services: home care, residential care and nursing home services. There are also serious issues of care quality in many areas of the country.

The survey reported that 70% of the councils surveyed had experienced quality issues across all three types of care services. ADASS estimates that 28,000 people have been affected by care-quality issues or by a change of service due to contracts being handed back. We know that it is a big issue for a person with dementia to have a continual change in the care staff visiting them. Those arguing in favour of cuts need to think about those 28,000 lives affected negatively by cuts to local authority budgets. Worryingly, the Care Quality Commission now reports that almost a quarter of care services are not meeting standards on safety, and nearly a fifth of services require improvement overall.

I said earlier that budget cuts mean that more than 400,000 fewer people are now getting publicly funded care. Of course, councillors, council leaders and social workers have had to make difficult decisions about cutting budgets and cutting support to local people. It is of great credit to councils and council leaders that so many still continue to prioritise adult social care in their budget setting, but the overall position is one of cuts. There will be a real-terms loss of £6.3 billion to adult social care by the end of this financial year, and we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) about the level of cuts in the city of Manchester. The cuts have an impact on staff working in social care.

At last, the Government and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have acknowledged that care workers who sleep in, giving loving care to those badly in need of care, are entitled to the national minimum wage. But, as a consequence, a crisis confronts the sector. Mencap says that it is the

“final nail in the coffin for many providers”,

with jobs lost and the risk of bankruptcy for a number of people with personal care packages. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government who created this problem should solve this problem and not expect local authorities to pick up the bill?

I absolutely agree, and it was helpful of my hon. Friend to make that point. The sleep-ins issue has been a real cause of worry for many organisations over many months. It just goes to the heart of our assertion that people who work in care should be paid the minimum wage, including when they are working at night, which is what they are doing on sleep-ins. I have a constituent who looks after two households of people in adjoining properties, and she