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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

02 November 2017
Volume 630

    House of Commons

    Thursday 2 November 2017

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions

    Exiting the European Union

    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Citizens’ Rights

  • 1. What steps he is taking to maintain the rights of non-UK EU nationals resident in the UK in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. [901552]

  • 5. What steps he is taking to maintain the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after the UK has left the EU. [901557]

  • We have made a lot of progress through five rounds of constructive negotiations, and we are now within touching distance of an agreement on citizens’ rights. Providing swift reassurance and certainty to citizens as quickly as possible is a shared objective. With flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.

  • Universities UK and Universities Scotland have expressed concerns about accessing skilled labour after Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that the mutual recognition of professional qualifications should be a priority in the forthcoming negotiations?

  • I agree heartily with my hon. Friend. Of course, our science and research paper sets out the importance of continuing to meet the talent needs of our country. In the negotiations, we have set out a positive approach to the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and we would like to see broader definitions for the professions and individuals in scope.

  • Is our offer more generous than that of the other side?

  • My right hon. Friend is right to characterise it as such, particularly as regards the mutual recognition of professional qualifications but also in other areas, such as the voting rights that we would afford EU citizens in the UK. We would like those rights to be reciprocated for UK citizens across the EU.

  • At Edinburgh University, 25% of the senior academic staff are EU nationals. What is the Minister saying to institutions such as Edinburgh University, which needs those staff to be able to compete as one of the world’s leading universities?

  • I have met representatives of Edinburgh University and visited them to discuss exactly that issue. I recognise the benefit that the university receives from EU nationals working there; indeed, nationals of countries from across the world contribute to the university’s research. The university has welcomed what we set out in our science and research paper, and we will continue to work closely with the university sector to make sure that we can meet its needs.

  • EU nationals living in my constituency who are seeking permanent residency or settled status are being advised that currently there is no process and they will have to wait for a letter telling them to leave the country, which unsurprisingly causes a great deal of anxiety and distress. Is that the official advice? If not, what is the official advice?

  • The official advice is that the Home Office is clearly working on a process to ensure that settled status can be achieved as straightforwardly as possible. There is no need for anyone to apply for that status as yet, because it is very clear that EU nationals living in the UK have the right to be here under EU freedom of movement rules. What we are talking about is putting in place a process for when the legal order changes. As the Prime Minister says, we want them to stay, and we want to make that process as straightforward as possible.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that not only do EU citizens in this country need rapid reassurance of their status, but the very large number of British citizens living in a host of EU countries need the same reassurance? When does he expect to conclude this agreement?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is very important that we work through the detail of this agreement to show how it works on both sides, and that it can deliver both for EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. As I have said, the talks have been constructive and we believe that we are within touching distance of reaching a full agreement.

  • Last night, this House unanimously passed a binding motion requiring the Government to provide 58 sectoral impact assessments to the Brexit Select Committee. Non-EU UK nationals work in many of those 58 sectors, and you indicated, Mr Speaker, that it was not a motion that needed to be deliberated over for a long time. When will the papers be handed over?

  • The right hon. and learned Gentleman was present for the whole of yesterday’s debate. As he noted, I said that we would respond appropriately, and we will do so as soon as conceivable.

  • “As soon as conceivable”, I would hope, means by the end of the week, and certainly before this House goes into recess. I think that that was the period we were discussing last night. But the motion was clear: it is the impact assessments that must be provided—not redacted copies, but the assessments. The Government could have amended the motion, but they chose not to. Can it now be confirmed that the full copies will be handed over, and that it will then be for the Brexit Select Committee to decide to what extent, and in what form, the assessments are published?

  • I gently point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the first use of the word “redactions” in the debate came from him, on the Front Bench, speaking for the Opposition. We take very seriously the motion of Parliament, and we will be responding to it. The Secretary of State has already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union and will be discussing this matter with him further in due course.

  • Workers’ Rights

  • 2. What steps he is taking to maintain workers’ rights in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. [901554]

  • 13. What steps he is taking to maintain workers’ rights in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. [901565]

  • 19. What steps he is taking to maintain workers’ rights in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. [901571]

  • The Government have firmly committed to protecting workers’ rights and to extending those rights when that is the right choice for the United Kingdom. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that workers’ rights enjoyed under European Union law will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union. However, we do not need to be part of the European Union to have strong protection for workers. The UK already goes well beyond EU minimum standards in a large number of employment areas.

  • The Trade Union Act 2016 shows something different: the UK has some of the most restrictive trade union rights and freedoms in the western world, and even these could be compromised post-withdrawal. Will the Secretary of State give a cast-iron guarantee that my constituents in North West Durham will have as a minimum the same, if not more, workers’ rights when we have left the European Union?

  • Yes, I can give that guarantee. The hon. Lady’s constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, and it did that with open eyes. This assertion that our trade union rights and, more importantly, our employment law rights are somehow less good than in the rest of the European Union is simply untrue. My first meeting as Secretary of State was with the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress. The reason for that was that I knew her, because I had been co-operating with her on trade union law reform just a few months earlier. If the hon. Lady wants a single test of employment protection in the United Kingdom versus the European Union, she should look at the most fundamental right, which is the right to safety at work. We have one of the best records in the European Union for safety at work—much better than Germany, much better than Italy, much better than nearly all European countries.

  • I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he intends to extend workers’ rights when it is right to do so, but my great concern is that some in the Conservative party may see this as an opportunity to deregulate further the rights of our citizens at work. Will he look at doing away with employment tribunal fees, which prevent young workers, particularly women, from taking sexual harassment claims against their employers?

  • The first thing to say to the hon. Gentleman is that in the first three speeches I made after taking this job, I made it very clear that we were not going to use departure from the European Union as a way of reducing employment rights.

    In addition, independently of this process, the Prime Minister initiated the Matthew Taylor review. The point of that review was to report back on employment rights—security, pay, progression and training, as well as the balance of rights and responsibilities, representation, opportunities for under-represented groups, and new businesses models in the gig economy and such things. The Prime Minister actually intends to improve employment rights, not reduce them.

  • I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has said he wants to extend workers’ rights. With that in mind, will the Government look at the hard work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), whose private Member’s Bill sought to enshrine workers’ rights in UK law immediately?

  • The nature of the British constitution is that Parliament is always the last to decide—we cannot entrench anything in British law in perpetuity—so as a party and as a Government, we will be seeking to extend workers’ rights, and it will be in our control for us, as a Parliament representing our constituents, to do that.

  • The European Union charter of fundamental rights contains protections —for example, equality and children’s rights—not contained in the European convention on human rights. Will the Secretary of State give this House a commitment that these rights will be protected as we leave the EU?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have said all along from the beginning—in fact, from the White Paper that presented what was then the repeal Bill and is now the withdrawal Bill—that we believe that all the rights enjoyed under the charter are rights that come either from European Union law, the ECHR, British domestic law or EU law that we are going to carry forward. I said to the shadow Secretary of State when the White Paper was presented that if any rights had been missed we would seek to put them back, so that is what we will do. We will of course discuss this at great length during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. My undertaking to my hon. Friend is that we will protect all those rights.

  • I know from personal experience that my right hon. Friend takes workers’ rights extremely seriously. However, one right that British workers may not have is the right to go and work in the EU without a visa. The idea of associate citizenship has been raised by the President of the European Parliament and others. Will my right hon. Friend look at that seriously so that British workers—particularly younger British workers—have the opportunity to work in the European Union without a visa, certainly for a limited, if not for an extended, period?

  • It is nice to have a question from a co-conspirator from my freer days on this subject. Yes, we will look at these issues together. I have spoken briefly to Guy Verhofstadt about this, although not at great length, and I will be interested to hear from him what is being proposed. Of course we will listen to anything of this nature. The aim of this exercise is to be good for Europe and good for Britain, which means good for the citizens of Europe and Britain. That is what we intend to do.

  • Is this question not somewhat ironic, coming from the Labour party that voted against the withdrawal Bill on Second Reading—the very Bill that will protect workers’ rights? We do not need to be in the EU to protect workers’ rights; we pass legislation in this place to protect those rights, and will continue to do so.

  • My hon. Friend is of course exactly right. I remember that the last time he asked a question on this subject he reminded the House that it was the Conservative party that introduced the first employment protection legislation, way before the Labour party was created, and it will still be doing that way after the Labour party is gone.

  • I am sure we all take great comfort from the Secretary of State’s assurances about the Prime Minister’s change of mind. What he now attributes to the Prime Minister is very different from what she said about workers’ rights as Home Secretary. Given that there is no intention whatsoever to reduce workers’ rights as a result of our leaving the European Union, will the Secretary of State undertake to table a Government amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, so that the unprecedented powers given to Ministers in that Bill cannot by statute be used to reduce workers’ rights?

  • The point I have made time and again about the powers in that Bill it is that they are not intended to remove or reduce any law; they are intended to make all the laws practical, and that is what they will do. If we have not got it quite right, we will talk to everybody involved, in Committee and on Report, and ensure that we do get it right.

  • As well as the potential threat to workers’ rights, there is a much wider threat in the Bill with the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights from domestic legislation. Last week, the junior Minister was unable to give the Select Committee an example of anyone whose interests would be damaged by retaining that charter in domestic legislation. Will the Secretary of State tell us whose interests will be damaged if we just leave that charter in place?

  • I have made this point over and over again. The charter of fundamental rights is essentially a list of existing rights and does not, as far as we can see, generate any new ones. I have said that if the shadow Secretary of State can identify a right that will be lost, we will put it back.

  • Of all the people the Prime Minister could have chosen to fill yet another vacancy in her Brexit team, last week she settled on someone who has openly called for the scrapping of the working time directive, the temporary agency work directive, the pregnant workers directive and, in his words,

    “all the other barriers to actually employing people.”

    What signal does the Secretary of State think Lord Callanan’s recent appointment sends to workers across the country about how this Government will approach maintaining their rights at work?

  • The new Minister in my Department, the noble Lord, is a brilliant appointment, and he will deliver the Government’s policy incredibly well.

  • The public will rightly be suspicious about the commitments that the Secretary of State has given because they know that the sentiments that Lord Callanan expressed are widely shared on the Government Benches. There is an easy way to solve this: the Secretary of State could accept the amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that provide for enhanced protection for workers’ rights, not just transposition. Will he think about making a commitment to that principle today?

  • I am afraid I will take no lectures from somebody who voted against the entire Bill and therefore undermined the protection of all workers.

  • Support for Farmers

  • 3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. [901555]

  • 7. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. [901559]

  • 22. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. [901576]

  • We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for famer support until the end of the Parliament. As my hon. Friend knows, we continue to work with a range of stakeholders to provide stability for farmers.

  • I thank the Minister for that response—it is important, particularly for my constituents, that he is having those discussions with DEFRA. May I seek his assurance that farmers will be provided with confidence, so that they can plan their financial arrangements for the years to come, and for their future crop rotations and animal stocks?

  • In making our pledge to maintain the same cash funds to the end of the Parliament, which we expect to be in 2022, we are giving a greater level of security and certainty for farmers and landowners than anywhere else in the EU where funding is guaranteed only until 2020.

  • It is clear to me that Banbury cake should be enjoyed the world over. Will my hon. Friend give me an idea of the analysis of the opportunities for global trade in the food and farming industry post-Brexit?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend that Banbury cake should be enjoyed the world over. We continue to work with the Department for International Trade to identify opportunities for such sales.

  • I strongly support the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for an independent review of the convergence uplift for Scottish farmers. When might the Government be able to respond to this request? Can the Minister reassure farmers in my constituency that any future support system that is developed post-Brexit will reflect the challenging conditions faced by some farmers in Scotland?

  • My hon. Friend represents the interests of Scotland with characteristic attention to detail and force. We have received the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking into the issues raised and will respond in due course.

  • May I encourage the Minister to wake up early in the morning and listen to my favourite programme, “Farming Today”? Did he today hear farmers and experts saying that farmers are going to go bankrupt? Farmers, like those in other sectors, want to know what the prognosis is for the farming sector. Wake up and listen to the BBC’s “Farming Today” and do something decent for the people of this country!

  • The hon. Gentleman makes his point with his characteristic style. If I recall correctly, my first interview in the referendum campaign was for “Farming Today”, and I have always taken it very seriously.

  • No, I don’t think it was. I would have to go back and check for the hon. Gentleman. I do not always rise in time to listen to “Farming Today”, but we have given our guarantees, and I reiterate that we expect them to last until 2022—a better guarantee than anywhere else in the EU.

  • Sheep farming is integral to the landscape and economy of Cumbria and much of the rest of the country. Some 40% of lamb products are exported, 90% of which go to the European Union. World Trade Organisation rules state that the tariff for sheep products is 52%, so what can the Minister say to encourage and give confidence to our sheep farmers?

  • The hon. Gentleman knows that we wish to have a deep and special partnership with the European Union, including a free trade agreement of unprecedented scale. I very much hope and expect that we will be able to conclude tariff-free trade.

  • The Government are letting farmers down. They cannot even agree on what type of chicken we should allow to be imported after we leave the European Union: the International Trade Secretary says he is relaxed about lowering animal welfare and food standards, and the Environment Secretary has said the opposite. What is the Government’s position on the importation of chlorinated chicken?

  • In due course, when we have left the European Union and we are fully free to operate our own independent trade policy, I look forward to the debates in this House on all these matters.

  • Scotland

  • 4. What assessment he has made of the economic effect on Scotland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. [901556]

  • 17. What assessment he has made of the economic effect on Scotland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. [901569]

  • The Government are committed to the best possible deal for the whole United Kingdom, a deal that works for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England. We have been engaging with the Scottish Government and have been clear from the start that the devolved Administrations should be fully engaged in this process. The Government are undertaking a broader range of sectoral analysis covering the entirety of the UK economy, including Scotland.

  • A London School of Economics report concluded that Scotland faces losing £30 billion in the event of a hard Brexit. Will the Minister advise how that compares with the Government’s own Brexit impact assessment for Scotland, and when will it be published?

  • As we have said, the Government are undertaking a wide-ranging analysis covering the entirety of the UK economy, including Scotland. This will ensure that we take into account the individual circumstances of each part of the UK to inform our negotiating strategy. With regard to the content of that analysis, we have to reflect on the implications of yesterday’s motion and how best we meet the requirements set by the House for information to be passed on to the Select Committee, keeping in mind the fact that the documents they have requested do not exist in the form suggested in the motion.

  • Scotland—indeed, the UK—has a significant pharmaceutical industry. The Government repeatedly talk about the option of leaving the EU without a deal, but is the Minister aware that the WTO drug list was last updated in 2010, so any drugs developed since then would face tariffs?

  • The hon. Lady makes an important point. We have been engaging closely with the pharmaceuticals industry in Scotland and across the UK. Of course, she will have noted the joint letter from the Secretaries of State for Health and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy setting out our intention to establish close co-operation with the European authorities, and there is huge mutual benefit in continuing to do so.

  • My hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of the food and drink industry across Scotland, not least in my constituency in the north-east. What recent discussions has he had with the Scotland Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on ensuring the best deal for Scottish fishermen and seafood processing businesses in the UK as we leave the EU?

  • My hon. Friend raises an important point. I assure him that we have been meeting regularly with the Scotland Office and with DEFRA colleagues to discuss these issues, which have also been discussed in the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) in relation to important principles that were agreed about where shared frameworks might be required and where they will not.

  • Scotland is a significant beneficiary of the European Investment Bank. If Britain leaves the EIB after Brexit, will the Government replace it with a British investment bank, with equivalent resources?

  • As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the UK is a significant shareholder in the European Investment Bank, as well as a significant beneficiary of its lending. As the Chancellor set out in his Mansion House speech, we will look at the opportunities for co-operation in this area when we come to the talks on the future relationship, but the UK will of course take whatever steps are necessary in the event that there is no deal. That is not our central scenario; we are working towards a constructive deal for both sides.

  • Leaving the EU: Agreement

  • 6. If he will publish the assessments carried out by his Department on the potential effect on the UK of exiting the EU without an agreement. [901558]

  • A future partnership between the UK and the EU is in the interests of both sides and I am confident that we will secure a good deal. A responsible Government should prepare for all potential outcomes, and we are undertaking work across a range of scenarios. We will share as much information as possible, but we will not walk into this negotiation risking our negotiating position.

  • The Government are hiding the true facts about Brexit from the British people. Using this information, the Government are making contingency plans for a failure to make a trade deal, but how can businesses, public services and devolved Administrations make their plans if they do not have the same information?

  • The hon. Gentleman mentions “true facts”, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about what the sectoral analysis is. It is not a series of 50-plus quantitative forecasts and, even if it were, forecasts could not be said to represent true facts. We have made our position clear and we will continue as we have set out.

  • The EU’s refusal to discuss the future relationship is clearly founded on the belief, which no doubt the assessments will show to be mistaken, that it may thereby panic the United Kingdom into handing over large sums to avoid what the EU perceives to be the horrors of no agreement. Will the Secretary of State and his colleagues assure the EU that although the UK is clearly anxious to have a free trade agreement, it is also entirely happy to trade with the EU on a WTO basis?

  • I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question—he is of course an expert in these matters. I assure the House that President Tusk has said

    “we are all working actively on a deal,”

    and that Mr Barnier has said the EU wants to build an “ambitious, long-lasting partnership” with the United Kingdom. Of course we all want to deliver that partnership, but my right hon. Friend’s point is well made.

  • 18. The Government recently published a security, law enforcement and criminal justice negotiation paper without consulting the Scottish Government. What engagement did Ministers have with the Scottish legal profession before the paper was published? [901570]

  • The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has met with them, and I am sure that were he to be asked a question, he would give a fuller answer.

  • It was very wise of the Government to prepare dossiers on the impact of Brexit on sectors in the United Kingdom. I assume that the European Union has done something similar regarding what it is going to do when it loses £10 billion to £12 billion a year. Indeed, the German Government might have prepared a dossier about the impact on their car industry, and the French might have prepared one on their wine industry. Has the Minister received any representations from Opposition Members about pressing those Governments to publish their dossiers?

  • My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I feel sure that all sides in this negotiation are conducting their analyses of everyone’s negotiating capital. The electorate of all Members of this House will note who is asking for which negotiating position to be revealed, and what that says about their acceptance of the referendum result.

  • Horizon 2020/Erasmus Programme

  • 8. What steps he has taken to maintain UK access to the Horizon 2020 programme and the Erasmus+ programme after the UK leaves the EU. [901560]

  • As the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech, the Government would like to continue working with the EU on ways to promote the long-term economic development of our continent. That includes continuing to take part in specific programmes that are greatly to the UK’s and EU’s joint advantage, such as those promoting science, education and culture, and those promoting our mutual security. This will be a matter for the negotiations.

  • Why has the Secretary of State not engaged on the issue with more energy with the Commission? If access is not maintained, will there be a commitment to funding UK researchers as third-country participants?

  • We are engaged with great energy on this issue, but of course the structure of the talks means that this is for the future partnership. We have published a paper with regard to these issues setting out our intention and a very open offer to the EU to discuss these issues. We look forward to seeing its papers in response, but they have not been published yet.

  • The Minister does not seem to get it: the time for fudge is over. UK researchers are being excluded from Horizon 2020 projects now because the Government have failed to confirm our position after March 2019. UK students who are considering applications now for Erasmus programmes starting in 2018 do not know whether they will be able to continue for those programmes’ duration. The Government can sort this out. Ministers should stop sending conflicting signals about the transitional period and commit to both programmes for the duration of the multi-annual financial framework. Will they do that?

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his list of questions. The UK has already protected funding up to 2022. The research and development funding provided through EU programmes is additional to the protection of science resource funding announced at the autumn spending review. We will also underwrite successful bids to Erasmus+ that are submitted while the UK is still a member state, so the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is simply not right.

  • Children's Rights

  • 10. What steps he will take to maintain children's rights contained in the EU charter of fundamental fights in the event that that charter no longer applies in the UK once the UK leaves the EU. [901562]

  • I call Minister Walker.

  • I apologise for the delay, Mr Speaker; the question numbers have caught me out. With permission, I will answer Questions 10 and 17 together.

    Reaching a reciprocal agreement to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority—

  • Order. The Minister is in rather a pickle and I am sorry for him—I feel his pain—but there is no grouping of Questions 10 and 17. [Interruption.] As in American football, the hon. Gentleman can have a brief timeout.

  • Our commitment to children’s rights will remain unwavering after we have left the EU. The charter of fundamental rights did not create any new rights; instead it catalogued rights that already existed in EU law. These rights will be preserved by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and case law relating to them will be retained in UK law at the point we exit the EU.

  • It is clear that Ministers take children’s rights after Brexit very seriously.

    The Minister will know that EU mechanisms such as Europol and the European arrest warrant have played a significant role in protecting children from serious and complex cross-border crime. In negotiating future arrangements on crime and security, what assurances can he give the House that children’s interests and safeguarding will be paramount?

  • The hon. Lady makes a good point. I refer her to our future security paper, which makes clear our interest in co-operating on these matters. This House takes children’s rights extremely seriously and we will ensure that we establish the best approach to them in both the negotiations and our own domestic law.

  • Euro Clearing Market

  • 11. What representations he has received on the future of the euro clearing market. [901563]

  • Since the creation of our Department a year ago, my colleagues and I have engaged widely with the financial services industry and others with a stake in London’s euro clearing market. We have received representations from, and had meetings with, a wide variety of stakeholders, including UK Finance, TheCityUK, the Association of Foreign Banks and the Investment Association, and we will continue to do so.

  • Because of our current ability to access European markets, the London financial services sector processes transactions worth about £880 billion every day. For context, that is about 100 times our net annual contribution to the EU, and about 15 times the highest sum that has been spoken of as a potential financial settlement. Against that background, does not my hon. Friend agree—

  • Order. I am glad that the question mark is coming. Questions are terribly long-winded today; it really is very poor. Anyway—blurt it out, man!

  • Against that background, is it not imperative that we secure a deal on leaving the European Union that will protect access to European markets for our financial services?

  • My hon. Friend draws attention to the huge importance of the global financial centre in London to the whole of Europe. The Government are well aware of the importance of financial services market access. Our access brings benefits to businesses and customers across the UK and Europe, and we are determined to maintain the City’s competitiveness now and into the future. That is why we are working closely with the Treasury to ensure that we have the strongest possible offer on reciprocal market access in this space.

  • But it is not just that the euro clearing houses deal with transactions worth €1 trillion a day; it is also the fact that 100,000 jobs in the financial sector could be at risk if Brussels decides that, because of systemic risk, the clearing houses have to move within the EU. May I urge the Minister to take this seriously and to enter into negotiations to ensure that we protect this vital industry?

  • We absolutely do take this issue seriously. Neither the Council nor the European Parliament has yet reached a position on this proposal. Negotiations are ongoing, and the Council is still discussing the merits of location policy. The UK is very much involved in those discussions. As the hon. Lady knows, the Treasury leads on financial services, including ongoing business-as-usual EU negotiations, and this is an issue on which we continue to work with it very closely.

  • Of the 75,000 people that the Bank of England predicts could lose their jobs, what percentage might come from the euro clearing sector? Would the Minister support the call from the Bank of England for an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to protect derivatives?

  • The right hon. Gentleman refers to a figure that I understand the Bank of England discussed but did not produce. With regard to amendments to the repeal Bill, we look forward to debating all of them during its upcoming Committee stage.

  • UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement: European Parliament

  • 12. What assessment he has made of the powers available to the European Parliament to block a UK-EU withdrawal agreement. [901564]

  • Article 50 of the treaty on European Union stipulates that the final withdrawal agreement should be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is entitled to a straight yes or no vote. It does not have the power to amend the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU. As the Prime Minister has said, we are confident that we will be able to conclude the negotiations and agreement in time to honour the voting commitments made in our Parliament and in the European Parliament. We do not approach these negotiations expecting failure; we are expecting success.

  • Given that crazed Europhile MEPs such as Guy Verhofstadt are seeking to punish the United Kingdom for daring to vote to leave the European Union, and given that these same people are under the deluded impression that no deal would actually be worse for the UK than a bad deal, it seems likely that the European Parliament will seek to veto any such agreement. Should we not therefore redouble our efforts to prepare for a no-deal situation?

  • The last time I used the phrase “Get thee behind me, Satan” in answer to a question about Guy Verhofstadt, he thought that I was calling him Satan, so I will stay off that one. Of course the European Parliament is very enthused about the institutions of the European Union, but when it comes to this vote, the deal that we have agreed with the European Union will be clear, and MEPs will have to reflect on their responsibilities to their constituents in their own countries. What he and I have always agreed is that the best outcome for everybody is a free trade arrangement that will help not just us but Holland, France, Germany and all the other 27 member states.

  • The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), told the Select Committee that the deal would cover permission to communicate personal data between the UK and the EU, so if there is no deal, there will no longer be a lawful basis for the large part of the British economy that depends on European data communications. Should we not therefore take steps now to secure a data adequacy declaration from the European Commission and, in the light of that, may I commend to the Secretary of State amendment 151 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which I tabled?

  • It is always nice to get another preview of our upcoming consideration of the Bill.

    When I was talking to the relevant Commons and Lords Select Committees in the past week or so, I made it plain that a so-called no deal is not probable; a deal is by far and away the most probable thing for our country’s future. However, even no deal is not likely to mean a complete blank slate, and I have talked about what is called a basic deal. In any event, I would expect there to be a deal for data, aviation, nuclear trade and a whole series of other areas where there are massive amounts to lose on both sides. In our contingency planning exercises, we are looking at all options, including the one that the right hon. Gentleman outlines, and we will have plans for that, too.

  • Universities

  • 14. What representations his Department has received from UK universities on negotiation priorities for the UK leaving the EU. [901566]

  • As we leave the EU, the Government are committed to ensuring that Britain remains a global hub for education, science and research. Our future partnership paper on collaboration in science and innovation sets out our aim for an ambitious agreement with the EU that ensures that the valuable research links between us continue to grow.

  • The Prime Minister rightly established in her Lancaster House speech the Government’s priorities for science and technology, particularly as the fourth industrial revolution accelerates. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s plans for future collaboration with the EU in that area?

  • My hon. Friend, who is a champion in this House for the fourth industrial revolution, is absolutely right. The Government published a paper that set out that the UK will look to build on its unique relationship with the EU and establish an agreement on science and innovation to ensure that valuable research links between us continue to grow. That will deliver shared UK and European prosperity, and social, environmental and health benefits. The UK would like to work with the EU on designing the agreement and would welcome a full and open discussion about all options for continued collaboration.

  • The United Kingdom has a world-beating universities and research sector, and Newcastle University, which is in my constituency, and its world-leading research are an excellent example of that. The university has repeatedly emphasised to me that successful research and innovation depends on collaboration with people from all disciplines who come to the UK. What will the Minister do to ensure that that is possible and to reassure researchers who are here in the UK now that they will continue to be able to work?

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We have been clear that we do not see the referendum result as a vote for the UK to pull up the drawbridge. We will remain an open, tolerant country that recognises the valuable contribution that people coming to our country can make. We will welcome those with the skills, drive and experience to make our nation better still. Our science and research paper and our citizens’ rights paper set that out, and it is important that we continue to send that message.

  • Citizens’ Rights

  • 15. What progress has been made on the matter of citizens’ rights since withdrawal negotiations began with the EU. [901567]

  • We have made great progress through five rounds of constructive negotiations, and we are now within touching distance of an agreement on citizens’ rights. Right hon. and hon. Members can track the progress of the negotiations through the joint table published by the United Kingdom and the European Union. Over two thirds of the most recent table is green, signalling areas of significant convergence. That progress has been built on further in the latest round of negotiations, where we reached agreement on the majority of key issues, including a broad framework for residents, all aspects of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, the vast majority of social security co-ordination, protection for frontier workers, and a commitment to incorporate anything agreed in the withdrawal agreement fully in UK law to enable citizens to rely directly on the terms of that agreement in the UK courts. With flexibility and creativity on both sides, we are confident that we will be able to reach a final agreement shortly.

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for that extremely comprehensive response. EU citizens living in Colchester are an important part of our local community. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me and them that reaching an agreement on their rights before our departure from the EU will continue to be the utmost priority in our negotiations?

  • I reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents that protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority in these negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear repeatedly at the Dispatch Box, and again in her recent open letter to all EU citizens in the UK, we want people to stay and we want families to stay together. We continue to seek a reciprocal arrangement that will work in the interests of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU. As I said before, we are confident that with flexibility and creativity we will be able to conclude the discussions on citizens’ rights swiftly.

  • Will the Secretary of State outline the discussions he has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Secretary about EU citizens’ rights in relation to the visa system for seasonal workers, who are desperately needed to ensure that farmers’ crops are brought in at the right time of the year.

  • We have had a number of conversations about the labour market generally and about Northern Ireland in particular, because it is an important area with unique characteristics. We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to produce a report that will cover this issue. However, if the hon. Gentleman has specific issues he wants to raise with me directly, I would be very happy to hear from him.

  • 16. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and of EU citizens living in the UK of no deal being reached with the EU. [901568]

  • As I touched on earlier, reaching a reciprocal agreement to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU is our first priority for the negotiations. It is clear that it is a shared priority for both sides and that there is a lot of common ground between us. We are confident that we will reach a deal and we have held five rounds of constructive negotiations so far.

  • There are lots of words, but despite the Foreign Secretary telling EU nationals that their rights would be protected “whatever”, they remain unsure and their morale remains challenged. Why do the Government not just accept Labour’s suggestion of a unilateral recognition of EU citizens’ rights, which would transform the tone of the negotiations and be a giant step forward for this country and the people we serve?

  • I repeat from the Dispatch Box what the Prime Minister has said: we want them to stay and we want to protect those rights. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of the negotiation on citizens’ rights, he will see that it is about making sure that this works and making sure that people have their rights properly protected. He will see that we have reached agreement on a large number of areas and that on the remaining areas, the UK offer goes beyond that of the EU in many respects. What we want to do now is seal the deal and make sure that we end up with a deal that provides certainty to citizens both in the EU and in the UK.

  • Transitional Arrangements: Timetable

  • 20. What the timetable is for agreement on transitional arrangements for the UK leaving the EU. [901573]

  • We will build a bridge from our exit to our future partnership to allow business and people time to adjust, and to allow new systems to be put in place. It makes sense, therefore, for there to be only one set of changes. The Prime Minister’s Florence speech laid out our proposal for a strictly time-limited implementation period, based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations, to provide certainty to individuals and businesses. The European Council has set out the possibility of such a period in its guidelines. We intend to get the form of the implementation period agreed as early as possible.

  • The Chancellor has described the proposal for a transitional arrangement as a “wasting asset” for businesses: the arrangements will become less valuable the longer it takes to negotiate them, as they will cease to provide certainty about the future. Does the Secretary of State agree with that assessment? Will he therefore rule out lengthy negotiations over the terms of the transitional arrangements?

  • The hon. Lady makes a good point. There are three reasons for the implementation period. One is to give businesses a significant amount of time after the decisions are made, so that they can make their decisions on the basis of clarity and certainty. The second is to give the Government time to prepare changes in the regulatory structures, regulations, customs and all the other things we have to do. The third is to give foreign Governments time to make accommodations too, because we will depend on, for example, French customs arrangements. Those are the three reasons. The first is, as the Chancellor says, a wasting asset if it goes on for very long—not immediately, but if it goes on for very long.

    The European Council is, I think, on 13 or 14 December —anyway, it is in the middle of December. If it finds that there has been sufficient progress at that point, we will start straightaway and conclude as fast as we can. However, it is a negotiation and there are two sides to make the decision. The hon. Lady can take it as read that we will be as quick as we can on that to give as great an amount of certainty as early as possible to British business.

  • We are better informed as a result of the insistence of the right hon. Gentleman on including in his answer any consideration that might be thought, in any way at any time, to be in any degree material.

  • In the event of a no deal, why would the EU agree to a transitional period?

  • In the light of your comments, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman will have to ask the European Union that.

  • I call Stephen Kinnock. Not here—where is the feller?

  • Topical Questions

  • We are eagerly hoping to hear the hon. Lady’s question, but Question 1 will do for a start.

  • T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [901577]

  • I am glad it is not just me that makes those mistakes, Mr Speaker. I have been here a lot longer than the hon. Lady, so I have got less excuse. Since our last oral questions, the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence has provided a new dynamic for the EU negotiations. That was recognised at the EU’s October Council, where leaders confirmed the intention to begin their internal work on future partnership. We are ready for that discussion to begin as soon as they are. In the meantime, we are making good progress on a raft of separation issues—the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens’ rights—and I look forward to further hard work when I travel to Brussels to continue talks next week. As we do so, I will continue to engage with member states across Europe to talk about the deep and special partnership we seek to strike. To that end, I am meeting my counterparts from the Irish Government later today and others later next week.

  • I thank the Minister for showing that time does not always mean talent. I am hoping he can help answer a question that my constituents keep asking: how much is all of this going to cost us? Departments do not seem able to answer that, and I have been asking them. Some of them think they are not paying anything at all, whereas others think everybody else is paying. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it has received extra cash to pay for the impact of the Brexit negotiations; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says it does not know how much any of this is going to cost; the Department for Communities and Local Government says it is expecting the Treasury to pick up the tab; and the Ministry of Defence says it is not spending anything because it expects there to be a deal and so no funding is required. This is a bit of a mess, so can this Secretary of State commit to publishing, by Department, by year, details on how much money has been put aside for the cost of negotiations and whether that money is from the Department or from another budget?

  • Order. I know the hon. Lady is an academic doctor, but it is not necessary to treat Question Time as the occasion for the presentation of a thesis.

  • The hon. Lady demonstrated the second half of her original quip; speed of wit does not equate to speed of question. The simple answer to her question is that, as we have already said, the Treasury is putting aside £250 million for contingency planning this year and a total of £500 million overall. That money will be spent where it is necessary, and that will change depending on the progress of the negotiations.

  • T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that the regions, particularly the Black country, which I represent, need a voice in the negotiations, so that the voice of business in the Black country can be firmly put on the agenda in terms of the priorities of a growing manufacturing area seeing a great revival in employment and growth? [901578]

  • My hon. Friend is right to say that this is about all the regions and all the nations of the United Kingdom—not simply the Black country, although that is very important. I have already seen the London Mayor to talk about London and northern mayors to talk about the north, and I am about to see Andy Street. We will continue our ongoing discussions with the regions of the UK, both through local government and the businesses in these sectors.

  • T3. Earlier this week, Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said that a failure to be a part of Europol after Brexit will hinder our ability to investigate horrendous crimes such as people trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution. Obviously, the Secretary of State will recognise that organised crime does not respect national borders, so will he categorically assure the Scottish Police Federation and this House that co-operation through Europol will continue after Brexit? [901579]

  • We are at the beginning of a negotiation, as the hon. Gentleman knows. [Interruption.] I cannot hear his heckle from a sedentary position. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the whole issue of security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy will make up a second treaty which we intend to put to the European Union. Every member state I have spoken to has welcomed that, so I expect that we will be able to make the Scottish Police Federation very happy.

  • A superb event last night in this House celebrated the contribution of Lincolnshire’s great food sector. One question our fine producers asked was about their wish to have access to labour continue as free movement ends. Can the Secretary of State reassure those great businesses that he will continue to work with the Home Office to make sure that some version of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme continues as free movement ends?

  • This is similar to the question put to me earlier about Northern Ireland, and I will make a final point to add to the one I made earlier about the Migration Advisory Committee looking at this. Throughout the past year I have said time and again that taking back control of migration does not mean a sudden stop on migration or migration being managed in such a way that damages the economy. So my hon. Friend can take comfort from that.

  • T4. Given the House’s clear expression yesterday of its will that the sectoral analyses should be provided to the Select Committee, does the Secretary of State agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who said that the Government“must publish these papers to the Brexit Select Committee in full”?—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 922.]Or does he not trust the Select Committee? [901580]

  • I was not here yesterday; by the sounds of it I missed a good debate, and one that would have suited my character, but there we are. I have already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—he sends his apologies for not being present today; I think he has to be in Leeds—and I am organising discussions with him about how we handle the confidentiality of the documentation that we hand over. I reiterate the point made by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), which is that these documents are not some sort of grand plan; they are data about the regulations and markets of individual sectors, which inform our negotiation. Of course we will be as open as we can be with the Select Committee—I fully intend to be.

  • Has the Secretary of State been made aware of the evidence given by people from the aviation industry to the Transport Committee on Monday? They spoke positively about the future of their industry post-Brexit and were very satisfied with the Government’s approach. Talk of aircraft being grounded is nonsense.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Yes, we are aware of that important evidence. We will of course continue to work with the industry to ensure we have the best approach to future negotiations on this front, but it is reassuring to hear that confidence from the aviation industry, which is very important to the UK.

  • T5. Ministers have kindly committed today to coming back to the House with their response to last night’s vote “in due course”. We know that “shortly” meant four months. Will Ministers confirm what they mean by “in due course”, and if they do not know yet, when will they? [901581]

  • As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said moments ago, he has already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I spoke to him briefly last night. We are fully apprised of the will of the House and we will move as swiftly as possible in all the circumstances.

  • Bass has been fished in the Solent for centuries, and the exceptionally resilient fishermen of today are based in Warsash in my constituency. For decades, they have seen their livelihoods and freedoms eroded by EU regulations. Will the Minister explain to and reassure the fishermen in Warsash about the opportunities they will face once we have left the EU and taken back control of our fisheries policy?

  • As I have travelled during my duties, I have met a number of fishers who have been very keen to make sure that we take back control of our waters. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be seeking a fairer share of quota as we take control of our fisheries policy.

  • T6. Will the Secretary of State undertake to publish a list of all the regulatory and supervisory agencies that currently operate under the auspices of the European Union that he believes will need to be replicated by the United Kingdom on the day of Brexit? [901582]

  • That work is currently ongoing. Departments have set out that, together, they will expect to introduce between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments in order to carry forward the degree of certainty and continuity that we expect to deliver through the repeal Bill. In due course we will of course put all those instruments before the House.

  • The president of the European Free Trade Association court will visit London later this month. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take that opportunity to explore with him the potential that that court might offer a means of resolving potential legal disputes and other matters of resolution in a transitional future arrangement?

  • Actually, I have already met the president of the EFTA court. He has come to see me before and is a very—how can I say it?—enterprising individual who I think wants to get more business for his court. We will of course look at all options. I do not think the EFTA court is likely to be the one that we land with, but when we go through the whole question of arbitration mechanisms, which we will need to have, we will of course look at all options.

  • T7. What steps are Ministers taking in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU to protect environmental standards? [901583]

  • We take the UK’s commitments to environmental standards extremely seriously. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have promised to be the first ever to leave the environment in a better state than the previous generation, and that commitment applies across Government. We are looking forward to discussing environmental standards with the EU as part of the discussions on the future partnership.

  • While aiming for an open free-trade arrangement with the EU, is it not simply sensible planning to prepare also for a no-deal scenario?

  • Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is precisely what we are doing. As I said to a Labour Member earlier, we are planning for all options: the deal option; the bare bones, or basic deal; or the incredibly improbable no-deal option. We are prepared for all of them.

  • T8. Speaking on behalf of small businesses in my constituency, let me ask the Minister what plans his Department has to protect supply chain small and medium-sized enterprises when the UK leaves the EU. [901584]

  • Small businesses will of course benefit from the frictionless market access that we set out in our customs paper, and we look forward to discussing it further as we move on to conversations with the EU about our future relationship and a strong deal on market access for both goods and services.

  • There have been reports that senior current and former parliamentary figures have been engaged in private discussions with the EU’s chief negotiator and that some of those individuals are members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. In the interests of transparency, have transcripts of those meetings been made available, and does the Secretary of State regard such extra parliamentary activity as helpful or a hindrance to the UK’s national interest?

  • There are no such records. As for helpful or a hindrance, let us say that it adds to the gaiety of nations.

  • T9. The Secretary of State will be aware that a series of amendments have been tabled to the Bill to protect the place of Scotland and Wales in the constitutional settlement as it stands. Has he had any representations from the Scottish or Welsh Conservative leaders about areas in the Bill that need to be changed to protect the place of Scotland and Wales? [901585]

  • We are in constant discussion with the Conservatives in both Scotland and Wales over their future after Brexit, and they have been very active.

  • T10. Again today, the Government have completely failed to understand the urgent need for a transition agreement as soon as possible. Apart from being out of the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament, will the Secretary of State say which other EU institutions will not be included in a transition deal? [901586]

  • I can say two things. First, let me deal with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We are in a position in which the European Council will come to a conclusion in the middle of December—I think that it meets on 13 and 14 December. I have said at this Dispatch Box today, while she was listening, that we will undertake the negotiation as fast as possible thereafter. How much more urgent we can be, I do not know.

  • Will one of the Ministers give some early clarity over the issue of protected status for agricultural exports, including the 14 agricultural products in Wales worth more than £300 million?

  • I have answered questions on that issue in previous question sessions and I have been very clear that it is our intention to seek agreement with the European Union on mutual recognition of protected names of origin, and we will continue to work on its delivery with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as we enter the future partnership negotiations.

  • This week, the Committee of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill was told by many expert witnesses that the Bill was inadequate and the time insufficient to create an alternative structure for Euratom when we leave the EU. Given the risks, will the Secretary of State commit now to pushing for maintaining our membership of Euratom in the agreement?

  • The institutions of Euratom are tightly coupled with the institutions of the European Union. Therefore, we need to leave Euratom as we leave the EU.

  • That is not the advice.

  • That is the advice that we have had. We will look carefully at the advice of those experts and take what steps are appropriate to the Government.

  • The young people of the Glasgow youth council are applying for Erasmus plus funding. I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to give them all his best wishes on their application. They are applying as part of the Year of Young People 2018. How will he ensure that that generation is not the last generation to benefit from freedom of movement across Europe?

  • First, I wish them well, through the hon. Lady. Secondly, Erasmus is one of the institutions that we may stay a member of—if we can negotiate that—as we leave.

  • The west of England economy contributes £10 billion to the Treasury. Is it conceivable that, in due course, we will understand what the impact of leaving is on the west of England economy? Can the Secretary of State add the people of the west of England to his list of those he will meet to discuss the impact?

  • As somebody originally from Cornwall, I was pleased recently to visit the county during the course of our regional engagement. I hope and expect that we will continue that engagement as we seek ways to ensure that the opportunities of leaving the European Union are enjoyed by all parts of the United Kingdom.

  • The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales have not been able to answer this question in the past week, so I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Brexit can. Can he name one power that will definitely be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

  • As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a discussion is under way with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) led by the First Secretary of State. Agreement has been reached on principles where common frameworks will be required. I look forward to that discussion, agreeing a long list of powers, as we increase the competence of each of the devolved Administrations.

  • Far from creating a global Britain, the Government have created a Britain in which EU citizens are having to seek counselling, and 10% of them who worked in the NHS have left. Why will the Government not ring-fence this matter or issue a unilateral declaration to provide certainty for those EU citizens?

  • The Prime Minister has been very clear from this Dispatch Box that we want EU citizens to stay. We are negotiating to achieve certainty over the way in which that will work under the legal frameworks of the EU and the UK. It is very important that we do that and get that agreed as soon as possible.

  • The Government’s paper on foreign policy, defence and security after we leave the European Union suggests that there are many areas where we want to maintain a very strong relationship with the EU. The paper seems to suggest that we should have some kind of observer status at the relevant Council meetings afterwards. Would it not be bizarre for us not to have that if we are still engaged in things such as Operation Atalanta, Operation Althea and many other projects? Otherwise, the rules and the determination of how those projects should be progressed will be determined by people in a room that we are not able to access.

  • The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Indeed, I had dinner with the French Foreign Minister last week. Speaking to him, it was clear that member states see a very important role for Britain as a provider not just of military power, but of wisdom, skill, history, tradition and reputation.

  • Catalonia

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Catalonia.

  • The events of the past few weeks in Catalonia are a matter of public record. The Catalonian authorities held a referendum on independence on 1 October that was found by the Spanish courts to be illegal under the Spanish constitution. Holding it was, therefore, illegal and an attempt to undermine the rule of law. The Catalan Parliament then unilaterally declared independence on 27 October. Her Majesty’s Government do not and will not recognise this declaration of independence. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts and we continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish constitution respected and Spanish unity preserved.

    The situation in Catalonia is an internal matter for Spain and its people. The Spanish Government have set a date—21 December—for regional elections. This provides a path to return to the rule of law, which is an important principle that the UK strongly supports, and it is for all the people of Catalonia to have their say through democratic processes that are consistent with the Spanish constitution. I remind the House that Spain is a close ally and a good friend whose strength and unity matter to us. We consider it essential that the rule of law be upheld and the Spanish constitution respected.

  • I am asking the Government to act in two ways: to call on the parties in Catalonia to enter into talks and to offer their good offices to facilitate progress. No one can doubt that this is eventually a political matter, rather than a legal one. Getting both parties to talk is the way forward. In this situation, the UK Government have a responsibility and an opportunity.

    First, they must do all they can to ensure the safety and security of UK citizens living in Catalonia. Secondly, this is happening in our neighbourhood as we are a leading European power, and a member of the Council of Europe, the EU, NATO and the United Nations Security Council. Thirdly, uniquely, the UK Government have recent experience of an independence referendum carried out in Scotland, largely by agreement. We have some advice to offer. And, of course, the hard-won peace agreement in Northern Ireland rests partly on the opportunity there was for all to have their say in a referendum.

    In my debate on Catalonia on 10 October, the Minister replying said that no request for advice had been made by the Spanish Government, and none had been offered by the UK Government. I now ask that that offer be made.

  • I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view of how Britain should take an interest in the internal affairs of Spain. Talks for Spain are an internal matter. This is, indeed, a legal matter. We held an independence referendum, but it was within the law; in the case of Spain, it was not. In respect of UK citizens, I believe I am right in saying that we have had no reported consular problems, and I obviously hope that that remains the case.

  • May I just take up that point? Is it not a cause for celebration, first, that at least no violence has erupted of a significant nature in Spain? Secondly, is not the way in which we handle independence questions—whichever side we are on in relation to Scottish independence—a cause for satisfaction and an example to others?

  • Obviously, there were scenes on television of some acts of violence, and they are not the sort of things we want to see, but the fundamental point is whether this declaration of independence or the referendum were legal, and they were not.

    On the comparison between Scotland and Catalonia, no two situations are alike, and each needs to be considered in its own legal and constitutional context. What is clear is that, in this case, the vote and subsequent actions in the Catalan Parliament were neither legal nor constitutional.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this urgent question. I also thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing it. I was interested to hear his contribution, and I agree with some of the things he said.

    We are currently in a very dangerous position, where the future of Catalonia has been turned into a binary choice—a false choice, an impossible choice—between, on the one hand, a unilateral declaration of independence and, on the other, direct rule from Madrid. I do not believe that either choice offers a satisfactory solution to this crisis or that either choice is what the majority of Catalans or Spaniards actually want. I believe that the majority want to see peaceful, sensible dialogue between the parties to try and find a resolution. That is what the socialist party of Catalonia and the socialist party of Spain support, and we support our sister parties in that endeavour.

    But what we are currently seeing from the Government of Spain and the Government of Catalonia is as far from peaceful and sensible dialogue as it is possible to get. From Madrid, we see the use of officially sanctioned violence and intimidation by the police and scenes that are horrific to watch. That has been followed over the last month by equally heavy-handed political tactics. From Barcelona, we see a unilateral declaration of independence based on a referendum that had no constitutional basis in Spanish law and in which around 30% of Catalan residents were not permitted to take part and a further 40% chose not to take part.

    Neither of those approaches offers a sustainable way forward and neither is a fair or democratic way to proceed; my fear is that the longer we are stuck with this false, binary choice, the deeper and more entrenched the divisions will become and the harder it will be to negotiate a peaceful solution. So, as a matter of urgency, we call on both sides to take a step back, to ease the confrontational rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics, and to start listening to what the majority of people in Spain and Catalonia actually want, which is peace, dialogue and an end to division.

    What are the UK Government doing to promote that, or does Brexit suck so much life from our ability to have any influence in Europe that the honest answer is, “Not a lot”?

  • I agree with the second part, at least, of the right hon. Lady’s response—

  • As usual, not a lot. I agree that these things were illegal and against the rule of law. However, I disagree with how the right hon. Lady portrays this choice. This is not a binary choice in the way she describes; it is a binary choice between upholding the rule of law or not.

  • I perfectly understand my right hon. Friend’s reluctance to interfere in Spanish internal affairs and I respect the Foreign Office’s view that the referendum was illegal, although my constituents were disturbed to see Spanish police removing ballot boxes and people being prevented from voting. We do, however, have a strong legitimate interest in how Spain regards our sovereign citizens in Gibraltar. Will he confirm that Spain respects their wishes to remain British?

  • My hon. Friend draws a false parallel between Gibraltar and Catalonia. I repeat that we fully support Spain as it upholds the working of its constitution and will stand with it in opposing illegality wherever we see it.

  • A lot of fake news has come out of Catalonia, not least regarding the number of casualties, which was grossly inflated by the Catalan authorities. It was reported on the television that one woman had had every finger broken, one by one, by the police, but she later went on television herself to say that this was simply untrue—that none of her fingers had been broken. Will the Minister assure us that if in this country a councillor were to agree an illegal budget they would be pursued by the law, that being the law of this land, and that we will respect the law of other countries when it is pursued there?

  • I agree very strongly with the hon. Gentleman. Each country has its laws, and those laws, having been made by a sovereign Parliament—do not forget that Spain is a properly working democracy—should be upheld. We have been robust in saying so. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Rajoy, I have spoken several times to the Spanish ambassador in the UK, and we issued a very firm statement last week, when the declaration of independence was made, standing firmly with Spain as it upholds the workings of its constitution.

  • In the light of the situation in Catalonia, do the Government need to provide additional guidance not only to the tens of thousands of Brits living there but to the hundreds of thousands planning on holidaying there next year?

  • I would like to think that much of life can continue as normal and I would not want to dissuade anyone wanting to be a tourist in Spain from going there. In terms of demonstrations or violence, things have very much settled down—they were tightly focused in the first place—so I hope that people will look on Spain as a properly working country to which they want to go as tourists. In the same spirit, we welcome Spanish people coming here.

  • Will the Minister accept that the most fundamental of all principles is the right of the people to determine their own future? Does he not recall that the unilateral declarations of independence by the United States of America, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Slovenia were all illegal and unconstitutional, and that the actions of Gandhi, Mandela and many others were also illegal and unconstitutional? Does he agree that if the law makes it illegal to express an opinion, the law must be changed, not the people?

    How can the Minister say that Spain is upholding the rule of law when there is conclusive evidence of the Spanish state sending people into demonstrations to incite violence against the police and of excessive police brutality against unarmed citizens doing nothing other than attempting to express a view? How can it be the rule of law to threaten to arrest a blogger who blogs an opinion that the Prime Minister or the King do not agree with? Will he accept that if this had happened in other countries outside the EU the UK would already be making representations that it had to stop, because the UK takes pride in not allowing national borders to stand in the way of respect for fundamental human rights? Will the Government agree to put pressure on the EU to offer to act as a mediator so that the wishes of the people of Catalonia and of Spain can be resolved in a way that does not involve any further unlawful acts by the Spanish state?

  • By and large, in response to almost everything the hon. Gentleman said, the answer is no. I consider this an internal matter. It is not for other countries to instruct a country on how to perform within the proper workings of its constitution. Catalonia and Scotland are not exactly the same as countries horribly oppressed by the Soviet Union, and we should not draw parallels between quite different situations. As the Spanish courts have ruled, the vote was not held within the Spanish legal and constitutional framework. The Scottish referendum, on the other hand, was a legal referendum held following the signature of the Edinburgh agreement between the Scottish Government and the UK Government and was overseen by the Electoral Commission.

  • My right hon. Friend is aware that both Spain and this country are members of the Council of Europe and as such work with the Venice Commission, which has a code of practice on referendums. That code of practice is getting quite ancient: I think it was first drafted back in 2006. Does he agree that if a country is a member of the Council of Europe and subscribes to the Venice Commission, it is important that its referendums are held under the rule of law, and that that must be maintained and upheld?

  • The House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the benefit of her wisdom. Indeed, yes—if that is what the code of conduct says and it is clear, then countries should do things within the rule of law. In the case of the Catalonian referendum and the subsequent declaration, both were not.

  • Like the Bourbon kings, the Spanish authorities have

    “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

    Would it not be good, as a friend of Spain, if we, with the EU, were to suggest that the country holds a legally binding referendum on the future of Catalonia so that then everyone could be satisfied?

  • The Spanish are entitled to do whatever they choose to do within the workings of their constitution, but it is not for us to tell them exactly how to go about it—it is for them to work it out themselves as a functioning democracy.

  • May I welcome the measured approach that my right hon. Friend the Minister is taking? Could he perhaps tell me how Her Majesty’s Government would approach a situation in which a foreign power was advising us on how to run our own internal affairs?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I hope that his Committee might look in some respects at the comparative situations across the world. I am confident that if it were to do so, it would conclude things very much along the lines of what I have been saying to the House today.

  • If the UK Government do not get involved in the internal affairs of foreign countries, does that not render the work of a lot of ambassadors and a lot of the work of his Department useless from here on in? Why do the Government pick and choose what unilateral declarations of independence or rights of self-determination they recognise?

  • Because of the constitutions and the rule of law within which they work.

  • My constituents have sent me a number of emails about this, and I was visited in my constituency surgery by a Catalonian/Spanish constituent. Does the Minister agree that the policing style of the original poll was heavy-handed, and that the only way forward is through peaceful dialogue towards a resolution?

  • I am reluctant to speculate, but one interpretation that has been put on the violence is that the Catalonian police declined to take orders from central Government. I do not know whether that is true, and it is not for me to pass judgment on it. It is clear, however, that this was an illegal referendum that is therefore invalid and against the rule of law, so it counts for nothing.

  • There are lessons that could be learned from this situation. There are many reports that the economic impact on Catalonia will be catastrophic, with many businesses leaving the region as a result. Will the Minister have a chat with his Treasury colleagues and commission some work on the economic impact of this illegal referendum and what it will do to the Catalonian economy?

  • Again, it is not for us to deploy our resources to make such a calculation. Proper scrutiny of the economy of Catalonia will soon make the facts apparent one way or another.

  • The Minister is right to be careful about drawing parallels between Catalonia and Scotland, but there is one similarity. The now-dissolved Catalonian Parliament had a majority in favour of holding an independence referendum, just as Scotland did in 2011. The Scottish Parliament did not, under the British constitution, have the power to hold that referendum, but, to the UK Government’s credit, they agreed a process with Alex Salmond whereby a legal referendum could be held. All we are asking is for the Minister to use his good offices and his positive experience to suggest a similar approach to our Spanish allies.

  • That is entirely up to the Government of Spain. In the same way as this House is sovereign and agreed what to do with Scotland, it is up to the Parliament of Spain to decide how it wishes to proceed. It is not for us to tell Spain which course to take.

  • Does the Minister agree that notwithstanding the legality or otherwise of the referendum, there is an enormous duty on all parties to speak about reconciliation, peace and moving forward?

  • The best way to get reconciliation is for politicians in Catalonia to start by saying that they will act within the rule of law and the workings of the Spanish constitution. Then, perhaps, they would stand a greater chance of getting somewhere.

  • What we are witnessing in Catalonia is the return of tyranny to western Europe, and history will not look kindly on those who turn a blind eye to the actions of the Spanish Government. Should not the British Government now defend the values of peace and democracy, and unreservedly condemn the repression of the Catalan people, their political leaders and their democratic institutions?

  • I am afraid I consider the comments of the hon. Gentleman that Spain is returning to tyranny nonsensical, and somewhat ruder even than that.

  • As a Scot, the recent inexcusable violence—it is inexcusable, whatever prompted it—in Catalonia has brought home to me how important it was that the coalition Government enabled the legal referendum of which we have spoken and ensured that there was a proper democratic dialogue. Does the Minister not agree that perhaps he could speak to his Spanish counterpart, impart the wisdom of having taken that approach and counsel them that perhaps a reasonable and conciliatory approach might prevent more violence and further deterioration?

  • I have enjoyed, for much of the last year, imparting enormous wisdom to many counterparts across the world.

  • On this issue, the UK Government have more faces than Big Ben. During the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, they were quite happy for international Governments all over the world to comment on Scottish questions, so I think the idea that the UK Government are staying out of this is laughable. Will the UK Government follow the advice of the Scottish Government and at least allow people to recognise this and move towards some sort of legally binding referendum?

  • I did not quite hear the hon. Gentleman. Was he asking us to recognise the independence?

  • A legally binding referendum.

  • I think this is an internal matter for Spain. Now that they have taken over the government of Catalonia, the next steps can be determined by the Spanish themselves, not by us.

  • The Minister of State started by saying that Spain was a respected and good friend and ally. If any of our good friends and allies were to go around beating people in the street, we would step in and take action to stop them from doing so. Why will the Minister not do that for Spain?

  • I believe I have already commented on that. I think the hon. Lady has rather lost perspective in making that judgment.

  • The Minister and the Government like to hide behind Spain’s rule of law and its constitution. How would he respond to Alfred de Zayas, a UN expert, who has said that Spain is in breach of several articles—relating to human rights—of the international covenant on civil and political rights, which is itself enshrined in the Spanish constitution? The Spanish Government are flouting the rule of law and their own constitution.

  • We do not hide behind the rule of law. We undertake to abide by it, as should everybody in this House.

  • Business of the House

  • Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

  • The business for the week commencing 6 November will include:

    Monday 6 November—Debate on a motion on British membership of the European economic area followed by general debate on transport in the north. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Tuesday 7 November—Debate on a motion on temporary accommodation followed by general debate on matters to be considered before the forthcoming adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    The business for the week commencing 13 November will include:

    Monday 13 November—Proceedings on legislation relating to Northern Ireland.

    Tuesday 14 November—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

    Wednesday 15 November—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).

    Thursday 16 November—Debate on a motion on the roll-out of universal credit followed by general debate on defence aerospace industrial strategy. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 17 November—The House will not be sitting.

    I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 and 16 November will be:

    Monday 13 November—Debate on an e-petition relating to a referendum on Scottish independence.

    Thursday 16 November—General debate on world antibiotics awareness week followed by general debate on Department for Work and Pensions support for care leavers.

    This has been a difficult week for Parliament, but it has been even harder for those who have come forward to report their experiences of inappropriate behaviour, harassment or abuse. Their experiences are why we need to change. As I said on Monday, it is a right, not a privilege, to work in a safe and respectful environment. The Prime Minister has written to all party leaders, and I am pleased to say that they have all agreed to meet to discuss a common, transparent and independent grievance procedure.

    In the meantime, as the shadow Leader of the House will know, I have met representatives of all political parties, and I can tell the House that I am confident that all sides will want to resolve this together. A cross-party solution is the only solution, and I want to thank everyone I have met for showing commitment to such a proper solution. I have also had further meetings on these issues, including with the Clerk of the House, and a discussion with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I told the House that action would be taken in days, not weeks, and that is exactly what is happening.

    I want to remind the House that Parliament Week takes place across the country the week after the recess. Next Friday, we will kick-start those events, and I am looking forward to welcoming the Youth Parliament to this Chamber, as I know you are, Mr Speaker. At a time when Parliament is so critical to our future outside the EU, I am determined to get more people, especially young people, involved in what goes on in this place.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business up to 17 November, and I think most people know that the Budget is on 22 November.

    I note the Leader of the House’s statement on the sexual harassment allegations. There is a commitment on behalf of the Labour party to find a common process that will deal with these serious issues, but also retain the rights of MPs as employers of their own staff. In your email yesterday, Mr Speaker, you reminded people that there is a confidential, anonymous helpline—24/7—for all staff on the estate. It is run by an organisation that has nothing to do with political parties and nothing to do with the House authorities. It gives advice on a free, confidential basis, and it signposts people to other agencies.

    Any new process must put the complainants at the heart of it, which is why it is important for the House not to invent or impose a process—we cannot just take one out of our handbags and put it on the table—that does not have the confidence of complainants or is unable to deal with the issues that arise. In 2016, there were 163 calls, and I believe it is important to analyse the type of calls to see whether those who made them feel that their concerns have been addressed. There should perhaps be an anonymous survey on that, and I would extend that to a staff survey—a survey of every single person working in the House—so that we know what the issues are, and people do not feel that they have to stand back or not deal with them. I also suggest that we co-opt Bex Bailey, who has bravely spoken out this week. Mr Speaker, you asked the parties to publish their policies and processes, and I can confirm that the Labour party will be sending you our policies today.

    There will be a House process, a party process and, if necessary, MPs as employers can make the grievance procedure part of their contracts, so if we are to get to the bottom of this, I think we need to look at those three different routes. However, a change of culture will take longer, and that must be done by education and training. Every Member and every employee should go on an equality training course. For new MPs, that could be part of the induction process, and existing Members and staff should also undertake the training, which can be provided by outside organisations. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be additional resources for the House, and will she ensure, in particular, that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has the resources to support such education and training? We know what to do when there is a fire, and we should know what to do about other issues.

    In the anniversary of the week when 95 theses were hammered to the door of a church, the Government have finally hammered out the list of 58 sectors. The Labour party would settle for them giving the impact assessments to the Exiting the European Union Committee. That was set out in the motion, but it has not been done. A Select Committee cannot produce a report unless it has all the information before it. Members have a right on behalf of the whole country to have that information, and to make sense of and correct some of the misinformation that came out during the referendum. This is so serious—the sectors make up 88% of our economy. Despite the request, the Government only provided the sector list on 30 October—two days before our Opposition day debate—and again they have refused to vote either in favour or against the motion. They have not even enacted the motion.

    Last night the Minister said that Members of the Government are first and foremost parliamentarians, but they do not want to listen to Parliament. He said,

    “in the cool light of tomorrow, we will revisit exactly what was said in Hansard.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 930.]

    In the cool light of today, the Minister got up this morning and said, “in due course”. Will the Leader of the House please explain the time limit for “in due course”? It cannot possibly be the 12 weeks that she suggested for Backbench Business Committee debates or Opposition day debates.

    When I was a member of the Health Committee we heard in private powerful testimony from young people about their experiences of mental health services, and that was used to inform our report. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the CQC report on the review of children and young people’s mental health services? The CQC found that mental health care is funded, commissioned and provided by many different organisations that do not always work together in a joined-up way, and that the system as a whole is complex and fragmented. I hope that the Government will support the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) which will be debated tomorrow. It is on Seni’s law. Seni Lewis died in a mental health unit, and the Bill aims to prevent the disproportionate use of force against mental health patients. Young people should be provided with the appropriate professional care; it is not a matter for the police.

    Mental health was a topic of debate in the Youth Parliament last year, and as the Leader of the House said, Members of the Youth Parliament will be back on 10 November—it is hard to believe that it is their 18th year. I am sure they will be keen for us to vote for the Bill presented tomorrow by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on votes for 16-year-olds, as that was also on their list of debates. I will have to explain to them what a resolution of the House is. When is a resolution not a resolution? Is it binding or effective? Is there a resolution on the Humble Address? Is it a Back-Bench resolution or a resolution by the Opposition? I will have to explain that and I cannot—I am having difficulty doing that.

    Finally, we lost two of our colleagues, Candy Atherton and Frank Doran. I first met Frank in 1987 when he came to the House, and we send our love to Joan Ruddock who was also a Member of this House. Frank played a big part in the life of this House, and it is a shock to us all because they were both so young.

    Next weekend as we go to our Remembrance Day services, we should all remember people who died in 2017: Keith Palmer who died on the estate, the eight people who died on London Bridge, and the 22 brilliant and talented young people who died in the Manchester attack. We also, of course, stand with New York. We will remember them. We will remember them.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her considered remarks. We share her commitment always to remember those who were so brutally murdered and had their lives cut short by appalling acts of terrorism. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to those public sector emergency workers and volunteers who came out and risked their own lives and safety in protecting us. We are very grateful to them.

    I join in the hon. Lady’s commiserations to the friends and family of those ex-Labour MPs who have sadly died in recent days. We commemorate them and thank them for their service to this House.

    The hon. Lady talks about the need for a common process for us to resolve harassment, bullying and intimidation. I absolutely share her determination. She mentioned your letter, Mr Speaker, reminding all parliamentary passholders about the availability of a confidential helpline through which they can report their concerns. As the hon. Lady did, I urge all those with concerns to call the helpline. You have reminded colleagues of the phone number, Mr Speaker. I have included the number in my letter, which has been placed in the Library, written in response to a question last week about how many calls had been made to it. I urge all colleagues to use the helpline, or to speak to me or to my opposite numbers if they have particular concerns they would like to raise with us. I commend the hon. Lady for her suggestions. She will be aware that a number of people have talked about the need for better training, more induction, a better understanding of equalities and the need for the highest standards of behaviour in this place. I absolutely agree with her that that will be a part of the urgent review. It will be the case that more training will be provided in future.

    The hon. Lady asked about the Humble Address and the remarks made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. He has assured the House that he is already in discussions with the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee. It is accepted that the motion passed by the House yesterday is binding and that the information will be forthcoming. However, as I think has been made very clear, it is difficult to balance the conflicting obligation to protect the public interest through not disclosing information that could harm the national and public interest, while at the same time ensuring that the resolution of the House passed yesterday is adhered to. I will contact the Department for Exiting the European Union later today to understand the progress on that point.

    The hon. Lady raised the CQC report on mental health. I share her concern. It cannot be right that young people with mental health problems ever find themselves in police custody. The Government are taking steps to ensure that that cannot happen in future, but I commend her for raising the matter. It will certainly come under increasing Government scrutiny.

    The hon. Lady mentioned votes for 16-year-olds. I can provide the House with a little anecdote of a school in my constituency that had a lengthy debate, between 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, on votes for 16-year-olds. At the end of the debate, there was an overwhelming vote against lowering the age at which people can vote. The reason, which I thought was quite amusing, was that 16-year-olds tend to go along with their parents, while 18-year-olds know that they talk a load of rubbish and are a little more independent in their thinking! This discussion will continue to run. Personally, I am open to the suggestion of either lowering the age or keeping it where it is; I think there are arguments on both sides.

  • Order. May I gently remind colleagues who came into the Chamber after business questions had started that they should not be standing and should not expect to be called? People either get here on time and do take part, or don’t and can’t. That has always been the case. I think there has been a bit of latitude in recent times, but I have tried to indicate to colleagues that they ought to keep an eye on the time.

  • I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange a debate on car parks and their ownership, in particular at stations such as the London Underground station in Little Chalfont in my constituency, so that we can encourage car park owners to install charging points for electric vehicles. That would enable our commuters and others who use the car parks to take advantage of the new technology which is coming on stream so rapidly.

  • My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. Those of us on the Government Benches are determined to embrace new technology. We are committed to the greater use of electric vehicles to reduce pollution and deal with the problem of poor air quality. My right hon. Friend’s suggestion is a really useful contribution to that debate.

  • I call Barry Sheerman. [Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I have Members wittering away to me on either side, because what concerns them at that moment is more important than anything else. That is always the case, but it is my fault. I call Pete Wishart.

  • I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

    It is 50 years to the day since the stunning victory by Winnie Ewing in the Hamilton by-election—a result that transformed Scottish politics and has changed Scotland forever. The day that Winnie was elected, she said

    “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”,

    and we are closer than ever to achieving that ambition, thanks to the spark ignited by Winnie in that by-election.

    I congratulate the Leader of the House on the leadership she has shown on the sexual harassment issue. We will work with her to help craft and put together an independent grievance procedure, so that everybody in this House will have a safe place to raise complaints and report any issue. It is encouraging to see people now coming forward and firm and decisive action being taken, but does she agree that this is a real opportunity to effectively tackle the in-built patriarchal hierarchy of this institution and the unsavoury entitlement culture that still pervades these corridors of power?

    Last night’s shenanigans on the Opposition day motion were deeply unsatisfactory and brought shame upon this House once again. There is no doubt whatsoever that the vote is binding, and I am grateful to hear the Leader of the House confirm that today. What we need today is a clear and unambiguous statement from the Government that they accept in full what was decided last night, without qualification, and that they will, without any redaction, just hand the papers over to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. That is what is expected of the Government. If they do not do that, as you said, Mr Speaker, the Government will be in contempt of this House, and if that happens, we will bring proceedings to hold them to account on that very basis.

    Finally, last week there was yet another pitiful attempt to reform the unelectable circus that is the House of Lords. This was brought forward by the Lords themselves, which is a little bit like asking the vampire community to reform the local blood bank. Apparently, the ambition is to reduce their number to 600, making it the only third-largest, unaccountable, unelected Chamber in the world. When will the Leader of the House produce real and decisive plans to rid the nation of this unelected embarrassment?

  • I am always delighted by how the hon. Gentleman never holds back in speaking his mind, certainly on the subject of reform of the other place. He will be aware that the Burns Committee report recommends reducing the size of the House of Lords by a quarter and limiting terms to 15 years. Some of us in this place believe that the other place has a vital role in scrutinising and revising legislation, so we will of course consider the recommendations carefully, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords involving legislation is not a priority. However, we will make sure that the House of Lords continues to perform its constitutional role, which respects the primacy of the House of Commons.

    As for the hon. Gentleman’s other remarks, I assure him that all parts of the United Kingdom enormously love and respect Scotland as a part of the United Kingdom, for the contribution it makes, for the amazing innovation and skills, for the fabulous scenery and for the wonderful food. It is a fantastic part of the United Kingdom.

    I am personally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his constructive contribution to the discussion about how we take forward this very concerning issue of harassment in this place. He has been extremely proactive in offering support from the Scottish National party, for which I am extremely grateful.

    The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the vote of the House yesterday is binding on the Government. I encourage him to understand that, while this will be met, it is a case of balancing the public interest with the binding nature of the vote.

  • On Friday, a constituent came to see me to describe how his 20-year-old son has inherited an eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which will cause him to go blind and for which there is currently no cure. May we have debate on mental health support networks available for young adults who have been diagnosed with degenerative diseases, who require specialist support to overcome issues such as suicidal tendencies, which all too often accompany such an early diagnosis of such a terrible condition?

  • I am so sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent. It sounds like a truly awful case. All of us as constituency MPs hear of such tragic cases. I share his concerns about the mental health of young people who have to deal with those sorts of diagnosis and he is quite right to raise the subject. We know that people with such long-term conditions are at higher risk of mental illness such as depression, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on the matter.

  • I was tempted to try my Scots accent, Mr Speaker, but, thankfully for the House, I did not have to.

    I want to say something about our dialogue in the House on standards. People sometimes call this place the global village, but we are a community here, and I ask the Leader of the House to involve the media—the journalists here—because I know that some journalists and elements of the media do not treat women in the same way as they treat men, and I think the Press Gallery should be involved in this conversation.

    Also, may we have an early debate on the manufacturing sector, which is much neglected? Manufacturing and services are bound together, and there is great fear in the manufacturing sector that going out of Europe will be very damaging to its future.

  • First, it is absolutely the case that all aspects of those who work in, and have close contact with people in, this place should fall within the scope of our consideration of how we address issues of treating each other with respect, so I assure the hon. Gentleman that what he asks for will be the case.

    British manufacturing is doing superbly well; we are now the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the very real concerns of businesses about the future. The future is, in my view, very bright. There will be many opportunities, starting right after the recess, to discuss the opportunities of leaving the EU for our manufacturing sector.

  • One of the many issues on the Chase line is fare-dodging, for which the fine is only £20, which is hardly a deterrent. May we have a debate in Government time about tougher penalties for fare-dodging on trains?

  • I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in what happens on the Chase line, and has even, I understand, helped staff from time to time with ticket checking. I know she will find ways to raise this matter, and I encourage her to do so.

  • The Leader of the House has said that this House can expect a response to all Opposition motions that are carried, and confirmed in a written answer that that will apply retrospectively. Will she therefore confirm that we will have an oral statement in response to the Opposition motion on tuition fees, and can she give us any indication of when that will be?

  • I can confirm that there will be a response to the Opposition motion on tuition fees, and, as I set out in my statement last week, it will be made a maximum of 12 weeks from when the Opposition day debate took place.

  • I am currently researching coalfield communities such as my constituency of Mansfield and a strategy to rejuvenate their economies and infrastructure. These communities are among the most deprived in the country, and are characterised by low wages and lack of economic regeneration over decades. May we have a debate to share Members’ experiences of coalfield development and regeneration and share that best practice to inform this policy area?

  • My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituents, and I assure him that the Government recognise the importance of regeneration in coalfield communities, as in all areas of the UK. He indicates that there is some useful research, and I agree that it should be shared across all communities facing this same challenge of regeneration, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement, and for announcing the forthcoming Back-Bench business debates. Members across the House will welcome the fact that there is a general debate on Tuesday on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, in which any issue can be raised. I should also like to point out that the debate on Thursday 16 November on a motion on the roll-out of universal credit has been brought forward by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). It will deal with the Select Committee report on that issue.

    It was remiss of me not to mention last week that in the previous week there had been a heavily subscribed debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar. We had asked the Leader of the House for protected time for that debate, and it was given. Unfortunately, however, the time granted was three hours and the House rose early on that occasion. May I ask that, if that happens in future, an order be put down for a minimum of three hours, so that if there is any more time, the debate can continue? On that particular occasion, Members were restricted to two or three minutes by the end of the debate.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that feedback, and I will absolutely take it into account. I am certainly happy to hear any requests from him for protected time.

  • Like you, Mr Speaker, I am about to attend the memorial service for that great parliamentarian Tam Dalyell, which happens to coincide with the upcoming statement on Northern Ireland. If that statement does not include a definite announcement on when the Government will introduce legislation along the lines of the ten-minute rule Bill introduced yesterday by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) to protect service personnel who served during the troubles from legal persecution, may we have a statement at the earliest opportunity announcing exactly what the Government intend to do about this appalling persecution of our veterans?

  • Tam Dalyell was certainly a great man, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. He was a quite outstanding parliamentarian, and he was intelligent, doughty, indefatigable and utterly fearless. A lot of Members could learn from him.

  • Mr Speaker, I absolutely share your regard—and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—for Tam Dalyell. I think my right hon. Friend was referring to the statement that is to follow business questions, which will relate to Northern Ireland processes and procedures. It therefore might not cover the issue that he has mentioned. However, I want to set out clearly the high regard of the Government—and, indeed, the whole House—for the amazing work done by our armed forces in ensuring peace in Northern Ireland. We remain absolutely committed to that continuing. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will find ways to raise this issue directly, if not through the statement.

  • By the way, I would just mention to colleagues en passant that in my recollection—and it is quite a powerful one—Tam Dalyell was always here on time for any statement in relation to which he wished to pose a question. If he was not on time, he would not be so discourteous as to stand. I think my point is pretty blindingly obvious.

  • I would also like to pay tribute to Frank Doran, who was a very close friend of mine. He served diligently on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and many of the policies that the Government advanced at the time were largely due to pressure from him. I do not know whether the Leader of the House reads “Erskine May” every night as she goes to bed, but there were references yesterday to pages 819, 133 and 203 of that publication. Is it not time that we put “Erskine May” online so that the whole country can read all of it?

  • I am not sure what to say, Mr Speaker. I am hearing colleagues shouting that it is online, but I am not personally aware of whether it is or not. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that if it is not, it should be. I will certainly take steps to check, and if it is not online, it will be.

  • That was a wonderfully diplomatic reply, and I genuinely thank the Leader of the House for that.

  • Mr Speaker, I was one of those who was slightly late, and I apologise—

  • Order. [Interruption.] Too much information, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) observes. If the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) was late, I am grateful to him for his belated apology, but what he should not do is apologise and then just assume that he can take part. We will hear him another time; he can wait till next week. We are grateful to him.

  • As ISIS is rolled back in Syria and Iraq, it has been revealed that more than 850 British nationals have fought with that organisation, often against Her Majesty’s armed forces. I believe that some 400 have returned, but not one has been prosecuted. For the life of me, I do not know why these people are not put on trial for treason. What are Her Majesty’s Government going to do about that? May we have a statement?

  • My hon. Friend raises an important, urgent matter. He will be aware that the Government are worried about returning jihadist fighters and are absolutely committed to investigating each and every case and, where possible, preventing them from returning to this country. When they do return, we are clear that if it is not safe to allow them to be in society, the appropriate steps will be taken. The Government have shown a total commitment to keeping our country safe and to taking all the necessary steps to ensure that.

  • Will the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister involve the trade unions in any discussions about the abuse of staff and in any necessary decisions? Some of the trade unions do not have negotiating rights, yet many of our staff are union members, so they are entitled to a voice in all these discussions.

  • The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to take advice from and understand the views of several different parties on how we can best resolve the issue, including the trade unions and the Members’ and Peers’ Staff Association. Others are already coming forward with suggestions, which will be helpful as we seek quickly to find a proper way forward that takes into account views from right across all political parties.

  • I am pleased to have added my name as a sponsor of the ten-minute rule Bill soon to be introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about abolishing car parking charges at hospitals. While the Bill will provide an opportunity to highlight the issue, the subject causes great anger and resentment among my constituents—I am sure it is the same for other Members—so may we have a debate to allow a wider discussion of the matter?

  • I am fully aware of the difficulty of hospital car park charges and of the concerns that many constituents have about them. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek a debate on the topic. He will be aware of the challenges of reducing that source of revenue, but there is always a balance to be struck. It is right that we continue to debate the matter.

  • Will the Leader of the House schedule some time for a debate on the need-to-sell scheme in relation to High Speed 2? An analysis of applications in my constituency has shown an unusually high refusal rate. For example, where eight houses of a group of 10 have been sold, HS2 Ltd is for some inexplicable reason refusing to buy the last two, showing that it clearly has not learned the lessons from phase 1.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on standing up for her constituents, as I have had to do for my constituents and Mr Speaker has had to do for his. I have a great deal of sympathy with the issue that my hon. Friend raises. Many constituents face issues with HS2 Ltd, some of which are still to be resolved. I strongly urge her to consider an application for a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate to discuss the matter further.

  • The hon. Lady might find that her application is successful.

  • The number of birds of prey across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has risen astronomically to the detriment of songbirds. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does occasionally grant licences to cull birds of prey, but many country people and landowners who want to avail themselves of such licences in order to achieve a balance in the countryside find the process to be off-putting. Indeed, sometimes they cannot get a licence. There are too many birds of prey and too few songbirds and mammals, so will the Leader of the House grant a debate on that or call for a statement from DEFRA?

  • The hon. Gentleman shares with me a love of nature and wildlife, but we have seen a reduction in this country’s wildlife over many years. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said, it is vital that we take steps as we leave the EU to improve our biodiversity and the prevalence of songbirds and mammals. He is taking steps to ensure that that happens, and there will be further opportunities as we leave the EU.

  • Order. I did make a ruling that people who were late for business questions should not be standing.

  • Order. I have told the right hon. Gentleman what the situation is. If a Member is late, that Member should not be standing at business questions. I have the very highest respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I—[Interruption.] Order. I made a ruling that if Members are not on time—if they are late for business questions—they should not seek to be called. There will be other opportunities for Members to be called. We have a very heavy load of business and somebody has to judge whether the rule has been observed or not. Manifestly, in several cases it has not been. Most people who were late have accepted that they should not contribute today. They may contribute on other occasions or later in the day, but not at business questions. I cannot see what is complicated about it.

  • Mr Speaker, you are a strong supporter of the thousands of volunteers in our constituencies across the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Euna Russell from Elgin, who has been named Barnardo’s national volunteer of the year, in recognition of her 27 years’ tireless work at the Elgin store? We in Moray are all very proud of Euna’s achievements.

  • I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Euna on being named Barnardo’s national volunteer of the year. I understand that he met Euna last December when he volunteered in the Barnardo’s shop. It is incredible that at the age of 79, Euna is still dedicating 20 to 30 hours a week and rarely misses a day. I sincerely hope she enjoys the awards ceremony in London at the end of the month.

  • May I concur with the remarks you made about Tam Dalyell, Mr Speaker? He sent me a lovely gift when I won the election in 2015 of six boxes of parchment that he found while cleaning out his study. Little did he know that we just have to hit a button to print two copies on the computer these days.

    May I ask the Leader of the House about the taxation of airlines? I had cause to complain to British Airways about a flight that I was unable to take. I was told by the chief executive’s office that the taxation on the flight is not automatically refunded to the customer unless they make a complaint or ask for their money back. It therefore goes neither to the customer nor to the Treasury. May we have a debate on the taxation of airlines and how consumers can automatically be refunded the taxation that does not need to be paid to the Treasury because they have not travelled?

  • Personally, I have had a different experience, but it seems that the matter could easily be resolved with a parliamentary written question to the Department. However, I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that if a traveller does not travel, they should not be subject to the tax.

  • This morning, the Scottish Government published a paper that sets out a range of possible Scottish income tax rates. All the options, with the exception of the model proposed by the Scottish Conservatives, would mean that income tax would rise north of the border. Scotland is already the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, thanks to the policies introduced by the SNP Scottish Government. May we have a statement on the impact of having higher taxes in Scotland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom?

  • My hon. Friend is a tireless supporter of his constituents’ interests. As he is aware, the Scottish Government are now in control of income tax rates and retain about £12 billion of income tax revenue. It is a concern that the Scottish Chambers of Commerce has said that a higher tax rate would drive investment out of Scotland and that the Institute of Directors has said that the net long-term impact would be negative for the Scottish economy. Analysis shows that almost 400,000 Scots will pay £400 more in income tax than people working in other parts of the UK. I am sure that my hon. Friend will seek a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall on this very worrying subject.

  • The conflict in Yemen has been going on for more than two years. Many medical staff there have not been paid for more than a year because of the country’s financial situation, and they are struggling to treat people who are dying of cholera every day. May we have a debate in Government time on the situation in Yemen?

  • I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation in Yemen, which is creating terrible hardship for innocent people there. I also share her interest in it being further debated, and I would encourage her to seek a debate, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee, if other Members would like to cover that subject.

  • Although it is reassuring that various reviews are taking place, may we have a debate on the size and scope of Parliament’s human resources function? Does the Leader of the House agree that any review should carefully consider the HR, hiring and staff grievance processes of other legislatures around the world, as we can perhaps learn from them?

  • My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. As we consider how we can improve value for money for taxpayers while using best HR practice from around the world, we will of course look at other legislatures. Especially with regard to resolving the question of how to keep people safe at work, it will be essential that we look at what is done elsewhere.

  • On standards, I am deeply concerned about the bullying culture within Parliament, an issue that was actually dismissed by Mr Speaker when I previously raised it with him, terming it to be a “women’s issue”—it clearly is not. It is absolutely vital that we use this opportunity to address bullying and to bring forward mandatory training for everyone in this House.

  • I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady and will happily work with any colleagues from across the House on making sure that we seize this opportunity to put things right. We must ensure that nobody is left out of the process—it should include all political parties, those with no political party, and all those who work in this place and come here to help us on temporary work placements, as interns and so on—so that we get this right once and for all.

  • May we have a debate on amending the process for registering births when a father passes away before the birth of a child? A constituent of mine who has a newborn baby is still coming to terms with the unexpected loss of her partner. Although the case is uncontentious, the whole family is distressed by the process, which involves DNA tests and applications to the court to seek recognition of the deceased father. Does not the Leader of the House think that the process for recognising the deceased father should be simplified, because not everyone can afford the bureaucratic, costly and traumatic process that currently exists?

  • I am sorry to hear about the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent—that is an absolute tragedy, and I am sure that everyone in the House would want to pass on our great sympathy.

    The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I urge him to raise it at the next Health questions because I am sure that Ministers will be interested in looking at ways of improving and streamlining the process.

  • My constituent, Mr McDonald, is a Falklands veteran who has stayed in the UK for 55 years. He has also served in the Territorial Army. His dad, born in Greenock, was a captain in the Navy, but because Mr McDonald was born in South Africa, he does not have a birth certificate and he has not been able to get one. With no birth certificate, he is not deemed worthy of a passport. As he says, it is hurtful that the Government do not think he is worthy of a passport. What steps can they take to rectify this?

  • As he often does in the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman raises a very concerning issue about a specific constituent. I obviously do not know the particular circumstances of this case, but it sounds very concerning, so I encourage him to take it up directly with Home Office Ministers, perhaps at oral questions, so that they can see what can be done.

  • The Leader of the House will not know that I wrote to North West Ambulance Service in August to point out that when Rochdale infirmary’s accident and emergency unit was closed, a commitment was given that there would be paramedic cover on ambulances taking my constituents to other hospitals. I am yet to receive a reply, so may we have a debate on the ambulance service in the north-west? It is not good enough, and nor are its officers up to speed with the need to be accountable.

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue. We all have challenges with and concerns about the way in which services are delivered in our constituencies. This is exactly the right way to raise them, so I commend him for doing so. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that that particular situation can be closely examined, with a Minister present to respond.

  • Following on from the Government’s response to the Opposition motion on tuition fees, as well as the Leader of the House’s earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt), that motion was about revoking regulations, but the Leader of the House said at the time that it would not be honoured because it fell outside the 40-day limit for statutory instruments to be annulled. Will she confirm that the Government will respect any annulment motion passed by the House within the 40-day limit?

  • The Opposition day debate on tuition fees was outside the 40-day period for praying against a statutory instrument. In a future scenario, were a statutory instrument to prayed against during the 40-day period, the Government would follow parliamentary Standing Orders and procedures, and ensure that the matter was addressed in the normal way.

  • May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the management and funding of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Does the Leader of the House agree that it is unacceptable for staff to be made compulsorily redundant while there are unfilled vacancies and the use of agency workers in the commission is widespread? Does she agree that the Government should step in to deal with this emerging crisis?

  • I was not aware of the situation that the hon. Gentleman highlights, but I absolutely agree that it is unacceptable to have under-utilised places and then to require agency staff to be brought in, potentially at greater expense to the taxpayer. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up directly with Ministers, who I am sure will be keen to hear from him.

  • Last Thursday, the Prime Minister told a journalist from the Eastern Daily Press that the Department of Health would no longer be the sponsoring body for the contaminated blood inquiry. We have not had a statement to the House—oral or written—to confirm that change, so is there anything that the Government would like to tell us this morning?

  • I again commend the hon. Lady for her work on this tragic issue. Many people have suffered as a result of the contaminated blood tragedy. I will look into this on her behalf, but I do not currently have the answer to her specific question.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her response to my question last week. My constituency case was followed up very swiftly by the Treasury.

    I was particularly distressed this week to hear the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) inform the House that a Whips Office had not reported sexual abuse, but used the information to coerce Members. That appears to be particularly depraved on many levels. Will the Government reassure us about, or make a statement on, the protocols that apply to all Members of the House, no matter what their seniority or the importance of their role? Only then will culture change truly be possible.

  • As the Prime Minister has said, when there is evidence or allegations of criminal activity, all Whips Offices should encourage individuals to go directly to the police. The Conservative Chief Whip has absolutely assured me that when there have been any allegations of potentially criminal activity, he has always told—and always would tell—the individual to go directly to the police.

    There was potential for a slight misunderstanding in the question from the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). She is not in the Chamber, but I understand that she was referring to activities that were alleged to have been going on in the early 1970s. There was perhaps some misunderstanding that she was referring to current Whips Offices. As I say, she is not present to confirm or deny that, but I believe she was referring to a television programme about activities in the Whips Office in the 1970s. I cannot speak for the hon. Lady , but I want to be clear that, as I understand it, that was the genesis of her question to the Prime Minister.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her kind words about Candy Atherton, who was a true champion for Cornwall and the far south-west.

    On 12 October, the Leader of the House described cross-party concerns about the risks of scrapping the Royal Navy’s amphibious assault ships as “nonsense”. Will she now agree to a debate in Government time, as I understand that two Type 23 frigates are facing the axe in the latest round of Government defence cuts?

  • We have made a commitment to meet our NATO pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence every year until 2022. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of a cross-Whitehall review of all of our defence spend to ensure that it is absolutely appropriate to meet the needs of the 21st century. I encourage him to raise his specific points at Defence questions because the Ministry of Defence is looking into all the issues that he has quite rightly raised. I cannot answer his specific questions, but I can assure him that this cross-Whitehall review will take into account a balance of spending, which is going up every year in line with our NATO commitment, and the need to have a 21st century-appropriate response to all matters of defence.

  • To celebrate Paisley winning the competition to be UK City of Culture in 2021, as I have no doubt that it will, the Royal National Mòd, the fantastic festival of Scottish Gaelic culture, will again be held in the town in 2021 after we successfully held the event in 2014. May I encourage the Leader of the House to visit the Mòd and the town in 2021, and to schedule a debate on the important cultural and economic role that the Mòd plays in Scotland?

  • If enthusiasm for the hon. Gentleman’s competitive entry is anything to go by, I am sure that he will be very successful. I commend him for standing up for his constituents in such a way. Of course we wish all the cities competing the best of luck. I am sure that there will be many visits to his constituency regardless of the outcome.

  • I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating the St Paul’s Youth Forum, which is based in my constituency. Representatives from Blackhill and Provanmill, one of the poorest parts in my constituency, are coming to Parliament today for a tour of the building for the first time ahead of an award ceremony tonight to celebrate their work to provide 200 young people a week with citizenship skills ranging from cycle repair, gardening and growing produce, through to running a local radio station called BOLT FM. This fantastic charity is a great testament to the charitable sector’s work to empower our young people and create the citizenship skills that are so vital to their future success. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate in Government time on the charitable sector’s vital role of working with our schools and educational providers to ensure that our young people are equipped for the future?

  • I commend the charity that the hon. Gentleman mentions for the work that it does, which sounds excellent, as well as all the many hundreds of thousands of volunteers who work for charities right across the United Kingdom, often delivering real value to our communities, particularly for young people and in the areas of training and citizenship. I congratulate the people of the youth forum and hope that they enjoy their trip, and I sincerely apologise for all the scaffolding around the building. I must be honest that we are not looking our best, but we are working very hard to ensure that, in the fullness of time, we will once again be a very beautiful place to visit, although we remain a fascinating place to visit. I absolutely encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a debate on the amazing work done by the charities sector.

  • There is real and growing concern among residents in Didsbury, Burnage, Chorlton and other parts of my constituency about crime and antisocial behaviour. I have met senior police officers and the deputy mayor to voice those concerns, but it is clear that they are really struggling as a result of the cuts and because they have lost 2,000 officers since 2010. May we have a statement or a debate on how we can get some extra resources to Greater Manchester police in the light of those concerns?

  • The hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members will be pleased to know that crimes traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales have fallen by 9% over the past year, which is a continuation of a downward trend. That is a tribute to the excellent work of the police right across the United Kingdom. We have protected police budgets in real terms. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take up his specific concerns about policing in Manchester with Ministers at Home Office questions.

  • May we have a debate in Government time on the inaccuracies of work capability assessments? My Baillieston constituent, David Stewart, who receives morphine six times a day, was found fit for work. It was only through the help of my caseworker, Emily, that we managed to get that decision overturned, so may we have a debate on the folly of work capability assessments, which cause so much distress to our constituents?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue. The general public will be pleased to hear that such issues can be resolved as a result of a Member of Parliament’s intervention, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for that. I absolutely defend the policies, but the implementation is not always right. It is vital that we all defend our constituency cases to ensure that constituents receive the right solution for them.

  • The Leader of the House will be aware that the Secretary of State for Transport announced before the summer recess the cancellation of the electrification of the line between Cardiff and Swansea. Will she request that the Transport Secretary now makes a statement about the lost infrastructure funding that would have come with electrification, but would not be directly for electrification, such as for the closure of dangerous level crossings and highway widening? In my opinion, that funding should be separate so that we can ensure that dangerous level crossings can still be closed, for example, and it should come from the UK Government. I hope that the Leader of the House agrees.

  • I urge the hon. Gentleman to take up his important point about safety at level crossings at Transport questions. He will be aware that the Government continue their record investment in the railways, with about £48 billion to be spent between 2019 and 2024. In many cases, the issues around upgrading infrastructure are ones of technology, and it has been possible to bring forward solutions to deliver better service to customers and passengers in a shorter space of time, and with less disruption. That is a win-win for his constituents, but I urge him to take up his important point about other infrastructure with the Department for Transport.

  • Let us hear from the north-west champion, Justin Madders.

  • Saving the best till last, as always, Mr Deputy Speaker.

  • At least you now know where you need to be.

  • Indeed.

    A number of planning applications for fracking have recently been submitted in my constituency, causing much consternation locally. That has not been helped by a local political group arguing that councils should determine those applications by way of a local referendum. As the Leader of the House knows, that would be a deeply irresponsible move. Not only would such a decision not be effective, but it could leave a council open to a costly legal challenge. May we have a debate on the precise discretion that is available to councils to consider such controversial planning applications?

  • I find myself instinctively agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. We need to find a way forward that takes into account strong local views about fracking while also weighing up the benefits to our economy. The economy absolutely needs to continue depending on gas as we transition to sources that involve lower carbon dioxide emissions, as we will need make that transition through a greater use of gas. There is a strong case—in terms of economics and climate change—for fracking, subject to very strong regulation, given that gas is available as a natural resource in the United Kingdom. We need to properly assess the balance between local views, which can be very negative, and the economic imperative for the nation. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Back-Bench debate so that others who have the same dilemma can also be heard.

  • On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

  • Points of order would normally come after statements, but I will use the Chair’s discretion and take the hon. Gentleman’s.

  • I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

    I wanted to raise this now because it relates to our earlier discussion about “Erskine May”. There was a bit of a difference of opinion as to whether “Erskine May” is online. It is available on the intranet, as a 1,000-page PDF, which expressly says it is not to be used by the public. What I am asking—I hope the commitment from the Leader of the House is clear—is that we now make it available to the whole country, because the people of this country are demanding that “Erskine May” be available to them without their having to buy a copy.

  • Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) might like to start a petition. Once he is able to show 100,000 signatures—no, I jest. Obviously he is absolutely right: everybody is clamouring in their living rooms for their own online copy of “Erskine May”. As I said to him earlier, I will look into this. I agree that it should be available online, and I will see what can be done.

  • I think Mr Bryant needs a new copy—his must be so well thumbed.

  • Northern Ireland Update

  • With permission, I would like to make a statement about the current political situation in Northern Ireland.

    As the House is aware, Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved Executive and Assembly for nine months. During this time, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin, as the two largest parties in the Assembly, have been engaged in a series of discussions to restore inclusive, power-sharing government at Stormont. The latest phase of the discussions began in August and has run for the past nine weeks.

    It is the responsibility of the parties to reach an agreement, and the Government have been working tirelessly to support this process. In addition, I have kept in regular contact with the Ulster Unionists, Social Democratic and Labour party and Alliance, as well as with representatives of business and civil society. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also remained closely involved throughout the process and has held a number of discussions with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as keeping in contact with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. In addition, the Irish Government have been involved in the process, in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach to Northern Ireland affairs. I would like, in particular, to acknowledge the contribution of the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney.

    Our efforts have been focused mainly on bridging a small number of differences between the two largest parties—particularly around language and culture—that have prevented a sustainable Executive from being formed. While important progress has been made, the parties have not yet reached an agreement. Therefore, I am not in a position to bring before the House the legislation necessary for an Executive to be formed this week.

    The consequence of this is that it is now highly unlikely that an Executive could be in place within a timetable to be assured of passing a budget by the end of November, which is the point at which we and the Northern Ireland civil service assess that Northern Ireland will begin to run out of resources. No Government could simply stand by and allow that to happen, and we would be shirking our responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland were we to do so. That is why the Government will take forward the necessary steps that would enable a budget Bill to be introduced in the House to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

    This budget Bill would deal only with the current financial year. It would incorporate figures provided by the Northern Ireland civil service, reflecting its assessment of the outgoing priorities of the previous Executive. It would not set out any spending decisions by me or the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has indicated, I would expect the budget Bill to be considered in this House shortly after the November recess.

    Subject to parliamentary approval, this Bill would give the Northern Ireland civil service certainty to plan for the rest of this financial year, by giving the necessary legal authority to spend to existing plans. I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record my deep appreciation for the professionalism of the Northern Ireland civil service in maintaining public services during this very difficult time.

    The Government’s strong desire would be for a restored Executive in Northern Ireland to take forward their own budget, so I am taking this step with the utmost reluctance and only in the absence of any other option. I want to make it clear to the House that passing a budget in Westminster does not mark a move to direct rule any more than the passing of legislation by this House to set a regional rate did in April. Furthermore, it is important to emphasise that this is not an obstacle to continued political negotiations and that the Government will continue to work with the parties with that clear intent.

    Even now, however unlikely it may be, should the parties demonstrate that an Executive can be formed in the immediate future, I would clearly wish to proceed with legislation to allow that to happen, on the condition that a means could be created to provide an expedited procedure on an exceptional basis to enable the budget to be passed by the end of November.

    In addition to preparations for budget legislation and in recognition of the strength of public concern, I will reflect carefully on the issue of salaries for Assembly Members. This is a devolved matter and I cannot intervene without primary legislation in Westminster. As I recently told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in the continued absence of a functioning Assembly, the status quo is not tenable. I will therefore be seeking independent advice on MLA pay and on what steps may be taken to reflect the current circumstances.

    I still hope that the parties can resolve their differences and that an Executive can be formed. We will continue to work with them and support them in their efforts. Together with the Irish Government, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the 1998 Belfast agreement and its successors and to the institutions they established. It remains firmly in the interests of Northern Ireland to see devolved government restored—to see locally elected politicians making decisions for the people of Northern Ireland on key local matters, such as health, education, transport and economic development.

    We are clear that Northern Ireland needs a properly functioning and inclusive devolved Government, along with effective structures for co-operation north-south and east-west, but ultimately the Government are responsible for good governance in Northern Ireland and will do whatever is necessary to provide that. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and for his great efforts in keeping me briefed at all crucial points during the talks. I know he agrees that it is profoundly disappointing that 10 months after the breakdown of Stormont, and following two elections and countless and—I hate to say it—increasingly meaningless deadlines, the larger parties remain deadlocked, unable to agree with one another on the agenda for change and unwilling to show trust in one another.

    I also put on the record my support for the work of the Northern Ireland civil service in keeping services going and for the work of the Irish Government, particularly Simon Coveney, the Foreign Minister, alongside the Secretary of State, in trying to bring about a resolution. We agree on all of that, but we disagree, I suspect, over what more could have been done during those 10 months—and could still be done—to bring about a resolution.

    First and most importantly, we believe that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could get stuck into this problem and try to bring about a resolution of the impasse. It is inexcusable and completely inexplicable that she has only visited Northern Ireland once during her 15 months in office—and that for a 15-minute photo call at an agricultural show during the election campaign. She has not attended a single substantive session of the talks in Belfast or made a single substantive intervention to try to move things along. I know that things have been difficult recently, but the odd phone call to the Taoiseach is just not good enough. The days of Prime Ministers—or Presidents—flying to Northern Ireland to fix things might be past and overstated, but they could at least give it a go. Our Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, has not done that. The Opposition want her to make a greater effort.

    Secondly, the time must have come to consider drafting in some outside help for both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. The Labour party has a proud record of bringing about progress in the Northern Ireland peace process, and independent chairs and observers have proved useful in the past. At this juncture of the impasse, will he consider doing likewise and bringing in a fresh pair of eyes?

    Thirdly, will the Secretary of State tell us any more about his intentions now that this round of talks has failed? We will support him wholeheartedly, of course, in bringing forward a budget. Public services in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, need investment, not cuts. He will have to tell the House how he intends to consult with the parties on priorities and ensure that funds are spent equitably.

    There are reports in the press that the Secretary of State has been discussing with the parties other ways to sustain and find a role for the Assembly, even under direct rule. Can he tell us what that might mean? Let me be clear: direct rule will be a profoundly damaging, retrograde step in the peace process. A shadow Assembly of some sort, perhaps scrutinising or even advising direct rule Ministers, would be a way to sustain vital north-south and east-west relations and institutions—things that are crucial to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That might provide some mitigation. It is certainly an idea that Labour Members will be willing to explore as a means of sustaining the talks, and perhaps as a bridge back to devolution.

    Given that ultimate objective that we share, may I urge the Secretary of State to resist, given what he has said today, short-term pressure to cut MLAs’ pay? Cutting politicians’ pay is always a popular thing to argue for, but we need this generation of Northern Irish politicians to work and talk together to try to bring about power-sharing. While he is right that patience is wearing thin in Northern Ireland, he should resist steps that would undermine the ability of the parties, particularly the smaller ones, to negotiate and engage.

    Finally, may I give the Secretary of State a foretaste of what life will mean for him under direct rule and ask him to agree that this morning’s report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes shameful reading for his Government, particularly in respect of Northern Ireland? It shows that more children will be driven into absolute poverty in Northern Ireland by the universal credit changes and the pernicious two-child policy than in any other nation of the UK. Will he therefore commit to using his forthcoming budget to undo that harm to the children of Northern Ireland?

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments in support of the proposals to bring forward a budget Bill and about the necessity of having the financial stability that will help the Northern Ireland civil service to continue with the work that it has already been doing in ensuring that public services are delivered and that there is that focus on the people of Northern Ireland. I acknowledge the rightful support that he has given to all those in the Northern Ireland civil service engaged and involved in this important work.

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the profound disappointment at not finding a resolution to date. Northern Ireland needs devolved government. I profoundly believe in devolution and the sense of locally elected politicians making decisions locally and being held accountable by an elected Assembly locally. That is profoundly in the best interests of Northern Ireland. He talks about other options. My focus remains very firmly on how we see devolution restored; I think that anything else is a backward step. There are, yes, concerns about the delivery of public services while we are taking the step that we have outlined today. Ultimately, this simply cannot carry on for ever. We need to ensure that political decision making is taking place.

    The hon. Gentleman highlights issues around the process and the steps to follow on from it. I stress that bringing forward the budget Bill should not mark an end to the talks. Indeed, the parties themselves have indicated that they remain committed to finding a way forward in seeing how discussions between the DUP and Sinn Féin can continue in order to find resolution on, yes, a small number of issues where difference firmly remains between the two parties. While there has been positive progress on a number of fronts during certain weeks, we are not, as I have indicated to the House, at the point of reaching agreement.

    The hon. Gentleman highlights the potential role of the Prime Minister. She has been actively involved in talking to the parties. She has had meetings with the parties at No. 10, bringing them together. She does remain actively involved, including through continued discussions with the Taoiseach, in finding the right way that we can work together as two Governments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach that is respectful to how these issues in respect of Northern Ireland are undertaken.

    The hon. Gentleman makes points about interventions and suchlike. Clearly, we do keep these issues under careful review, and I do not rule anything out in respect of the way forward. We want the engagement between the two parties that has been undertaken in earnest, in a concerted way, to continue. They have shown that they can make progress in that format, and we want to support them in continuing with that. I earnestly want to see the restoration of the devolved settlement—of the institutions that are at the heart of the Belfast or Good Friday agreement and underpin the framework that we have in Northern Ireland. I want that to be restored at the earliest opportunity, and we are doing all that we can as a Government to see that it is brought about.

    The hon. Gentleman makes certain points in relation to the economy and various other things. Universal credit is about making work pay. It is about how we get people back into work, seeing those pathways, and seeing that things are supported. We are looking very carefully at how it is implemented in Northern Ireland. In response to his comments about the position of Northern Ireland, I would point to the picture of prosperity, of jobs, and of an economy that is growing—and to issues of tourism, with more people coming to Northern Ireland. That is a positive picture of what Northern Ireland is and what it can be. I encourage him to underline that in the messages that he gives.

  • With a due sense of disappointment and weariness that I know my right hon. Friend shares, I welcome today’s statement. I commend him for his patience and fortitude during this process.

    Last week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I chair, visited Newry and spoke to businessmen. Nowhere in the United Kingdom are the effects of Brexit going to be felt more acutely than in Northern Ireland, yet that region stands to suffer in the negotiations because its voice will not be heard clearly enough alongside the voices of other home nations. Given that the Executive are likely to be in abeyance for the balance—or a large part—of the negotiating period, what measures will be put in place to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard?

  • I commend my hon. Friend for the work of his Committee, which has had a clear focus on and interest in the issues around Brexit and Northern Ireland. I am sure that it will continue to do so. The evidence that it has been producing has been very helpful and informative. This Government want to see the most positive outcome for the United Kingdom as a whole, very firmly including Northern Ireland. That is why we published the paper during the course of the summer highlighting how we can deal with this effectively to see the positive outcome that I know can be achieved for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. We will certainly continue, as we have done throughout the first phase of the negotiations, to underline the specific factors and elements in Northern Ireland to ensure that they are addressed effectively and that the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland are recognised. We will continue to work with the Northern Ireland civil service, and the parties in Northern Ireland too, to ensure that those unique factors are addressed. I am determined that that is what the outcome will be.

  • The people of Northern Ireland have every right to be disappointed with the politicians who should have been negotiating and achieving a return to a functioning Executive. It will now fall to this place, which lacks the detailed knowledge that Stormont politicians have, to set a budget for Northern Ireland, when it should be a matter for Stormont.

    It is essential that control is passed back to Belfast as soon as is politically possible. What exactly are the insurmountable barriers that the Stormont politicians face, and how does the Secretary of State intend to break them down? Reimposing direct rule would be a foolish thing to do in any event, but, as has been referenced, Brexit and the coming border issues make it ridiculous. How, exactly, will he avoid that and ensure that Northern Ireland moves forward? Is he considering changing the legislation governing power sharing to ensure that future elections cannot result in stalemate negotiations that harm the people Stormont should be helping? What timescale will he put on getting an Executive up and running before calling new elections?

    Unfortunately, I must express my disappointment at the fact that, highly unusually, I received the Secretary of State’s statement by email with only 50 seconds to spare, and the written statement six minutes after he began to speak. I would be very grateful for an understanding of how that occurred so that it does not occur in future.

  • I will follow up with the hon. Lady on that point after the statement. It is certainly not my intention to prevent her from being properly briefed in advance of statements; that is not how I operate. I will make inquires after the statement and revert to her to ensure that she is kept properly informed, in the usual way. I take seriously the point that she has raised, and I will pursue it to ensure that there is no repetition of the situation.

    The hon. Lady made several points about the outstanding issues. As I have indicated, I think we are talking primarily about sustainability in respect of the Assembly and the Executive, and about issues of language, culture, identity and respect. Those have been underlying elements in our discussions, over many weeks, and it is important to get them right to provide a sense of sustainability and allow the Executive to get on with the job of serving Northern Ireland. I think that politicians on all sides seek earnestly to get those things right.

    It is, ultimately, for the parties to reach agreement. Yes, we have worked with them and encouraged them, and we recognise our responsibilities as a Government under the various agreements that we hold, but the parties need to be accommodating and reach agreement. No agreement has yet been reached, so we are having to take the next step that I have set out in the statement today. The budget is necessary to put Northern Ireland’s public services and finances on a sound footing. We will continue to support the parties to find agreement, in the knowledge that the situation cannot continue indefinitely.

    The hon. Lady highlights the election duty that I continue to be under, in legislation. I have to keep the matter under review, knowing that that is the only power that I have in law. I want resolution and agreement, because that would be the best possible outcome.

  • My constituents in Kettering find it absolutely abhorrent that threats of prosecution should hang over armed forces veterans for events that happened 40 or 50 years ago, while known terrorists have effectively been told that they will never be prosecuted for their known crimes. If the Secretary of State is bringing legislation to the House, will he ensure that it contains clauses designed to stop this witch hunt?

  • I pay clear tribute to the incredible service, bravery, dedication and sacrifice of all who served to uphold the rule of law and secure the political freedoms in Northern Ireland that we enjoy today. I hear the point that my hon. Friend makes about the concern about witch hunts and the operation of the system. I want to move forward with a consultation around the Stormont House agreement that sets out new institutions and bodies that are firmly intended to be balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable, thereby ensuring that soldiers are not unfairly treated. That, I believe, is the right way forward, and it will give everyone the opportunity to contribute and express their point of view. Ultimately, it will allow us to move forward with those institutions, which I firmly believe represent the best way forward.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, for the advance notice of it and for the consultations that he has had with us here, and with our party, as the process has developed. The contact and interaction with him, his office and the Government more generally have been very good.

    It is worth reminding the House how we have got to this point. As recently as December, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin had an agreed programme for government. None of the issues that Sinn Féin is now citing as critical preconditions were raised by the party in December. Sinn Féin pulled the Government down and walked out, and it is now setting new preconditions for the formation of a Government. The DUP, the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party—the other parties eligible for Government—would set the Government up tomorrow, but Sinn Féin is blocking it. The Secretary of State is perfectly right to come to the House, as we have urged him to do, and get the budget set.

    We cannot allow the drift to continue. At some point in the very near future, we will need to have Ministers. If they are not Northern Ireland Executive Ministers—we and other parties want them to be, but Sinn Féin is blocking that—they will have to be Ministers from here. They will have to take decisions, because we cannot allow the economy or Northern Ireland to drift. We will work with them in this place to ensure that the good governance of Northern Ireland continues, alongside Northern Ireland politicians in a consultative role back home at Stormont.

    Let us get on with the job of removing the new preconditions and demands that Sinn Féin has set out since December. Let us get on with the job of governing Northern Ireland from Stormont. If that is not possible, we must get on with the job from here, in consultation with our politicians back home.

  • I support the right hon. Gentleman’s message about the need for Northern Ireland to get on with the job and the need to restore devolved Government. He makes several points about how that can be done. His party is closely involved in the negotiations with Sinn Féin, and in the work that has been done and the efforts that have been made to restore devolution. I say again that that has to be the focus. The optimum outcome is to have a functioning locally elected Assembly and Executive serving the people of Northern Ireland.

    I encourage the right hon. Gentleman and his party to continue the efforts that they have made over an extended period to find the way forward, look for a space of agreement and provide a sense of stability for Northern Ireland. We all want agreement to be reached to make it possible to deal with public services, deal with the economy and encourage jobs and growth. The public in Northern Ireland want that service and positive movement. I underline the fact that we must all have that resolute focus in our minds in the weeks ahead and work to achieve that outcome, so that decision making can progress in Northern Ireland.

  • I commend my right hon. Friend for his pragmatic, diplomatic and calm approach to the negotiations, and I commend the Prime Minister for placing trust in him and getting involved when required to assist in getting the process under way. Will he confirm that he will cease this legislation immediately the parties agree to form an Assembly and a proper devolved Government in Northern Ireland; and that while he has the powers in the legislation, he will take input from the Northern Ireland parties to ensure that spending decisions are made in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point that he has made. As I indicated in my statement, should an agreement be reached that enables an Executive to be put in place quickly—however unlikely that is—I would obviously not want to introduce the budget Bill. There are important steps that we have to take, however. The civil service has underlined to us that the end of November is a crucial time, by which they need the budget to be in place. That is why I am taking the steps that I have outlined today. This is not about the UK Government setting the spending priorities; that remains firmly with the Northern Ireland civil service, which will continue to get on with that job, as it has done over recent months. That is why I have made the point that this is not about direct rule or UK Government Ministers setting the individual priorities. It is important to resolve the issue quickly for all the reasons we have heard today, and that is where our earnest focus must lie.

  • As one of the last direct rule Ministers, may I tell the Secretary of State that however engaging it is for those involved, direct rule is not a good form of government? I wish him well in re-establishing the Assembly in Northern Ireland. Will he indicate how the extra money agreed between the DUP and the Government is involved, and whether it is part of the budget settlement? If I were to table parliamentary questions about the details of the budget after it has been agreed, would he answer those questions, or will he find another mechanism of accountability?

  • I acknowledge the presentation that the right hon. Gentleman, with the experience of his role in Northern Ireland, makes about the challenges and the fact that this is not the outcome we want. As we have made clear throughout the process, the budget Bill speaks to the main estimates that were put in place earlier this year. We are operating within that framework. It is open to the House to vote, through supplementary estimates, for further moneys to be made available to Northern Ireland during the course of the financial year; and votes in this House obviously matter. As a Government, we stand by our commitments, and as a party, we stand by the agreement reached with the Democratic Unionist party, and nothing I have said today changes that.

  • I want to place on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State and his team for coming to the House to set out the current position, and for being so helpful in his answers. For the benefit of my residents in Aldridge-Brownhills and I am sure those elsewhere, will he set out the extent to which he and his team, as well as civil servants and the Prime Minister, have undertaken work and made commitments to try to find a way through what is clearly a very difficult situation?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the work—the hours and days that have gone into supporting the parties—that so many people have done. We as a Government have made an absolute commitment to a positive outcome and a resolution. That has involved working closely with all the parties in seeking to reach a solution, by providing ways in which they can consider how to bridge the gaps between them. We will continue to do so because this matters so much. As I have said, we have made the utmost commitment to restoring the devolved Government and seeing them get on with the job at hand, and we will certainly continue with that work.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. We are of course disappointed that we do not have a devolved Government in Northern Ireland, because that has an impact on my constituents every day. I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who represents the Scottish National party, that we are quite capable of reflecting what happens in Northern Ireland. I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years, and I think I have acquired a little knowledge of how Northern Ireland works, which I would bring to the House if we had direct rule.

    May I tell the Secretary of State that the armed forces covenant is very important to us? It is part of the negotiations, and our agreement with the Government includes its full implementation in Northern Ireland. There will be no outcome that does not see the armed forces covenant provide for the servicemen and women, the veterans and families from Northern Ireland who have served this country. We look to the Government to support us in securing such an outcome.

  • I pay tribute to the armed forces for the incredible work they do for us every day. As a Government, we have underlined our commitment to the military covenant, and we want it to cover all parts of the United Kingdom. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that that has involved, for example, my attendance last week at a cross-departmental group—Ministers from across Whitehall coming together—to assess progress. We want the important benefits of the military covenant to be felt in all parts of the United Kingdom. Yes, we must recognise the differences across the UK in how the covenant is delivered, but we none the less accept its significance.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. Notice of a full minute might have been helpful, but the 50 seconds we got was useful. I quite understand if the usual channels were slightly preoccupied with other matters within the Government this morning.

    I remember the last time we had direct rule from this place, and it was a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of doing business both for the people of Northern Ireland and for the procedures of this House. The Secretary of State is right to do anything he can to avoid that. Has he considered the proposal from my noble Friend Lord Alderdice that, notwithstanding the absence of an Executive, the Assembly might be reconvened as a body to which matters could be referred and which Ministers here could consult as they go about the business of the administering they will have to do?

  • I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about what the outcome needs to be. I know that he earnestly wishes to see, as I do, the restoration of an inclusive, functioning devolved Government. He points to other scenarios and solutions, but I would say to him that our focus must be on how to get an agreement. That must be the priority. I know other points have been made about different structural or constitutional ways in which Northern Ireland could operate, but it is important to focus on supporting the parties at this time. I will obviously continue to reflect on a range of points that have been made to me, but it is important to keep the focus on that at this time. However, I note the points that he and others have made in recent weeks.

  • Does the Secretary of State understand the frustration—indeed, the cynicism—felt by people in Northern Ireland about the word “deadline”? As a result of the changing deadlines, the word really does not mean anything. Is it not time that when Governments set deadlines, they should actually mean something? We have had nine months of parties having discussions and there has been no change, so what magic wand does he think will make any difference in the next few weeks, given that one party is quite happy to go back into the Assembly right away, and another is making ridiculous demands that it was not making when the Assembly fell?

  • Do you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker? I certainly do hear the frustration and cynicism among the public in Northern Ireland that the hon. Lady will have heard. They want to see a Government just getting on with the job of serving them. I do hear that, and I know there is huge frustration—I sense there is frustration on both sides of the House—at being in this position.

    We could take steps towards saying, in essence, “Okay, we will move straight to direct rule,” or something similar, but I profoundly think that that is not the right way to approach this issue. Ultimately, this is about seeking space within which the parties can reach an accommodation and an agreement. Yes, this is difficult. For all the time that all those involved have spent on this, it has been hugely challenging to bridge the gaps. Doing so still remains possible, but it is certainly difficult.

    We will continue to keep available to us a range of options for supporting the process and galvanising the parties to achieve the positive outcome that we all earnestly want. Equally, the hon. Lady rightly makes the point that this cannot just continue—I hear that message from the House very clearly—and there is a need for Northern Ireland to be able to make decisions. It is worth all of us putting in all our efforts to see whether we can get a positive solution so that the parties are able to find a space in which to work together and get on with the job. I encourage everyone with any influence to get behind that work.

  • I thank the Secretary of State very much for his statement, and for the industrious energy and commitment he has brought to the talks process, which we much appreciate.

    Northern Ireland community groups—Home-Start and other charities—need, as a matter of urgency, to know whether they will receive funding. Who will make such funding decisions, as Westminster cannot be expected to micromanage, and someone needs to send out a message about the state of play across the Province? Similarly, what will happen with the funding for the NHS and infrastructure projects that Northern Ireland should be provided with as a matter of urgency? The projects that will receive most of that funding have been waiting patiently, but the situation is becoming increasingly difficult. I urge the Secretary of State do something about finance most quickly.

  • Financial decisions will remain with the Northern Ireland civil service. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about voluntary and community sector organisations, and I have raised that with the Northern Ireland civil service. I am seeking to provide as much certainty and assurance as possible, because I know just how important those organisations are in delivering services across Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to all groups that do such an incredible job.

    The hon. Gentleman points to decisions on infrastructure, and we would obviously like other public sector reforms. It is for the Northern Ireland civil service to do that work at this point. If possible, we obviously then want a devolved Government to move in and take those decisions, but if that is not possible, we will need further careful reflection on the next steps.

  • I am vice chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which recently met in Liverpool. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), addressed that meeting, and many right hon. and hon. Members were there. It was a grouping from across these islands, and across parties, and people with very different views were able to discuss and debate. It is important that such forums continue, including those established as a result of the Good Friday agreement. Such forums are critical, and decisions and conversations take place during them. My experience of this place is that people are not aware of the history, politics and passions that arise in this House, and that statements in this House have a profound impact on the people of these islands. We must keep those other forums going.

    Today I have heard what we do not want, but I have not heard a plan f