House of Commons
Tuesday 7 November 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Standing Orders (Private Business)
That the Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Private Business set out in the Schedule be made.—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Electric and Autonomous Vehicles
Our industrial strategy capitalises on our strengths as we build the next generation of motor vehicles. In July, we committed £246 million to the Faraday Battery Challenge to make Britain a centre for the development of battery storage. I have also announced £51 million to fund automated vehicle testbeds across the country. I am delighted to say that in October Ford opened its new European Mobility headquarters in Britain.
Whether lorries or tractors, it is in rural areas where autonomous vehicles have the potential to make a particularly profound impact. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the research that he is funding will look in particular at rural areas rather than simply focusing on our very well connected cities?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right in saying that, if this is to apply right across the country, the opportunities in rural areas are very important not just for the vehicles he describes, but for public transport. He will know that at the University of Lincoln, not far from him, excellent work is being done through the Centre for Autonomous Systems on the future of mobility. I hope that it will be a participant in this great wave across the country of research and development in the technologies of the future.
Silverstone Technology Cluster supports many thousands of jobs in and around Northamptonshire, including in companies such as Cosworth in my constituency of Northampton South. What steps are the Government taking to support the Silverstone cluster?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the choice that some of the world’s best motor manufacturers make to locate in the cluster reinforces our reputation. Last year, we launched the Aylesbury Vale enterprise zone, which supports the Silverstone high-performance technology cluster. It provides an environment that is helping to deliver new jobs in this sector. The local growth fund for his area includes an innovation centre, which is geared to automotive technology in the enterprise zone.
I urge the Secretary of State to say something to leading engineering businesses and the University of Huddersfield where we are doing a lot of research on autonomous vehicles, because they might have listened to “Today” on Radio 4 this morning and heard another Secretary of State using a mysterious kind of language. He was talking about “a new post-Brexit trade policy” and “a new trade remedies body”—what is a new trade remedies body?
I do not care what a new trade remedies body is. All I am concerned about is autonomous vehicles—electric or otherwise. Let us hear about the matter.
The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. It is absolutely right that the researchers at the university will have huge opportunities in this area. The reputation for excellence that has been established in that university is well known not just across the country, but around the world. The Prime Minister and I had the privilege of attending a roundtable of the leading managers across the motor industry, including the supply chain. They are united in their excitement about what is the biggest change in mobility since the invention of the petrol and diesel engine. We are replete with these possibilities, and it is increasingly recognised that we are establishing a reputation for being the place in the world to come for them.
Whether it is exporters of autonomous vehicles or other exporters within the automobile industry in my constituency, what they need going forward is a consistent regulatory framework. What kind of guarantees can the Secretary of State give to exporters such as those in my constituency as we leave the EU?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The predictability of the regulatory environment is extremely important for future investment. It is one reason why we have introduced the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which will be ahead of the world in establishing the right regulatory environment for electric and autonomous vehicles. Again, this is something that has commanded the attention of the world, and it is exactly in line with what he says.
As we take steps to grow the economy and decrease emissions, will the Secretary of State commit to working with all businesses involved on the noise that autonomous and electric vehicles make, as highlighted by my deaf and blind constituents, and to working with the disabilities agenda as this new technology moves forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the advantages of the new technologies is that they give particular hope to people who find it difficult or impossible to use conventional vehicles. Part of the point of putting together the research in the automotive, renewable energy, healthcare and social care sectors is that we can join the benefits of all of them in a single programme.
If we are going to have these electric vehicles, these autonomous vehicles, and everything else is going to be wonderful, why bother with £100 billion on HS2?
Because we need both. Our ambition is to make this country one of the best connected in the world so that it is possible to go from the capital to our midlands, northern cities and beyond quickly and efficiently, and have more capacity to move freight around the country. I would have thought, given the importance of the motor industry to Derbyshire, that the hon. Gentleman, as a Derbyshire MP, would welcome the investment and progress in the sector, including £250 million invested by Toyota in its excellent plant.
Germany has said 2030; Norway and Holland are aiming for 2025. The Chinese owners of Volvo say that all their new models will have an electric motor from 2019. As the climate conference in Bonn begins, does the Secretary of State consider that the UK Government’s plan to ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles from only 2040 is somewhat lacking in ambition, failing to provide strong leadership, or downright pathetic and making the UK a laughing stock?
If the hon. Gentleman reflects on our reputation in the world, he should know that, for international leadership on climate change, it is very strong. He would do well to commend rather than undermine that. In the past few weeks, we launched the clean growth strategy, which commits, across a range of areas, not just to meet our legal commitments and generate jobs in those important technologies, but to lead the world in exports. I would have thought that he would use his time at the Dispatch Box to commend the Government for a document that has been well received across the world.
Leaving the EU: Civil Nuclear Industry
The Government have made clear their commitment to the continuing success of the nuclear sector, including nuclear research, in this country. We are aiming for a maximum level of continuity with the current arrangements. My Department has held discussions with the sector to ensure we understand and address its concerns.
Does the Minister agree that the uncertainties over leaving the EU, as well as the falling prices of solar energy and the timescale for delivering the projects, will make nuclear energy projects such as Hinkley Point deliver very little value for money?
I very much disagree with the hon. Lady’s assessment. The Government’s policy is to go for a mix of different types of energy, of which nuclear power is firmly and clearly one, as are renewables and all the others.
As the Minister knows, the nuclear industry is extremely important to Cumbria. Does he agree that leaving the EU has its issues, but that it is far more important to ensure that we have a nuclear sector deal as part of the industrial strategy, which will mean real investment and growth in the sector?
I agree with my hon. Friend and I commend him for all his work to support the nuclear industry. We are very well aware of the nuclear sector deal. I met leaders of the industry last week, as I do repeatedly, to ensure that their sector deal is important and will be relevant to carrying the industry forward for a long time in the future.
The hon. Lady will be aware that these matters are being discussed in the Bill Committee. The Government intend to build a consensual view to ratify the problem. I know she has a keen constituency interest. The Government are aware of all the issues. It is our intention to have the closest possible relationship with members of Euratom.
It is very important that we achieve an agreement with the EU that enables us to retain as many of the benefits of Euratom as possible. Will the Minister say something about the future of small modular reactors in the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Department is looking closely at small nuclear reactors. We have had presentations from many different companies and entities involved in developing this technology. We hope this will be brought to a conclusion very quickly. I commend him. I visited his constituency to see the research work going on there. We are very supportive of it.
Exiting the EU is introducing an added complication into the efforts to rescue the Moorside deal, with all the jobs and security it would bring. Are the Government open to the idea of offering a stake in the Moorside project if the conditions with a particular buyer are right?
I would make two points to the hon. Gentleman, who is also a worthy champion of the nuclear industry: the Moorside arrangement is a private commercial matter for Toshiba; and in my view what is happening with Euratom and the EU is not really relevant here.
Horizon 2020 Programme
The Government have acted quickly to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding that is competitively bid for by UK participants. As we set out in our future partnership paper, “Collaboration on Science and Innovation”, we will seek an agreement on science and innovation that protects us now and in the future, and continues to ensure we deliver these great partnerships.
Edinburgh is blessed with three world-class universities, Napier, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh, which punch significantly above their weight in being able to gain EU funding for research and development. Will the Minister come to the Dispatch Box to reassure those universities that they will still be able to access research and development funding at European Union level when we leave the EU?
As I said, we are working towards an agreement that will ensure our continued success in European science and research collaborations. Scottish institutions do indeed do exceptionally well. They punch well above their weight in winning about 11% of the share of UK participation in Horizon 2020, which is well above their GDP and population share. We want that to continue.
As I just said, we are working hard to ensure an agreement with the rest of the European Union to ensure we can continue to collaborate closely in important areas of research and innovation. I repeat, Scottish institutions do well in terms of their share of overall UK participation in Horizon 2020. We want that kind of success to continue in the years ahead. Very impactful research is done in Scotland on a collaborative basis across the continent. We have every intention of that continuing in the years ahead.
Science and Innovation: Worcestershire
We have committed to the single largest increase in science and innovation funding for nearly 40 years, adding an additional £4.7 billion to our science spending. This helps to drive growth across the country, and I am pleased that a consortia led by Worcestershire local enterprise partnership will be undertaking a science and innovation audit on the theme of cyber-resilience. This will identify local research and innovation strengths to drive economic growth.
Following the commitment in the industrial strategy Green Paper to build new institutes of technology, will the Minister, if his diary permits, meet me in Redditch to review what an excellent location it would make for one of the first institutes of technology? It has fantastic transport links and access to business, and would provide a great opportunity for young people.
My hon. Friend is a strong champion for her constituency, and I am pleased to say that we have recently issued a statement confirming our intention to establish high quality and prestigious institutions that specialise in delivering the higher level technical skills that employers need across all regions of England. We will be launching a call for proposals before the end of the year and would welcome applications from Redditch and other places across the country.
Leaving the EU: Scottish Research Sector
As I have said, Scottish institutions are performing well in terms of their participation levels in Horizon 2020, and we want that to continue in the years ahead. The Government are working hard to ensure the success of our institutions and to get an agreement that enables us to continue to collaborate in the years ahead.
Of course we also want our institutions to continue to do well, but our research sector is facing a significant loss of funding owing to Brexit, which will of course impact on innovation. What direct communication have the Government had with Scottish universities about the funding threat posed by Brexit?
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education are in constant contact with all the devolved Administrations at various levels on a wide range of issues, including EU exit. BEIS participates in various forums, including the UK research funders group, and officials have recently participated in working groups with the Scottish Government, Universities Scotland, Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh University.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon capture usage and storage has huge potential to play a vital future role in reducing emissions across a range of activities, but the technology has to be made more cost-effective to deploy at scale. That is why we have committed up to £100 million of public money in CCUS innovation in our clean growth strategy and why are working with the private sector and other Governments to drive up technological innovation and to drive down costs.
The clean growth strategy falls short of boosting the investment necessary to stimulate change in carbon capture and storage, and the industrial strategy Green Paper failed to mention it. In the light of the previous failure to deliver on Peterhead, what measures will the Minister announce to recover that investment?
The world has not yet decided to invest in traditional CCUS. There are 21 at-scale plants operating globally, of which 16 rely on enhanced oil recovery as a revenue stream. It is simply not cost-effective enough in its current form for us to commit large-scale investment. We have to get the costs down. We are now in a world where the private sector wants to invest, however, and I am sure we would both welcome developments such as Project Acorn, to which both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have committed funds.
The Minister does not like being reminded that the pulling of the £1 billion for the Peterhead project was a betrayal of the north-east of Scotland and the Scottish energy sector. She talks at the Dispatch Box about value for money, but the strike price of £92.50 at Hinkley is not value for money. When will the Government make real financial commitments to CCS in Scotland?
In the world I live in, £100 million is quite a substantial financial investment in CCUS. It is striking that the Scottish Government invested only £100,000 in Project Acorn, as opposed to our £1.3 million. The point remains that the technology is not cost-effective. Only six plants in the world are operating without additional revenue from enhanced oil recovery. We want Britain to be the technological leader and to develop cost-effective solutions. I hope that we can work together to achieve that aim.
I welcome the return to some consideration of CCS in the clean growth plan, after the Government’s dreadful mistake in cancelling the £1 billion UK CCS pilot plants in 2015. What discussions has the Minister had with her Norwegian counterparts on the prospects for UK-Norway collaboration on that country’s advanced plans for carbon sequestration in the North sea?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, Norway is currently a little bit unsure about the level of its own financial commitment. However, it has an excellent Energy Minister, with whom I have had multiple meetings and conversations. It seems strange to me that, having taken the hydrocarbons out of the North sea basin, we should not co-operate to put the carbon dioxide back, so there are frequent conversations. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the clean growth strategy, on which we would like very much to work with other countries—not just Norway, but the United States and Canada as well.
We have just heard about the broken promise to establish a world-leading carbon capture project at Peterhead. That is another betrayal of the North sea industry: £1 billion was never invested, and 600 jobs were never created. Is it not true that when it comes to the North sea, this Government are no good at anything except breaking promises?
Some might say that the Scottish National party is not very good at forecasting oil prices. As I have already said, no Governments have taken a very substantial bet in the past few years—I call it a bet because it is not cost-effective—but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, organisations such as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative are asking us, “How can we work together in a public-private arrangement to deliver the best, most cost-effective solutions?” We need to create some technology that we can export, like the oil and gas services that have delivered such economic value in the North sea.
Support for the North sea was also promised by the former Prime Minister in January 2016, when he said:
“An Oil and Gas Ambassador will be appointed to…promote”
oil and gas
“around the world”.
However, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), told the Press and Journal recently that it was a “good idea” but he was “not aware” of it. He said:
“It’s not crossed my desk”.
Whose desk did it cross? Or was it just another fantasy— a false promise from a “say anything, do nothing” Government”?
I can understand why there is not much solar installation in Scotland: it appears that the sun never shines north of the border.
I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman about support for the North sea, which is a vital industry. I cannot answer his point about the ambassador, but I shall be happy to discuss it with my colleagues.
Leaving the EU: Automotive Sector
I have frequent discussions with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The UK continues to demonstrate that it is an attractive place for future investment. Companies such as Nissan, BMW and Toyota continue to invest, thanks to our highly skilled workforce, the strong partnership between the Government and industry and long-term investment in new technology and innovation.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that some car manufacturers are questioning whether to make further investments in the UK because they are uncertain about the validity of type approvals after we have left the European Union. When will the Secretary of State be in a position to confirm that they will indeed be valid and that the trucks shipping components will not be stuck in long queues at either Dover or Calais?
I have been very clear in my discussions with the industry, and, as I said earlier, last week we had a roundtable at No. 10 with the Prime Minister. It is essential for our trading relationship with the European Union not only to be tariff-free, but to allow the continuation of a means of production that involves multiple components going back and forth, often at very short notice. There are questions about, for instance, type approval and rules of origin, and we are working with the industry to ensure that those matters are part of the deal that we want to achieve. That is a course that I know Members in all parts of the House would commend.
Mitsubishi’s headquarters are in Cirencester, where it employs 250 people and supports 113 dealerships throughout the UK. I wholeheartedly endorse my right hon. Friend’s remarks about needing to secure a Brexit agreement that supports the automotive sector, so that we can protect those jobs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The industry is aware of the firmness of our intention. It makes no sense to disrupt what has been a very successful relationship between this country and some of the home countries of those manufacturers: that is very clear in all our minds.
Our successful car manufacturing sector exports nearly 1 million cars a year to the rest of the European Union. However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said:
“Brexit is the greatest challenge of our times”.
What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that there are no costly tariffs or time-consuming customs checks in the sector after we leave the EU?
We met the SMMT and all members of the sector to discuss every aspect of the challenges and opportunities ahead. The hon. Lady is of course right that Brexit is very much on the minds of every motor manufacturer, which is why the discussions we have had reinforced our commitment not only to secure a good deal at high level, but to make sure all the particular aspects for that industry are addressed. The industry was also enthusiastic about our clear commitment, with mounting enthusiasm being shown on the part of our partners, big and small, to invest in the future and to make sure that what makes Britain attractive as a place to locate continues to be so in the future.
Ten years in low-paid work and then four years a Jaguar apprentice, I will never forget Warren waxing lyrical about the job that he loves, and moving into, in his words, the house of his dreams with the woman of his dreams. Does the Secretary of State begin to understand that, as a consequence of this Government’s disastrous mishandling of Brexit, investment has fallen by over 50%? Does he begin to recognise the damage the Government are doing to workers like Warren and the jewel in the crown of British manufacturing?
If the hon. Gentleman talks to people in the motor industry, as in other industries, he will know that no one is more vigorous and active than I am in meeting prospective investors to explain our strategy and the attractiveness of the UK. As a result of the industry’s work, supported by the Government, we have had a commitment from BMW to build the electric Mini in the UK, Toyota is investing a quarter of a billion pounds in Derbyshire, Nissan has confirmed that it will build two new models in Sunderland, and other discussions are continuing. That work, in the context of the need for continued good access to the European market, is giving confidence to the industry. I would have hoped that it was a matter of consensus across the House that we should maintain that confidence, rather than seek to undermine it.
Recent research has been conducted by Smart Energy GB, the independent not-for-profit organisation responsible for national consumer engagement on smart meters. It found that 86% of people with a smart meter said that they had made energy-saving changes to their behaviour and that this positive action was maintained over time after installation.
The Minister is obviously aware that, by encouraging better energy consumption, the average consumer saves about £75 a year through a smart meter. Does he agree that smart meters will enable more switching of suppliers, saving the average customer £200 a year, and that this is therefore good for the environment and for consumers?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis. Smart meters enable consumers to make more confident and informed decisions about which supplier and tariff is right for them. Interestingly, Ofgem’s survey for 2017 showed that consumers who say they have a smart meter are more likely to have switched supplier in the past 12 months.
Energy consumption and awareness is a two-way street, and the companies are aware of what energy is being consumed in the home, so what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that energy companies do not increase the customer’s daily rate as customers reduce their energy consumption?
The hon. Lady should rest assured that this is on our agenda. Increases must have Ofgem approval, and it is something we are monitoring very carefully.[Official Report, 14 November 2017, Vol. 631, c. 1MC.]
What assessment have the Government made of the security of smart meters?
The Government consider the security of smart meters to be very important, and the whole smart meter programme was designed with the approval of the cyber-security body and all the other relevant authorities.
How does the Minister intend to make the process for switching between gas or electric companies easier for those with smart meters, as the process is extremely convoluted, to use a Ulster-Scots-ism, at present, with customer smart reading going dumb and manual readings having to be sent out?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the SMETS 2 programme involves complete compatibility between all the different meters, enabling people to switch. The current system that is being installed, SMETS 1, will be applicable for that in, we think, about a year, when the software allows that to happen.
Paris Climate Change Agreement
The UK was a leading negotiator of the extraordinary Paris agreement in which 195 countries agreed to act to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°. In 2016, only two countries in the world cut their carbon emissions intensity in line with that Paris goal: China and the UK. Last month, our clean growth strategy set out how we intend to go further and faster in cutting our UK emissions to reach the Paris goal, while delivering economic growth.
Many of my constituents have contacted me with their concerns about climate change. Following Paris, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that there is a global political movement to combat climate change?
I will be going to Bonn next week for the 23rd United Nations climate change conference with the council of partners, where we will join other leading nations in reaffirming our commitment to the Paris goals and working on a variety of practical initiatives such as the phase-out of power generation from unabated coal. Britain, which started the industrial revolution using coal, now leads the world in phasing it out. We will also be working on the use of innovative financial solutions to mobilise private investment in low carbon technologies.
How does the Minister intend to support carbon capture and storage in the Tees valley, given that that, too, would improve our environmental ambitions and enhance economic growth?
The hon. Lady will know that the Tees valley has been incredibly assiduous in campaigning in many ways to be a location for the deployment of the new technology. We are working actively with it and we would like to see some investment proposals coming forward.
In reaffirming the UK’s commitment to the Paris climate change deal, will my hon. Friend assure me that she had her colleagues will continue to pressure and persuade other countries that have not signed up to it or that might be reticent about its merits and about why they should be involved?
My hon. Friend makes a good point: we are only as good as the partners that we are working with. Other countries, including India and China, have set progressive goals for their own countries involving very rapid decarbonisation. Paris remains fit for purpose and will not be renegotiated. We would like all countries, particularly the major OECD countries, to change their minds and get behind this groundbreaking agreement for the world.
The Committee on Climate Change clearly states that fracking cannot be compatible with the UK’s climate change targets unless three key tests—on methane gas, on gas consumption and on carbon budgets—are met. Given that the Government have not shown that those tests can be met, will the Minister’s Department refuse consent for fracking in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, which is currently under consideration, or is she planning simply to ignore the advice from the Committee on Climate Change?
We cannot comment on particular cases. Testing wells are being drilled at the moment, and we need to understand the scientific basis, so that we can prove or disprove these tests. I find it slightly odd that those who argue the loudest that people should accept the scientific basis for climate change refuse to have a conversation about the scientific basis that would prove or disprove the case for fracking.
Royal Bank of Scotland: Small Business Customers
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has frequent discussions with the Chancellor on a range of matters, including financial regulation. The Financial Conduct Authority has published a summary of Promontory’s skilled persons report, to which I think the right hon. Gentleman refers. The FCA is now considering the report’s conclusions, including whether there is any basis for further action.
Constituents of mine have, in good faith, used Government-based schemes such as the enterprise finance guarantee scheme to grow their businesses, only to find the Royal Bank of Scotland using the very same scheme to close down their businesses. Given that there is a litany of such cases throughout that report, is it not now time that the Minister and the Treasury conducted a proper investigation and perhaps even a judge-led inquiry?
The enterprise finance guarantee scheme was exactly designed to enable businesses to borrow when they lacked collateral, with taxpayer support. If a bank is closing down overdraft facilities to claim on the guarantee—as in the case to which I believe the right hon. Gentleman refers—that would clearly be a gross abuse of the scheme. Any evidence of that will certainly be looked at very carefully by my Department.
Does the Minister not agree that the response to the finding that 92% of the bank’s restructuring group’s small business customers were mistreated has been pathetic and is unworthy of a publicly owned institution?
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman hold fire until the Financial Conduct Authority has decided on what action it may still take. It is empowered to take action, and I totally agree with the sentiments behind his question.
What happened at RBS’s Global Restructuring Group is a scandal of the highest order. Businesses were ruined; families were torn apart; and people took their own lives. The Minister must know that the FCA cannot deliver justice for the GRG’s victims on its own, because most business banking is unregulated. I have asked Ministers this question six times already, and I will ask it a seventh time: will the Government set up a judge-led inquiry into RBS GRG, or do they have something to hide?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have nothing to hide. I share the concerns about the practices of the Global Restructuring Group at RBS and the devastating impact on people’s businesses, which represent a lifetime’s work for many people. I am sure that we have not yet heard the last of this inquiry.
Leaving the EU: Car Industry
The UK’s automotive industry is a great British success story, and as I said earlier, the Prime Minister and I met senior executives last week and reiterated our determination to secure a Brexit deal that guarantees the sector’s competitiveness. I will continue to work closely with all companies in the sector.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for mentioning Ford in an earlier answer, because Ford is a major employer in my constituency. What is his Department doing to ensure that this country is the epicentre for innovation in the car industry as we move out of the European Union?
Through our industrial strategy, we have a clear focus on being the go-to place in the world for the future of mobility in all its different forms. Dunton in my hon. Friend’s constituency is home to Ford’s technical centre, which is obviously one of the major global forces in that future. It is particularly gratifying that Ford has chosen the UK to be the centre of its European operations for the future of mobility.
Social Care: Minimum Wage Back-Payment
I have worked closely with ministerial colleagues to implement a national minimum wage enforcement approach that protects the interests of social care workers and vulnerable service users. The Government recognise the financial pressures that some providers face, and we are exploring further options to minimise any impact on the sector. Any intervention would need to be proportionate, and the Government have opened discussions with the European Commission about issues relating to state aid.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but how are the Government supporting individuals with personal budgets who could face bills of thousands of pounds in back-payments?
We recognise that such individuals can be among the most vulnerable in society, and we are working to ensure that that group receives the necessary help and support. We expect local authorities to work with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to ensure the right outcome for such individuals, but it is only fair that the budgets provided to personal budget holders reflect their legal obligations to pay the national minimum wage to workers on sleep-in duty both now and when it comes to any arrears owing.
If enforcement action results in the closure of or disruption to service providers, how will the Government guarantee that vulnerable people will not be left without services?
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that the new social care compliance scheme will give providers up to a year to identify what they owe to workers and will be supported by advice from HMRC. Employers who identify arrears at the end of the self-review period will have three months to pay workers, so the scheme is designed both to support workers and to ensure the continuation of the crucial services that providers perform.
The Government’s new interim compliance scheme, announced last week, unfortunately adds to the uncertainty facing the social care sector. May I urge the Minister to do all she can to ensure that, as quickly as possible, the Government get back round the table with the sector to find an acceptable long-term solution?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are working very hard across Government with the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government to continue our discussions with the Treasury about possible solutions to the long-term viability of certain providers.
I welcome the Government’s efforts to try to find a permanent solution to sleep-in shifts. The situation arose from a change in guidance following an employment tribunal in 2014. Would it not be sensible to consider revisiting the legislation in this place simply to return to the pre-tribunal position?
We have made it clear that we expect all employers to pay workers according to the law, including the national minimum wage, for sleep-in duties. It is not uncommon for employment law to be clarified in the courts and tribunals, and this issue has been the subject of a number of cases. Even if we were to do as my hon. Friend suggests—we will certainly not be revisiting the legislation—it would not have any impact on workers’ eligibility for historical back-pay liabilities.
This week is Living Wage Week. Some sectors in the UK are better predisposed than others to paying higher wages, but the rising cost of living applies to all. What will the Minister do to incentivise businesses in all sectors to sign up as living wage employers?
I applaud the work of the national Living Wage Foundation, but we have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has the resources to enforce the minimum wage, where it needs enforcing. That is our priority, although obviously I respect the work of the Living Wage Foundation.
As my hon. Friend knows, the issues raised by the review are complex. A lagoon programme could cost in the region of £50 billion. The costs of renewable energy are plummeting, and we need to consider the questions associated with deploying this technology in the marine environment. All programmes have to be considered with the following in mind: the cost, the export potential and the contribution to the green economy.
The Hendry review was delivered on time by a distinguished former Conservative Energy Minister who started a sceptic and finished a convert, strongly recommending that the Government push ahead with a pilot project. Although none of us would want to see the Government rush into decisions of this kind— a global first—what are the chances of a formal response before the review’s first anniversary in January? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Budget is an excellent opportunity for a positive announcement?
My hon. Friend may be frustrated, and I know the Government have yet to respond to the review, but as I have said this is an extremely complex issue and we need to ensure that we make the right decision. All I can say to him is that we will be publishing our response in due course.
Since we last met, my ministerial colleagues and I have brought three major pieces of legislation to the House: a draft Bill to cap consumer energy prices; new laws to ensure that every home and small business will be offered a smart meter; and the new Nuclear Safeguards Bill to maintain our nuclear safeguards as we leave the EU. We continue to develop new policy that will benefit businesses and wider society, and today we are publishing a call for evidence on Professor Dieter Helm’s independent review of energy. We have reaffirmed our position as a world leader in tackling climate change through the launch of the clean growth strategy, and I take this opportunity to invite all Members on both sides of the House to join us in celebrating Small Business Saturday, which is coming up on 2 December.
Is the Secretary of State concerned that, although October’s figures show continued welcome manufacturing growth, almost half of the net jobs created in the UK since 2010 are in London and the south-east, where only a quarter of the population live?
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that jobs are being created in all parts of the United Kingdom and that we have the highest level of employment since records began. That is a signal of the success of the UK economy, but he is absolutely right that we want to make sure that every part of the United Kingdom reaches the height of prosperity it is capable of reaching, and through the industrial strategy we will have more to say about how we can propel that forward.
We are investing in a world-class technical education system, growing apprenticeships and introducing T-levels from 2020 for 16 to 19-year-olds, backed by a further £500 million per year. We are also investing £170 million to create institutes of technology across all regions and £80 million for specialist national colleges to deliver higher-level technical education.
Last week, the Secretary of State repeatedly refused to confirm, when pressed by the Select Committee, that the energy price cap would be in place by next winter. Media reports have also suggested that the Government have already told energy investors that the draft legislation will be ditched if they feel the big six power firms are doing enough to tackle high bills. I therefore ask the Secretary of State, in the hope he will today provide a clear answer, whether the energy price cap will be in place by the winter of 2018 and, if not, whether the media reports are true that there is actually no intention of introducing price cap legislation?
I can assure the hon. Lady that there is every intention of introducing a price cap, and there is consensus in the House around that. We have published a Bill and it is being scrutinised by the Select Committee. As soon as it has finished that scrutiny, we will look for an opportunity to introduce it to the House.
I am afraid that answer simply created even more ambiguity, so let us try a different topic. The Government scheme to deal with the social care back-payment announced on 1 November has been cited as “inadequate” by many care businesses and organisations, as it does not address the fact that many providers simply cannot afford to pay due to funding cuts, and some workers will not be paid what they are duly owed until 31 March 2019. Mencap has stated that many providers will be reluctant to take part in the scheme as they feel they will be
“writing their own suicide note”.
Therefore, I ask the Secretary of State: will the Government commit the necessary funding in the Budget to avert a crisis in the care sector, which could see many businesses struggle to survive, impacting on already fragile care services, and leave thousands of care staff without the wages they are owed?
As the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), has made clear, and as I believe the hon. Lady knows, this is a difficult and complex issue. We completely accept the need for confidence among the providers of care to some of the most vulnerable people in society, while recognising the legitimate claim, which has been upheld by the courts, of those who have worked in that sector. Bringing those two things together requires precision and care, so that this is robust and does not create further uncertainty if it were found not to be legally possible to advance it. That is why the interim proposal has been made, but I am happy to keep the hon. Lady informed.
Yesterday afternoon, we had an excellent debate in this Chamber about the benefits of European economic area and European Free Trade Association membership, with people on both sides of the Chamber supporting our continuing membership. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to pass comment on his own views on this matter, but I do know he will always champion the best interests of British business. To that end, will he undertake, in all the negotiations he is involved with at the highest level, to make sure that all options are kept open as to how we get a Brexit deal—that includes the EEA and EFTA?
I represent strongly the views of the business community because they are absolutely vital for our continuing prosperity as a country. The whole of the business community wants to get the best possible deal for the UK, and the vast majority of Members were elected on a platform and a manifesto of obtaining that. I will be tireless in pressing the case for it.
At last year’s international anti-corruption summit, we committed to introduce a register of beneficial ownership of overseas companies. We published a call for evidence in April, the responses to which are being analysed. We will publish a response that provides for legislation in due course.
Dieter Helm’s recently published “Cost of Energy Review” says that
“the prices of oil, gas and coal have fallen…contrary to the modelling and forecasting of both the Department of Energy & Climate Change…and the Committee on Climate Change”.
He means that however hard they try and however worthy their intentions, mandarins and regulators are rubbish at discovering or predicting energy prices. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provisions for the draft Bill’s absolute energy price cap, which would require mandarins and regulators to meet twice a year to pick a number, would repeat the same mistakes so should be replaced by something more closely linked to the few competitive energy prices that already exist?
I know what a great campaigner my hon. Friend has been on this issue. We have published the draft Bill, which includes our intentions, and I hope that he will give evidence while the Bill is being scrutinised. We are eager to hear his views, and we are eager to hear whether the Select Committee agrees with his analysis.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government, my ministerial team and I should be active in securing investment opportunities and continued employment by UK companies and international companies that invest in the UK, and we are. I do that tirelessly. In the case of Ellesmere Port, we have had discussions with Peugeot and it is interested, as we are, in investment in the new generation of vehicles, with which I know the hon. Gentleman is familiar.
I am working closely on investment in utilities with the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership, which will shortly publish a report detailing areas of Lincolnshire in which infrastructure requires investment. One problem is that Western Power is prevented from making speculative investment by Ofgem. Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell me why there is apparently this regulatory barrier to investment and what she can do to help?
I commend my hon. Friend and her local enterprise partnership for their work. We look forward to seeing that report and to having productive conversations. We do not want any barriers that impede economic growth in her constituency and region.
One of the things that the House has correctly required of the Government is that we should take account of the impact on local economies—for example, on small businesses. That is something that has changed in the impact guidance, and it is right that it has.
On the 100th anniversary of the communist revolution’s introduction of a system that impoverished and imprisoned tens of millions, what is the Department doing to promote the benefits of free markets for workers, consumers and society as a whole?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because the history and reputation of this country during the past 100 years, and especially during the past decade, has been based on having in this country a system of vigorous competition in which businesses compete not because they are guaranteed a position by the state but because they face pressure from competitors. That has introduced extraordinary prosperity that would be thrown away were we to adopt a different system, such as that proposed 100 years ago.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the national minimum wage and seafarers. We are looking into it and I will write to him with the latest position.
This week is Offshore Wind Week. The wind and renewables sector is vital to my constituency. Many young people are training to secure jobs in the industry, as is being highlighted by the apprenticeships event that will begin here shortly. What ongoing support will the Government give to young people entering the industry?
I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, celebrates the fact that there has been an unprecedented fall in the price of offshore wind in the most recent auction, proving that the policy making—at least in this case—actually worked. We look forward to further investment in the industry, and are working with the sector on a sector deal that will have to address the issue of skills and apprenticeships. It is a vital industry; there is much more to do and much more growth to come.
The Government take product safety extremely seriously. We established a working group on product recalls and safety that reported in July, and we will respond shortly. We are already taking action in the areas that have given the hon. Lady cause for concern. Whirlpool has now managed to withdraw or modify more than 2 million of those machines to an unprecedented degree.
The Secretary of State will be aware that Newquay’s bid to be the location of the spaceport is backed by organisations right across Cornwall, including the LEP, the chamber of commerce, the wider business community and the local authority. Will he update the House on what progress has been made in this important development for the UK space sector?
I will indeed. My hon. Friend is a great champion of Newquay’s bid. The shortlisting has taken place and announcements will be made very soon.
The hon. Lady is a great advocate for this and we discussed this matter during the recent urgent question. We want to do all we can to support the manufacturing future of that entire company, which is why we are focusing so much on trying to help it to get the overseas orders it needs.
When does the Minister plan to respond to the Matthew Taylor review of employment practices in the modern economy?
We are working on our response to the Taylor review’s recommendations now, and we will publish that response before the year’s end.
Imminent changes to the operation of the EU emissions trading system register are likely to invalidate UK-issued carbon allowances from the start of next year. These measures, which have been brought about by Brexit, will have a significant impact on the steel industry. Will the Minister let us know what contingency measures are being taken to mitigate this impact in the event that an agreement cannot be reached with the European Commission on this issue in time?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this important issue. He will be reassured to know that there are active conversations going on between my Department and the European Commission. He presents the absolute worst-case scenario, which we are confident that we will not reach.
The other Conservative Members standing have been heard, but we have not heard from Ms Pow.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The House may be aware that 2017 is likely to be declared one of the top three warmest years on record. With that in mind, it is more important than ever to stick to our carbon commitments. Will the Minister kindly outline what objectives she has for the forthcoming UN climate change conference? Will consolidating our position as global leaders in this area be one of those objectives?
I commend my hon. Friend for her tireless advocacy and leadership in the Conservative Environment Network and for the work she does on behalf of her constituents—Taunton Deane is very lucky. She and I share the aspiration to continue our global leadership role; indeed, the headline objective for the conference is about making everyone aware that there is no rowing back on the Paris agreement—in fact, we want momentum to accelerate. I will be using the conference to announce further investments and further approaches the UK is taking to push our world leadership position forward. If my hon. Friend can just be patient for a few more days, I am sure she will join me in celebrating those when we announce them.
The Committee on Climate Change and a range of respected experts all point out that the existing clean growth strategy will fail on the fifth carbon budget and on the Paris commitments. The Minister must have some additional measures in mind. What are they?
The Committee on Climate Change said this set of policies was one of the most wide-ranging that had ever been put forward. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the budgets end in 10 and 15 years’ time, and we are currently on track to achieve 94% and 93% of the things we need to do, a decade out. I think it is pretty good odds that we will achieve them.
Exiting the EU: Sectoral Analysis
Before we begin the urgent question in the name of Matthew Pennycook, I wish to emphasise to the House that it is narrowly focused. Colleagues will, I am sure, attend to the wording—indeed, I have already attended to the wording—of the hon. Gentleman’s urgent question, which is on the matter of when the Government intend to provide the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union with impact assessments arising from sectoral analyses carried out by Her Majesty’s Ministers. Questioning must focus on that matter; this is not an occasion for a general re-run of Brexit-related matters, of which I am sure there will be many examples in the days, weeks and months to come. I am sure that colleagues can expend their energies more than adequately on the terms which the hon. Gentleman has drawn.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on when the Government intend to provide the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union with impact assessments arising from sectoral analyses carried out by Her Majesty’s Ministers.
We have this morning laid a written ministerial statement on this issue, which sets out the timeline and nature of our response to last week’s motion. As the Government have made clear, it is not the case that there are 58 sectoral impact assessments. During the Opposition day debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), told the House:
“there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 economic impact assessments.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 887.]
The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU made the same point during his appearance before the Lords EU Committee on 31 October, and to the House at oral questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union on 2 November.
Let me clarify exactly what the sectoral analysis is. It is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. It means looking at 58 sectors to help to inform our negotiating positions. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently, and in many cases considers the alternatives after we leave the EU, as well as looking at existing precedents.
Our analysis is constantly evolving and being updated, but it is not, and nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors. Given this, it will take the Government some time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative to the Committee. We will provide this information to the Committee as soon as possible. We have made plain to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be in no more than three weeks.
Here we are again, Mr Speaker. As you will know, Members from both sides of the House have repeatedly requested that the 58 sectoral analyses undertaken by the Government be released. On each occasion prior to last Wednesday’s debate on our motion, Ministers argued that publication of these analyses would compromise the UK’s negotiating position. On no occasion did Ministers argue or imply that the information did not exist as discrete documents, yet yesterday, in his letter to the Chair of the Brexit Committee, that was precisely what the Secretary of State argued. Can the Minister tell the House why, if the information that Members have repeatedly called for does not exist as a series of discrete impact assessments, a clear impression has been allowed to develop over many months that it does?
In a response dated 29 September 2017 to a freedom of information request submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) requesting details about the analyses and their publication, the Department’s FOI Team stated:
“the Department for Exiting the European Union…holds the information you have requested”.
Yet in the Secretary of State’s letter to the Chair of the Select Committee, he implies that it will take time to collate and bring together the information because some of it is held by other Government Departments. Can the Minister confirm that the information given by his Department’s FOI Team on 29 September is correct and that the Department holds the information? If not, why was the Department’s FOI team permitted to state that the information is held? If the Department holds some of the information but not all of it, what is preventing the information that is available from being released to the Brexit Committee immediately?
This farce has dragged on for far too long. Ministers cannot use semantics and doublespeak to avoid the clear instruction that this House has given. There can be no further delay; Ministers just need to get on with it.
The hon. Gentleman says that an impression has been allowed to develop. It was never our purpose to allow such an impression to develop. As I have explained, the Government carry out a wide range of analysis across these sectors in order to inform our negotiating position. Our purpose is to develop our negotiating capital. Our purpose is not to create the kinds of stories that the hon. Gentleman seems to be pursing. The Government hold a wide range of information across a wide range of documents. The information is provided by Departments and collated by my Department, but what it does not comprise, and has never comprised, is quantitative forecasts of impact on those sectors. I think that the public will look at Labour Members today, look at what they are asking for, look at the kind of narrative they are trying to create, and ask, “Whose side are they on?”
As vice-Chairman of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The Select Committee has not actually discussed this matter formally, but from my own point of view, may I tell him that what he has said to the House this afternoon seems to be entirely reasonable?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to the Chairman of the Committee, from whom I am sure we will hear, and I believe that a further meeting has been scheduled.
It is absolutely astonishing that more than 500 days on from the referendum these documents are not yet prepared. If the Government are scrabbling them together in three weeks’ time, woe betide us all. Have they been shared with the devolved Administrations, as the Secretary of State intimated to the Committee? Can the Minister confirm what other assessments have been made about the regional impacts of leaving the European Union?
First and foremost, this criticism comes from a party that decided to leave the United Kingdom without determining what currency it would use. The sectoral analysis has been discussed with the devolved Administrations and the Joint Ministerial Committee, and we will give careful consideration, as and when information is released to the Select Committee, to how we share that information with the devolved Administrations. Once again, I reiterate that the information that we have does not comprise now, and never has done, quantitative forecasts of impact—not on sectors and not on any region.
This is a storm in a teacup. Given the extent of the analysis, the timeframe seems reasonable, because if an incomplete picture was presented, the Opposition would be the first to criticise and to suggest that we were hiding something. I also suggest to the Minister that we should not want to weaken our negotiating hand.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—he is exactly right. Our purpose as a nation is to go forward and maximise our negotiating capital to deliver the best possible deal for all people in the United Kingdom.
We now know what this material consists of, but I am concerned to read in a letter that the Secretary of State sent me that Ministers now intend
“to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the Committee.”
I would expect the Committee to receive these documents in the form they were in when the motion was carried—in other words, unamended. As I made clear in my letter to the Secretary of State, I think it is for the Committee to decide in what form they are published. We are conscious of our responsibilities, in the same way as the whole House is. Can the Minister therefore confirm that that is what will now happen, and that there will be no further undue delay?
The material that we hold includes commercially sensitive material and material that is relevant to our negotiating position. The House has previously voted not to release information that would be prejudicial to our negotiating position. If we were to give the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee the original reports commissioned at the beginning of the Department’s life, he would find that that material was incomplete and out of date. It is our intention to satisfy the motion by providing to him information that is relevant, timely and correct.
The Minister does himself no favours by turning into a partisan matter a perfectly legitimate request by this sovereign Parliament for information about the most important negotiations to affect this country for decades. In the Secretary of State’s letter to the Chair of the Brexit Committee, he talks about
“a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis”.
Presumably, one part of that is the model that the Chancellor referred to when he gave evidence to the Treasury Committee recently. He said that there is a cross-departmental model that
“looks at impacts on different parts of our economy”.
My understanding is that that model is available immediately. Will it be disclosed immediately?
The Treasury model to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred is not contained within the documents, which I have carefully studied.
The Minister says that there is nothing of significance in these documents and that they do not measure any impact. One might ask: what is the point of them, on the biggest single issue facing our country in our lifetimes? On the timing, Mr Speaker, you were very clear last week after the vote. You talked about days, not weeks, and there was also a discussion of Ministers being in contempt of Parliament. Perhaps you might like to remind the Minister what the potential sanctions are for a Minister who is found to be in contempt of Parliament.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put the words “nothing of significance” in my mouth. I do not think that I have ever said that. We are saying to the House that this sectoral analysis does not contain quantitative projections of impact. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s final question, I think that is a matter for you, Mr Speaker.
The motion that the House passed last week without objection referred to
“the impact assessments arising from those analyses”,
in reference to the previous list. I can well imagine that these assessments are scattered around different Departments, and that different officials are looking at various bits of work and saying, “Does this count as part of one of these assessments or not?” I think it would have been unconscionable for the Government to come to the House and suggest that they were not going to comply with the motion or release this information, but may I suggest that there should be some private dialogue with the highly respected Chair of the Brexit Committee, on Privy Council terms, about how to resolve the matter without it becoming a matter of embarrassment that disrupts the negotiations?
It is our intention to comply with the will of the House, but we cannot release what we do not have. We will bring forward the material that is appropriate, timely and up to date, and that will inform the Committee. Steps have already been taken to carry forward the appropriate meetings.
In response to detailed questioning at the Environmental Audit Committee last week, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers revealed the existence of sectoral analyses for the waste and chemicals sectors. Given that those two analyses exist and have been read by Ministers, what is preventing their immediate publication?
The reports that I have read on waste and on chemicals date back to the origins of the Department and so, as I suggested earlier, are now out of date and do not reflect our current thinking. We wish to inform the Committee with the latest information.
Unlike the Minister, I attended the entire debate. I have gone back on my phone to look at the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), and I make it absolutely clear—the Hansard record of the debate is absolutely clear—that the nuts and bolts of the debate were about redaction. The argument that the Government advanced was that some material in the papers would be commercially sensitive and might have an impact on the negotiations. Will the Minister please take this matter seriously? This is a gross contempt of this place. The Government were specifically asked what, if they were not going to vote against the motion, was their problem. Disclose this material, and disclose it properly and quickly.
My right hon. Friend is being perhaps unnecessarily unkind to me. I am sure that I did attend the entire debate, although I might have slipped out briefly. Perhaps I should watch the entire video over the weekend, but we will see. I would say to her that there has been no suggestion of redaction from the Treasury Bench, and certainly not during the course of that debate. That came from the Opposition Front Bench, when—
The hon. Lady says that is not true, but the record will show that when the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was standing at the Dispatch Box, in dilating on his experience as Director of Public Prosecutions, he offered redaction, gisting and summaries—[Interruption.] He did that in his opening speech, whatever the hon. Lady may say.
There are times when a Government have the stench of death about them. They are leaderless and directionless, and we learn today that their defence is that they are also contentless. Most concerning of all is the Minister’s attempt to come to the House today and say that those who ask for this information should have their patriotism questioned. This will not stand, and it cannot be allowed to stand. The House gave the Minister an instruction, so my request to him today is to show a modicum of competence—in this week, of all weeks, for the Government —and pass these studies to the Committee, without redaction, as soon as possible.
We have been given an instruction and we are seeking to comply with it earnestly. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is absolutely no question of being content-free. We have a large amount of content, but we need to draw it together and present it to the Committee in a form that is useful. On his other point, it bears repeating that it is time for the House to come together and strive in the national interest to implement the referendum result, not to seek anything that would undermine our negotiating capital.
When the papers are published, will they inform the negotiations in any way? In that respect, does the Minister sometimes wonder whose side Opposition Members are on?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is very important that we in this House do not do the work of our negotiating partners for them. We wish to have a deep and special partnership, and to go forward in a spirit of friendship, but it is not our place to do an analysis of our own negotiating capital for our partners.
I actually want to commend the Minister, as I thought it was impossible for this Government to get more incompetent but they are doing a very good job of it. When they release the data, will they explain why, if they have undertaken all this analysis, none of it is quantitative? That does not bear any credence whatsoever, because there is no point undertaking an analysis without checking what the impact will be.
I am very happy that I now have so many hon. Friends from Scotland, which is a statement about what the Scottish people think of the competence of the hon. Gentleman’s party. In so far as there is quantitative analysis in the documents, which I have carefully studied, that is a statement of the facts as they were known at the time, not a projection into the future.
Most fair-minded people would accept that it is reasonable that some of this material may not be available until three weeks have expired, but there must be some of the material that could be made available now or sooner than in three weeks. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will do his best to make available soon that material which could be supplied before the three-week deadline?
It is our intention to make available a coherent and up-to-date set of information within three weeks.
I hesitate to ask this question, because I have an image in my mind of the Minister rocking up to the office of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) with carrier bags full of paper and asking him to sift through them. Nevertheless, will the Minister assure me that when the documentation is made available, it will include comparative information about the sectoral impact of the different forms of Brexit that the Government have considered but discounted?
The hon. Lady asks an interesting question. It is precisely because we wish to avoid dumping unnecessary information on the Committee that we want to take the time necessary to bring together the information in an appropriate form—[Interruption.] Well, that was what the hon. Lady said. She asked for comparative economic forecasts, but I have already said repeatedly that this material does not include quantitative economic forecasts.
What the Minister has said is perfectly reasonable, but I urge him to release the documents in full as quickly as possible, as redactions only enflame interest. I have lived through many of these rows, and once such documents are published, they are often found to be very long and boring. When Parliament gets itself into a fine passion about this sort of thing, the travelling is often more fun than arriving.
On my hon. Friend’s final point, having carefully read the initial analysis, I think I can say with some certainty—[Hon. Members: “Oh, we have some analysis!”] I say to SNP Members that, as I have already told the House, I have read the initial round of analysis from the beginning of the life of the Department.
I can say to my hon. Friend that, in this case, the arrival will indeed be far less interesting than the journey.
The House will be absolutely staggered to hear Ministers say today that it is not the case that 58 sectoral analyses exist. In his evidence to the Select Committee, the Secretary of State said that the Prime Minister had seen the summaries, and that they comprised excruciating detail. In its response to my freedom of information request, the Department said that the initial exercise had concluded and, as such, all of the studies referred to had been completed. Will the Minister explain exactly what the Prime Minister saw, given that the Department does not have the studies, and could the studies—as referred to, perhaps, in the initial exercise, and as shown, I suspect, to the Prime Minister—be released to the Select Committee today?
The hon. Lady is conflating various terms. There is certainly a sectoral analysis; what there is not is a quantitative impact analysis forecasting the future. It might help the House if I repeat what I said earlier. The analysis thus far has been a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently in those sectors, and in many cases it considers the alternatives after we leave, as well as looking at existing precedents.
The House has clearly voted for these papers to be released. My Whips advised me not to vote against that, so they have to be released. The Minister is trying to be helpful in providing additional information. I would say to him that that is not what the House requires. It requires lots of cardboard boxes with the information to be dumped on the Select Committee for it to look at. The Select Committee will then decide what, if anything, should be published.
I am very grateful indeed to my hon. Friend, but I would say to him that the information we have includes commercially sensitive information, information that is material to our negotiating capital and advice to Ministers. The House must be very careful not to establish precedents that it could regret in due course.
The Minister’s explanation for the delay is laughable and was not used in rejecting my freedom of information request two weeks ago. His explanation smacks of cover up and smokescreen. He questioned which side the Opposition were on. We are on the side of the public. When he deigns to publish these reports, will he also publish a report that the public can have, setting out precisely the cost of the Brexit that he so enthusiastically endorses?
As I have not ceased saying, we are not in possession of quantitative studies forecasting the impact of leaving the EU. What the public deserves is to have this House pull together to deliver a successful result, which requires us to maximise our negotiating capital by not releasing information that would be prejudicial to the future of the country.
Although these analyses do not contain sectoral impact assessments, they may contain sensitive and confidential information, so will the Minister engage with the Chairman of the Select Committee to ensure that the information in these reports is handled appropriately with the public and the Committee?
As I understand it, a meeting has already been arranged between the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Committee to do just that.
I am sure that the public will, on the whole, use common sense and agree that this timing is reasonable. May I ask the Minister to make it very clear that, whatever is in these documents that we will be sitting up all night to read when they are published, it will make no change whatever to the policy of this country—that we are leaving the European Union, the single market and the customs union?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, and I agree with her. The Government’s policy follows naturally from the UK’s democratic decision to leave the European Union. We will take back control of our laws, our borders, our money and our trade policy, and I am confident that we will make a success of it.
Mr Speaker, you have said that this particular question should focus on the issue of when, and the Minister has said within three weeks. During that period, the Select Committee will be able to have a proper debate about what exactly we want to see and in what format. Those of us who are going to Brussels this afternoon will have the chance to ask Mr Verhofstadt what plans the European Union Parliament has to make the same demands to the European Union Commission, and to ask Monsieur Barnier what plans the Commission has to provide the same answers to the same demands. Surely there is no one in this House who would want to see us publish information that would damage this nation in negotiations with another party.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I agree with what he said.
It really is a bit rich for those on the Government Benches to ask which side we are on when this whole exercise from start to finish has been one of party political management over the national interest. The question is: party interest or national interest—which side are they on?
On the specific issue of timing, I am on the side of British businesses, which have warned the Treasury Committee that, before Christmas, some sectors will have to take potentially irreversible decisions. That position worsens in quarter one of next year in major sectors of our economy. Is three weeks really a reasonable delay? What can possibly be a reasonable explanation for such important and critical information not to be held in a way that is readily available and readily understood?
The hon. Gentleman refers to an exercise in party management, but I have to tell him that, over the past two years, I have very much enjoyed working with members of Labour leave—and, indeed, Liberal leave. Right across this country, people of every party allegiance have wanted to resolve this question. He refers to businesses: of course, we continually engage with businesses—indeed, I met representatives of the chemical sector yesterday. He asks whether three weeks is reasonable. The answer is yes, for the reasons that I have given.
Given all the outrage that we are hearing in the Chamber today and further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), is my hon. Friend aware of any requests from the Opposition for those EU sectoral documents?
No, I am not aware of any such request.
The Minister confirmed in a response to me on 13 September that the Department had the analyses. He has confirmed today that he has seen the analyses. He then said that there is no quantitative work that casts its eye into the future. The question in response to that is: why has that work on such a critical issue not been done by his Department? He has not explained that. Surely he is in contempt of the House and we should repurpose the Tower to accommodate him and his Department heads.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to a range of answers that I have already given.
The Minister has confirmed that the sectoral analyses will need to be released in relevant time and will need to have the correct information. Does he agree that resolving this matter to the satisfaction of the whole House and this country is most important and that long-term damage to the UK is certainly what nobody should be seeking?
As I have said during the course of this debate, members of the Government are parliamentarians first and we do wish to satisfy the House. I say to my hon. Friend that our first priority as a Department is securing the long-term future of this country, and it is to that end that we will bend all our work.
Does the Minister recognise that, with his statement today, he really has turned farce into a new art form? When he asks what side we are on, I say that we on the Opposition Benches are on the side of the 29 million workers whose livelihoods absolutely depend on the impact of Brexit on the UK economy. Will he recognise that he is treating not only this House but the British public with contempt?
I will tell the House what is turning farce into an art form: it is blogging about the Greek debt crisis under the hashtag #thisisacoup and then supporting our continued membership of the European Union, as the hon. Lady has done. That is what takes the public for fools. I say to her that we are all on the side of the British public. The UK took a democratic decision to leave the European Union, and we will now carry through that decision.
When these documents are released as a result of the Opposition day motion, a cheap asset will have been handed to our negotiating partners within the EU. When the Minister implements the motion of this House, will he take as much time as is necessary to ensure that at least he and the Secretary of State continue to act in the national interest?
We will continue to act in the national interest as we seek to satisfy the House and this motion. It is to that end that the Secretary of State will be meeting the Chairman of the Select Committee.
People are increasingly concerned about jobs and the national health service. The Minister has given some very confusing information in his answers today. Who will be the censor of what MPs and the public are allowed to know about these issues of national importance?
This Government have a proud record on jobs and on the NHS and we will continue to give both issues the first importance.
My constituents, more than most, want the Government to get on with delivering Brexit. They told me that they were saddened that this House had voted as it did because it does not help our negotiating position. What they would like this House and the Minister’s Department officials to get on with doing is negotiating the best possible deal rather than spending time facilitating the whims of this House. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a very unseemly atmosphere in the Chamber. I understand the rising passions on the subject, but, as colleagues will know, I regularly visit schools across the country and conduct Skype sessions with school students. One of the most frequent questions put to me is: why do people feel the need to bawl at each other? We should set a better example to the next generation of leaders.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and I say to him that officials and Ministers will have to spend some time on this work over the next three weeks, which will of course distract them from the negotiation. That is regrettable, but we take seriously the motion that the House has passed and, in the way that I have set out, we are seeking to comply with it.
This is outrageous! Whose side are we on? We are on the side of the truth being told; we are on the side of the British people; we are on the side of British business; we are on the side of British workers. Is it not the case that the Minister is simply making it up as he goes along, and treating Parliament and the people of Britain with utter contempt?
No, that is not the case.
Is the Minister forgetting that, this time in one week, we will have 300 or 400 amendments before the House? Does he believe that this is a good way to start the Committee stage of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
I am very conscious of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill coming forward, and I would like to begin Committee stage in a positive spirit of collaboration in order to deliver in the national interest. I have sought today to give straightforward answers to the questions that we have been asked, and I stand by what I have said.
This is turning into the Government equivalent of the dead parrot sketch. The Minister says that releasing the information could compromise the Government’s negotiating position, yet he could not be bothered to turn up to the House to vote the motion down. The Secretary of State for Scotland said at Scotland Office questions just last Wednesday that a sectoral analysis of Brexit’s impact on Scotland’s economy existed and had been shared with the Scottish Government. Does it or does it not exist? When will the Minister release that information?
As I have said throughout the urgent question, we are not in possession of quantitative forecasts of the impact of Brexit. We are in possession of sectoral analysis, and we will work on that to satisfy the motion.
It is very simple. Parliament has told the Government to hand over the documents to the Select Committee. The Government accept that the resolution of the House is binding and that they will have to do that. They accept that the things exist because the Minister says that he has read them all and that the Prime Minister has read their outlines. It is very simple: the Minister has to hand them over to the Committee in a timely fashion. However, he seems to think that, in the meantime, he can rewrite them all because they are not good enough. That is not good enough. It is all very well for him to smirk and sneer at our patriotism, but if he holds the House in contempt, he holds the British public in contempt.
There is no question of our holding the House in contempt. We are seeking earnestly to deliver to the House what has been requested. I say again that I have read the initial analysis, which Departments conducted at the beginning of our Department’s work. It is necessary to hand to the Select Committee not out-of-date, multiple documents produced at different times that are not representative of our latest thinking. We will therefore bring together the right information to provide to the Select Committee.
Listening to the Minister and his slippery evasions makes me question why the Department and he as a Minister exist at all. What is the point of the Department if it is not doing its job?
Order. The hon. Gentleman is an extremely versatile and dextrous parliamentarian. He should not accuse the Minister of “slippery evasions” because there is a connotation there of alleged dishonesty, which the hon. Gentleman, who is normally an equable and good-natured fellow, should withdraw. He has articulated the thrust of his point. Withdraw.
I am happy to withdraw, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker, I am most grateful. I reiterate that I am confident that I have answered those questions directly. The purpose of our Department is to deliver a successful exit from the European Union. I know that the hon. Gentleman nobly opposes that cause, as he has long done, but I have to say to him that we will continue to work with all our might to deliver a successful exit from the EU that works for everyone.
The quantitative assessment that counts is that of the British people. They determined at the general election that the Conservatives should not have an overall majority in this House. That is why a majority of this House demanded that the Minister make the documents available to the Select Committee. It is not beyond the Minister’s wit to negotiate with the Select Committee Clerks how confidential information may be handled and kept confidential. He should proceed on that basis and negotiate the handling of the documents. Exactly what does he fear that Select Committee members will do with the confidential information?
As I explained earlier, I understand that the Secretary of State has made arrangements to meet the Chairman of the Select Committee to discuss those matters.
We are currently fighting for the survival of the Vauxhall car plant in my constituency. I am working with the local enterprise partnership and others to come up with a plan for the future. Of course, Brexit is a huge part of that. Will the Minister share as much as he can as soon as he can with my LEP of any impact analysis he has seen for the automotive sector?
We would like to get on with delivering the best possible deal for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the whole country. That is why we have constantly sought to get on to talking about the future relationship. I undertake to visit that plant with him as the business of the House allows.
We are seeing astonishing, dizzying theatre from the Government. We have had all sorts of Brexit before us: we are now seeing “improv Brexit”—improvising, making it up as they go along, with no tangible appreciation that, away from here, Brexit is playing out in everyday lives and there is a thirst for practical guidance. Three weeks feels like enough time to make it up, from “We shall not publish” to “It is not the case that these documents exist”. What does the Government’s quantitative analysis actually quantify?
As I said in answer to a previous question, the quantitative analysis in the documents that we have and that I have studied reflects conditions at the time they were written.
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the circumstances surrounding her meetings in Israel in August 2017.
I start by explaining that the Secretary of State is on a pre-arranged Government visit to Africa—[Interruption.] She is currently in the air. She is on a pre-arranged visit to Africa, to focus on how we are breaking down barriers to trade, helping African countries achieve their development ambitions, reducing dependence on aid and helping build Britain’s trading partners of the future.
I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the Secretary of State’s trip to Israel earlier this year, and I appreciate the hon. Lady’s question. The Secretary of State made a public statement yesterday. In that, she explained that she had the opportunity to meet a number of people and organisations in Israel. A list of who she met and what was covered was published in yesterday’s statement.
The Secretary of State realises in hindsight that those meetings were not arranged following the usual procedures, and she has apologised for that. The Foreign Office has said that UK interests were not damaged or affected by the meetings on that visit. I therefore hope that hon. Members will agree that now she has made that apology and published details of the meetings, we should accept that and refocus on our vital work of tackling extreme poverty and humanitarian crises across the world.
I thank the Minister for being here, but it is simply unacceptable that the Secretary of State is not here before the House to answer this question and explain herself.
The British public are outraged that the Secretary of State held 12 secret meetings in Israel, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu, without telling either the Foreign Office or the Prime Minister, and was accompanied by a pro-Israeli lobbyist. She then misled the British public with comments on Friday that she finally corrected yesterday. It has now emerged that the Prime Minister met her Israeli counterpart last week without even knowing about the secret meeting in August.
Today we learned that the Secretary of State has applied pressure to her Department to divert humanitarian funding to the Israeli army in the Golan Heights. Will the Minister tell the House exactly what was discussed in those secret meetings, and exactly what pressure the Secretary of State applied on her Department when she returned to the UK?
It is hard to think of a more black and white case of breaking the ministerial code of conduct, but rather than change the Minister, the Prime Minister somehow decided last night that the ministerial code itself needed changing.
We have a Prime Minister who has lost her authority and her control of the classroom. Does the Minister accept that it is time the Secretary of State either faces a Cabinet Office investigation, or does the decent thing and resigns?
First, I repeat that the Secretary of State is already on her way to Africa on a pre-arranged visit. She is already flying and it is not possible for her to deal with the question, but that is why I am here. The Secretary of State published a statement yesterday, with an apology.
Let me take the hon. Lady’s questions as she put them. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was informed of the Secretary of State’s visit during the course of the visit, but not before. The Secretary of State has been very clear and absolutely contrite. Her statement yesterday recognises that of course she should have informed the Foreign Office before the visit, but she did not. That is why the statement was made and that is why she has apologised. In the statement, she also gave full details of the meetings she had. They are not verbatim accounts, but she has given details of who she saw and the subjects that were discussed, which I think is quite appropriate. I do not think that that means they were particularly secret meetings, particularly as the Foreign Office was aware, during the course of the visit, that she had been seeing people in Israel.
On the ministerial code of conduct, my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has apologised to the Prime Minister for her handling of this matter. The Prime Minister has accepted her apology. The Foreign Office was aware of her visit to Israel while it was under way. The Foreign Office is also clear that UK interests were not damaged or affected by the meetings on this visit. The Prime Minister regards the matter as closed.
I would like to make a couple more points, if I may. Let us look at who my right hon. Friend met: leading politicians; an emergency humanitarian aid non-governmental organisation; Pears Programme for Global Innovation; and a group that works on water, farming, solar and hospital projects in Africa; she visited Save a Child’s Heart to talk about a co-existence project; the Galilee International Management Institute and held a meeting with a group of start-ups with a focus on Africa. Does the hon. Lady think that she should not have met those people? If I had been in Israel on a two-day visit, I would have wanted a programme just like this.
You would have told the ambassador.
I would have told the ambassador—of course I would. But if we look at the quality of the meetings, who my right hon. Friend saw and what her job is, they are all absolutely pertinent.
One last point if I may, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) raised the question of pressure on the Department afterwards. As the Minister responsible for development in that area, I can say that two issues were raised by the Secretary of State on her return. One related to aid currently being provided by the Israeli army for those in Syria who could not get medical assistance or cross the border to get it from the Israeli Defence Forces. The second issue she raised was whether there was room for more co-operation between the UK and the Israeli aid agency, as we look at issues right across the region.
We looked at both issues. The Department’s view is that aid to the IDF in the Golan Heights is not appropriate —we do not do that—and that was the advice given to the Secretary of State. We are looking hard to see if there is room to co-operate with the Israeli aid organisation, as we do with others around the region. There was no pressure put on the Department. They were perfectly pertinent questions to raise on her return. She raised them in an entirely the proper way with the Department and with me, and we are dealing with it. She is doing her job as Development Secretary. That is what she is doing today and that is what the meetings disclose.
The spotlight is on the proceedings and behaviour of all of us in this place as never before. What people want is transparency and accountability. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is time, finally, to address the issue of privileged access, lobbying and funding if we are not to have this repeated time and time again? Does he not agree that all organisations involved in active lobbying of Members of Parliament and Ministers should open their books and be entirely transparent, so that we can see who is lobbying whom and who is providing the funding?
Questions about lobbying and transparency are really important for the House and for Ministers, which is why it was important for the Secretary of State to disclose who she was with and the organisations she went to see. Wider questions about lobbying and funding are for others, but I think the Secretary of State has, having made the statement yesterday to disclose what she had done, been entirely transparent in relation to her visit.
I share the astonishment of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) that the Secretary of State is not here to defend herself. It would appear that the Government have such little credibility left that Ministers are now freelancing on foreign policy. I wonder if the Minister will answer these questions. Will he confirm whether the Chancellor was briefed about the outrageous development that UK aid funding was to be given to the Israeli army? What action is the Prime Minister taking to ensure the matter is investigated in terms of the ministerial code? Does he have faith that the Secretary of State still has the ability and credibility to carry on?
No, I do not think the Chancellor was informed, because it never became a policy, or had the chance to become a policy, to fund the Israeli Defence Forces in the Golan Heights. Secondly, as I said a moment ago, as far as the ministerial code is concerned, the Prime Minister has seen the Secretary of State, who has explained and apologised again for not informing people beforehand. The Prime Minister regards the matter as closed, but she is looking to tighten up the ministerial code to make it very clear what the process should be. Do I have full confidence in my right hon. Friend? Of course I do.
When I met the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, he stormed out of the meeting. The Secretary of State got a much more cordial reception. Is it just because she is a lady?
I am not sure if it is appropriate for me to answer on either how my right hon. Friend was treated or the reception for the Secretary of State for International Development, but I am quite sure that both meetings were perfectly proper and appropriate.
The Minister read out an incredibly long list of meetings that the Secretary of State held in Israel on what I thought was supposed to be a family holiday. Did she have any meetings with the Palestinian side? The Minister will, as Middle East Minister, appreciate the importance of a wholly balanced approach to the middle east peace process and not a one-sided one. If she is in the air now, she could have delayed her departure, couldn’t she, and shown some courtesy to this House. It is very difficult for us to know, Mr Speaker, whether the Secretary of State for International Development or the Foreign Secretary has the worse relationship with accuracy. If we had a Prime Minister who was not so weak, both would have been sacked.
The Secretary of State says, in her very full statement yesterday, that she was on a family holiday between 13 and 25 August, which is 12 days. She took two days out of that holiday to have a series of meetings with Israeli politicians and political people, and a number of different charities, including, as I said earlier, Save a Child’s Heart, which works with Palestinian children as well as Israeli children. The list of meetings has been published. I do not see that she specifically had a set of meetings with those representing Palestinian interests, but of course she has met those on other occasions. It is a full disclosure of work. She had two days off in the middle of a holiday. I suspect that is not particularly unusual for Ministers, who sometimes do other things. But you would, of course, let the Foreign Office know in advance, which my right hon. Friend did not, and that was the error for which she has apologised. The meetings were really pertinent to her work, to our work and to British interests.
Given that Foreign Office Ministers and International Development Ministers now share responsibilities across the two Departments, and that we have two Secretaries of State, is there not a need to clarify the position for Ministers visiting particular countries—whether the Foreign Office or DFID is informed —so that we clear this matter up once and for all?
Having been around a bit, I would hope that the ministerial code makes it clear what the sequence of events ought to be. Most Ministers should let the local embassy know they are going to be there, in case something happens while they are—that is reasonable practice, including sometimes for holidays. Certainly, if a Minister is going to have meetings in a country, they need to make it very clear that they want to have them and get them set up. That is the appropriate process. Again, my right hon. Friend has said very clearly that she did not do that, and she has apologised, and I suspect that someone will not be doing something like this for a very long time.
It is a real shame that the Minister is acting as an air raid shelter here—I think if he reflects later, he will not be proud of what he has done today. The honest truth is that if the Secretary of State had said in this House what she said in public last week, when she misled the public, by now she would have been referred to the Committee on Standards. I honestly say to the Minister: either there is a Government with collective responsibility in which people talk to one another before they potentially meet significant people in other Governments, or there is not a Government, and if there is not a Government, it is not a question of whether the Secretary of State should resign, but a question of whether they should all resign.
To return to the core of the issue, my right hon. Friend accepts that she should have discussed the visit before she went and made it very clear what she was going to do. In relation to what she said to The Guardian last week, again she has made it clear that her words left room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding, which is why she issued the statement yesterday and is clarifying matters. She regrets not being clearer in her language, which is appropriate, and I think it perfectly reasonable that I have been asked to do this today, given that she is continuing her work as International Development Secretary abroad and so could not be here.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s apology. My right hon. Friend the Minister will understand that we often come to this issue with history and positions previously taken: he is a former treasurer of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State are regarded as very strong supporters of Israel. My right hon. Friend will know how important it is, when people get into these positions and hold responsibilities for whole-of-Government policy, that they understand all the perspectives around this awful conflict, which is at the heart of so many of the problems in the middle east. He is probably the best equipped of her Ministers to take her gently in hand, and I hope that he does.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s welcome for my right hon. Friend’s apology. He is right; many Members have history in relation to this terrible and long-standing conflict. Those in ministerial positions have to be particularly careful that whatever their background they apply themselves honestly and objectively to the issues. We all try to do so. We cannot pretend we did not have affiliations, but we make sure, when we are acting in the UK’s interests and on UK foreign policy, that that—and absolutely nothing else—is our guiding light. I have seen nothing to suggest that the Secretary of State takes a different view.
The Minister said that the Foreign Office was made aware of the Secretary of State’s visit to Israel during her visit. Can he give us more information about when the Foreign Office was made aware? Was it before or after the meetings with Israeli Ministers and politicians? At what level was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made aware? Did someone in the embassy find out, or did the Secretary of State tell London she was in Israel?
My understanding is that FCO officials became aware of my right hon. Friend’s private visit on 24 August—during her visit. I do not have the dates of all the meetings, but I suspect it was after the meetings took place, and I believe that it was she who told the official abroad that she was there and having these visits. That is my understanding of the case.
Has guidance now been reissued to Ministers and Secretaries of State that they should not freelance on foreign policy—or on policy in relation to any other Department—when on their holidays, with or without Tory donors present?
The Prime Minister said yesterday that the ministerial code would be tightened in relation to this matter, and I am quite sure that it will be. I do not think it has been reissued this morning, but—again—the common sense of this is very clear. That is why my right hon. Friend has recognised that she should have done this differently, as I am sure we all would were we in a similar position.
The Minister has been clear that neither his Department nor the Home Office knew about these meetings. He said that they were not set up in the usual way. Can he explain how they were set up? My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) asked about when the FCO was made aware of the meetings. Is it not important that that question be clarified? If it knew beforehand, did the embassy make any attempt to attend the meetings and make sure the Secretary of State knew her responsibilities?
As far as I am aware, no officials sought to attend the meetings. As I said, I think the Foreign Office was made aware of the visits after they had taken place.
That’s not what you said.
That would seem to be the appropriate thing. The root of this is that my right hon. Friend knows that she should have told the embassy and the Foreign Office in advance.
That’s not what you said.
I am sorry. I thought I said clearly what I understood the sequence of events to have been. The meetings were set up by Lord Polak through his contacts and interests with Israel, which are widely known.
This appears to have been a gross breach of the code of ministerial conduct—certainly every code I have ever seen—and, as a Minister of nine years’ standing in previous Governments, I would have thought that this was a resigning matter. The Minister, for whom I have a lot of respect, has said that no officials attended the meetings. Has the Secretary of State provided a full minute to the Department, the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister of the content of the meetings, which she appears to have attended alone, without any officials, so as to fill this appalling gap that she has created?
My right hon. Friend supplied in her statement yesterday a list of the meetings and the subjects covered—nobody would expect a verbatim account of those meetings—and has spoken to the FCO and the Prime Minister about them. I again draw the House’s attention to these meetings, however, with parties ranging from the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel and the Minister for Public Security, Information and Strategic Affairs to several charities. There is nothing in this programme that anyone interested in Israel and the middle east would quibble with. The difficulty was that they were not spoken about in advance, as my right hon. Friend recognises, but none of these meetings themselves would be considered untoward. That is why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office are satisfied they were in the UK’s interests and that nothing has happened that is detrimental to the UK’s interests.
I feel for the Minister—he has been sent here to answer these questions—but it is not unreasonable to have expected him to arrive able to furnish the House with full details about what was disclosed, to whom, when and under what circumstances. [Interruption.]. He says he has. In response to the questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for North Durham (Mr Jones), he was unable to provide accurate and factual responses about who was met—[Interruption.] Will he stop waving bits of paper, just for one moment, and getting hot under the collar? At what point was the Foreign Office informed? What exactly was it informed about—was it the full scope and content of the meetings? At what stage was it informed? Under what circumstances was it informed? Those are the key questions. Finally, there has been some controversy about this issue with the IDF. Did the Secretary of State discuss funding for the IDF in her meetings in Israel? If so, it was not disclosed in the ministerial statement.
I was holding the piece of paper because on it is the statement that my right hon. Friend issued yesterday. It lists the meetings that she attended and the subjects for discussion. It is not a verbatim account, but it is pretty detailed in respect of the matters that she discussed.
When did the embassy know about it?
I gave the hon. Gentleman the answer to that question. The embassy was aware on 24 August, which I think will have been after some of the meetings. As for who was met and what was said, details have been provided.
I am sure colleagues do not believe that the Secretary of State should not have discussed the Pears Programme for Global Innovation with Dr Aliza Inbal, discussed with IsraAID emergency humanitarian aid and the work that the organisation does, or visited Save a Child’s Heart. If I were on a development-related visit to Israel, I would want to have exactly the same meetings. The root of the matter and the heart of the concern is the fact that my right hon. Friend did not disclose her visit at the outset. She has addressed that, and the details of the meetings have been made clear in her statement.
Earlier, the Deputy Leader of the House accused Labour Front Benchers of pursuing this matter because they were vehemently anti-Israel. I freely admit that I have profound disagreements with the perspectives of some of my Labour colleagues on this conflict, but let me say to the Minister and to all Members that, as a former proud chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I am appalled by what has happened. The Minister is right to say that the meetings were not heinous in and of themselves, but the lack of accountability is highly suspect.
Order. This is a most interesting and engaging disquisition, but I am looking for the question mark, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is teetering on the brink of it.
Does the Minister not agree that it is beyond credibility that the International Development Secretary thought that it could be an appropriate use of UK public funds to divert them to the Israeli Defence Forces in the Golan Heights? This is surely an example of her seeking a position within the Conservative party and bringing the country into disrepute.
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to defend any suggestion that the matter is being pursued because of an Israel angle, but it is a perfectly legitimate matter for the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) to have raised because, as we know, the substance of it is already contained in a ministerial apology. My right hon. Friend accepts that she got the sequence wrong, and that she should have done something differently. Therefore, I accept the question in a perfectly straightforward way. However, I think it is a stretch to say that, having learnt on that trip—if she did not already know—of the Israeli army’s work in looking after people from Syria who cannot get medical aid for their acute injuries there and who cross the border into Israel where aid is properly and freely given by the Israeli Defence Forces, she should not have come back and said that that was an extraordinary humanitarian gesture, and asked whether there was anything that we should do. The answer to that question is no, for the reasons that I gave earlier, but not to believe that it is a perfectly genuine question to ask, on a humanitarian basis, strikes me as a bit of a stretch.
It is dismal to see the Minister having to defend the indefensible in this way. He is doing his very best to put a positive gloss on the issue, but does he really believe that, when the Secretary of State offered to make financial assistance available to the Israeli Defence Forces to aid that settlement development in the Golan Heights, she did not know, or did not care, that the UK does not recognise the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights? Will he clarify that point, please?
Let me make it clear that there is no question of supporting any settlements in the Golan Heights. What the Israeli Defence Forces do is open information, which the hon. Lady can find on the internet. Civilians from Syria come to the Israeli Defence Forces with their injured, for whom they cannot get help on their side of the border, and ask for medical help, which the Israeli Defence Forces give. That is an extraordinary humanitarian act, and it has been going on for some time. I do not think that my right hon. Friend was unreasonable to look at the work that was going on and ask whether there was something that the United Kingdom could do to assist it. Because we regard the Golan Heights as occupied territory, and because we cannot support the Israeli occupation, the answer to her query was no, but I think it entirely reasonable for her to have come back and thought about it—and, of course, the Department provided the appropriate answer.
Does the Minister understand the concern that the public will feel when it seems that British foreign policy on Israel and Palestine is being run by a Conservative-linked lobby group rather than by an independent civil service and an elected Government? Is this not just another example of a Government who are in disarray as lobby groups, not Downing Street, run our country?
May I also ask whether the Secretary of State has been referred to Sir Alex Allan or to Sue Gray, the director general of propriety and ethics, in connection with the ministerial code of conduct?
The short answer to the hon. Lady’s second question is no, because the Prime Minister considers the matter to be closed. As for her first question, it is palpably obvious that policy on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is not made by any lobby group anywhere, but is made, perfectly properly, by the Government. Since my right hon. Friend returned from Israel, support for the west bank, and for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the emergency appeal from Gaza, has come from the Department for International Development. Ministers quite properly make the policy. The Government are informed by lots of people, but they make the policy, not lobbyists.
This feels like another case of shooting the messenger, but are we supposed to believe that—according to the Minister—the Secretary of State had all those meetings that were so beneficial, so worth while, yet did not fully brief people when she came back? This has never come up in parliamentary questions.
We are supposed to believe that the Secretary of State is so capable and has the ability to carry out her role, yet we are also supposed to believe that it was a good idea to give the Israeli Defence Forces money in the Golan Heights—oh wait, we cannot, because we do not recognise the territories; we regard them as occupied territories. That does not sound like someone in whose ability to do her job we can have confidence.
May I also ask a question about demolitions? Did the Secretary of State express any concern about international aid for the villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya?
I cannot answer the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, because I do not have a verbatim account of all the meetings, but I can say that the Secretary of State is fully behind the Government’s policy, which has been to oppose the demolitions in both Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya. I went to visit those villages in August, and the policy has not changed.
As for the issue of the Israeli Defence Forces, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State saw, as we all have, the extraordinary work that is being done to provide humanitarian assistance and save people from the death that they would have suffered had they not been treated. That she should feel humanitarian concern and ask whether, wherever that support had come from, the United Kingdom could contribute to it did not strike me as unreasonable, but we cannot do so, for the reasons that I have already given.
It is becoming a regular occurrence in the Chamber for issues to become less rather than more clear when a Minister is at the Dispatch Box. It seems that the Secretary of State informed the Foreign Office about her visit the day before she left; perhaps that was because she got caught.
On the issue of transparency, will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for a full timeline showing when she met the organisations that she met? It should start with the first correspondence between the Secretary of State and Lord Polak, or between whoever arranged the visits in her office and Lord Polak. It should also show whether she used official or unofficial e-mail addresses.
Let me say first that my right hon. Friend did not suddenly contrive a long-planned visit to Africa in the last 24 hours.
I did not say that.
The hon. Gentleman implied that my right hon. Friend had suddenly found a reason to go to Africa and disappear, and that is not fair.
If more information is needed, there is no reason why further questions may not be asked by means of written parliamentary questions or the like. Let me point out again, however, that a full statement and an apology were made by my right hon. Friend, who recognised that what she did was not in the right sequence, and gave the details of whom she saw. I am sure that, if colleagues seek more information, they will be responded to in the appropriate way.
I also have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but even he must concede that the more we hear about this affair, the murkier it sounds. May we have an assurance that DFID will publish a summary of all discussions that took place in the months prior to this holiday within the Department that had any connection to Israel or any organisations in Israel, and may we have a summary of all discussions that have taken place in the Department since the holiday?
The hon. Gentleman can ask these questions, but I have to say that DFID and the Foreign Office discuss issues relating to Israel and the occupied territories virtually all the time. It is a constant source of discussion as we look at both the long-standing issues between them and the aid we give to the west bank and Gaza in emergency appeals and for long-standing development programmes. That is all public and open and clear. If the hon. Gentleman would like to ask any further questions, he can do, but the information on these matters and the support that is given to the area is well known, and that policy has not changed in any way since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came back.
I feel for the Minister, who is a very decent man. He has been brought here to answer questions about significant failings by the Secretary of State, but frankly she should be here today, and if that meant cancelling or postponing a flight, so be it. May I press him on when the Secretary of State first informed her own Department of these meetings, and whether she received any advance briefings or advice?
I thank the hon. Lady for her generous remarks; I appreciate them very much.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State informed the FCO on 24 August. If I recall rightly, the FCO at that time made the matter known both to her own Department and the rest of the FCO. So it was known at that stage. It would seem clear that discussions were not held in advance—my right hon. Friend has apologised for that and recognises she got it wrong. That is what I have been trying to make clear in this statement as best I can, and that was also the purpose of her statement yesterday.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has given a number of answers to me and other colleagues whereby there is some lack of clarity and some uncertainty. How can we best ensure that the House gets the full facts about the timing and the role of the two Departments in the periods up to, during and at the end of this ministerial private visit to Israel?
The short answer is that Members can table questions, either written or oral or both. If the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied he can, when the House returns next week, seek, by one or other means of the various types of question available, to procure the information, in all likelihood from the Secretary of State for International Development herself.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister have an opportunity to offer some clarification? He has said today that Foreign Office staff in Israel found out about these meetings as they were going on, but, from answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and others, it seems clear that they found out after the meetings had taken place. May we get some clarity about when they did find this out?
The Minister of State may come in in a moment if he wishes, but when that was first put to him, he effectively acknowledged the likelihood that that was so, and I think it recurred as an issue in the course of the questioning—and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has now reiterated the same point. So, although there might not be specificity today about precise dates, on the concept involved, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State was clear. It is open to Members to return to these matters in the normal way through written and oral interrogation, and the hon. Gentleman will have to be only modestly patient.
But I think we should preserve the last words on this matter to the Minister of State, whose emollient tone we will now hear.
I am happy to do as best I can by being as clear as I can. The information I have is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told Foreign Office officials on 24 August that she was on the visit. It seems likely that the meetings took place beforehand. The reason for the statement and for her explanation yesterday is that she recognises that she should have told people beforehand. So there is no doubt about that: that is what the explanation is for; that is what the statement is for; and she has apologised for that—she got that wrong. I do not think there is any lack of clarity about the date, the sequence or anything else now.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Bearing in mind what the Minister has just said and what has been said about giving advance notice, would it not be nice, and rather charming, if the Secretary of State just told you—today, perhaps—that she was going to make a statement next Monday, so all of this could be cleared up in the round?
I always welcome communication from the right hon. Lady, whom I have known for many years. If she becomes aware of these matters and wishes to indicate to me an intention to come to the House, she is welcome to do so and I would welcome it, but that has to be for her to judge. We will leave it there for now.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the impact of the escalation of Saudi Arabia’s blockade on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
First, it has been made clear where the Secretary of State is, and we have apologised for her being on a visit to Africa. Let me answer the question.
Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis: 21 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance, and nearly 10 million are in need of immediate help to support or sustain life. As the third-largest humanitarian donor to Yemen and the second-largest donor to the UN appeal, the UK is already leading the world’s response to the crisis in Yemen. Our funding of £155 million this year will provide enough food for 1.8 million people for at least a month, nutrition support for 1.7 million people and clean water and sanitation for an expected 1.2 million people.
As penholder on Yemen at the United Nations Security Council, the UK was responsible for a presidential statement earlier this year that called on all parties to provide safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to all affected governorates in Yemen. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to respect the statement and take action accordingly.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his statement on Sunday 5 November, the UK condemns the attempted missile strike on Riyadh this Saturday in the strongest terms. The ongoing ballistic missile attacks by Houthi-Saleh forces against Saudi Arabia threaten regional security and prolong the conflict. This latest attack deliberately targeted a civilian area. We therefore recognise the coalition’s concern about illicit flows of weapons to the Houthis, in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216.
We also recognise that, following Saturday’s attack, Saudi Arabia needs to take urgent measures to stem the flow of weapons into Yemen. At the same time, it is vital that the country remains open to humanitarian and commercial access. The Saudi-led coalition has confirmed that it will take into account the provision of humanitarian supplies. We are encouraging it to ensure that humanitarian supplies and access can continue. Our ambassador is actively making this case directly to the Saudi authorities.
Finally, there remains a desperate need for a political solution to the Yemen conflict, to help to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, to counter destabilising interference and to end attacks on neighbouring countries. It is vital that this situation does not escalate further. The United Kingdom will continue to work towards a political settlement that supports regional stability, and calls on all countries in the region to support that goal. We will also continue to support our partners in the region in protecting themselves against security threats.
I join the Minister in condemning the missile strike on Riyadh by the Houthis, which has been described by Human Rights Watch as
“most likely a war crime”.
We have seen alleged violations of international humanitarian law on all sides of this conflict. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards the independent investigation that was agreed at the recent United Nations Human Rights Council? I welcome what he says about seeking to bring all parties back to the table in Geneva. Can he tell us what progress has been made towards securing a ceasefire, so that a political solution can be achieved?
The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is truly appalling. The cholera outbreak is considered the worst on record, and as the Minister said, the UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 7 million on the brink of famine. The Saudi-led coalition has now intensified its blockade. With 90% of Yemen’s food imported, that risks making the dire humanitarian situation even worse. Does the Minister agree that that blockade could constitute unlawful collective punishment of the people of Yemen?
The Minister mentioned the representations that our ambassador was making. What representations has he and the Foreign Secretary made to Saudi Arabia to have the blockade lifted as soon as possible? I urge the Minister and the Government to do everything in their power to get that inhumane blockade lifted.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chair of the International Development Committee, for raising this issue. Let me try to take matters in order. On the reaction to the incident, we should in no way mistake the intent of the direction of that missile or where it came from. An Iranian-supplied missile to the Houthis was deliberately fired towards Riyadh airport, with all the implications that that involves. That the Saudis would take immediate steps to safeguard their country and ensure that the flow of missiles into Yemen was further checked is not unreasonable.
At the same time, as the hon. Gentleman makes clear, it is vital that humanitarian and commercial access should continue. We have consistently urged the coalition to take all reasonable steps to allow and facilitate rapid and safe access for humanitarian assistance and essential commercial imports of food and fuel. We are actively engaged with the coalition and those responsible for humanitarian support in Yemen to try to find a way that will enable the blockade not to affect the humanitarian access, while still safeguarding the important rights of those in Saudi Arabia who might be under attack. I spoke to the Saudi Minister on Saturday, shortly before the attack took place. I intend to speak to him again shortly, either today or tomorrow. Since Saturday night, the ambassador has been actively engaged in Riyadh in trying to deal with these issues.
In relation to cholera and malnutrition, we try to be at the forefront of international efforts on both those topics to provide support to UN agencies that are actively involved, and we will continue to do that.
Importantly, on the political negotiations, I am well aware of what is happening there. We had a meeting in New York recently, and there is likely to be another ministerial meeting shortly at which we will be trying to find a pathway through to the descaling of the conflict. This is not just about the coalition forces. It is about the Houthis and those who support them, and about whether they have any willingness to take regard of the appalling condition of the people of Yemen, which has been caused by their actions in starting the conflict and usurping a legitimate elected Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK is playing a leading role in the response to the appalling humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as the third largest humanitarian donor to Yemen in the world and the second largest donor to the UN appeal?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping to make that case. The United Kingdom has played as big a part as it possibly can, whether through its bilateral support or through UN agencies. In September, we announced a £16 million uplift in funding to Yemen, which took our total funding for this year to £155 million, as I detailed earlier. This will support millions of people with food, clean water and sanitation, and other life-saving interventions. We recently reallocated £8 million specifically towards the cholera response, but further work is necessary and the United Kingdom is contributing what it can.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for asking this urgent question. The escalation of the conflict in Yemen in recent weeks, resulting in the Saudi-led coalition closing all land, air and sea entry points, represents a particularly alarming development, even in a protracted conflict that is now more than two years old.
The country is already facing the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, with more than 800,000 cases, and more than 20 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The blockading of ports will only add to the already catastrophic humanitarian situation, and the UK must do whatever it can to ensure that we mitigate the impact of this new development.
With the UK’s own actions in mind, will the Minister tell us how the Department for International Development is responding to this new development, and what assessments have been made of the blockade’s impact on DFID’s humanitarian operation across Yemen? Given that other countries, such as the US, refused to sell arms to countries that impose humanitarian blockades, will Her Majesty’s Government now finally re-evaluate their decision to continue to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition and suspend further arms sales immediately?