House of Commons
Thursday 23 November 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: New Trade Agreements
Before I begin, I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Simon Speirs, who tragically lost his life while on board the Great Britain yacht during the Clipper round the world race last weekend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very sad time.
The Department for International Trade is building a world-class trade policy and negotiation capability for the long-term future of our country. Since July 2016, our trade policy group has grown significantly, from 45 to more than 400 today, and it is continuing to grow. We have also established a series of working groups and high-level dialogues with key trade partners to explore the best ways of progressing our trade and investment relationships. Those partners include the United States, Australia, Mexico and Japan.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. The business community in my constituency is eagerly looking forward to the opportunities the new trade agreements will bring. Will he clarify which elements of the Trade Bill refer to the free trade agreements?
The Trade Bill is about maintaining the effects of our current trading arrangements to ensure continuity for businesses, workers and consumers as we leave the European Union. That means the powers in the Trade Bill will be used only to transition our existing trade agreements that the EU has already signed prior to exit. Work is ongoing to establish how we will deal with future free trade agreements, but I am afraid that to claim that the current Bill allows Ministers a free hand to write future FTAs is simply untrue.
Businesses and constituents in Newark believe it is essential that the existing EU FTAs are transferred and rolled over as expeditiously as possible, but we should not confuse that with signing new FTAs. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that there will be an entirely separate consultation with the public and with Parliament on how we handle those separate new FTAs?
Yes, there will be. The trade White Paper, which is of course very separate from the Trade Bill, asked for views on what a future engagement and scrutiny framework should look like on trade. We are considering the responses and we will engage in the coming months. Given the changes we see, with Pascal Lamy describing a move away from the protection of producers to consumer precaution, we will have to take the views of consumers far more into account in future trade agreements than we have in the past.
When I was a little boy, my grandmother used to say, “Shame the devil and tell the truth.” When will this Secretary of State tell the truth? He has been, with his colleagues, going around the world begging for a trade deal and everyone is telling him, “We want to trade with the European Union, a much bigger trading group.”
Order. Just to be absolutely clear, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest that the Secretary of State would ever tell an untruth in this House.
Absolutely not, and I did not mean to imply that he would. I thought the House would like to know what my grandmother used to say to me about the importance of veracity.
No further explanation is required. We are immensely interested in the hon. Gentleman’s grandmother, and his ruminations on that matter will doubtless be found in his memoirs, which will be deposited in the Library and we can consult in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.
We will want to see what the best deals we can get for the UK are, how we can get our trading volumes and value up, and what opportunities we can take as we leave the EU. Of course we are pleased to continue to go along with the British public’s view on the referendum, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to do the same, as his constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave—that is no doubt a view he will endorse.
Can the Secretary of State explain the likely impact of a no deal Brexit in respect of the 57 or so countries with which we already have association agreements through the European Union?
We will want to ensure that those are replicated in United Kingdom law on the day we leave the EU because, whether there is an agreement or not, we will have to have a legal basis for trading with those countries.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm the position on trade agreements when we leave the EU: after April 2019, we will be negotiating such trade deals and look forward to actually signing them when we break free from the shackles of the EU?
Again, to make it clear, before we leave the European Union we have to be able to transition the existing EU free trade agreements to give ourselves the legal basis to trade. Of course, up to that point and beyond, we will want to see what new opportunities are available. If, during an implementation period, we decide that we are not going to introduce and put into effect new trade agreements, we will still want to negotiate and sign them.
The Secretary of State is repeating what he told Politico recently: that his Department wants to copy and paste the trade deals because it does not yet have the capacity to negotiate new ones. As there cannot really be a better trading relationship with the European Union than membership of the single market, is that not actually the best idea? If taking back control simply means duplicating what we already have, why not take the easy and obvious path and stay in the single market?
I shall help the hon. Gentleman out of his confusion. As I have said on numerous occasions, it is not possible simply to copy and paste the existing agreements. For example, we must take into account the disaggregation of tariff-rate quotas, so it is not quite that simple.
Do the Secretary of State’s officials trudge into work, full of doom and gloom-laden, thinking it is all going to be too difficult, or do they bounce into his office, full of energy and enthusiasm, seeing Brexit as a wonderful opportunity for Britain to be at the forefront of leading the world into the bright sunlit uplands of freer trade?
Not all that many people bounce into my office, although they regularly bounce out of it. We are an incredibly optimistic Department and we look to the future with great confidence. Let me give some figures: the most recent time we advertised jobs in the Department, there were 1,698 applicants for the 92 jobs available. That suggests to me that there is a great deal of optimism, even in our civil service.
The Secretary of State is indeed an optimist, and it is good to hear him so upbeat about all the trade opportunities that he thinks await us in the post-Brexit world. Perhaps he can explain why, when the Red Book shows trade in the world economy increasing year-on-year by 4% over the next five years, it shows the UK’s export growth decline from 3.4% next year to 1.2% in 2019, and then plummet to just 0.1% in each of the following three years. Is the Secretary of State perhaps an optimist who can find no rational grounds for his optimism?
It is nice to see that “Project Fear” never dies. Rather than going on projections, let me tell the hon. Gentleman what our economy has actually done. He is right that global trade has been growing at around 3%, but UK exports have been up 13.1% in the past year—in goods they are up by more than 16%. That is the real performance of the UK economy. There is incredible slack in our ability to export further and we should be encouraging British exporters to do so.
I am glad my hon. Friend asks about our export promotion capability. In 2016, exports of goods from the region, which includes my own constituency, grew by 10.6% compared with 2015, with double-digit growth for markets such as Singapore and South Korea. DIT stands ready to support these businesses, including through the global growth pilot, which offers deeper export support, or through a targeted export programme alongside Torbay Development Agency.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, not least because he is a fellow south-west MP. Gooch & Housego’s Torquay factory recently won national recognition for how its staff and management have worked together to grow their business. What support does my right hon. Friend intend to give to that and other companies in Torbay’s vital photonics sector so that they can grow further by increasing their exports?
Photonics is about the science of light generation and manipulation, Mr Speaker—of course, you and all other Members already knew that. DIT’s local international trade adviser engages with businesses in the photonics sector and with the Torbay Development Agency, and will soon address the Torbay manufacturing forum. DIT specialists will meet the Torbay Development Agency in January to review the marketing proposition for the sector, and a DIT sector specialist will visit Japan to promote UK photonics capability.
The south-west traditionally grows very fine livestock and has a buoyant export market. Will the Secretary of State give me and the farmers of Taunton Deane some assurance that if export certification demands increase as we leave the EU, the Government will give the right support to the agricultural industry, and will they look into the development of electronic systems to help the certification process?
Yes. The Government are committed to ensuring as smooth as possible an exit from the EU, including for all our business sectors, which obviously covers agriculture. Beyond that, the Department is particularly focused on finding new markets for our agricultural sector. There is substantial growth in demand for agricultural products in countries such as China and India. Given that the UK’s are the finest in the world, we should be at the forefront of those export markets.
Economic Partnership Agreements
We are guided by a desire to seek continuity first of all in our trading relationships with developing countries as we leave the European Union, and that includes economic partnership agreements. Our EPA partner countries have already welcomed that commitment. The UK is of course fully committed to promoting and delivering the sustainable development goals and is the first and only G7 country to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance.
Given that countries such as Nigeria and Uganda have refused to sign the economic partnership agreements because they do not believe that they are beneficial and in their long-term interest, how does the Secretary of State intend to address those issues, and is he considering GSP—the generalised scheme of preferences—or GSP plus?
We have already announced that we will be transitioning the full preference scheme of the European Union, including all the categories; that includes GSP and GSP plus. I am surprised if the hon. Gentleman is opposed to our transitioning the EPAs because, as you well know, Mr Speaker, UK imports worth around £290 million from the developing world were imported last year using the EPAs, and they would otherwise have had to pay a higher tariff to enter the UK.
Although the EPAs in Africa are working in the south, they are working less well in the east and west. Is the Minister working with his colleagues in the Department for International Development to look at inter-African trade, rather than trade with what is a declining market sector—Europe—compared with the rest of the world?
We have had very successful talks. The Secretary of State was in South Africa just a couple of months ago and in Ethiopia recently. We are engaging very closely with Africa and with DFID Ministers, including the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). In a joint statement, we have agreed to seek to transition the Southern African Development Community’s EPA and, last week, we signed an agreement to seek to transition the Caribbean Forum’s EPA as well.
What a busy fellow he is.
These are agreements that are being transitioned. The purpose here is to take an agreement that is already in place and to make sure that it continues to be in place after we leave the European Union. Of course we are in constant dialogue with our developing world partners, and we are open to improving those preferential arrangements in the future if that is deemed to be in the interests of the developing countries.
Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) and the noble Lord Hague, in 2013, the UK Government were the first to publish a national action plan on business and human rights. Will the Minister give a commitment that human rights impact assessments will be undertaken before any new trade deal is signed and that any new trade deal will also include provision for enforcement of human rights?
Of course the UK remains absolutely committed to universal human rights. We have a strong track record of supporting human rights across the world. Safeguarding, promoting and defending human rights is an integral part of government and human rights and prosperity of course are mutually supportive. As part of transitioning EU arrangements, we will be maintaining a similar approach to human rights commitments in UK trade policy.
The Department for International Trade has overall responsibility for both inward direct investment into the UK from abroad and outward direct investment from the UK to markets overseas. Officials in my Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have numerous discussions on how we can support our businesses. DIT is currently undertaking an export strategy to better understand the needs of businesses seeking to export, as well as identifying those opportunities via the GREAT.gov.uk website.
Exporting manufacturing businesses in north Wales such as Magellan Aerospace and Airbus are world-beating organisations, but they desperately need infrastructure, investment and support from the Government to face the challenges ahead. Why are this Government so reluctant to invest in and support north Wales?
I believe that a north Wales growth deal was announced in the Budget. It is also important to remember that the industrial strategy will be announced next week. That will talk about exactly how we can improve the infrastructure to support the great businesses in north Wales that the hon. Gentleman represents very well.
I have noticed a phenomenon of what I will call inconsistent bobbing in the Chamber. A Member bobs once and thinks that that is sufficient signal of a desire to participate. Repeated bobbing has always been required, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) can well testify. I encourage the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) to increased athleticism.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and apologies.
With whisky exports worth £4 billion a year, has the Minister discussed with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy how we can capitalise on the export success story of Scottish whisky?
Scottish whisky is one of our greatest export success stories, and my hon. Friend is right to say that it is worth £4 billion a year. It is this Department that leads, in every sense, on promoting exports of food and drink across the world. With the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we look, in terms of agricultural exports, at where we have market access and at standards. We have to agree that separately.
Ethiopia: Human Rights
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for policy on human rights across the whole of Government. The UK has a strong history of protecting human rights and promoting our values globally. We will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations, including when we meet them both in the UK and on overseas visits.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I am going to put to the test the statement he made a few seconds ago—that the UK always promotes human rights in trade talks. Did he raise the case of Andy Tsege, and the prison visit that the UK Government have promised, with his Ethiopian counterparts? What progress is being made on releasing him?
In my official meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, we discussed the need for long-term political and economic stability, as well as the political space. We did, indeed, raise the consular case mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman in private and with our ambassador. I hope that we will see the results of that interaction soon.
I declare an interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ethiopia. Does the Secretary of State agree that the work of Her Majesty’s ambassador in Addis Ababa is really tremendous—she has arranged for visits and has personally visited Andy Tsege—but that the situation needs to come to an end? At the same time, will he acknowledge the work that the Ethiopian Government are doing with the Department for International Development to try to get more than 1 million refugees throughout the country into work in a jobs compact?
It is always the aim of our Government to get other Governments to replicate our values in a clear and practical way. I second my hon. Friend’s vote of thanks to our ambassador for the work that she and her staff are doing. He makes a valid point that we need to take into consideration some of the extreme pressures that some countries are under. Taking 1 million refugees is not an easy task for the most developed country, never mind a country such as Ethiopia that is moving forward in development.
Trade Remedies Authority
We are taking the necessary steps to operate our own trade remedies system. That will investigate and take action against unfair trading practices that injure UK industry. The new, independent trade remedies authority will operate the system and make recommendations to address injury found by its investigations. In doing so, it will consider the interests of all parties, such as user industries, producers and consumers, as well as regional and long-term impacts.
The Minister will be aware that his Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament have frustrated efforts to prevent the dumping of steel by the Chinese on the European market by pushing for the lesser duty rule, which has had a devastating impact on British steel production. Will the trade remedies authority apply a proper public interest test to protect the interest of workers and industry in this country?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the European Parliament. Perhaps he might have a word with his own colleagues, who have sought in the recent vote in the European Parliament to frustrate the process of us even talking about trade with the European Union to start with. The purpose of trade remedies measures is to address injury caused to domestic industry. The lesser duty rule provides adequate protection to achieve the same so that industry can operate on a fair playing field and without imposing unnecessary costs on downstream industry and consumers.
I should remind the Minister that it was this Government that argued against trade remedies in Europe and that failed to protect our steel and ceramics industries. That is why it is not surprising that manufacturers are concerned that the new trade remedies authority will focus on consumer interests at the expense of businesses and jobs. What assurances can the Minister give that it will not always seek to apply the lesser duty rule? Will he now commit to include social and environmental criteria in the remit of the trade remedies authority, so that the UK does not become the dumping ground for goods that can no longer be dumped in the EU?
We have taken robust action on steel in concert with the European Union, and we are playing an active role within that. The Government of course recognise that overcapacity is a significant global issue, which is why we have been working proactively through the EU and our G20 partners. The hon. Gentleman seeks to downplay the interests of consumers in all of this, but they will be absolutely vital and at the heart of our trade remedies process—exactly where they deserve to be.
UK Export Finance
We are putting export finance at the heart of trade promotion by enhancing the financial support available to exporters and smaller companies in their supply chains. This is a new guarantee to banks designed to increase liquidity in the supply chain, improving exporters’ access to capital and enabling their suppliers to fulfil new orders. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor stated yesterday, UK Export Finance will launch a targeted campaign to promote the support they offer to exporters and overseas buyers, as part of the wider GREAT campaign.
Would the Minister agree that supporting British business, especially outside London, is crucial for a successful Brexit? Will he consider visiting my constituency to discuss boosting exports and inward investment for Scotland?
In the few short months my hon. Friend has been a Member, he has proved a doughty campaigner for the whisky industry and the agricultural industry in his patch, and I would be delighted to come along and visit him. I would point out that the Board of Trade has been established across the whole country to promote the interests of regions. We have regional international trade advisers, and they work through the Scottish Government, fully supported by the Department for International Trade.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnwick and Amble now have innovative high-tech software businesses designing unique products that have serious global market potential. Can the Minister confirm that these businesses will be able to access UK export finance to reach into new countries, boost British exports and bring new high-tech jobs into my constituency? He is, of course, welcome to stop off on his way to Scotland.
I would love to go to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and I cannot wait to go. It is absolutely right that UK Export Finance has introduced a number of measures, including passing delegated powers to the high street banks to offer up to £2 million of export credit. It is important that we recognise that this resource is vital to financing exports. My hon. Friend will know from the recent briefing session we held for Members of Parliament that we are keen to engage with all Members of Parliament to see how UK Export Finance can help their constituents.
Can the Minister give an indication of the expressions of interest thus far received from small and medium-sized enterprises, which are now able to access UK export finance through high street banks? Does he believe that that could be promoted to allow SMEs to safely expand?
I will have to get back to the hon. Gentleman on the exact figures, but he is absolutely right to highlight the fact that we need to do more to promote this opportunity for SMEs to get this high street financing through UK Export Finance. To that end, in the Budget, we have allocated an advertising budget in order to be able to promote UK Export Finance.
Some 99% of UK Export Finance spending on energy goes on the most polluting fuels. Does the Minister consider that his Department is exempt from the Government’s commitments under the Paris climate change treaty?
It is perfectly reasonable that the whole Government adhere to the objectives of all the agreements we have undertaken, so no Department would go against any of that. However, I would also point out that we are undertaking financing for offshore wind farms, so we are actually helping to build more carbon-neutral capacity.
My Department has three tasks: promoting UK exports of goods and services, investment both inwards and outwards, and trade policy. In furtherance of this, since we last met for departmental questions on 12 October, Ministers have undertaken visits to Europe, the Gulf, Asia and Africa. Today I shall be travelling to New Zealand and then Australia.
I would also like to formally welcome Baroness Rona Fairhead to the Department. She has joined as Minister responsible for trade and export promotion, and she will be making her maiden speech in the other place on Monday.
Will the Secretary of State convene a great Commonwealth trade conference in 2018 for all 52 Commonwealth nations, to harness the rising tide of good will, optimism and support for enhanced intra-Commonwealth trade post-Brexit?
I know my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in this, and he makes a valuable point. As the host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next April, the UK is committed to highlighting the value of, and increasing, intra-Commonwealth trade. Businesses will have an opportunity to meet in a three-day forum that will see a diverse range of sectors represented. This will help us promote our vision for global Britain and to celebrate and grow the vital intra-Commonwealth trade that he mentions.
America’s Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross told the CBI this month that the essential precondition of a trade deal with the USA was to move our regulation standards and environmental protections away from the EU and closer to those of the Americans. Last week, Michel Barnier said that the essential precondition of a good trade deal with the EU was to keep our regulation standards and environmental protections close to the European model. The Government say their top priority is securing barrier-free trade with the EU, so does the Secretary of State accept that he can have American cake or European gateau, but he cannot have both?
Who writes your jokes?
Sack the writer.
When it comes to standards, we have made it very clear that we will not see a reduction in the quality or safety of products—either goods or services—made available to UK consumers. We will determine in the United Kingdom what we think those should be, and then we will negotiate with any countries that are willing to negotiate on those terms. We will determine what we choose for Britain’s future. Unlike the Opposition, we will not be dictated to by Mr Barnier.
Outward direct investment is a new priority of the Government since the summer of 2016. We have launched a number of pilots looking at how best we might approach that, and there is funding available in the prosperity fund for it.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his role as the trade envoy to Pakistan? In September I visited a very successful example of outward direct investment, the huge GSK plant in Karachi, which produces more than 200 million packages of medicine for the Pakistan market and is a vital part of GSK’s overseas operation.
This is an excellent opportunity to correct the misinformation that was put in The Guardian on Monday, on which the Department put out a release afterwards to be absolutely clear that the basis of the meeting with the Brazilian Energy Minister, which I might add was public at the time—I even put it on Twitter, but it took The Guardian six months to pick up on it—was to secure a level playing field for British companies in that market. We make no apology for saying that Brazil’s tough environmental regulations should apply equally to all companies across the board.
As we leave the EU, we will be able to shape trade policy in our national interest and take advantage of things that are not available to us as a member of the EU. Free ports are one possible tool in that context, and we will want to look closely at the implications. Another thing that might help my hon. Friend, who has a large fish processing capability in his constituency employing some 5,000 people, is discussing with the Department what overseas direct investment might do for expanding that business’s potential.
Will the Secretary of State confirm how the devolved Administrations will be consulted during the process of these future free trade agreements?
I had discussions recently with all the different parts of the devolved Administrations. They will clearly be very important partners in putting together our future free trade agreements, and they should be treated with due respect in that. However, I would say that they are not the only voices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will want to consult businesses, consumers, unions and the general public, and we will need to have a much wider consultation in future than we have had in the past.
Small Business Saturday is an increasingly important business day in the run-up to Christmas. How are the Secretary of State and his Department helping small businesses in my constituency to export more?
Small Business Saturday is in its fifth year. It is a celebration of our small businesses, and I imagine that all Members of the House will be taking part and celebrating businesses in their own constituencies. I shall be with the UK export hub, which some Members have had experience of, in Portishead in my constituency. I encourage as many as possible of the members of the public who may be paying attention to these proceedings to attend.
Clause 2 of the Trade Bill gives powers to Ministers, potentially for the whole of the next decade, to sort out the issue of the 60 or so trade agreements that we currently benefit from with third countries by virtue of our membership with the EU. Far from being resolved in the next 16 months, is it not the case that that issue—dividing up tariff quotas and so on, and defining a new UK-EU trading relationship—rather than the fiction of the Secretary of State’s fantasy trade deals elsewhere, will dominate the work of the Department over the next few years?
We already touched on this a little earlier in question time. Can we be absolutely clear that my predecessor, Lord Price, and I have met all the key trading partners that are subject to those deals? We have in-principle agreement from most of them, and we have had no problem from any of them about transitioning those key trade agreements, so we do not foresee that being a difficulty. It is a technical process. Of course, there are one or two things that need to be sorted out in talks with those partners, but we are in the right position and we look forward to transitioning those agreements as a key part of our trading future.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
All Departments carefully consider the equalities impact of individual policy decisions on those who share protected characteristics, including gender and race, in line with the Government’s strong commitment to equality issues. From April 2018, the national living wage will increase by 4.4%. Past increases have disproportionately benefited women and those from BAME backgrounds, as well as the disabled.
Does the Minister accept the figures contained in the “Intersecting Inequalities” report by the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust, showing the disproportionate impact of tax and benefit changes on women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and will the Government issue an official response?
I am aware of that work. Part of the challenge is that we need to see much more clearly the broader picture in relation to how Budgets and Government decisions affect BAME women. The analysis that the hon. Gentleman mentions does not take into account the impact of the national living wage, the changes we have made to childcare—introducing 30 hours’ free care—the work that we are doing on reducing the gender pay gap, the introduction of shared parental leave or the introduction of increased flexible working. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has been very clear that
“what is possible falls a long way short of a full gender impact assessment”,
and that is the underlying weakness in the analysis.[Official Report, 18 December 2017, Vol. 633, c. 4MC.]
Does the Minister agree that the welcome announcement in the Budget yesterday of £600 per pupil towards the study of maths at higher than GCSE level will be of huge benefit for BAME women, and women across the board, because many studies show that women with higher science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications can earn up to 20% more?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this has been a focus for the Government for the past seven years. The next steps were announced yesterday, with the £600 extra for young people enrolling on such A-levels, alongside a commitment to have more transparency on the STEM A-level subjects that girls are taking, so that we can really focus on gender disparities and seek to address them. It is probably worth pointing out that maths A-level has been the most popular A-level in our country since 2013, which shows that although we have a long way to go, this Government are already making a difference in successfully encouraging young people to take maths.
The Chancellor’s £1.5 billion package for universal credit will do very little to address the disproportionate impact of previous Budgets and policies on BAME women. According to the Women’s Budget Group, BAME women will be £1,400 a year worse off. Will the Minister make representations to the Chancellor on behalf of these women?
It is worth reflecting on the fact that two thirds of the people who will benefit from the national living wage increase—it is increasing by 4.4% from next April—will be women. Indeed, because of the tax changes we are making, with the increase in the personal allowance from 2015-16 to 2017-18, 800,000 women will be taken out of tax altogether, which is something we should all welcome.
We know that black and minority ethnic women face multiple disadvantages in society, and good information is crucial for sound policy making. I listened to the Minister’s concerns about publishing such information on the impact of the Budget, but may I offer a solution? If the Government were to publish their own analysis of the impact of the Budget on gender and race, everybody would be able to see what the impacts are, and indeed Ministers would be able to make good policy decisions for all groups who are protected.
As I have set out, it is difficult to do that, as the IFS has said. The underlying point, which I think everyone recognises, is that it is very difficult to do the analysis because it relies on assumptions about how income is shared within households. In relation to the outcomes for BAME women, and BAME people more broadly, 3.8 million ethnic minority people are now in work, which is a rise of 1.7 million since 2005. It is also worth telling the House that we are making a particular push on apprenticeships by ensuring that we see diversity among those who are taking them, and a growing number of BAME young people are doing so.
Supporting Women back into Work
The 2017 spring Budget made £5 million available for returners in both the public sector and the private sector. We have already announced a number of programmes to help people return to work, including ones for allied health professionals, civil servants and social workers.
Order. That is all very interesting, but I thought the Minister was grouping this question with the one from the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood).
My apologies, Mr Speaker. I will, with your permission, group this question with question 4.
Thank you. I call James Cleverly.
The gender pay gap can be explained in part by professional and other women returning to the workplace in lesser roles than the ones they left to take time off to raise families or look after loved ones. Will my right hon. Friend highlight what the Government are doing to address that particular shortfall?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising what is actually a very important point. It should be remembered that 89% of people who take time off work for caring responsibilities are women. Closing the gender pay gap is extremely important. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that women earn 2% less on average for every year spent out of paid work, and the figure is even higher for highly paid women. We are talking to employers, evaluating all the programmes and gathering evidence of what works, and we hope to publish guidance on best practice for small and medium-sized employers next spring.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what measures the Government are taking to help employers to support women who have taken career breaks to care for children or other relatives?
The £5 million available for returns programmes will also be aimed at employers. We must understand that a complex set of reasons put people off returning to work, and the evidence that will be gathered will be important in ensuring that the best practice guidance published in spring gives a clear direction to employers, to ensure that they can harness the skills of those who take time off work.
Will the Minister explain what steps are being taken to ensure that older workers, including women born in the 1950s, who wish to return to work are given access to adequate training programmes in their local communities?
The hon. Lady makes an important point—I declare an interest as I consider myself an older worker. She is right to say that people choose to return to work at various times, and we must ensure that facilities and retraining schemes are available. We must also dig deeper to find out what the obstacles are. Confidence building with women is a significant issue when they have taken time off, and the longer that someone is out of the workplace, the more difficult that becomes.
According to the Government’s own data, 54,000 women are discriminated against and forced out of work when they are pregnant. The £5 million announced for return to work schemes is, of course, enormously welcome, but will the Minister set out in more detail how many women will benefit from the scheme? What specific projects—she mentioned the civil service—will be introduced to try to get more women back into work after having a child?
It is not just the civil service; we are looking at allied health professionals, civil servants and social workers. The social work programmes are in London, the west midlands, and the east of England. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: encouraging women to get back into the workplace is critical, and employers should be aware that there are very clear laws about what they can and cannot do when their employees take time off work for maternity leave.
As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) said, despite some of the best laws in the world, women in this country who are in work face more discrimination when they are pregnant than they did 10 years ago, and that can also stop them getting back into work. Will the Government consider making it clearer that employment tribunals have discretion in allowing individuals to bring discrimination cases in special circumstances outside the general three-month limit? Surely pregnancy must be a very special circumstance indeed.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—pregnancy is a very special circumstance, and women and employers are not always aware of their legal obligations. Some of the work that we are doing on gender pay gap reporting will be an important part of that, because it will highlight some of those issues and enable us to dig deeper into the reasons behind that pay gap. I have no doubt that some of it will be due to discrimination against women in the workplace.
Further to the response that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), will she say what concrete action the Government are taking to address the fact that 54,000 women are forced out of work in this country every year due to maternity discrimination? Women want action, not just warm words.
I point out to the hon. Lady that it is illegal and unlawful to discriminate in such a way, and employers are breaking the law in doing it. As constituency MPs, we can highlight to the women we meet or who come to our surgeries—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady says that she wants action from the Government, but action has been taken—it is against the law.
Refuges provide vital support for victims of domestic abuse. Since 2014 we have invested a total of £33.5 million in services to support victims of domestic abuse, including supporting our refuges.
The Minister will recognise that refuges are places of safety for women and children in flight from domestic violence and that in extreme cases they are literally life-saving, but does he understand the concern of organisations such as Women’s Aid that the changes to supported housing can have the effect of putting refuges under real pressure? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure we get the answer right, so we have a national network of refuges?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Knowing his experience with the police force, he will understand that this is an extremely complicated area. The Government are absolutely determined to get this right, because it is of vital importance that we do so. There is no question but that refuges provide a life-saving role in our community and that is why we are currently consulting on the best way to ensure their future funding is right to make sure they are supported as permanent parts of our community.
Further to my hon. Friend’s question, will the Minister agree to meet Women’s Aid and other relevant organisations to ensure that we properly discuss their concerns about the new funding model for refuges?
I reassure the hon. Lady that those discussions are already taking place. Ministers in my Department have already met Women’s Aid. I know that it, and other organisations, will be playing an active part in the consultation on the future of funding for women’s refuges. That consultation closes on 23 January and I encourage all organisations, and Members, to take part.
Newark Women’s Aid is without question one of the most inspiring organisations I have visited in my constituency. Its finances, however, are fragile. When considering future financial settlements for women’s refuges, will the Minister ensure that the settlements are as long as possible—three or five years in length—to ensure the brave and brilliant people who run refuges have the security they need to continue?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I encourage him and Newark Women’s Aid to take part in the consultation. On the long-term funding of women’s refuges, it is fair to say that nothing is off the table. The Government have not ruled out a national funding scheme, if our consultation shows that that is correct.
The Government’s recently announced proposed reforms of supported housing suggest that entitlement to housing benefit when women enter a refuge will be paid directly to local authorities. This is effectively pulling the plug on secure funding and jeopardising the security of life-saving refuge organisations. Given the comments the Minister has made this morning, and the assurances that he will work with the refuges, will he meet me and refuge organisations to discuss their grave concerns about the sustainability of this model?
Representing the Department for Communities and Local Government, I find quite offensive the idea that giving funding direct to local authorities to support women in crisis in their community is in some way pulling the plug on them. We have been absolutely clear that we will continue to review the funding for care and support, and whether housing costs should be paid direct as grants to local authorities or not. We continue to explore all the options, including a national model for refuge provision.
Balancing Work with Childcare Responsibilities
Childcare is often the biggest challenge for working families. The Government are committed to supporting men and women to balance work and care obligations. That is why we have doubled the childcare entitlement for working parents of three and four-year-olds in England from 15 to 30 hours, and introduced tax-free childcare, which is available in Ulster. The right to request flexible working also enables parents to arrange care in a way that works for them.
Will the Minister outline how the Government intend to practically, and even financially, support small and medium-sized businesses, who incidentally are collectively the largest employers in Northern Ireland, to fulfil their obligation to consider and implement, where practical, flexible working times for parents?
Flexible working is good for the employer as well as the employee, helping morale, motivation and productivity. It is vital in these times that businesses retain and recruit key staff. Progressive companies understand this and how flexible working is an essential element in securing success. We are working with employer groups and others on how best to promote genuine two-way flexible working.
Fathers also have a critical role to play in childcare, but the Women and Equalities Committee heard recently from some fathers who suggested that the take-up of paternity leave was very low. What more can the Minister to do to encourage fathers to play an active role in early childcare?
It is not necessarily just a question of what the Government can do; a great deal more cultural change is needed as well. Shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015, but we would like the take-up to increase.
Caste as a Protected Characteristic
The public consultation on how best to ensure that there is appropriate and proportionate legal protection against caste discrimination closed on 18 September. We received more than 13,000 responses, which are currently being analysed, and we will respond in due course.
Given the thousands of responses from British Hindus saying that having caste as a protected characteristic in equality law is unnecessary and divisive, will my right hon. Friend take action to remove that provision—which was introduced by the Labour party—from the legislative book?
We appreciate that caste is an extremely sensitive and emotive subject which is important to many people, but there is clearly no unanimous view among consultation respondents about how best to provide the necessary legal protection against caste discrimination. We are therefore considering the responses very carefully, and will be taking account of all the relevant points raised when deciding how to proceed.
Does the Minister recognise that leaving people to rely only on case law would not be sufficient, because they would be uncertain whether their cases would necessarily accord with decisions in previous cases, and does he agree that legislation is necessary for that reason?
The hon. Lady has expressed an opinion, and so has my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). As I have said, we are looking at 13,000 opinions. We completely oppose any form of discrimination related to a person’s caste, but the way in which we ensure that that does not happen must be proportionate. We will respond to the consultation in due course.
People with Disabilities: Changing Facilities
The Government recognise that the provision of changing facilities is an important issue for people whose needs are not met by standard public lavatories. We have worked with Mencap and the Changing Places campaign to improve provision. In particular, we have provided funds for a searchable application to enable people to find their nearest Changing Places lavatories.
I thank Changing Places for the work that it has done to improve facilities throughout the country, and I thank local campaigners for approaching me. They are right to campaign for more suitable facilities in areas of leisure such as football stadiums where people can be changed with dignity and in safety. Will the Minister outline further Government support?
Owing to the campaigning of my hon. Friend and other organisations, since 2007 the number of Changing Places lavatories has increased from 140 to more than 1,000, but there are still not enough. I remind those in charge of all public buildings, and all buildings in which services are provided, that they have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that changing places can be installed.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I hear repeated distressing stories about disabled children being changed on toilet floors owing to lack of provision. That is unacceptable, and also degrading, in today’s society. Will the Government consider putting Changing Places toilets on a statutory footing?
Under the Equality Act, there is already a requirement to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that changing places are provided. Other alterations would have to be made in building regulations. We are currently undertaking a building regulations review, and I do not wish to prejudge its conclusions, but let me highlight the extent of the problem. Only nine train stations out of a total of 2,500, only 12 motorway service stations out of nearly 100 and only 50 out of nearly 500 shopping centres have changing places. That is simply not good enough.
Over the past month, Mr Speaker, we were both, along with many colleagues from across the House, able to attend the event recognising the Patchwork Foundation’s excellent work engaging under-represented groups in politics. I was also lucky enough to be able to join the UK Youth Parliament in Parliament a few Fridays ago, when it debated important equalities issues such as LGBT rights and the need for a more diverse Parliament over the coming years.
Increasing diversity in Parliament is critical. The Government also remain committed to increasing equality in the workplace and it is good news that the new gender pay gap reporting released last month shows that the full-time gender pay gap is now the lowest it has ever been. Of course, this week marks the launch of our latest programme for returners in the public sector, for those wishing to rejoin the civil service. My Department is leading the way by offering returner places within the Government Equalities Office.
What steps is the Minister planning to take to celebrate the centenary of women being able to vote?
We have announced a £5 million fund that will do three things. First, it will help us fund the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Secondly, there will be grassroots funding and we are alerting community organisations around the country so that they can do their own local projects. Thirdly, as we announced in the Budget yesterday, seven centenary cities and towns in England with a strong suffrage history will receive funding to make sure that the places where the push for women’s votes was strongest can play their role in helping us remember such an important milestone.
Parliament itself is very much engaged with these matters, of course, and that will take the form of a huge exhibition in the course of 2018, which I am sure all colleagues will wish to visit and to encourage others to visit.
Yesterday’s Budget proved that austerity is a failed economic project and women have paid the price. Since 2010, 86% of net savings to the Treasury have come from women. Last year, the Treasury refused to send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions about the impact of the Government’s budget plans and fiscal statements on women. The intersectionality of the cuts takes into account all the benefits to women, and they are still 10 or 12 times worse off. If the Minister disagrees, does she not think that it is about time for a comprehensive equality impact assessment to be conducted by the Government and for the Treasury to be held to account on the impact of their policies on women and diverse communities?
In the fact-free environment in which the Opposition live, it is easy to ignore what respected commentators such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies say about that analysis. It has said that
“what is possible falls a long way short of a full gender impact assessment.”
The IFS makes that point because the analysis of the Budget considers tax and welfare but does not and cannot take into account the impact of the national living wage, the childcare policies this Government have introduced, the work we have done on the gender pay gap, or the legal changes we have made on shared parental leave and flexible working. It gives a very narrow picture of how much the Government are doing to support women. The other point that has been missed is that there are now more women in work than ever before. If we are really interested in women’s economic empowerment, surely that is the main statistic we should focus on.
I call David Morris—he is not here. Where is the fellow? An extraordinary business; he is no doubt in Morecambe. What a pity. Nevertheless, Mr Cleverly is here, so let’s hear him.
The survey received an unprecedented response, making it one of the largest LGBT surveys in the world. We will analyse those results closely and set out further steps to promote LGBT equality next year. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are taking other action, including running a large anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme in our schools.
Recent research by the Fawcett Society showed that it would take 100 years to close the gender pay gap at the current rate of change, and a report by the Women and Equalities Committee has suggested that we will achieve true economic equality only if we move to make all jobs flexible by default and introduce non-transferable paid paternity leave. What steps will the Government take to enact those recommendations?
This is an important topic. Paying men and women unequally for the same work has been unlawful for nearly 50 years, and I spoke directly with Frances O’Grady only yesterday about the need for us to work collectively to tackle this. The Department for Education also held a flexible working summit with the teaching profession last month. I agree that improving flexible working is part of how we can ensure that women are better able to get back into the workplace. In relation to equal pay, that is a legal requirement and gender pay gap transparency is part of how we can continue to shine a light on this range of issues.
The Equality Act 2010 allows organisations to provide single-sex services and we have no intention of changing the safeguards that are already in place to protect vulnerable women by providing those services. The consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will be a wide and open consultation, and we want to hear views from all stakeholders, including women’s groups and refuges.
Order. I am afraid that we are out of time, and there is heavy pressure on business today, but I am going to make an exception. The voice of Kettering must be heard, and I call Mr Philip Hollobone.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, is a leading disability rights campaigner and was a superb nominee for the post of Disability Commissioner. After his nomination was made known to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, however, the post was abolished. Has the Government Equalities Office informed the Prime Minister’s office of this disgraceful development, and if so, when?
The roles and responsibilities given to board members of the Equality and Human Rights Commission are matters for the commission itself, and the Government have no power to reinstate the EHRC’s Disability Commissioner role.
Far be it from me to deny the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee of the House the final question of this session. I call Mrs Maria Miller.
Parliament and the Leader of the House are tackling the difficult issue of sexual harassment in this place, and that is to be applauded, but 50% of women in the workplace in general suffer sexual harassment. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the strong laws set out in the Equality Act 2010 and beyond are actually abided by, by businesses in this country?
The debate that we have been having in this place is part of how we raise these issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. We need to be clear that it is illegal and unacceptable, and that it needs to be stamped out wherever we see it. There is legal protection, but we are increasingly understanding that attitudes fundamentally need to change. Also, the Department for Education can play a clear role in ensuring that young people at school get the kind of education that they need to understand that these attitudes are unacceptable, and that they get that from an early age.
Uber: Personal Data Theft
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on Government responsibilities and policies for protecting British citizens, following the theft of the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers.
Late on Tuesday, we were notified by the media of a potentially significant data breach of Uber driver and customer data. Uber had failed to tell the UK authorities before it spoke to the media about this. The breach appears to date back over a year and to involve Uber paying criminals money to try to prevent further data loss. We are told that some UK citizens’ data is affected.
We are verifying the extent and the amount of information. When we have a sufficient assessment, we will publish the details of the impact on UK citizens, and we plan to do that in a matter of days. As far as we can tell, the hack was not perpetrated in the UK, so our role is to understand how UK citizens are affected. We are working with the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Cyber Security Centre, and they are talking to the US Federal Trade Commission and others to get to the bottom of things.
At this stage, our initial assessment is that the stolen information is not the sort that would allow direct financial crime, but we are working urgently to verify that further, and we rule nothing out. Our advice to Uber drivers and customers is to be vigilant and to monitor accounts, especially for phishing activity. If anyone thinks they are a victim, contact the Action Fraud helpline and follow the NCSC guidance on passwords and best practice.
More broadly, the general data protection regulation and the new Data Protection Bill, which is currently before the other place, will introduce a package of tougher measures to address data breaches. Delayed reporting is already an aggravating factor, but the new Bill will require organisations to report breaches likely to impact on data subjects to the Information Commissioner within 72 hours of becoming aware of one. In serious cases, they will also have to notify those affected by the breach. The commissioner will have increased powers to respond in the way that she considers appropriate, including with fines of up £18 million or 4% of global turnover. We are making further assessments as I speak, and we will keep the public and the House updated.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Did I hear correctly that, even after the Government learned about the data breach, they are still not in a position to tell the public how many customers and drivers in the UK have had their personal data compromised? If so, that is outrageous on Uber’s part. Uber apparently paid criminal hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep quiet, but what assurances do we have that the data of Uber customers and drivers is not in the hands of hackers or criminals today?
UK authorities have acted swiftly since the security breach came to light, so will the Government therefore push for the toughest penalties to punish Uber for this outrageous dereliction of its ethical and legal obligations to the public? Under EU law, Uber could face a fine of €20 million or 4% of its annual global turnover—whichever is greater—but the maximum fine from the ICO is just half a million pounds. Will the Minister review the maximum fines in the UK once we leave the EU? In any case, does he really think that a fine will cut it in this case? Does he think that a company that covers up the theft of data and pays a ransom to criminal hackers can possibly be considered a fit and proper operator of licensed minicabs in our towns and cities? If not, what are the Government going to do about it? When Transport for London finally took action over Uber’s abysmal safety record, the Conservative party handed out leaflets attacking the Mayor. Does the Minister agree that that is not a good look for the Government today, and will he revisit that choice?
Like the Minister, I am pro-tech, pro-competition and pro-innovation, but given that Uber stands accused by the Metropolitan Police of failing to handle serious allegations of rape and sexual assault appropriately, given that Uber has to be dragged through the courts to provide its drivers with basic employment rights and to pay its fair share of VAT and given that we now know that Uber plays fast and loose with the personal data of its 57 million customers and drivers, is it not time that the Government stopped cosying up to this grubby, unethical company and started standing up for the public interest?
Licensing taxi companies and private hire companies is rightly for local authorities. This is a data protection issue, and we are dealing with it with the utmost urgency. The hon. Gentleman mentioned fines, and we are currently legislating for the higher fines that I mentioned in my initial response, and that legislation will come to this House after Christmas. As for ensuring that organisations that think that the data they hold on behalf of customers or others has been breached, they already have a responsibility to protect that data. In future, they will have a responsibility to inform the authorities within 72 hours. Delaying notification is unacceptable unless there is a very good reason and is, as I said, an aggravating factor when the Information Commissioner looks into such cases.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. Given the knowledge he has already gleaned from this disgraceful data breach, does he propose to make any further amendments to the Data Protection Bill, which has been brought before the Lords and which will come here in due course, to strengthen the powers to make sure that companies report such breaches at an early stage and take further measures to safeguard customers’ personal data?
We can debate that when the Bill comes to this House. As it happens, on our initial assessment, the two most concerning issues—the delay in notification and the need for recourse and fines, not just to punish bad behaviour but to incentivise good behaviour—are already covered in the Bill, but we can have that debate in due course, when we have a fuller assessment of the information and more confidence in that assessment, when the Bill comes before us.
When Transport for London announced on 22 September that it would not renew Uber’s licence in London, Uber emailed its customers the very same day to ask them to protest against the decision. Does the Minister agree that if it could email all its customers then, it should do so now, and begin that communication with an apology?
I would be grateful if the Minister answered the following questions. Can he give us a rough idea—I know he said he was looking into the precise figures—of how many customers and drivers in the UK had their personal information compromised by the hack and what kind of data was compromised? What was the first contact Uber had with the Government and when did it happen? When did he personally become aware of this security breach? In his view and that of the Government, has Uber broken current UK law? If Uber has not done so already, will the Minister or the Secretary of State call Uber into the Department immediately, or over the weekend if necessary, to explain itself and give more information about the breach?
Given the magnitude of the breach, has the Minister satisfied himself about the facts of the case, particularly given that if regulation requires strengthening, we can do it right now in the other place in the Data Protection Bill, as he has pointed out? I think that he said in his answer that he learned about the breach on Tuesday. Can he confirm that despite that, just yesterday in the House of Lords, the Government blocked the ability of consumer groups such as Which? to initiate action for victims of data breaches? Will he commit now—I think that he said he was prepared to make some movement—to reversing that position when the amendment comes before the House of Lords on Report, to show that we are on the side of consumers and employers, not huge corporations that are careless with our data?
I will try to address all the hon. Gentleman’s questions. We do not have sufficient confidence in the number that Uber has told us to go public on it, but we are working with the National Cyber Security Centre and the ICO to have more confidence in the figure. He will remember in the Equifax breach that the initial figure suggested went up. We want to get to the bottom of it and will publish further details within days, and if required I will be happy to come before the House to take further questions.
The hon. Gentleman asked when I personally knew about the breach. I knew about it when I was alerted by the media. As far as we are aware, the first notification to UK authorities—whether the Government, the ICO or the NCSC—was through the media. He asked whether Uber has done anything illegal under current UK law, which of course would be a matter for the courts, but I think there is a very high chance that it has.
The hon. Gentleman asked about taking action on behalf of data subjects following a data breach. I am strongly in favour of people being able to take action following a data breach, and we are legislating for that. The question debated yesterday in the other place was whether people should have to give their consent to action being taken on their behalf, and the whole principle behind the Data Protection Bill is to increase the level of consent required and people’s control over their own data. The proposed amendment pushed in the opposite direction, which is why we rejected it yesterday, but we will have the debate in this House, too.
Order. I advise the House that I am very keen to press on to the next business at 11 o’clock, so people should pose single-sentence, short questions, which will be addressed with the characteristic succinctness of the Minister for Digital.
The situation is extremely concerning not only for London users but for users of Uber South Coast, which operates in and around Southampton. What is the Minister doing to hold to account companies that lose data and then seek to hide from their responsibilities?
Not only will we, of course, use the full force of the existing law, but we are strengthening the law to give people more power and control over their data.
People across the UK will be shocked that Uber failed to notify the Information Commissioner, the National Cyber Security Centre or the UK Government. Given the current climate, covering up this breach and paying hackers could actually stimulate the growth of cyber-crime. What measures will the Minister consider to hold Uber to account? If people in Scotland are affected, will he work with the Scottish Government and share information with them?
Yes, of course I will. We rule nothing out.
Obviously, there will be an awful lot of very worried people out there with Uber accounts. Can we please have some reassurance from the Minister that, first, Uber will be held to account and, secondly, that we have the right legislation and structures in place to stop such things happening?
Yes, I give the assurance that, at this stage, our initial assessment is that, for Uber customers, the stolen information is not the sort that would allow direct financial crime. People just need to make sure that they do not respond to phishing emails and that they follow NSCS guidance.
Uber’s scandalous disregard for the rights of the millions of people who have entrusted it with their personal data shows that we need stronger protection. There was a suggestion in yesterday’s Budget that there will be a centre for data ethics. Can the Minister shed some light on the centre’s relationship with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that we can deal with these over-mighty companies in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) suggested?
This is an important subject. The Information Commissioner, of course, is the regulator, and we think that there is a broader question to ensure that the modern use of data is both innovative and follows a decent set of ethics, which is what the proposed centre is all about.
Does my right hon. Friend intend to have any discussions with his international counterparts, given the international and cross-border nature of the problem?
Yes. As I said, we have already had discussions with the US Federal Trade Commission and with the Dutch authorities—Uber’s European headquarters is in Holland, so they are pertinent to the matter.
The Minister has mentioned the forthcoming data protection regulations, but there is currently no requirement for a private company to report a data breach, although it is recommended. What will the Government do, between now and the introduction of the data protection regulations, to ensure that companies make people aware when their data is stolen?
The new data protection rules will come into force on 25 May 2018, and it is important that we get the Bill through before then. The premise of the hon. Lady’s question is not quite right. It is already an aggravating factor if a breach is not reported promptly.
Market disrupters that not only rely on data but are driven by data will increasingly play an important part in the UK economy. What steps is the Department taking to ensure the confidence of the British public in such data-driven market disrupters?
The single best thing anybody in this House can do to try to improve our ability to respond to this sort of issue is to vote for the Data Protection Bill when it comes before this House.
I thank the Minister for his response. How will he enable big businesses to grasp their responsibility for private, detailed, confidential and significant personal data? They need to protect it as though it is their very own, and it is clear that at the moment they simply do not do that.
There is a lot of sense in what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that the action we are taking is everything we can do to keep people’s data safe in response to this incident. More broadly, strengthening the rules will help give people more control over their data and help to punish those who do not have high data protection standards.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
In an attempt to be as helpful as possible to the House, and with your prior agreement, Mr Speaker, I should like to give the provisional business for the period up until the Christmas recess. The business for the week commencing 27 November will include:
Monday 27 November—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 28 November—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 29 November—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 30 November—Debate on a motion on treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by debate on a motion on mental health and suicide within the autism community. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 1 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 4 December will include:
Monday 4 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 4).
Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day (6th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 6 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 5).
Thursday 7 December—Debate on a motion on prison reform and safety, followed by general debate on the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December will include:
Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 12 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 6).
Wednesday 13 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 7).
Thursday 14 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will include:
Monday 18 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 19 December—Continuation in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 20 December—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 8).
Thursday 21 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 December—The House will not be sitting.
I should like to inform the House that the debate on restoration and renewal will take place on Thursday 11 January 2018.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for December will be:
Monday 4 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to public sector pay.
Monday 11 December—Debate on e-petitions relating to a referendum on the deal for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Tuesday 12 December—General debate on funding for domestic violence refuges.
Tuesday 19 December—General debate on the steel sector deal.
This week, the working group on an independent grievance policy held further meetings. I am pleased to report the positive progress we are making, and I thank colleagues for the constructive way in which we are all working together. All members of the working group are committed to bringing our proposals to the House before it rises on 21 December. The group has already received a number of contributions, all of which will inform the final policy, and we have commissioned a survey, which will be distributed to staff who work in and outside the parliamentary estate this week. The working group is balancing the need for fast action with thorough due diligence, and I will continue to update the House.
In the light of our work on harassment, it is right to mention that this Saturday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We in this House stand with all those who are working to put an end to gender-based violence.
Finally, I congratulate Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of their 70th wedding anniversary. I think the whole country has been inspired by their wonderful achievement.
Order. I should just say that there is heavy pressure on time today. The phenomenon of colleagues beetling into the Chamber after the Leader of the House has started to give the business has been growing in recent times. It is really very unsatisfactory. Members must keep an eye on the monitors and make sure that they are here on time. It is not fair to come late and then expect to be called, delaying progress to later business and opportunities for colleagues to participate in that business. Frankly, I am today disinclined to call people who turned up late. Their conduct must improve.
I thank the Leader of the House for helpfully giving us the forthcoming business all the way up to the Christmas recess. I also thank her for the extra Opposition day, which is very useful.
I am slightly saddened that the date given for the debate on restoration and renewal was not when the Leader of the House originally said she intended it to be—she said it would be before Christmas—and that it is now scheduled for a Thursday, which is not particularly helpful for Members who come from far-flung constituencies. Will she consider holding the debate earlier in the week, and may we have a look at the motion before we rise for recess? It has been 14 months since the report—[Interruption.] Sorry, is there a problem? The hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) is a lawyer, so he ought to know that judges would not put up with this. It has been 14 months since the report on restoration and renewal, and the costs are increasing every time they are mentioned.
Last week, I asked about the list of Ministers’ interests, but the Leader of the House did not respond to that point and nor did she write to me. As of yesterday, the list had not been updated since December last year. Will she ensure that it is updated as soon as possible, particularly as trade negotiations are ongoing? We want to ensure that there is transparency and no conflict of interests.
Is the Leader of the House aware of when the EU sectoral impact assessments that have been requested are going to be provided to the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)? I think the deadline is on Tuesday; I am sure she is aware of the possible sanctions for missing it.
May we have a statement on the £3 billion in the Budget for preparations for our exit from the European Union? No detail was given. We know that the Department for Exiting the European Union has 300 staff and that the Department for International Trade has 2,000. Will the Leader of the House be explicit about exactly what that money is for, or could the Chancellor make a statement?
Other than the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, we are still waiting for the Bills on immigration, fisheries and agriculture; will the Leader of the House please say when they will be published?
Despite the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union saying that we would not, we have lost the European Banking Authority to France and the European Medicines Agency to Holland. We are also losing our influence because we have lost our judge on the International Court of Justice.
Will the Leader of the House do the House the courtesy of providing time for a debate or oral statement on the forensic services? In 2012, the coalition Government sold off the Forensic Science Service. Despite warnings at the time and the National Audit Office warning that standards were slipping two years ago, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service confirmed in a written statement on Tuesday that tests by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 and by Randox Testing Services between 2013 and 2014 are being treated as potentially unreliable. The police were informed that there might have been manipulation of test results, affecting almost 10,000 cases. Customers include local authorities, individuals’ legal representatives, employers and the police. The House needs to know what the Government will do to restore public confidence in forensic science and to restore the Forensic Science Service. The Minister must come to the House, as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) .
If it is not being sold off, it is being cut, so may we have an urgent statement from the Justice Secretary? In response to a written question from the shadow Justice Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), it was said that the Ministry of Justice will have suffered cumulative cuts of 40% in its budget in the fiscal decade ending 2020. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), the former Leader of the House, has now gone to a Department that has actually been cut in half. The Law Society says that the cuts are having a real impact on the ability of the most vulnerable in our society to access justice—so justice for the few, not the many.
The Chancellor has forgotten about defending our country, as there is nothing on defence; forgotten about the elderly, as there is nothing on social care; forgotten about students, as there is nothing on student finance or on the review of university finance; forgotten about those who work in the public sector or local government who provide services that underpin our communities; forgotten about affordable homes; forgotten how much was set aside for the liabilities that we will have to pay to the EU; and forgotten about mental health. There is £28 billion to a cash-rich local authority and nothing to anyone else. May we have a statement on all those topics?
There is no innovation, just stagnation. The Chancellor did not mention that the Office for Budget Responsibility had said that Brexit played a part in weak productivity, which has resulted in a revised downward growth forecast. There was also no measure to kick-start a stagnant economy. The pound has fallen today. Can we have a statement from the Chancellor on what will be done about that?
The Government cannot win an argument, which is why the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), had to resort to personal insults to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. Mr Speaker, you were not here, but there were plenty of seats behind the Prime Minister at PMQs and during the Chancellor’s Budget speech, so there was no need to sit on the stairs. We debate in this Chamber, not sledge—that is for cricket matches.
Sorry, I have forgotten something—there was one innovative thing in the Chancellor’s speech. He and the Government seem obsessed by driverless cars. We know why—when driverless cars crash, there is no driver to take the blame.
Personally, I am delighted that the Government are embracing the opportunities of future technology and the high-skilled jobs of the future. I regret that the hon. Lady seeks to downplay the importance of new technologies in creating a bright future for the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady asks about the debate on the restoration and renewal of the Palace. I encourage all hon. Members to please come to my third drop-in session next Tuesday evening where the engineers for the R&R programme will be on hand to answer questions. I will be there to hear all views on what we should be doing about this fantastic Palace of Westminster. It is right that we get a grip on it. That is what we are doing and why we will be having a debate on 11 January. I encourage all Members to ensure that they are aware of the issues before then.
The hon. Lady asks about the impact assessments. As I have said many times, we will absolutely meet the obligations of the motion that was passed by the House. She asks for information on the breakdown of the Budget for preparedness for leaving the EU. She will appreciate that, as we leave the EU, there are requirements that we be ready by having new systems and procedures in place. It is quite right that the Chancellor provide funding for those new systems and procedures. As we go through the Brexit legislation, the extent of excellent preparation work that is going on among all Departments will be very apparent. She asks about the immigration, fisheries and agriculture Bills; I can tell her that they will all be coming forward in due course. Much work is already under way to prepare for that.
The hon. Lady also asks about the UK’s influence in the world. I am sure that she does not mean to talk down our great country. We on the Government Benches are extremely optimistic about the future for the United Kingdom as we seek to leave the EU. We have very strong support: we are a key member of the United Nations Security Council; and we are absolutely key to many of the international agencies around the world, not least of which is in our support for international aid, which is something that I am sure she will welcome.
The hon. Lady asked specifically about the forensic science services. The report is very concerning and I am sure that much more will be said about it in due course. Hon. Members may well wish to raise the matter in questions at the first opportunity. She also asked about the 40% cuts in the Ministry of Justice budget. Justice questions are on 5 December. As she will be aware, all Departments are looking to make efficiency savings, and it is not the case that cuts automatically mean less access to any service. The efficiencies being made right across Government are to be welcomed as they offer better value to the taxpayer.
Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned yesterday’s Budget. The Chancellor delivered a Budget that will support a Britain that is fit for the future. We have scrapped stamp duty for more than 80% of first-time buyers, which is fantastic news for young people. We have increased the living wage, which is great news for low earners. We have also cut income tax and frozen fuel duty. These measures support everyone in the UK, providing a particular boost for the lowest paid and for young people looking to get on the housing ladder. The Budget proves that we are taking a balanced approach to the economy while supporting even more people in their everyday lives.
I am one of the offenders to whom you referred, Mr Speaker, as I said last time when I threw myself at your mercy. I am grateful that you gave us another telling off, but I was on time—
Order. I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman had been late. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is chuntering from a sedentary position to no obvious benefit or purpose, for the simple reason that I have not the foggiest idea from this distance what he is chuntering about. I am sure that he has a good point; in subsequent years, no doubt, he will tell me what it is. Meanwhile, he can sit quietly and await his fate while we hear from the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger).
I will not chunter.
The Leader of the House is fully aware that we are trying to get Hinkley Point C built as soon as possible. One problem is the A358, which is now subject to yet another consultation. Taunton Deane Borough Council has blatantly lied that the road go-ahead has been given. That is not true. Could we please have a debate on the issue, as the Hinkley C project is of massive international and national importance?
My hon. Friend raises a point that is of grave concern to him. I encourage him to take it up with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has sent his apologies to you, Mr Speaker, and to his counterparts.
I welcome the appointment of Sarah Clarke as the new Black Rod—the first woman to hold the post. I notice that her appointment follows the announcement of the first female Doctor Who. One of them inhabits a weird and wacky parallel universe full of dinosaurs and relics from the past, and the other flies around in a Tardis. It seems that the Leader of the House has also acquired a time machine, though, because the pre-Christmas debate on restoration and renewal will now take place before Christmas 2018, in the new year.
Another pioneering woman was Winnie Ewing. We are grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for the use of your state rooms to mark the 50th anniversary of her maiden speech here and 50 continuous years of Scottish National party representation. It is quite timely that next Wednesday the SNP will have its first Opposition day since before the election. I know that the House is in a state of breathless anticipation, waiting to find out which topics we will choose and whether the Government will maintain their policy of abstaining on Opposition day motions.
We welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he is scrapping VAT on Scotland’s fire and police services, although there is still the unresolved matter of the £140 million that has already been paid. It is interesting that Scotland’s Tory MPs are trying to claim credit for the Chancellor’s change of heart, because they have tried to shout down SNP Members whenever we have raised the matter. That prompts the question: what is the point of the Scottish Tory MPs? A couple of weeks ago, the Leader of the House told us that it was their job to
“hold the Scottish Government to account”—[Official Report, 26 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 461.]
But she told me in a written answer that of course the place to hold Scottish Ministers to account is the Scottish Parliament, from whence many of her colleagues came. If they are so obsessed with the performance of the Scottish Government, maybe they should go back. Perhaps when we announce our Opposition day topics, we will find out whether the Leader of the House’s Scottish colleagues are able to get on with their day job by joining SNP MPs in holding the UK Government to account.
First, I wish the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) well. He kindly gave the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and myself notice that he would not be here, and we wish him well.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raises—absolutely correctly—the SNP Opposition day next week, and we all await with bated breath the subject for discussion. I would encourage him to let the subject be congratulating my hon. Friends the Conservative Members for Scotland on the excellent negotiations they held with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to ensure that police and fire services in Scotland would indeed be able to recover VAT, which the Scottish Government decided to bring under Scottish rule, in the full knowledge that VAT would not be recoverable. It seems extraordinary that hon. Members on the SNP Benches should be criticising, rather than thanking, my hon. Friends for their contribution.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the debate on R and R. It is certainly not just before Christmas 2018—it is in fact just into the new year of 2018.
Order. I am sure the happier-than-ever disposition of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is because he is joining me in continued celebration, a mere five days later, of Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Tottenham. I call Mr Jeremy Lefroy.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—indeed I am.
My right hon. Friend has not mentioned the Second Reading in relation to High Speed 2 phase 2a, so I suspect it will be coming in the new year. However, may I ask for a debate on the importance of preparing for such a major project in terms of national road infrastructure? Phase 2a of HS2 will cut across the A38, the A34, the A51 and the M6, all within a relatively short space. It is vital that this national infrastructure is protected during the construction of phase 2a, if it is indeed to go ahead.
In specific response to my hon. Friend, I can say that the debate on HS2 will be as soon as possible in the new year. He is absolutely right to point out that proper infrastructure to accommodate this enormous project is vital. There are Transport questions on 30 November, and I encourage him to raise that matter then.
Order. In order to protect subsequent business, I am advising the House that I would like to move on to the next business by quarter to 12. Perhaps hon. and right Members can frame their contributions accordingly.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the provisional business up until the Christmas recess.
The Backbench Business Committee have been busy bees. We have already done provisional determinations for the dates that have been announced. On 7 December, as we know, we have prison reform and safety, and the important general debate on the UK fishing industry, prior to the EU Fisheries Council on 11 and 12 December. Our provisional determination for 14 December is equality of pension provision for women and hormone pregnancy tests. Our provisional determination for 21 December is Russian interference in UK politics and society, and a general debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment for the Christmas recess.
May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that I am delighted he was able to accommodate the debate on fishing prior to the December Council?
Mr Speaker, I will not join in with your allusion to football—all I will say is good luck to Arsenal this evening in the Europa league.
We rightly devolve funding to metro Mayors and local authorities and expect them to spend the money wisely. Following the Budget yesterday, the Labour Mayor of London has been on the airwaves complaining about the funding for the Metropolitan police and other services, yet, he sits on £2.5 billion of unallocated reserves and has failed to spend a single penny of the record amount of money for social housing in London. Can we have a debate in Government time at some stage on the performance of our devolved institutions?
Tottenham fans really are incorrigible specimens of humanity.
I am staying out of that one, Mr Speaker—Northampton Saints rugby side for me, any day.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. It is absolutely unconscionable for the Mayor of London to point the finger constantly at central Government for a lack of funding whenever he falls short in providing for Londoners, given that he is sitting on enormous reserves.
May we have a debate on the plight of the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, particularly Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed, who have been sentenced to death simply because they are Ahmadi Muslims and therefore offend against the blasphemy laws?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly concerning issue, both generally and specifically. Members throughout the House condemn the death penalty, especially when used against a particular ethnic grouping. I encourage her to write to the Foreign Office, which I am sure will be pleased to take up the issue for her.
Like many other Conservative Members, I have received a large amount of correspondence this week after voting against an amendment regarding animals being sentient. Given that the proposer of the amendment accepted that it would have limited practical impact, will my right hon. Friend reiterate the statement released earlier today by the Environment Secretary? It confirms that the Government believe that animals are sentient beings and outlines that Government Members—like all right hon. and hon. Members, I am sure—simply want a policy that protects animals, rather than supporting an amendment which would still allow bullfighting, fur farming and puppy smuggling in the EU.
My hon. Friend speaks for many people across the UK. We are a nation of animal lovers, and the Government are absolutely committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. We propose to increase sentencing for animal cruelty and introduce CCTV in all slaughterhouses. He is right that the current EU instrument, article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, has not delivered the progress that we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law, its effect in practice is unclear, and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU that are cruel and painful to animals. The Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare and will take all steps necessary to ensure that they are in law.
When do the Government plan to restart the debates on what was the Prisons and Courts Bill, which fell because of the general election? I have been told that there is not parliamentary time to restart a Bill that had cross-party support and would have ended the unnecessary deaths of children in the family courts system.
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. The passage of the previous Bill was not completed by the end of the last Parliament. Different but similar measures are being brought forward in this Parliament and will be debated as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.
After the end of the third siege of Newark in 1646, when the Scots took Charles I up north for ransom, we did not think it would happen again. Unfortunately, Network Rail is doing it to us this time. The barriers at Newark station are down continuously, the town is cut off and the hundreds and thousands of people who want to come to my town to work and shop cannot get in. Will the Leader of the House please arrange a debate for us on the appalling performance of Network Rail, which incidentally is in national ownership? How we can get things moving again in Newark?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Newark is a fabulous town, and I am quite sure that his constituents are very annoyed about what is going on. He will be reassured to know that Transport questions will be on 30 November, which will be a good opportunity for him to raise his real concerns.
Has the Leader of the House had time to read a leaked report by Irish embassies around the world, which paints a rather unflattering picture of the UK Government’s negotiating skills in relation to Brexit? It talks of feeling sorry for British ambassadors who are trying to present a coherent picture when there is confusion at home. Will she make time available for a debate on the Government’s incompetence and inability to deliver Brexit, increasing the risk of no deal?
The right hon. Gentleman might have noticed that there are quite a number of debates on Brexit going on at the moment. Perhaps he has not been present in the Chamber. I encourage him to stop talking the country down. We are extremely optimistic about the prospects for the UK as we leave the EU, and his constant pessimism is not helping.
I was delighted to hear the Chancellor focusing on infrastructure, air pollution and productivity in his speech yesterday. Infrastructure and link roads are key, and they are vital to improving air quality. Will the Leader of the House consider finding time for a full debate on this issue?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Air quality is vital for this country. We all want to see transport moving, to ensure that we are not polluting unnecessarily. She is right to raise the Chancellor’s announcement of more money for infrastructure funding, particularly for link roads. I am sure that she will find a way to discuss the specific issues for her constituency, perhaps through an Adjournment debate, but as a general picture I think the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday showed a commitment to solving the twin problems of transport and air pollution.
I congratulate the Public Accounts Committee on yesterday revealing a financial calamity of giant proportions. The Committee has calculated that instead of the anticipated £6 billion, the subsidy for Hinkley Point will be £30 billion, and the costs will fall on the poorest consumers. The EPR reactor has not produced a single watt of electricity, and every other example is years late and billions over budget. Is it not essential that we debate this, before we create more sinkholes into which we dump billions of pounds of public money?
The hon. Gentleman has generated plenty of electricity and other energy of his own.
As has been the case for a long time, I thoroughly admire the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to always talking down nuclear. I say gently to him that, as he will be aware, this country depends greatly on nuclear electricity generation to keep our lights on, and it will continue to do so. He will also be aware that our nuclear power plants are nearing the end of their useful life. We need projects such as Hinkley Point C, not just to generate local jobs and growth but to keep the lights on, as a low-carbon source of electricity generation that will take us into the decades ahead.
Even these illustrious knights of the realm have to learn to arrive on time. Now, which of them is the more deserving? I think we will hear Sir David Amess.
To echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) has said, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on animal welfare? Many of our constituents have been led to believe that when we leave the European Union, standards of animal welfare will decline. As an animal lover myself, I want our high standards not only to be maintained, but to improve still further.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We have already set out our proposals to introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses; to increase to five years sentences for animal cruelty; to ban microbeads, which cause so much harm to our marine life; and to ban the ivory trade, to bring an end to elephant poaching. Those were all measures that I was proud to support when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We also recognise and respect the fact that animals are sentient beings and should be treated accordingly. We will do everything to ensure that our animal welfare standards remain as high as they are now, or higher, as we leave the European Union.
Yesterday, another £3 billion was tossed into the endless black hole of Brexit, with just £2.8 billion extra going to NHS England and a scarce amount for Wales to use. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I do not remember seeing a big red bus driving around the country bearing the slogan: “Vote leave for less NHS spending, because we will have to blow it all on Brexit.” Perhaps the campaigners could not find a bus that was big enough. Will the Leader of the House commit the Government to making a statement on that?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government will invest a third of a trillion pounds in the NHS during this Parliament. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £6.3 billion of additional funding to meet the pressures that the NHS is under. The Government will invest £3.5 billion in capital by 2022, and there is an additional £2.8 billion of resource funding to improve NHS performance and ensure that more patients receive the care they need more quickly. Conservative Members are fully committed to an NHS that works for all the people in our country, and she should bear it in mind that the NHS has been independently voted the best health system in the world.
I apologise for being late, Mr Speaker, but may I remind you that the labourer who turns up late at the vineyard is entitled to equal wages?
May I ask my right hon. Friend about the debate on restoration and renewal that will take place in the first week back after the Christmas recess? I urge her to lay her motion early, perhaps before the recess, because I will certainly table an amendment and I will need time to have it on the Order Paper for people to sign it, if you are kind enough to select it, Mr Speaker. Of course we accept that there should be the delivery authority and the sponsor board that the Leader of the House has spoken about, but some of us are worried that unless there is clear instruction to these boards of experts now, there will inevitably be pressure to build a replica Chamber and kick us out of the old Palace for many years. We want an amendment to test the will of the House on that matter.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest and engagement with the whole R&R project. He will be aware that the Joint Committee report set out:
“It is not possible to set a precise budget for the Programme at this stage. As part of further feasibility work it will be imperative, therefore, that a thorough business case should be prepared, balancing costs against value in order to assess and validate the preferred options in more detail.”
Work on the motion to establish a sponsor board and a delivery authority will be essential if we are to provide a proper evaluation of the options, but we will bring it forward as soon as we can.
May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate about the work of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman? A constituent of mine made a complaint in November 2016 and was told that they would receive a response by March 2017, but did not get a response until the end of October. My office sent eight emails and three letters and made numerous phone calls to get a response. I do not think it is acceptable for a constituent to have to wait a year for a response to their complaint, so will she find time for such a debate?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about that case, I will certainly take it up on his behalf.
I am sure you will want to wish Motherwell all the best in the league cup final this coming Sunday, Mr Speaker, as you wished other teams well earlier.
On a more serious matter, may we have a debate on the impact of medical assessments by Department for Work and Pensions agencies and contractors? A constituent of mine, who is 60, has had cerebral palsy from birth and has arthritis and fibromyalgia, so she cannot work and needs her family to help with her daily living. Despite this, she was assessed as having zero points, and she received a letter that caused her to try to commit suicide. May we have a debate on this because vulnerable people are being put at risk?
The hon. Lady raises a very concerning issue. As I have said a number of times in this place, it is good that all colleagues take up specific constituency cases. The DWP has committed many billions of pounds—£50 billion—to support for people with disabilities, and the personal independence payment assessments are designed to give people more control over their lives and their care. Inevitably, however, we all find specific cases where the work has not been done properly, and I encourage her to contact Work and Pensions Ministers about her specific case.
The whole of the northern powerhouse section in the Budget Red Book has 376 words, but there are 453 words just on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor. May we have a debate about what exactly the Government have got against funding and fair investment for the north?
I am surprised by the hon. Lady’s question. The northern powerhouse has been at the heart of everything this Government have sought to do since 2010. Under the previous Chancellor and the current Chancellor, we have shown enormous commitment to the northern powerhouse. There has been huge employment growth and investment in transport and rail infrastructure, which is spread right across the United Kingdom. If the hon. Lady wants to take up the specifics, I suggest that she raises this matter during the Budget debate that is about to happen, or during debates on the Finance Bill.
The Foreign Secretary is yet to make a statement to the House on the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. On Monday I returned from Bangladesh, where I gathered evidence and treated victims of the unfolding genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. Each day that our Government fail to act is another day wasted with innocent lives lost. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on that topic, so that we can discuss the numerous reports that suggest that we are bystanders to a genocide?
Members across the House are incredibly concerned about the plight of the Rohingya people. There are now more than 610,000 refugees in Bangladesh. It is a major humanitarian crisis, and I commend the hon. Lady for taking steps to see it for herself, as have hon. Members from across the House. The UK has delivered a clear message that the Burmese authorities must act urgently to protect civilians and allow full humanitarian access, and to allow refugees to return. The UK Government have given £47 million to an aid effort, including £5 million to match the generous donations from the British public to the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Thanks to your gracious hospitality yesterday, Mr Speaker, Women’s Aid was able to hold a reception in your apartment. We heard the most incredibly moving testimony from my constituent Claire Throssell about how her children were murdered by their father when he barricaded them in an attic and set fire to the family home. The Leader of the House has already acknowledged the importance of the issue of domestic violence, so I ask once again for the Prisons and Courts Bill, and the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, to be brought forward not within this Parliament, but within this Session of Parliament.
I was privileged to be there yesterday with the hon. Lady and many others, and I will say in this Chamber what I said to Claire: her speech was the bravest and most remarkable speech that I have ever heard in Speaker’s House in nearly eight and a half years as Speaker. I salute her extraordinary courage and determination, as I think everybody present did. It was a privilege to hear her.
That sounds incredibly harrowing, and my heart goes out to Claire. It must have been the most horrendous experience. Over many years, the Prime Minister has personally shown her commitment to eradicating the appalling and frequent incidence of domestic violence. We have committed to bringing forward the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, and that will be done as soon as possible. I encourage the hon. Lady—as I know she will—to continue to speak with Home Office Ministers about the experiences of her constituents, and about her thoughts on the shape that the Bill should take.
Since 2001, mass violence between Muslim Fulani herders and Christian farmers in Nigeria’s middle belt has killed up to 60,000 people, with villages, churches, mosques, livestock and businesses destroyed. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that issue, so that the UK Government can outline steps to stop or mitigate the violence?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He often raises different aspects of the religious and ethnic battles that are going on across the world. He is right to do that, and I encourage him to continue to highlight such cases. Should he feel the need to hold an Adjournment debate to highlight a particular issue, I encourage him to do so.
May we have an urgent debate on the future of local authorities? There is not a word in the Budget about local authorities or social care, yet millions of our citizens depend on them. Gedling Borough Council has lost 62% of its grant, and Nottinghamshire County Council has lost £212 million. Those are not efficiencies; they are cuts to the services on which our constituents depend.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware, as we all are, of the pressures our economy is under as we seek to get the deficit that we inherited in 2010 under control to avoid leaving that burden of debt for the next generation. At the same time, the Chancellor made it clear yesterday that he is taking steps to ensure a balanced approach that enables us to support the most needy while protecting our public finances.
One of the most vulnerable communities is those who are bereaved by suicide. Dr Sharon McDonnell, director of Suicide Bereavement UK at the University of Manchester, and Support after Suicide Partnership are carrying out research into the services available for those bereaved by suicide to prevent future deaths. I am sending out details of a survey to hon. Members, but could we have a debate on suicide bereavement and its impact on families and friends, and will the Leader of the House support me in encouraging Members to circulate the survey to their constituents?
I am always delighted to help in any way I can to promote something as important as the impact on those bereaved by suicide. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate on this specific subject, so that other Members can bring forward examples from their own constituencies.
May we have a debate in Government time on the process and implementation of school exclusions? In the last year alone, nearly 900 pupils across north-east Lincolnshire have lost 3,489 days of their education. It is critical for schools to have the support they need to provide education. Making sure that those children get the education they deserve is really important.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of every child getting a good education. She may be aware that Education questions are on 11 December, and I am sure Ministers will be pleased to answer her questions. I would like to point out that we now have a commitment to spend £4,800 for every secondary school child and £3,500 for every primary school child, with increases in specific funds to deal with special needs issues that may lead to exclusion or other challenges faced in school life. It is right that we focus our education spend on those who need it the most.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are members of the HSBC Midland bank occupational pension scheme. The scheme operates a clawback provision, which appears to disproportionately impact those who have been the longest serving and lowest paid in the scheme. It has an impact on their access to the state pension, too. May we have a debate on that very important subject, which is affecting thousands of people up and down the country?
The issue of fairness in pensions, whether private sector or public sector, is always important for those who are affected. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he can take that matter up with the Financial Conduct Authority, which can look into specific concerns pensioners have about a particular scheme. Equally, he may wish to raise the issue in the Budget debate next week.
A constituent of mine has a serious debilitating spinal condition and it is absolutely crystal clear to everybody that she is unfit for work. However, she has been declared fit for work, with an appeal date set for after Christmas, which she does not think she will be able to celebrate as her benefits have been stopped. Each of these cases is a stain on the right hon. Lady’s Government and on society. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on her Government’s continuing vilification of the vulnerable and disabled in our society?
I have to say that I reject what the hon. Lady is saying about the Government’s approach. We have done an enormous amount to improve the ability of those with disabilities to be in control of the spend on their care and welfare, and to make it much fairer so that those with greater need receive greater support from the Government. If the hon. Lady wants to raise her particular case, I encourage her to do so either during the statement that follows or at Work and Pensions questions.
Christmas is coming, but my constituents are being made unhappy by unfair and excessive delivery charges, which are an escalating blight in highlands and other rural constituencies. I have raised the issue many times—for instance, in a ten-minute rule Bill. May we have a debate in Government time on the need to finally deal with this sharp practice?
The same point has been raised by one of my hon. Friends. I completely agree that it is not right for delivery charges to be artificially hiked in particular areas. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy during the next session of BEIS questions, and see what can be done about it.
Last weekend I attended a “Girls to the Front” conference at Deptford Green school, along with more than 200 young women and girls. We discussed, among other matters, feminism and sex and relationship education in schools. May we have a debate on that important issue?
I commend the hon. Lady for taking part in the conference, and for encouraging young women to talk about issues such as feminism, the rights of young women and their success in the workplace. It is vital for us in the House to act as role models as much as we possibly can to encourage young women to aspire to fulfil their dreams. I urge the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate, so that we can further share our experiences in that regard.
This week the Competition and Markets Authority said that Concordia had overcharged the NHS by £100 million when it raised the price of Liothyronine tablets from £4 to £258. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is time for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement in the House—or is that talking down greedy corporate bosses at Concordia?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that information. If it is true, I am sure that Ministers will want to look into it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Health questions will take place on 19 December, and if he cannot obtain an answer earlier, I encourage him to raise the matter then.
It is two years since the announcement of the flagship Glasgow city deal, which includes a major redevelopment of the Sighthill district in my constituency. However, 10% of the constituency still consists of vacant and derelict land, and I was very disappointed that yesterday’s Budget statement did not contain more proposals to deal with what is a fundamental issue in urban areas. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate so that we can discuss how national policy could be better honed to promote the regeneration of urban areas that have suffered as a result of deindustrialisation and dereliction?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an incredibly important point. Throughout the United Kingdom there are pockets of land that require regeneration. Following the Chancellor’s announcement of more money for infrastructure and developing areas to make a Britain that is fit for the future, we will definitely want to look into specific cases such as the one the hon. Gentleman has mentioned to see what more could be done to regenerate such areas.
With permission, Mr Speaker, following the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget speech yesterday, I shall make a statement on universal credit.
Universal credit represents the biggest modernisation of the welfare state in a generation. It supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot. Under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once it is fully rolled out it will boost employment by about 250,000, which is equivalent to about 400 extra jobs for every constituency. It was introduced to replace the complex and failed benefit system run by the last Government, which created cliff edges, discouraging people from working more than 16 hours a week and trapping 1.5 million on out-of-work benefits for nearly a decade. Members on both sides of the House have voiced their support for the principles underpinning universal credit. It is a modern welfare system which—through one simple monthly payment—ensures that work always pays, mirrors the world of work, and helps people to earn their way out of financial insecurity and welfare dependency.
As we introduce universal credit, we are constantly improving the way in which the system works. We recently introduced changes to ensure that everyone who needs advance payments has access to them, and we are making our telephone lines Freephone numbers. I have consistently made it clear that we will continue to introduce universal credit gradually. Of the total number of households that will eventually move on to it, 9% are currently receiving it, and the number will increase to 12% by February. That will enable us to make improvements over time.
Colleagues have had concerns about the waiting time for the first payment, and I am grateful to my parliamentary colleagues for their constructive engagement on this issue. There have been several debates here and in the other place. This statement responds to them and fulfils the commitment made on behalf of the Government by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in relation to the resolution of the House on 18 October 2017. We are now offering a balanced package of improvements that puts more money into claimants’ hands earlier, ensuring extra support for those who most need it.
Next month, new guidance will be issued to staff to ensure that claimants in the private rented sector who have their housing benefit paid directly to landlords are offered that option when they join universal credit. In January we will make two changes to advances. First, the period over which an advance is recovered will increase from six to 12 months, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. That will apply regardless of the level of advance claimed. Secondly, we are increasing the amount of support a claimant can receive from up to 50% of their estimated entitlement to up to 100%, interest free. In practice, that means that new claimants in December could already receive an advance of up to 50% of their estimated overall entitlement, and may receive a second advance to take it up to 100% in the new year. Taken with the first payment, that means that claimants in need could receive nearly double the money they would previously have received. In addition, from spring next year we will make it possible to apply for an advance online, further increasing accessibility for those who need it.
From February, we will remove the seven-day waiting period, reducing the length of time claimants might wait to receive their first full payment. From April, for new claimants already receiving support towards their housing costs, we will provide an additional payment of two weeks of their housing benefit to support them as they transition to universal credit, helping to address the issue of rent arrears for those who most need it. That is a well-targeted measure that will support 2.3 million people, including the most vulnerable, with an unrecoverable automatic payment worth an average of £233 each. This is a one-off investment of £550 million to ensure that universal credit supports those who need it.
In April, as a short-term measure, we will change how claimants in temporary accommodation receive support for their housing costs to ensure that local authorities can recover more of their costs and can therefore continue to offer this valuable support to those who need it most. We will also consider longer-term solutions.
The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their finances. However, personal budgeting support and digital skills training are provided to claimants through universal support, delivered through local authorities. Building on this, we are exploring with Citizens Advice the scope for greater collaborative working to help claimants locally as they move to universal credit.
We must remember that universal credit is aimed at supporting those out of work to move into work, and, once in work, to progress and increase their earnings. That is why, in addition to these measures, the Government have allocated £8 million over four years to conduct a number of tests and trials to support development of the evidence about what works to help people progress in work. This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging package worth £1.5 billion, offering significantly more support than a simple reduction in the wait for the first payment to one month.
To deliver this package, we have carefully revised the UC roll-out plan to ensure that we continue to safely and gradually roll out this important welfare reform. I will place the updated roll-out plan in the House of Commons Library. This does not change the final point at which the roll-out of universal credit will be completed.
To help to ensure a smooth transition to full service, we have also decided to close new claims to our prototype universal credit live service. That will not affect any existing claims. In addition, currently any new UC claim from a family with three or more children will be routed back to tax credits until November 2018. With the extension to the roll-out plan that will now shift to the end of January 2019.
This is a comprehensive package that responds to concerns raised inside and outside the House. We have a clear objective: to ensure that as many people as possible get the opportunity to work, and to maximise their potential to better their circumstances. We will continue to roll out universal credit in a steady and considered manner, and in doing so deliver a welfare reform that will positively transform lives. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. There was little surprise when the Government announced reforms to their embattled universal credit programme in the Budget yesterday following months of Labour campaigning, a unanimous defeat on the Opposition-day motion and discontent across the whole House about the rising debt, arrears and even evictions that the social security reforms are causing to so many constituents. We of course welcome any steps to improve the programme, not least the small reduction in the so-called long hello, meaning that those on the lowest incomes will now only be expected to wait five weeks for support to arrive, compared with six under the current design.
Before I address the detail of today’s announcement, let us step back and look at the big picture. The Government introduced universal credit with three promises: to reduce child poverty by 350,000; to simplify the social security system; and to ensure that work always pays. As the mounting evidence has shown, universal credit is not living up to those ambitions. Now it is our task see whether the Chancellor’s announcements meet the Government’s own tests. First, the most immediate matter: the reforms announced today will not be introduced until next year and will do nothing for the tens of thousands who are stuck in the six-week waiting period over Christmas. Anyone who has tried to claim universal credit since Tuesday 14 November will not get their first payment until after Christmas day. That will mean tens of thousands of families going without over the festive period.
Secondly, we are concerned that the Government have decided to remove only a single week from the waiting period, taking it down to five weeks. Under existing Department for Work and Pensions guidance on alternative payment arrangements, claimants should be offered the option of being paid every two weeks, reflecting their previous employment patterns. A report published by the Resolution Foundation has found that 58% of those moving on to UC from work were paid more regularly than monthly. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether there is capacity in the system to offer claimants more regular payments if the Government do not change the payment period to fortnightly as opposed to monthly?
There is no change to the monthly assessment period that is particularly affecting the self-employed, and I want to press the Secretary of State on why that is the case when the current arrangements are clearly so punitive. In relation to the advance payment, we have concerns over the details of the extended repayment period. What additional debt does the Secretary of State expect the average claimant to incur? What does his Department predict will be the average monthly repayment amount deducted from a claimant’s income? Our position remains the same: the social security system should prevent people from getting into debt, rather than making matters worse. It is contrary to the ambitions of universal credit that instead of alleviating poverty, it is going to cause it. It is also an insult to ask people who are unable to make ends meet under the Government’s punitive reforms to bear even more risk, stress and concern.
The Government’s housing benefit proposals are not due to be introduced until April next year, nearly six months after the Budget. Support for rent will be available for the first two weeks of the five-week period before claimants receive their first payment. That will leave a three-week gap, which is still too long for many people to cope with. It will lead to arrears and even evictions, as we have said already seen from the programme.
Finally, this announcement did nothing to restore the key ambition that work will always pay. The swingeing cuts to UC have not been addressed, condemning more disabled people, children and their families to poverty. Taken together, these announcements equate to putting in £1 for every £10 that the former Chancellor cut. In a further nonsensical approach, he has downgraded planned increases to the national living wage, leaving a full-time worker on the minimum wage £900 a year worse off by 2020. Why have the Government failed to give our workers the pay rise they deserve? The Government seem content to leave us with 17 years of pay stagnation.
In summary, these measures for UC are not enough. They must be brought forward, amended and added to. We stand ready to work with the Government to make the necessary changes. Failing that, they should stand aside and let a Labour Government get on with the job.
Where to start? Let me begin with the point about people having to wait five weeks. People do not have to wait five weeks; they can get a payment within five days. As for the dismissal of an interest-free advance as immaterial, that is just completely unreasonable and wrong. An advance enables people to have control over when they receive their payments. We are making it more generous and giving people a longer period over which to repay it, but we are also making it more flexible by enabling people to get a larger advance if that is what they want and need.
The hon. Lady suggests that we should move towards paying fortnightly, saying that the system should reflect how people’s previous employment packages worked, but only 3% of people in employment are paid fortnightly. If we are to have a system that has the flexibility to cope with people who are out of work moving into work, a monthly approach is absolutely sensible, but we need flexibility in the first assessment period, so that people can get access to money earlier. That is exactly what we are delivering.
The approach of the Opposition Front-Bench team is not one of constructive engagement. They are a roadblock to welfare reform. They have sought to stand in the way of delivering universal credit—[Interruption.] They have just asked for a pause. I am unsure whether we heard a request for a pause from the hon. Lady today, but I would be fascinated to know what they mean by a pause. Do they mean not rolling universal credit out to any new jobcentres, or do they mean stopping any new claimants going on to universal credit at all? I am not quite sure which it is.
I am happy to talk afterwards.
Does the hon. Lady mean stopping the roll-out for new jobcentres or for everybody? We are not getting an answer. If it means stopping universal credit across the board, that would show a woeful lack of grasp of the operational realities. The idea that we could suddenly switch everybody back on to jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance is ridiculous, and the idea that we could do that overnight betrays a lack of understanding of how the system works.
We listened to the constructive comments of Members on both sides of the House and made some sensible reforms to help people, but let us not forget that this is a welfare reform that will positively transform lives. I am proud that this Government are delivering it. I think the Labour party might reflect on the fact that it is seen as a roadblock to this welcome reform.
Order. First, I say with crystal clarity to the House that Members who arrived after the statement began should not be standing and will not be called, which is in conformity with long-established practice in this House. I have often said it; I do not know why it is so difficult for some people to grasp, but that is the reality of the matter.
Secondly, there is heavy business to follow, with a large number of colleagues wishing to participate in the continuation of the Budget debate, so I implore colleagues to be pithy in their questions. I know that the Secretary of State will be correspondingly succinct by way of reply. I am keen to move on at as close as possible to 12.30 pm.
In support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, may I say that the whole roll-out of universal credit was set up deliberately to allow the Government to respond to any problems and make the necessary changes? I will not rehearse my views about some of the previous Budget discussions, but I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having secured from the Chancellor what is nearly £1.5 billion to help the roll-out process, particularly the transferring of people who are on housing benefit and, of course, the waiting days, which will help enormously by giving flexibility to advisers.
Universal credit is not just about getting people into work. It was deliberately designed to find the people who have the greatest problems and, alongside universal support, to help change their lives. I urge my right hon. Friend to look carefully at universal support to ensure that it is rolling out alongside universal credit to make the roll-out a success. I give my congratulations again to a very good Secretary of State.
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words and once again acknowledge the tremendous work he did in driving universal credit forward. Its delivery will be a truly great achievement for the Government. On universal support, he is absolutely right. I will give one brief illustration, if I may, Mr Speaker. I recently visited a jobcentre where someone had got in contact and, because of the IT support they received in making a universal credit claim, they were much more confident and competent and had just made their first grocery order online. That might seem a small matter to some of us, but it was helping someone make progress in life, and that is what universal credit and universal support are delivering.
Order. I have no desire to be unkind—far be it from me to be so—but the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) was late. He beetled into the Chamber after the statement had started. I said that if Members were late they should not stand and would not be called. It is, in those circumstances, frankly rather discourteous to persist in standing. Please, in your own interests and out of respect to the House, do not do it.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I suppose we should be grateful that, in making these changes, the Chancellor and the DWP have accepted that universal credit is failing, but this was not the robust and comprehensive response it should have been. Universal credit should be halted and fixed. The response does nothing to address the structural failings, the delays and errors, the arrears by default, the evictions and the misery they are causing. The reduction in the six-week wait is welcome, but five weeks is still too long—and let us not forget that many people wait far longer than that.
I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s earlier answer. The Scottish Government are allowing people to receive payments fortnightly, taking account of and showing respect for working people on universal credit and those on zero-hours contacts paid weekly or fortnightly. Will the Government reconsider the freeze on benefits? As the Resolution Foundation has pointed out, work does not pay for people on universal credit, because, with the consumer prices index so high, working claimants lose money, which creates disincentives. Will he also look into the number of DWP cancelled personal independence payment assessments? Finally, at no cost to the Treasury, will the Government reinstate the third-party consent and legacy benefits removed by universal credit for people in difficulty, especially the disabled, cancer patients and the terminally ill?
On the last point, people can get explicit consent—they just need to get the consent. On the delays and moving to fortnightly payments, I am aware that the Scottish Government have taken a different approach, but they are doing so by ensuring that the second payment, at the end of the second assessment period, is half what it would be in England and Wales, deferring it and then paying it a fortnight later. If the Scottish Government are happy with that and want to defend it to the Scottish people, they are welcome to do so, but it seems a strange way to deliver the benefit. On the public finances, we fought the 2015 general election with a commitment to find savings in the welfare budget, and we will deliver those savings.
I congratulate the Secretary of State. Does he anticipate any increase in the number of very short-term claims and did he consider spending the money on the taper rather than on reducing the number of waiting days?
I am sure that there will be an ongoing debate about the taper, which, as we made clear yesterday, we will continue to keep under review, but we acknowledge that there is a particular issue with the first assessment period and helping people over that period, which is why we made changes to the advances system back in October. I said at the time that we would continue to look at this, and that is why we have announced the package we have.
Will the Secretary of State please commit now to bringing forward the loans scheme and keeping open the jobcentres and helplines due to be closed for eight out of 10 days over Christmas, to prevent any of my constituents from going hungry? May I also congratulate him on applying the financial armlock he learned in the Treasury to his then boss to such good effect?
I should probably thank the right hon. Gentleman for that comment. Relations between the Treasury and my Department are very good at the moment, which perhaps could not always be said.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) raises a serious point about Christmas, and it is worth bearing in mind that people who open a new claim in, for example, mid-December can get a 50% advance, knowing that they can come back and get the other 50% in the new year. DWP will continue to operate as usual over Christmas, and a lot of effort is put into ensuring that the payment system works over the Christmas period.
I thank the Secretary of State for listening to colleagues on both sides of the House in this welcome package of changes to universal credit, and particularly for scrapping the seven waiting days, for improving the loans and advances that are available and for the changes to housing benefit. Will he join me in thanking Citizens Advice? Citizens Advice does so much to support all our constituents, and it too welcomes the changes.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to Citizens Advice, with which we have strongly engaged. Indeed, I spoke to its chief executive yesterday, and I have a meeting with her—the chief executive—later today. We will continue to work closely with Citizens Advice, and I am keen to ensure that, when it comes to universal support, we continue to work closely with Citizens Advice because it provides people with a huge amount of practical support and help.
The Secretary of State’s characterisation of the tax credits system is wrong, but I welcome the helpful steps he announced today to start clearing up the problems he inherited. Will he make available large-print versions of the documentation about these changes? Does he accept that, if someone who is paid weekly and has no savings loses their job, denying them any income at all for five weeks will cause a serious problem that offering a loan does not resolve?
The flexibility of the advance system means that nobody is left without any financial support at all. Compared with the legacy systems, such as JSA, universal credit will provide more support to people earlier. I will consider a large-print version of the documentation and, perhaps on another occasion, I would happily debate the tax credits system with him at some length—not only the disincentives within the system but the huge difficulties that its roll-out caused back in 2003, which were still reverberating when I entered the House in 2005.
I welcome the statement, in which the Secretary of State said that there will be extra support for tenants in the private rented sector. Will he expand on that? Will it include private landlords having access to the portal available to social landlords?
We have to remember that, since the reforms in 2008, most tenants in the private rented sector receive their housing benefit directly, rather than the benefit going to landlords, but about 30% of tenants have alternative payment arrangements in which the money goes directly to the landlord. Once we change the guidance, the presumption will be that such alternative payment arrangements will continue and that the money will therefore go to the landlord, rather than to the tenant. We are constantly considering ways in which we can ensure there is support, and let us not forget that housing benefit transitional payments will provide two weeks of support—the payments are not recovered, they are additional support—to help people as they migrate on to universal credit.
The changes and additional resources to help tackle some of the glaring problems emerging in universal credit are welcome, but social landlords and others are still extremely worried about the impact of potential arrears. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ask social landlords to ensure that they do not go for “ground 8” possession, which reduces the flexibility of the courts in dealing with arrears? It is critical that we do all we can to prevent the eviction of tenants who fall into arrears.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s warm words, and I note the constructive approach taken by a number of Labour Back Benchers. On evictions, it is important that the pre-action protocols are respected. The Leader of the Opposition’s comments on what happened with Gloucester City Homes turned out to be wildly inaccurate, for which he should apologise. We are keen to work constructively with landlords in both the social sector and the private sector, and it is important that we debate this in a reasonable way, without causing unnecessary stress by scaremongering, which the Leader of the Opposition did.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Successful completion of the roll-out requires ongoing dialogue with a variety of organisations, including Jobcentre Plus offices, local housing authorities, charities, food banks and local landlords. Can he provide an assurance that he will continue to liaise and work with such bodies?
I can give that assurance. A pleasing aspect of the response to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is the warm and broad support for the changes from, for example, the Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice, landlords associations and so on. Engaging closely with all those organisations and partners is key to delivering universal credit successfully.
The most significant part of the statement is that we must remember universal credit is aimed at supporting people who are out of work to move into work. That makes perfect sense if universal credit was just replacing JSA, but, of course, many people going on to universal credit are nowhere near work and are very seriously disabled. Those people seem to be entirely missing from the statement and from the steps the Chancellor announced yesterday. Will the Secretary of State at least acknowledge that universal credit is failing the most disabled and tell us what he plans to do to address the concerns raised by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) about the most seriously disabled people, who are being failed by universal credit?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of either universal credit or what I actually said. I make it clear that universal credit provides support for those who need it. On the severe disability premium, which he raised yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, it is worth bearing in mind there is no reduction in the overall amount of support. When universal credit was introduced, it was designed to widen the support that is provided. Universal credit is about providing support to everyone, and getting people closer to work and into work, where possible, is absolutely the right thing to do.
As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I warmly welcome the £1.5 billion and the loss of the seven-day waiting time announced yesterday. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as the roll-out of universal credit continues, test and learn will continue to be an essential part of the process?
Absolutely. I make it clear that we must constantly consider ways in which we can refine and improve the system. I have set out a number of things we will be doing over the months ahead to make the system work as well as it possibly can. As of today, universal credit is already better than the legacy system.
Small housing associations in Glasgow tell me that they do not know whether a person is on universal credit until they fall into arrears. I press the Secretary of State to ensure that all housing associations, no matter their size, have access to the landlord portal, to eliminate rent arrears and to make sure that housing associations do not fall into financial difficulty.
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. The landlord portal is a good step forward. We are starting with the largest landlords because that is the quickest way to ensure as many people as possible benefit, but the increased use of the landlord portal as it is rolled out will be helpful for housing associations and councils, as well as for the DWP.
On a recent visit to Eastleigh jobcentre, I found that staff were hugely positive about universal credit, as IT skills and computer access for their claimants was vital. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking jobcentre staff across the UK for remaining positive about the benefits of this, particularly for those stuck on the 16-hours contracts?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have similar experience of visiting jobcentres and being struck by the enthusiasm of the staff for UC. I urge Members from all parts of the House to visit their local jobcentre and talk to the staff there. The work coaches and jobcentre staff generally are doing excellent work, transforming lives, and they believe overwhelmingly that UC is giving them the tools to help people to transform their lives. That is what this reform is all about, and it is why I am so determined to deliver it and why I am so pleased we have united support for it today on our side of the House.
Given the Government’s assumptions on minimum incomes—the so-called floor, which penalises self-employed people on low incomes—will the Secretary of State review these rules, as they are putting people such as my constituent Tracy out of business and into debt?