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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
28 November 2017
Volume 632

House of Commons

Tuesday 28 November 2017

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Oral Answers to Questions

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Treasury

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Low-paid Workers: Wage Growth

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1. What steps his Department is taking to support wage growth for low-paid workers. [902582]

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14. What steps his Department is taking to support wage growth for low-paid workers. [902598]

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The national living wage will rise to £7.83 from April 2018. In total, that represents a pay rise of over £2,000 for a full-time minimum wage worker since the introduction of the national living wage in 2016, which has helped to reduce the proportion of full-time jobs that are low paid to the lowest level in at least 20 years. At the same time, in-work benefits support the incomes of poorer households and universal credit will mean that it always pays to progress in work. Sustainable long-term pay growth relies on improving productivity, which is why we are increasing the national productivity investment fund to more than £31 billion.

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The Chancellor’s predecessor, George Osborne, boasted that the minimum wage would be more than £9 an hour by 2020. That forecast has now been downgraded. Now that we are in the middle of the longest fall in living standards in history, why should the very poorest people pay for the crisis? They will lose £500 a year compared with the promise that they were made just this spring.

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As I have just pointed out, those on the national living wage have actually gained £2,000 a year. The commitment on the national living wage was, and remains, that it will reach 60% of median earnings, and it will continue to do so. On the hon. Gentleman’s other point, he will note that real household disposable income per head, a much more appropriate measure of living standards, is almost 5% higher in 2016 than it was in 2010.

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A hard Brexit is predicted to lose workers up to £2,000 a year in real wages. Is not the best policy for wages to stay in the single market?

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The best policy for Britain, including for the wages of British workers, is to get a good deal with the European Union that secures high levels of access to European markets after we leave the EU, and that is what we intend to do.

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In my constituency, one key thing that is important to wage growth is to ensure that we attract businesses that create high-skilled and high-paid jobs. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging all of those involved in future developments, including the redevelopment of the Rugeley B power station, to ensure that we attract high-tech and innovative businesses?

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Yes. Indeed, that was the central theme of the Budget. If we are to ensure prosperity for all our people in the future, we must embrace the technologies and businesses of the future and create the jobs of the future. We must be prepared to invest in the infrastructure that is needed to support them and in giving our people the skills that they will need to take advantage of those high-paid jobs.

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21. The fact is that, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, disposable incomes are set to fall this year. On top of that, the cost of living is rising faster than pay. The area that the Chancellor has direct responsibility for is public sector pay. Is it not time to remove the pay restraints on the lowest-paid public sector workers to make sure that, as their bills go up, their wages keep pace? [902606]

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that the blanket pay cap across the public sector has indeed been removed—that was announced in July by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). That will mean that individual Secretaries of State can look at the particular circumstances of the workforces for which they are responsible—recruitment and retention challenges and opportunities for improving workforce efficiency—and make proposals to the pay review bodies accordingly.

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Will the Chancellor confirm that Conservatives want people to keep more of the wages that they earn and that, when we came to power in April 2010, disgracefully, people earning as little as £6,500 a year had to pay income tax? Now they can earn more than £11,500 before incurring an income tax liability.

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Yes, £11,850—my hon. Friend is exactly right. It is by keeping to our commitment that we made in our manifesto of increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020 that we will ensure that people keep more of their income. Going back to the original question, people on the national living wage are now £3,600 a year better off after tax than they would have been in 2010.

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20. With households facing stagnating wages, high inflation and soaring household debt and austerity, why have this Government not followed the Scottish example and ended the public sector pay cap? [902605]

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I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) a few moments ago. We have ended the blanket pay cap across the public sector and are allowing Secretaries of State to make recommendations to the pay review bodies that reflect the circumstances of their individual workforces.

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My constituency is in the top 10 constituencies for the highest proportion of people on the minimum wage, so the rise to £7.83 will be most welcome. Does the Chancellor agree that moves such as that and increasing the personal allowance will help us to further reduce income inequality in my constituency and the country at large?

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My hon. Friend is exactly right. The uncomfortable fact for the Opposition Front Benchers is that income inequality in this country is now the lowest it has been since the mid-1980s—lower than it was at any point during the 13 years of the Labour Government.

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Will the Chancellor confirm that, according to last month’s Office for National Statistics figures, median disposable income is £600 higher than in the previous year and £1,000 higher than before the 2008 crash? Does he agree that it is the policies of this Government, with their jobs miracle, that have made that possible?

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Yes, and it is one of this Government’s proudest achievements that we have created 3 million new jobs in this country since 2010. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) might reflect on his prediction in 2011 that the Government’s policies would cost the economy 1 million jobs. That turned out to be slightly wide of the mark.

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The gender pay gap has fallen by only 0.4% in the past five years. If that trend continues, it will take 113 years for women to be on an equal footing. Why is the Chancellor not doing more for women who are paid less than men?

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It is a priority of the Government to continue to close the gender pay gap, which is now at its lowest level ever.

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I call Kirsty Blackman.

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Sorry, Mr Speaker; I had intended to ask my second question during topical questions.

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Ah—I had been advised that the hon. Lady wished to proffer a second inquiry now. We will wait in eager anticipation for her second contribution at a later stage of our proceedings. Lacking her, let us hear Mr Cryer.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

In reference to the Chancellor’s first answer, what is the connection between low wage growth and the slump in productivity?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, in the end wages can only be paid for by the productive output of workers. Increasing the productivity of workers in the British economy, so that they can produce more and earn more in a way that allows their firms to remain competitive while paying them more, is the way forward, and that is what the Government will pursue.

Universal Credit: Household Income

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2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on levels of household income. [902583]

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Universal credit has already been very successful in getting more people into work by ensuring that work always pays, and that has boosted household incomes.

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I am not surprised that the Government announced small changes to their discredited universal credit programme in the Budget last week, following months of criticism, unanimous defeat on an Opposition day motion, discontent across the whole House, rising debt arrears and even evictions. But what is surprising is that, rather than halt the botched roll-out and fix the failing system, the Government have chosen to put back only £1 for every £10 cut from the system.

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Give way!

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No, thank you.

Will the Minister accept that it is now a matter of urgency that proper action is taken to address the real human suffering imposed on our communities by this roll-out?

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I think we should remember the 1.4 million people who spent the previous decade under Labour trapped in poverty because every pound they earned was taken away in benefits. We have introduced universal credit so that every extra hour of work pays, and all the evidence suggests that it is much better than the previous scheme. Employment pays, and people on universal credit are more likely to be in work.

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Would my right hon. Friend like to comment on the irresponsible scare stories put out by the BBC—first on Radio 4, then on “BBC Breakfast”, on its website and across all its media platforms—that up to 100,000 people on in-work universal credit would receive no benefits over the Christmas period?

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I think it is disgraceful that that fake news was put out on our national broadcaster, when universal credit is actually helping people get into work and earn extra money. It is particularly poor that some of the lowest-income people in our society have been unnecessarily worried when, in fact, under universal credit, everybody can receive an advance on their payment.

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Even after the Budget’s limited changes to universal credit, it will still make young single-parent families with school-age children £6,000 a year worse off—those are OBR figures. We should remember that without further action to stop that, the Government will push 1 million additional children into poverty. I would like to know what they will do about that.

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I can tell the hon. Lady that poverty and income inequality are, in fact, at a 30-year low, thanks to this Government’s policies. What universal credit does—rather than leaving people on the scrapheap, which is what happened under the Labour Government—is help people get into work. What we have seen is that the fastest growth in employment has been among the lowest-income people in our society.

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I welcome the changes in universal credit announced in the Budget speech. Did my right hon. Friend note that, in its Budget analysis, the Institute for Fiscal Studies described the changes in universal credit as

“well targeted at those who find it difficult to cope with the six week wait”?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we have been doing is making changes to universal credit to make sure it works for absolutely everybody. We have rolled it out gradually to make sure it is effective, unlike the previous botched efforts of tax credits under the previous Labour Government. We have learned the lessons. We are helping more people get into employment. We have the lowest unemployment since 1975, and the people who have benefited most are the lowest earners in our society.

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Universal credit is being rolled out in Bishop Auckland over Christmas, affecting 10,000 households. On the Government’s figures, we know that it will take £20 million out of the local economy. Surely the Minister can see that that is bad for jobs and bad for local shops.

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With respect, I do not think the hon. Lady is taking into account the extra income that those families will earn because they are more likely to be in work under universal credit. That is where the benefit is. Rather than keeping people in a poverty trap, where they were losing £1 for every extra £1 they were earning, work always pays under universal credit, and people are able to earn the money they need to support their families.

Major Digital Infrastructure

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4. What recent investment the Government has made in major digital infrastructure. [902585]

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The Government are investing more than £1 billion to stimulate the market to build the next-generation digital infrastructure the UK needs for its future. At the autumn Budget, we launched a £190 million challenge fund for gold-standard full fibre broadband, provided £160 million to develop 5G networks and invested £35 million to improve mobile connectivity for rail passengers.

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Last week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the Scottish Government’s catastrophic failure to deliver superfast broadband for rural communities across Scotland. In that debate, the Minister for Digital confirmed that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has not been released by the Scottish Government to help roll out superfast broadband. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with Ministers from the Scottish Government to ensure that money gets to where it needs to be—rural communities in need of better broadband service?

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The Government are supporting the roll-out of superfast broadband right across the UK, and that has included allocating more than £120 million to help the Scottish Government deliver 100% superfast coverage in Scotland by 2021. To be specific, the Minister for Digital discussed progress with the Scottish Government on 6 November and had further discussions this week.

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This is not good enough. If we are going to tackle the appalling productivity levels in our country, we need to invest in this sort of infrastructure, we need to invest in skills and we need to invest in top-class management. The Minister should get his act together and do it.

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I think the hon. Gentleman may have missed some of the announcements in the Budget. Perhaps I could highlight one in particular: the £740 million from the national productivity investment fund that has been allocated for digital infrastructure.

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The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) is looking more upbeat than ever. Let’s hear the fella!

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Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is nice to be back. I welcome, on behalf of my constituents, the digital announcement in the Budget last week—and the sight of a grown-up team in charge of the economy, unlike the reheated Marxists opposite. On productivity, does the Minister agree that we need public sector leadership to create a private-public partnership on digital infrastructure? May I also welcome the announcement in the Budget of a public sector leadership academy, so that we can invest in our public sector leaders?

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My hon. Friend makes a typically insightful point. Digital improvement is one of the key drivers in improving our productivity, so I am happy to agree entirely with his wise points.

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When will local authorities be told the basis on which they will be invited to apply for the new money that the Government have earmarked? Will the Minister assure me that it will be distributed on the basis of an area’s need, and not just the population numbers?

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I will look into the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises and write to him with the answer.

Air Passenger Duty: Regional Airports

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5. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of air passenger duty on smaller regional airports. [902586]

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The Government recognise the importance of regional airports, not least for the productivity of smaller local communities. That is why, despite the fact that there is no VAT on airline tickets or duty on aviation fuel, we have frozen the APD rate for long-haul economy flights, as was announced in the Budget.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. Many of the flights from our regional airports are internal domestic flights, on which passengers end up paying APD twice—on both legs of their journey. To support our smaller regional airports, will he consider cutting APD on internal flights by 50%, as I believe we will be able to once we leave the EU?

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My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. This is something that we have looked to address in the past. In 1998, the European Commission ruled that we were unable to do that under state aid rules, but of course once we have left the European Union, depending on the details of the agreement under which we do that, we may be able to revisit this.

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The Treasury’s own modelling shows that Newcastle airport in my constituency will be the most affected by the devolution of air passenger duty to Scotland, so what progress have the Government made on ensuring that any impact is mitigated for English regional airports?

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As I have said, in this Budget we have frozen APD for long-haul economy flights. That comes on the back of a number of actions that we have taken over the years to reduce APD. In 2014, we cut it and exempted children from it on economy flights. We will continue to review it, as we do all taxes, in the light of the issues that the hon. Lady has raised.

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In the light of the Chancellor’s very welcome announcement last week about a possible review of air passenger duty in Northern Ireland, will the Minister take account of the fact that all our airports—Belfast City, Belfast International and Londonderry—suffer a very serious disadvantage when competing with airports in the Irish Republic, which all have significantly lower APD, and review matters accordingly?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In the Budget, the Chancellor made it very clear that we will have a full call for evidence and undertake a review of matters relating to both APD and VAT, and their impact on tourism, which we recognise is so vital to the Northern Ireland economy.

Regional Economic Growth

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6. What steps his Department is taking to support regional economic growth. [902587]

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11. What steps his Department is taking to improve regional productivity. [902594]

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The Government recognise the importance of closing the economic gap between regions of our country as an economic and social priority, and the industrial strategy is focused on doing that. If we eliminated just half of the productivity gap with London, we would add £300 billion to our gross domestic product; that is £4,600 for every man, woman and child in this country. That is why the Budget announced a raft of measures designed to move forward our progress on that.

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The economic case for a wider Yorkshire devolved settlement is compelling, so much so that in Yorkshire it is supported by the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC and many of the Chancellor’s own colleagues in local government. Does he recognise the strength of the economic argument, and, if he does, can he speak to his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government?

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The Government are committed to the Sheffield city region deal, which will bring £1 billion of new Government investment to the area. We recognise the debate that is going on about a possible wider Yorkshire-based deal and we are happy to consider that, if it can be done in a way that does not disrupt the existing deal that has been agreed for the Sheffield city region.

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The Bank of England deputy governor recently argued that Brexit could lead to a “sharp step down” in the UK’s productivity growth. That is likely to hit regions in different ways, and today the Social Mobility Commission talked about the “widening geographical divide”. What impact does the Chancellor believe the extra resources that he has talked about in the light of preparation for Brexit will have on tackling regional productivity issues and social mobility?

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We know some of the things that drive our low productivity performance. Regional differences are one of them, and others are low levels of capital investment in private businesses, relatively low levels of public infrastructure investment and poor skills. We set out in the Budget a raft of measures that will address all of them. The end result is that this Government, on average, over this Parliament will be investing £25 billion a year more in real terms than the Labour Government invested over their period in office.

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To encourage economic growth in Stoke, the local council is offering serviced plots of land to finance directors and managing directors to build big houses, bring their businesses and invest, creating more jobs and more economic growth. Does the Chancellor agree that that model could be followed elsewhere? Does he agree that it shows that, as in all other areas of social policy, self-build and custom house building has a great deal to offer, including for economic growth?

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My hon. Friend has been consistent in arguing the case for the promotion of self-build and custom house building, which has an important role to play in our ambition of delivering 300,000 new net additional homes a year by the middle of the next decade.

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Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the potential for £40 billion of investment in the north-east of Scotland region oil and gas industry, as a direct result of the tax relief announced in the Budget, and could he encourage the SNP and Scottish Labour to get on board?

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I am absolutely happy to agree with my hon. Friend. The North sea as a basin is coming towards the end of its life, but none the less there are many billions of barrels of oil to be exploited there, involving very large amounts of economic activity in the region and potentially significant receipts to the Treasury. The measure that we have taken will stimulate economic growth in the region and, if all goes well, generate a windfall to the UK Exchequer.

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17. The Chancellor is right to say that poor productivity levels and regional variations in them are closely linked to skills and education, and he will know that that starts in the very earliest years of a child’s life. So will he look kindly on a bid he has had from Greater Manchester to boost school readiness in the early years? It is a small amount of money, but it could really innovate and transform these arrangements. [902601]

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I heard what the hon. Lady said, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) tells me that he is meeting the Mayor of Manchester next week to discuss this issue.

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Thanks to this Government’s investment of £22 million pledged via the local enterprise partnership, Cheltenham can look forward with confidence to a cyber-hub, creating a centre of cyber-excellence in the home of GCHQ. Is that not exactly the kind of project that will drive opportunity and boost productivity in constituencies such as mine?

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It is. GCHQ is a world-class resource. The way it has engaged in seeking to use its expertise to create a world-class cyber-security business sector in the UK economy is exemplary, and we should encourage it.

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No wonder the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) referred to a leadership academy; three quarters of the Cabinet are queuing up to get into it. What impact does the Chancellor think a £1 billion, two-year grant—equivalent, let us say, to the one he gave to Northern Ireland—would have on regional economic growth in, for example, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) in the Sheffield city region?

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I do not like to blow my own trumpet, but on the whole I think my jokes were better than the hon. Gentleman’s. As I said to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), the Sheffield city region deal would bring £1 billion of new Government investment into the area, which will stimulate local economic growth and job creation, and support upskilling in the area and improvement of the infrastructure. Doing these deals around the country and making funds available to local authorities—they know best what is necessary for their areas —is the way to deliver enhanced economic growth.

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I will give the Chancellor another opportunity to answer a similar question in relation to improving regional productivity. What would be the impact in, let us say, the south-west region, in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), if the Chancellor provided for that area a £1 billion, two-year grant commensurate with that for Northern Ireland?

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There are many things in which we can invest in every region of the country, and I am pretty confident that I could take £1 billion to any region of the UK and invest it in a way that would enhance productivity and stimulate economic growth.

Manufacturing Industry: Lesser Duty Rule

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7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the manufacturing industry of adopting the lesser duty rule. [902588]

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When we leave the European Union, we will ensure that we have a robust remedies regime in place. It will ensure that we have robust measures to take against dumping, excessive subsidy and import surges. Part of that will be a lesser duty rule, as we have with the European Union at present, to ensure that the measures we take are proportionate in protecting our producers at the same time as protecting the interests of consumers and other downstream businesses.

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I thank the Financial Secretary for that answer, but he will be beware that the provisions of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill will be some of the least generous in World Trade Organisation countries once we have left the European Union. Will he meet me and the British Ceramic Confederation, which genuinely wishes to work with him to make the Bill better, so that we can protect British manufacturing once we are outside the EU?

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Yes, I will.

Government Expenditure: Young People

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8. What steps he is taking to ensure that young people are not disproportionately affected by reductions in Government expenditure. [902590]

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Next year, we will start paying down the debt for the first time in 17 years, which will reduce the burden on future generations and help our young people.

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Today’s state of the nation report makes very clear the barriers to social mobility facing many young people in England. Given this Government’s record of cuts to social funding and school funding, raising tuition fees, high youth unemployment and failure to produce affordable housing for families and young people, these findings are not surprising. What action will the Minister take to combat the intergenerational divide for young people right across the country?

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I point out to the hon. Gentleman that youth unemployment rose under the previous Labour Government and was 20% when they left office. They let down young people, with stagnating standards in English and maths, rampant grade inflation and rising youth unemployment. Under this Government, we are increasing the number of apprenticeships, we have improved the school curriculum, we have brought in new academies and free schools, and youth unemployment is at its lowest level for over 13 years.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the railcard extension for under-30s announced in last week’s Budget will support young people by significantly lowering their commuting costs and encourage more of them into employment?

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My hon. Friend is right that that will of course help young people. We have introduced the stamp duty cut for first-time buyers, which will help many in their 20s and 30s to get on to the housing ladder for the first time. We are also putting new money into maths and computer science to help young people get the skills they need to succeed in the modern economy.

UK Economic Growth

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9. What assessment he has made of recent trends in UK economic growth. [902592]

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The UK economy is fundamentally strong: we have seen 19 consecutive quarters of growth; unemployment is at its lowest level for 42 years; and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that a further 600,000 people will be in work by 2022.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only by investing heavily in productivity and infrastructure, such as the new junction 10 of the M6 in Walsall, that we can truly build a Britain that is fit for the future?

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I very much agree. It is for that reason that the Budget set out a devolution 2 deal with Andy Street, including £250 million for transport schemes such as junction 10 of the M6.

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To enable economic growth among small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland, they need superfast broadband. That is critical in bringing more jobs, more opportunities and better wages, and in balancing work and family life. Will the Minister outline what he will do to ensure that that happens?

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It is for investment of exactly the sort the hon. Gentleman mentions that we have invested in the national productivity investment fund, including a further £8 billion that was set out in the Budget.

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The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts last week did show the UK economy growing over the forecast period, but only just. My hon. Friend will be aware that much of the economic growth has relied on household spending. Is he also aware of the Bank of England’s financial stability report, published this morning, which shows that household finances are starting to deteriorate somewhat? Can he provide confidence that the Government are aware of that and say what they are doing to help households maintain their balance sheets?

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I know that the Treasury Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, and the Financial Policy Committee keep that matter under constant review. It is always assessed in line with the cyclical buffers that the FPC sets for the banks.

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Will the Economic Secretary explain why the Government have decided to sell their shares in RBS now, at a loss of over £26 billion? The public bailed out RBS and have sustained its losses and paid its fines. Why, just as it appears to be on the brink of returning to profit, should the public not only miss out, but make a massive loss? Is it not the case that selling those shares and reclassifying housing association debt is the only way that the Government can claim that net debt is falling?

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The Government are not selling the shares now. The Budget set out our intention, which it has always been, to return the bank to the private sector and sell those shares by the end of 2018-19. I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that the balance sheet is half the size it was in 2008, when his party paid 502p a share. The bank is therefore in a very different place from the mess we inherited from the Labour party.

National Living Wage

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10. For what reasons the national living wage does not extend to people under 25 years old. [902593]

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In the Budget, we announced the largest increases to the minimum wage youth rates in 10 years. On average, they increased by 4.9%, which was greater than the increase for the over-25s.

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I am afraid that the argument the Government have put forward blows a hole in the idea that they are building a country that works for everyone. The reality is that under-25s are not included in the national living wage. Why do we have state-sanctioned pay poverty under this Government and why, shamefully, are apprentices paid as little as £3.70 per hour under this Budget?

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As I have just pointed out, younger workers are getting a bigger rise than those over the age of 25. The reason there is a lower rate is that it is vital to ensure that young people get into work, get work experience and build up their skills. We do not want to end up where we were at the end of the Labour Government, with 20% youth unemployment and young people losing out on opportunities for life.

Major Infrastructure Projects

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12. What plans the Government have to invest in major infrastructure projects during the 2017 Parliament. [902595]

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15. What plans the Government have to invest in major infrastructure during the 2017 Parliament. [902599]

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We are expanding the national productivity investment fund to provide £31 billion of investment. That includes a £1.7 billion transport fund to transform our great cities and a more than doubling of the housing infrastructure fund to £5 billion. We have published the “National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline” and are delivering the largest rail modernisation since Victorian times, the biggest road investment programme since the 1970s and two of the largest engineering projects in Europe—Crossrail and HS2. Taken together, that means that the Government will invest, on average, £25 billion more per annum in real terms than was invested during the 1997 to 2010 Government.

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I welcome the investment in infrastructure, in particular in the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, which will bring significant benefit to my area. It is important that when we plan more houses, we get the infrastructure in place before the housing. Does the Chancellor agree with that proposition?

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I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor has the potential to be a globally significant growth corridor, and I agree with the National Infrastructure Commission that to realise this potential we need a joined-up plan that covers jobs, homes and infrastructure. Local and national Government must work together, with developers and investors, to align the delivery of these elements and ensure that infrastructure is in place to support housing growth in the corridor.

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Over the last few months, we have seen many accidents on the main artery through my constituency, on the A38. I am currently working with partners to ensure the much-needed urgent improvements on the road. Will the Treasury make sure that the extra investment in our roads can enable this work to get under way?

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Yes, we have committed to investing over £2 billion in the strategic road network in the south-west, including the first steps towards transforming the A303-A358 route and upgrading sections of the A30. Safety is one of the Government’s top priorities, and improvements to strategic roads with safety concerns, such as the A38, will be considered for inclusion within the portfolio of schemes in the second road investment strategy.

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The Chancellor will know that even after the Budget the south-east and London will still receive a disproportionate share of infrastructure spending. Will he undertake to give an annual report to Parliament detailing both the spending and the likely economic impact of that spending across different regions?

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I am certainly happy to look at the information we hold and whether it could be presented in a way that satisfies the hon. Gentleman’s requirements. It is a legitimate question. Much of this infrastructure investment will have an impact across the country. For example, investment in HS2 will benefit parts of the north of England far more than many of the areas through which the railway will run.

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With all this money swilling about for major infrastructure investment, will the Chancellor explain why the rail funding formula has been ignored and Scotland’s rail budget has been cut by £600 million over the next investment period?

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As I understand it—I will correct myself if I am wrong—the allocation to Scotland in Network Rail’s control period 6 investment programme is exactly proportionate to the overall England, Wales and Scotland budget.

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19. In advance of the huge numbers of additional houses expected to be built in Medway by 2035, plus the additional traffic that will come with the new Thames crossing, and given the congestion issues already facing commuters and trade across north Kent, will the Chancellor outline plans to boost investment in the region’s strategic transport network? [902603]

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Yes, we do have plans, of course, for investment in the region, including the lower Thames crossing project, but I recognise the challenge that my hon. Friend presents. If there is to be a significant expansion of housing in the region, it is essential that the strategic infrastructure be put in place, and it will be essential that we capture uplifted land value to finance it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will bring forward proposals in due course to ensure that we can capture land value uplift for that purpose.

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In the last year, the British Government have disgracefully reneged on a promise to electrify the main line to Swansea, and there was no announcement on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon in last week’s Budget, so what specific infrastructure projects in Wales are the British Government investing in?

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The hon. Gentleman says the Government have reneged on a promise to electrify the railway. What passengers care about is the quality of service, the frequency of service, the reliability of service and the speed of the service, and train technology has moved on, such that all those requirements can be met with the new hybrid trains being deployed on that network.

Start-ups

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13. What assessment he has made of the effect on the economy of an increase in the number of start-ups. [902597]

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The UK is a world-leading place to start a business. Start-ups create jobs, attract investment and bring innovative products and services to market. The UK’s small and medium-sized enterprises have created 2 million new jobs since 2010. We want our start-ups to grow and succeed in the new economy, and that is why the Chancellor announced at the Budget a comprehensive package to unlock over £20 billion of new investment in innovative businesses.

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Start-ups and small businesses, including those in my constituency, form the backbone of local economies. I shall be visiting some of them this weekend as part of Small Business Saturday. Can my hon. Friend update the House on what more is being done to support micro and small businesses?

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I shall be visiting small businesses in my constituency of Harrogate and Knaresborough as part of Small Business Saturday. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend: small businesses are indeed the backbone of local economies. That is why the Chancellor responded to the No. 1 ask of business in the Budget by announcing a £2.3 billion package to reduce business rates—it follows the business rate relief announced in the 2016 Budget, which was worth approximately £9 billion over five years —and why our modern industrial strategy will provide continued funding for growth hubs to ensure that businesses can access support locally.

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What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the economy of small businesses that have been started up by disabled entrepreneurs? How can he champion that activity, and harness the full potential of people with disabilities for our economy?

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The hon. Lady has made a valuable point, and I entirely agree with her. Simply by raising the question in the House and discussing it in our political system, we are highlighting the fact that disability should not be a problem when it comes to starting businesses.

National Debt

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16. What progress is being made on reducing the national debt. [902600]

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As a result of the Government’s action to bring the public finances back under control, the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a sustained reduction in debt as a share of GDP from next year onwards. Debt will fall from 86.5% to 79.1% of GDP by 2022-23. That will be the first sustained decline in debt for 17 years.

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Is my hon. Friend able to comment on the impact on the economy of increasing debt by £500 billion?

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Increasing debt by £500 billion would increase debt interest by £7 billion a year, which would reduce our economic and fiscal resilience, crowd out spending on valuable services, and pass a greater debt burden to future generations.

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Further to the answer that the Minister gave a few minutes ago on the sale of RBS shares to deal with Government debt, can he confirm that the Government will abide by the commitment of the Chancellor’s predecessor not to sell below the acquisition price?

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As the right hon. Gentleman will have heard from my earlier reply, that bank is in a very different place from where it was in 2008 when the shares were purchased. That reflects the action that has been taken to simplify the balance sheet and to make the bank safer and more streamlined.

Youth Unemployment

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18. What progress is being made on reducing youth unemployment. [902602]

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Youth unemployment has decreased by 8.3% since 2010 and is now at its lowest rate for more than 13 years, but we are not complacent, which is why we are investing in skills to get more of our young people into jobs.

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The Government have made significant progress in reducing youth unemployment, but in part of the area that I represent in the black country too many young people are emerging from education with a lack of basic skills, which is holding the region back. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to continue to invest in skills, particularly for those young people who lack basic skills, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that are out there?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are providing extra money in the Budget to triple the number of computer science teachers and give £600 to every school and sixth-form college where students take core or A-level maths, to ensure that all young people have the best possible start in life.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [902607]

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The Budget laid out the Government’s vision for a global Britain after we leave the European Union, and our ambitious plans to tackle the long-term challenges that we face so that we can build an economy that is fit for the future. Our balanced approach enables us to give households and businesses the support that they will need in the near term, as well as investing in the future of this country. Through investment in research and development, infrastructure, skills and housing, we will seize the opportunities of a rapidly changing economy, while being fair to the next generation by reducing a national debt that remains too large.

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Members will have heard last week about the Government’s failure on productivity and growth and about the OBR’s downward revision of its forecast for the economy over the current Parliament. Can the Chancellor tell us how much worse off someone on the national living wage will be in 2020, compared with the forecast in March, as a result of the Government’s failure on wages?

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As I have already told the House today, as a result of the increase that we announced in the Budget, somebody on the national living wage will be £2,000 a year better off than when it was introduced in 2016. That is before tax. If we take into account the effect of the significant increase in the personal allowance threshold, which has reduced tax for 30 million people and taken 4 million people out of tax altogether, the same full-time worker on the national living wage will be £3,600 a year better off compared with 2010.

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T2. Small businesses in my constituency suffer from late payments from their larger clients. Some firms have been forced to accept discounts of up to 10% just to get paid within 90 days. The Government have introduced welcome measures to make large firms behave more transparently on payments, but does the Chancellor stand ready to take further action to stop big firms using small businesses as a source of cheap loans? [902608]

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We know that late payments are a serious issue for many small businesses, and that is why we are acting to tackle unfair practices. As my hon. Friend mentioned, we have legislated to improve transparency, requiring large businesses to report on their payment practices. All 32 of the Government’s strategic suppliers have signed the prompt payment code, and we have appointed Paul Uppal as the UK’s first small business commissioner to support small businesses in resolving disputes with larger firms.

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Why have the Government not brought forward an amendment of the law resolution in today’s Budget resolutions? This is almost unprecedented and a tactic used only when the issue to be dealt with is urgent. It will restrict the ability of hon. Members on both sides of the House to move amendments and to address the range of economic and social needs of our community.

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The right hon. Gentleman is wrong: it is not without precedent. We did not move an amendment of the law resolution in relation to the Finance Bill that has just gone through Parliament. It is a small but worthwhile modernisation measure that focuses the debate on the measures that we are putting before Parliament in the Finance Bill.

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I will tell the Chancellor why he did not bring forward an amendment of the law resolution: it is because he wishes to avoid debate on some of the key issues facing our communities. Let me raise one of those questions, which was totally neglected last week in the Budget. The Chancellor received representations from Action for Children, the Local Government Association and Barnardo’s on the crisis in children’s services. Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, has said that

“children’s services are on an unstable and dangerous footing. We’re calling on the Government to prioritise the services children need before this crisis turns into a catastrophe”.

What was in the Chancellor’s mind when he prioritised giving nearly £5 billion to the banks rather than plugging the gap in children’s services for those most in need in our society?

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There will be more than adequate time to discuss the measures in the Finance Bill, but the debate on the Finance Bill is a debate about the measures being put forward by the Government under the Finance Bill. That is what Parliament is here to debate and that is what we will have time to debate under this arrangement.

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T3. Businesses in Newark welcome rising public investment in research and development, but even more they welcome the chance to do it themselves with lower business taxes under this Government. What will the Chancellor do to encourage more businesses to take up the increased research and development tax credits and the patent box delivered in the Budget? [902609]

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The Government recognise the vital importance of R and D, driving up investment in business and improving our productivity, which is why R and D investment as a proportion of GDP is on the rise, and we will push further towards our target of 2.4%. In the Budget we announced an increase in R and D expenditure tax credits from 11% to 12%.

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In the Budget, more than £1 billion of the so-called extra money for Scotland was in the form of financial transaction money—that is money that the Scottish Government have to pay back. The block grant for spending on frontline services is down £230 million in real terms. How can the Chancellor suggest that a £230 million reduction for Scotland is a good deal for our country?

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Scotland’s spending power has been increased by £2 billion in this Budget, including financial transactions, which support fantastic schemes such as Help to Buy, but what we need to see is the Scottish National party Government using their powers to deliver for Scotland, including by improving their appalling results in English and maths education.

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T5. I congratulate the Chancellor on freezing the duty on wine and spirits and ensuring that future changes come into effect only after Christmas, but will he now look at the anomaly whereby excellent English sparkling wine, at 11% strength, is taxed at £2.77 a bottle, compared with just £2.16 for higher strength still wine and just 2p a bottle in France? Post Brexit, will he give a boost to this growing, quality British product? [902611]

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We support the English wine industry, and that is why the autumn Budget announced a freeze on wine duty. Under EU law, duty on higher strength sparkling wine must be the same as that on higher strength sparkling cider, and if we reduced the duty on higher strength sparkling wine, it would mean reducing the duty on a category of alcohol that is effectively associated with problem drinking. I recognise how much of a champion my hon. Friend is of English wine, and he is right to highlight the fact that there are opportunities ahead.

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T4. We welcome the scrapping of VAT for Scotland’s police and fire services—and this Government finally seeing sense on this issue—but in an interview this year the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said that “there is no justification for a VAT refund”.What does the Chancellor think of that statement? Does he not agree that the £140 million of VAT paid should be reimbursed to our vital emergency services? [902610]

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I think that is the closest we are going to get to gratitude from the Scottish National party. The fact is that it was a mistake by the SNP to sign up to that in the devolution agreement. Despite that, we did not want to punish the people of Scotland, which is why we have taken action on that VAT as well as freezing whisky duty, thanks to the representations of our fantastic Scottish Conservative colleagues.

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T6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is thanks to Conservative action that today the richest 1% are paying 27% of all income tax revenue? That is more than at any time under Labour, and it makes that gap between rich and poor the lowest on record. [902612]

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The Government are committed to a fair tax system in which those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, and I am pleased to confirm that my hon. Friend is correct—or almost correct. The latest statistics show that in 2017-18, the top 1% of taxpayers are forecast to pay 28% of all income tax liabilities, and that in 2015-16, income inequality fell to its lowest level since the mid-1980s—under a Conservative Government.

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T7. Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to confirm to the House the statement that the Prime Minister gave to the Manchester Evening News on Sunday evening that the Government will reimburse all the moneys that have fallen on Manchester services as a result of the Arena attack, as well as future costs such as the coroner’s inquest, which is just starting? [902613]

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I can confirm that that is the case.

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T9. The Chancellor will be aware of the need for investment in Devon’s infrastructure, particularly to ensure the resilience of the coastal railway at Dawlish. What reassurance can he give me that funding will be available to carry out the scheme being proposed by Network Rail and to deliver the aspirations of the Peninsula Rail Task Force? [902615]

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The railway is vital for continued growth and prosperity in south-west England, which is why this Government have invested £400 million in the south-west network. That includes £10 million for the coastal section around Dawlish. The Government have also committed to doubling the spend on renewals in the next control period, and the south-west will benefit from that significant investment.

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T8. The Scottish Government have committed £250,000 to funding four basic income projects across Scotland. This will enable the Scottish Government to make evidence-based policy. Will the UK Government commit themselves to funding a basic income project? [902614]

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If the hon. Gentleman is looking for advice on evidence-based policies for Scotland, he needs to look at the education system, for example, where the SNP Government have failed Scottish children and are holding back opportunities.

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Manufacturers such as Kenwood in Havant are boosting productivity by adopting new techniques and technologies as the fourth industrial revolution accelerates. Will my right hon. Friend continue to support SME growth through R and D and innovation?

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My hon. Friend knows that I will. It is only by embracing technology, looking to the future, committing to accepting inevitable changes and working with our workforces and companies to ensure that we are ready for it and ready to take full advantage of it that we can raise living standards sustainably, and that is what we intend to do.

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T10. I was delighted when the Financial Conduct Authority extended its compensation scheme to cover debt management companies, but will the Chancellor tell the House whether he has had any discussions with the FCA about backdating the compensation scheme to cover the victims of Compass Debt Counsellors? They lost £5.5 million when it was purloined by Compass Debt Counsellors before it went into liquidation in 2016, so will he agree to meet me and the victims? [902616]

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I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. As he is aware, this is a policy area for the FCA, and I am sure that it will set out further details in due course on how historical debt will be covered.

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How can the Chancellor justify widening the age pay gap for those under 25, which sees a 17-year-old and a 25-year-old starting on the same date in the same job having a wage difference of £3.63 an hour?

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As I have said, we are raising the minimum wage for younger workers at a higher rate— 4.9% this year—than for the over-25s, but the most important thing is that we help young people to get the experience and training they need to get into workforce, instead of leaving them on the scrapheap, which is what happened under the previous Labour Government.

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As we are about to have a row in the House about documents being published, may I ask about another document that has gone missing in action, namely the Government’s White Paper on services, financial services in particular, in the light of Brexit? On 16 November, I tabled a question to the Department for Exiting the European Union about when it would be published, but no answer has come as yet. The City of London corporation says that the sector contributes £72 billion to this country’s economy, so it is an important document and I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees.

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I do agree with my right hon. Friend. Financial services is of course a vital sector. The details of the publication of documents is a matter for DExEU, but as she has raised the matter I will look into it and let her know.

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Will the Chancellor tell the House whether the £350 million a week Brexit bonus promised to us by the Foreign Secretary over the weekend has been factored into OBR projections or, indeed, his Budget?

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The OBR is responsible for the forecasts that it delivers to the House, and Robert Chote outlined publicly the basis of the assumptions that the OBR had made in setting those functions.

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Yesterday, I attended a summit organised by East Midlands Councils to consider how we can improve investment and the infrastructure in the region. However, I learned that public expenditure in the east midlands on economic affairs, public transport and, notably, transport is the lowest of any region in the entire country. [Interruption.] I know, Mr Speaker; I was equally as shocked given that it is the finest region in the country. In all seriousness, will the Chancellor commit to ensuring that the mighty east midlands will have its fair share in future?

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It is important to have a strong level of investment in all the regions of our country. My right hon. Friend is clearly a huge champion for the east midlands, and I have met her in the east midlands to discuss the opportunities there. I can confirm that we will be working together to ensure that the east midlands benefits, particularly from HS2.

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That will be very heartening to the House, because the Minister is a wise fellow and knows that he would otherwise face the irresistible force of Broxtowe and Bolsover combined. I would fear for the hon. Gentleman’s physical wellbeing.

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So would I!

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So would the right hon. Member for Broxtowe.

There is one Member who has not got in, so we must hear from the fella. I call Kevin Hollinrake.

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Despite the clear wrongdoings in the banking sector highlighted by the RBS Global Restructuring Group scandal, small and medium-sized enterprises cannot access justice because the banks are too wealthy to sue. The all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking and finance is calling for an independent financial services tribunal to provide accountability. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and the group to discuss our proposals?

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I am of course happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the proposals. One of the issues the industry has been discussing is the role of the Financial Ombudsman Service and how it can step in to give greater comfort to those who need to bring claims.

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One of the key issues raised on the doorsteps of Corby and east Northamptonshire is the NHS. What difference will the additional spending on the health service announced in the Budget last week make to my constituents?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen increasing demand on the NHS, which is why we have put in an extra £6.3 billion to help us achieve our accident and emergency targets, to help to reduce waiting lists and, importantly, to help us ensure that nurses and other public sector workers are able to get the pay rise they deserve.

Leaving the EU: Sectoral Impact Assessments

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Before I call Sir Keir Starmer to ask his urgent question, I would emphasise to the House that the purpose of my selecting this urgent question today is to give an opportunity to the Minister to explain to the House what action the Government have taken in response to the order of the House and an opportunity for other Members to question him on those matters. It is not an occasion for the House to debate whether or not a contempt of the House may have occurred. There may or may not be later occasions for that matter to be discussed. This is the correct procedure, and I know the House will trust me to know of what I speak.

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on the release of the impact assessments arising from sectoral analysis carried out by Her Majesty’s Ministers to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union.

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This House passed a motion on 1 November asking that impact assessments arising from sectoral analyses be provided to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. This Government take very seriously their parliamentary responsibilities, and have been clear that they would be providing information to the Committee.

In the past three weeks, Departments have worked to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative. I am glad to be able to confirm that this information has been provided not only to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union but to the House of Lords EU Select Committee and, indeed, to the devolved Administrations. I can also, Mr Speaker, with your permission, inform the House that we have initiated discussions with the parliamentary authorities to make this information available to all colleagues through a reading room.

We were clear from the start that we would respond to the motion, but also that the documents did not exist in the form requested. Indeed, I made it clear to the House during the debate on the day that

“there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58…impact assessments.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 887.]

As I said, the sectoral analysis is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. The House of Commons itself has recognised that, although Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, the Government also have an obligation to consider where it will be in the public interest for material to be published.

Furthermore, it is important to recognise that, in some cases, there is commercially confidential information in the analysis and that, in many cases, the analysis was developed to underpin advice to Ministers on negotiation options in various scenarios. It is well understood, as has been the case under successive Administrations, that such advice to Ministers must remain private.

In the light of all that, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made a statement on 7 November in which he explained that, given the documents did not exist in the form requested, it would take

“some time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative to the Committee.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 1333.]

He committed that the reports would be provided within three weeks. In providing the information to the Committee yesterday, we have met that commitment. Parliament has endorsed the responsibility of Ministers not to release information that would undermine our negotiating position. Contrary to what has been asserted in some places, the Committee did not give any firm assurances that what was passed to it would not subsequently be published in full. Where there are precedents for Government agreeing to pass information to Select Committees in confidence, these have been on the basis of assurances received before material is shared or a clear set of rules, such as those governing intelligence material.

When he met the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Select Committee did say that he was willing to enter into a dialogue—after the Select Committee had received documents from the Government. But that is not the same as an assurance that, if we provided confidential or sensitive material, it would not be published, and it is not in keeping with the usual practice of Committees on these sensitive issues. As such, the sectoral reports provided do not contain information that would undermine the UK’s hand in negotiations or material that is commercially or market sensitive. But the House should be in no doubt that this has been a very substantial undertaking. We have been as open as possible, subject to the overwhelming national interest of preserving our negotiating position. We have collated more than 800 pages of analysis for the Committees, less than a month from the motion being passed, and this covers all the 58 sectors. We now consider the motion of 1 November 2017 to have been satisfied.

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“Transparency” and “accountability” are two words this Government do not understand. On 1 November, after a three-hour debate, this House voted in favour of a Humble Address requiring all 58 sectoral analyses to be passed to the Brexit Select Committee—not some of the reports, not redacted copies, but the full reports. The Government did not seek to amend the Humble Address, nor did they vote against the motion. After your advice to us, Mr. Speaker, the Government accepted that the motion was binding. It is simply not open to the Secretary of State to choose to ignore it and to pass to the Select Committee the documents he chooses. Whether he is in contempt of Parliament is a matter we will come to at some later date, but he is certainly treating Parliament with contempt.

The Secretary of State says, and the Minister has reported, that he did not get assurances from the Select Committee about how the documents would be used. The Minister therefore had better answer some pretty blunt questions this afternoon. What assurances were sought that were not given? He had better tread carefully, because there will be an audit trail here and if he cannot answer that question, if he did not pursue the assurances, if he did not suggest a course that was rejected, his cover for not disclosing these documents will be blown.

This is not a game. This is the most important set of decisions this country has taken for decades and they need to be subjected to proper scrutiny. In my experience, the biggest mistakes are made when decisions are not tested.

May I remind the Minister and the Secretary of State that, until this House passed the motion on 1 November, Ministers routinely claimed that these analyses were extensive and authoritative? They say that they have now put the documents together. In September, they answered a freedom of information request. The first question was, “Do you hold the material?” to which the answer was, “Yes.” That calls into serious question the explanation now being put before this House.

Finally, I am deeply concerned that the sum total of documents generated by the Government’s work on the impact on the economy of their approach to Brexit can be squeezed into two lever arch files. That is the volume of paperwork I would have expected for a pretty routine Crown court trial in my old world. If that is the case, we should all be worried. Is that the extent of the analysis? Either way, this a very sorry state of affairs.

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Let me address some of the misconceptions in the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement. We have not edited or redacted reports. At the time the motion was passed, and subsequently, we were clear that the documents did not exist in the form requested. We have collated information in a way that does not include some sensitive material, but the documents, which he freely admits he has not seen, do not contain redactions. It is noticeable that the original suggestion of redactions in the debate on 1 November came from him, speaking from the Front Bench for the Opposition. He also said in the debate that he had

“accepted all along that the Government should not put into the public domain any information that would undermine our negotiating position”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 881.]

He accepted that there is a level of detail, and confidential issues and tactics, that should not be discussed. Those were statements he made in the debate itself.

Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman the logical consequences of that position. He has suggested that mechanisms are available that allow for the sharing of material in advance for Select Committees, and he is of course right—I addressed that in my opening statement. My Secretary of State met the Chair of the Select Committee and discussed these terms. It was very clear that, as the Chair has himself said in Parliament, he wanted to receive all the documents first before he would give any assurances as to the way in which they would be treated. On that basis, we had to be clear that we had to protect commercially sensitive information.

In the absence of any restrictions on what the Select Committee might do with the documentation, the Government had to be mindful of their obligations not to allow sensitive information to be public, but let me be clear again: we have been as open as possible within those obligations. The material we have provided to the Select Committee is very substantial. It is bizarre for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to dismiss it without having yet seen it. When Committee members have had an opportunity to consider it fully and to reflect on it, I think they will reasonably conclude that the Government have fully discharged the terms of the motion.

We have shared more than 800 pages of analysis with the Select Committee. The analysis describes the activity in each sector and the current regulatory regime for the sector. The report set out existing frameworks from across the globe for how trade is facilitated between countries in the sectors, as well as sector views, which cover a range of representative cross-sector views from businesses and organisations throughout the UK. We have taken care to incorporate up-to-date views from stakeholders, such as views on the proposed implementation period.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked: does this represent the sum of the Government’s analysis? Of course it does not. The motion referred to sectoral analyses and we have responded to that motion by sharing those sectoral analyses. I note the Select Committee’s statement following its meeting this morning and I welcome the fact that arrangements will be made for Committee members to view documents in confidence. When they do, I think they will find that there is a great deal of useful and valuable information here. I assure the House and the Committee that the Secretary of State will also be accepting their request to discuss the content.

I assure the House that my Department takes its responsibilities to Parliament extremely seriously. We have provided a vast amount of factual information to help the Committees and this House in their scrutiny. I am confident that we have met the requirements of the motion, while respecting our overriding duty to the national interest.

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If the Government wished to resist the publication of the papers that they had, they should have voted against the motion, and if they wished to qualify or edit the papers that they had, they should have sought to amend the motion. We cannot allow, post Brexit, the reduction of parliamentary sovereignty to a slightly ridiculous level. Will the Minister at least consider the possibility of sharing, at least with the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the papers in the original form they were in when we voted on the motion, before this editing process started? The House would then no doubt be guided by the Chairman of the Select Committee on changes and omissions that are legitimately in the national interest and should be made.

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I share my right hon. and learned Friend’s commitment to ensuring that the House can scrutinise valuable information in this respect, but the problem with the motion that was passed is that it referred to sectoral impact analyses. We were clear from the start that the documents it referred to did not exist in the form that was required. We have therefore pulled together sectoral analysis for the scrutiny of the Select Committee. I think that that will prove valuable to the Committee.

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On a day in June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom were asked one question on one day. As a result of the answer they gave to that one question, there is no going back on Brexit. On 1 November, Parliament was asked one question, but for the intervening 27 days the Government have done everything possible to deny and defy the instruction—it was not a request—that they were given by this Parliament, to which, we are told, sovereignty is being restored by the Brexit process.

I remind the Minister that the question of what the Government will provide to the Select Committee is not for the Government or, indeed, for the Select Committee to decide. This Parliament has decided, and there is no discussion, debate or negotiation as to the extent to which that decision will be complied with. It must be complied with in full; otherwise, as the letter published recently by the Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union makes clear, the Select Committee will have to consider whether to table a motion on contempt. How is that going to look to our European partners? What will it do to the credibility of the Government, and particularly of the Brexit team, if they end up being held in contempt by the Parliament to which they claim to be returning sovereignty?

Will the Minister confirm that the resolution of the House was about not what was made public but what was provided to the Select Committee? In those circumstances, does he not accept that what must be made available to the Select Committee is everything—absolutely everything? If the Government are not prepared to comply with that instruction, they should not be in government. Will he tell us categorically whether he accepts that a decision on what to publish, within the bounds of parliamentary privilege, is for the Select Committee alone, and will he confirm that he and his Government are prepared to trust the judgment of that Committee to exercise on behalf of the House responsible judgment about what the public are entitled to know?

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The hon. Gentleman asks a number of important questions. I would hope to hear some welcome from him for the fact that we have shared the information in these reports with the devolved Administrations. When I gave evidence to Select Committees recently in Scotland, we were pressed on whether we would do that. We do respect the fact that the Select Committee has the complete choice and discretion over what gets published of the information that is shared with it. That is why the Government have published the information to the Select Committee in the way that they have.

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My hon. Friend has every right to ensure—as the EU has given out in its guidance—that not all confidential information is necessarily made available; otherwise, that might restrict our negotiating position. May I also urge him, however, to have that discussion with the Chairman of the Select Committee and ask him specifically what is it he was expecting that he has not got in terms of the documents?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that question and his urging. I shall certainly take account of both his points.

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I welcome the willingness of the Secretary of State to appear before the Select Committee—a decision that we made this morning. May I ask the Minister to convey to him our wish that he should do so very speedily indeed?

Given that it is quite clear that the Select Committee has received edited documents—in other words, they do not contain everything that is in the possession of the Government—may I say to the Minister that that is not in keeping with the motion passed by the House of Commons? I also say to him that I made it very clear to the Secretary of State what procedure the Select Committee would use to consider the reports and, if I may put it like this, I do object to any suggestion that the Select Committee, or I as Chair, cannot be trusted to do our job.

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I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, and I will certainly communicate his message to the Secretary of State. On the point he makes about the information in the analyses, what the motion referred to was not what existed at the time. What we have tried to do is ensure that there is full information available to his Committee. When he has had the chance to scrutinise that and ask questions of Ministers about that, he will find that information very useful to his scrutiny.

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As my hon. Friend has said, there are 850 pages of these documents and so far the Chairman of the Select Committee is the only Member who has actually seen them. I understand that the documents have been sent to two Select Committees of Parliament and to the devolved Administrations. As a former Chairman of a Select Committee, I can say that leaks are not without precedent. I would not want the Government to make available any information that, if it became public, could undermine our negotiating position.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for the point he makes, which is important, but of course we want to ensure that as much information as can be made available to the Select Committee is available within the constraints that I have discussed.

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Why, when the Bank of England has published the frankly chilling implications of no deal, do the Government insist on selectively editing the sectoral reports? Is it true, as I was told by a DExEU insider, that what the Government have done is release selective sensitive documentation, while withholding the bulk of that sensitive information?

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In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s last question, no.

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I find that I agree with the comments of the Father of the House and the Chairman of the Select Committee, but I do understand that there is a dilemma for the Government. One recent motion clearly says that all documents should be delivered. A previous motion in this House says that the Government should not produce anything that damages our negotiations. Those motions are not clear, so would it not be an idea for the Government to come back with another motion clarifying the situation?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion. Of course such suggestions are not necessarily for me to respond to, but it is certainly something that we will have a look at.

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In June, the Secretary of State said on “The Andrew Marr Show” that

“We’ve got 50, nearly 60 sector analyses already done.”

In September, that was reiterated in response to my freedom of information request. In October, the Secretary of State confirmed that to our Committee and said that the reports were in “excruciating detail” and that the Prime Minister had seen the summaries. In November, we heard that they never existed. On what basis can completed reports be uncompleted, and on what basis is it right that the Government do anything other than give the reports in full to the Select Committee, in line with the resolution of this House?

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The Government have provided the reports covering the 58 sectors to the Select Committee, and I look forward to the Select Committee being able to scrutinise them in detail. The hon. Lady has been persistent in pressing for as much of this information as possible to be put in the public domain. Her Front-Bench team have also been persistent in recognising that that could not be done with all the information, subject to negotiations, without damaging our national interest.

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The issue now is not whether it is in the Government’s interest to publish these documents. If the Government did not want to publish them, they should have voted down or amended the Humble Address. In all precedent, this is a binding motion, unlike the previous motion passed earlier in the year, which was not a Humble Address and not a binding motion. To meet this motion, it is not at the discretion of the Government to decide what to take out; it is at the discretion of the Select Committee. I therefore urge the Government either to meet the terms of the motion in full, or to seek to put down a new motion.

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I take my hon. Friend’s expertise in parliamentary procedure extremely seriously, and I recognise the point that he is making. We do feel that we have responded to the motion in full by preparing for the Select Committee sectoral analyses. The point that I make to him is that the sectoral analyses did not exist in the form that was requested in the motion at the time.

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This situation is entirely of the Government’s making. The motion passed by this House did not give the Government discretion to take this information and decide for themselves what to give to the Select Committee and what not to give to the Select Committee. The Government have not complied with the motion, which they did not resist. There is another underlying point here—apart from questions of parliamentary privilege and contempt—and it is this: do we believe that the public have a right to know the consequences of the options facing the country on Brexit? I believe that they do. Does the Minister agree?

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The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have responded to the motion. We accepted that it was binding. We have therefore brought forward information for the Select Committee. We have gone further than that by bringing forward information for the Lords Committee and for the devolved Administrations, and we are now in discussions to ensure that that information can be provided in confidential reading rooms for the whole House. Of course, what is not in the interests of the public of this country is to publish information to the other side that could be sensitive to our negotiating position; that is what this House has repeatedly voted for us not to do.

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Most people would accept that it is perfectly reasonable to exclude commercial market and negotiation-sensitive information but, unfortunately, that was not expressly excluded in the terms of the Humble Address on 1 November. Will my hon. Friend look carefully at the option of the Government bringing forward a revised motion that expressly excludes that information from the material to be supplied to the Select Committee?

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My hon. Friend, like many of my hon. Friends, raises an interesting point. It is something that we will look into. What we have done is to ensure that the Select Committee has information on the sectoral analyses that the Government have conducted, which is an important step taken in response to a motion of the House.

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In his letter of 2 November, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Chair of the Select Committee, wrote:

“once the material has been provided to the committee, I would be very happy to discuss with you any particular concerns you may have about publication of parts of the material so that the committee can take these into account in making its decision on release.”

On 27 November, the Secretary of State wrote:

“we have received no assurances from the committee regarding how any information passed will be used.”

Does the Minister agree that that letter is a blatant misrepresentation of what was agreed and that the Secretary of State should withdraw that remark and apologise for it to my right hon. Friend?

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No, I do not.

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It is extremely important that we understand exactly what was voted on and what the Select Committee seeks disclosure of. I am reminding myself of the motion, which was in two parts. It first referred to the list of sectoral analyses, and then went on to make it clear that it was

“the impact assessments arising from those analyses”

that should be provided to the Select Committee.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) referred to the evidence provided by the Secretary of State to the Select Committee back in October. I remind myself of his answers to questions 131 and 132 in that session, in which he made it clear that those impact assessments existed “in excruciating detail” and that the Prime Minister had been provided with a summary, which she had read. Will the Minister confirm that what this House now seeks the Government to disclose are the impact assessments?

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My right hon. Friend is, as always, forensic in her questioning. We were very clear when we were debating this motion that exactly what it referred to was not available at that time. Of course, there are various assessments and documents held by the Government that have been worked on over time, addressing the individual sectors. We have actually sought to provide the Select Committee with a great deal more information than existed at the time of the Secretary of State’s evidence to it, and I think that that will be valuable to the Committee in its scrutiny.

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The main issues dividing the House at this stage in the Brexit negotiations are our continued membership of the customs union and of the single market. Ministers say constantly that they do not want to reveal anything that could weaken their negotiating hand, but the Government have made their position clear and the European Union has accepted that the Government want a hard Brexit, so why would it damage the Government’s negotiating position to put that information out? Can the Minister confirm that the information in the edited documents will help Members to reach a view on whether we should stay in the customs union and the single market?

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I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the information in the edited documents will be valuable to the House, but it is wrong to describe them as “edited documents”. I would describe them as comprehensive sectoral analyses that the Government have provided for the Select Committee and will be providing, on a confidential basis, to the House.

In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the customs union and the single market, I remind him that he, like I, stood on a manifesto that said that we will respect the referendum result and confirmed that the UK will be leaving the customs union and the single market.

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The Minister is making a gallant and courteous defence of a situation that is unlikely to satisfy everybody in this House because of the terms of the Humble Address, but there are two aspects of this that need to be separated. The first is the requirement to provide everything to the Select Committee, which the Humble Address did call for. The second is the fact that surely no one in this House would want our country to go into the negotiating chamber in a weaker position as a result of decisions taken here. The shadow Secretary of State himself recognised that there is a way of dealing with these things, which is to redact what would be sensitive. Unfortunately, the Humble Address did not cover that, so I believe that it is now strongly in the Government’s interest to table a motion to amend the Humble Address, which many of us in the House would strongly support.

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Like many Conservative Members, my hon. Friend has suggested an approach that the Government could take. It is certainly something to which we will give due consideration.

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The crucial issue is the Government’s failure to be open and transparent with the public and Parliament about the consequences of their approach to Brexit. They are not just doing that with regard to these papers, because they also refuse to give clear examples of the spending reprioritisation that is taking place in Departments as a result of the assessments in the papers and the Government’s policies on Brexit. Will the Government publish a breakdown of the funding that they are giving each Department to cope with their approach to Brexit?

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The hon. Gentleman’s question strays quite a long way beyond the matter that we are discussing at the moment. We will absolutely continue to engage with Parliament and its Select Committees to support their scrutiny. We will provide them with as much information as we can, consistent with the national interest.

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Just to rub it in: who was it who first suggested the use of redaction?

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I can confirm that that was the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).

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The Minister has mentioned the devolved Administrations on a number of occasions. I am advised by Scottish Government colleagues that the documents they have received contain nothing substantial at all about Scotland. On 24 and 25 October, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Existing the European Union gave evidence—to the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Exiting the European Union Committee respectively—that assessments of Brexit’s impact on the Scottish economy existed and would be shared with the Scottish Government. Will the Minister confirm that those unedited documents will now be shared without further delay?

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I can confirm that the documents that are being shared with the Select Committee are also being shared in the usual way, with permanent secretaries of the devolved Administrations, on the same basis as they have been shared with the Select Committee. The sectoral analyses do, in many cases, contain important analyses of Scottish issues.

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May I gently suggest to my hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest of respect, that there should be a bit of a rethink on this matter before the Secretary of State appears before the Select Committee in the coming days? I also urge my hon. Friend to recognise that the really important thing at this stage is to get a move on with the negotiations and ensure that companies up and down the country, which are currently in limbo, know what we are going to do. We have to move forward in December; we cannot stand still.

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My hon. Friend makes a hugely important point. I think we all want to ensure that we have the most successful approach to the negotiations, that we move forward in December and that we talk about the implementation period, which is hugely important to companies, and the deep and special partnership that we want to form between the UK and the EU. I will certainly take his points on board.

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The Brexit Committee has made the rightful assertion that it will decide what information is published, but does the Minister accept that there is a real danger that the national interest could be put in jeopardy if more weight were given to transparency than to protecting our negotiating position? Does he therefore agree that the best way forward is to seek clarification from the House that it does not wish for information that could be sensitive to be placed in the Committee’s hands, and therefore to bring forward a motion to the House along those lines?

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The hon. Gentleman reinforces a point that has been made by many of my hon. Friends. As I said, we will give that due consideration. He is right that we need to ensure that we protect the absolute national interest in this process by ensuring that information that is sensitive in the negotiations remains confidential.

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In all my hon. Friend’s dealings with his European Union counterparts, has he ever formed the view that they pay no heed to the proceedings of this House and, indeed, have no interest in the contents of any documents that may be produced for any of its Select Committees?

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My right hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. I would say that the proceedings of this House—certainly as they are reported by the press—are sometimes of great interest to our continental colleagues, but I do take his point.

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The Department has handed over some 850 pages, but the Minister has made it clear that some information has been withheld. If that additional material had also been handed over, how many pages would that have been? Would it be another couple of hundred, more or less, or has the information not actually been compiled?

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The right hon. Gentleman asks a hypothetical question to which I am afraid that I do not have an answer.

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It was a mistake not to amend the Opposition’s motion. As a result, the Government are skating on very thin parliamentary ice. The issue could be solved next week if the Government were to come back with a sensible motion, which every Member of this House really ought to support.

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As with other hon. Friends, I take my hon. Friend’s suggestion very seriously.

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By not releasing the papers in their original form, is the Minister aware that the implication is that I and other members of the Select Committee cannot be trusted to act in the national interest?

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No, I do not believe that is the case at all. We believe that the Select Committee has a serious job of scrutiny to do. These papers have been produced at great length to help to inform that scrutiny.

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I would be rather more interested in seeing the impact assessments drawn up by the EU of the impact of Britain leaving the EU and how that is affecting the EU’s negotiating position. Does my hon. Friend share my curiosity that Opposition Members are not keen to scrutinise those documents?

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Order. The trouble with the interest of the hon. Gentleman, which is of great fascination to Members of the House and many spectators beyond its environs, is that it is not even adjacent to the question before us, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman can entertain himself in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

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This is not my definition of taking back control. This huge mess that the Government have got themselves into shows the limits of their clever-clever tactic of not engaging with Opposition motions by sitting on their hands. Despite what the Minister says, the fact is that a Humble Address, which it is compulsory for the Government to act on, has been carried. It calls not for the documents to be edited and not for them to be changed—that job now goes to the Select Committee. The Government have to get on and publish these documents, and they have to publish them now.

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As I made it very clear on the day we debated this issue, the documents did not exist in the form that was requested. We took the motion of the House extremely seriously, and that is why we have made sure that a great deal of information has been provided to the Select Committee.

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Has any formal protocol been put down by the Committee and conveyed to Ministers about how it would handle this information, because that is pertinent in all this?

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Not that I am aware of.

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What—[Interruption.] If I could have the Minister’s attention, what guidelines were provided to the officials editing the documents as to what should be excluded?

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I have made it clear to the House that this information was pulled together from a range of documents. As I have also made clear, we have to ensure that commercially sensitive information, and information that would be prejudicial to the national interest, could not be at risk of being published. But this has been a process of ensuring that there is more information for the Committee, not less.

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Does the Minister share my concern about how a letter sent by the Secretary of State to the ExEU Committee managed to reach journalists at the Daily Mirror before it was considered by the Committee? Does that encourage or discourage him when it comes to sharing confidential information?

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My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. Of course, all leaks should be taken extremely seriously.

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The Minister will understand that it is important that the Executive get on with policy, but there is a fundamental role in our constitution for Parliament to hold the Executive to account and to scrutinise this hugely important decision. The Secretary of State said that the information existed “in excruciating detail” and that the Prime Minister had seen the summaries. For that reason, it is hard to understand why we cannot see the entirety of the information —if so, with redaction. Can the Minister explain why that is not the case?

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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the balance we need to strike. We do need to get on with this role, but we also absolutely respect the role of parliamentary scrutiny in this process, which is why the information that has been provided to the Committee is comprehensive and in great detail. It goes beyond the type of summaries that he refers to and, indeed, that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras suggested might be an answer to this. We have actually provided much more information than just summarising reports could have done.

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Points of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the debates we have just had, it is clear there is a lot of concern from Members on both sides of the House that the Government have not satisfied the motion passed less than a month ago. You have been very clear in your advice that the motion passed was binding. After the debate on 1 November, you said that

“I would expect the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household to present the Humble Address in the usual way.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 931.]

The expectation of this House was that the papers would be handed over in full, unedited. Anything less than this would be, I believe, a contempt of Parliament. Can I seek your guidance on whether you believe the Government have adequately satisfied the motion and the expectations of the House? If not, would failure to comply be considered a contempt of the House? If so, what would be the best way for Members to proceed?

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Is it very specifically further to, and therefore on the point raised by, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)?

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indicated assent.

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It is. Point of order, Mr Pete Wishart.

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As you will know, Mr Speaker, I wrote to you on 7 November asking you to consider contempt proceedings against the Government for failing to provide these Brexit analysis papers in full, as mandated, as you said, by the fully binding motion agreed by the House. You very generously gave the Government three weeks to comply, and you said you were awaiting the outcome of the conversations between the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee. We have now had those conversations, and we have now heard the response from the Chairman of the Committee, who stated in this very Chamber just a few moments ago that the Government do not meet the motion in full. I therefore ask you to reconsider my letter of 7 November and to consider bringing contempt motions, as detailed on page 273 of “Erskine May”. I am sure you are aware of the significance of this, and I know you will deal with this sensitively. This is contempt, and the Government must be held accountable for their failure to comply.

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I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Order. I will come to the hon. Gentleman in due course, potentially.

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It is on this matter.

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Very well. Let us hear Mr Marcus Fysh.

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On page 201 of “Erskine May”, the section on ministerial accountability quotes from a resolution that was passed by both Houses of Parliament in the 1996-97 Session, which makes it clear that Ministers do not have to disclose all information if it is not in the public interest to do so. Does that have any bearing on this?

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I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I say this in no spirit of discourtesy to him, but I am familiar with precedent in relation to these matters, and I did not particularly need to be advised of the presence of that material in “Erskine May”. He will not be surprised to know that I have attended to these matters recently and regularly.

What I would say in response to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) very specifically is that I can, of course, reconsider his letter, but I hope he will not mind my saying that I think it would be more orderly and courteous if he were to write to me again, if he is so minded, in the light of the developments that have ensued since his earlier letter. This is not being pedantic—it really is not. It is a question of procedural propriety. If I receive a letter from the hon. Gentleman, I will consider it and respond in a timely way.

Beyond that, what I want at this point to say is that I think it is well known to Members, and certainly to such legal luminaries as the former Director of Public Prosecutions, that a Member wishing to allege a contempt should, in the first instance, raise it not in a point of order, nor indeed in the media, but by writing to me as soon as practicable after the Member has notice of the alleged contempt or breach of privilege. I then decide whether or not the matter should have precedence. It is certainly also well known to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that this is the procedure, as he availed himself of it a few weeks ago. I am more than happy to confirm that my doors are always open for such written notices.

Beyond that formal statement, and in the hope that this is helpful to Members in all parts of the House, I would emphasise that we all heard what the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee had to say. He indicated that the Committee had made a public statement and requested an urgent audience with the Secretary of State, and that information from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) was extremely important. The Minister responded, indicating a willingness on the part of the Secretary of State to meet, and to do so soon. May I very politely say to the Minister, who is always a most courteous fellow, that he was wise to make that statement? When it is suggested that that meeting should be soon, it means soon; it does not mean weeks hence. It means very soon indeed. Nothing—no commitment, no other diarised engagement—is more important than respecting the House, and in this case, the Committee of the House that has ownership of this matter, and to which the papers were to be provided. That is where the matter rests. As and when matters evolve, if a further representation alleging contempt is made to me, I will consider it very promptly and come back to the House. I hope that the House knows me well enough to know that I will do my duty.

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On a point of order on a slightly separate issue, Mr Speaker. Some Government Members, and perhaps some Opposition Members, have asked the Government to come forward with a new motion to try to clarify the distinction between the two differing motions that have come before the House. Is there any technical reason why that motion could not be produced, our having just debated the Humble Address?

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No; it is possible. We shall see what happens. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) should not chunter from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the thrust of the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). If the hon. Member for Glenrothes wishes to raise a point of order, I am very happy to entertain it.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answer to the urgent question, the Minister referred to the binding decision of the House on 1 November. He also referred to a non-binding decision that the House had taken on an earlier day. He appeared to seek to interpret the second decision in terms of the first. Could you advise the House? Where a binding subsequent resolution appears to be incompatible with an earlier non-binding resolution, which should take precedence?

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The hon. Gentleman can always discuss these matters, if he wishes, over a cup of tea with the Minister, if the Minister can spare the time to do so. I do not want to get into a detailed examination of all past motions. Suffice it to say—this is important—that there is a very recent motion passed by this House. If I may very politely say so to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, I did not say that it was my advice that the motion was binding or effective; as Speaker, I ruled that it was binding or effective. That, I can say to the hon. Member for Glenrothes, irrespective of other motions, remains the fact.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for pressing you for a further clarification, but I do so simply because it may help the House. If a motion of contempt applies in respect of a motion, and a subsequent motion amends the original motion, does that negate any charge of contempt relating to the requirements made previously of the Secretary of State?

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That is perfectly reasonable. I have known the right hon. Gentleman long enough to know that he has a fertile mind and likes to explore all possible avenues. I hope that he will forgive me for resorting to my usual response to what I regard as a hypothetical question, which is to pray in aid the wisdom of the late Lord Whitelaw, who was known to observe, on I think more than one occasion, “Personally, I prefer to cross bridges only when I come to them.” That is probably the safest course in virtually every sense.

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rose

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Finally, I hope, I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This discussion goes to the very heart of how Select Committees operate. May I say, as someone who chaired a Select Committee for 10 years, that there is long-established precedent for the Chair of a Select Committee being able to receive a highly sensitive document on their own, in private, and deal with it sensibly and in a public-spirited way? There is a long tradition of that, particularly in very sensitive inquiries concerning children and education. Why that cannot apply at some stage in this case, I do not know.

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That is a very helpful piece of information from an extremely experienced former Select Committee Chair. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; the House will have heard what he had to say.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are very generous; you did say “finally”, but I delayed, because this is related to what has gone on but is not on quite the same subject. One Member said, very pertinently, that this all arises from the curious practice, which started in this Parliament, of the Government not voting on Opposition motions, which has never happened in the history of the House, I think. The result is that the proceedings of the House are becoming littered with motions that are extremely critical of the Government and their policies, the vast majority of which motions I do not agree with. That reduces this House to a debating Chamber, and raises the question: what is parliamentary accountability in modern times? Could you perhaps initiate discussions with the usual channels to see how we can get back to the constitutional position that we should undoubtedly have, in which the Government are accountable for all their actions and policies to this House of Commons, and cannot simply ignore motions as though they were the resolutions of some local tea party?

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I am not sure how grateful I am to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his point of order, but my response is twofold. First, the Address is just that—the Address—whether an attempt was made to amend it or not, and its binding quality is just that. Irrespective of whether that attempt was made or not, it stands anyway. Secondly, how the Government deal with Opposition day debate motions is a matter for the Government. What the Government have done to date is not disorderly. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested, as I think he has, that at the very least it has not been helpful to the House, I certainly would not dissent from that. It would be helpful if people reflected on the wider implications or ramifications of their conduct on individual occasions. He has served in this House without interruption for 47 years, five months and 10 days, and I think he knows of what he speaks.

If there are no further points of order, I thank colleagues; that will do for now. We come now to the statement by the Secretary of State for Health, for which he has been most patiently waiting.

Maternity Safety Strategy

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With permission, I will make a statement about the Government’s new strategy to improve safety in NHS maternity services.

Giving birth is the most common reason for admission to hospital in England. Thanks to the dedication and skill of NHS maternity teams, the vast majority of the roughly 700,000 babies born each year are delivered safely, with high levels of satisfaction from parents. However, there is still too much avoidable harm and death. Every child lost is a heart-rending tragedy for families that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It is also deeply traumatic for the NHS staff involved. Stillbirth rates are falling but still lag behind those in many developed countries in Europe. When it comes to injury, brain damage sustained at birth can often last a lifetime, with about two multi-million pound claims settled against the NHS every single week. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said this year that 76% of the 1,000 cases of birth-related deaths or serious brain injuries that occurred in 2015 might have had a different outcome with different care. So, in 2015, I announced a plan to halve the rate of maternal deaths, neonatal deaths, brain injuries and stillbirths, and last October I set out a detailed strategy to support that ambition.

Since then, local maternity systems have formed across England to work with the users of NHS maternity services to make them safer and more personal; more than 80% of trusts now have a named board-level maternity champion; 136 NHS trusts have received a share of an £8.1 million training fund; we are six months into a year-long training programme and, as of June, more than 12,000 additional staff have been trained; the maternal and neonatal health safety collaborative was launched on 28 February; 44 wave 1 trusts have attended intensive training on quality improvement science and are working on implementing local quality improvement projects with regular visits from a dedicated quality improvement manager; and 25 trusts were successful in their bids for a share of the £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund and have been progressing with their projects to drive improvements in safety.

However, the Government’s ambition is for the health service to give the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere in the world, so there is much more work that needs to be done. Today, I am therefore announcing a series of additional measures. First, we are still not good enough at sharing best practice. When someone flies to New York, their friends do not tell them to make sure that they get a good pilot. But if someone gets cancer, that is exactly what friends say about their doctor. We need to standardise best practice so that every NHS patient can be confident that they are getting the highest standards of care.

When it comes to maternity safety, we are going to try a completely different approach. From next year, every case of a stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death that is notified to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ “Each Baby Counts” programme—that is about 1,000 incidents annually—will be investigated not by the trust at which the incident happened, but independently, with a thorough, learning-focused investigation conducted by the healthcare safety investigation branch. That new body started up this year, drawing on the approach taken to investigations in the airline industry, and it has successfully reduced fatalities with thorough, independent investigations, the lessons of which are rapidly disseminated around the whole system.

The new independent maternity safety investigations will involve families from the outset, and they will have an explicit remit not just to get to the bottom of what happened in an individual instance, but to spread knowledge around the system so that mistakes are not repeated. The first investigations will happen in April next year and they will be rolled out nationally throughout the year, meaning that we will have complied with recommendation 23 of the Kirkup report into Morecambe Bay.

Secondly, following concerns that some neonatal deaths are being wrongly classified as stillbirths, which means that a coroner’s inquest cannot take place, I will work with the Ministry of Justice to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law, giving due consideration to the impact on the devolved Administration in Wales. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his campaigning on this issue.

Next, we will to do more to improve the training of maternity staff in best practice. Today, we are launching the Atain e-learning programme for healthcare professionals involved in the care of newborns to improve care for babies, mothers and families. The Atain programme works to reduce avoidable causes of harm that can lead to infants born at term being admitted to a neonatal unit. We will also increase training for consultants on the care of pregnant women with significant health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

We know that smoking during pregnancy is closely correlated with neonatal harm. Our tobacco control plan commits the Government to reducing the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% or less by 2022. Today, we will provide new funding to train health practitioners, such as maternity support workers, to deliver evidence-based smoking cessation according to appropriate national standards.

The 1,000 new investigations into “Each Baby Counts” cases will help us to transform what can be a blame culture into the learning culture that is required, but one of the current barriers to learning is litigation. Earlier this year, I consulted on the rapid resolution and redress scheme, which offers families with brain-damaged children better access to support and compensation as an alternative to the court system. My intention is that in incidents of possibly avoidable serious brain injury at birth, successfully establishing the new independent HSIB investigations will be an important step on the road to introducing a full rapid resolution and redress scheme, to reduce delays in delivering support and compensation for families. Today, I am publishing a summary of responses to the consultation, which reflect strong support for the key aims of the scheme: to improve safety, to improve patients’ experience and to improve cost-effectiveness. I will look to launch the scheme, ideally, from 2019.

Finally, a word about the costs involved. NHS Resolution spent almost £500 million settling obstetric claims in 2016-17. For every £1 the NHS spends on delivering a baby, another 60p is spent by another part of the NHS on settling claims related to previous births. Trusts that improve their maternity safety are also saving the NHS money, allowing more funding to be made available for frontline care. To create a strong financial incentive to improve maternity safety, we will increase by 10% the maternity premium paid by every trust under the clinical negligence scheme for trusts, but we will refund the increase, possibly with an even greater discount, if a trust can demonstrate compliance with 10 criteria identified as best practice on maternity safety.

Taken together, these measures give me confidence that we can bring forward the date by which we achieve a halving of neonatal deaths, maternal deaths, injuries and stillbirths from 2030—the original planned date—to 2025. I am today setting that as the new target date for the “halve it” ambition. Our commitment to reduce the rate by 20% by 2020 remains and, following powerful representations made by voluntary sector organisations, I will also include in that ambition a reduction in the national rate of pre-term births from 8% to 6%. In particular, we need to build on the good evidence that women who have “continuity of carer” throughout their pregnancy are less likely to experience a pre-term delivery, with safer outcomes for themselves and their babies.

I would not be standing here today making this statement were it not for the campaigning of numerous parents who have been through the agony of losing a treasured child. Instead of moving on and trying to draw a line under their tragedy, they have chosen to relive it over and again. I have often mentioned members of the public such as James Titcombe and Carl Hendrickson, to whom I again pay tribute. But I also want to mention members of this House who have bravely spoken out about their own experiences, including my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), as well as the hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). Their passionate hope—and ours, as we stand shoulder to shoulder with them—is that drawing attention to what may have gone wrong in their own case will help to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and others are spared the terrible heartache that they and their families endured. We owe it to each and every one of them to make this new strategy work. I commend this statement to the House.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. At the outset, may I pay tribute, as he has done, to the hon. Members who have spoken out so movingly in recent months about baby loss? They include, as he has said, the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). They are all a credit to the House.

Our national health service offers some of the best neonatal care in the world, and the progress set out by the Secretary of State today is a tribute to the extraordinary work of midwives and maternity staff across the country. We welcome his announcement that all notifiable cases of stillbirth and neonatal death in England will now receive an independent investigation by the healthcare safety investigation branch. That is an important step, which will help to bring certainty and closure to hundreds of families every year.

We also welcome the move by the Secretary of State to allow coroners to investigate stillbirths. May I assure him that the Opposition stand ready to work constructively with him to ensure the smooth and timely passage of the relevant legislation, should he and the Government choose to bring any before the House? I also pay tribute to the work carried out by the team at the University of Leicester that leads on the perinatal aspects of the maternal, newborn and infant clinical outcome review programme, which provided the evidence for today’s announcement.

The number of deaths during childbirth has halved since 1993, saving about 220 lives a year, but we welcome the Secretary of State’s ambition to bring forward to 2025 the target date for halving the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth. If that target is to be delivered, however, it is essential that NHS units providing these services are properly resourced and properly staffed. We welcome the launch of the Atain e-learning programme, as well as the increased training for consultants on the care of pregnant women with significant health conditions. We also welcome the emphasis on smoking cessation programmes, but we should remind the Secretary of State that public health budget cuts mean that many anti-smoking programmes have been cut back across the country.

The Secretary of State will know that the heavy workload in maternity units was among the main issues identified by today’s study, which found that “service capacity” issues in maternity units affected over a fifth of the deaths reviewed. Earlier this year, our research revealed that half of maternity units had closed their doors to mothers at some point in 2016, with staffing and capacity issues being the most common reasons for doing so. The Royal College of Midwives tells us that we are about 3,500 midwives short of the number needed. A survey published by the National Childbirth Trust this year showed that 50% of women having a baby experienced what the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence describes as a red flag event, which is an indicator of dangerously low staffing levels, such as a women not receiving one-to-one care during established labour.

We therefore believe that the NHS remains underfunded and understaffed. I would be grateful to the Secretary of State if he told us what further action he intends to take to ensure that maternity services are properly funded and to address the staffing shortages as part of a full strategy to improve safety across the board. The NHS has excellent psychological and bereavement support services for women affected by baby loss, but we all know that the quality of those services remains variable across the country. Indeed, we are still a long way from full parity of esteem for mental health in neonatal care. What action does the Secretary of State intend to take to plug these gaps?

Overall, this welcome set of announcements from the Secretary of State may help the NHS to provide the best quality of care for all mothers and their babies. The Opposition look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State and the Government, but I hope he can reassure us that they will provide the resources that NHS midwives and their colleagues need to deliver on these ambitions.

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I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive tone of his response to the statement. I think he is right to point out both the achievements that have been made over many years, but also the challenges ahead. We have about 1,700 neonatal deaths every year—that has actually fallen by 10% since 2010—but behind that figure, there is variation across the country. For example, our best trust has about three deaths in 1,000, but in other trusts the figure can be 10 in 1,000, which is more than three times as many neonatal deaths. That shows we are not as good as we need to be at spreading best practice. Today’s announcement is really about ensuring that we can confidently look every expecting mum in the eye and say, “You are getting the very highest standards of care that we are able to deliver in the NHS.”

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer to co-operate on any legislation needed to expand the scope of inquests to full-term stillbirths, and we will get back to him on that. I also thank him for raising the issue of bereavement services. I spoke to a bereavement midwife this morning, and I think bereavement midwives are among the most extraordinary people working in the whole NHS. We do have a programme to improve the consistency of bereavement services and to roll out the use of bereavement suites across the NHS; our best trusts have such suites, but by no means all of them do.

The hon. Gentleman was absolutely correct to raise the issues of both funding and staffing. We have seen an increase of 1,600 in the number of midwives since 2010, which is a rise of 8%, and an increase of 600 in the number of obstetricians and doctors working in maternity departments, which is a rise of about 13%, but we need more. There are lots of pressures across the NHS, and we also have to fund the extra midwives and doctors that we need. There was a welcome boost for the NHS in the Budget, with an extra £1.6 billion available for the NHS next year. However, looking forward to the next 10 years and all the pressures coming down the track for the NHS—with a growing birth rate, but also with an ageing population—I do not pretend that we will not have to revisit the issue of NHS funding and find a long-term approach. Probably the most appropriate time to do that will be when we come to the end of the five year forward view and start to think about what happens following that. If we are to put more money into the NHS, we need to have the doctors, midwives and nurses to spend that money on, which is why, in the past year, the Government have committed to a 25% increase in the number of nurse training places and a 25% increase in the number of medical school training places.

My final point for the hon. Gentleman is that, although we have lots of debates in this House in which we take different positions in relation to the NHS, one thing we can be united on is our aspiration, which is shared across the House, that the NHS should be the safest healthcare system in the world, and I very much thank him for his support on that.

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Order. This is an extremely important and sensitive matter, and we appreciate the statement on it. However, the business to follow—the final day of debate on the Budget—is also extremely important, and no fewer than 67 right hon. and hon. Members have indicated a wish to speak. Exceptionally, therefore, I may not feel able to call everybody on this statement. In any event, there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike.

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I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcements today, including the move to allow coroners to investigate full-term stillbirths. Will he set out the current waiting time for post-mortems for infants because, as he will be aware, there is a shortage of the very highly specialised pathologists who carry out this vital work?

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I do not have that information to hand, but I will find out for my hon. Friend and let her know.

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Last month’s debate on baby loss has been mentioned, and I too took part in it, although I have thankfully been spared the pain suffered by some Members of the House. Such a debate really helps to bring out for everyone on both sides of the House how important this issue is, and I do not think there will be anyone who does not welcome this statement and the ambition it shows.

In Scotland, we had a higher stillbirth, neonatal and perinatal death rate in 2012, but our new chief medical officer was actually an obstetrician, and that may have led to the change of focus in 2013, when she established the maternity and children quality improvement collaborative and the national stillbirth group—all as part of the Scottish patient safety initiative—as well as the neonatal managed clinical networks across Scotland. That has enabled us to drop our stillbirth rate by more than a quarter, and to drop our neonatal death rate by 50%.

This has been achieved despite the challenges we face of really difficult geography, including getting people off islands. It is easy to spot the woman who has a history of difficult births or to spot a woman with comorbidities, such as obesity or diabetes, but anyone who has been involved in birth knows that even the healthiest pregnancy can go wrong at the last minute. For us, as in rural parts of the north and west of England, there are transport issues in relation to how women with problems during labour are identified and transported if a higher specialism is required, and those issues must be looked at.

This is very much about the provision of neonatal services, including the movement of patients, and the availability of expertise and of neonatal intensive care units. However, as came out several times during the debate on baby loss, another issue is that of pre-term birth and stillbirth, so this is also about trying to change some of those things. After Scotland’s recent review in February, the focus will be on the consistent monitoring of growth, as a failure to thrive can identify a third of impending stillbirths; the continuity of care, which the Secretary of State has referenced; and especially smoking. Although the Secretary of State mentioned getting smoking rates down—and in Scotland, sadly, they are higher—the rate in the most deprived communities is more than four times that in the least deprived communities. That has an impact on every level of child loss.

Finally, on research, it is important that we learn, for example from the new information about women sleeping on their side in the last trimester. We need to fund the research to learn those things and then share the information—

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Order. I have the highest regard for the hon. Lady, who is a considerable medical authority. I gave her a little leeway, but I say very gently that not only did she exceed her time by a minute, but she pursued her usual, rather discursive approach. In these situations, what is required is a question or a series of questions with a question mark or a series of question marks, rather than general analysis. We will leave it there for now. I say that in the most good-natured spirit to the hon. Lady.

I call Antoinette Sandbach.

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rose—

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I forgot that we had heard from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), but we had not yet heard from the Secretary of State. Apologies.

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I actually agreed with everything the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire said. I will give a rather more brief response.

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Order. As I have just been advised by the distinguished Clerk at the Table, who swivelled round so to advise me, there is really no need for a response, because there was no question. However, I will indulge the right hon. Gentleman to the point of a paragraph.

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Let me simply say that there is an excellent Scottish patient safety programme. Given that one of the main objectives behind the statement is to share best practice, I would be very happy to talk to the chief medical officer in Scotland and to Jason Leitch about how we can exchange information and learn from each other’s systems.

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As every parent who has lost a child knows, what they want most is answers. I therefore congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing forward the healthcare safety investigation branch, because such independence will be crucial in gaining the buy-in of parents and in their knowing what has happened in their particular case. How will the learning from those investigations be shared?

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I thank my hon. Friend for her extraordinary campaigning on this issue. Yes, we want parents to get the answer more quickly, but we also want to be able to answer the question that every parent asks: “Can you guarantee that this won’t happen again?” The investigators will have an explicit dual remit: to get to the bottom of what happened, but also to spread that message around the system so that the same mistake is not repeated. That is the objective of setting up a new team of people to do this.

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My constituents Jack and Sarah Hawkins have spoken bravely about the tragic death of their daughter Harriet due to failures of care. Members may have heard them this morning. I spoke to Jack earlier and am pleased to tell the Secretary of State that they feel listened to and heard. They and I very much welcome his statement and his support for extending the power of coroners. However, Jack and Sarah need to be able to stop fighting and to begin healing, so I ask the Secretary of State to urge his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) to bring about that change as soon as possible.

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Through the hon. Lady, I express my thanks to Jack and Sarah for bravely telling their story this morning in the media, which was incredibly moving and touched a lot of hearts. With respect to allowing inquests into full-term stillbirths, our objective is to move as quickly as any legislative vehicle allows. If I am able to work closely with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) to do that, that is exactly what I want to do.

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I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and congratulate him on it. Does he agree that the vast majority of grieving parents, if not all, not only want to know why, but want to know that their child’s life, however short, will have had meaning by ensuring that we learn lessons from them not as a statistic, but as a baby? That is why the independent investigation unit is so important. We must learn the lessons not just in one trust, but across the whole NHS and spread that learning to ensure that as few people as possible go through this emotional personal tragedy.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he knows, because he has spoken so movingly on this subject many times, there is absolutely nothing we can do to make up for the searing loss of losing a loved one—a baby. It is the worst thing any parent can go through. We can at least give them the commitment that we will learn. If we are honest, we do not do so at the moment, because we sometimes wait 10 years for a court case to be settled, and even then it is not always clear to me that the lessons of what happened are properly learned around the system. This statement is an attempt to change that.

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I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s approach to more openness and transparency in the NHS around baby deaths. However, he will remember signing a letter in May 2016, along with the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the then Secretary of State for Justice, on an independent inquiry into the baby ashes scandal in Hull. That inquiry has never happened and parents still do not have the answers about what happened in the NHS and Hull City Council in respect of their babies’ ashes. Will the Secretary of State recommit to that independent inquiry going ahead with his permission?

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I am happy to recommit to that. I apologise to the hon. Lady and her constituents for the delay. I will look into what happened right away.

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The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) pre-empted my question about my Bill and coroners. I make the offer to sit down with the Secretary of State and his draftsman to decide on the wording of my private Member’s Bill, which will be debated on 2 February, as the fastest way to achieve his goals and get the solution that all Members of the House want.

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I am happy to do that and am most grateful for that very generous offer.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State will realise that, even after all these years, when my wife and I hear news like what we heard this morning, it takes us back to our first baby daughter, who died at birth. After that, we had four healthy children and 10 grandchildren, but we still go back to that awful time. Our baby was sickly; it was not about poor care. We care very much about people who lose their children. As a constituency Member of Parliament, I am getting increasingly worried about rationalisations in which maternity units get further and further away from where the main population live. I also get very worried when we do not give our midwives and doctors our full support to give them the morale to do that difficult job.

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We must give doctors, nurses and midwives our full support, because they do an extraordinary job. Sometimes there are difficult issues and the centralisation of certain maternity services can improve patient safety if it means that there is round-the-clock consultant cover and so on. In my experience, the most important thing is to spot the most risky births early in the process. I am not a doctor, but there is sometimes an assumption that it is all about what happens at the moment of labour when women go into hospital. Actually, a lot of this is about thinking earlier in the process about higher risk mums—mums who smoke and mums from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—and intervening earlier. That will be important for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and for mine.

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Pregnancy and childbirth are a time of joy for most families, but during my professional career, I sadly had to look after a number of babies who died. I therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to halving the number of neonatal deaths by 2025. In my professional experience, many babies who are stillborn were already dead or in serious trouble inside the mother before they arrived at hospital. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that the investigations will look at pre-hospital care, as well as hospital care, including things such as the measurement of babies’ growth? Will he also encourage expectant mothers to monitor foetal movements, as we know that a reduction in those can be a sign of distress?

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I can absolutely confirm that. This follows a very interesting discussion on that topic we both had at lunch. My hon. Friend is right that the key is early intervention. Also, we know that continuity of carer makes a very big difference. If, well ahead of labour, people can meet the midwives who will be delivering their child, that can help reassure people and lead to safer births.

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This is a very welcome statement. The Secretary of State will know of the very disturbing cases over the past few years in the Pennine health trust. Will he make space within the legislation for retrospective investigations where there have been a number of cases, as in the Pennine trust?

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I will look into that very carefully. I am satisfied that there is strong new leadership at the Pennine trust and that it is being turned around, but it has told me about some of the cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers. They are of very great concern, and we absolutely must do everything we can to give answers to bereaved families.

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As a bereaved parent, but also as a lawyer who has conducted many inquests, I ask the Secretary of State to consider two points. The first is the fact that not many families will need an inquest to determine what went wrong during the birth of their child. Secondly, will he commit to the training of special coroners, just as we have in military inquests, to ensure that those who deal with these very sad cases are the best equipped people to do so? Finally, on behalf of the all-party group on baby loss, may I thank him for today’s announcement and encourage him in his work to make maternity care kinder, safer and closer to home—and may I encourage him to save Horton General Hospital?

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First, may I apologise to my hon. Friend, because I should have mentioned her in my statement as someone who has spoken very passionately and movingly on this topic in the House? I will take away her point about specialist coroners, because we are now going to have specialist investigators, which we have never had before. I would make one other point. I hope she does not think I am doing down her former profession, but really when people go to the law, we have failed. If we get this right—if we can be more open, honest and transparent with families earlier on—it will, I hope, mean many fewer legal cases, although I am sure that the lawyers will always find work elsewhere.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, like many others in the Chamber. He talked several times about learning lessons. As he knows, a recent report has highlighted that in my own trust, the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, there were 19 stillbirths last year, which is a far higher percentage than in the rest of the UK. In the spirit of learning lessons, will he agree to someone in the Department of Health examining why that is the case?

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I absolutely undertake to look into that case and ensure a proper investigation into what is happening. The hon. Gentleman is right; in the end, we need to be much more open about this data, so I commend the trust for sharing the data publicly. Until we access such data, we will not know where the issues are that we need to solve.

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With this vital new focus on safer births, will there be an opportunity to look at group B strep and other issues that if undetected in the later stages of pregnancy can result in baby loss?

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I am very happy to undertake to do that.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, but will he reconfirm the advice from NICE that midwife-led birthing centres are safe under the appropriate circumstances? In areas such as Rochdale, where the birth rate has shot up dramatically following the closure of its maternity unit, the provision of something like a midwife-led centre would be the right approach.

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I can absolutely confirm that for low-risk births that is the case, but it is also key to spot the births that are not low-risk, so that alternative provision can be made.

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Will the Secretary of State do everything possible to spread across the country the excellent “dads to be” courses that are part of the antenatal provision at Chelsea and Westminster and Kingston Hospitals? We know that they help solidify relationships between parents at a moment of strain and reduce family breakdown.

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I am intrigued to hear that, because my three children were born at the Chelsea and Westminster, and my wife would have been delighted if I had done a “dads to be” course. I will certainly look into that course and, I am sure, actively promote it.

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May I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and say that, although safety must be paramount, it would be wrong to see this as a reason to shut midwife-led units and, in particular, discourage home births for women likely to have a safe birth who chose to have the baby at home? Will the Secretary of State say something to make sure that those units are safe?

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I am very happy to do that. Midwife-led units and home birthing are both part of the NHS maternity offer, but it is wrong to suggest that there is a conflict between patient safety and the choice made by mothers. No mother would ever actively make a choice to do something that was not the safest option for her and her child.

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I welcome the statement, and I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned the role of tobacco. Has he also considered the role of alcohol?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. The evidence is very clear about the damage done to foetuses and babies if there is too much—or, indeed, any—drinking by a mother. I did not mention it in the statement because we are focusing on smoking cessation training, but he is right to mention the issue.

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