House of Commons
Thursday 7 December 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Animal Welfare
With just two short weeks before the Christmas recess, may I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the staff of the House who do such a superb job, a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous new year?
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The Government are making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years, banning microbeads that harm marine life, and banning the ivory trade. On leaving the European Union we will go even further.
The Secretary of State has done more for animal welfare in recent months than was achieved in many years previously, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Will he assure the House that as we will be leaving the EU, the customs union and the single market in 2019, we are making preparations now to ensure that, for example, the banning of live animal exports and the import of foie gras can be achieved?
My hon. Friend has been a passionate and successful campaigner for animal welfare during his entire career in the House of Commons, and he is right to say that there are now opportunities to take steps to improve the treatment of live exports—or potentially to ban them—as we leave the European Union. The steps that we take when we put animal welfare at the heart of all we do must be consistent with our broader negotiating objectives as we leave the EU.
On animal welfare standards, whether we are in the EU or outside it, will the Secretary of State consider the importance of labelling so that people know what they are buying? When a label says that a chicken has been reared outside or been stunned or not stunned, people must be able to trust that they know what has happened.
The hon. Gentleman is right: there is confusion and uncertainty in the minds of some consumers as a result of current labelling. Already, farmer-led schemes such as the Red Tractor scheme ensure that people know that animals have been kept to the highest welfare standards, but we can go further and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that.
My hon. Friend makes a very acute point. It is in the nature of single market rules and the European Union that some animal husbandry practices, which we would not tolerate in this country, apply to things that we sometimes import. We must consider how we can improve animal welfare standards all round.
Will the Secretary of State set out what discussions he has had with the Welsh Government about moving forward on animal welfare once we leave the EU, regarding both that Government’s responsibilities and the responsibilities that will come back from Europe to the Secretary of State?
I commend Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Labour Minister who is responsible for this area in the Welsh Assembly Government, for the constructive way in which she has engaged with DEFRA over the past six months. I hope to see her next week to carry forward discussions on this and other areas.
I very much welcome higher welfare standards, cameras in slaughterhouses, and tougher sentencing, but as we enhance our welfare, we will also add cost to production. We want to ensure that our consumers eat high-quality product with high welfare standards, and that we do not import inferior quality meat with lower welfare standards.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee makes an excellent point—I know that the Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the impact of leaving the European Union on food standards overall. Critical to high food standards is the viability and improved productivity of our farmers who do such a wonderful job.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed more stringent legislation on animal cruelty than the UK mainland. What discussions has the Secretary of State’s Department had with the Northern Ireland Assembly about bringing similar measures into operation in England and Wales?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are many ways in which Northern Ireland sets higher standards than we do in the rest of the UK, and I have always taken the view that we can learn a great deal from every part of the United Kingdom, not least the cherished Province which I love so much.
Future Trade Agreements: Agriculture
Ministers and officials meet regularly to discuss the promotion of UK agriculture. Only last night I was talking to the Secretary of State for International Trade, to ensure that in the next 12 months we place the promotion of British food at the heart of our joint governmental endeavours.
As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I recently hosted a visit of the Nigerian agriculture Minister to the UK. Does the Secretary of State accept that the UK is leading in innovation and education in agriculture, and that we have a lot to offer that country?
My hon. Friend has done an outstanding job as trade envoy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and there is much that we can do together to improve the transfer of technology between our two countries. Nigeria offers huge opportunities to our exporters, which I know my hon. Friend has done much to help to advance.
Surely the Secretary of State realises that the food and farming sector is terrified about the impact of leaving the European Union? Does he agree that the fact there has been no impact assessment by him or his Department on what will happen to farming in food in this country is a disgrace?
Will the Secretary of State impress on the International Trade Secretary the fact that it is not just about goods, but about services? Will he join me in congratulating the British Horse Society on its 70th anniversary year and on being invited to provide an accreditation system for riding centres in China?
My right hon. Friend, who did an outstanding job when she was Secretary of State, is absolutely right. No country in the world has a finer equestrian tradition than our own. We can build on that tradition to ensure that services are provided to international markets.
Is there anyone, other than the Secretary of State and the Legatum Institute, who thinks that a free trade deal with Trump’s America would be good for British farming and the UK food chain?
As everyone in this House will know—as a fellow Scot, the Secretary of State will know it very clearly—Scotland has some of the largest protected food names in the EU, with high-value products such as Scotch beef and Scotch salmon accounting for some £700 million in sales, yet there has been absolutely nothing from the Government on whether that will continue post Brexit. Will he give a clear indication and a clear commitment today that our participation in this vital scheme will continue or be replaced within the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has in his role been a passionate and effective advocate for Scottish industry. Yes, we want to make sure that geographical indicators and schemes that ensure high-quality foods from all parts of the United Kingdom are recognised within Europe and across the world. We want to ensure that appropriate schemes exist in the future so that we can provide recognition to our trading partners, as well as ensuring that the markets we care so much about are protected.
There are some concerns about the impact of pulse trawling on certain species of fish, in particular gadoids such as cod. Earlier this year, I asked the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to review the science on pulse trawling. The preliminary advice concludes that while the impact on the seabed is typically smaller than for traditional beam trawling, there are some detrimental effects on fish species such as cod. Once CEFAS has completed its work, we will decide what steps are required next.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, of the concerns of fishers in parts of south-east England about the impact of Dutch electric pulse fishing on the stocks that, surprise surprise, move across national boundaries and are consequently shared. At the moment, we have a voice at the table and we can influence, alongside other, more conservation-minded northern European countries, policies such as that on electric pulse fishing. How will we exert the same influence if we leave the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that pulse trawling is predominantly carried out by about 84 Dutch vessels, which mostly fish in UK waters to catch those species. Once we leave the European Union, we will decide the terms of access. That will give us the clarity and the ability to be able to ban certain approaches if we want to.
The European Union is currently proposing draconian measures for our recreational sea anglers. They will stop recreational fishing for half the year. These ridiculous proposals should be resisted. I seek assurances from the Minister that he will stand up for our recreational sea anglers.
The situation with bass is precarious, which is why I and the UK Government pressed for emergency measures three years ago. However, we believe it is important that the current International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice is benchmarked to take account of measures that have already been brought in. We will be arguing for a more proportionate package this December.
Leaving the EU: Food Prices
The key drivers of food price changes are exchange rates, weather events and oil prices. These factors affect all countries in the world, whether they are members of the European Union or independent nation states. We therefore assess the impact of leaving the EU on retail food prices to be marginal.
During the EU referendum campaign, the Secretary of State claimed that food prices would fall after a vote for Brexit, yet new data from the Office for National Statistics show that food prices last month were up by 4.2% on 12 months earlier. My constituents will be feeling the pinch of those increases this Christmas. Will the Minister confirm that an analysis of food prices has been conducted, and that it is not just in his imagination? If he has published that analysis, when will it be in the public domain?
In the 18 months leading up to the referendum food prices fell by 7%, and in the 18 months since they have risen by 4%. Changes in food prices of plus or minus 5% are fairly typical. The fact is that whether a country is inside or outside the EU, the key drivers of food prices—weather events, exchange rates and oil prices—remain the same.
What discussions has the Minister held with the Department for International Trade about assessing the current EU non-tariff barriers on the pig products that are so important not only to my constituency, but to the broader constituency area of Suffolk?
I am aware that the pig industry is very important to my hon. Friend’s constituency. The UK has a close relationship with Denmark. Danish Crown, including its subsidiary Tulip, is a major investor in the UK, and since the decision to leave the European Union it has increased its investment, with the recent acquisition of new businesses. We are having discussions, but we have a strong and vibrant pig sector.
The Minister said that Brexit would not have much impact on prices. I suggest that he speak to his former Conservative colleague Laura Sandys, the head of the Food Foundation, which has said that Brexit could mean an increase of £158 a year in what the average family spends on fruit and veg. Will he ensure that the horticultural sector, which has been much neglected by successive Governments, is given the priority that it deserves in the agriculture Bill?
As the hon. Lady may know, I studied horticulture and worked in the horticultural industry for 10 years. As we design a new agriculture policy, there is a real opportunity to support innovation in all sectors, including horticulture.
What about the price of animals for live export? Is there any prospect of banning that grisly trade altogether?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, once we have left the European Union, banning the export of live animals will become a possibility, and we have a manifesto commitment to restrict and control it further.
The UK now has the second highest rates of food insecurity in Europe. In October, food and drink prices increased faster than at any other point over the last four years, and the latest Trussell Trust figures show a 13% increase on last year in the number of emergency food parcels issued. How will the Secretary of State and the Minister address the shameful increase in hunger and food poverty that is taking place throughout the country on this Government’s watch?
The key benchmark that Governments of all colours have studied for many years is the Living Costs and Food Survey. We know that over the last 15 to 20 years, the spending of the poorest 20% of households on food has remained constant at about 16.5%.
With all due respect, I do not think that that really answered my question. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union admitted that Ministers had carried out no proper assessment of the impact of Brexit on any UK economic sector. Food prices are rising. What assessment has DEFRA made of the impact of Brexit on those prices?
As I have said, we are carrying out this work, but our current assessment is that the impact is marginal. Economists sometimes make the mistake of not taking account of the fact that we have tariff rate quotas—which means that we already have a high degree of tariff-free trade—and the fact that the commodity price represents only a small part of the overall value of the shopping basket.
Veterinarians play a vital role in safeguarding UK public health, enabling trade and maintaining animal health and welfare. More than 31% of the UK veterinary workforce is supplied by veterinarians from outside the UK. We cherish and value their work, and we want to ensure that they can continue to make an important contribution.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s reply. Britain leads the world in both food hygiene and animal welfare, but that is now at risk. The British Veterinary Association reckons that 95% of the vets in our abattoirs are from the EU, and that many of them are leaving. Will the Secretary of State release the impact assessment that I am certain he will have carried out, and will he tell us what action he is taking to protect our meat industry, animal welfare and food safety from that clear and imminent threat?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. He is right: more than 90% of the veterinarians in our abattoirs come from the EU 27 countries, and I and my Department have been talking to representatives of the profession to ensure that those who do such a wonderful job continue to feel valued and to play the important role they do in assuring the public of the very high standards of food hygiene.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the slaughter of UK animals should take place in UK abattoirs overseen by appropriately qualified vets, and will he take steps to ensure that the evil and cruel trade of live animal exports is ended when we leave the EU?
I commend my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue, and, as he points out, as we leave the EU there are opportunities to review and change our approach to live exports, and to ensure higher standards of animal welfare.
Leaving the EU: Farming
The common agricultural policy has been a bureaucratic quagmire that has undermined British agriculture and failed our environment. Leaving the EU allows us to bring clarity and purpose to agriculture policy in the UK for the first time for 45 years. We are committed to introducing an agriculture Bill in this Session and will outline further plans next year.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. Many farmers in my constituency in the bounteous county of Essex supported Brexit, but some did not. What reassurances can he give them that the Government are straining their many sinews to ensure that new and emerging food markets are open to them after Brexit?
We will be working with colleagues in the Department for International Trade to open up new markets. There are opportunities, particularly in sectors such as dairy. We have also been very clear that we will maintain the agriculture budget for this Parliament—that is a manifesto commitment—and that we will have a smooth transition from the policy we have now to the new policy.
Has the Minister seen Wednesday’s press release from the Farmers Union of Wales, which said:
“Denying Wales access to the Single Market and Customs Union would have catastrophic consequences”
on farming in Wales? Would he care to comment?
I very regularly meet members of the FUW, and we absolutely recognise the importance of tariff-free trade with the EU. That is why this Government’s clear position is that we want a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement.
EU Convergence Uplift Funding
I met the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, on 6 November, when we discussed EU convergence uplift funding, and I most recently met the National Farmers Union of Scotland on 31 October, when that funding was one of a number of issues discussed. I look forward to seeing the Scottish Cabinet Secretary next Thursday, and also, thanks to the intercession of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark), to meeting representatives of the NFU of Scotland on that day as well.
Back in September, key farming organisations, including the NFUS, wrote to the Minister on convergence uplift. I have been told that the Government have not yet responded. Why have they not responded, and will the Minister fix the scandal now by committing to give Scottish farmers the £160 million they are rightfully due?
I absolutely recognise, and indeed have explained to the hon. Gentleman’s Scottish National party colleague, that the issue of convergence uplifting is ripe for reassessment. I have discussed the issue not just with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary, but with farming union representatives, and I know it will be raised when we meet next week.
The resilience of flood defences is good. In October, the Environment Agency’s assessment showed that over 95% of the flood defence assets it maintains in the highest risk areas were at, or above, the target condition, and in Cumbria the proportion was 97.5%. We have repaired all the flood defences damaged in the winter of 2015. We know there is more to do to help communities in Keswick and other parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency and across Cumbria. That is why we allocated £58 million extra for flood risk management schemes.
I am grateful for that response. However, £800,000 was pledged for my community in Braithwaite, which was devastated in Storm Desmond. Two years on, can the Minister please confirm when the work will be completed for that village?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of that particular village. I am aware that the shortlisting of options is due to be completed next month, with a target date of the end of 2019. I will be meeting her and her colleagues from Cumbria next week to discuss the details further.
Hard flood defences such as the Foss barrier and whole catchment management solutions are vital for cities such as York, but it is essential that those strategies equally protect smaller communities. Can the Minister assure me that communities south of York will not be forgotten as we progress and continue to develop flood management schemes?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The York long-term plan will use a whole catchment approach to flood risk management. It includes upper catchment management changes, which will be a key component in reducing risk to York and other communities downstream, including the ones to which he refers. I can assure him that the modelling by the Environment Agency ensures that hard flood defences in York will not impact on the communities he has mentioned.
It is two years since the devastating floods hit York, yet last week the residents of Clementhorpe learned that their barriers were going to be further delayed and that they will not have protection until at least 2019. What will the Minister do to ensure not only that that programme is speeded up but that the residents of York are protected in the intervening period?
Since the floods of December 2015, when about 600 properties were flooded, we have invested £17 million to upgrade the Foss barrier. That includes eight high-volume pumps to provide an even greater standard of protection than before, and we have developed a five-year plan to invest £45 million in new defences that will better protect 2,000 properties.
Following Storm Desmond and Storm Eva in 2015, the Government made welcome direct payments for resilience work to residents who had been devastated by the flooding. Following the floods in Galgate last month, however, the Government told Lancaster City Council that that flooding was not severe enough to warrant the same assistance, despite 143 homes being vacated because of flood damage. Will the Minister make representations to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and urge him to allocate money to fund essential flood resilience work in flood-affected communities like Galgate, right across the country?
As I have indicated, the overall level of flood defence resilience is good, including in Lancashire. I am very concerned about the people who suffered that shock flooding the other week, and I will of course meet the affected MPs. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is seeing me next week to discuss this very matter.
Leaving the EU: Departmental Preparation
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) put in place a major programme of work to prepare for the UK’s departure from the European Union, planning for a number of scenarios, and we in DEFRA keep the effectiveness of that work under continual review. It is led by outstanding civil servants, to whom I wish to pay tribute now.
We know that, in several areas, EU rules have prevented us from improving standards of animal welfare. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he is now doing the detailed preparation so that on day one of our freedom, he will be ready to take action, including to ban the trade in the export of live animals?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That work is being undertaken now, not just in the area to which he rightly alludes but in other areas of animal welfare as well.
By next summer, the UK chemical industry will have spent £250 million registering its chemicals. It is united in wanting to remain within the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—REACH—scheme and to avoid EU tariffs of between 4% and 6% on its goods, so why is the Secretary of State proposing to double its regulatory burden by setting up a new agency here? Why is he playing politics with our second largest manufacturing sector?
The hon. Lady has been a consistent champion of the work that is done in our world-leading chemicals industry. We are seeking to find the right regulatory framework to ensure that we can continue to do good work.
I think that the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) is now conscious. He has a question on the Order Paper that is not entirely unadjacent to the subject of which we are now treating.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I am delighted that Phil Hogan, the outstanding Commissioner for Agriculture, has secured assent for the reauthorisation of glyphosate for five more years. It is, as my hon. Friend makes clear, a valuable tool for ensuring that we can move towards no till or min till agriculture, which in itself is an environmental gain.
The Secretary of State clearly knows all this jargon very well. Listening to him this morning is quite an educational experience.
My colleagues and I are working hard to try to get the Northern Ireland Executive restored, but in the absence of an Executive will the Secretary of State ensure that he has discussions with the permanent secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development in Northern Ireland to ensure that our sector and its niche markets are protected beyond March 2019?
Absolutely. I am looking forward to representatives from DAERA coming to DEFRA next Thursday for the latest in our series of talks. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his Democratic Unionist party colleagues, who ensure that my ministerial colleagues and I are kept up to the mark with the policies that need to be shaped in the interests of Northern Ireland’s farmers and fisherman, who do so much to ensure that there is healthy food on all our plates.
Food and Drink Sector: Industrial Strategy
I am delighted that the industrial strategy White Paper, which sets out plans to boost productivity and earnings across the UK, recognises the importance of the food and drink sector, which is why we have announced a new food and drink sector council as part of the strategy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be more aware than most that, owing to the quality of the product, the seafood processing industry in my constituency is less concerned about access to markets after we leave the EU than it is about access to labour. What discussions has he had with representatives of the Scottish seafood processing industry or, indeed, the Home Office to address such concerns?
There is no better champion of the Scottish fish processing industry than my hon. Friend, and it was thanks to his work that I was able to attend a roundtable in Aberdeen a couple of months ago, at which fish processors were able to put to me their specific demands. Since then, I have talked to the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister about precisely those issues. I must say that were it not for my hon. Friend, that argument would not be happening at the heart of Government and it would not be being heard and acted upon. He is a brilliant advocate, and the people of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Mintlaw, Turriff and the other communities in his constituency are exceptionally lucky to have him.
The hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) has just waved at the Chair, which may be analogous to, although not quite the same as, the conventional method of bobbing, but I am going to deduce that the hon. Gentleman is interested in contributing to our proceedings.
Absolutely. We all know that Carlsberg is primarily a brewer, but if Carlsberg did MPs, my hon. Friend would be the premium brand—fizzy with a great head and always a pleasure to spend time with of an evening. He is absolutely right that we need to ensure not only that major brewers can invest in this country, but that premium artisanal brewers have their interests represented, and that is what the industrial strategy will do.
All that remains is for the Secretary of State to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his characteristic acuity, which I know is a preferred phrase of the right hon. Gentleman. No doubt it will be in evidence at the next oral questions—we very much hope so.
Leaving the EU: Environmental Law
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will consult on the creation of a new national policy statement on environmental principles and on a new independent and statutory body to hold the Government and, potentially, public authorities to account on their environmental commitments.
I thank the Minister for her response. The Government have boasted that they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it in, so does the Minister agree that we need to enshrine in law not only the equivalent, but even better levels of environmental protections after we leave the EU?
I agree with the hon. Lady. We are absolutely committed to that, and it has been in our manifesto for the past two years. Aspects of the environment are improving, and with our 25-year environment plan, which will be published shortly, we will continue to set out that agenda for the next generation.
Leaving the EU: Puppy Welfare
We are actively looking to see what we can do in this area. Leaving the European Union provides us with new opportunities to deal with the illegal trade in puppies.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, once the EU pet travel rules have been transferred to the UK statute book, the scheme will be reviewed as a priority, taking into account the recommendations of the Dogs Trust? As he well knows, the trust has campaigned tirelessly for a number of years to change and improve the scheme.
It is not just the Dogs Trust that has campaigned; the hon. Lady has campaigned, too. She and the Dogs Trust are right that we need to look at the law. We hope to make announcements even before we leave the European Union about how the law can be improved.
I place on record my thanks to the Dogs Trust because, of the two dogs in the Gove family home, one is a rescue dog that the trust was responsible for finding.
We discussed the vital importance of the veterinary profession during our earlier exchanges on the question from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I thank the nation’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, for his years of service as he moves on and leaves the Department. He has done an outstanding job, and the country is grateful for his service.
The UK’s terrible air pollution is getting worse and does not respect local authority boundaries. When can we expect an air quality plan that makes a real difference, or will the Secretary of State continue to shunt responsibility to councils that have neither the resources nor the powers to address this nationwide challenge?
Air quality is actually improving. I recognise the challenges on roadside NOx, but hopefully the hon. Lady is aware of the £90,000 grant given directly to Ealing Council to help to address particulates. We are preparing a wider clean air strategy, with a consultation next year.
My hon. Friend has been a clear and consistent advocate for higher standards of animal welfare, both before and since she entered this House. It is absolutely the case that we are committed to ensuring not just that we recognise the principle of animal sentience, but that we provide appropriate and stronger protection in UK law. We will shortly be bringing forward proposals on the appropriate legislative vehicle for that protection.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work in this area. He has also been a great champion of the Woodland Trust’s work. I met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government yesterday to discuss precisely this issue, and I hope that we can bring forward proposals when the 25-year environment plan is published next year.
Thanks to my hon. Friend’s advocacy, I have had the opportunity to visit one of the distilleries in his constituency. I hope to be able to visit many more over the next few weeks, months and years. He is a brilliant advocate for the interests of the Scotch whisky industry. There are huge opportunities as we leave the European Union. There has been a particularly dramatic increase in exports of single malts since 2000 because of the effective and principled advocacy of people like him. Whether it is Glenlivet or Aberlour, they roll around the tongue perfectly, and they both have no better advocate than my hon. Friend.
We have been considering this carefully. I hope that we will be able to make an announcement on the publication of our abstraction plan within the next month. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will enjoy reading it, and I am happy to discuss it with him later.
Cornish food and drink is some of the best in the world, whether it is our amazing dairy products, such as Rodda’s cream, which is made in the constituency of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or Tribute beer, which is brewed by St Austell. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for International Trade about the possible new markets for Cornish food and drink once we leave the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Rodda’s, which is obviously a world-leading food company. It has been very successful in exporting its cream to the far east and other markets. We are in regular discussions with the Department for International Trade and, as I said earlier, there are export opportunities for our great food producers.
I am tempted to quote from the American poet, whose name I temporarily forget, who made the point that “I contain multitudes”. The truth is that we want to go further than existing EU law to protect animal welfare. A better legislative vehicle is available, and we will make an announcement about that next week.
Cats Protection has highlighted the fact that when the UK signed up to the EU pet travel scheme, we had to abandon the previous requirements that cats coming into the UK needed compulsory treatment against tapeworm and ticks. When we leave the EU, may we reinstate these regulations?
I have two things to say. The first is that the poet whose name I temporarily forgot is, of course, Walt Whitman. The second is that the short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Only last week we announced that we would be simplifying countryside stewardship and having four principal routes that farmers can take. I look forward to working with her to ensure that the farmers she represents have access to this money, which will ensure that her beautiful constituency receives the cash it needs for further environmental enhancement.
There was huge applause for the Government’s decision to ban the UK ivory trade, but there is now growing evidence of an increase in the trade in hippo ivory. With only 100,000 or so African hippos left, the slightest increase in demand could spell disaster for that species. May I urge Ministers to extend the proposed ban to include other ivory-bearing species such as hippo, narwhal, walrus and the like?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The scope of our proposed legislation is so far restricted to African and Asian elephants, but the consultation is still open, so I will take what he says as a submission. We are very keen to see what we can do to protect all endangered species and their habitats, and this may be one way of achieving that.
Such discussions are part of our planning. We want to put in place a close new partnership with our European partners, and trying to get an agreement on mutual recognition of some of these qualifications would be on that agenda.
When we leave the EU, the UK will be able to set its own farm support policy. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of whether, if the EU continues farm support, the UK will have to do so, because otherwise British farming could be severely disadvantaged?
My hon. Friend is one of the most formidable and knowledgeable experts on the agri-food business in this House, and he is absolutely right to say that we need to keep pace with what is happening in other markets to ensure that we support farmers to continue the work that they do. It is thanks to his advocacy that National Farmers Union of Scotland representatives will be coming into DEFRA next Thursday, when I look forward to discussing how we can ensure that they and their colleagues get the support they deserve in the future.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Marriage Certificates: Equal Registration
I have had many recent discussions with Departments, particularly the Home Office, not least because of my Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill, which is in train. There is an identical Bill before the House of Lords that would achieve the same purpose of allowing mothers to sign marriage certificates. I am not precious about which Bill gets to the finishing line first—we just need to do it.
There is agreement among Members on both sides of the House and across Government that the situation needs to change, so will my right hon. Friend make representations to our colleagues in government about their previous commitment to use Government time to get one of the Bills passed?
Yes. Many Members on both sides of the House have sought to achieve that end. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) for promoting an identical Bill, as well as the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees)—I want to emphasise that this is a cross-party issue—who presented a previous Bill. I received a letter from the Prime Minister in April in response to one that I sent. She absolutely acknowledges the commitment made in 2014 by her predecessor to achieve this, and recognises the need for primary legislation to make sure that the details of both parents can be on the certificate.
The signing of the register is a really valued part of the marriage service in churches right across the country. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that that will remain unchanged?
Yes, I reassure my hon. Friend that the registers will remain in the vestry for that all-important photo. Under the proposed new system, on which the Church has consulted, vicars will download a marriage certificate, which will be signed by the couple, as is currently the case, and the vicar will complete the form by filling in the parents’ names, which explicitly gives the possibility of mothers being on the certificate in the future.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comprehensive answer, which leaves me little more to add, other than to ask whether she and the Church of England will support my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, which is due for Second Reading on 2 February 2018 and includes those exact requirements. Will the Church of England also agree to back equal civil partnerships, through their extension to opposite-sex partnerships, as set out by the Bill?
The Church has no fixed view on equal civil partnerships but, in general, if they are for stable, committed and long-lasting relationships, they are likely to be beneficial, especially when children are involved. Personally I support that, and for that reason I have rolled my Bill beyond the date for the consideration of my hon. Friend’s Bill to give him an opportunity to make progress.
I have three daughters with children. They and many of my constituents want me to ask why this simple step forward for equality has taken so long.
I ask myself the very same question. There have been several attempts and undertakings, including by the previous Labour Government in 2002. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to do everything they can to make sure that we achieve this change in the law and give fair wind to the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill.
It is good to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say. Will she also talk to the Church about making it easier for people to get married in church and, indeed, to have their children baptised? That would be real equality.
When answering that question on previous occasions, I have given examples of how churches reach out to the surrounding community so that the thought of getting married is not intimidating. It does not need to be expensive, either—getting married in church is probably the least part of what it actually costs to put on a wedding. I can point the hon. Gentleman towards our materials to encourage people to get married in church.
Given that 25% of households are single-parent households, and that 90% of those are mother-led households, does the right hon. Lady agree that the marriage certificate must take into account that large section of people who are overlooked, yet in real life watch over everything in the home?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, which really came out in the Westminster Hall debate that I secured. A number of hon. Members who are themselves the children of a single parent—in most cases, the mother—were really disappointed to find out at the moment they got married that their mum, who had done everything possible to bring them up, was not, under existing law, able to sign the certificate as the parent. That is a very strong reason why the situation needs to change.
My right hon. Friend’s commitment on this issue is well known, and it is clear that both sides of the House are very supportive of what she, I and others have tried to achieve. Following her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), can she reaffirm that the Church, as it set out to me when I brought forward my private Member’s Bill, remains supportive of what we are trying to achieve?
I would like to clear up any possible misunderstanding that the Church is in any way against making this change: the reverse is true. The Church has consulted on changing the marriage registration process. It will save money through the practical reality of moving to an electronic register. The General Register Office is in favour of making the change, and there is cross-party and institutional support—let us just get it done.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
Police Force Financial Sustainability
The National Audit Office’s work programme is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, not the Public Accounts Commission. The NAO does not audit individual police forces, but through its access to the Home Office it published the report “Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales” in June 2015.
I am grateful for that answer. An independent assessment of police force funding would be welcome, not just on an individual force level, but as a whole. The hon. Gentleman is right that the NAO published an effective report two years ago, but the Government have claimed since then that they have protected police funding, which has been challenged by police and crime commissioners and the UK Statistics Authority. An independent assessment would be welcome, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to make that request of the NAO.
Of course I will pass that request to the Comptroller and Auditor General. The hon. Lady is right: although police forces have successfully reduced costs since 2011, the report that I mentioned has recommended that the Home Office works with other bodies to develop better information on the health of police services and early warnings of when a force might fail. Her question is apposite.
The NAO is continually looking at how it can save money. The most recent audited financial accounts show that the NAO has reduced its net resource costs by 21% in real terms against its 2010-11 baseline. That is even while taking on a much greater role in local government at the request of Parliament.
I am grateful for that answer. I have no doubt about the great work that the NAO does as our spending watchdog, but what more can my hon. Friend do to be assured that it is cost-effective itself?
The commission constantly urges the NAO to make greater steps to reduce its costs. The NAO has been very successful, and it saves many times its own budget in looking at every other Department to ensure that we get good value for money. My hon. Friend makes a fair point that the NAO must lead the way in reducing its own staffing costs.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Alcohol Subsidy: Parliamentary Estate
There is no direct financial subsidy on alcohol sales in the House of Commons. Alcohol is sold in the House of Commons bars, some catering venues, and at banqueting and events, achieving a gross profit margin of some 69%. The profit of some £1 million a year helps to offset the total cost of catering.
I am pleased to hear that there is no subsidy of alcohol sales on the parliamentary estate. There have been some recent, well-reported incidents of bad behaviour in bars on the estate. What steps are the Commission taking to prevent such incidents?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the incident a couple of days ago in the Sports and Social Club, which is run by the House of Lords. An investigation is under way, and the issue is under review for the reasons that he has set out.
Parliamentary Press Lobby: Diversity
Professor Childs recommended a target of a representative parliamentary Press Gallery—Lobby journalists—such that neither women nor men should be in receipt of less than 40% of Lobby passes by 2020. As of 6 December, 25.6% of the 246 valid Lobby passes on issue were for women. As a result of my hon. Friend’s question, I will seek the best means of publishing those figures on a regular basis.
They really will have to do better, won’t they?
Diversity matters in our democracy— both in this House and also up there in the Press Gallery, among those who create the lens through which our politics is viewed. I am glad that the Commission will look to publish diversity data on the journalists covering Parliament, but I encourage it to implement recommendation 4 of “The Good Parliament” review in full by publishing data not only on gender, but on other characteristics; by breaking down the data by media organisation; and by setting clear targets so that, by 2020, men and women each have no fewer than 40% of passes for the journalists’ Lobby on the estate.
My hon. Friend may be aware that currently neither the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, nor the Commission, has considered the recommendation of “The Good Parliament” report. However, following her question, I will certainly ensure that they do as soon as possible, and I will look specifically at ensuring that the extensive level of detail that she has requested is reflected in future reports.
I think that “The Good Parliament” report will come to be seen as a pivotal and seminal publication in the history of the reform and modernisation of this place. Will the right hon. Gentleman say a bit more about how its recommendations, including those relating to the Press Gallery, are being taking forward, and how the Commission is considering them in the light of other opportunities to renew and restore this place, including in the northern estate?
One of the measures of the importance that is being placed on the report is the emphasis that Mr Speaker and the House of Commons Commission are putting on it. This is clearly something that Members of Parliament are actively tracking. I am therefore confident that both the Commons Reference Group and, indeed, the Commission, will want to ensure that due priority is given to the recommendations of “The Good Parliament” report, and that they are implemented as soon as possible.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Egypt: Attacks on Religious Communities
The Church supports ecumenical agencies such as Embrace the Middle East. That, in turn, has supported four projects, including for the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services in Cairo, which supports more than 2 million Egyptians in more than 100 rural and urban communities.
What steps is the Church taking to highlight the importance of a cross-Department approach to tackling the persecution of religious minorities, especially Christians abroad, not simply because that is the right thing to do, but because it is important for our security at home?
The Church regularly facilitates opportunities for Church representatives to speak to Government Departments. Only this week we facilitated a visit by a bishop from Zimbabwe, who spoke to Foreign Office Ministers. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the interesting speech made by the Bishop of Peterborough on 5 December, in which he talked very much about the hidden victims of persecution. I think that she will find comfort in the bishop’s speech with regard to awareness of how this plays at home.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the many displaced middle east Christians need support to ensure that they have safe environments in which to live and flourish? Hopefully, they will be able, in time, to return to their home communities. Will she join me in commending Open Doors for its global seven-year campaign, “Hope for the Middle East”?
I certainly commend Open Doors. I recommend to Members next Wednesday afternoon’s “Hope for the Middle East” event in the Terrace Pavilion, where Open Doors will be encouraging us all to support the plight of those people.
As that was probably the last question to me before the recess, may I wish everybody a happy Christmas? Let us not forget that Jesus was carried in his mother’s arms all the way to Egypt, fleeing persecution, so while we celebrate, let us also remember those who are forced to flee from persecution.
ELECTORAL COMMISSION COMMITTEE
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
EU Referendum: Electoral Commission Resources
The Electoral Commission has experience of undertaking multiple investigations and is confident that its resourcing for this year is sufficient. Nevertheless, it recognises that its workload in this area has increased. Early in 2018, the commission will be submitting its budget for the next financial year for scrutiny. It is for the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission to agree the estimate before its submission to Parliament.
I hope that the Speaker’s Committee will ensure that the Electoral Commission has all the resources it needs to do this important work. As well as investigating Russian interference, which the Electoral Commission’s chairman, John Holmes, confirmed it was doing yesterday, will my hon. Friend comment on whether the commission is examining whether there was any collusion between Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Labour Leave, BeLeave, the Democratic Unionist party and Veterans for Britain? Will she also comment on whether the role of the United States hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer, is being investigated?
I know that the commission has had useful and positive engagement with my right hon. Friend about these matters. Various investigations are under way, so it will not be possible to comment further, but I can assure him that once any investigations are complete, the commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate. The outcome of all investigations will be publicised on the Electoral Commission website in due course.
Order. We now come to the urgent question—
Is the hon. Lady seeking to come in on this question a bit belatedly?
I think the hon. Lady has already asked a question in this group, so I am afraid it is not within the rules for her to come in, but I am sure we will hear further from her in the course of the day—possibly on multiple occasions. We will see.
Israel: US Embassy
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the implications of President Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
I thank the right hon. Lady for an important and urgent question.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in her statement yesterday,
“We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement. We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.
Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long-standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states. In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
We share President Trump’s desire to bring an end to this conflict. We welcome his commitment”
in his statement
“to a two-state solution negotiated between the parties, and note the importance of his clear acknowledgement that the final status of Jerusalem, including the sovereign boundaries within the city, must be subject to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
We encourage the US Administration to now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israel-Palestinian settlement.
To have the best chances of success, the peace process must be conducted in an atmosphere free from violence. We call on all parties to work together to maintain calm”
at a crucial time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I welcome the opening remarks from the Minister of State.
For all of us in this House and beyond who have worked tirelessly for decades in the hope of lasting peace in the middle east, yesterday’s decision was an absolute hammer blow to those hopes. There is a reason that, before yesterday, no other country would locate its embassy in Jerusalem and no other major country would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: because to do either thing, let alone both at the same time, confers legitimacy on Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem—an occupation with no basis in international law, and a permanent barrier to achieving the political settlement that we all wish for.
The sheer recklessness of that decision needs no debate. Donald Trump is not crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre; he is deliberately setting fire to the theatre. And then he has the unbelievable cheek to claim that he is doing this to move forward the peace process, when in reality he is setting it back decades.
As usual—as with the Muslim ban, the Paris agreement and the Iran deal—the question for the UK Government is twofold. First, what are they going to do about this mess? With Donald Trump wilfully deserting America’s role as peace broker between Israel and Palestine, how will we work with our other allies to fill that void?
Secondly, when will the Government admit that they have got their strategy with Donald Trump totally wrong? They told us that holding his hand, hugging him close and indulging him with the offer of a state visit was the best way of wielding influence and shaping his policies. But on Jerusalem, as on so many issues before, they have been made to look like fools: weak, ignored and entirely without influence. When will they realise that bending over for a bully only encourages their behaviour? What our country needs, and what the world needs, is a British Government prepared to stand up to him.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. I agree that a difficult consensus has been broken. She is right that the international consensus around the status of Jerusalem has been one of the things we have all held on to during a period when the ultimate settlement—the final settlement—has yet to be agreed. It has always been seen as part of the process that, at the end of that negotiated settlement, the status of Jerusalem would be confirmed. The United States has taken a decision about itself and about the location of its embassy. In answer to her final point about the United Kingdom’s position vis-à-vis President Trump and the United States, we make it clear that we disagree with the decision. The Prime Minister has said that it is unhelpful. It is not a decision we would take.
We have now to decide, as the right hon. Lady said, what we do now. The first thing we have done is to co-sponsor a meeting tomorrow at the UN Security Council when this will be discussed. We have co-sponsored that with our European partners because it provides the opportunity to take stock of where we are and how we can move forward. There are two options: one is that we just dwell on this particular decision of the United States, as people will for a while, and just leave it sitting there; and the other is to decide what we do now. It is imperative that we now see the work that the President’s envoys have been doing, which they have shared with a number of partners. That now needs to come forward—more quickly, perhaps, than people anticipated—and then we can see what there is to work on for friends both of Israel and of the Palestinians. The process has to move on. If the process were derailed by this, it would compound the unhelpfulness of the decision. That is what we want to talk about.
The right hon. Lady mentioned our longer-term relationship with the United States, which is very deep: defence, intelligence, security, trade – it covers a multitude of things. It has done for centuries and it will go on for centuries, regardless of leadership. We respect an elected President but we know that the relationship with the United States is much deeper, and the United Kingdom will continue to honour that relationship in its many forms.
If the President has a cunning plan which he has not shared with any of his allies, may I invite my right hon. Friend to speculate on what it might be?
If there is, this is a decision that has clearly been welcomed by the Prime Minister and the state of Israel. There is no doubt that Israel sees the United States as a great friend. There is no surprise to any of us in relation to that, and nor does it change anything particularly markedly in terms of relationships in the region. Perhaps, when proposals come forward, if concessions are needed by the state of Israel in order to make the agreement that we all wish to see which will be supported by all sides, there just might now be an extra area of pressure that can be applied because a friend of Israel has done what the President has done.
I have no inkling of the thinking of the President of the United States. But, as everything in this whole business is used in one way or another, there are just possibly those within the state of Israel who will recognise the limb that the President has gone out on, and perhaps, when push comes to shove, that might be of some assistance. As for us, we are very clear on our position. We disagree with this and we will continue to work with all partners to seek the peace settlement that is so urgently needed.
President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv is not only reckless and wrong but throws the entire peace process into jeopardy. There is no denying that this decision seriously hinders a two-state solution to the conflict. The reaction from the international community has been overwhelming. Pope Francis said, “I cannot remain silent.” The UN Secretary-General spoke of his “great anxiety”. The European Union has expressed “serious concern”. I could go on.
Tomorrow, the UN will meet amid concerns that Mr Trump’s announcement is in breach of both international law and UN resolutions. Will the Minister therefore take a moment to condemn this reckless decision in the strongest possible terms and assure the House that all efforts will be made tomorrow at the UN meeting to have the decision reversed?
Regardless of political differences across this Chamber, we share the values of tolerance, inclusion and respect across these islands. Taking that into consideration, will the Minister today completely rule out a state visit from President Trump and send out a clear message that his divisive and reckless actions are not welcome here?
We will allow the peace process to be derailed by this only if we take the decision as doing just that, as opposed to providing a different opportunity to take the peace process forward. The envoys are still working; they are still in contact with Arab states and Arab partners, as well as the state of Israel. As I said, that work should continue with greater urgency. The risks in the region are even clearer this morning than they were yesterday before the President spoke—risks that many colleagues in this House know full well because of our frequent visits to the region. The only way that those risks can be quelled is by demonstrating to those who seek hope for the process that there is still a chance of hope. The United Kingdom must do nothing to cut off that possibility. That is why we have to keep urging the peace process forward. The deficit of trust with the United States because of its decision will be noted, but it will remain an important part of discussions for the future.
On the hon. Gentleman’s other two questions, we co-sponsored the meeting with the UN, so it is our intention to work with partners urgently on moving this forward. On the President’s visit, again, the Prime Minister has made clear her views on that: an invitation has been extended, but there is no date set for the visit.
I welcome what the Minister of State has said this morning. I thought I would share with the House a sentence from a letter from the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem to President Trump:
“peace…cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all.”
That was echoed yesterday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said:
“The status quo of the City of Jerusalem is one of the few stable elements of hope for peace”.
He urged us all to
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”.
I think that we would all concur with those words. The status of Jerusalem is of immense importance in the region to all faiths and all parties who live there. It is essential that the consensus that Jerusalem is for all be honoured. As I stated, it is very clear that our position on the final status of Jerusalem, as part of the final settlement to be agreed between the parties, is the most important thing, not anyone’s unilateral decision about what they think about Jerusalem.
The UK Government have previously said that they would recognise Palestine when the time was right. Is the time not right now?
Our view has been that recognition of Palestine should come at the time when that is in the best interests of the prospects for peace and the peace process. That remains our position for now.
President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel isolates the USA. It has been condemned by European and middle eastern leaders, and even by Pope Francis. All say that this hostile act is ignorant and undermines the delicate peace process. Will the Minister confirm that we robustly maintain, with the States, a position of seeking a two-state solution, although I suggest he begins by pointing out where Jerusalem is to President Trump?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I assure her that there is no change in the United Kingdom’s position, either on the final status of Jerusalem, or on the need for a two-state solution.
Further to the Minister’s answer to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who asked, “If not now, when?”, the Minister will be aware that one of the most grievous consequences of this decision is the impact on Palestinian public opinion. More and more people are giving up on a two-state solution. With Britain’s particular historical responsibilities, is it not time to honour the overwhelming vote in this House back in 2014 and recognise Palestine as a state?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I make frequent visits to the region—I was there recently—and yesterday I expressed to the Palestinian representative in London my views on the President of the United States’ anticipated speech. Recognition of the state of Palestine is not necessarily a consequence of what we heard yesterday. It is not tit for tat; it is more important than that. Accordingly, it should be a decision made by the United Kingdom at a time when we believe it is in the best interests of the process of peace. That is the view for now.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that UK aid contributions to the Palestinian Authority are significant in maintaining the stability of the region, as they have historically been, which will ultimately help drive forward the negotiations on a two-state solution and the peaceful settlement that we wish to see?
Indeed. I spoke just last week to the Palestinian Authority’s Education and Finance Ministers to talk about the latest tranche of support that the United Kingdom is giving the Palestinian Authority. It is provided in the clear belief and understanding that the Palestinian territories are moving towards statehood. That is the purpose of our support for them, and I re-emphasised that and made it clear. That is where the hope comes from, because there has to be hope for the Palestinians and those living on the west bank and in Gaza. It is our job to make sure that nothing in yesterday’s decision by another power makes that more difficult, and that is what we will be working towards.
Does the Minister agree that this is a sea change, not just another setback, because it removes America as an honest broker and changes the facts on the ground so that an independent Palestinian state is not really possible any more? That is the view of senior Palestinians such as Husam Zomlot and Saeb Erekat. What plans do the Government have to move matters forward in their discussions with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and do they include at least a timetable for recognition?
I have said what I wanted to say on recognition. Let us talk about the peace process, which the hon. Gentleman started his question with. It appears clear that the position of the United States will have changed materially in the eyes of those working for peace in the region because of yesterday’s statement. I would draw attention—rightly, I hope—to the parts of the President’s speech dealing with the need for negotiations and a two-state solution, but the nature of the United States as a broker in the region will have been affected. I am sure that we will discuss tomorrow at the UN how the process can be taken forward. The United States will continue to play an important part, but there is no doubt that there is a trust deficit because of yesterday’s announcement. It is for other states to fill that gap, to ensure that the prospects for peace are not diminished.
Is the reality not that the peace process has been stalled for 24 years, since 1993, and that what we need following this announcement is direct peace talks between the state of Israel and the Palestinian representatives? If we can get from the United Nations a brokered position whereby those peace talks start, this decision could end up having been quite a good one.
I have no sense that yesterday’s decision made a contribution to advancing the peace process. I understand what the President said, and he had a particular logic in doing so, although I am not sure I share it. I do share the view my hon. Friend expressed in his last point—what happens in the region can be either a blow or an opportunity, but usually it is both. We must make sure that the opportunity provided by yesterday’s statement is not lost. There is a new role for others to play, but ultimately it must be about what we can do to assist direct negotiations rather than push them back.
Trump’s rash desperation to tick off every ill-judged, divisive campaign soundbite now threatens the peace process in one of the most volatile geopolitical regions in the world. The Government have welcomed his words about a two-state solution, but those pronouncements count for little when his actions, coupled with the expansion of Israeli illegal settlements, mean that the prospect of a two-state solution seems more distant than ever. The Government are clearly limited in their ability to influence the US position, but surely it is now time for them to listen to the clear will of this House and for the UK to confirm our commitment to a two-state solution by recognising the state of Palestine, as we do the state of Israel.
I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, but the United Kingdom’s position has a degree of flexibility. The House is right that we have to make a collective judgment about when the time is right in the best interests of peace. The Government then have to make up their own mind about the circumstances and what is right, and they will do that, but colleagues’ views are known.
President Trump has said that the United States remains committed to a two-state solution, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the British Government will be pointing out to this country’s strongest ally that moving the American embassy to Jerusalem will be interpreted by many as American acquiescence in Israel’s illegal programme of settlement on the west bank, which is itself the biggest impediment to a two-state solution?
My right hon. Friend provides an analysis of the consequences that is accepted by many.
Is not the reality that President Trump’s announcement yesterday has fatally undermined the US’s credibility in brokering a peace between Israel and Palestine? In that light, is it not more vital than ever that the UK and the European Union demonstrate—in deed, as well as in word—that respect for international law must be the cornerstone of any lasting peace? Will the Minister tell the House what action he will take to implement in practice the UK’s obligations under the paragraph in UN Security Council resolution 2334, passed just under 12 months ago, that calls on all states
“to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”?
What, in practice, will Britain do to implement that?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have followed both UN and EU practice in clearly labelling produce from settlement areas—those areas that have been occupied—and we have also been clear about that in our advice to business. To that extent, we have recognised the importance of following through on resolution 2334, for which the United Kingdom of course voted.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to other Members, that many of these issues have, crucially, to be decided in the final settlement between the parties. There is a greater need for urgency about that this morning than there was yesterday, and it is towards that that the United Kingdom can and will bend its efforts, which is why we are meeting partners tomorrow. I will be in Paris tomorrow for a meeting of the international support group for Lebanon, and we will be talking about this on the margins. There is a need for greater urgency and for making use of this opportunity.
Although we absolutely disagree with the US moving its embassy, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that we will continue to seek, and work with the US to find, a long-term two-state solution?
I thank my hon. Friend. Yes, the work of the two envoys continues. The United States will obviously continue to play a part in such processes in the region, and I refer to my earlier answers on what we are trying to do to help this process.
I think the Minister understands the perception of yesterday’s announcement in the Palestinian community. What can he do to prevent the complete erosion of faith in this process by Palestinians seeking to find a two-state solution and an accommodation on their border with Israel, and would not recognition be such a move?
The first thing we can do is make clear our disagreement with the policy of the United States. The second thing is to work with partners to provide an assurance that the peace process will go on and to give people hope. The third thing is to say that the process must be continued with renewed urgency to get the result that we all want. That is the UK’s position.
I know the Minister will recognise that our relationship with the United States is far deeper than the question of whoever happens to be the current occupant of the White House, and the same is true of our commitment to the peace process in the middle east. Will he reassure me that we will stick to the original vision in the Balfour declaration of two democratic, prosperous states living side by side, and that we will continue to seek such a solution?
Yes. We referred earlier this year to the Balfour declaration as “unfinished business”, and that is still our view. Again, yesterday’s announcement gives renewed urgency to dealing with the second part of that equation.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your leadership on the 45th President of the United States? Several months ago, you indicated your disinclination for him to address Parliament, and you are being proved more and more right by the day.
When the Minister meets his US counterpart at the UN, will he convey to him the words of the young Palestinian human rights activist—you hosted him at the Amnesty International reception in your rooms yesterday, Mr Speaker—who said that by taking this unilateral decision, the President is flouting international law, international consensus, and the hopes and dreams of all those who harbour a wish for a two-state solution?
I am sure that the words cited by the hon. Lady will be drawn to the attention of those in the United States. It is our duty to ensure that hopes and promises are not lost in these circumstances.
I completely share the Government’s view on this statement by the President of the United States, but I do not believe that it brings the process for a two-state solution to an end. Indeed, I believe it gives greater emphasis to the work that we can carry on to achieve that. Does the Minister agree?
As I said earlier, the peace process towards a two-state solution will come to an end only when the parties themselves feel that it cannot go any further. It is vital that we and all our partners—including the United States—reaffirm that commitment to the two-state solution, and do our level best to ensure that it is not lost.
Given Trump’s previous attitude to settlements, it is clear that this move might embolden further attempts at demolitions and settlement expansion. Is the Minister aware of the real risk that the west bank might be further subdivided? We talk about a two-state solution, but before it is too late, will he please recognise the state of Palestine?
I hear colleagues’ comments on that, and the Government’s position is clear: it is better for us to continue our efforts to support legal attempts to prevent demolitions, which we do through our financial support to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and to allow cases to be taken to the Israeli courts. Seventy-nine per cent. of all cases taken forward have resulted in demolitions being stopped, and that is where our effective action is on behalf of those people’s rights.
Although the Minister acknowledges the right of any country to decide where to locate its embassy, I fear that the already fragile prospects for moving the peace process forward are further and significantly diminished by this move. In his welcome reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to a two-state solution, will the Minister continue to devote his not-inconsiderable efforts to driving that forward and delivering an Israel that is secure within its borders and whose citizens are free from the threat of terrorism, living alongside a viable and truly independent Palestine?
My hon. Friend knows the region well, and he puts it very clearly—that is the hope of all Members of the House, and it has been for too long. We must now work out how we can move forward from this position with renewed urgency to make it happen.
Unlike any of his predecessors, President Trump has dangerously inflamed every frozen world conflict that he has addressed. Has the time come to see this man as someone who believes in America first, and the rest of the world nowhere? Should we now say that the invitation to him for an informal, or formal, visit is rescinded? People can be invited, and they can be disinvited.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. An invitation has been given and no date has been set, and that remains the position of the United Kingdom Government.
This is the second urgent question that you have granted in as many weeks, Mr Speaker, so that Ministers can come to the Dispatch Box and condemn the egregious behaviour of the President of the United States. What is the point of the special relationship if such condemnations have absolutely no effect on the President’s behaviour? Can we even say that a special relationship still exists?
When a decision that we disagree with has been made by our friends, the special relationship gives Ministers the opportunity to explain our position on that to the House and the public, and to maintain that despite some of those decisions, the special relationship that is broad and deep across the piece goes on, even if we disagree with certain political decisions.
UN Security Council resolution 465 of 1980,
“Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem…have no legal validity”.
How is Israel complying with that?
The hon. Lady knows the region well—Israel is not complying with that. That is why we hold that land to be occupied, and why we voted for resolution 2334 that restated elements of what she has just said. What we need now is leadership. Forty years ago, President Sadat came to Israel to make peace—that is one anniversary we have not said much about this year, and that should be remembered. It takes bold leadership by those in the region to make a difference, and perhaps after yesterday, it is now time to see more of that.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister agree that Jonathan Freedland, writing yesterday in The Guardian, summed up President Trump’s announcement best when he described it as an act of diplomatic arson?
It is not the responsibility of Ministers of the Crown to comment on articles by Guardian journalists, or any journalist, no matter what their opinions may be. The House will make a judgment, but the important thing for Ministers and Governments to talk about is how to de-escalate tensions and how to recognise positive elements in any situation in order to move forward. The place has enough rhetoric and enough people willing to take to the streets for all sorts of reasons. The United Kingdom will not play a part in that.
Let us be absolutely clear: this announcement is the latest incidence of the Trump Administration showing contempt for international law and the rest of the world. Let me ask the Minister again. Surely it is right, at the UN Security Council tomorrow, for the UK to commit, as most of the world has, to the long-overdue step of recognising the state of Palestine?
The United Kingdom will restate tomorrow our determination to see a final settlement with peace between the nations—two viable states—and our determination that the statehood we wish to see in Palestine is agreed. Our position is that we will recognise when it is the right time in relation to peace. We will make that decision.
It is 12 years since I visited Ma’ale Adumim, a huge settlement just outside Jerusalem that is now home to 41,000 people. Emboldened by Trump’s decision, the Israeli Parliament is for the first time introducing a law to annex that settlement. Does the Minister agree that the legitimisation of a settlement built illegally on Palestinian land is a very dangerous move? Will he join me in condemning it?
The hon. Lady raises again the difficult issue of legality in relation to settlements. There is evidence that the Israeli Government have been influenced by the United States and others in some of their decisions, including legal decisions, in relation to Jerusalem. Our position remains clear: the settlements are illegal and must be dealt with as part of an overall settlement. We support challenges to the legality of the settlements, when it is legitimate and right to do so, by those who might be affected by them or by demolitions. That will remain the policy.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her royal assent to the following Act:
European Union (Approvals) Act 2017.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please update the House on the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 11 December will include:
Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 12 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 6).
Wednesday 13 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 7).
Thursday 14 December—Debate on a motion on equality of pension provision for women, followed by debate on a motion on hormone pregnancy tests. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will include:
Monday 18 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 19 December—Continuation in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 20 December—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 8).
Thursday 21 December—General debate on Russian interference in UK politics and society, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 December—The House will not be sitting.
Today is a day of celebration. I am sure colleagues across the House will join me in congratulating our fellow parliamentarians down under, who have today legalised gay marriage. Australia becomes the 25th country to recognise that marriage is a celebration of all love. It has been wonderful to see such happy and celebratory scenes in its Parliament.
In further good news, today marks the commissioning of the UK’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty herself will be the guest of honour at the event, and we hope that it is a huge success.
Let me also wish good luck to the five cities that will find out this evening which of them will be crowned the UK’s city of culture. It is a tough choice between Stoke-on-Trent, Swansea, Sunderland, Coventry and Paisley, but I know that the successful city will do the entire country proud.
My final bit of good news concerns the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing her a very happy birthday. I look forward to our catch-up later, when I have no doubt that we shall have a piece of cake together.
Follow that, as they say. I just say that the number has been printed incorrectly: the digits should be reversed for my age. [Laughter.]
I thank the Leader of the House for updating us on the business for the next few weeks. It is more or less settled, subject, I suppose, to a few phone calls. Obviously, we were expecting a statement from the Prime Minister earlier this week.
We know the business for 11 January: the debate on restoration and renewal has been fixed. Can the Leader of the House update us on the rest of the business for that week? On the subject of R&R, does she agree that, given the recent legal action by Unite and the GMB, and given that more than £10 million was paid out last year to more than 250 working people who had been denied a job because their names had appeared on a blacklist, we should look carefully at any future bids for contracts to ensure that that illegal activity—which has ruined lives—does not take place again? Is the Leader of the House in a position to publish the motion on R&R before Christmas, so that Members can have a chance to amend it?
May I ask the Leader of the House to correct the record? The Chancellor—I notified him that I would raise this matter today—said in his Budget statement:
“We have heard a lot of talk recently from the Opposition about what they would do to crack down on tax avoidance…but the truth is that they did not.” —[Official Report, 22 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 1054-5.]
He said that he was doing the job that Labour Governments had failed to do. That is totally incorrect. When I asked the House of Commons Library what Labour Governments had done, it supplied a list of the measures in 14 Budgets that Labour had implemented to protect our tax revenues. I will write to the Chancellor and the Leader of the House on the matter. I place that on the record. I will place it on my website as well. It is important to say that tax measures to protect our revenues were introduced. That is important because the deficit is the difference between what the Government spend and what they receive. If they are reducing the tax base and cutting jobs at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it is hard to know where they will find the money, and that is why there have been cuts in public services and people are living in poverty.
Even as we acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge report, the board of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission resigns en masse, including a highly respected Conservative former Secretary of State for Education, who is now in the other place. The board has said that
“the government seems unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda”.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2017” report, published a few days later, nearly one in three disabled people are living in poverty, while 30% of children and 16% of pensioners live in relative poverty; that figure has risen by 3% in recent years. When will we have an urgent debate on the state of poverty in the UK, and when will there be new appointments to the board of the Social Mobility Commission?
Let me now turn to the invisible papers, as I call them. I have a few questions: who, what, where and why. We know who, because the motion was very clear: the Secretary of State had to give the papers to the Exiting the European Union Committee. What is in the papers? In October 2016, they were called assessments; in December 2016, they were sets of analyses. As for the “where”, it is highly bizarre. Members must make an appointment, and must arrive five minutes early. They will then be escorted by a Government official to a room where they can look at the papers. They cannot take mobile phones into the room; they must take notebooks. Presumably they will be given a stubby pencil, or perhaps a pen containing invisible ink. As I say, that is bizarre. We are elected representatives, and we are entitled to see the papers.
Then there is the “why”. If there is nothing in the papers, why are the Government so secretive? But there is a bigger “why”: why have the Government not conducted the impact assessments, given that Brexit is affecting 88% of our economy?
I join the Leader of the House in celebrating gay marriage in Australia, but, more importantly, Sunday is human rights day, and Amnesty International asks us to remember our actions that freed Albert Woodfox, who was held in the USA for over 43 years in solitary confinement, Phyoe Phyoe Aung in Burma, and Yecenia Armenta Graciano, who was detained and tortured in Mexico. They all said on their release that that was a result of the role played by Amnesty International.
You, Mr Speaker, yesterday launched in Speaker’s House Write for Rights with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), chair of the all-party group on human rights. Amnesty International wants us to write for its Turkey director Idil Eser and chair Taner Kılıç and nine other Turkish human rights defenders.
I know the whole House will join me in thanking the Burgundy town of Avallon, which named one of its streets Rue Jo Cox, and there is a sign that reads “British MP. Killed for her convictions”. We condemn those who support her killer and his group, we stand with those who oppose them and, of course, we salute the silence breakers.
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you and Sally on your wedding anniversary?
I was not aware that it was your wedding anniversary, Mr Speaker: congratulations.
I join the hon. Lady in remembering Jo Cox and congratulating that community in France which has recognised her memory and the work she did to promote human rights and cohesive communities. She will never be forgotten, and all hon. Members would want to remember her.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of blacklisting. She will be pleased to know that it has been made clear in all of our procurement contracts that none of our suppliers may engage in blacklisting activities, and we have received an assurance on that for the work with the contractor for the restoration of Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower. I share the hon. Lady’s concern about that issue.
The hon. Lady pleads that the Labour Government did a lot to reduce tax avoidance, but the fact is that since 2010 Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has generated £160 billion in tax revenue from measures to stop avoidance and evasion. That is an extraordinary and strong achievement on which we should congratulate HMRC and also this Government, because all too often the Opposition talk the talk but do not walk the walk; they simply do not achieve what they promise. Now, under this Government the top 1% are paying 27% of all taxes, and the top 5% nearly half of all taxes. People who earn more have never been taxed more than under this Government, so progressive taxation is a feature of our Government’s achievements—far more so than when Labour was in office.
The hon. Lady talked about the Social Mobility Commission. She is right to point out that Alan Milburn made a great show and dance of resigning from a job and role that was actually coming to an end. I point out to the hon. Lady the amazing achievement just this week on children’s literacy in our schools in England: England is joint eighth in the world for reading as a result of this Government’s changes to phonics and the amazing dedication of teachers across the country.
As shown by our Green Paper on mental health, we on this side of the House are determined to ensure that there is parity of esteem between mental and physical health. Six hundred thousand more disabled people are in work now than in 2010. That is a record of achievement that we on this side of the House are proud of. Of course there are 600,000 fewer children in workless households than in 2010. Those are all things designed to support young people. They are measures that we on this side of the House have put in place and have been determined to make progress on.
Finally, the hon. Lady talks about the impact assessments. The Opposition have generated an enormous amount of headlines and publicity over this issue, but the House will be interested to learn that the sum total of 16 Members of this House and the House of Lords have taken the trouble to go and see that analysis that has been made available. Hon. Members should also respect the fact that the freedom of civil servants to discuss matters and give advice freely to Ministers must be upheld. That is why it is important to hold these reports in a confidential and secure way. Those who need to read them or have an interest in reading them can do so, but I say again that only 16 Members across both Houses have availed themselves of that opportunity.
We have outlawed forced marriage in this country, but could we have a debate on children of 16 still being able to be married with the consent of their parents, instead of waiting until they are 18? That seems to be an anomaly that we should fix.
My hon. Friend raises a question that many people have concerns about—namely, the safety of our children until they reach an age at which they can make decisions for themselves. There has been a long-standing law that young people can marry at the age of 16, however, and I think it unlikely that that will be reviewed in the near future.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and I join her in sending congratulations to Australia. I wish the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) happy birthday, and I wish you a happy wedding anniversary, Mr Speaker.
Well, what a week! They do not come much more dramatic than that. Just when we thought that this chaotic Brexit cluelessness could not get any worse, this Government went and surprised us all over again. I am actually now embarrassed that my nation of Scotland is caught up in this total and utter disaster. We did not go looking for any of this, and we certainly did not vote for it, but all of a sudden the institutions of my nation are caught up in the collateral of this disaster. I know that this Government are now totally in thrall to the Democratic Unionist party, and I only hope that the Leader of the House shared the business statement with its Members in advance, just in case she has to hastily redraw it if they do not like it.
The farce around the Brexit analysis papers still goes on, six weeks following the binding vote of this House. These analysis papers simultaneously detail 50 to 60 sectoral impacts while at the same time not existing at all. They are Schrödinger’s Brexit analysis papers. What is becoming clear is that there were never any such papers, yet for some reason the Government took it upon themselves to boast about their existence to the point at which the House passed a binding vote to produce papers that did not even exist. If that is not contempt of Parliament, I do not know what is. The Secretary of State really should be considering his position this morning.
We considered the devolution parts of the repeal Bill this week, but everyone noted that the Bill as it is currently constituted—particularly the provisions around clause 11—is not fit for purpose and will deeply damage the devolution settlement. Today, however, those clauses remain in place in the Bill. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that he would table amendments on Report, and he will obviously be held to that, but will the Leader of the House ensure that they are tabled early so that the Scottish Government can assess them, to judge whether they are sufficient to deal with the many threats that are being posed to devolution?
Lastly, Mr Speaker, I also congratulate all the cities competing to be the UK city of culture in 2021, but I am sure that you will forgive us if we on these Benches give an extra cheer for the city of Paisley to become the first ever Scottish city of culture for the UK.
We will always understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire to support his own local contender—that is absolutely acceptable—but we in the Westminster Parliament congratulate all the cities involved and wish them all luck.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the claim that there has been a contempt of Parliament. I must utterly refute that. The Government have satisfied the motion, providing the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee with information covering 58 sectors of the economy. We were always clear that the analysis did not exist in the form that Parliament requested, but the Department for Exiting the European Union has taken time to bring together the analysis that we have in a way that meets the request of Parliament—that is, to provide Parliament with the respect that it is due—and I think, Mr Speaker, that you have now had recognition from the Brexit Select Committee that it considers that matter closed.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about consultation with the devolved Administrations. It has been made clear that the close consultation with all those Administrations, including Scotland, will continue on all subjects relating to the bright future that we believe lies ahead for the United Kingdom once we leave the European Union.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the nuisance telephone calls that are made randomly by cold-callers? Only yesterday, I was driving along the A13 when a young lady came on the phone—it was hands free—to say that she had heard I had been involved in a road accident, to which I replied, “If I get one more call, I will be involved in a road accident.”
I am pleased that my hon. Friend always drives carefully and that he was using a hands-free device, but he raises an important point of concern for many of our constituents. In the past, the Information Commissioner’s Office had to prove that a company was causing substantial damage or distress by its conduct before action could be taken, but the Government have now changed the law to make it much easier for nuisance-call companies to be hit with fines of up to £500,000. That is a welcome step, but my hon. Friend may like to seek a Westminster Hall debate or raise the matter at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions to discuss it further with Ministers.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that winter is beginning to bite, and A&E departments up and down the country are struggling to cope with demand. According to a report this morning, a million people are now not being seen within four hours at A&E. The A&E in Huddersfield is threatened with closure, so may we have an early debate on A&E, the shortage of beds, the shortage of doctors and the shortage of common sense in this Government?
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff and record levels of funding, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the NHS is more prepared for winter this year than ever before. We know that the NHS is facing increased pressure this winter, which is why it has robust plans in place that are supported by an extra £335 million announced in the Budget on top of the previously announced £100 million to support A&E departments. More than 1,000 extra beds have been freed up nationally since February by reducing delayed transfers of care, and areas continue to work to increase that number to more than 2,000 to 3,000 extra beds over the winter period.
Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate on access to NHS dentists in rural areas? Oral health in children is reaching crisis levels, with almost a quarter of five-year-olds suffering from tooth decay—the No. 1 cause of hospital admission for that age group. Selsey in my constituency has a population of 12,000 and growing but not a single NHS dentist. This matter should be debated to ensure that everyone, irrespective of where they live, can have access to good NHS dental care.
I am really sorry to hear of the problems in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and she is quite right to raise them. NHS England has a legal duty to commission primary care NHS dental services to meet local needs. Access has improved significantly in recent years, but more needs to be done. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the specific problems in her constituency.
May I wish you felicitations for your wedding anniversary, Mr Speaker? Also, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is still at the stage where the candles do not cost more than the cake, and I wish her a very happy birthday. [Laughter.] There is a very fine line, Mr Speaker.
I ask the Leader of the House for an early indication of availability for Backbench Business Committee time after Christmas. I know that we will be discussing the restoration of the Palace on the first Thursday after Christmas, but I hope that we will get some time on the following Thursday, because the debate on RBS Global Restructuring Group, which was deferred last week, was heavily endorsed, and we are already anticipating applications for debates on really quite important matters.
As for the Brexit sectoral analysis or impact assessments, the north-east of England has a particular set of problems when it comes to the UK economy, and even if there is no sectoral impact assessment for anywhere else, we would like one for the north-east. Our part of the country currently has a balance of payments surplus in manufacturing, and there will be a great deal of concern among businesses in all sectors if nothing has been outlined for our region’s future.
As ever, I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s request for more time for BackBench Business debates, and particularly for the important rescheduled debate on RBS Global Restructuring Group. He mentions the impact assessment on issues specific to the north-east, and I am sure he will be reassured that since 2010 unemployment is down 41% in the north-east and 44,000 more children are at good or outstanding schools. Nevertheless, he makes a good point. I assure him that the Government are committed to making a success of leaving the EU for all parts of the United Kingdom.
Order. I indicate to the House—I think there are 34 colleagues seeking to contribute—that we really should finish this set of exchanges by midday, because there is a statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), to follow and, thereafter, two very well subscribed BackBench Business debates. There is a premium on brevity.
If colleagues have prepared what, frankly, is too long a text, please have the consideration for others that would be represented by cutting that text. If you cannot cut it, do not bother with the question. The debates that follow are very important and I have to respect the interests of those who want to contribute to those debates.
I was hoping Sir Desmond was going to help out, because he is always a master of brevity—[Laughter.] His questions do not take much time, anyway. They are always very brief.
Following your guidance, Mr Speaker, I have a simple question. We are going to build more houses in this country, which is welcome. A local estate agent, Greenslade Taylor Hunt, has been caught price fixing. May we have a debate on stopping estate agents abusing their position when we want to build more houses for young people?
I completely agree that we want to build more houses for all people in this country, and particularly for young people. There are no Communities and Local Government questions until next year, so instead I suggest that my hon. Friend writes to me on that point. I will take it up with him.
Last week I raised with the Leader of the House the possibility of having a debate on the position of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, particularly the three who were sentenced to death because of their beliefs. Now we understand that Captain Muhammad Safdar, the parliamentarian who raised the issues that led, the day after, to the Ahmadis’ imprisonment, is about to visit the UK. May we have a debate on what the Government will say to him about the Ahmadis’ plight?
Again, the hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am sure she will be in touch with Foreign Office Ministers to reflect her views, and I am sure they will be very happy to respond to her question on what the official line will be when this man visits.
My constituent had a £200,000 offer on his house shortly before phase 2 of High Speed 2 was announced. HS2 Ltd has now valued the house at £185,000. Can I have a statement from the relevant Minister on how HS2 Ltd is instructing these valuations?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important matter, which was of great concern to my constituents and, indeed, yours, Mr Speaker, during the first phase of HS2. I continue to challenge HS2 Ltd on a number of constituents’ house purchase matters that have been long outstanding. I urge my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to get a further response from Ministers on what more can be done to ensure that HS2 Ltd is addressing all constituents’ concerns fairly.
The Association of Medical Research Charities has now published its report on greater access to off-patent drugs on the frontline, to which many stakeholders have contributed, including me as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on off-patent drugs. May we have a debate on how to continue our cross-party agenda to increase access to off-patent drugs?
All Members have particular constituency issues concerning off-patent drugs, which is an incredibly important area. I see that there are Health questions on 19 December, so the hon. Gentleman might want to raise it there. I am sure there would be a lot of demand from Members for a debate on the subject.
I am concerned about the way the Boundary Commission is operating its consultation, because 5,957 respondents—96% of all people consulted in Morecambe and Lunesdale—said they wanted to keep Morecambe and Lunesdale intact. Both parties agree that the communities of Lancaster and Morecambe should be kept separate, and since then more than 1,000 more submissions have been put in.
My hon. Friend is raising an important point. The Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales published revised proposals for constituencies on 17 October, and the consultation does not end until 11 December. He is right to raise this issue in this place and to encourage more respondents to come forward before the closure.
Last month, I met my constituents Margaret and Richard in Parliament at an event organised by CRY—Cardiac Risk in the Young. Sadly, the reason they were there is that they lost their son, Tom Hardman, a talented local cricketer who died of sudden cardiac death. May we have a debate in Government time on the work done by CRY and how we might prevent the 600 such deaths every year?
I am so sorry to hear about that tragic case; and, as the hon. Lady says, there are too many of them—600 cases a year. It is right to raise these issues in this Chamber and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on this.
I received an email this week from two of my constituents whose mother is a former member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was stationed at Bletchley Park during world war two. She is now being cared for at the Royal British Legion care home, Dunkirk Memorial House, in my constituency. They just wanted to express their immense praise and thanks for the fantastic care their mother and other veterans have received in these homes. Will the Leader of the House therefore join me in praising the staff at Dunkirk House, and will she pass on the message to the Ministry of Defence about how important these Royal British Legion care homes are to our veterans?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in praising the excellent work carried out by the staff at the Royal British Legion’s Dunkirk Memorial House in her constituency. All six of the Legion’s care homes around the country make an enormous difference to the lives of ex-servicemen and women and their families, and I know that my colleagues in the Defence team recognise that.
A recent joint police and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency operation in Bradford on uninsured and untaxed vehicles has resulted in 540 untaxed vehicles being identified and 29 vehicles being seized in one week because their drivers had no insurance. Nationally, figures are rising on this, with the highest tax evasion rate for more than a decade. Will the whole House join me in congratulating West Yorkshire police on their initiative in Operation Steerside to tackle dangerous driving in Bradford? Will the Leader of the House grant parliamentary time to discuss this issue?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating her local police force on tackling this; it sounds like an enormous achievement. Again, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate to raise these specific points and to share best practice in catching this type of evasion.
Order. I am hoping that somebody might conceivably manage a single-sentence question. I call Mr Stephen Kerr.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 72%-owned by the taxpayer, announced the closure of 259 branches, including branches in my constituency in Bannockburn, Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, with the loss of 680 jobs. Will the Leader of the House provide a debate, in Government time, on the announcement of these closures and the future of retail banking in this country?
My hon. Friend is a strong champion for his constituency and he raises an important point. All banks must now comply with the access to banking standard, which requires consultation and careful thought before closures. He will also be aware that the Post Office now provides access to basic banking services for all retail banks. Nevertheless, he raises an important point and I encourage him to pursue it, perhaps with the Financial Conduct Authority or with this bank itself.
In recent weeks, I have noticed an increase in immigration casework. I have previously written to the Home Office about the effect that delays are having on my constituents. Data published by the Department last week showed that only 62% of MPs’ letters and 72% of emails are being responded to within its standard service timescale. May we please have a debate on the modernisation of Home Office correspondence so that Members and their constituents can receive responses in a timely fashion?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Many of us have constituency cases related to visa challenges. I know from speaking to the Home Office that often the problem is one of slow responses from overseas countries to inquiries. It is difficult to totally be in control of response times, but she might want to raise her important point at Home Office questions.
This is an important week in the taxi trade, because the world’s first purpose-built electric taxi, made by the London Electric Vehicle Company in Ansty Park in my constituency, has been certified for use in London. May we have a debate about how investment in electrification can help meet environmental objectives?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on that achievement in his constituency. It is great news for London and it is certainly great news for Rugby. The Government are fully committed to reducing the carbon footprint of our transport system. This is a great new step that will certainly provide relief for many people living in London.
Research carried out by the Citizen Sense project at Goldsmith’s in my constituency shows that pollution in south-east London reached six times the World Health Organisation limit on several occasions during the past year. Can we have a debate on this important public health issue?
The hon. Lady will no doubt have been delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) mention the first London-certified electric taxi, which was built in his constituency. She raises an issue that matters enormously to all of us. The Government are determined to tackle the problem of air pollution, not only in London but right around the country. We are taking strong steps to encourage and help local authorities to pay for new pollution-free zones. Equally, she should speak to the Mayor of London, who, of course, has the challenge of putting in place measures to reduce the poor air quality in our great city.
Given that we came eighth in an international reading test only this week, can we have a debate about phonics and the underlying teaching of literacy, so that we can make all children great readers?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That great achievement demonstrates just how far the Government’s teaching reforms have taken us. I again praise all teachers for their amazing dedication, and congratulate the children themselves on England delivering its best result since 2001, which was in no small part thanks to our increased emphasis on phonics.
Many Conservative MPs said in this House on Monday that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is deficient and yet they voted for it. At Scottish questions yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that the purpose of the Committee of the whole House is merely to listen. Can we have an urgent debate on the purpose of the different stages of a Bill as it goes through this House, because I thought that the Committee stage was meant to amend a Bill?
As has been made clear so many times, including by me, we are determined to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom—and for the EU 27—as we leave the EU. An important part of that is listening to all constructive views that seek to amend and improve the proposed legislation. That is what we have been doing and what we will continue to do.
Reports suggest that some 800 British citizens may have gone to fight for the evil death cult Daesh in Iraq and Syria. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary and, indeed, the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), have both indicated that those individuals will not be allowed to return to the UK and may be hunted down and killed. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made before Christmas, because this is clearly a policy matter of great importance to Members across the House?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I pay tribute to the amazing work of this country’s counter-intelligence people, who, as we have heard recently, have thwarted multiple terror efforts in this country. It is important that we continue to support them. We continue to invest in counter-terrorism. My hon. Friend raises the question of what we do to stop terrorists coming back to this country from overseas. It is clearly the case that we need to use every means at our disposable to do so.
Could the Leader of the House do something, or could we have a debate, about the Government publishing routine information? I have been trying for 15 months to get the Library’s taskforce dataset published and have had various answers that it will be published in due course or in the near future, whatever that means. If the Government can publish papers that do not exist, surely they can publish papers that do exist so that hon. Members and the public can see them.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about that, I will take it up on his behalf.
When I visited the excellent Trinity High School in Redditch recently, I had the privilege of speaking to the wonderful young people there. I asked them about their experience of being teenagers in today’s world, and they told me about some of the pressures they faced because of social media and other aspects of their lives. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the massive boost to children’s and young people’s mental health services, and will she work with the Department of Health to make sure that this funding gets to where it is really needed on the ground in Redditch and elsewhere?
My hon. Friend is right. Young people face huge challenges, including unique challenges from social media and cyber-bullying. The Government’s Green Paper on mental health seeks to alleviate those and to address the problem at its core. It is important to build, in the earliest years, the robust emotional strength that young people can then rely on throughout the rest of their lives.
The Leader of the House will have seen that Virgin Care has sued the NHS, and that approach was familiar to me, as the company threatened me when I raised its dubious practices in the House. Will she consider a debate on the matter and make it clear that she will defend our NHS and Members from intimidation by private corporations such as Virgin?
Absolutely. Across the House, we share a commitment to the NHS and to its services being free at the point of delivery. We will always defend the NHS against any external threats, including from private providers. On the other hand, some private provision has been incredibly beneficial to patients and the cost base of the NHS, and we should not overlook that.
My constituent recently received a demand for payment of £160 from parking contractors on behalf of his local Lidl supermarket while he shopped there for about 15 minutes. He wrote to the chief executive, who was distinctly uninterested in solving the case. May we have a debate on the abuse of parking charges by certain private companies?
We all share my hon. Friend’s frustration about some of the appalling abuses carried out by private parking enforcement organisations. I share his concern, and he should seek an Adjournment debate so that other Members can hear about the situation.
The British Association of Social Workers advised its members this week that it considered it unethical and degrading to subject a woman to the disclosure of an incident of rape to a third party just to access benefits. It joins a list including the Scottish Government, Unison, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. May we have a debate on the growing condemnation of this Government’s two-child policy and the rape clause?
We fully recognise that this is a difficult and sensitive issue, but I assure the hon. Lady that the mother will never be questioned about the incident by a member of staff from the Department for Work and Pensions or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. They will simply take the claim and receive supporting professional third-party evidence. There would not be any requirement for evidence of a criminal conviction or a judicial finding. We have consulted on how the exemption should be implemented, and we have adjusted our approach to make sure that women get the support that they need and that additional financial support goes to those for whom it was intended.
I am afraid that a steelworkers’ pension scandal is brewing. My constituents are worried about making the wrong decision on pension transfers, and the Financial Conduct Authority is providing insufficient support to steelworkers at this crucial time. May we have a ministerial statement and an action plan from the FCA to support steelworkers who are trying to do the right thing for their families?
Pensions are a complex subject, and anybody trying to make decisions needs the right advice. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue and I encourage him to seek further guidance from the FCA so that he can provide support to his constituents.
When are we going to have a statement on the rights of EU nationals, particularly Irish citizens, many of whom have lived in this country for decades? Even if the Government cannot sort out anything else on EU withdrawal, please may we have a statement on this matter, which is causing anxiety to millions of people?
I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman seek that reassurance. The Prime Minister has made it very clear on numerous occasions, including in her Florence speech, that all EU citizens will be able to carry on living their lives as before. We have committed to incorporating our agreement on citizens’ rights fully into UK law.
Can we have a statement from the Home Office regarding Abubelcir Oncu, a constituent of mine who lost his passport in Turkey? He has indefinite leave to remain, but has been stuck in Turkey for three months, even though he has a replacement passport. His wife is pregnant. Will the Leader of the House please look into this for me?
That is a concerning case. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is already in contact with UK Visas and Immigration. If he wants to write to me, I will be happy to look into the matter on his behalf me.
I say very gently to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who is a most perspicacious Member, that the Leader of the House is not, to the best of knowledge, chief executive of, or another worker for, Citizens Advice. Although the hon. Gentleman was allowed to continue with his question, questions should be about the business for next week. Therefore, my little hint to him is that he should seek to get into his inquiry a reference to a request for a statement or a debate. That is very much the correct form for business questions. It is not quite the same thing as asking, “Will you have a look into something for me and let me know?” Nevertheless, we will let the hon. Gentleman off on this occasion, and I give that advice in the friendliest possible spirit.
May I send the very best wishes from the current city of culture to all those bidding to be the next city of culture?
Radio Humberside this week reported that there has been an upsurge in the use of mopeds to commit antisocial behaviour, and nuisance and criminal offences, in Orchard Park in my constituency. May we have a debate to discuss why this is happening and the practical steps we can take to deal with it, because it is a problem not just in Hull? We want to be on the side of decent people against this kind of yob culture.
I think that we all share the hon. Lady’s concern. We have seen an extraordinary rise in moped crime, which the Home Office is very concerned about. I am sure that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee would be delighted to hear from the hon. Lady with a suggestion of a cross-party debate on the matter.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on why the Government have conducted an impact assessment into gravity foul sewers and lateral drains, but not into the UK leaving the European Union?
So we are back to the Government smelling, are we?
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is being quite deliberately flippant. As he will know, the Government have produced sectoral analysis, which has now been provided in a form that is useful to Parliament in accordance with the requirements of the motion passed by this House. Therefore, the Government have fulfilled the request that was made. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman is enjoying looking at and learning from that sectoral analysis.
It has now been two years since the Glasgow city deal was announced, yet in recent days we have heard that the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland is backsliding on its commitment to deliver the flagship Glasgow airport rail link, having sabotaged the project a decade ago. The people of Glasgow are tired of waiting for this project, so will the Leader of the House consider having a debate or a statement on the Glasgow city deal to ensure that it is delivering the world-class infrastructure that is needed for Britain’s second city?
I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s call for further progress. This Government are fully committed to the success of the city deals, including the Glasgow city deal. He might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss directly with Ministers what more can be done to make this happen faster.
Increasing the number of live animal exports has been suggested as a way of coping with the expected 80% collapse in meat exports post Brexit. That would increase the number of animals exported on the hoof, rather than on the hook, so will the price of Brexit be paid for in the increased suffering of defenceless, sentient animals?
As a former Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that we are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. It is in fact the EU that prevents the UK from looking at measures to curb further the export of live animals. However, on the movement of live animals, I would gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the issue is not the exports, but the distance that animals have to travel without proper care—food, drink, rest and so on. That is the issue he should be concerned with, not the export or distant travel of those animals. The Government remain absolutely committed to doing everything we can to further improve the welfare of animals as we leave the EU.
Last week, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported that the new centralised air support service for police forces in Wales and England was not fit for purpose, with the communities I serve waiting over an hour for a response. Can we have a Home Office statement on the report so that we can debate the failings of the centralised service, which was introduced by the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary?
We are always extremely grateful to our police forces for the work that they do. The hon. Gentleman raises a point of which I am not specifically aware, but he might wish to raise it at Home Office questions or through an Adjournment debate so that he can get further information.