House of Commons
Thursday 14 December 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Support for Farmers
We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs on support for farmers, and the Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farmer support until the end of the Parliament. We continue to work closely with a range of stakeholders across the farming industry and beyond, as well as with the devolved Assemblies.
I recently met local farmers in my constituency and representatives from the National Farmers Union, and understandably, Brexit was one of the things we discussed. Will my hon. Friend assure farmers across the west midlands and the rest of the UK that he has given consideration to the supply of adequate seasonal labour on which many farmers rely?
Yes. The Government have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to gather evidence on patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy, ahead of our exit from the EU. The MAC’s call for evidence on EEA workers in the UK labour market closed on 27 October, but it will continue to engage with organisations to gather further evidence. The Government are clear that the UK is open for business.
On a similar note to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), west Oxfordshire has a successful agricultural economy, particularly, for example, in poultry farming. Businesses in my constituency are looking forward to the opportunities that will open up as we leave the European Union, but what assurances can the Minister give to those who have concerns about labour supply that either they will have access to the workers they need from the European Union, or that there will be training for British equivalents?
At every step of these negotiations, we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people, including our farming community that plays such a vital role in constituencies such as ours. No decisions have yet been made on our future immigration system. We are considering carefully a range of options and taking into account the needs of different sectors of the economy, including agriculture.
Farmers in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and across the country face a triple whammy from Brexit: the loss of common agricultural policy subsidies, and changes to the subsidy regime after 2021; tariff and non-tariff barriers; and potentially a flood of cheap imports after any new trade deal. What steps is the Minister taking to mitigate those risks?
As I said in my original answer, we are protecting total cash payments to farmers throughout this Parliament, and that is the longest guarantee right across the European Union. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady’s question, and we will continue to support farmers.
The UK farming sector enjoys a reputation for quality that has been built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections, and the dedication of farmers and growers across the United Kingdom. Based on that reputation, we hope that we will flourish in the world market.
There has been a lot of focus on the uncertainty in sectors such as banking that have contingency plans for relocation. For many farmers, however, the decision is not one of relocation; it is about whether they stay in the industry at all, and we need good farmers to stay in the business. I urge my hon. Friend to work with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the farming unions, to develop a strong post-Brexit plan for agriculture.
Order. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) has been in the House for seven and a half years, and he should not be standing for a supplementary on question 1 when his question is No. 2. It is a point so blindingly obvious that only a very clever person could fail to grasp it.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) knows, leaving the European Union means leaving the common agricultural policy. We believe that this is an opportunity to design a new agri-environment system to the benefit of our whole country.
The red meat sector accounts for 45% of Welsh agricultural production by value, and the EU is its nearest and biggest market. Evidence from the Welsh meat marketing board, Hybu Cig Cymru, suggests that under World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs of up to 84% could be levied on cattle carcases, 46% on lamb carcases, and 61% on cuts of lamb. Does the Minister recognise that securing tariff-free access to the EU market is vital for the viability of Wales’s livestock-dependent agriculture sector?
As you have noticed, Mr Speaker, the questioner at least is clever, if I am not. There are three main reasons why an implementation period is in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union. First, it will allow the United Kingdom Government time to set up any new infrastructure or systems that might be needed to support our new arrangements. Secondly, it will allow European Union Governments to do the same. We should not forget that, while we are already planning for all scenarios, many EU Governments might not put plans in place until the deal is struck. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it will avoid businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union having to take any decisions before they know the shape of the final deal. I welcome President Tusk’s recommendation that talks on the implementation period should start immediately and should be agreed as soon as possible.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the implementation period must be finite and that it will not preclude us from engaging in third-party discussions with other countries that would like to do free trade deals with us?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. It is important that it should be finite, for a number of reasons. If we tried to go for a very extended implementation period, we would run into all sorts of approval procedure problems involving mixed approvals and so on, which we would not if it was part of the withdrawal agreement. And yes, one of the things we want to achieve in the negotiation—we still have to do the negotiation—is the right to negotiate and sign free trade deals during the course of the implementation period. That does not mean that they would come into force at that point, but it would mean that we could sign them.
The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that it was the Government’s intention to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU by March 2019. Last Friday, however, the Environment Secretary told the “Today” programme that ironing out the details of a free trade agreement and moving towards a new relationship would take place during the transition period. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the Government’s new position?
Does the Secretary of State believe that the prospect of being granted an implementation or transition period by the European Union has been improved by the Secretary of State saying that the past six months of negotiations have led only to a “statement of intent” by the Government? Would he like to restate that, in fact, the Government are committed to delivering what they have secured in the past six months of negotiations with European Union?
As usual, the right hon. Gentleman takes a partial quote and tries to make something of it. I have said, in terms, that the withdrawal agreement will be a treaty, and treaties are binding on this country. That is what we intend. I also said, in the interview to which I think he is referring, that it is our intention, whatever happens, to protect the status of Northern Ireland, both in terms of its being within the United Kingdom and in terms of protecting the status of the border as being invisible as it is now. It would be very good if the right hon. Gentleman did not misrepresent what I have said.
Last week, we took an important step in the negotiations. As the Prime Minister confirmed, on the morning of Friday 8 December, the Government and the European Commission published a joint report on progress during the first phase of the negotiations. On the basis of this report, and following discussions last week, President Juncker is recommending to the European Council that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the next stage and begin talks on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. There is much work still to do, but I have no doubt that we are on the right path to securing the ambitious future relationship that we seek with the European Union.
That is one perspective. I will say one thing about no deal: it has become massively less probable after the decisions of last Friday. That is a good thing, because the best deal is a non-tariff, barrier-free arrangement with the European Union. However, my right hon. Friend is quite right that we continue to prepare for all contingencies and will continue to do so until we are certain that we have a good free trade deal with the EU.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the trade talks give us the opportunity to build on the successes of the Great British food programme, which enables British producers to increase their exports around the world and showcases some of the country’s finest ciders, ales and cheeses made in the south-west?
My hon. Friend promotes his constituency well. On the more general point, as we exit the European Union, we want to ensure that UK producers have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets and to let European producers do the same in the United Kingdom. At the same time, leaving the EU provides us with a unique opportunity to support a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive, productive and profitable, to protect our precious natural environment for future generations and to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide stability for farmers as we leave the EU, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) referred to earlier.
I can understand why the Secretary of State is not quite his usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self this morning, but will he discuss the suggestion of a longer implementation period when he talks to the European Commission? Will he give the House a reason why an extended implementation period would cause difficulties that we do not understand? What research has he done on that?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but that is due to the extension of the single European cold, which is having a transition period of its own in my head. The simple point I made earlier was that if we try to go beyond two years, a number of European national Parliaments have said to their Governments that that would require a mixed procedure, which would involve the Walloon Parliament and 36 other Parliaments around Europe. That is the first reason. The second reason is that we have been given an instruction by 17.5 million British citizens to get on with leaving the European Union, and we have to do that as promptly and expeditiously as we can. Extending the transition period indefinitely would be seen as a breach of that promise.
Whatever comes out of the negotiations, this House voted last night that Parliament should have a meaningful vote, enshrined in law, at the end of the process. That was a humiliating and entirely avoidable defeat for the Government. This House now having spoken, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Government will not seek to undermine or overturn last night’s result on Report?
Let me first make an observation about last night’s result. The effect is to defer the powers available under clause 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill until after the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill receives Royal Assent, which means that the timetable will be very compressed. Those who want a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union will hopefully want to see a working statute book, so we will have think about how we respond to last night’s result. We have always taken the House of Commons’ view seriously and will continue to do so.
That was not the basis upon which the debate was conducted yesterday, so we will obviously have to come back to that.
The next accident waiting to happen is Government amendment 381, which seeks to put a fixed exit date on the face of the Bill. Rather than repeat last night’s debacle, will the Government commit to dropping that ill-conceived gimmick?
Nobody on the Government Benches who voted against the Government took any pleasure in that—[Interruption.] Nobody from these Benches drank champagne. Let me just nail down that rumour—these are serious matters. I say to the Secretary of State that last night would have been avoidable if the offer of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) had been taken up, but he had no meeting with any Minister or Whip since Monday, so we are where we are.
Turning to the withdrawal and implementation Bill that the Secretary of State mentioned, when will its First Reading happen?
Order. I will not take points of order in the middle of Question Time, but I gently say to the Secretary of State that I understand his predicament. A soothing medicament may assist him, and I extend my sympathies, but he must face the House because Members are saying that they cannot hear him. I am sure he would not want to mumble deliberately.
Good Lord, what a terrible thought.
The withdrawal and implementation Bill cannot be brought to the House until we have agreed the withdrawal agreement. The European Union negotiator expects that to be concluded in September or October 2018, which is probably right, so the Bill will be tabled after that date.
Sectors such as the automotive and aerospace sectors have succeeded in the UK because of the close regulatory alignment with our European partners. Is it the Secretary of State’s intention to seek as close alignment as possible in the future, or does he, like some Government Back Benchers, wish to break free from this regulatory regime?
One of the fundamental components—indeed, possibly the most fundamental component—of the decision of the British people in the referendum was the decision to bring back control to this Parliament. That is what we will do over all sectors. It will then be for Parliament to decide whether it wants to continue to parallel, to have mutual recognition, to have mutual arrangements or to copy European Union law. We will seek to put in place mechanisms that give Parliament maximum freedom, while also allowing maximum access to the single market.
I am very touched, Mr Speaker.
We all wish the Prime Minister the very best of luck today, and we hope she agrees a reciprocal free trade deal with zero tariffs. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the bar for success is that the deal has to be better than World Trade Organisation terms, the terms on which we trade with huge parts of the rest of the world and with other very large economies? Should the EU be unwise enough not to grant reciprocal free trade with zero tariffs, we will move to WTO terms and the Government will have no fears because they will have taken all the necessary contingency measures.
Look, the Prime Minister said earlier this week that she still adheres to the view that no deal is better than a bad deal, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) has clearly defined what a bad deal would amount to—something worse than WTO terms. He is right in that respect. Of course, as I said earlier, we continue to prepare for all outcomes because, in any negotiation, we can never be 100% sure what the outcome will be.
Our sectoral analysis is made up of a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analyses examining activity across sectors, regulatory and trade frameworks and the views of stakeholders. Our overall programme of work is comprehensive and is continually updated, but it is not, and never has been, a series of impact assessments.
Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the Treasury Committee that his Department has modelled and analysed a range of potential structures between the UK and the EU and that those analyses inform our negotiating position. Given that Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union are responsible for our negotiations, can the Minister say whether he has read those analyses and how they are informing our negotiating position?
We work very closely with our colleagues in the Treasury and, of course, we make sure that information is shared between us. Our negotiating position is informed, as we have repeatedly said, by a very wide range of analysis, much of which is in the form of advice to Ministers.
Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Prime Minister, called on the EU this week to give the UK a “tailor-made” trade deal. Is it not precisely that sort of sentiment that would help all sectors if we concluded a trade deal that suited them?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. We need to reflect on the fact that the UK is uniquely aligned among the countries that will be outside the EU; it is a huge market for the EU. There is a real opportunity for the EU to do a trade deal with what will be its biggest export market.
Yesterday, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) querying the Government’s failure to conduct these impact assessments, the Prime Minister said:
“No, it is not the case that no work has been done in looking at that”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 397.]
How does the Minister reconcile that statement with others previously made by the Secretary of State, as it directly contradicts them?
I do not think it does that in any way at all. We have always been very clear that there is a wide mix of quantitative and qualitative analysis, and we draw on a range of work across government. We have released the sectoral analysis that has been done by our Department to the Select Committee, but of course what we will not do is release information that is market sensitive or that would be prejudicial to our negotiating position.
May I gently remind the Minister, Mr Speaker, that your ruling is that the Department must provide to the Select Committee any impact assessments that have been done? The question from the right hon. Member for East Ham was not about sectoral analysis; he explicitly used the phrase:
“Assessing the impact of leaving the European Union”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 397.]
Are the Government now telling us that “assessing the impact” is different from “an impact assessment”? If so, will the Minister explain the difference?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made this very clear in his evidence to the Select Committee. The information that has been shared with the Select Committee and is available to all Members of this House in the reading room includes assessments of the impact on the regulatory matters and of the importance of EU trade to different sectors.
The Minister’s sectoral analysis might tell him that the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland depends entirely on an open border, which is to be secured on a promise of regulatory alignment. The Environment Secretary has contradicted the Prime Minister, saying that this is a perpetually open and ongoing discussion, thus placing future regulatory alignment in doubt. Is he not inflicting a lifetime of uncertainty on the agri-food sector and on the people of Northern Ireland?
The short answer to that is no. What we are seeking to do, and what is clearly set out in the joint agreement, is ensure that the first priority for delivering on the soft border in Northern Ireland will be a strong future trade deal between the UK and the EU. Of course it is right that we ensure that where it is necessary to meet our obligations under the Belfast agreement, there will be regulatory alignment, so that we can ensure the continuing free movement of people, goods and animals across that border.
We continue to work closely with the Department of Health. Reports that large numbers of EU nationals are leaving the NHS are untrue. The latest figures from NHS Digital show that there were over 3,000 more EU nationals, including 470 more doctors, working in the NHS in June 2017 than there were before the referendum result. That is an increase of 5.4%. The overall share of the NHS workforce who are EU nationals also increased over that time, from 5% to 5.2%. I believe this proves that EU nationals recognise that we value the enormous contribution they make to the NHS, and I hope the agreement on citizens’ rights reached on 8 December gives them even more certainty.
I refer Members to my declared interest. Some 1,700 NHS doctors from European economic area countries were recently surveyed by the British Medical Association, and half were considering leaving and one in five have made firm plans to go, many after 20 years. Whatever Ministers say, the message is not reaching our doctors and nurses. What more will the Minister do to convince them to stay?
Happily, I am married to a doctor and I read that BMA article, which is available online. I recommend to anyone that they read the entire article to put everything into context. Of course, I respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman is a doctor, but I say to all Members that it is incumbent on us all to celebrate the agreement we have reached on citizens’ rights and for every one of us, without exception, to send out the message that we value people from wherever they may come.
Somerset Care in my constituency employs 172 European Union workers, who are vital to the care provided for those who really need it. In fact, the whole healthcare sector in the south-west already struggles to get enough staff. Will the Minister reiterate to those staff the assurance that they will be able to stay? What they really want to know is how they will stay and what they will do.
Horizon 2020/University Admissions
The latest figures from the Commission show that the UK has the second highest number of participations in Horizon 2020 out of all countries, with 8,056 participations to date, which is 12.6% of the total. Higher and secondary education organisations are performing particularly well, ranking first for participations and agreed funding. The majority of mobile EU students who study in Europe choose to do so in the UK, and 2017 data on applications for full-time higher education indicates that the number of international students who want to study in the UK is higher than it was in 2016. Although there was a slight dip in EU student applications in 2017 versus 2016, EU-domiciled applications were still higher than they were in 2015, 2014 or 2013.
I refer the hon. Lady to the positive news in the joint statement that was agreed last week, which reflects the fact that we have agreed to work together on these matters. For the length of the Horizon 2020 programme, up to 2020, we will continue to be able to bid into the scheme.
When we discussed this matter last month, the Minister brushed aside concerns about the falling participation rates of UK researchers in Horizon 2020 projects, but since then, as he will know, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed that in figures it has published. If participation continues to fall at that rate, by March 2019 we will have dropped by two thirds, which will be a significant blow for UK research. What assessment has the Minister made of those figures and what is he going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman says it has fallen, but it has fallen from 15.3% to 14.7%. That is 15% either way. I think the joint statement will reassure people that they can continue to bid and to participate in these schemes and that the UK will continue to benefit from them, and we want to ensure that that is the case. Of course, we also want to explore the potential for a strong future relationship with the EU in this space.
May I suggest two specific things that the Minister can do? Will he confirm that applications that are not fully signed off at the point at which we depart from the EU in March 2019 will be fully supported for their entire duration? Will he also say that he will put participation in framework programme 9 and successor programmes at the very heart of the ambitions for negotiating our future relationship with the EU?
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is clear from the science and research paper that we published earlier this year that that is our ambition. We want to explore all the potential for working with the EU on these issues. On the first part of his question, I refer him back to last week’s joint declaration.
The Government are conducting the negotiations while balancing the need for appropriate confidentiality with our commitment to keep Parliament and the public informed as the negotiations unfold. We have been clear that we will be as open and transparent as possible, subject to our not revealing any information that will undermine our negotiations with the European Union.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We always hear criticism of our level of openness, but we never hear criticism of the EU’s. To help us to understand that, I shall quote from the EU’s own factsheet on transparency in trade negotiations:
“A certain level of confidentiality is necessary to protect EU interests and to keep chances for a satisfactory outcome high. When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy to his counterpart from the outset: this is also the case for the EU.”
That is the approach that the EU is taking, so it is right that we take a similar approach.
We saw with the debacle of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that people were very unhappy with the lack of transparency around such negotiations. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need a much more transparent and democratic process not only for approving trade deals, but for scrutinising the negotiations as they are going on?
I do in principle agree, which is why, when we made the sectoral analyses available to both Select Committees, in the Commons and the Lords, we also set up an arrangement for Members of Parliament—a confidential reading room—so that they could read those briefings. Generally speaking, that is our approach. I report back to this House—if the Prime Minister does not—after every round of negotiations, and that is much more than the European Parliament gets.
As the Prime Minister set out to the House earlier this week, an agreement has been reached that will secure the rights of 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. This agreement will enable citizens to go on living their lives broadly as they do now in the country in which they have chosen to live.
I welcome both that answer and the agreement that has been reached. Does my hon. Friend agree that that agreement delivers on the pledges and the reassurances that we have made consistently to EU citizens living in this country, and that, in delivering for both EU citizens in this country and British citizens abroad, it is a vindication of the practical and sensible approach taken by this Government?
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I do agree with him. The Prime Minister has always been clear that we wanted an early agreement on citizens’ rights and that any agreement must be reciprocal to protect the rights of 4 million people. I am delighted that we have delivered that commitment. The agreement will mean that UK nationals in the EU can have confidence that they can carry on living their lives as before. It will provide them with certainty about residency, healthcare and pensions, and, of course, the same goes for EU nationals in the UK.
I recognise the huge contribution that the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK have made, particularly in the NHS, which was brought home to me by Stephane Guegan in my constituency. Can the Minister confirm that that issue will remain front and centre in any difficult negotiations going forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the case of one of her constituents who has made a significant contribution. I think that we all recognise that from our own constituencies. I trust that she joins me in welcoming the cost-free exchange of EU permanent residence documents for the new settled status documents as one part of the agreement that we have reached. None the less, she is right that we must continue to take this issue seriously.
Unfortunately, the 3 million EU 27 citizens living in this country and the UK citizens living in the EU 27 do not feel that certainty because of the words
“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Will the Government not now commit to putting an amendment down to any of the forthcoming EU Bills to give that certainty?
The hon. Lady will recognise that certainty in a reciprocal deal has to be delivered through the withdrawal agreement, but we have been very clear from the start of this process that we want to protect the rights of citizens and to make sure that they can continue to live their lives as before, and that is a commitment on which we have delivered through the joint resolution last week.
Due to the staffing crisis in the NHS, trusts have spent thousands of pounds recruiting EU citizens to work in the service. In York, they recruited 40 Spanish nurses; only three now remain because of the uncertainty. What assessment has the Minister made of the situation?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answers that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) gave earlier and to some of the facts that show that there are actually more EU citizens working in the NHS today than a year ago. We absolutely have to continue to send the message that we welcome the work that they are doing and that these people make a significant contribution to our country and our NHS.
Economic Effects: Customs Union
In assessing the options for the UK’s future outside the customs union, the Government will be guided by what delivers the greatest economic advantage to the UK and by these three objectives: ensuring that UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible; avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and establishing an independent trade policy.
I understand that the Minister said in answer to an earlier question that some quantitative assessment has been undertaken in relation to leaving the customs union, and yet, last week, when he was in front of the Select Committee, the Secretary of State admitted that the Government had undertaken no quantitative assessment. Why is it that every time we ask a question in relation to Brexit, we get a different answer depending on the time, the day, or the Minister? If the Government simply cannot, or will not, say whether leaving the customs union will make Britain poorer, does the Minister not agree—
The Secretary of State emphasised that there was not a formal quantitative impact statement, but was clear that a judgment was made on the basis of a range of evidence. The Government have been conducting an extremely broad overall programme of work on EU exit issues, and will continue to do so.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, and we debated at great length, a huge amount of sectoral analysis has been done by the Government on these issues. I think that he discussed at length with the Secretary of State in the Select Committee why quantitative impact assessments were not considered appropriate.
Surely one of the assessments that the Government have made is how much money we will save by not having to pay to access the customs union, as well as the impact on all sectors of industry in this country of being able to do our own trade deals around the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the opportunities for wider trade deals around the world. As the Prime Minister has said, we will not make the same huge payments to the EU that we have to date. That will mean more money for public services in the UK.
EU Tangible Assets: UK Share
The Government have agreed a number of important principles with the EU that will apply to how we arrive at valuations in due course. This includes taking account of all relevant assets.
The European Union is estimated to have a wine cellar of more than 42,000 bottles and art work worth more than £13 million, some, one might say, metaphorically looted from the capitals of Europe. After we leave the party, will the Minister promise to take back control of our fair share of this art and wine and not leave it to Mr Juncker to enjoy?
As the first advisory referendum was conducted entirely in ignorance of the contents of the wine cellars and almost everything else, and was a choice between Operation Fear and Operation Lies, is it not appropriate that we listen to all those independent bodies that have looked at the prospects and decided that no Brexit would be better than any Brexit? Is it not time to think about a second, well-informed confirmation referendum?
I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s speech in our debate on a second referendum the other day, but the answer I give him today is the same one that I gave then. The referendum did not come out of the blue; it came after 30 years of debate in this country. The Government at the time wrote to every household in the country setting out the impact of leaving, and we should respect the decision of the British people.
The UK has a proud record of protecting rights. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses about their legal rights and obligations as we leave the EU, to provide the basis for a smooth and orderly exit. The Bill will ensure that the laws and rules that we have now will so far as possible continue to apply as they did before exit.
The Prime Minister has said that full regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland is part of the deal that she negotiated last week. Can the Minister give an absolute guarantee to the electrical engineers in my constituency that product safety and workplace practices will be guaranteed after we have left the EU?
There are a great range of rights for which we do not rely on the European Union to meet the standards that we do. However, trade deals are always founded on WTO principles, and the WTO includes a wide range of measures in relation to technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary protections, and other matters.
The charter of fundamental rights has been a valuable and accessible instrument in protecting human rights. Does the Minister agree with Liberty, Amnesty International and the Public Law Project that
“Banishing the Charter from the UK because we have other legal sources of rights would be like banning hammers because spanners can also strike nails”?
Not incorporating the charter should not affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the charter was never the source of those rights. Those EU fundamental rights are, in any case, applicable only within the scope of EU law. The Government have now published their analysis of the charter, which clearly sets out how each substantive right that was reaffirmed in the charter will be reflected in the domestic law of the UK.
Regulation of Medicines
We worked intensively with our European partners to settle the issues in the first phase of negotiations, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, we published a joint report. We now want to focus our efforts on quickly agreeing the detail of a time-limited implementation period to give certainty to people and businesses. As the Secretaries of State for Business and for Health emphasised in their open letter to the Financial Times earlier this year, as we enter the next phase we want to work closely with the European Medicines Agency and international partners in the interests of public health.
The high costs of not maintaining regulatory alignment for medicines were recently laid bare in evidence to the BEIS Select Committee. If alignment is not achieved, how much would prescription charges have to go up? Is regulatory alignment the Government’s objective? If so, what is the point in all this?
As part of our exit negotiations, we have been clear that we want to discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation in the field of medicines regulation in the best interests of businesses, citizens and patients in the UK and the EU. Of course, what we cannot do is prejudge the outcome of those negotiations.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Government are working closely with the aviation sector to ensure that it continues to be a major success story for the UK economy. Ministers and officials in our Department and in the Department for Transport have met widely with representatives of the sector since the referendum in 2016, covering the full spectrum of issues affecting the industry.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Given that the European Aviation Safety Agency is very important to the aerospace and aviation industries, when will it be discussed in the Brexit negotiations, as all users, such as Rolls-Royce in Derbyshire, want clarity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK has been and is very influential within the EASA, and UK expertise has contributed significantly to the high standards of aviation safety in Europe. It is the Government’s intention to maintain consistently high standards of aviation safety once we have left the EU. We are considering carefully all the implications arising from our exit from the EU, including the question of continued participation in the EASA. This will be a matter for negotiations, and we are looking forward to opening discussions on the future partnership as soon as possible.
The Commission has made it clear that UK carriers will no longer enjoy flying rights under any agreement to which the EU is party. With one UK airline already talking about relocating, what are the Government doing to protect hundreds of thousands of aviation jobs in the UK?
Negotiated Settlement: Referendum
Our exit from the EU is a result of a long democratic process. Parliament passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015 and passed the decision on whether to leave or remain to the people of the UK. The referendum saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU, and the Government were clear that we would respect the result. Parliament then voted to pass the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and to invoke article 50 to begin the formal process of leaving the EU. Parliament is now debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This has been a long democratic process, and it continues to be one. There will not be a second referendum.
Recent polls show there is now a clear majority in favour of a referendum on the deal. Is it any wonder that this Government have lost control? Yesterday, Parliament took back control, and now the public want to take back control from the Tory party and the Democratic Unionist party. Will the Minister please explain to my constituents how a referendum on the deal—the first referendum on the facts—would be anti-democratic? Does he not trust them—
Order. [Interruption.] Order—when I say that, the hon. Lady must resume her seat. I think we have the thrust of it, but what is required—and I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Lady—in these situations is a question, not the development of an essay theme. I am sorry, but she must learn to appreciate the difference. The question was too long, and that should not happen again.
Following events in the Chamber last night, some prominent members of the remain campaign took to Twitter saying that this was another step towards their aim of preventing Brexit. Will the Secretary of State please confirm and reassure the 17.4 million people who voted to leave that this Government are absolutely committed to delivering a positive Brexit for this country?
Let me start by saying that I do not agree with the people who tweeted that that was the purpose of many of the people who voted last night—I think they did so in good faith. However, my hon. Friend is right. The aim of this Government is to take us out of the European Union. That is what we were instructed to do by the British people and that is what we will do.
Last Friday the Prime Minister and I sat down with the President of the European Commission and his chief negotiator to agree that enough progress had been made to move negotiations forward to our future relationship. This deal has involved compromise on both sides, but it adds up to a clear settlement that provides certainty for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. It will allow our country to leave the European Union and grasp the opportunities that exist outside it, while maintaining a close partnership with our European neighbours. Whether one voted leave or remain, I believe that this is a step forward that those in all parts of the House can support. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will travel to Brussels today to seek to confirm it with her fellow leaders.
Last night the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat, but not one Scottish Conservative passed through the Aye Lobby and voted for the amendment. What representations did the Secretary of State have from the Scottish Conservatives on the amendment and votes this week?
As a former fast catamaran sailor in the seas in the area that my hon. Friend refers to, I am happy to say that the Government’s maritime and ports sectoral report sets out a description of the sector, the current EU regulatory regime, existing frameworks for how trade is facilitated between countries in the sector, and sector views. This report has been available to Members of both Houses to read in a secure reading room. The UK will remain a great maritime nation.
The House will be aware that yesterday the European Parliament had a vote on a resolution to endorse the agreement reached last week. Can the Secretary of State tell us why, unlike Labour Members of the European Parliament, Conservative MEPs were whipped to abstain and not to vote in support of that joint report?
On the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, can my right hon. Friend assure the people of Willenhall and Bloxwich who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit that we will not pay a penny to the EU if we do not get a free trade deal?
I recently booked an appointment in the reading room. I thought that it would be like an inner circle of hell, and that I would be trapped in there for days reading the sectoral analysis. Indeed, I was there with the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). In fact, there were only nine pages on health and social care, and the documents relevant to my Select Committee took me less than an hour to read in their entirety. I believe that in the interests of transparency, these very straightforward documents should be in the public domain. Will the Secretary of State publish them?
The sectoral analysis has already been made available to the Select Committees, as per the motion of the House, and to all Members of this House through the reading room. The documents contain a range of information, including sector views, some of which would certainly be of great interest to the other side in these negotiations.
That would all be fine if I could commit the European Commission to doing the same. Unfortunately, it tends to depend on how long the negotiation takes. As the hon. Lady has seen in the last six or seven months, the process has not been entirely predictable.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are a country that has been a world leader on the environment. We must ensure that we take all the opportunities offered by this process, as I believe the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is already doing, to strengthen our environmental protections.
The UK will continue to play an active role internationally, as demonstrated by our ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change. We will continue to uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties such as the Montreal and Gothenburg protocols, the Stockholm convention, the convention on biological diversity and the convention on international trade in endangered species. The new clause itself we will return to in debate.
We are leaving the European Union, the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. As we do so, will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we support not only the farmers and food producers in our agricultural system, but our environment?
We will absolutely continue that work, and my hon. Friend is right to link the environment to those issues. The British countryside is a fantastic asset for our entire nation, and we want to continue to support its environment and future productivity.
The hon. Lady voted against the Second Reading of the Bill, so she plainly does not want to make progress with it. She perhaps ought to put a dictionary on her Christmas list. An analysis—[Interruption.] Ready? An analysis outlines the components of a problem—the regulatory structure, the markets, the size and so on—and that is what we are doing. An impact assessment is played out in the Whitehall guidelines and involves a forecast.
China is a massive market. Does the Secretary of State agree that the open skies policy that was recently agreed with China, increasing the number of flights by 50% to 150 a week, will be a great boost to business throughout this country when it comes to doing trade deals with China?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he reminds me that according to the European Commission, 90% of world growth will come from outside the EU by 2020. I think he points to the importance of the UK turning outwards to be a global trading nation and enjoying productive, prosperous relationships with the whole world.
The Government have made it clear from the beginning that they value the 3.2 million EU citizens who are here, and the Prime Minister has written to them all, or at least to the ones for whom we have records. It is our clear intention, and it will be legally binding in the withdrawal Bill, that they will have the rights that we have laid out in very short order.
Will the Secretary of State tell us what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the UK financial sector about the effect on that sector of the UK’s leaving the single market? There are increasing reports of jobs being transferred to, or often in, other EU countries.
Since the creation of our Department, we have engaged closely with the financial services industry. We have received representations from a wide variety of stakeholders, including UK Finance, TheCityUK, the Association of Foreign Banks and the Investment Association, as well as many firms in Edinburgh, which, as the hon. Lady knows well, is a regional and global leader in, among others, the asset management and insurance industries. We will continue to work closely with them and colleagues at the Treasury to ensure that our financial services industry thrives.
Last week’s agreement recognised the rights of Northern Ireland citizens in line with the Good Friday agreement. Will the Government now be seeking the same rights for my constituents in Bristol to work, travel and live in the European Union if they choose?
The issue of onward movement in the European Union is, of course, one that we wish to continue to press; interestingly, the European Parliament made resolutions yesterday in support of the right of UK nationals to have onward movement in the European Union. We will continue to take that forward into the next phase of negotiations.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Government will bring forward amendments to clause 11 of the EUW Bill on Report. Will those amendments be published and shared with the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly before they are tabled?
In view of the interest in the House, and outside, I wish, as an exception to the general rule, to make a statement about the replies I have sent today to those hon. Members who have written to me recently asking me to grant precedence to matters of privilege, relating to the motion agreed by the House on 1 November covering Brexit impact assessments.
Several Members have sought precedence to raise an alleged contempt in relation to the accounts that Ministers have given over the past 15 months of the sectoral analysis and assessment work undertaken by Departments in preparation for Brexit. I have carefully considered the representations made to me, as well as discussing the issue and the practice of the House with the Clerk of the House. I have to judge only whether to give precedence to a motion on the Floor of the House. Ministers could, with advantage, have been considerably clearer in their statements, particularly in challenging lines of questioning in Select Committees that were based on a genuine misconception. However, from the evidence I have seen to date, I have concluded that the test which I am bound to apply—that there is an arguable case that there has on this matter been a contempt of the House—has not been met in this case.
Other Members have written to me seeking precedence to raise an alleged contempt in relation to the response by the Secretary of State to the motion for an address agreed on 1 November. I have carefully considered the representations made to me, as well as discussing the issue and the practice of the House with the Clerk of the House. I have to judge only whether to give precedence to a motion on the Floor of the House. While it was most regrettable that the Secretary of State—this is a point that I made to him privately, but now state publicly—unilaterally excised some material from the papers he provided, and that it took so long to provide the papers, I also feel bound to pay due attention to the formally recorded view of the Committee that the Secretary of State had complied with the order of 1 November. I have concluded, from the evidence I have seen to date, that the test which I am bound to apply—that there is an arguable case that there has on this matter been a contempt of the House—has not been met in this case.
I do not judge that points of order can arise from these rulings.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 18 December will be as follows:
Monday 18 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 19 December—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2), followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to the Schengen information system.
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.
The business for the week commencing 8 January will include:
Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill.
Colleagues will also wish to know that remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will take place on Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 January 2018.
Six months have passed since the awful tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Our hearts go out to those who suffered such trauma and have had to rebuild their lives after such terrible loss. This was a truly unimaginable tragedy, and it should never have happened. Today’s memorial service will remember those we lost and will thank the emergency services, the recovery team, the community, public support workers and volunteers, who did everything they could on that terrible night.
I thank the Leader of the House for the future business. I note that she has only gone as far as 8 January, so I am unsure whether the date for the restoration and renewal debate has also been fixed for the 11th, or if it is going to be moved.
They say that good things come in threes. First, tomorrow is Save the Children Christmas jumper day, and I hope we will all be wearing one. Secondly, we congratulate the new Senate member for Alabama, the Democrat Doug Jones, on his victory for politics being about hope, not division. Thirdly, of course, there is the matter of yesterday: we are very pleased that, finally, Parliament has been recognised as being sovereign. The amendment brings back to Parliament a final vote on the deal so that the UK Parliament, just like every other Parliament in the EU, can have a say. It enables us to do our job. Mr Speaker, you may have thought that three was the magic number, but actually it is four. Before anything happens to those MPs who voted to bring sovereignty back to Parliament, let us remember that there are many Maastricht rebels still sitting in this House.
Following on from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, there will be many statutory instruments. The Government made the concession of accepting amendments from the Procedure Committee, so when will the new sifting committee be set up, and will the Leader of the House ensure that its chair comes from the Opposition?
Mr Speaker, I heard what you said about contempt in relation to the sectoral analyses and impact assessments. I have seen the documents, but we almost had to sign a note to say that we would not reveal what is in them. It is unacceptable that democratically elected Members of Parliament cannot share that information with our constituents. The Leader of the House said last week that only 16 Members and Peers had seen them. Any commercial information contained in the documents may or may not be excluded. If they are just matters of fact, I see no reason why Members cannot read the documents in the Library and why they cannot be published. I am not sure if I can reveal this, but many of the footnotes come from the Office for National Statistics, so they are, in any event, in the public domain.
Having undertaken the biggest reorganisation of the NHS, the Government have now embarked on yet another, with sustainability and transformation plans. If that were not enough, they now intend to bring forward regulations to support the setting up of accountable care organisations, an idea imported from the United States. It is not clear how the ACOs will be accountable to the public, what the levels of private sector involvement will be, and what the implications will be for NHS staff. We have had CCGs, STPs and now ACOs—they are becoming the Government’s acronyms of incompetence. The shadow Secretary of State for Health has written to the Leader of the House about the matter, and I ask again: is it the Government’s intention to lay the regulations before the House in the new year, and if so, when? Will the right hon. Lady reassure the House that there will be adequate time for a debate and a vote?
We have a Government who cannot make a decision. We have a new industrial strategy but no decision on the Swansea tidal lagoon. After a review by one of the Government’s own former Ministers, we had a letter on 20 November signed by 100 businesses. Labour Members have secured Adjournment debates and asked oral and written questions on this matter. The latest response is that a decision will be made in due course. Will the Leader of the House please say what that means, or is it the case that the Government do not want to invest in Labour Wales?
I turn to Opposition day motions and how information is dealt with. It is crucial that the Opposition and Members are able to hold the Government to account. In a written statement on 26 October, the Leader of the House said that the relevant Minister would respond to Opposition day motions in no later than 12 weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), the shadow Secretary of State for Education, made a point of order last week. She said she had received a response—a written statement published on the very last day—in relation to the motion on tuition fees, but it had no bearing whatever on the motion, and there was no opportunity for the Opposition to question Ministers. Will the Leader of the House meet me and perhaps discuss with the House authorities how we can take this forward, so that we can have proper information with which to hold the Government to account? That is our job.
I would like to mention the passing away of the former MP Jimmy Hood. He was 69 years old. He was a Member for 28 years and a good servant of the House. He served as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, as well as being a member of the Panel of Chairs for 14 years. He served the House well and we honour his memory, just as I join the Leader of the House in honouring the memory of those who died at Grenfell Tower. There was a memorial here yesterday, which was attended by you, Mr Speaker, and today’s memorial service at St Paul’s cathedral will be attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. But, the shadow Housing Minister has asked the Prime Minister why, after she said that she had
“fixed a deadline of three weeks for everybody affected to be found a home nearby”,
that has not taken place.
Mr Speaker, as you lit the Hanukkah candle yesterday in Speaker’s House, candles will be lit at St Paul’s any minute now to remember the innocent dead. One minute people were watching television or doing their homework; the next, they were dead. The light has gone out of their lives, but the flame of remembrance will continue to burn as we remember them today and always.
I share in the hon. Lady’s great tribute to those who suffered so much in the Grenfell tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with them today—and all the time. The Government have been committed, all the way through this last terrible six months for the survivors and the families, to ensuring that their needs will be taken care of, and we remain absolutely committed to that.
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to Jimmy Hood, who was a good servant to this House. He is remembered with great fondness by Members right across the House.
The hon. Lady asked about the scheduling of the debate on restoration and renewal. She will be aware that a number of representations have been made by Members on both sides of the House, and we are looking into options other than a Thursday for that debate. Colleagues will appreciate that there are a number of priorities to consider when scheduling the business that we take through the House, but we are listening to the representations about the debate, and the future business will continue to be announced in the usual way.
The hon. Lady asked about the sifting committee. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for the work of the Procedure Committee in proposing amendments. I am happy to confirm that I will propose changes to the Standing Orders once the Bill has received Royal Assent, so that the sifting committee can begin its work as soon as possible.
The hon. Lady asked about viewing the sectoral analysis. She will be aware that the Government have satisfied the terms of the motion. Mr Speaker, you have just confirmed that you have taken advice from the Brexit Committee, which is satisfied that there has been no contempt. On further representations, you have confirmed that that remains your view.
On ACOs—this is an important point—the new care models were proposed by NHS England as part of the five year forward view to address the three major challenges facing the health and care system: the health and wellbeing gap; the care and quality gap; and the funding and efficiency gap. They are intended to improve integration between different services to ensure that we are delivering joined-up, patient-centred care that is preventive, of high quality and efficient. I think we can all agree that it is vital that we focus on making the most productive use of the resources available to us in the NHS.
On the subject of Opposition day debates, I can only remind the hon. Lady of what I said in my written ministerial statement:
“Where a motion tabled by an opposition party has been approved by the House, the relevant Minister will respond to the resolution of the House by making a statement no more than 12 weeks after the debate. This is to allow thoughtful consideration of the points that have been raised, facilitate collective discussion across Government, especially on cross-cutting issues, and to outline any actions that have been taken.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 12WS.]
In the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Lady, that commitment was fulfilled by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The hon. Lady asked about the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which is a complex and expensive project. Our track record on renewable generation is excellent, with 26% of electricity derived from renewables in the year to September 2016. PwC has confirmed that we are decarbonising faster than any country in the G20, so our resolve to improve renewables and low-carbon electricity sources should not be ignored.
Finally, the hon. Lady raised the question of action taken for the victims of Grenfell Tower. I reiterate that we are working closely with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to ensure that we provide all 151 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk with a new home in social housing.
May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it might be sensible to have another Grenfell United meeting in, say, six months’ time? We will not forget what we heard this week, but I think that a repeat would be a good idea, so that we can hear more from those who have life after death.
In this season of good will, and especially in view of the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Iran, might it be a good idea—perhaps in the first week after the recess—for the relevant Ministers to look through cases of deportations from this country? They might ask whether it is seriously sensible to try to expel someone who has lived here for much of his life, has lost both his hands and feet after a criminal attack, and yet has still not been given leave to remain in this country, where the attack took place.
Ministers might also review the case of someone who, although he has not lived in Ghana for more than a year since he was four, is up for deportation because he served his sentence in this country as an adult. It seems to me that some of the cases are so absurd that if the Foreign Ministers of the countries involved came here, we ought to pay as much attention to them as we hope Iran will to our Foreign Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman did refer to the first week back but, if memory serves me correctly, he did not refer to a statement or a debate, which is not beyond his competence. We will leave it there, but let me very gently say to other Members that, although they may wish to imitate the hon. Gentleman in all sorts of ways, they should not seek to imitate him in respect of length today.
I entirely share my hon. Friend’s desire for a further review of the experiences of Grenfell survivors six months from today. As for his point about deportations, I am not aware of the specific cases that he raised, but I am sure that Foreign Office Ministers will be happy to discuss them with him.
I thank the Leader of the house for announcing the business for next week. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for your helpful statement. I fully appreciate the consideration that you have given to this very serious matter.
In the wider context, however, something has to change. Something has to happen. We have to get the House back on an even keel. All these issues and difficulties are down to the simple fact that the Government are not prepared to participate fully in the democratic structures of the House. The current position is clearly unsatisfactory: it is contrary to all our democratic instincts, and it is badly letting down the constituents whom we represent and serve. When Governments avoid votes and diminish the significance of Oppositions to hold them to account, bad stuff happens. Bad stuff happened on this occasion, and it has to stop. Let us return the House to the conditions before the last election and administer a democracy of which we can all be proud, so that all of us in the House can be happy and satisfied.
I know that it is party season, but today feels very much like the morning after the night before. It is almost palpable, as the groggy heads in the Government start to assess last night’s defeat for their mad hard Brexit plans. Hopefully this will be the first step on the brake of sanity, and this madness can be slowed down and put back under democratic control. One of the lessons of last night is that there must be inclusivity. There must be cross-party talks about the Brexit process, and they must involve democratic Assemblies and legislatures throughout the United Kingdom.
May we have a debate on trading standards? I think the feeling in Scotland is that we have been sold a Tory pup. When they were elected, the Scottish Conservative MPs vowed to be a distinctive Scottish voice here, always acting in the Scottish interest. They were Ruth’s Tories, proudly and defiantly taking on the Scottish Government. But what have we found? For six months they have been nothing other than Tory lobby fodder for this chaotic Government, right down to their Whip-distributed cotton socks. Scotland is demanding its money back, but if we cannot get our money back, can we please replace those hon. Gentlemen with real champions for Scotland who will act for its interests in this House of Commons?
The hon. Gentleman is obviously on good form this morning, although I think he made a bit of a slip-up in calling my colleagues hon. Gentlemen. I am not sure that they are all hon. Gentlemen; I think that there may be an hon. Lady or two among them. I take them extremely seriously, because I think they make an enormous contribution to their constituencies in Scotland. They regularly attend business questions so that they can raise constituency issues, and I encourage them to continue to do so.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention the £2 billion of additional funding for Scotland that was announced by the Chancellor in the recent Budget. That good boost to Scottish finances should enable the Scottish Government not to take the step of making Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of democracy and listening, and he will be aware that we have had countless opportunities to discuss Brexit in this place. The Government have been listening, and I myself have taken part in a number of discussions about how we can more carefully accommodate views across the House. We have been listening carefully, and I have been delighted to accommodate the efforts of the Procedure Committee to create a sifting committee, which is something that the House is keen to see. We have had eight hours of protected debate on each of the eight days for the Committee of the whole House, and we have exhaustively considered every aspect of this debate. That is certainly not evidence of a failure to communicate or engage. The Government are listening, and we are keen to engage right across the House. That will continue to be the case as we seek to leave the EU with a great deal for all parts of the United Kingdom.
Before the debate that the Leader of the House has announced, will she reflect on the fact that many of Sir Winston Churchill’s greatest wartime speeches were made from Church House, to which this House had decanted? Does she consider that that might be an appropriate location?
My right hon. Friend will no doubt want to take part in the debate on restoration and renewal, but it is vital to focus on the key issues. First, we must protect this palace for future generations. It is a world heritage site and receives more than 1 million visitors a year. Its future is paramount, but so too is keeping in mind the cost to taxpayers, and we must focus on the best value for money we can get.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for the cordial meeting that she held with me last week to discuss a range of issues. May I ask her again for early notice of any time allocation for the Backbench Business Committee for January, so that Members can be given ample notice of the time of debates in which they wish to participate, both in the Chamber and Westminster Hall?
I have one little gripe: the Backbench Business Committee has a membership of eight and, unusually, a quorum of four, which is greater than the quorum for bigger Select Committees with a membership of 11. Can we look at that issue in the Standing Orders? A quorum of three would be ample and mean that we could get the business done. Will the Leader of the House have a word with her colleague, the Chair of the Selection Committee, the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) who is in his place, and ask him not to pick members of the Backbench Business Committee for statutory instrument Committees that sit when the Backbench Business Committee is due to meet?
Last week, General Electric announced the loss of 1,000 jobs in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey). May we have a statement from the Government on the support that will be provided to those trained and excellent workers to help them find other work and to show how the United Kingdom Government will support power engineering so that it can maintain and grow its position in research, manufacturing and exports?
I am sorry to hear of those potential job losses, and my hon. Friend is right to support his constituents in this way. The Government regularly meet General Electric to discuss its UK business, and as my hon. Friend will know, in November it announced plans for a global restructuring. A consultation is under way on the redundancies, and the exact timescale is yet to be announced. The Government stand ready to support anyone who loses their job, through the Department for Work and Pensions and its rapid response service.
I want to raise the issue of rough sleeping. My constituents are contacting me, and they are really concerned about the rapid rise in the number of people sleeping on the streets, especially in this bitter weather. I understand that Hull City Council has done it is very best to prevent more than 5,000 cases of homelessness over the past year, but there has still been a 75% increase in rough sleeping. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on why rough sleeping has doubled in this country since 2010, and risen particularly in the last year?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this subject. It is extremely disturbing to see anyone sleeping rough in our country. The Government are investing a significant sum to eliminate rough sleeping altogether by 2027 and to halve it by 2022. In my own area, the Hope Centre in Northampton, of which my husband is vice-chairman, is doing excellent work, as are so many homelessness charities around the country, to try to ensure that no one has to sleep rough during this cold patch. I share the hon. Lady’s concern, and she might well wish to seek a Back-Bench debate to discuss this very concerning issue.
Following on from what my colleague has just said, this week two very vulnerable people were driven from Taunton Deane and left in Bridgwater on an excuse that I find utterly unacceptable in the 21st century. Unfortunately, they were left there to fend for themselves for two nights, and an awful tragedy could have occurred. If it had not been for very kind people, we would have had a nightmare on our hands. May I echo the call from my Labour colleague? May we please have a debate in this House on homeless people and people who are vulnerable in our society? Dumping is not acceptable, and can we please have a debate in Government time to talk about this?
Order. Just before the Leader of the House responds, I listened most attentively to what the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) said, and I say very politely to him that if he is going to refer to another hon. Member’s constituency, it would be a courtesy to notify that Member in advance. That is all I want to say. These matters should be sorted out between colleagues, and this is what I would call a point of courtesy rather than a point of order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Again, I completely share this concern about homelessness and rough sleeping. It is a huge worry across the House, and I encourage all hon. Members to consider combining to hold a Back-Bench debate on the subject. We have implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), and we have allocated £550 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping through to 2020. We have also provided £10 million of funding to support eight new social impact bond projects, so that we can give targeted support to the most difficult issues around rough sleeping.
I am grateful that the Leader of the House is thinking of moving the debate on restoration and renewal to a different date, because I think it is better not to have it on a Thursday. May we also have a debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, specifically because of the way in which our staff are treated? Most employers in this country now bring forward the December staff salary payment to before Christmas. Why on earth cannot IPSA do that?
East Worthing will be much briefer than West Worthing, Mr Speaker, and I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. When are we going to have a debate on the parlous state of children’s social care?