House of Commons
Thursday 1 February 2018
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—
1. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of seeking regulatory equivalence with the EU. 
18. What comparative assessment he has made of the potential merits of regulatory (a) alignment with and (b) divergence from the EU. 
We are fully focused on making the UK’s exit from the EU and our new trading relationship with the world a success. We have set out proposals for an ambitious future relationship with the EU that minimises regulatory barriers for goods and services. Our partnership should be underpinned by high standards, a practical approach to regulation, trust in one another’s institutions and a shared spirit of co-operation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that regulatory equivalence, as opposed to regulatory alignment, should be a red line in our negotiations with the EU if we want to do trade deals with other countries around the world?
Regulatory equivalence is about pursuing the same objectives, and as the Prime Minister outlined in her Florence speech, that could mean achieving the same goals by the same means or achieving the same goals by different means. It does not mean that we have to harmonise our rules with those of the EU. It is not a binary choice; we are proposing a bespoke, bold and ambitious free trade agreement between the UK and the EU, and we want to secure trade with Europe and with the wider world.
By more than 2:1, members of the Institute of Directors would prefer the UK to maintain regulatory alignment with the single market rules for goods and services, rather than actively seeking to diverge after Brexit. Is that the Government’s aim as well?
The Government have been talking to a wide range of industry groups and representative bodies of business, and we recognise that there are benefits in some areas of maintaining regulatory alignment and ensuring that we have the most frictionless access to European markets. Of course we are entering the negotiations on the future partnership, and we want to take the best opportunities to trade with Europe and the wider world.
Is it true that Michel Barnier has basically offered us the Canada model, agreement on which could be reached this year, thus negating the need for any transition period?
The Government’s policy is that we are pursuing a bespoke trade agreement, not an off-the-shelf model. We believe that it will be in the interests of both sides in this negotiation to secure an implementation period.
The European Union has clearly and firmly set out its views on the options for these negotiations. Ministers so far have signally failed to provide any coherent response because they cannot agree among one another, and the Minister’s answers today underline that—whether the answer is regulatory equivalence or something different, we just do not know. How long will it be before the British Government have a coherent position to set out in these negotiations?
The Prime Minister has repeatedly set out a coherent position with regard to the future partnership we seek with the European Union. There was the Florence speech. My Secretary of State has been making speeches and the Chancellor has been making speeches, clearly setting out the UK’s objectives for these negotiations, and we look forward to achieving those objectives in the months to come.
The Minister will know that legal text has now been looked at in terms of the progress report in December and that the issue of regulatory alignment came up with that document. Can we be assured that nothing will be put into legal text that prejudices our interpretation—the Government’s interpretation—in relation to regulatory alignment?
Absolutely; I can give that assurance. It is very important that we do secure the agreement based on the joint report and that that secures the position on the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
2. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU customs union on the economy. 
The Government conduct an extremely broad range of work on EU exit issues and will continue to do so, which means that all decisions, including those on the EU customs union, are supported by many analyses. Leaving the customs union liberates the UK to establish new and fruitful trade deals with the rest of the world, as well as pursuing a new trading relationship with the EU that retains as frictionless a trade as possible in goods.
From that answer, it is clear that no assessment has been made. We have had it confirmed again this week that the north-east retail and manufacturing sector will be hardest hit in all scenarios. It is clear—is it not?—that nearly 200,000 workers in my region who work in these sectors are facing grim futures because of this Government’s inability to get their act together.
One advantage—although there are many—of leaving the customs union is that Britain can be a champion for global free trade again for the first time in 40 years. Free trade through mutually beneficial partnerships has historically ushered in productivity, innovation, consumer choice, growth and prosperity—something I hope that the hon. Lady will encourage.
I very warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her place. It is great to see a ray of sunshine, optimism and positivity from the Front Bench. What a shame that we do not see the same from the Opposition Benches. Is she surprised, as I am, that we are still discussing the customs union? The EU has ruled it out. The Prime Minister has ruled it out. The Leader of the Opposition—if not quite the shadow Secretary of State—has ruled it out. Why are we still talking about it?
My hon. Friend raises a very prescient point. The British people voted to leave the EU in their historic decision in 2016. In doing so, they instructed this Parliament to take us out of the EU customs union. That is exactly what the Prime Minister and this Government are doing.
Blaenau Gwent has just been boosted by the arrival of the car company, TVR. Does the Minister agree that we need a customs union with the European Union for such ventures to survive and thrive?
The UK is the second largest market for cars in Europe, so it is clearly in both our interests to continue this partnership between our industries. Is it not encouraging that companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Toyota and McLaren have made significant investment decisions in the UK since the referendum? I am committed, with this Government, to ensuring as frictionless trade as possible, so that we can continue this fruitful arrangement and support this vital sector of our economy.
It may be that the Minister is not aware that, in fact, car production went down for the first time since 2009 and that investment in the industry has also gone down by £500 million. When will the Government confirm exactly what their plans are in relation to the customs union, so that companies that manufacture here know that their components can get safely into the United Kingdom and not get stuck in a traffic jam at Calais?
We are seeing a rise in manufacturing and in exports, and UK foreign direct investment is at a record high. The economy is doing very well, and there have been encouraging signs and votes of confidence in the UK economy since Brexit. As we enter the next phase of the negotiations, we want to ensure that the automotive sector benefits from any arrangement. That will be a priority for the Government.
We now know—no thanks to the Government—that all the analysis that the Government have done to date shows that Brexit is bad news. We know that the Prime Minister was shown that analysis a few days ago, and we know that the first thing she did was to jump on a plane to China. Will the Minister confirm the accuracy of the reports yesterday that the Government’s analysis also shows that their obsession with cutting EU migration will be seriously bad for the British economy?
We are in the middle of the negotiations, but when it comes to migration, it is clear that the UK will be committed to designing its own immigration policy, which is determined by skills, talent and brains. That is what will drive our economy forward, and that is what will create jobs and growth.
My question was whether yesterday’s report was correct. I take it from the Minister’s attempt to dodge the question that that report, like the previous ones, was entirely accurate. Given that the Government’s own analysis shows that leaving the European Union is bad news, leaving the customs union is bad news and leaving the single market is bad news—and now that we know that cutting immigration from the European Union is bad news—do the Government have any plans, at any time before Brexit day, to adopt a strategy that is based on facts and evidence, rather than on blind ideology?
The document to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not Government policy. It comes with significant caveats and is limited in nature. It is clear that there are significant benefits from our departure from the EU and the customs union. First, we have the chance to pursue our independent global trade policy and foster growing economic ties with fast-growing economies for the first time in 40 years. Secondly, we will be free from the common external tariff, which could lead to a drop in consumer prices for British citizens. Lastly, we have the golden opportunity to build a new customs arrangement with the EU that is world-leading and enables prosperity, jobs and growth.
3. What steps his Department is taking to plan for different outcomes in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. 
Across the Government, we are planning for all outcomes, including the unlikely scenario in which no mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached. Given the success that we have had in securing an agreement in the first phase of negotiations, we are confident that we will go on to reach a swift agreement on an implementation period and a mutually beneficial future partnership with the EU. We approach the negotiations anticipating success and a good deal for both the UK and the EU.
Given DExEU’s propensity to rubbish the Government’s own research, will the Minister commission the independent Office for Budget Responsibility to model the budgetary and economic impacts of the four departure options—World Trade Organisation rules, a Canada-style deal, the Government’s free trade agreement proposal and joining the European Free Trade Association—and then release this modelling to Parliament?
As my hon. Friend knows, the OBR’s responsibilities are set out in legislation, and we do not have any plans to change them. I am glad that she mentions EFTA. A number of colleagues have raised EFTA with me. It would be important to have a further debate on EFTA if she would like to table one, because I would like to hear from colleagues what problems they believe that EFTA would solve in relation to our relations with the European Union, given that Swiss bilaterals have been ruled out and we are looking for our own bilateral relationships. We do not propose to join the European Economic Area, which would be a bad deal for the UK.
I know that the Secretary of State is an early riser, but did any of the other Ministers listen to the former Chancellor, George Osborne, on Radio 4 this morning? What are they going to say about what he says about the fact that this country, especially the manufacturing sector, is doomed outside the European Union?
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to listen to the former Chancellor on Radio 4 this morning. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that he did. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me fondly of the time that I did listen to the former Chancellor on Radio 4, before I went on after him at the height of the campaign.
Does the Minister agree that it is important that we keep our skies as open as possible post Brexit? Can he provide any reassurance that he is engaging with the aviation sector to make sure that this industry can continue to thrive under any and all post-Brexit scenarios?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is in all our mutual interests to ensure that aviation continues to be open and liberal. The Secretary of State for Transport is well apprised of the issues and is pursuing them.
The Buzzfeed papers tell us that the regions most damaged by a no-deal Brexit would be the west midlands, Northern Ireland, and the north-east. The people of these regions deserve better. Will the Minister take the opportunity to make it clear to certain colleagues sitting behind him that they are wrong and irresponsible to be talking up or wishing for a no-deal outcome?
To answer the hon. Lady very directly on her last point, as I said earlier, it is our policy to seek a mutually beneficial, deep and special partnership with the European Union, embracing an economic partnership, among other things, and we are optimistic about achieving that outcome.
The Minister will not say it, but I will: they are wrong and they are irresponsible to be doing so.
As well as certain regions being hit hardest, certain sectors are threatened severely by a no-deal Brexit. For example, the food and drink industry exported £9.8 billion-worth of goods to the EU last year. Once and for all, will the Minister rule out a no-deal outcome, commit to a transition on current terms and give industry the certainty it needs?
I find the hon. Lady’s question peculiar. She seems to be suggesting that I would adopt something other than Government policy. It is the Government’s policy to secure an implementation period on current terms; it is the Government’s policy to secure an economic partnership; and of course it is the Government’s policy to be responsible and prepare to exit the European Union under whatever circumstances may prove necessary.
Non-UK EU Nationals
4. What steps he is taking to maintain the rights of non-UK EU nationals resident in the UK after the UK leaves the EU. 
As the Prime Minister made clear in her open letter to EU citizens, we highly value the contributions they make to the UK’s economic, social and cultural fabric. Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living the UK and UK nationals living in the EU was a first priority for negotiations. This is a commitment we have delivered on. The agreement reached in December in the joint report gives those covered certainty not only about residency but healthcare, pensions and other benefits.
The 2011 census stated that 20% of Kensington and Chelsea’s population were EU nationals. In Kensington, we have three schools for Spanish and for French students. Families are living in fear of the uncertainty. With the discussions on EU citizens’ rights opening next week, will the Minister reassure my existing EU constituents that they will retain all their rights once we leave the European Union?
The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that we reached in the joint report agreement on the wide range of rights that I just described, and that does provide certainty. We want to work with colleagues at the Home Office to ensure there is a streamlined process for the new settled status that will come in under UK law, to secure those rights in the long term.
Is the Minister not concerned that the Prime Minister’s reported comments about the more limited access to rights that those arriving during transition will have may have a chilling effect on drawing the skills and talent to the UK that his colleague spoke of a minute ago, to meet the labour market gaps that we urgently need to fill in many sectors?
We have been clear that during the implementation period, EU citizens should be able to continue to visit, live and work in the UK as they do now, and we will use that period to prepare for the future partnership. There will be a new registration scheme for EU nationals in preparation for our future immigration system. The citizens’ rights agreement reached in December, set out in the joint report, gives certainty about the rights of EU citizens already here going forward, but the agreement does not cover those arriving after we leave the EU.
Ah, yes, a Dorset knight.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that during the implementation period, all foreigners, including those in the European Union, will be treated equally in having access to our country?
We will remain an open and tolerant country that recognises the valuable contribution of those with the skills and expertise to make our society better, but we will also control the overall number of migrants who come to the UK. As we leave the EU, we are seeking to form new ambitious trade deals around the world with trading partners anew. We will have control of our borders, and free movement as it has worked during our EU membership will end when we leave the EU.
European Court of Justice
5. Whether he plans for the UK to be subject to rulings of the European Court of Justice during the transition period. 
In Florence five months ago, the Prime Minister set out a proposal for the implementation period under current terms, utilising the existing structure of European Union rules and regulations, including the European Court, for that time-limited period. That is necessary so that there is only one set of changes for businesses and people and minimum disruption. We are also clear that our priority will be getting the right arrangements for Britain’s relationship with the EU in the long term, out of the single market, out of the customs union and without direct jurisdiction of the European Court.
So the European Court will be deciding on issues in this country, and if British businesses want to continue doing trade with the rest of Europe, they will have to abide by all the rules of the single market, and British citizens will have fewer rights in the rest of Europe than they have now. In essence, the Government are turning us from being a proud partner with European colleagues into a vassal state. Will the Secretary of State propose that we hand them over some Danegeld as well?
I think that is the first time I have seen the hon. Gentleman in alliance with my hon. Friend the Member for the 19th century.
15. If the Government were regrettably to accept the EU’s negotiating guidelines, so that the United Kingdom remains subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during any implementation period, what arrangements would be put in place to safeguard Britain’s interests, given that there will be no British judges? 
As my right hon. Friend well knows, we are going into negotiation on this matter almost as we speak. During that period, my primary concern is any new laws coming into effect over which we have had no say, and we will aim to set up arrangements to ensure that they do not harm the United Kingdom.
After the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), who I welcome to the Front Bench, co-ordinated a letter from the European Research Group describing the Government’s policy on the transitional period as staying in the EU “by stealth”. She has not yet replied to my letter of 14 January, offering her the opportunity to retract that view. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is these divisions at the heart of the Government that jeopardise our negotiations? Will he confirm that all his Ministers support Government policy on the transition?
It is almost sine qua non that all my Ministers support Government policy, which is more than I can say for Opposition Front Benchers.
International Business Community
6. What steps he is taking to ensure the Government engage with the international business community during negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. 
Ministers from across the Government have carried out extensive engagement on EU exit, in both the UK and the EU, with businesses and industry bodies from all sectors of the economy. Those include international businesses with a footprint in the UK and British businesses with interests in the EU. The Prime Minister chairs a quarterly business advisory council to hear directly from senior business leaders on the key issues across EU exit and the wider economy.
Coming from Coventry, which is the home of the UK motor industry, I have been delighted by the industry’s resurgence in recent years. Last year, however, it did see a fall in output of 3%, which was attributed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to the need for clarity on Brexit transition. Given the importance of car manufacturing and its supply chain to the west midlands economy, what reassurance has the Minister been able to give the industry about the future relationship with our European partners?
I, too, am delighted about the resurgence to which my hon. Friend refers. It is precisely because of such requests and the result of such engagement with businesses that the Government’s proposals for an implementation period—promising the clarity needed to plan ahead—have been welcomed by various sectors of our economy. We and the EU want to agree the detail of the implementation by the end of March, making good as swiftly as possible on our promise of certainty. We are seeking a bold and ambitious economic partnership with the EU, with the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade arrangement with our European neighbours.
Businesses that I speak to in the north-east tell me of international investments that have been put on hold while companies try to work out what kind of Brexit this Government are actually going for. They do not want to make that public, so will the Minister tell me how she is engaging with international business to assess the impact of that on our economy, and indeed—because I forget what the story is today—whether such an assessment is going on?
I hope the hon. Lady listened to the Secretary of State’s very detailed presentation and speech on Friday in which he set out the terms of an implementation period and addressed exactly the issues that she raises now. The implementation period will provide a bridge and a platform for businesses to enable them to plan for the future, to give them the time that they need, and to enable them to plan on that basis for a prosperous future outside.
The services sector is of course the largest part of the British economy, and while the single market in services may not be complete, it is the deepest market in services anywhere on the globe. Will the Minister confirm that it is our intention that the full services sector will be included in our deep and special partnership?
My hon. Friend brings to the House her experience of the European Parliament, which we all value. As 80% of the UK economy is services-based, it is absolutely vital that we incorporate provisions relating to services in any new arrangement with the EU.
I was astonished to read in yesterday’s National Audit Office report on the equipment plan that the Ministry of Defence’s inability to hedge effectively against sterling fluctuations could cost up to £5 billion. Will the Minister advise us what DExEU is doing to support other Departments that are struggling with Brexit as they engage with the international community?
As I have said, there is considerable engagement with the international business community. The Prime Minister herself chairs a business advisory council to hear directly from senior business leaders on key issues. On cross-departmental engagement, there is considerable work and engagement across all Whitehall Departments to prepare for all outcomes from these negotiations.
7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. 
We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament. We of course continue to work closely with a range of stakeholders across the farming industry and beyond, as well as with the devolved Administrations.
EU rules on farming have been “one size fits all”. Does my hon. Friend agree that after Brexit we will be able to create farming policy, regulations and frameworks that work better for all parts of the United Kingdom?
Yes. Once we have left the EU, we will be able to redesign our agriculture policy so that farmers are competitive, productive and profitable, and our environment is protected for future generations. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary eloquently sets out the flaws in the common agricultural policy and how the UK Government can do so much better outside the EU.
Will the Minister further outline how he intends to secure subsidies for the average UK farm of 160 acres—such farms are classified as small farms—and how does he believe that small farmers will be able to survive post Brexit?
We believe in the importance of small farms and their contribution to the rural community, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will bring forward his policy in due course.
The Minister referred to us leaving the common agricultural policy. Can he clarify when farmers will no longer be subject to it, and when our fishing industry will no longer be subject to the common fisheries policy? Will it be when we leave the EU next March, or is it more likely to be at the end of a transition period?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know from meeting fishermen and women that in some cases they are very impatient indeed to leave the common fisheries policy—rightly so. It is a matter for negotiations, and we hope and expect to achieve clarity very soon.
Securing favourable trading conditions will be just as important for the future of our farmers, including those who reflect distinct characteristics of the industry across the UK. Will the Minister confirm what role the devolved Administrations will play in formulating our position?
They will play an important role, and we will continue to engage with the hon. Gentleman. I am very conscious of agricultural tariffs—the common external tariff and tariffs around the world. It is in all our interests to ensure tariff-free access to and from European markets as we reach our deep and special partnership.
Customs Union: Free Trade Agreements
8. What assessment he has made of the effect of remaining in the EU customs union on the ability of the UK to seek free trade agreements with non-EU countries. 
14. What assessment he has made of the effect of remaining in the EU customs union on the ability of the UK to seek free trade agreements with non-EU countries. 
Remaining in the customs union would prevent the UK from striking new free trade deals and setting new tariffs on goods from countries outside the EU. By leaving the customs union and building a new customs arrangement with the EU, we will be able to forge new trade arrangements with our partners around the world while ensuring that trade in goods between the UK and the EU is as frictionless as possible.
One of the most exciting opportunities that will become available when we leave the customs union is that of establishing a free port at Teesport, as the Secretary of State and the Minister saw for themselves last week. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will give serious consideration to this excellent idea, which will put rocket boosters under my local economy?
I thank my hon. Friend and the Mayor of Tees Valley for welcoming the Secretary of State and me to Teesport last Friday. My hon. Friend has been an indefatigable voice for his constituents since his election to Parliament last year. It was a pleasure to meet some of the 100 business representatives who were present when the Secretary of State made his speech last Friday. Teesport is an opportunity for global Britain, and a gateway to the world—an example of our forward-thinking, independent trade policy. When we leave the EU customs union, we will have the opportunity to create our own trading policy to benefit Teesport and other areas. I sincerely hope that the free port proposal on the table will be one of the options explored.
As my hon. Friend will know well, in Harrow, we have a thriving Indian diaspora, whose members are desperate to encourage trade between the UK and India. Will she ensure that, during the negotiations, they will not be held back from improving trade between India and the UK by artificial trade barriers between those countries?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his lifelong advocacy for the British Asian community, not least in the 1990s when he encouraged my mother to stand as a local councillor—you could say, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend is to blame for my being here today.
Leaving the EU offers us the opportunity to forge a new role for ourselves in the world. The Prime Minister’s first bilateral visit outside Europe was to India, which is very telling. It was encouraging that the Indian Finance Minister visited the UK for the year of culture launch in February last year. I am optimistic about the opportunities that leaving the customs union and the EU presents for UK-India relations.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is launching a new customs declaration service, which is due to go live in January 2019. Has it been designed to deal with the fourfold increase in customs declarations that will be required post Brexit?
The customs infrastructure is going through the upgrade that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and that is on track and on target. I am looking forward to the opportunity to build on our customs regimes so that we have a customs and excise framework that sets the standard for the world.
Phase 2 Negotiations
9. Whether the Government plan to accept the EU’s guidelines for phase 2 of the negotiations for the UK leaving the EU. 
It is not for the UK to accept or reject the European Union’s directives. This is its mandate for negotiations, and we have our own set of objectives. In my speech last Friday, I set out our position on what we would like to see in the implementation period, and we look forward to continuing the discussion with our European Union counterparts. Let me be clear: that work has not stopped. Following the declaration of insufficient progress in December, officials have continued technical discussions on separation issues, Northern Ireland and governance arrangements. I will shortly meet Mr Barnier to continue to the process.
For workers who arrive during the transition period under existing freedom of movement rules, what arrangements will the Government make to ensure that workers who are crucial to industries in Scotland, such as fisheries, social care and hospitality, and who do not meet tier 2 visa requirements, are not simply sent home at the end of the transition period?
We will be discussing in some detail with the European Union the treatment of people after our actual departure from the Union. The hon. Gentleman must take it as read, as I have said several times, that they will be treated properly, that we will not do anything to undermine our economy, and that we will do everything possible to ensure that the industries he talked about are supported.
The Secretary of State and his junior Ministers keep saying that they want a bespoke deal. When are they going to set out what that actually means? When are they going to tell us what the elements of that bespoke deal will be, and when will they cost the bespoke deal’s implications for the economies of these islands? When?
There can be few policies that have been talked about more by Prime Ministers than this one. There have been two major speeches—Lancaster House and Florence—and two White Papers, and something like 15 Bills will be going through this House over the course of the Parliament, so the House will not be unaware of all aspects of the bespoke deal. We have also made very plain what we see as different in what we are seeking from other deals. For example, we are aiming for the free trade agreement to be comprehensive and tariff-free. On the customs agreement, we are aiming for the most frictionless one possible—we have a variety of proposals that we talked about in front of the Select Committee on that—and the House will be kept fully informed. On the costing, as we have said, I think on Monday, we will of course release all the information necessary once it is no longer sensitive to the negotiations, but before the House makes a decision.
“Scotland’s Place in Europe”
10. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the Scottish Government’s paper on “Scotland’s place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment”, published on 15 January 2018. 
I have seen the report that the question refers to, and I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland discusses the Scottish Government’s priorities with them regularly at the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations). There is considerable common ground between us on what we want to get out of the process, such as making sure that Scottish universities and business have access to the best of European talent, but it is disappointing that the report does not take the threat of a second independence referendum off the table, as doing so would be in the interests of Scotland.
The Minister will be aware that the figures in “Scotland’s Place in Europe” very much mirror those that were leaked earlier this week. In Scotland, the difference is that the Scottish National party Government do proper analysis and publish it. The analysis says that there will be a hit to GDP of 8.5% and that £2,300 a year will be lost for each person in Scotland. How many jobs have to be lost or under threat before this Government realise that they must back membership of the single market and the customs union?
The Government are seeking a successful deal for the whole UK, including Scotland. Four times as much of Scotland’s business is with the UK as with the rest of Europe. The worst thing for Scottish jobs and businesses would be to split up our United Kingdom.
Last week, the Scotch Whisky Association expressed concerns at the SNP policy of keeping Scotland in the single market. What assurances can my hon. Friend give to companies and people in my constituency that we are trying to get access to the single market, but that we will also have the right to do deals elsewhere in the world so that we take forward Scotland’s economy, rather than holding it back like Opposition Members?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in speaking up for his constituents and the businesses within it. I have met the Scotch Whisky Association on a number of occasions to discuss the global opportunities for Scotch whisky. We must ensure that we have the flexibility to take them.
Customs Union: Automotive Sector
11. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU customs union on the automotive sector. 
The Government have been conducting a broad overall programme of work on EU exit issues and will continue to do so. That means that all decisions, including those relating to the customs union and the automotive sector, are supported by a range of analytical work. We want our deep and special partnership with the EU to include the automotive industry. We want to ensure that trade is as free and frictionless as possible, with minimum disruption to the industry. The UK remains the second-largest market for cars in Europe, so it is in both our interests to continue the partnership between our industries. I know that the Vauxhall car plant in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is extremely important, and I look forward to visiting it soon.
As the Minister knows, the Vauxhall plant in my constituency is fighting for its survival. Vauxhall’s parent company, PSA, has said that it is not prepared to make any long-term investment decisions until there is clarity about the final trading arrangements, and, having heard what Ministers have said this morning, I am not sure we will get that any time soon. Can the Minister at least guarantee that the trading arrangements for the automotive sector will be no less favourable than they are now?
The Government understand that Vauxhall’s decision was a commercial one, taken as a result of challenging European market conditions. Vauxhall has made it clear that the decision was made to safeguard the competitiveness of the plant. The Government maintain close ongoing dialogue with Vauxhall and its parent group, PSA, as they make their joint plans for the future, including potential investments. Ministers have met senior management representatives of PSA and Vauxhall regularly throughout the process, and will continue to do so.
I hope and expect that as we progress through our negotiations, agree on an implementation period and then move on to our economic partnership, the hon. Gentleman will find that an accelerating degree of certainty emerges.
The port of Immingham in my constituency is vital to the automotive sector. Further to the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), about Teesport and free ports, may I ask whether the Minister is prepared to meet me to discuss the possibility of Immingham’s becoming a free port post Brexit?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. Of course I will meet him and other colleagues to discuss it, but I should add that as this conversation has proceeded, certain misgivings have been expressed about free ports. We must ensure that any free port proposal is capable of giving the country the security that it needs.
12. What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on the protection of fundamental rights. 
16. What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on the protection of fundamental rights. 
The “Right by Right” memorandum clarifies the way in which human rights will continue to be protected in domestic law after the UK has exited the EU. Under both the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and existing domestic law, all substantive rights reaffirmed in the charter of fundamental rights will continue to be protected after exit. The Government’s assessment is that, in itself, not incorporating the charter in UK law should not affect the substantive rights from which people in the UK already benefit.
The paper leaked to BuzzFeed reportedly suggests that
“deregulating in areas such as the environment, product standards, and employment law”
could provide an opportunity for the UK. Is that part of the Government’s economic strategy?
The Government have repeated again and again our commitment to ensuring that we improve the environment and leave it in a better condition for the next generation, and our commitments on workers’ rights have also been repeated time and again.
The Brexit Secretary has labelled employment regulations as “crippling”, the Foreign Secretary has described them as “back-breaking”, and the International Trade Secretary has said that rules on maximum working hours are a “burden”. Will the Minister tell us why the Government are so readily prepared to undermine the promise to enhance workers’ rights as we leave the EU?
The Government’s policy has been set out time and again. We will ensure not only that workers’ rights are preserved, but that they are enhanced and keep pace with the new working environment.
During our consideration of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in Committee, concerns were repeatedly raised that critical environmental rights and protections could be cast aside as we exit the EU. If the Government are serious about raising, not lowering, those rights and protections after Brexit, why have they so far failed to introduce an ambitious new environment Bil, but are instead, as we now know from the leaked papers, commissioning analysis suggesting that Brexit could present an opportunity to deregulate in such areas.
The purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to preserve the effect of EU law on the day after exit day, so far as that is possible. Its purpose is to provide certainty, continuity and control rather than policy changes. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has laid out his policy clearly, and I look forward to his presenting a Bill in due course.
13. What factors the Government plan to take into account in determining their position on the length of the transition period in negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. 
As I have said before, the duration of the implementation period should be in the region of two years, and the Commission’s position indicates a period of similar length: so far it has talked about 21 months. The aim on both sides is to give individuals, businesses and Governments time to plan and initiate the changes that must be made to allow a smooth and orderly transition, and to secure the best possible outcome for the United Kingdom.
Could it be shorter?
If I simply accept the European Commission proposal, then yes.
Unlike the question from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), which was commendably pithy—and again I exhort him to issue his textbook for the benefit of all colleagues.
I will do my best, Mr Speaker.
The EU has made it clear that EU citizens coming to the UK during the transition period should be eligible for settled status; the Prime Minister says they will not be eligible. Is that a red line, or are the Government willing to compromise on that? I thought nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.
The hon. Gentleman is right that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but in the joint report that we concluded and got agreement on in December the EU agreed that the transition date, or end date for ongoing permanent residence rights—not possibilities, but rights—will be March 2019.
17. What recent discussions he has had with Commissioner Barnier on the transition arrangements for the UK after March 2019. 
At the General Affairs Council on Monday the European Council agreed its negotiating directives on the implementation period. Now that the Commission has a clear negotiating mandate we hope to move quickly to begin detailed discussions on the implementation period. Given the alignment in our positions we are confident we can reach political agreement by March. There remain a number of areas that we now need to discuss with the EU to ensure the period operates smoothly. We look forward to progressing substantive discussions.
When it came to the divorce bill, after a lot of huffing and puffing and wasted time the Government simply signed on the dotted line. What will be different in the transition period we are negotiating compared with the EU guidelines issued this week?
As to the right hon. Gentleman’s opening remark, as he is an intelligent and well-informed person it is amazing that he does not differentiate between a £100 billion demand and a £35 billion outcome; that seems to have been a somewhat useful exercise by the Government.
As for the next stage, there is a negotiation to be undertaken. There is a variety of important areas, but the primary area for me is the question of our right to sign trade deals during the implementation period so we can bring them into force immediately after we leave. That is a massive advantage for the United Kingdom to have.
Businesses in my constituency tell me that continued membership of the single market and customs union during the transition period will help them safeguard jobs, yet the Prime Minister on 18 December ruled this out. What have the Prime Minister and Secretary of State got against the employment of people in Bristol West?
With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, the purpose of the implementation period, which was asked for by just about every business organisation, is to ensure they face stability in the couple of years in the run-up to the conclusion of the future relationship. That is what is going to happen, and that is why companies and the CBI and others welcomed it when we announced it.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
As we accelerate the pace of our negotiations with the European Union, I gave a speech last Friday to lay out the terms of the implementation period for our new relationship. This period, a bridge to the future, will be strictly time-limited and see a continuation of existing structures and rules. We will no longer be a member of the EU, which is a legal requirement for signing a new trade treaty, while still ensuring the continuity of our businesses and their trading relationships. We will use this period to ensure we are best placed to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, and that will mean signing new free trade deals with countries around the world.
Given reports today of a huge gap between the UK and the EU on how financial services will be able to be traded freely in a post-Brexit environment, can the Secretary of State set out exactly how he sees this trade operating successfully in future, and exactly how he plans to protect the jobs of the 1.1 million people in the UK who work in this sector?
First, not only have we not yet engaged in the future relationship negotiation, but the EU has not yet decided its own negotiating guidelines. They will, we expect, be laid down by the March Council on 22 March, and to that end I am talking to every member state that I can in order to ensure that we are at the same place on this issue, rather than having, as the hon. Lady terms it, “a huge gap”. Indeed, at the end of these questions I am going to Luxembourg for specifically that issue.
T2. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we will find a way, during the implementation period, to negotiate a way to address the consequences of any EU legislation that is deemed contrary to our national interest? 
The duration of the implementation period should be around two years. Only when the UK is no longer a member state can we take advantage of our status as an independent trading nation. As such, the UK will negotiate our own free trade agreements but not bring them into effect until after the implementation period has concluded. For this period, we will agree a process for discussing laws that might be brought in, on which we have not had our say. This will give us the means to remedy any issues through dialogue as soon as possible.
There have been lots of questions this week about the leaked EU exit analysis Whitehall briefings, but this is the first chance I have had to ask the Secretary of State about it directly, so I will choose my words carefully. Can the Secretary of State confirm when he first knew that economic modelling work on Brexit scenarios was being undertaken across Whitehall?
Actually, the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not have to ask me; he should read the book. In addressing the Select Committee on 6 December last year, I said in terms:
“We will at some stage—and some of this has been initiated—do the best we can to quantify the effect of different negotiating outcomes as we come up to them. Bear in mind that we have not started phase 2 yet. In particular, we will try to assess, in bigger categories, the effect of various outcomes in financial services and in terms of the overarching manufacturing industry, agriculture and so on. We will do that a little closer to the negotiating timetable.”
I say that because I read with great interest in Hansard and elsewhere this morning various reports about my being traduced, so I thought that I should tell the House that actually I told the Select Committee that this work was under way last December.
I think it follows that in December the Secretary of State knew that this modelling was going on. Can he confirm when he was first talked through the economic modelling of the Brexit scenarios by his Department—not when he told others, but when he was talked through it?
Let me say something on that as well. One of the things that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been trying to pretend over the course of the last few days is that somehow my colleagues have been critical of the civil servants doing this job, because the outcome is as yet a work in progress—[Interruption.] That is what it is: a work in progress. I say that because we are trying to do something that is incredibly difficult. Every institution that has tried it has failed—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] I am going to answer the question. Every forecast that has been made about the period post-referendum has been wrong. As I told the Select Committee, the Bank of England—the best forecasting organisation in the business—forecast for 2017 a reduction in exports, but there was growth of 8.3%. It also forecast a reduction of 2% in business investment, but it grew by 1.7%. It forecast a reduction in housing investment, flat employment growth, and growth of 0.5% versus 1.1% being the outcome. What has been going on is an attempt to find a way of getting a better outcome. In those terms, I talked to my own Department and the cross-departmental group in early January on this matter.
T3. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline—the undersea oil and gas pipeline that Germany intends to build directly to Russia—has been condemned by the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as a threat to the security of countries in central and eastern Europe. Does the Minister agree with that sentiment? 
This is an important issue. We need to ensure that Europe continues to protect its security and diversity of supply, and that is something on which we will continue to work with colleagues at the Foreign Office and at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
T5. The UK’s civil aerospace companies are leading the world in the development of future technologies, but everyone from the chief executive of Airbus to the Unite reps at Rolls-Royce says that a hard Brexit threatens that success. Why is the continued membership of the customs union and the single market not on the table to protect the UK’s engineering manufacturing sector? 
As a chartered aerospace engineer, this subject is close to my heart. Aviation is crucial to the UK’s economy, and we are committed to getting the best deal possible for the UK. We are focused on securing the right arrangements for the future, so that our aviation and aerospace industries can continue to thrive, that passengers can have opportunity and choice, and that businesses can be profitable. We will seek the right customs arrangements between the UK and the EU to ensure that trade is free and frictionless and that businesses can succeed.
T4. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the manner of our leaving the EU is rightly a matter for debate and negotiation to secure the best deal for the UK, the fact that we are leaving the EU was decided beyond doubt in June 2016 by the British people? 
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that point. The British people voted to leave the EU—17.5 million of them—in the biggest mandate in our history, and we are committed to respecting the result of the referendum. The Government have undertaken a wide range of ongoing analysis to ensure that we get the best deal for the British people in our EU exit negotiations, but whichever outcome we choose to negotiate for—most of that has been chosen—it will involve leaving the EU and respecting that democratic mandate.
T7. The independent “Preparing for Brexit” report commissioned by the Mayor of London found that a hard Brexit will lead to the loss of 56,500 more jobs in London alone than if the UK remains in the single market and customs union. Does the Minister agree that that is clear evidence that a hard Brexit will be catastrophic for jobs? 
No, I do not. As I explained earlier, one of the great difficulties with such forecasts is that they have proved to be entirely wrong at every turn so far, and that is not just the view of a politician. The smartest and most innovative economist in the country is probably the deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, who referred to the forecasts as having faced a “Michael Fish” moment—in other words, they must find out why they did not work. A forecast is not evidence to be relied upon. It may be an opinion, but it is not evidence.
T6. Over the last 45 years, British taxpayers have had far too much of their money taken from them to go to the EU. Now that we are leaving, can the Secretary of State give an indication of the value of our share of EU assets and what will happen to the share that we have contributed? Is he negotiating to get it all back? 
My right hon. Friend picks up on an important point. It is a component of the negotiations that brought the public claim down from £100 billion to £35 billion—part of that was offset by our assets.
T8. The chemicals industry is the largest sectoral employer in the Grangemouth area of my constituency. It exports 60% of its goods to the EU and imports 75% of them from the EU, and it is rightly concerned about frictionless and tariff-free trade coming to an end. Will Ministers tell us what the EU exit analysis projects for that sector? 
We have met representatives of the chemicals industry on several occasions. At the most recent meeting, we had constructive conversations that ended positively. We will ensure that we carry through the positions that we have set out, particularly in relation to goods on the market, and we hope to preserve continued registration of chemicals under REACH. We will of course seek to ensure that our deep and special partnership covers the chemicals industry, so that it can flourish after we leave the EU.
Will the Minister confirm that it is possible for non-EU countries to access only three of the single market’s four freedoms, specifically the free movement of goods, capital and services, without being required to accept freedom of movement, as can be seen with the association agreement countries? Is the Department currently looking at that type of arrangement?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Trade continues all around the world on a free and fair basis, particularly under free trade agreements. It is our expectation and intention to secure a free trade agreement of unprecedented scope and ambition, which should meet just the criteria that she sets out.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), told the House yesterday that the document that I hope will shortly be handed over to the Exiting the European Union Committee
“does not yet reflect this Government’s policy approaches”—[Official Report, 31 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 834.]
Given that the Secretary of State has just claimed from the Dispatch Box that everybody knows what the Government’s position is, will the Minister explain why lots of analysis has been done of the options that the Government do not want when apparently no analysis has yet been done of the option that the Government do want?
As I said when I answered the urgent question on Tuesday, the Government cannot control the timing of leaks. The preliminary analysis is a work in progress that does not yet reflect the Government’s policy. Once the analysis has been carried through, I am sure that it will do.
Poor old George Osborne, not mentioned at all.
Order. I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position, but he almost yells from a sedentary position his expression of sympathy for the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure the former Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear with stoicism and fortitude not being directly referenced by the representatives of the Treasury Bench.
Will the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), confirm that he heard from Charles Grant of the Centre for European Research that officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union are bad, and that officials intend to use the model to influence policy? If that is correct, does he share my view that it goes against the spirit of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms that underpin our independent civil service?
I am sorry to say that my hon. Friend’s account is essentially correct. At the time I considered it implausible because my direct experience is that civil servants are extraordinarily careful to uphold the impartiality of the civil service. We must proceed with great caution in this matter, but I have heard him raise the issue. We need to be very careful not to take this forward in an inappropriate way, but he has reminded me of something that I heard. It would be quite extraordinary if it turned out that such a thing had happened.
You said it was correct.
I did not say it was correct. I said that the account that it was put to me is correct. It was put to me, and I considered it an extraordinary allegation—I still consider it an extraordinary allegation. [Interruption.] To be absolutely clear, I said it was correct that the allegation was put to me. I did not in any way seek to confirm the truth of it. What I would say is that we need to proceed with great caution, because it is essential that we continue to uphold and support the impartiality of the civil service.
Every day hundreds of trucks criss-cross the channel carrying vital components for the British car industry’s highly integrated supply chain. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on that travel of customs delays, tariffs and extra bureaucracy if we come out of the customs union?
We are seeking frictionless access to the European market for our automotive industry. We want to make sure that we continue to maintain the benefits of the complex supply chain, which benefits businesses both in the UK and in the EU.
Can the Minister reassure me that upcoming negotiations with the EU on future migration arrangements will prioritise the needs of UK science and research, allowing the two-way flow of talent that is vital for our top universities, such as York University in my constituency?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We have been having some very useful meetings with the science and universities sector to talk about its needs in that respect. We want to ensure that the UK continues to be able to attract the brightest and the best from around Europe and around the world.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I just want to hear from the two colleagues who have not contributed to these exchanges since 9.34 am, or thereabouts.
On 11 January Lord Callanan visited Bristol, and he made a promise to Hartcliffe residents in my constituency that there would be more jobs after Brexit. Had he been briefed by the Department on the true state of the modelling analysis when he made that promise to those people?
As I told the House earlier, every forecasting model of the post-referendum performance of the British economy by every major organisation—the banks, Government organisations and, indeed, international organisations—has proven wrong. One of the ways they have been proven wrong is because employment in this country has grown, despite all the forecasts, to record levels today. We will be seeking to do the best we can to ensure that that growth record is maintained.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman’s second inquiry is a single sentence of fewer than 20 words, I will hear it. If it isn’t, I won’t.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will be able to implement decisions during the transition period and not wait until the end to implement everything that is agreed?
We will be able to do some of them, for example, our proposal to put in place a registration scheme and so on. We will also be able to sign trade deals, but not bring them into force.
How are the Government working with the UK steel industry to make sure it prospers post-Brexit?
We have had meetings. My Department alone has had meetings with 350 companies, not all in steel, but in all the user industries. We have a regular meeting between the Chancellor, the Business Secretary, myself and leading business representative organisations, and of course we talk directly to the individual companies.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement on the risk to public finances and public services as a result of the serious financial concerns at Capita, and on the Government’s contingency plans.
I have been asked to comment on the stock market update issued by Capita plc yesterday and its impact on the delivery of public services. I completely understand that this is a matter of significant interest to many in the House following the recent failure of Carillion, but I can assure Members that this company is in a very different situation. To be clear, this announcement was primarily a balance sheet strengthening exercise, not purely a profit warning. As has been widely reported, the company has significant cash reserves on its balance sheet. We do not believe that Capita is in any way in a comparable position to Carillion. Furthermore, Capita has a very different business model, and if the House will allow me, I will give an update on that.
The issues that led to the insolvency of Carillion will come out in due course, but our current assessment is that they primarily flowed from difficulties in construction contracts, including those overseas. By contrast, Capita is primarily a services business, and 92% of its revenues come from within the UK. As Members would expect, we regularly monitor the financial stability of all our strategic suppliers, including Capita. As I said, we do not believe any of them are in a comparable position to Carillion. The measures Capita have announced are designed to strengthen its balance sheet, reduce its pension deficit and invest in core elements of its business. Arguably, those are exactly the measures that could have prevented Carillion from getting into the difficulties it did. Of course, the impact of these measures has been to reduce dividends and shareholder returns in favour of others, so this is further evidence of shareholders and not the taxpayer taking the burden on this.
As I have said, my officials met senior Capita executives yesterday to discuss the impact of the announcement. We continue to work closely with the company to monitor the execution of its plan and to ensure the continued delivery of public services. We continue to engage with all our strategic suppliers and make continuing assessments of our contingency plans, where necessary. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in any further detail on the specifics of those contingency plans, given their commercial sensitivity. But let me reiterate that the priority of this Government, and the reason why we contract with these companies, is to deliver public services, and our priority is the continued delivery of those services. As Members will have seen in respect of the collapse of Carillion, whatever the shortcomings there public services continue to be delivered, and we are confident that public services will continue to be delivered as provided by Capita.
I thank the Minister for his response, but I cannot help but conclude that the Government’s thinking on this is both muddled and complacent. He has told us that the situations at Capita and Carillion are completely different, but let us look in more detail at the circumstances of both companies: both have debts of more than £1 billion and pensions deficits in the hundreds of millions; both paid out dividends of more than £1 billion in the past five years; both rely on the public purse for half of their contracts; both were audited by KPMG; and both grew through acquisition and not through organic growth. It seems there are more similarities than differences between these two companies.
I join the Minister in welcoming the decision by the new Capita chief executive officer to face up to some of these problems with a rights issue and the suspension of dividends. But can the Minister honestly say that Capita could not come to the same fate that Carillion did just two weeks ago, that people working for Capita have nothing to fear, and that those saving prudently for a pension with Capita can rely on that pension paying out fully on retirement? Can he say to people who rely on Capita to carry out basic public services, such as the electronic tagging of offenders or the billion-pound contract with the NHS, that they can count on it to fulfil its contractual obligations for the life of those contracts?
I have some specific questions about what happens now. What is the contingency planning? Do the Government have representatives in the business, including a Crown representative? How long have the Government been aware of the problems at Capita, and how many contracts have been issued to it since then? What specific risk assessment have the Government made of other large outsourcing firms? Capita is currently bidding for the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation contract. Will the Government now review that process and reconsider the decision to outsource that and other services they are currently looking to offload?
Will the Government commit to urgently reviewing what looks like a cosy and complicit relationship between the big accountancy firms, the Financial Reporting Council and the corporates they are supposed to be auditing? Is it not now time to split up the big accountancy firms and stop auditors being paid for other consultancy work at the firms they are supposed to be auditing? Capita has announced a fire sale of assets. Will the Minister confirm that Capita is in consultation with the trade unions and its workforce about redundancies and TUPE arrangements in the event that services are sold off?
Jobs, pensions, small businesses and vital public services now depend on these outsourcing companies, but it is time we rethought the whole strategy for public service provision. How many more warning signs do the Government need?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I know she takes a close interest in this important issue. She has raised a large number of questions, and I shall seek to address as many of them as I can. I am pleased that she has acknowledged that Capita is facing up to its problems. Indeed, that creates a contrast with Carillion. She talked about the financial situation of Carillion versus Capita. The chief executive of Capita has faced up to this and strengthened its balance sheet—it has been widely reported that Capita has more than £1 billion on its balance sheet—which shows that the situation is significantly different from that at Carillion and gives us confidence in its ability to continue to deliver services.
The hon. Lady talked about dividends. Again, as a result of this announcement, Capita will not be issuing dividends, which means that money can go back into the pension scheme, allowing £200 million extra to be spent on the company’s core services, rather than dividends. That is evidence that the chief executive has understood the position and is creating a different situation from that which pertained to Carillion. She raised an important point about the major accountancy firms, such as KPMG, involved in this market. The Financial Reporting Council is looking into this matter. We expect to hear from it in about six months, and we will, of course, respond as appropriate. On her question about a Crown representative, I can assure her that there is one in Capita.
I explained in my original answer the role of the Cabinet Office and the Government and the reason that we contract with private companies. The previous Labour Government and other Governments did the same. As has been reported many times, a third of Carillion’s live contracts were agreed by the last Labour Government, a third by the coalition and a third by the current Government. Governments do this to deliver public services. Our role, as a Government, is to ensure the continued delivery of those public services, and the test for me and my colleagues and officials in the Department is this: is the company capable of delivering those public services, and if there is a problem with the company, will those public services continue to be delivered? In respect of Carillion, Members will have seen that all those public services have continued to be delivered, and I am confident that they will continue to be delivered.
Will my hon. Friend look at the total contempt that the Labour party has for the private sector today? Will he take the time to publish, in due course, a full list of all the contracts with the private sector that were entered into between 1997 and 2010? That will provide a fine example of how the Labour party of today is nothing like the Labour party of that period when they were in government.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. This Government, and the previous Government, have engaged with private sector companies for the delivery of public services. Gordon Brown, Labour’s last successful Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Well, he was the last Labour Member to hold the office. May I take the opportunity to correct the record on that, Mr Speaker? Gordon Brown said:
“It simply would not have been possible to build or refurbish such a number of schools and hospitals without using the PFI model.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 665.]
Why is it that we use these contractors? Because we know that they can deliver. Labour’s position is slightly confused. Is it honestly now Labour’s position that we should not use the private sector at all? Is the state going to start building roads again? Where does Labour draw the line? It is complete confusion.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am keen to accommodate the substantial interest in this matter, but may I remind the House that there is the business question to follow, and thereafter two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee? I am anxious that time for those debates should not be artificially truncated, so pithy questions and pithy answers, please, and we will make progress.
I will take your advice, Mr Speaker.
Only two weeks ago, I warned that there was a danger that this whole outsourcing problem would become a set of dominoes, with one falling after another. I believe the House will conclude that the Government’s behaviour in response, and the Minister’s response today, has been marked by indifference to corporate mismanagement, incompetence in office and complacency in the face of a crisis.
The Minister will not tell the House, but I will: Capita was given 154 Government contracts last year. Only last week, Carillion contracts were being re-brokered to Capita, yet the company was clearly in trouble. Share values were plummeting and profit warnings were being issued. There was short selling on the stock market and allegations against Capita of fraud in the handling of public contracts. Yesterday, Capita’s total value on the exchange was barely much more than its total debt. The company is in serious trouble. It is a familiar tale of woe, with strong echoes of Carillion.
We want to know that the Government’s contingency plans in relation to Capita will assure jobs for current employees and protect the pensions of those employees and the pensions of the public sector workers that the company is managing. Will the Minister confirm that the public services that Capita manages will be protected in the event of a corporate disaster? Does the Government’s contingency plan allow for that? What will be the common impact of the problems at Carillion, and now Capita, on the spiralling costs of HS2? Does the Minister agree with the Opposition that not a single penny should be used to prop up badly managed outsourcing companies?
The Government are blind to the corporate greed of these outsourcing companies. Does the Minister agree that it is clear that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), said only the other day, the Government should be driven by the “evidence, not dogma” on outsourcing?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions, the core of which was about support for outsourcing companies. He said we should not provide a penny more to prop up badly managed outsourcing companies. Indeed, that is exactly what we did in respect of Carillion. We took the decision that this was a private company and should bear the loss. That is why shareholders in Carillion are unlikely to get more than a few pennies in the pound back for their investment. The private sector has taken the risk, but the job of the Government is to ensure the continued delivery of those public services—to ensure that the dinner ladies get paid, that the hospitals get cleaned, and that the railways continue to be built. That is exactly what we did in respect of Carillion and it is exactly what our contingencies involve for all our strategic suppliers. That is the test for the Government: can we ensure the continued delivery of those public services, and can those public services continue to be delivered?
The hon. Gentleman made a point about pensions. The fact that Capita has embarked on this course of restructuring means that it is effectively choosing to switch resources away from the continued payment of dividends and towards pension funds. That should give pensioners confidence in respect of that pension fund. He also asked about jobs, and again, the restructuring can give confidence about the continuing delivery of those jobs.
I keep coming back to the same point. This is a private company and the interest of the Government is to ensure the continued delivery of those public services, and those public services continue to be delivered. That takes me back to Labour’s position. What Labour seems to be suggesting is that the private sector has no role in public life, and that the level of small and medium-sized businesses working for the Government should be zero. If that is not Labour Members’ position, are they going to tell us where they choose to draw the line? Labour has gone from pumping billions of pounds into private companies for the delivery of public services when Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were Prime Minister, to saying that they should not have a penny. Some clarity would be helpful, because otherwise people may draw the conclusion that there is more than an element of opportunism here.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be irresponsible of this Government to cancel private companies’ contracts simply on the basis of a single profit update?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and this is an important point about profit warnings. A profit warning does not mean that a company is imminently going to collapse. A profit warning is a warning to the markets that its results will not be in line with what it had previously thought. If every time that a company issued a profit warning, we as a Government said that we would cease to contract with them, there would be very few companies we could contract with. I will not name leading companies, because I do not want to influence their market value, but I could name a huge list of FTSE 100 companies that routinely issue profit warnings. That does not mean that they are about to disappear.
For the second time in two weeks, we are discussing a private firm, responsible for the delivery of vital services, that has caught us cold with a profit warning. Will the Minister now acknowledge that there is a role for a proper public sector? Will the Government now start to roll back on the privatisation agenda that they and the previous Labour Government obsessed about? Can we look forward to a proper plan for taking public services back into the public sector? And will he now acknowledge that public sector employees should deliver public services?
Of course we acknowledge that there is a proper role for the public sector. That is why, for example, this Government committed at the last election to providing £8 billion more for the NHS and a further £6 billion more for the NHS. To go to the core of the hon. Lady’s argument, the reason that successive Governments of all political persuasions have chosen to engage with the private sector for the delivery of services is that those companies have a speciality in it. They have a speciality in delivering such services, so they can deliver them more efficiently. That means there are savings for the taxpayer. If the Scottish National party position is seriously that we should not have any outsourcing, they need to explain to taxpayers why, instead of ploughing those efficiency savings back into our schools and hospitals, they are choosing to use them to pay for less efficient ways of delivering public services.
Does the Minister agree that the biggest risk to jobs, the biggest risk to pensions and the biggest risk to the delivery of public services would be to withdraw support for Capita on the basis of a reactionary announcement to this profit warning?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we were to choose overnight, in the face of one profit warning, to stop contracting with that company, there would be a significant risk of the delivery of public services falling over. As I have said, the objective of the Government is the continued delivery of public services, and we have continued to pay the cleaners, continued to have the dinners served and continued to ensure that what the people out there in the country care about, which is that their public services are delivered, continues to be delivered.
Yesterday, the chief executive of Capita said that his organisation was “far too complex”. If the chief executive finds it difficult to understand how his own organisation works, how do the Government monitor the stability and performance of these very large, complex outsourcing companies, such as Capita, Serco, Atos and G4S?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about what the chief executive said, and that is the reason why that chief executive has embarked on this restructuring; it is precisely because of that complexity. I well remember working with the right hon. Gentleman when I was an adviser in Downing Street and he was Business Secretary in the coalition, so he will have knowledge of that. In fact, a third of the contracts from Carillion were agreed by the coalition. The process that we had then, and that we have continued to strengthen, is twofold. First, we look at the published results of these companies and use third parties to understand them properly and verify them. Secondly, we continue to engage on a one-on-one basis with each of those companies through the Cabinet Office, to understand their financial position in order to ensure that we deliver on what the public expect—the continued delivery of public services.
The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, has rightly raised concerns about the failure of regulation from the Financial Reporting Council and KPMG. Does the Minister agree that the answer to this dilemma is not to nationalise those companies, but to make sure that those bodies do their job for the taxpayer and the public service user?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That is why I, and we as a Government, welcome the fact that the FRC is looking into the four major accountancy firms and seeing what lessons we need to learn. Of course we will respond to that and act appropriately.
May I bring the Minister back to the core issue, which is that there are two separate but linked problems: the business model and the performance of these companies? Like Carillion, Capita seems to be part of the over-concentrated, over-leveraged, dividend-and-bonus-exploiting culture that relies on the state to bail out failure. Capita incompetence is only too clear from its lamentable performance on the recruitment contract for the armed services. When will this Government finally get a grip?
Behind the right hon. Gentleman’s question is an important point about the diversity of suppliers in this market. We do need to look to diversify further. That is why, for example, we have set a target that 33% of all our Government contracting should be with small and medium-sized enterprises—precisely to ensure that we have that greater diversity. On his point about state bail-out, we have done precisely the opposite of a state bail-out. Carillion went into liquidation, so its shareholders paid the price; because Capita has decided to stop paying dividends, its shareholders are paying the price. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the state is bailing them out in this situation.
Is not the Government’s role to continue to act as a prudent customer and to continue to monitor their suppliers and the services provided? Right now, the best thing that the Government can do is to allow the company to get on with its plans to restructure its business.
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Capita and its executive and shareholders are responsible for Capita. Our responsibility as a Government is for the continued delivery of public services—to make sure that the services on which the public rely continue to be delivered. That is exactly what we did in respect of Carillion, and that is exactly what we are ensuring in relation to contingency plans for all our strategic suppliers, including Capita.
The Minister said that Capita has a positive record of delivery, but it has been responsible for the £1 billion contract for the delivery of NHS England’s primary care support services since 2015. From the outset, both GPs and local medical committees identified serious issues with the service, including patient safety, GP workload and an effect on GP finances. Although some progress has been made, two and a half years on the service falls far short of what is acceptable, and there is still an urgent need to resolve these issues to give practices and GPs across the country confidence in it. What are the Minister and the Government doing to improve the quality of services provided by Capita?
The Government contract with a company to deliver the individual services, and that is done through each Department. In respect of health services, that is done by the Department of Health, which has to ensure that Capita or any other contractor delivers on what it has promised. The function of the Cabinet Office in this respect is to ensure that overall public services continue to be delivered if there is a failure of the company.
If I understand the Minister correctly, this company is raising funds from its shareholders in order to strengthen its balance sheet, enhance its pension fund and invest money in its core business. These corporate actions should be welcomed on both sides of the House. Does he share my frustration that the attitude of the Opposition towards the private sector seems to be, “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t”?
Yes, my hon. Friend is precisely right. As I said, it would have been helpful if Carillion had considered these actions; perhaps then it would not have got into this position. Members cannot say that somehow the Government are bankrolling these companies, while simultaneously saying that we are allowing the companies to go bust if things go wrong with them and shareholders pay the price. They cannot makes those two propositions at once.
Does the Minister agree that, with Carillion and now Capita, the outsourcing of our services has failed? Instead of expensive bail-outs, they should be brought back into public ownership.
The Government have not bailed out a single supplier. It is the shareholders who have paid the price. It is the shareholders of Carillion who will not receive back the money they invested—or, at least, they will receive a very small proportion of the money, depending on the outcome of the liquidation. The hon. Lady’s characterisation of the situation is simply not correct.
Will the Minister assure the House that the combatant steps that the Government have taken to date regarding Carillion have protected services and ensured that there is minimal disruption to citizens? Will he also assure us that they are taking a similar combatant approach to the Capita situation so that we can protect services such as the NHS admin that is so important to us all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our focus has been to ensure the continued delivery of public services. In respect of all the key strategic suppliers, we ensure that we are confident that public services will continue to be delivered if there is an interruption to those companies. That is what the House saw in respect of Carillion, and it is exactly what we prepare for all the time with regards to all our strategic suppliers.
This is a very worrying time for Carillion employees in Wales, including the hundreds employed at the call centre in Bangor in my constituency. It is also a very worrying time for disabled people, as all personal independence payment assessments in Wales are carried out by the company. Will the Minister give these people a cast-iron guarantee that their jobs are safe, and that their benefits assessments will be carried out properly and accurately?
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to Capita, not to Carillion.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is the priority of the Government—this is what we are working on—to ensure that there will be no interruption to the very important public services that he outlined, no matter what happens to their delivery. That is what happened with Carillion. On the very day it was announced that Carillion was going into liquidation— the announcement was made at 7 o’clock in the morning—we ensured that the people delivering public services could continue to turn up to work and to be paid, and that the public services they delivered could continue to be delivered.
Before any new Government contracts are awarded to Capita, will the Government seek fresh assurances in respect of existing and future pension obligations to its employees?
I can assure my hon. Friend that in fact officials from my Department met Capita only yesterday. This is an ongoing process of engagement with all the strategic suppliers, asking exactly those sorts of questions to ensure that we have public services delivered. Of course, we are very cognisant of things like the pension fund as well.
One of the real issues that comes through with both Carillion and Capita is that the enormous growth of the conglomerate structure means that these corporations are vulnerable when any part begins to fail, and that of course puts at risk the whole. Where is the risk assessment that the Minister and his team have done that guarantees that we will not see failure in Capita and in other public service providers?
As I said, there is a continuing process of engagement. Over the years, the Government Commercial Function has been beefed up. We have brought in people with expertise who understand these companies and are engaging with them on a day-to-day basis to understand their business models. The purpose of doing that is to understand those business models to ensure that we are confident that we can continue to deliver these public services.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that what matters to this Government is what delivers the best public service outcomes to our constituents in terms of quality and value for money—exactly the same considerations that motivated Labour when, in government, it let so many public service delivery contracts to private companies?
Yes, Labour let lots of contracts to private companies, because it believed that they had the expertise to deliver them, and that is exactly what we are doing. Interestingly, since the surge in the use of PFIs that took place under the Labour Chancellor before last, Mr Gordon Brown, we have tightened up the terms of PFI. We are learning the lessons from some of the excessive PFI contracts that we saw, which had underneath them ludicrous service fees for some of the services provided.
Capita is a significant employer in Huddersfield in its shared transport business. It has a very important role in gas safety for the Health and Safety Executive. It is a very important company. Nobody on the Labour Benches wants to see it fail; like all businesses, we want to it to succeed. There is nothing wrong with a public-private partnership: what is important is getting the contract and the relationship right. What went wrong in many PFIs was rotten contracts that still bedevil local hospitals and local schools.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. He is precisely right. There is nothing wrong, per se, with engaging with the private sector for the delivery of services, but we must ensure that there is rigour in the contracts. Many contracts in the past have not been properly negotiated and have not delivered value for the public sector, and they will continue to burden us for many decades to come. However, that is not an invalidation of the model; it is about problems with specific contractual negotiations.
It is clear that Capita is unique because it grew out of outsourcing from the public sector, but as it grew the structures outstripped its proper corporate responsibility. It is also clear that we need to argue the case for the benefits to the public sector of outsourcing. Will the Minister therefore set out the benefits of outsourcing and give one or two examples of where it has been a success and delivered better public service?
I am very happy to do so. This is precisely why private sector companies use outsourcing. Every company engages in outsourcing because it recognises that there are some areas where there is greater expertise than can be delivered by that company. It is exactly the same for the public sector. We focus on what actually works—what delivers for the public sector and what delivers the best price and the best value. Over 4,500 projects have been delivered since 2010; over a quarter of a trillion pounds has been invested in infrastructure; and over 70% of our 175 long-term priority projects and programmes identified are now complete, under construction, or part of a programme being delivered. This is delivering the public services that people want.
Capita employs 450 people in my constituency, who are principally engaged in administering public sector pensions. When the Minister has met Capita, what discussions has he had about the pensions function and the Darlington site specifically? Will he meet me to discuss that?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss all those points.
Will the Minister tell the House the size of the pension deficit and what arrangements the Government are putting in place to cover that black hole?
Capita is a private company, responsible for the running of its business. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the announcement made yesterday by Capita, he will see that it has chosen not to issue a dividend, which has released more cash and means that it can shore up its pension fund. It is a positive announcement in that respect.
Will the Government review all major outsourced contracts as a matter of urgency, and in particular the contracts awarded to Capita for assessing personal independence payments for disabled people? It has been subject to justified heavy criticism for the way it treats disabled people during that process.
The Government routinely publish all significant outsourcing contracts, and I would be happy to provide the hon. Lady with a link to the website so that she can get a full list of those. That is the process for doing it.
Is it not time that private companies providing public services were subject to the same rules of openness and transparency as the public sector, so that they can no longer hide behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality?
Of course there are lessons to be learned from this. Indeed, that is exactly what bodies such as the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs is looking into. However, there is a distinction between a private company and a public body. I do not think it would be appropriate to extend the full FOI provisions to all private companies.
If the Minister is serious about getting the best value for the public, will he commit to learning from the Scottish Government? The Scottish Futures Trust’s latest independently audited benefits statement shows more than £1 billion in savings since it was established.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. Of course we will learn those lessons, but it is worth noting that the Scottish Government gave a contract to Capita in 2015. Capita was appointed by the Scottish Public Pensions Agency to deliver its integrated pensions IT software solutions, which is another example of Governments choosing to use the expertise of the private sector.
There are echoes of Corporal Jones from “Dad’s Army” in the Minister’s response this morning—“Don’t panic! It’s all okay.” Why does he think that Barnet Council—a flagship Tory council, known as “easy council” because of its extreme outsourcing—has put in place contingency plans based on the possible failure of this company?
I can assure the hon. Lady that we are not in any way complacent. That is why we continue to ensure—I believe Barnet Council will be doing exactly the same—that there are contingency plans in place. Indeed, those contingency plans have worked in respect of the one collapse of a company we have seen: Carillion. Those public services continue to be delivered.
Capita has a £1 billion contract in the primary care sector of the NHS. The Minister has sought to minimise the necessity of declaring any kind of contingency plans to the House. Does he not think that the House and the general public deserve to know exactly what plans the Government have in the event that Capita is unable to provide those essential services to the public?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have given that reassurance, and I can reassure the House again that in respect of all our strategic suppliers, including Capita, we are understanding their financial position and taking appropriate contingency measures. I hope she will understand that lots of these things are commercially sensitive, and it would not be helpful to go into excessive detail on that.
Capita’s stock has dropped 84% since its 2015 peak. Are there plans for a ministerial taskforce to grip this situation should it worsen?
It is worth noting that a large chunk of the drop in the share price came yesterday in respect of the restructuring of the business—it was a consequence, for example, of the rights issue—but we are of course engaging in such a way. I and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who has responsibility for small businesses, have established a taskforce for Carillion. We are ensuring that we provide all the support we can for the private sector side of Carillion’s delivery of services. For example, we are ensuring that HMRC is showing flexibility in relation to payments, and that banks are showing some flexibility. Should the need arise, we would do exactly the same for Capita.
Poor service delivery is often an early warning sign of future financial difficulties. GP practices in my constituency have been complaining for at least two years about the poor quality of service they are receiving. We know that the contract for assessments for personal independence payments has been failing, and this morning we have heard examples of many other service delivery failures. Rather than leaving this to individual Departments to manage, should not the Cabinet Office have a central overview of where service performance is failing as an early warning of future difficulties?
Yes, we should, and we do exactly that. We of course take an overall view of the delivery of public services, the financial position and contingency. The specifics of public service delivery clearly have to be contracted by the relevant Department, because the relevant Department has a deeper understanding of the need. For example, for health and education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education are in a better position to negotiate such contracts.
Last year, a Press Association investigation revealed that Capita received £200 million more than originally planned from the Department for Work and Pensions for PIP assessments, so there is a clear trail of the Government rewarding failed performance. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will not also be rewarding corporate recklessness?
No, the Government certainly will not be rewarding corporate recklessness. Carillion shareholders paid the price for the failures of Carillion in that they will not receive back their initial investment, which is precisely correct. The role of the Government is to ensure that those public services continue to be delivered, and the private sector bears the risk.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House update the House on the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 5 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018, followed by the remaining stages of the Smart Meters Bill.
Tuesday 6 February—Remaining stages of the Space Industry Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on housing, planning and the green belt. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 7 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.
Thursday 8 February—Debate on a motion on community bank closures, followed by a debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 February will include:
Monday 19 February—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 20 February—Second Reading of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords].
Yesterday evening, the House took an historic decision to choose action to restore and renew the Palace of Westminster, and I want to congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members across the House on their attention to this debate and their contributions to it. As the Leader of the House, I will now be taking forward the decision of this House, following a debate that is to take place in the other place as soon as one can be arranged.
I thank the Leader of the House for setting out next week’s business.
A robin in the Chamber, a blue blood moon and Roger Federer winning the Australian open—but I will not mention the thing that you were not very happy about, Mr Speaker: Swansea beating Arsenal. Oh dear.
I thank the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the Backbench Business Committee and other Members for suggesting that a debate on restoration and renewal take place today. If the Committee had not agreed to that debate, the Government would not have been pushed into having it yesterday. As the Leader of the House rightly said, a decision has been made. I, too, thank everyone who took part in and signed the amendments for such an excellent debate; it was well-tempered, and people made their points.
The Leader of the House mentioned the pre-recess Adjournment debate. I hope that she gets her deputy very soon, because she has her hands full with restoration and renewal. She has been assiduous in trying to engage Members, particularly on the northern estate programme. I know that she will do the same with restoration and renewal. May I press her, though, on the date for the summer recess? It is only one date, so I hope that she will be able to give it to us very soon.
The Leader of the House mentioned the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which provisionally comes to the House for debate on 20 February. It started in the other place, so will she confirm whether there are plans for any Brexit Bills to start in the other place? The Bill was published on the same day that it had its First Reading. Will she reassure the House that that will not be the case for the other 15 Brexit Bills?
On Brexit, it is a year since the Lancaster House speech on the Government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU, but the Government appear to have abandoned the financial sector. They have shelved a position paper setting out their trade goals for financial services after Brexit. Is the Leader of the House aware that the policy chair at the City of London corporation says that the sector had been counting on the paper to clarify Government policy, and that
“the City is left in the dark”?
And so say all of us. When can we expect publication of the position paper on financial services, which will affect 1 million people?
It seems that the Government have annoyed the City; they have also annoyed the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and all the Opposition. The Government have said that the “EU Exit Analysis—Cross Whitehall Briefing” will be published. Will the Leader of the House say exactly when it will be provided to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union and to Members but not on a restricted basis?
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), said that civil servants who do their work are “always wrong”. He appears to have a bizarre understanding of what civil servants do. They are independent; they follow Government instructions and Government policy. Could we have an apology from the Minister to the civil service?
Next week, there will be debate on a motion on the police grant. Quarterly police figures show a 14% rise in recorded crime in England and Wales. Domestic burglary is up 32%. That is mirrored exactly in my constituency: a young couple who just got married had their wedding jewellery stolen, and another constituent gave me a video of a gang entering a home and marching people upstairs to rob them. There is only one police station in my constituency, in Darlaston, and that is closing, despite having been upgraded. It is not fair to say that the Government are protecting the police budget. May we have an urgent debate—perhaps a Minister could make a statement—on how much more money will be given to local councils to protect local services? When it comes to taxes, it is not right or fair for the Government to shift the burden on to local councils.
Mr Speaker, you allowed an urgent question on Capita earlier, but I want the Leader of the House’s reassurance that the Government’s jobseeker’s allowance helpline and the helpline that administers the teachers’ pension scheme will be protected. I would also like a statement on how much the Government have outsourced to Capita.
Finally, we are celebrating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave 6 million women the right to vote. We still have to put up with men-only clubs. The test should be: would the Prime Minister be invited? Was she invited to the Presidents Club? The answer is no, but she has been invited to give a speech on Tuesday in Westminster Hall. I encourage all Members to celebrate this landmark in the UK’s history between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm on that day. The event will launch Parliament’s Vote 100 programme for 2018. Women have moved from their place behind the grille at the back of the Chamber to its Floor. As we celebrate that, let us all think of those unseen men and women who speak out and fight every day for equality for all.
I share the hon. Lady’s excitement about the centenary of the Representation of the People Act next Tuesday. One hundred years later, our Head of State is a woman. We have our second female Prime Minister. The First Minister in Scotland is a woman, as is our Home Secretary. The Leaders and shadow Leaders of the House of Commons and the House of Lords are women, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is a woman—I could go on. There have been some changes for the better, but there is so much more to do to make sure that women play an equal part in every aspect of our society, both in the United Kingdom and around the world. I share the hon. Lady’s commitment to doing whatever we can to make sure that comes to pass.
The hon. Lady asks for a summer recess date. That will be provided as soon as we can. I absolutely accept that hon. Members want to get on and think about what else they might like to do with their lives other than sit here, and I share that enthusiasm.
The hon. Lady asks about Brexit Bills being introduced in the other place. As she will appreciate, in my role as chairman of the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, I have to ensure that Bills are ready to be introduced. We then have to look at the parliamentary timetable to see what else is going on in either House and make decisions based on the volume of business that is available to go. It is not possible to say with certainty at any one time, “It’ll be this one; it’ll be that one,” but in due course, through the usual channels, we will always give as much notice as possible.
The hon. Lady talks specifically about the financial sector. In fact, there are not 1 million people, but 2 million, if we include all the professional services around the financial services sector—ranging from Edinburgh to Bournemouth, to Birmingham, to Manchester, and of course, to the City of London. It is a vast and very successful sector for this country, and we were recently declared to have extended our pre-eminence over all the other financial services sectors in the world. It is absolutely vital to the United Kingdom. Positional work will be going on and it will be announced in due course, when the moment is right.
The hon. Lady asks me to confirm that the Government will comply with the terms of the Humble Address, and I am happy to do so. She asked about economic forecasts. All I can say is that if hon. Members want to ask the Bank of England how many times its economic forecasts are right, that will demonstrate that forecasting is not an exact science. It is an art, and it is not a criticism of the civil service to say that economic forecasts are rarely correct. Indeed, pre-referendum, certain forecasts presumed that our economy would be around 6% smaller than it is today, so those forecasts were also wrong.
The hon. Lady asks about the police grant. Real-terms overall police spending has increased since 2015-16 by over £475 million, including increased investment in transformation and technology. In this settlement, we propose to increase the total investment in the police system by a further £450 million year on year in 2018-19, if police and crime commissioners maximise their local precepts. She is absolutely right, however, to point out the very concerning rise in particularly high-impact crimes, such as knife crime. I hope that she welcomes Operation Sceptre, which many police forces are joining to try to tackle this appalling crime, which has such a terrible impact on victims and their families.
Finally, the hon. Lady asks for reassurance about Capita. There has just been an urgent question, in which the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) answered a number of points about Capita and Carillion. A web page has been set up by the Insolvency Service for those who are affected and seeking advice about the failure of Carillion. In the context of Carillion, there is a dedicated website set up by the special managers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as a dedicated helpline. Jobcentre Plus, through its rapid response service, is available for advice and support for those whose jobs may be affected. In the case of Capita, however, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the Government closely monitor all the firms to whom they outsource contracts, and they do not believe that Capita is in anything like a similar situation to Carillion.
In this centenary year of some women gaining the right to vote, does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be a debate in Government time to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, perhaps to demonstrate the respect that the Government have for the immense contribution that women have made to this place over the past 100 years?
I commend my right hon. Friend for all that she does to advance the cause of women and equality. She is a real champion of women’s rights, and I agree with her that the centenary of women’s suffrage should ensure that we mark International Women’s Day. As she knows, time for such debates is traditionally provided by the Backbench Business Committee, but I have raised with the Chief Whip the view expressed on both sides of the House that it would be good to have an appropriate opportunity to mark that important day, and I am optimistic.
I thank the Leader of this crumbling House for announcing the business for next week—and what a week! There may or may not be enough Conservative Back Benchers to trigger a leadership challenge, and the party civil war that is now raging in the Conservative ranks would put the cavaliers and roundheads to shame. Could we perhaps have a debate on peace, love and understanding, so that the rest of us could wish all the best to our Conservative friends in their current difficulties?
Having secured yet another Humble Address defeat, the Government will once again go through the whole business of trying to defy the will of the House by revealing as little as possible about the latest disastrous Brexit papers. After debasing our Opposition day debates and refusing to be held to account, they are now making a mockery of Humble Addresses.
If we cannot get the Government to vote on Humble Addresses, how about getting them to try to change Standing Orders? One issue that unites the House against the Government is opposition to the procedure known as “English votes for English laws”, which is as useless as it is divisive. No other party in the House will support it, and Scottish Conservative Members would look singularly stupid if they voted for a procedure that continues to emasculate them in the House. We may not be able to secure time for a debate, but the Labour party has loads of time available. Why do not Labour Members join us and help us to defeat the Government and get rid of this divisive procedure?
Lastly, is it not delicious watching all the Brexiteers rage about the unelected House of Lords as it chews up their precious hard Brexit? People who would have no second thoughts about donning the ermine if it were offered and who have ignored all our calls for the House of Lords to be abolished are now starting to rail against it. You couldn’t make it up.
It is just as well that I genuinely like the hon. Gentleman, because I have to suspend my disbelief when it comes to some of the remarks that he makes. Let me gently correct him: the House is not crumbling. The infrastructure within it is the problem. The House, as he will see, is beautiful, and it is not crumbling. As for his recommendation for lessons on peace, love and understanding, I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, would like to see more of that in this place. I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for us all to work together, and as Leader of the House, I do all that I can to ensure that we show each other that love and understanding.
The hon. Gentleman talks about Opposition day debates. We issued a clear proposal that when an Opposition motion was approved by the House, a Minister would make a statement within 12 weeks to inform the House of exactly what steps had been taken to address the issues raised, and that continues to be the case.
The hon. Gentleman talks about EVEL—English votes for English laws—which is indeed designed to stop Scottish votes for English laws. It is important for Members on both sides of the House to recognise that it is a consequence of devolution, when a number of the nations that make up the United Kingdom were rightly keen to be able to manage their own affairs more closely. It is right that Members who come to this place from those nations should not be able to vote on laws that affect only England, or England and Wales.
The hon. Gentleman laughs at those who are frustrated by the House of Lords, but surely he recognises its role as a revising House with very useful expertise that often improves legislation and makes a genuine contribution to the work of the House of Commons.
If there is to be a decant, it is vital for it to be as short as possible. On that, we are all agreed. I personally believe that the builders should work triple shifts and not do what builders traditionally do, which is to stay as long as possible. Is it my right hon. Friend’s opinion that, when we set up the legislation, only the MPs and peers on the sponsor body should vote, so that we can get a grip on this?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because he has been a passionate advocate for the restoration and renewal of this place, and I am sorry, as he will no doubt be disappointed by yesterday’s decision. While that decision confirms action, it is not action along the lines that he would wish to see, and I am very sympathetic to his personal view that in staying in this place we could do the job more efficiently and effectively. In direct response to his question about how the sponsor body will be set up, it will have a majority of parliamentarians, and their role will be to reflect the range of views across both Houses on precisely what the delivery authority should be tasked with delivering.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing that the business for 6 February will include a debate on housing, planning and the green belt, which is sponsored by the Backbench Business Committee. We know that proceedings on the Space Industry Bill are unlikely to go the distance, but we do not yet know how many Government statements or urgent questions may be granted by Mr Speaker, so may we ask for protected time for that debate so that it may last for 90 minutes or until 7 o’clock, whichever is the later, so that we are guaranteed that it will get a good airing?
Secondly, may I bring all Members’ attention to page 15 of today’s Order Paper under the heading “Applications for Backbench Business Committee debates on the estimates”. Members will have to submit applications by Friday 16 February, which is during the recess. I draw Members’ attention to that so they will be able to debate in full the estimates debates of their choosing.
Lastly, I have another plea. The Backbench Business Committee is effectively now down to five members. We have one member out on a Bill Committee, and we have lost two other members due to promotions to the Government. We are effectively down to five members, but we have a quorum of four, so it is getting very tight. I therefore ask for a relaxation of the quorum, or quick appointments to replace those who have been promoted.
I hear that, and the hon. Gentleman and I will certainly take that up to see how we can support what sounds like a very real practical problem. I urge all colleagues to look at page 15 of today’s Order Paper. It is important that all colleagues set out their applications for Backbench Business Committee debates on the estimates. The hon. Gentleman is right that the deadline is during the recess, so it would be helpful for all colleagues to look at that. I will also take away his request for protected time for the Backbench Business Committee debate that he mentioned.
My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 783 on scrapping hospital car parking charges.
[That this House is disappointed that following the publication of Government guidance on hospital car parking in August 2014, 47 per cent of hospitals have increased their parking charges for a one hour stay; notes that there continues to be discrepancies in parking charges across England, with three hospitals in London charging almost £400 per week to park; believes that these charges have serious implications, not only for patients and those visiting their loved ones, but specifically for parents of premature babies, cancer patients, dialysis patients and those receiving treatment for tumours; considers these charges a stealth tax on drivers using NHS services; and therefore asks the Government to consider ending car parking charges at hospitals in England.]
My right hon. Friend will also know about the motion that stands in my name and that of other Members. If the House passes that motion, which will be debated this afternoon, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Minister to make a statement to the House about how the Government will scrap hospital car parking charges?
My hon. Friend has been a strong champion for resolving the issue of hospital car parking charges for a long time. I wish him well with his debate this afternoon, and I assure him that I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to put forward his request.
The all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention heard a harrowing presentation this week from Professors Nav Kapur and Keith Hawton from the multicentre study of self-harm in England. We learned that there are 200,000 hospital presentations a year in England for self-harm and almost the same number to community health facilities, particularly of 12 to 17-year-olds. One in 100 of those will die by suicide a year after their presentation, and 50% of those dying by suicide have been involved in self-harm. This is an epidemic that is hitting this country. May we have a statement from the Government expressing how they intend to deal with the major risk of self-harm presentation in our hospitals?
The hon. Lady sets out harrowing evidence about the extent of self-harming, and the Government are incredibly concerned about this, particularly about the need for more support for those with mental health issues. We are investing a record £1.4 billion into children’s and young people’s mental health, and there are now a record 1,440 children’s mental health beds. Also, importantly, by this time next year, we will have trained 2,000 secondary school staff in mental health first aid to try to provide support to young people, and by 2021, 70,000 additional children and young people each year will be accessing NHS specialist mental health services.
In the village of Oulton in my constituency, a company that owns 70 rented homes has put in for planning permission to demolish them and replace them with private dwellings. On Friday, I met some of my constituents who could soon be receiving eviction notices and would therefore require new homes. May we have a statement from the Housing Minister on the power that Leeds City Council may or may not have to purchase those homes, instead of—I kid you not, Mr Speaker—wanting to build a lighthouse in the middle of the landlocked city of Leeds?
That is an extraordinary tale. Whether the council is planning for floods is anyone’s guess. My hon. Friend is a strong champion for his community, and he raises an important issue. I recommend that he seeks an Adjournment debate so that a Minister can answer his specific concerns.
I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. You took me by surprise. In the old and less enlightened days when I was at primary school, we could have a good old pinch and a punch for the first day of the month—
Queen Victoria didn’t like it.
No, it was not in Queen Victoria’s time.
May we have an early debate so that many of us can give a good pinch and a punch to the private sector partnerships that benight so many hospitals in our land? So many of us want a new deal for our hospitals and health sector, but we are being dragged down by private finance initiatives that were badly negotiated many years ago. Let’s have a debate on this, please!
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a debate on that. When I was on the Treasury Committee about five years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for—Jesse Norman—
Hereford and South Herefordshire.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I had a momentary mental blank there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and the Treasury Committee held an inquiry into PFI, and it was quite clear that in many of those deals the private sector saw the public sector coming, and that those deals have not been in the best interests of the taxpayer or the patient. Of course, the hon. Gentleman must reflect that those PFI deals were signed under Labour Governments. Labour agreed to them—[Interruption.] Well, John Major did a few of them, but the vast majority were done under Labour. Now, under private finance 2, there is a much better track record of ensuring that the interests of the taxpayer are better cared for. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a debate would be a good way to raise this issue again.
Mr Speaker, I would like to share some good news with you and the good people of Taunton Deane. We have just heard this morning that the bid to the housing infrastructure fund for £7.2 million to build the spine road in Staplegrove in Taunton has been successful. That will make the building of 1,600 houses in that area viable. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming this announcement, which demonstrates the fact that this Government realise that if we are to make the delivery of much-needed housing viable, we must have the right infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her constituency, and it is good news that houses are being built. We are committed to building homes so that everyone can afford a safe, decent place to live, and today an extra £866 million has been confirmed for local housing projects to unlock the potential of 200,000 new homes. I am delighted that the Staplegrove spine road in her constituency will be one of the beneficiaries.
Seventy-seven per cent. of the public, 98 MPs on both sides of the House, and more than 20 national charities back my Bill to measure food insecurity. Figures released this week show that one in eight adults has gone a whole day without food, and the UN estimate of UK food insecurity stands at a staggering 8 million people. Will the Government make a statement to explain why their position on this heartbreaking reality is for so many one of total silence?
The hon. Lady raises an issue that is of concern right across the House. Food insecurity is a major challenge, but the Government have ensured that more people get to keep more of their hard-earned cash, raising the personal allowance so that a basic rate taxpayer is £1,000 better off and raising the national living wage to ensure that people are thousands of pounds better off than they were in 2010. It is vital that the Government do everything we can to ensure that people can afford to live well.
I want to bring something that affects my constituency to the attention of the Leader of the House. In Taunton Deane, about which we have just heard, the borough council has borrowed a fortune to do up its headquarters. Not only has it not signed a contract, which I think is illegal and pretty silly, but the headquarters will be valued at only half of what was borrowed. It is not a good council, so may we please have a debate on borough councils in the United Kingdom?
Order. Did the hon. Gentleman consult his hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) in advance of asking this question? If he did, so be it, but if he did not, it is rather unseemly.
I did, Mr Speaker. I sent an email.
Yes. I am not sure that that is very collegiate, but I will have to leave Members on the same side of the House to try to sort out such matters. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who is quite an experienced Member of the House, that there is a genuine unseemliness about continued references to another Member’s constituency. In the politest possible way, I exhort the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure has a fertile mind and wide range of potential political interests, to focus perhaps on other interests, rather than on those that might affect his constituency—I do not dispute that and do not have authoritative knowledge of the matter—but which most certainly affect that of his hon. Friend.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) to take the matter up with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers.
My constituent “S” was trafficked to the UK as a child and forced to work in a cannabis factory, but the Home Office wants to send him back to Vietnam. May we please have a debate on the interaction between the protection of victims of modern slavery, and the asylum and immigration system?
The hon. Lady raises what sounds like a concerning case. As constituency MPs, we all raise particular cases with the Home Office, and I am sure that it will be happy to look again at this one. If she emails me about it, I can take it up with the Home Office on her behalf.
The Community Security Trust’s annual report shows a growth in anti-Semitic attacks in this country amidst a pernicious increase in anti-Semitism more generally. At the same time, the chief inspector of schools is making a speech today about the growth of religious extremism in our schools. May we have a debate in the Chamber in Government time on how to combat religious extremism and pernicious attacks on people’s religions?
My hon. Friend raises a worrying story. All of us will have read in the press about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks and the use of words that can be extremely hurtful. He is right to suggest a debate, and I encourage him to talk to the Backbench Business Committee about securing such a debate so that all Members can share their views.
The Government have expressed their support for women’s refuges, and their funding is currently being reviewed. I fear, though, that time is running out for many refuges, including Jane’s Place in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House please allow some Government time so that we can assess what urgent steps can be taken to avoid any closures?
We have committed £40 million until 2020, and we have delivered support to 80 domestic abuse projects across England. The hon. Lady raises an issue that is absolutely at the heart of Government priorities, which is why we have committed to introducing a draft domestic violence and abuse Bill. We have created two new stalking offences and we will introduce a new stalking protection order. It is important that the Government are taking action, and we will continue to do so.
Next Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, and on Monday I will be visiting Eastlands Primary School in my constituency to meet its eCadets and to find out more about their role in promoting safe internet use among their fellow pupils. There is real concern about what is happening online, so could we have a debate to consider what measures we can take to keep our young people safe?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising such an important issue. I hope that he enjoys his school visit. The Government fully support Safer Internet Day. This year, nearly 700 schools will take part, and they will be joined by charities, Government officials, businesses, football clubs and police forces. Safer Internet Day is marked in 100 countries worldwide to help children everywhere to remain safe online.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of the hearings on equal pay for women working at the BBC. Will she now take a lead on equal pensions for women, especially women born in the early 1950s who have been denied them? She could certainly make a name for herself—she would be up there with Emmeline Pankhurst if she did something about it.
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has been discussed in this House many, many times. Conservatives in government have committed more than £1 billion to supporting those affected so that no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. The new state pension will be much more generous for many women. By 2030, more than 3 million women stand to gain, on average, £550 extra a year.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will share my concern about yesterday’s sad news in Redditch that our local Marks & Spencer is closing. I am delighted that the employees will find alternative jobs, but nevertheless it is sad because Marks & Spencer is the last food shop in our town centre, and it is sadly needed. Can we have a debate on how we can work together with our local council colleagues to create vibrant town centres that are communities for everyone to enjoy, and in which to live and work?
My hon. Friend is a huge champion for her constituency, and she has her own vision for a sustainable and thriving town centre in Redditch. I share her concern, and it is always a great shame when a much loved and much used shop closes in a town centre. I encourage her to do all she can to revitalise the town.
Unfortunately, Nottingham was not selected as one of Sport England’s pilot cities for new models of physical activity. The House will know, however, that Nottingham people have developed lots of good ideas and, with our typical fortitude, will be making those ideas happen anyway in any way we can. Will the Leader of the House support us in that venture by accommodating a discussion in Government time?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the innovative efforts to increase sporting activity in Nottingham and on his desire for a debate in Government time. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, in which a sports Minister might be able to give him some specific tips.
Consideration was given in Westminster Hall yesterday to the terrible situation facing disabled people in North West Durham and across the UK when being assessed for their personal independence payment. Many Members were not called to speak in that debate because demand was so high. They had important issues that they needed to press, so will the Leader of the House advise us on how we can have the urgent situation facing disabled people debated in Government time?
I understood there was a very well-attended debate yesterday, and it is right that there was. The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that almost 600,000 more disabled people have been able to come into the workforce over the past four years, with 3.5 million disabled people now in work. That is good news, and the PIP benefit is designed to give people more power over how they use their benefits to support their lifestyle and their ability to make the most of all the opportunities they have.
May we have a debate in Government time on banning the use of plastic straws? Last week, I visited Sunnyside Primary School in the Craigend area of my constituency and met its ocean defenders, who are doing sterling work among local authorities to ban the use of plastic straws. These people will be here a lot longer than we will, so will the Government take action on this issue?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for doing more to reduce plastics in all the things we use, whether we are talking about recyclable cups or any form of plastics. The Government have taken strong action in banning microbeads in certain cosmetics and body wash products. There is a lot more to do in protecting our marine areas, where 80% of our plastics end up, so this Government will be committed to doing everything we can to defend our environment.
Nairn, Grantown and Aviemore in my constituency are just three of the highland towns that will be negatively affected by the Royal Bank of Scotland’s planned branch closures. Given that the UK Government are the major shareholder, in addition to the planned debate may we have a statement on the range of responsibilities the Government have for holding shares on behalf of the public?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has raised the House’s concerns in his recent meeting with RBS. He will also be aware that, as has been mentioned in this House many times, we have established the Access to Banking standard to make sure there is proper consultation before the closure of any branch. He will also be aware that the Government have invested significantly in the post office network and that about 99% of personal customers will be able to carry out their day-to-day banking at a post office as a result of new agreements facilitated by Government.
We know it is Government policy to replace sold council houses on a one-for-one basis, but a three-bed semi in my constituency was recently sold for just £27,000 and the council cannot possibly replace a house for that much money—unless, perhaps, it is made of LEGO. We know that across the country only one in five of the council houses that are sold are getting replaced, so may we have a statement from the relevant Minister about how this policy can actually be put in practice?
It is important that any money raised goes back into social housing and affordable housing. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s own investment in social, council and low-cost homes is now more than £9 billion. We have delivered about 350,000 new affordable homes. That number needs to continue to rise, but the Government are committed to ensuring that everybody has a secure and decent home to live in.
Rent-to-own companies such as BrightHouse charge eye-watering interest rates for essential goods. The Financial Conduct Authority has just revealed that the average debt for rent-to-own customers has doubled. May we therefore have a statement and real action from the Government and FCA to keep this sector in check?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very concerning point about the debts people get into by using these high-cost lenders to facilitate the purchase of essential white goods, furniture and so on. I know from my time as City Minister that the FCA takes this incredibly seriously. It has capped the interest rates that such companies are allowed to charge, and it is doing further work to ensure that we protect consumers from the practices of some of those companies.[Official Report, 6 February 2018, Vol. 635, c. 6MC.]
Now that the House has made the in-principle decision on what we are going to do about restoration and renewal, may I urge the Leader of the House to get together her ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Work and Pensions to put together a parliamentary skills strategy? We are going to need thousands of people working on this building, with high-tech engineering skills and craft trade skills that currently are not available in this country. This is an opportunity for every constituency in the land to have apprenticeships, with apprentices working here on the building.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his tenacity and his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, on succeeding in her amendment yesterday. I am delighted that the House voted to take action. As he rightly points out, there are huge opportunities, and in some cases those are already being fulfilled. For example, as he will know, the repairs to the cast-iron roofs are being carried out in the UK. There will be lots of opportunities for new apprenticeships, however, and I can absolutely assure him that as Leader of the House I will be taking every opportunity to create jobs for young people in the UK.
Can we have a statement on the unfair distribution of the tampon tax fund? With £15 million available in year 1, Scottish organisations were given just two weeks’ notice before the fund closed. In addition, Sport Relief invited 45 organisations to a funding meeting, but only three of those organisations delivered services in Scotland. With the year 3 criteria making it virtually impossible for Scottish organisations to apply, is it not time for this fund, while it exists, to be devolved?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. If he would like to email me with details, I shall certainly write to the Department on his behalf.
Almost three months ago, on 3 November, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the Preesall gas storage facility plans in my constituency. I am still waiting on a reply. Will the Leader of the House look into this on my behalf?
Yes, I will certainly do so.
Today, BT Openreach announced plans to roll out fibre broadband to 3 million homes by 2020. Far too often, however, new announcements are followed by slow action. This is an issue of growing urgency, and not just outside London; pockets of my constituency, including Cranford, suffer from very slow broadband speeds. I would like to thank Mohammad Chaudhry and residents of my constituency for raising this issue, which is having a huge impact on businesses and students and pupils wanting to study at home. Could we have an urgent debate in Government time on how to move from announcements to outcomes that will hugely impact on the prosperity, wellbeing and quality of life of all our constituents?
I certainly share the hon. Lady’s concern about pockets with no broadband. It is devastating for people who work or study from home. It is extremely difficult. I must say, however, that superfast broadband is now available to over 95% of UK homes and businesses, which is up from 45% coverage in 2010, so it is not a case of announcements with no action; there is real action behind it. There is more to do, however, and there is a plan. That said, I share her frustration. She may wish to seek an Adjournment debate to hear at first hand the prospects for her constituents.
Residents of the town of Llangollen in my constituency are concerned that there is no Department for Work and Pensions or Careers Wales presence in that town. This means that residents must travel some considerable distance. This is not just a problem for Llangollen; it is a problem for many of our rural communities and small towns across the UK. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate in which we might seek to persuade the Minister of our case?
The hon. Lady raises an important point for her constituents. In my constituency, there are often online opportunities, in libraries and town councils, to gain support from the DWP, but if she wants to write to me with her specific concerns, I can take it up with the Department, or she might want to seek an Adjournment debate.
On 19 January, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), told the House that the Government were launching local pilot schemes to combat holiday hunger among our poorest children. As proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), using a small fraction of the £520 million that the Treasury expects to raise from April from the sugary drinks levy would be an excellent use of this money in places such as my constituency. Given the obvious merits of getting pilots under way as quickly as possible for this summer’s long holidays, may we please have a statement from the Department on how to apply for these pilots?
Members from all parties will be delighted to hear of those pilot schemes. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) for his commitment to making progress in that policy area. I will certainly ask the Department for Education the hon. Lady’s question and see whether it can provide a further update to the House.
A case has arisen in Bristol of restaurant owners charging their waiters and waitresses to work by demanding that those staff pay a percentage of the total price of the orders they sell to customers, regardless of tips received. This employer’s tax on working is then being used to pay staff wages. Remarkably, I am told that this is legal. May we have a debate to decide whether that needs to change?
That sounds quite extraordinary. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take up that issue with the Home Office to find out whether it is actually legal. It seems to me to be extraordinary.
It is a great privilege for me to represent one of Britain’s great cities in this House, as many Members do, but I was alarmed to read in a recent report on the New Statesman’s CityMetric site that Britain’s great regional cities, such as Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Leeds, are lagging significantly behind our European peers in respect of productivity, which is in some cases half the rate of that of equivalent European cities such as Munich, Seville or Barcelona. Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on what the Government are doing to address the major problem of unbalanced economic growth and to ensure that our great regional cities are competing effectively with their European peers?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. He will no doubt be pleased that at the Budget we announced a £1.7 billion investment in the Transforming Cities fund, specifically to build transport infrastructure, which is so strongly linked to productivity. He may be aware that since 2010 the north-east and Scotland have both seen faster productivity growth than London. There is a long way to go, but it is clear that through initiatives such as the northern powerhouse, we are committed to ensuring that we see growth and a reduction in the imbalances between all regions of the United Kingdom.
UK Diplomacy in Europe
Foreign Affairs Committee
Select Committee statement
We now come to the Select Committee statement. The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and call Mr Tugendhat to respond to them in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. Front Benchers may take part in questioning.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this, my second opportunity to report back on the work that the House has charged the Foreign Affairs Committee to do. I am pleased that in this report the Committee has begun to tackle one of the most important questions facing us today: our bilateral relations following our departure from the European Union. The House will know that 1,000 years of history and, indeed, simple geography make clear the importance of these connections in our diplomatic outreach.
As part of the Government’s stated policy of pursuing a global agenda, the Committee believes that relations with European states are an important node in the network of our international f