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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

08 March 2018
Volume 637

    House of Commons

    Thursday 8 March 2018

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions

    Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Leaving the EU: Food Producers

  • 1. What steps his Department is taking to support food producers after the UK leaves the EU. [904248]

  • As you are aware, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in the United States on departmental business, representing UK interests. I know that he has already written to you regarding that, and he sends his apologies to the House.

    Last week, the Government launched a consultation setting out the policy framework for agriculture after the UK leaves the European Union. This Command Paper outlined a series of proposals to help farmers invest in their farms and become more profitable, to support new entrants coming into the industry and to support collaborative working in areas such as research and development.

  • There was nearly a state crisis this morning: the pedal came off my bicycle at Vauxhall bridge. I managed to get here just in time.

    I very much welcome the Command Paper. It talks much about having a greener and better environment for the future, but does the Minister agree that part of that agriculture paper must include the means of production—good-quality production—and our being able to increase, rather than decrease, the food that we grow in this country as we go forward with a new British agricultural policy?

  • I very much agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes. He and I both have a background in the farming industry, and we recognise the importance of this strategically vital industry for our country. He will know that we have a manifesto commitment to grow our agriculture industry and produce more food. Our consultation outlines a number of proposals, including improving both our productivity and research and development.

  • When will a decision be made on the reintroduction of a seasonal workers scheme, so that crops do not rot in the ground this summer?

  • The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is an issue on which the Home Office leads. We have regular discussions with Home Office colleagues on these matters and we feed in the feedback that we get from industry on this matter. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his speech to the National Farmers Union, we are looking closely at the idea of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, so that we can have the labour that we need after we leave the European Union.

  • Most of the food produced and processed in my Cleethorpes constituency is reliant on good supplies of fish. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance that the fishing industry will not be sold out in these negotiations as it was in the 1970s?

  • We have consistently been clear that when we leave the European Union, we leave the common fisheries policy. Under international law—the UN convention on the law of the sea—we then become an independent coastal state, and we will manage the fisheries resources in our exclusive economic zone and manage access to our own waters.

  • How will the Minister ensure that farm subsidies after Brexit will remain targeted at food production?

  • We have been clear that we will maintain the total spending that we have on agriculture and the farmed environment until 2022. We have also been clear—our paper sets this out—that there will be a transitional period as we move from an incoherent system of area payments, which we have now, to one that is focused on the delivery of public goods. We recognise that there will need to be a gradual transition from the old system to the new.

  • The EU’s common agricultural policy has been a disaster for the British dairy industry, because it has been designed in the interests of French farmers, not British farmers. How can we put that right after Brexit?

  • My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The common agricultural policy has all sorts of inconsistencies. Having a one-size-fits-all agricultural policy for the whole European Union makes no sense at all, and as we leave the European Union and take back control of these matters, we will have the freedom to design an agricultural policy that works for our own farmers.

  • May I say first how relieved I am that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) made it here today to ask this important question?

    When the Secretary of State looks at how best to support food producers, he should be aware that the figures of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that 64% of farmers earn less than £10,000 a year and that eight supermarkets control almost 95% of the food retail market. Recent figures also show that farmers receive less than 10% of the value of their produce that is sold in supermarkets. Can the Secretary of State—or the Minister today—tell me, please, what he is doing to tackle this clearly inequitable and unsustainable situation?

  • The hon. Lady makes an important point. If we want to move to a position in which farmers are no longer dependent on subsidies, it is important that we support farmers to come together collaboratively, to strengthen their position in the supply chain and ensure that they get a fairer price for the food that they produce. We recently outlined a series of proposals for a statutory code on dairy and a statutory approach to carcase classification for sheep, together with a range of other options.

  • Groceries Code Adjudicator

  • 2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on extending the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. [904249]

  • I have had regular dialogue with Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy regarding the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and we recently had a call for evidence on the matter. In our response on 16 February to that call for evidence, we set out a range of measures to improve fairness in the supply chain and strengthen the position of farmers and small producers.

  • I am the unpaid chair of the trustees of the Fairtrade organisation Traidcraft. There were high hopes across the Chamber of a stronger Groceries Code Adjudicator to protect suppliers from unfair practices, such as last-minute cancellations of orders and unexplained deductions from invoices. Ministers started consulting, I think, 18 months ago on possible changes. The farming Command Paper last month promised fairness in the supply chain, but hopes were dashed with the announcement last month that there would be no change to the adjudicator’s remit. Why are Ministers failing to take action?

  • I do not accept that there was no change. As I said a little earlier, we have announced a package of measures. It includes a £10 million collaboration fund to help farmers and small producers to come together, compulsory milk contracts legislation to protect dairy farmers, compulsory sheep carcase classification, a commitment to making supply chain data easier to access to improve transparency and market integrity and a commitment to reviewing whether more grocery retailers should come under the GCA’s remit.

  • I hear what the Minister says, but given that the vast majority of producers and consumers are very keen for the Groceries Code Adjudicator to be strengthened, why will he not do so? The Opposition are very happy to help if he says that he is prepared to strengthen the code.

  • When we looked at the evidence, we found that a lot of it concerned particularly vulnerable sectors, such as dairy and some of the other livestock sectors, which often end up becoming price takers because they do not have sufficient strength to deal with large processors. It was less an issue of the supermarkets and more an issue of the processors. We have decided that a better way to take this forward is to introduce other statutory codes that target the problem, rather than trying to change the GCA’s remit.

  • Bottle Deposit Return Scheme

  • 4. If he will implement a deposit return scheme for bottles. [904251]

  • 6. If he will implement a deposit return scheme for bottles. [904253]

  • 13. If he will implement a deposit return scheme for bottles. [904260]

  • Last autumn, an independent working group was set up, as part of the litter strategy for England, to hold a call for evidence on measures to reduce littering of drinks containers and promote recycling. That included seeking evidence on the costs, benefits and impacts of deposit return schemes. I have recently received the report, and I am considering the recommendations.

  • We know that in this country, 15 million plastic bottles a day are not recycled. We also know that a deposit return scheme can increase recycling rates, and I hope that the Government will introduce such a scheme after this report. May I urge them to introduce a scheme that applies to all drinks containers, of all sizes and from all sale locations, rather than a scheme that applies only to on-the-go containers from kiosks and vending machines?

  • Part of the evidence that was submitted reflects the fact that councils offer a comprehensive recycling service at the kerbside. I am delighted to say that Rotherham has finally agreed to start collecting plastic bottles. We need to consider the approach carefully. I think that there is an appetite for a DRS, but the schemes that we have seen in other parts of Europe are very different, and we need a scheme that works for this country and achieves the outcomes that we all seek.

  • Like many colleagues, I have pledged to “pass on plastic”. For too many of my constituents, doing so is impossible because their streets and their lives are inundated with a flood of plastic bottles, bags, food trays and crisp packets, turning their environment into a dumping ground. Will the Minister take action urgently and stop denying local authorities such as Newcastle City Council the powers and the resources to tackle the problem? Frankly, right now on the environment, this Government are rubbish.

  • I think that question was a complete waste of space. The hon. Lady refers to powers. The Government have given councils the powers that they have been asking for to tackle littering and waste crime, so I think she is being rather ungenerous about the progress that is being made. Plastic has a role in safe packaging, but it has become endemic. That is why we are considering it carefully in the resources and waste strategy, which we intend to publish later this year.

  • We have litter-picking groups across my constituency, and we see loads of areas where plastic bottles and glass bottles are dumped. Will the Minister commit now to introducing a deposit return scheme for plastic and all other containers, so that we can avoid this plague of plastic?

  • Let us be clear: the people who drop litter are litter louts. I reiterate my phrase, “Don’t be a tosser!” because it does not help society to drop litter anywhere and everywhere. Let us get real about how we need to tackle that. I commend the work that Keep Britain Tidy does in encouraging litter collections. However, the hon. Lady is right: we need to sort this issue out in the first place. That is why DRS is being considered very carefully as part of our resources waste strategy.

  • On International Women’s Day, I would like to be a bit more consensual and ask the Minister to applaud the campaign by our female colleagues to give up plastics for Lent and the Church of England’s initiative on practical suggestions for something that we can do on every one of the 40 days. Has the Minister given up something plastic for Lent? Will she join us in writing to manufacturers for whom there is no alternative to plastic to encourage them to find a sustainable solution?

  • Let us hear the details.

  • Of course a Church Commissioner would call upon God and the Church of England to inspire us. I am also one of the people who has taken the pledge to try to give up something plastic for Lent. I pledged to carry a water bottle around in my handbag—I am not going to produce a prop, Mr Speaker—and I have had to sacrifice my Marmite in the Tea Room because it is only sold in plastic sachets. We are all looking forward to the proposals from Parliament, because this does matter. The campaigns on passing on plastic and giving up plastic for Lent are partly about behavioural change among consumers. I believe that companies are starting to respond and we are starting to see changes, but the more consumers demand this, the quicker action will happen in the marketplace. I assure the House that this Government will take action.

  • A deposit return scheme is not just about raising recycling rates; it is also about educating and raising awareness among the public about the need to be responsible. In that vein, will the Minister join me in praising the many towns across Cornwall—Newquay, Falmouth, Penzance, Bude, and many others—that have declared their aims to become single-use plastic free? Does she agree that Cornwall is leading the way in raising awareness of this issue?

  • As ever, my hon. Friend is passionate about this cause; I know that he has been championing it. Of course I applaud those many towns and communities in Cornwall for wanting to do the right thing.

  • Is my hon. Friend aware that in Ashbourne over the past four days, tens of thousands of plastic bottles of water have been handed out by Severn Trent because of its failure to reconnect the water supply? At the moment, the compensation level is £30 a day, which is woefully inadequate. Will she look at the specific case surrounding Ashbourne?

  • As I announced to the House the other day, I have asked Ofwat to undertake a review. I have also encouraged water companies to improve the compensation that they could discretionally offer. I expect that Severn Trent is already responding to the call from my right hon. Friend.

  • The plastic that we see on our beaches and at our roadsides is what brings this to people’s attention, but in fact the plastic particles that we do not see should be of the greatest concern. A recent BBC report found that in 1 litre of melted Arctic sea ice there were 234 plastic particles. Surely, that should be why we treat this urgently. If the Minister is consulting on this, it should be about how we do it, not if.

  • This Government have taken strong action on banning microplastics from certain products. We are still waiting for the other nations, but they have committed to making sure that that happens by June as well. On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the Arctic ice, this is indeed a global matter. That is why we work hard with other nations through different forums, whether the OSPAR Commission on the convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic, the G7, other agencies such as the United Nations, or of course our Commonwealth countries, which will be visiting the UK next month for the summit.

  • Leaving the EU: Policy Development

  • 5. If he will develop agricultural policy and environmental standards for the period after the UK leaves the EU in parallel with trade negotiations with the EU. [904252]

  • Our approach to future environment policy was set out in our recently published 25-year environment plan; our approach to future agriculture policy was published in our consultation last week; and our approach to trade negotiations with the EU was outlined in a speech by the Prime Minister last week. All these policies are being developed at the same time.

  • I thank the Minister for that answer, but does he agree that there should be a common framework for environmental standards across the whole United Kingdom after Brexit?

  • As the hon. Lady will be aware, through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we are initially bringing across all existing EU legislation as it pertains to the environment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also outlined plans for a new environmental body, and we are in discussion with the devolved Administrations about their involvement and a UK framework in these matters.

  • Park keeper or food producer— whatever the future for farming is going to be, does my hon. Friend agree that it must be possible to earn a living out of farming?

  • I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has a lot of experience in these matters and an understanding of the industry. He is absolutely right. There will be parts of the country where some farmers choose to do more by way of delivering environmental outcomes, and in other parts they may focus more on food production. Either way, we want a vibrant, profitable farming industry across our country.

  • In the Prime Minister’s speech last Friday, she said that there would be no compromise on environmental standards and animal welfare standards, which was welcome. What guarantees can the Minister give to Welsh and UK farm producers that they will not be disadvantaged by lower-standard food entering the UK market following post-Brexit trade deals?

  • Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have always been consistently clear that we will not lower our high animal welfare standards and high food standards in this country in pursuit of a trade deal.

  • Marine Environment

  • 7. What steps the Government are taking to improve the marine environment. [904254]

  • 9. What steps the Government are taking to improve the marine environment. [904256]

  • 18. What steps the Government are taking to improve the marine environment. [904265]

  • Our seas and oceans are an integral part of our history, economy and way of life, and the “Blue Planet” series drew attention to how they are under threat. The UK marine strategy, which was reinforced in the 25-year environment plan, shows what we are doing to reduce harmful pressures and manage activities that have an impact on the marine environment.

  • Our fishermen are strong custodians of the marine environment, and fishing communities in Moray such as Buckie, Burghead and Lossiemouth—to name but a few—are looking forward to this Government taking us out of the disastrous common fisheries policy. Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union will provide fishermen in Moray, Scotland and the UK with a sea of opportunity, part of which will be protecting the marine environment to ensure that it supports the fishing industry for many years to come?

  • As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reinforced in the Mansion House speech, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy next year when we leave the European Union, and that gives us an opportunity as an independent coastal state to manage sustainably the fisheries that we have.

  • The Final Straw Solent is a new community group in my constituency whose objective is to reduce plastic use and clean up our local coastlines. Will the Minister join me in congratulating that group on its work and encourage more community groups like it to continue protecting and improving our marine environment?

  • I commend the organisers of the Final Straw Solent. It matters that we have local action. Of course, we want to have wider action to stop people dropping their litter in the first place. On International Women’s Day, we should also look across the other side of the Solent to Dame Ellen MacArthur, who is best known for her wonderful sailing record but should also be known as a true champion for the environment. Through her foundation, she is doing a lot of work to make sure we reduce our use of plastics and improve the circular economy.

  • Not many people know this, but we have some of the most spectacular cold-water coral reefs in the world in these fair islands. They are a protected feature of the Canyons marine conservation zone, and the Scottish Government are also protecting coral in some of their marine protected areas. We have re-engaged with the international coral reef initiative and will seek ways to promote its importance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next month.

  • May I beg the Minister not to be too parochial? This is a global challenge for all our lives. We have a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting coming up in London. Is it not about time that she and her boss went there to make common cause across the 52 nations to do something on a global scale that is meaningful?

  • There are now 53 Commonwealth nations since the Gambia rejoined last month. We are working together with other Commonwealth nations through the Commonwealth Secretariat to have an ambitious blue charter that will focus on the challenges the hon. Gentleman sets out.

  • My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is right that the threats to our oceans are international, not national. It is good to take action on plastics locally, but plastics in the sea, the acidification threatening coral reefs and many other things call for international action. What leadership will this Government give at that level?

  • I would like to think that the UK is the international leader on these issues. As I said to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), this is an international matter: all this literally moves around the world. I have recently been to the United States and Canada, and we are working on this with Canada, which has the G7 presidency this year. We are leading the way on dealing with ocean acidification, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very much at the top of the agenda for this Government.

  • At the last EFRA questions on 25 January, I said to the Secretary of State:

    “the question for fishing, given all the tonnes he will take from the European Union, is this: where is it going, and when?”

    The Secretary of State answered:

    “On to the plates of people from the Western Isles to the south-west of England, who can enjoy the fantastic produce that our fishermen catch every day.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 396.]

    I said, “Good dodge”, and he replied, “Thank you.” Today, I wonder whether we can get an answer to the question with no dodge. Given all the tonnes the UK Government tell fishermen they will take from the European Union, where is it going, and when?

  • The Government are, of course, still seeking a trade deal, but the hon. Gentleman should also be aware of the fact that countries such as Norway and Iceland, which are independent states, have control of their waters and grant access to them. There are annual negotiations for shared stocks, and we will continue to be part of those negotiations.

  • Leaving the EU: Economic Viability of Farming

  • 8. What steps he is taking to support the economic viability of farming after the UK leaves the EU. [904255]

  • Leaving the European Union provides the UK with an opportunity to improve the profitability of the agriculture sector. In our consultation document, we set out an approach to support that objective, and we are seeking the views of the industry on a range of measures to improve the competiveness of the farming sector.

    Since it is International Women’s Day, may I take this opportunity to congratulate Minette Batters, who has recently become the first ever woman president of the National Farmers Union?

  • I join the Minister in that sentiment.

    Brexit is by far the greatest threat to Scottish farming. Given that Scotland has proportionately higher rates of common agricultural policy funding than elsewhere and that the types of farming that can take place in Scotland are very specific, will the Minister commit here and now to making sure that no subsidies to Scotland are cut after Brexit?

  • The hon. Lady will be aware of our intention that agricultural policy and the design of individual schemes will be very much a matter for the devolved Administrations. I look forward to seeing some of the proposals and suggestions that may come from the Scottish Government. We have offered to share our proposals with them so that they can learn from some of our analysis.

  • I am proud that Vale of Evesham asparagus has been granted protected geographical indication status by the EU, which will help to boost its brand recognition and sales. Will PGI status still be recognised post Brexit?

  • My hon. Friend makes an important point. Vale of Evesham asparagus obviously has a fantastic reputation across our country and, indeed, around the world. On protected food names, our intention is that the existing legislation will come across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Third countries can already seek designations for the EU market, and the designations we already have in the UK will be protected through our domestic legislation.

  • The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) is surprisingly shy and self-effacing this morning. We are unlikely to reach Question 12, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to favour the House with his thoughts on this question, which is not dissimilar to his own, he is welcome to do so.

  • 12. Thank you, Mr Speaker. One way to make small farms viable is to add value to their product. I was brought up on a small dairy farm, and my brother is now a successful cheesemaker—it is rather good cheese. Will the Minister undertake to instruct his officials to encourage small farms to go down this route and, as and when best practice is developed, will it be shared with the Scottish Government, because in my case this is, of course, a devolved matter? [904259]

  • The House will be most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as will the hon. Gentleman’s brother.

  • We recognise the importance of our small family farms, and we also recognise that some of them may face more challenges in a transition from the old system to the future one. In our paper, we set out detailed proposals on a gradual transition to give them time to prepare, and we also set out a number of measures to help to support productivity, add value and get a fairer price for their products. We would of course be more than happy to share our proposals with the Scottish Government.

  • 15. Shropshire farmers are pleased with some of the mood music coming from the Government about the financial support that they will get in a post-Brexit world. Will the Minister or one of his senior officials commit to come to the Shropshire show this year and continue that dialogue with our Shropshire farmers? [904262]

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that invitation, and either I or another Minister would be delighted to attend the Shropshire show, which will be part of this year’s agricultural show programme. It will be an important opportunity for us to engage with the industry.

  • Animal Welfare

  • 10. What steps he is taking to improve animal welfare on farms. [904257]

  • We are firmly committed to maintaining and improving our world-leading animal welfare standards. Our consultation paper sets out the options we are considering as we leave the EU, such as pilot schemes that offer payments to farmers delivering higher welfare outcomes. We are also producing improved animal welfare codes for meat chickens, laying hens, and pigs.

  • I thank the Minister for that answer. There are currently circumstances in which someone who has been charged with serious animal welfare offences is able to acquire new livestock, under the guise of it belonging to a partner, in the run-up to their trial. That can result in serious cases of neglect and cruelty, and there has been such a case in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that anybody charged with the most serious type of animal welfare offences should not be allowed to acquire new livestock in the run-up to their trial? Will he meet me and the leader of South Gloucestershire Council to discuss that matter?

  • The Animal Welfare Act 2006 gives courts the power to impose a disqualification order on anyone found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. That can disqualify someone not only from owning or keeping animals but, crucially, from having any influence over the way in which an animal is kept. If someone is suspected of breaching the terms of a disqualification order, the matter should be reported to the relevant authorities. My hon. Friend will understand that there is a difference if someone has been charged but not yet prosecuted, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

  • The Minister will be aware of long-standing public health concerns about the routine overuse of antibiotics on UK farms, yet we now hear that such use is five times higher on American farms, particularly for US beef production. What conversations is he having with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that opening the markets to US beef does not happen, and that we do not have a public health crisis in this country?

  • The hon. Lady makes an important point. We have made good progress in the UK on reducing our use of antibiotics in agriculture. There have been notable successes in the poultry industry, and the pig sector is also making improvements. In our future agricultural policy, we want to support approaches to livestock husbandry that will enable us to reduce the use of antibiotics further and, as I said earlier, we will not compromise our food and animal welfare standards in pursuit of any trade deal.

  • Game Sales

  • 11. What steps his Department is taking to support the sale of game in shops and restaurants. [904258]

  • Game is an important part of our food heritage, and it is a draw on menus across the UK and served in many establishments. Exports of game meat were worth £9 million in 2016 and £7 million in 2017. We have no specific plans to promote UK game meat, but we continue to raise the profile and reputation of UK food and drink overseas through the Food is GREAT campaign.

  • The Minister will be aware that the game sector is worth £114 million to the industry back home. I suspect he will also be aware that the European market, in particular in France, has decreased. Is he prepared to consider introducing and promoting game in the far east, especially in China, because that market is just crying out for game for people’s plates?

  • I regularly take part in trade delegations with the UK Government, and a couple of years ago I attended the Anuga food conference in Cologne, where there was a producer and exporter of UK game meat. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and consider his proposals in this area.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904266]

  • Since the last DEFRA questions, the Department has continued to work on plans for our departure from the European Union and we have published our Command Paper on future agricultural policy. We have laid legislation to introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, taking forward our agenda to enhance animal welfare. Parliament has also recently debated and passed legislation to strengthen laws on combating litter.

  • Remainers and leavers agree that one of the very worst aspects our EU membership is the common fisheries policy. Can the Minister confirm that we are leaving it on 29 March next year, that the British fishing industry can be relaunched as a result, and that he will not trade away our newly re-won sovereignty over fishing in the interests of a wider trade deal?

  • We have always been clear that when we leave the European Union, we leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state under international law. There are, of course, always annual negotiations—even for countries outside the EU—to agree an approach on the management of shared stocks, and we envisage that such meetings will continue. I can confirm that the UK Government’s view is that there is a trade discussion to take place. We want a free trade agreement and a fisheries discussion to take place, and we want to take back control of our waters.

  • Last week’s freezing temperatures caused chaos to water supplies this week. Households in London were among those hardest hit, with customers widely reporting a systemic failure by Thames Water to comply with its legal obligation to provide 10 litres of water per person for every day that a customer is disconnected. Will the Minister confirm that that was the case and, if so, when the Department was notified, as is the requirement? What actions does she intend to take against companies that fail to meet that obligation?

  • As I said in my recent statement to the House, I have ordered Ofwat to undertake a review of what has been happening. I have asked for a report to be made available—there might be an interim one by the end of this month—and I will be able to update the hon. Lady after that.

  • I hope that we can ensure that water is getting to customers who are still without connected water supply this week. Given that executives at the top nine water and sewage companies in England earned a combined total of nearly £23 million in 2017 and those companies have paid out £18.1 billion in dividends since 2006, but that Ofwat has already said that taking action on pay, dividends and tax structures is not in its current thinking, what is the Government’s plan to rebalance executive pay with investment in infrastructure and resilience and to get a grip on our water companies if Ofwat has said it does not intend to do so?

  • As we set out in our strategic policy statement to Ofwat, there is an expectation of the increased investment that needs to be made by the industry, and the price review is under way. Water companies will be coming out with their consultation, but when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke to the water industry at Water UK a few weeks ago, he read it the riot act. He has said that he will give Ofwat whatever powers it needs so that the water companies will up their game.

  • T5. In my constituency, plastic debris is often washed up on the town’s beach, harming the local ecosystem and damaging tourism. Does my hon. Friend agree that reducing plastic waste is essential for the regeneration of Britain’s seaside towns? [904270]

  • Absolutely. As a child I lived in Formby, so I visited Southport many times. My hon. Friend is right that plastic does not belong on the beach or in the sea. I commend the work that has been done, but he will be aware of our ongoing measures to reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean and, therefore, being left on our beaches.

  • T2. The Committee on Toxicity is reviewing the most recent research on folic acid. If it advises the Government that the maximum recommended intake should be increased or abolished, will the Minister commit to following the scientific evidence, and successful practice in other countries, by amending bread and flour regulations to require the fortification of flour with folic acid, which reduces neural tube defects? [904267]

  • The hon. Lady will be aware that this issue is shared between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The former leads on folic acid and we lead on labelling issues. It is the case that there is a complexity in EU law. EU regulations now require that all products that have flour must include labelling. That creates burdensome problems for the industry, but if there is a recommendation, we will look at it sensibly. Once we leave the EU, we will have an opportunity to adopt a slightly different approach.

  • T6. What has the Minister done to stop our songbirds from being trapped and eaten in Cyprus? [904271]

  • My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We are part of an international convention on migratory species. Illegal trapping in Cyprus has been a long-running sore. I commend the Ministry of Defence, police and the armed forces at the sovereign base in Cyprus for working so hard to tackle this issue. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shown that there has been a 70% fall in the amount of illegal poaching.

  • I am so glad that the right hon. Gentleman does not represent a migratory species, and I doubt that proposition would be the subject of a Division of the House.

  • T3. In the light of the Secretary of State’s warning to water companies to address public concerns on prices, is he aware of the nine water companies that are committed to the Keep Me Posted campaign to ensure that consumers have the right to choose paper bills and statements? [904268]

  • Customers can choose to keep paper bills. Water companies, like many other companies, tend to offer a discount if people choose to switch to electronic communication, but I am sure that customers can take this matter up directly through the Consumer Council for Water if it is proving to be a problem.

  • T7. Earlier this week, thousands of my constituents had their water shut off by Southern Water due to poor winter preparedness. What discussions has the Department had with the water industry and Ofwat, the regulator, to ensure that this does not happen in future winters? [904272]

  • Officials have been in regular touch with the water companies, and on Tuesday, I convened a meeting of water company chief executives, Ofwat and Water UK. As I announced to the House, I have asked Ofwat to undertake a review to look into the practices that happened.

  • T4. The Command Paper includes the line:“We will adopt a trade approach which promotes… lower prices for consumers”,which I find rather worrying. Is it not the case that food prices are already historically low? Lower prices will not do anything for British farmers. We need good-quality, affordable and healthy food, not a race to the bottom to get ever cheaper food. [904269]

  • The point that we are making is that in the long term, there may be opportunities in certain sectors, particularly for food that we are unable to produce in this country, to have lower prices for certain products. However, the hon. Lady makes an important point. Generally, we have low and stable food prices in this country, and countries that are fully dependent on importing all their food tend to have higher prices and less choice.

  • T8. Given the intention to use public money to promote public good, does my hon. Friend agree that as well as rewarding farmers for looking after the environment, we should support growers who contribute to public health by growing healthy fruit and vegetables? [904273]

  • My hon. Friend makes a very important point—as a former fruit and vegetable grower, I should perhaps declare an interest—and she is absolutely right. We believe that our future policy, in so far as it supports innovation, will be open to the horticulture sector so that it can invest in its future, and we also talk about the importance of promoting nutritious food.

  • The Government said in court that they considered it sufficient to take

    “a pragmatic, less formal approach”

    to areas of poor air quality. Portsmouth has consistently breached World Health Organisation guidelines, with 95 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution. Does the Minister therefore consider it appropriate to take an informal approach to preventing deaths and protecting the health of my constituents?

  • I think that the hon. Gentleman is selectively quoting from the judgment. However, this Government take air quality very seriously. Portsmouth is expected to be compliant within the next two to three years. The Government have been using the benchmark of a charging clean air zone, which would take at least four years to come into place. The hon. Gentleman might well be shaking his head, but he needs to be working with his council on what it is doing to improve local roads and what it is working on regarding public health. I am sure that he will work alongside Councillor Donna Jones, who is making great efforts to improve air quality.

  • The EU Commission’s position on fisheries has been widely reported in the last 24 hours. It states that

    “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained”.

    It also seems to suggest that any future trade deal will be heavily dependent on EU fishermen maintaining the current unfair access to British waters. Agreeing to this position is clearly unacceptable to fishing communities around the UK. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government consider the EU’s position to be just as unacceptable?

  • Yes. I simply say to my hon. Friend that this is an EU position. It currently benefits considerably from access to UK waters. At the moment, the UK fleet accesses around 100,000 tonnes of fish in EU waters, but the EU accesses 700,000 tonnes of fish in UK waters, so it would say that, wouldn’t it? That is not a position that the UK Government share.

  • I draw the Minister’s attention to the very serious oil spill stretching from Pymmes brook in my constituency right down the River Lea to the Olympic Park. This has happened for the second time in two years. Is it not time for the Environment Agency, the Canal & River Trust, the local authorities and Thames Water to get together, once they have cleaned up the spill, to see what they can do to prevent such spills?

  • I have already replied to the right hon. Gentleman about this point through answers to written questions. The Environment Agency has traced the waste oil to a potential polluter, but I cannot give further details due to the ongoing investigation. I assure him that the Environment Agency carries out pollution prevention visits at industrial premises along that area and, of course, we are still working to clean it up.

  • Last week’s Brexit paper referred to the availability of food, but made zero reference to the scandal that one in 12 British adults had gone a whole day without it. Why do the Government not care about people going hungry?

  • We do care about people going hungry. We have a number of initiatives to support food banks and ensure that food is redistributed. We are also reforming and improving the benefits system to help people back into work, which is obviously the best option.

  • The Minister will be aware of the concern expressed by Northern Ireland farmers and other food producers about cross-border trade. Does the Minister agree that we need an arrangement that will accommodate everyone?

  • I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. I met him and a number of others yesterday to discuss the particular challenges of the Northern Ireland border, and I can reassure him that the Government are fully apprised of that concern.

  • Public Accounts Commission

    The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—

    National Audit Office: Single-use Plastics

  • 1. To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, what steps the National Audit Office is taking to reduce the use of single-use plastics in that organisation. [904238]

  • The National Audit Office takes environmental commitments very seriously. Since 2011 it has operated an environmental management scheme certified by the International Standards Organisation, which includes setting challenging targets to reduce or eliminate waste in a number of areas. The NAO has already taken several steps to minimise the use of single-use plastics. For example, it does not use single-use plastic bottles or water cups, and encourages the use of reusable coffee cups in its staff café by offering a discount on the cost of hot drinks.

  • Will my hon. Friend encourage the NAO to be an exemplar for all public bodies by eliminating the use of single-use plastics?

  • My hon. Friend is an exemplar of an assiduous Member of Parliament, and I will certainly encourage the NAO to be an exemplar as well. Let me say in passing that the NAO’s catering team has made a deal with one of its main suppliers to collect and reuse packaging from catering deliveries. Cardboard and single-use plastics have been replaced by reusable plastic crates. Isn’t that marvellous?

  • Church Commissioners

    The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

    Church Investors Group

  • 3. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what proposals the Church Commissioners have as part of the Church Investors Group for holding businesses to account on executive pay and climate change measures. [904240]

  • The Church Investors Group manages a total fund of £17 billion, approximately £8 billion of which represents the Church Commissioners’ assets. The commissioners have discharged their stewardship responsibilities for a long time by voting on issues including executive remuneration and climate change, and, most recently, adding to the criteria gender diversity on boards, the disclosure of company pay ratios, and the payment of at least the living wage to staff.

  • Will the right hon. Lady set out in a little more detail the approach that the Church Commissioners are taking to ensure that businesses take the issue of climate change very seriously?

  • That is one of the stewardship responsibilities, and commissioners will vote against chairs of companies if they are assessed as not having made sufficient progress in addressing climate change. I am pleased to be able to share the good news that when a resolution was filed by the Church Commissioners and the New York State Comptroller asking Exxon to report on how its business model would help to tackle climate change, 62.3% of shareholders voted in favour of it despite opposition from the board.

  • Wi-Fi and Broadband

  • 4. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what plans the Church of England has to make its buildings available for broadcasting (a) wi-fi and (b) broadband signal to improve connectivity in rural areas. [904241]

  • 5. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what plans the Church of England has to make its buildings available for broadcasting (a) wi-fi and (b) broadband signal to improve connectivity in rural areas; and if she will make a statement. [904243]

  • The Church of England recently signed an accord with the Government to enable churches to improve broadband and mobile connectivity, particularly in rural areas. It sets out how the Church can collaborate with providers to help to achieve that.

  • The tower of St Peter in Drayton, for example, could really help with connectivity in an area that suffers from a lack of connectivity. Could my right hon. Friend give my constituents some guidance as to how best to find their way through the planning system, to help them make an application in relation to the church?

  • My hon. Friend’s constituency has seen a significant improvement in broadband coverage, which is currently at 95.5%—up from 19% in 2010. However, there are undoubtedly not spots, and I encourage her to get churches to contact Church House to find out how they can avail themselves of this new opportunity. In this accord, the Church has reached agreement with broadband providers to provide a standard contract to make that easy. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord Gardiner, for this initiative on working together to get our rural and urban mobile and broadband not spots covered.

  • I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her part in securing the accord. On International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to mention Lady St Mary church in Wareham, in my constituency, which is already installing telecommunications equipment in its—or her, I should say—tower. What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage others to follow where Wareham and Dorset are leading?

  • My hon. Friend is doing a good job of demonstrating to the whole House the difference it can make when we, as Members of Parliament, make our constituents in not spots aware of this new agreement. If Members have churches with tall towers or spires, these can be used to bounce the broadband signal into existing not spots. The example, on International Women’s Day, of the church he refers to gives encouragement to all. I know that the Isle of Purbeck suffers from poorer coverage, and I would encourage him to get the churches in his constituency to apply too.

  • I hear what the right hon. Lady says, but will she include in the work that the Church is doing churches that have been closed? They are often in the most rural and isolated areas, and their status is sometimes unclear. This could be a very important way in which we could make use of these buildings.

  • The Church of England has put its entire assets at the disposal of the Government to help crack the problem of the not spots—that includes its churches, its schools and its land, where necessary. For example, we can beam a signal from a church spire to the brow of a hill—the land may belong to the Church—down into the next village, which does not have a signal, and thereby get coverage. Those assets are all bound up in this accord.

  • I thank the right hon. Lady for her responses. It is really good news that the Church of England is making its buildings available for this purpose. However, does she agree that it is equally important that historical artefacts, which can be displayed tremendously in small parishes in rural communities that have dedicated Royal British Legion facilities, could also be displayed in buildings owned by the Church of England across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

  • This new accord on wi-fi and mobile coverage will make the churches a hot spot, not a not spot, in communities. That may well bring in people who want to have the benefit of a good signal and, by the way, to discover the wonderful heritage and artefacts that the churches offer. I should add that although this accord has been signed with the Church of England, the Government want to offer the same opportunity to other denominations, because the aim is universal coverage.

  • Electoral Commission Committee

    The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

    Political Parties: Compliance

  • 6. To ask the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, what estimate the Electoral Commission has made of its annual spending on compliance measures for political parties. [904244]

  • The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to monitor the political finance rules and take all reasonable steps to secure compliance with them. The amount of money spent on compliance measures fluctuates and tends to intensify around electoral events. The full range of this activity includes creating comprehensive guidance for parties, campaigners and candidates; engaging with parties directly; monitoring campaign activity; checking and publishing financial returns from parties; and the enforcement of the rules. In the 2017-18 financial year, the commission’s budget for its political finance and regulation directorate is £2.66 million.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that answer. Will she make the point to the Electoral Commission on our behalf that it is all very well to put these substantial extra compliance costs on to the political parties, but the commission is fully funded by the taxpayer, while political parties have to raise their own finances?

  • I am sure that officials from the Electoral Commission will have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. The commission provides year-round advice and regularly engages with political parties, as he doubtless knows from his many meetings with the commission in his previous role as Chairman of his party. I am sure that it would welcome the opportunity to discuss any such suggestions with him again.

  • Following the disgraceful decision by the Government yesterday to keep secret the source of the £425,000 donation to the leave campaign via the Democratic Unionist party, meaning that the public have no idea where that money came from, what more can my hon. Friend and the Electoral Commission do to ensure that we have full transparency in our electoral and democratic system?

  • The commission welcomes the existing order, which will for the first time provide information about donations and loans received by parties in Northern Ireland. However, the commission also wants to see transparency in donations going back to 2014, as Parliament envisaged, and it would support the Government in laying a further order to provide for full transparency going back to 2014.

  • Charities and academics are warning the Government that the trials for compulsory voter ID this May could risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people. How will the Electoral Commission monitor these pilots, which are a disproportionate response to the scale of electoral fraud?

  • My hon. Friend makes an important point on the pilots that the UK Government are carrying out in the forthcoming elections. No one wants to see voters turned away from polling stations, but the extent to which voters in pilot areas are unable to vote on 3 May, and why that is the case, will be key elements of the commission’s statutory evaluation of the pilot schemes. I am sure that the commission will want to hear directly from anyone who finds themselves affected as a result.

  • Church Commissioners

    The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

    Environmental Taxation Funding

  • 7. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps are being taken to encourage churches and other religious institutions to apply for funding from environmental taxation. [904245]

  • The national Church institutions provide advice to churches and cathedrals on what funding is available. The Church Buildings Council is also able to advise parishes on a number of other funds that are available besides the landfill communities fund, which is the principal source, such as the new plastic bag tax fund.

  • Many of the churches and other religious buildings that I am aware of are relatively ignorant about the large amount of money from landfill tax that Entrust controls. If the Churches and religious institutions are engaged in broader community activities, they will qualify for such funds. Could that be made more widely known?

  • The fact that the hon. Gentleman has made us aware of that fact in the House, and that it will be recorded in Hansard, is extremely helpful. The landfill communities fund has spent £106 million on the restoration of places of worship since it was created, but the relatively new plastic bags tax fund is another source of funds for places of worship in our constituencies and goes beyond the 10-mile radius from a landfill site, which is a constraint on the landfill fund.

  • We have a large number of church buildings in Scotland, and the burden of maintaining them is onerous for the Churches that own them. Will those Churches be able to apply for similar funding north of the border?

  • I am not responsible for the Church in Scotland. The Church Estates Commissioner is responsible only for the Church of England, but I am perfectly prepared to make inquiries on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf with the Church of Scotland.

  • Homeless People

  • 8. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to support homeless people. [904247]

  • The Church of England has many local parish-based initiatives to support the homeless. The Church also partners with organisations nationally, including Crisis. I think it will be of interest to Members to know that 3,000 people took shelter in churches last winter. That was 53% up on the year before, and I strongly suspect that that number will increase, given the severity of the winter that we have just experienced.

  • I quote:

    “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me”.

    We cannot wait until 2027 to see homelessness eliminated, and I would like to know how the Church of England will use its estate more to ensure that people have shelter in the coming year.

  • The hon. Lady reads that verse, which always challenges me. One day, when I meet my maker and he asks me, “When I was homeless, did you shelter me?” I have to be able to answer, and the best answer that I can give relates to the remarkable growing initiative within the Church for night shelters. During the recent cold snap, churches were often mentioned in the news as places where homeless people could shelter from the conditions, and I pay tribute to my former headmistress, who helped to set up a night shelter at Holy Trinity, Bishop’s Stortford. I went to see for myself how the church had been adapted, with a toilet and shower to make the accommodation suitable, and how volunteers prepared hot meals and were trained to look after the homeless people who came to take shelter.

  • Mental Health Services: Children and Young People

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the Care Quality Commission’s review of children and young people’s mental health services.

  • Not enough scripture is quoted in this House, but I cannot match what was just said. However, I can tell the House that the Care Quality Commission published its “Are we listening? Review of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services” report this morning, and, yes, we are listening. It was the second piece of work commissioned by the Prime Minister in January 2017 to look at this area of services, and the findings include examples of good or innovative practice and of dedicated people—we thank every one of them—working in every part of the system and a number of areas with strong practice ensuring that patients and families are involved in planning care, but there are also concerns around the join-up between children’s services. We thank the CQC and Dr Paul Lelliott for their work.

    The Government have already committed to making available an additional £1.4 billion to improve children and young people’s mental health services to deliver on the commitments in “Future in mind” and NHS England’s five year forward view for mental health, and the CQC welcomes that progress in its report. I know that the hon. Lady and others have worries about this, but spend is reaching the front line. By 2020-21, we have committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year will have access to high-quality NHS mental healthcare when they need it. However, there is so much more to do. Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director for NHS England, said in response to the report:

    “CAMHS services are now improving, but from a starting point of historic underfunding and legacy understaffing, relative to rapidly growing need”

    We see those things across the service.

    In December, the Department of Health, jointly with the Department for Education, published “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”. That Green Paper responds to a number of the problems raised by the CQC in this report, and sets out a range of proposals to strengthen how schools and specialist NHS mental health services work together and to reduce the amount of time that children and young people have to wait to access specialist help. The proposals are backed by an additional £300 million of funding. We have carried out extensive face-to-face consultation on the Green Paper proposals and have received a high volume of responses to our online consultation, and we thank everyone for that. We will respond to this CQC review, alongside the Green Paper consultation, in the summer.

    The report calls for the Secretary of State to use the inter-ministerial group on mental health to guarantee greater collaboration across Departments in prioritising mental health. We agree, and that recommendation is already in hand. The IMG has already contributed to the development of the Green Paper and will continue to provide leadership on the issues that the report raises. The CQC also recommends that everyone who works, volunteers or cares for children and young people is trained in mental health awareness. We are already rolling out mental health first aid training to every secondary school and have committed to rolling out mental health awareness training to all primary schools by 2022. The Government and Ministers remain wholly committed to making mental health everyone’s business and building good mental health for our children and young people.

  • The report is the latest piece of recent evidence revealing systematic failures in our mental health services. It follows similar reports of the past few weeks that call into question the Government’s claims to have made mental health a priority equal to physical health. In this report, we see evidence of services actively putting up barriers to treatment, resulting in children and young people having to reach crisis point before being able to get access to the right treatment. Children are suffering because of those high eligibility thresholds. We know that 50% of mental health problems develop before the age of 14 and that 75% develop before the age of 18. Does the Minister recognise that imposing high eligibility thresholds means that children and young people are treated only when their condition becomes more serious? These high thresholds are even prompting GPs to tell children to pretend that their mental health is worse than it is. Will the Minister agree to look into referral criteria as a matter of urgency, so that children and young people get the proper treatment at the right time?

    The report links these excessively high eligibility thresholds and reductions in access with funding reductions and not enough capacity for services to respond to local needs, so, whatever the Minister says, clearly not enough money is reaching the frontline. Can the Minister tell us how he plans to address that? The report, like the CQC’s recent report on rehabilitation services, raises concerns about out-of-area placements, which we know are a barrier to recovery. Will he tell the House what action is being taken to increase the number of in-patient beds available locally?

    Finally, what will the Minister do to address the clear problems, highlighted in this report and others, associated with the rigid transition at age 18 from child and adolescent to adult mental health services, which is also a barrier to accessing care?

  • The hon. Lady rightly raises the issue of spend reaching the frontline; I said in my opening remarks that it is doing so, and she asked what evidence there was of that. Last year, there was a 20% increase in clinical commissioning group spend on children and young people’s mental health, rising from £516 million in 2015-16 to £619 million in 2016-17.

    On the broader issues raised in the hon. Lady’s response, I said that we have made up to £1.4 billion available over five years to support transformation of these services, and there is the additional £300 million that I mentioned. I want to touch on waiting times, referral routes and workforce. We are the first Government to introduce waiting time standards, and that is relevant to children and young people’s mental health, too. We are meeting, or on track to meet, both targets. We will pilot a four-week waiting time for specialist children and young people’s NHS mental health services, as was outlined in the recent Green Paper. As I say, we are considering responses to that.

    On referral routes, our Green Paper proposes senior designated leads and mental health support teams—a new workforce—based on the findings of the Department for Education’s schools link pilot. They aim to improve the join-up with specialist services and to result in more appropriate referrals.

  • The hon. Lady shakes her head; I can only tell her the facts. Health Education England’s workforce plan recognises new ways of working as a cornerstone of delivering these improvements. HEE will also work with our partners to continue the expansion of these newly created roles in mental health services, and to consider the creation of new roles, such as that of early intervention workers, who would focus on child wellbeing as part of a psychiatrist-led team.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. Many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind Members that there are business questions immediately after these exchanges, followed by an important statement by the Home Secretary. Thereafter, the debate on International Women’s Day is heavily subscribed, so there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike, and I want to move on, whether we have incorporated everybody or not, no later than 11 o’clock. Single-sentence questions are much to be preferred.

  • I commend the Government for promoting the Emotionally Healthy Schools project, which, in my constituency, is working well and engaging not just children who have challenges, but their families. Does the Minister agree that helping children with their mental health challenges needs to involve, wherever practical, their families, family relationships and inter-parental relationships, as recommended by the Early Intervention Foundation?

  • As ever, my hon. Friend makes a point about families. I said that we are already rolling out mental health first aid training to every secondary school, which is of course important, and we are also committed to rolling out mental health awareness training to all primary schools by 2022, but to coin a phrase, it takes a village. This is about the state—of course, schools are part of that—but also the third sector, which has an important role to play. It is also absolutely about the love, support and Christian embrace of families.

  • This is a very important issue, especially given that half of mental health problems are established by the age of 14. It is therefore particularly shocking that some children are receiving assistance only after attempting suicide. Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director of NHS England, has stated:

    “Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are now improving, but from a starting point of historic under-funding and legacy under-staffing”.

    This report is surely an example of the latest reports in recent years demonstrating the impact of this Government’s austerity-driven agenda on public services. By comparison, in Scotland, which had the UK’s first ever dedicated mental health Minister, we have seen staffing for Scotland’s psychology and children and young people’s mental health care services at a record high, with a 79% increase since 2006. Surely as part of the Minister’s response to these findings he will wish to look at the actions being taken in Scotland and learn from them.

  • We always look at the actions being taken in Scotland and in all the devolved Administrations. The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on prevention, which was the first point he made. The proposals in the Green Paper are focused on providing significant support for schools to develop the work they already do on prevention and early intervention. Today’s report talks about the many good things that are going on and, as I said, some of the things we have already taken forward with the Green Paper. While we are kicking this about, let us just remember in these exchanges that this is about the health of young people in England, whom we all represent.

  • The CQC has recommended that Ofsted should be charged with looking at what schools are doing to support mental health. Will the Minister take that up with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education?

  • I am sure my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who is responsible for mental health, will be taking that up as she considers responses to the Green Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) is absolutely right to raise that issue and I thank him for doing so.

  • With increasing numbers of university students having mental health problems, what action will the Minister take to ensure better joined-up care, with better communication between home and university GPs and student welfare services?

  • As a former student union president, I think that is a very good point. One key proposal in the Green Paper is about the new mental health support teams, which will be very important in that. The hon. Lady is right to say that they should work across higher education as well as the earlier forms of education.

  • In the next few weeks, work will begin on the construction of a new mental health residential unit for young people in Cornwall, which is long overdue and much anticipated. It is a clear sign that this Government are investing in young people’s mental health. However, we continue to have a problem with our clinical commissioning group in delivering frontline services, even though the Government are providing more money, so what steps will the Minister take to ensure that CCGs allocate the money provided to those services?

  • I do not know the specific example that my hon. Friend raises, but he may wish to take it up with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock. I did say that there was a 20% increase in clinical commissioning spend for children and young people’s mental health between 2015-16 and 2016-17. We have all been frustrated about spend reaching the frontline, and we have made it very clear that we expect it to do so. I am pleased to see progress in the right trajectory.

  • These damning findings come three years after we secured £1.25 billion extra over a five-year period. We know that that money has fallen well short of what was committed to three years ago. Will the Minister absolutely commit to make good the shortfall of money getting through to children’s mental health services?

  • I thank our former ministerial colleague for that. We have not exactly been shy in investing in this area, both when he was a Minister in the Department and now. We have made £1.4 billion available over the five years to support the transformation of services—and the extra £300 million. He says this is a damning report, but we must remember that it is a report we commissioned. We do not hide from these things. The last time I responded to an urgent question from the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) it was on a CQC report on social care. We must not hide from these things and we do not want to bury our heads in the sand. We must recognise and build on the examples of good person-centred care that are taking place in our country at the moment, and that is why we are putting the money behind it. The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue.

  • I welcome the priority and funding that are coming from my hon. Friend. What is he doing to co-ordinate and support the devolved nations in this regard, such as Scotland where adolescent mental health waiting time targets were actually missed? We want to make sure that no British child is left behind, no matter what part of the UK they live in.

  • That is an excellent point. I will make sure that my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, is talking, as I know she is, to the devolved Administrations as she considers the responses to the Green Paper, which I am sure include responses from them.

  • The Care Quality Commission’s review found that children were waiting up to 18 months to receive treatment for their mental health conditions. In Lewisham, the Government are cutting the budget for child and adolescent mental health services by 5%. The Green Paper will not help children currently waiting. What will the Government do to address this?

  • We will put the money in, publish a sensible strategy in a Green Paper, consider the responses and then take it forward, backed by the investment we think we need to deliver the strategy. That will be the same in Lewisham as in Winchester.

  • I am sure that both sides of the House will welcome the commitment to 21,000 more personnel in mental health service provision by 2021, but can the Minister assure me that this will lead to more children accessing mental health services within the four-week target period?

  • We talked about testing the four-week target in the Green Paper—it was one of its key pillars—and we hope to pilot the idea to test the impact of our additional investment on reducing waiting times. We will then assess the benefits and challenges and provide information on how the waiting time standard should be adapted to avoid perverse incentives—around thresholds, for instance.

  • The Minister’s description of mental health provision will not be recognised by anyone providing or using services. Does he think that cutting the funding for the north west boroughs partnership year on year since 2011 has led to improved services for young people in St Helens?

  • I do not know about the issue in St Helens. I will look into it, or ask my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, to do so, and get her to write to the hon. Gentleman.

  • I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to mental health workers throughout England’s schools. Will my hon. Friend update the House on its timely roll-out?

  • As I have said, we will be considering the four-week pilot as part of the Green Paper. We want to see these mental health first-aiders in schools, and as soon as we can give my hon. Friend an exact timetable on the situation Crawley, as well as elsewhere, I am sure that my colleague the Under-Secretary will do so.

  • Some 75% of mental health problems start before the age of 18, but less than 10% of funding goes to young people. What can the Minister do to prioritise more funding for CAMHS?

  • As I have said, the overall budget is the money we have promised in the Green Paper, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Green Paper has at its heart a focus on prevention and significant support—in early years, through schools and, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) mentioned, through higher education—to prevent issues from snowballing in the first place.

  • With the understaffing of mental health services and the recent Health Select Committee report on the nursing shortage, does the Minister accept that the Government’s decision to remove nursing bursaries, which has particularly affected the number of students training to be mental health nurses, was a mistake?

  • No, I do not accept that it was a mistake. We need to increase the number of people coming into nursing, and we were turning away far too many who wanted to come into it. The workforce is obviously a huge challenge across the NHS, in primary care—my area—in secondary care and, of course, in mental health, which is why the Secretary of State has said we will create 21,000 new posts by 2021 to support one of the biggest expansions in mental health services in Europe.

  • The Minister will know from his own background that primary care does not always have the necessary expertise in mental health. How will he guarantee that every GP surgery will have the necessary capacity to deliver excellence in mental health services for our young people?

  • That is a good point—and one that sits at the centre of my portfolio. GPs are generalists. As the Minister for cancer, I know that there is always criticism of their specialism in that, but, by their very nature, GPs cannot be specialists in everything. That is why the mental health support teams, which are at the heart of the proposal in the Green Paper, are a key part of our strategy, and we expect them to work closely with GPs and the Royal College of General Practitioners to upskill GPs, working within the multi-disciplinary teams, to help young people when they need that help.

  • Tomorrow, I am meeting the chief executive of my local mental health trust because we are so desperately worried about the mental health provision for young people in York. We are not only short of staff but short of resources. It takes time to train mental health staff, so what are the Government going to do in the interim to ensure that we have staff in the service?

  • I hope that when the hon. Lady meets that person in her constituency tomorrow she will recognise the good work that is going on and the number of people who are going over and above to deliver the services to children and people. I should also say that one of her responsibilities as a Member of Parliament, as it is ours as Ministers, is to see to it that the sustainability and transformation partnerships in her area collaborate with all the various organisations in her constituency and that the traditional health and social care services are joined up with schools, police, probation services and mental health services, because ultimately it is one NHS.

  • Will the Minister listen more carefully to the voice of parents? All my experience as chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism tells me that if parents think there is something wrong with their child—whether it is a mental health challenge or autism—they want early diagnosis and treatment, and they want it at the standard that they have in Sweden.

  • I am very aware of the hon. Gentleman’s work on the Westminster Commission on Autism—he has a big event coming up in the next few weeks that I hope to go to. I completely agree with him, which is why it was so welcome that the CQC report highlighted Government proposals such as establishing dedicated mental health support teams in schools.

  • Phase 1 on the CQC review noted that there were unacceptable variations in quality. How can quality be provided more consistently throughout the country?

  • That is an excellent point. The NHS is very good at sharing best practice; the challenge comes in implementing it. The report rightly says that there are very good examples of good person-centred care throughout the country. The challenge is to make sure that is rolled out everywhere. I suppose the answer is to focus on the workforce and the investment, and to make sure that we have in place the agreed strategy to take the sector with us and do that.

  • Business of the House

  • Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

  • The business for next week will include:

    Monday 12 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].

    Tuesday 13 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his spring statement, followed by debate on motions relating to universal credit, children and young persons and social security.

    Wednesday 14 March—General debate on European affairs (day 1).

    Thursday 15 March—Conclusion of general debate on European affairs (day 2).

    Friday 16 March—Private Members’ Bills.

    The provisional business for the week commencing 19 March will include:

    Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords], followed by debate on Welsh affairs.

    Today, Parliament is flying the flag for International Women’s Day. This year is particularly special, as we mark the centenary of some women getting the right to vote. We will be celebrating women’s achievements throughout the year. I hope that all Members will host an Equalitea party in their constituencies during the summer, to celebrate democratic equality and, yes, the opportunity to have cake and eat it. We have achieved much, but there is a long way to go. Today, the Home Office has launched a consultation on our proposals for a new domestic violence Bill, which will tackle the plight of the nearly 2 million people—mainly women—living with violence.

    Today, as we think about opportunities for women, I feel lucky to have not one, not two, not even three but four brilliant female apprentices in my private office and parliamentary office. I know many Members are marking National Apprenticeship Week; speaking from my own experiences, I encourage any Member, and every business, to offer the valuable experience of an apprenticeship to talented young people.

    Lastly, this week sees the birthday of our own resident rock star: the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I hear that he is 21 again, although I might be confusing that with his majority. [Laughter.] I am sure he is not much older than that. I hope the whole House will join me in wishing him a very happy birthday for tomorrow.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the business and also for her speech—I wonder whether that will happen every time. I am pleased that, despite telling me that statements would not be announced in the House, she has actually announced the date of the spring statement. It is an important statement, and it is business of the House. Is there any reason why the Leader of the House is announcing the business just one week and a day at a time? That seems to be a change, too.

    I asked last week about the legislation on restoration and renewal—when is that likely to come to the House? There was a good turnout for the debate on the issue, and every day that goes by when we do not do something, further costs are incurred. I also asked when the Trade Bill was likely to come back to the House, and she did not answer. It seems like all the important legislation is delayed. Is this Government-lite—is this basically a no-business Government?

    I do thank the Leader of the House for finding time for a debate on the statutory instruments that the Opposition have prayed against. The only one that is outstanding is on early-day motion 937, which deals with the regulations on abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students.

    [That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 136), dated 5 February 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6 February, be annulled.]

    There has been a 33% fall in applications for nursing degrees. That helps women returners, but perhaps the Chancellor might make a concession on bursaries in the spring statement. Immediately after that, when we debate the statutory instruments, people will see that they include cuts to free school meals; an end to childcare vouchers; an end to free childcare for all two-year-olds and families on universal credit; and universal credit regulations that will affect self-employed and disabled people. Perhaps that is what we get with a woman Prime Minister!

    May I ask for some other debates? The Liaison Committee has nominated for a debate the Environmental Audit Committee’s reports on plastic bottles, published on 22 December, and on disposable coffee cups, published on 5 January. Can the Leader of the House find time for that debate, and for a debate on the announcement by the President of the United States on tariffs on our steel and aluminium?

    We have a sitting Friday on 16 March. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that, on a previous Friday, a closure motion was moved after only two hours of debate, actually stopping the Opposition spokesperson speaking. If she looks at the Official Report, she will see that she was stopped in mid-speech. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether that will be the norm, in which case we will need to warn the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), who is second on the list, that his Bill will come up much more quickly than it would have done before?

    The Leader of the House promised the list of ministerial responsibilities in March. It is now 8 March, so can we have that, please?

    We have two days of debate on the UK’s exit from the European Union. Will there be further allotted days, or can the Opposition dare to dream that we will have our Opposition day? We have not had one since January.

    Despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s speech to the Mansion House was 6,800 words, she gave only 2,000 words to the House. I feel robbed, Mr Speaker—I do not know about you. We will need a third allotted day as we come up to the year of triggering article 50 on 29 March and the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement on 10 April. The Prime Minister said to the House on Monday that the Government are looking at customs arrangements around the world, including on the border between the United States and Canada, but the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who has actually visited that border, said that that

    “is definitely not a solution that we can possibly entertain.”

    What about the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, who has criticised the Prime Minister’s speech? He said:

    “Why is it that after 18 months since the referendum we have not got any closer with these issues? The answer is simple: because no one has got any answer about how to do it.”

    If the Prime Minister’s speech were a recipe for a cake, you would not be able to bake it—even if it was a cherry Genoa cake, or a double cherry Genoa cake. If it were a road map, it would be a road map to nowhere.

    I join the Leader of the House in wishing everybody a happy International Women’s Day. Mr Speaker, you have been absolutely fantastic, because you have your reference group. In 2010, before I came to this House, I watched the evidence at the Speaker’s conference on parliamentary inclusion, and I think it made a huge difference. On this International Women’s Day, I must say that women consultants in the NHS have earned on average nearly £14,000 a year less than men. The House of Commons Library briefing said that women were paying a “disproportionate” price for balancing the Government’s books—86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women. There may be a woman Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition is a person of deeds. His shadow Cabinet is 50% women, whereas the Cabinet is only 26% women. The Opposition are leading the way with the representation of women; we make up 45% of the parliamentary party.

    As it is International Women’s Day, may I ask the Leader of the House to make representations to the Foreign Secretary about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? If France can provide an exhibition to Iran, please will the Leader of the House urge the Foreign Secretary to make representations on the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as he could have done before Christmas? In addition, more schoolgirls have been kidnapped in Nigeria.

    On the day on which the National Audit Office has published a report that talks about cuts of almost 50% to local government services, I want to thank all the public services for their hard work over this period of inclement weather. They have protected us and made sure that we are all safe.

  • I certainly join the hon. Lady in thanking all those who worked so hard during the period of really difficult and challenging weather, as well as those who had to bear the brunt of it when they were sitting on trains that could not move because of the weather. Everyone should be congratulated on their efforts and community spirit.

    The hon. Lady raised a number of legislative issues. I am glad that she did so, because she often asks about policy issues, which are not technically a matter for business questions. She asked about legislation on restoration and renewal. As she knows, because she is on the House of Commons Commission, which I updated only last week, we will be introducing legislation on the establishment of a delivery authority and a sponsor body as soon as possible.

    On the Trade Bill, we discussed last week the fact that several amendments have been tabled. The Government are considering them carefully, as it is right to do. As I have always said in this Chamber, we will always consider amendments that are tabled to try to improve legislation as we enter into the important decision to leave the European Union and take steps to prepare ourselves in the best possible way. I am glad that the hon. Lady is happy about the statutory instrument debates. We will be having them next week, as she requested last week.

    The hon. Lady asked about nursing training places. She will be aware that there will be an increase of 25%—the biggest increase ever. She also raises the question of plastics and what we are doing about them. I hope that she has signed up, as I have done, to plastic-free Lent. That is an attempt to minimise the use of single-use plastics during the Lent period and an opportunity for us to highlight the importance of reducing our use of plastics. Of course, the Government’s record on that is very good, with the determination in our 25-year environment plan to be the first generation that leaves our environment in a better state than we found it in.

    The hon. Lady asks about the talk coming out of the United States on tariffs on steel and aluminium. We are very concerned about that. As she will be aware, we in the UK have made social and economic factors part of the consideration for public sector procurement of steel. We have commissioned research to identify high-value opportunities for UK steel worth up to nearly £4 billion a year by 2030, and we have taken great steps since 2013 to support our steel sector with the costs of renewables and climate change policies. The hon. Lady is right to raise concerns about US policy in this area, and the Prime Minister spoke with President Trump recently and raised our deep concern about his forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminium tariffs. The Prime Minister has noted that multilateral action is the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.

    The hon. Lady asked again about ministerial responsibilities. I can tell her that the list will be forthcoming as soon as possible, once the positions have been confirmed and clarified with all Departments.

    The hon. Lady asked about the debates on the European Union, and I think she is happy that we are having them. They are, of course, in response to the request from many right hon. and hon. Members to be able to talk in general terms about their ideas and proposals for how we should leave the European Union. We had a very important speech from the Prime Minister last week, and the EU Council, where we hope to secure an implementation period, is coming up soon. Now is a very good time for all hon. and right hon. Members to put forward their thoughts and views.

    Finally, the hon. Lady asks for representations about Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. She is absolutely right to raise that case, which we are very concerned about. She will know that the Foreign Secretary raised it with the Foreign Minister of Iran when he had the opportunity to do so, and the Foreign Office continues to do that at every opportunity.

  • I associate myself with the birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), whom I regard as an hon. Friend.

    On 2 February this year, my private Member’s Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, received its Second Reading thanks to support from the Government, the official Opposition and the Scottish National party, for which I am obliged. However, the Bill cannot proceed any further until a ways and means motion is tabled. Will the Leader of the House speak to our mutual friend the Patronage Secretary—the Chief Whip—and hopefully agree with him that it should be tabled sooner rather than later?

  • My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. The Government have expressed support for a number of private Members’ Bills so far this Session, and we continue to work with the Members in charge. That will include bringing forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in the usual way.

  • In offering my best birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for tomorrow, perhaps I can borrow the legendary observation to me from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and apply it to the hon. Gentleman: fortunately he is not yet at the age at which the cost of the candles exceeds the cost of the cake.

  • Thank you very much for that, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and for her very kind birthday wishes. Birthdays nowadays are more to be noted than celebrated—as are majorities of 21.

    I, too, wholeheartedly welcome International Women’s Day and pay tribute to all the incredible women throughout history who have contributed so much to progress in our communities, while acknowledging that we have still so much to do to reach the truly equal society to which we should all aspire. I am sure that the whole House, like half the world, saw the incredible speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) yesterday on misogyny: a powerful, profound personal account of some of the misogynistic abuse that she has suffered just for being a young woman in politics. On International Women’s Day, will the Leader of the House at least consider making misogyny a hate crime and proactively legislating to ensuring that we could start to make this part of the history of the women’s movement in this country?

    On Saturday, the Scottish National party is having a day of action against Royal Bank of Scotland branch closures—an issue that continues to upset and concern communities we represent. The Scottish Affairs Committee, which I chair, has finally secured RBS’s chief executive officer, Ross McEwan, to come before us to answer questions about this closure programme. However, the one group of people we have not heard from and who still refuse to speak to us are the majority shareholder—this Government. The Government are the stewards of the public interest in this. Will the Leader of the House therefore join me in insisting that Treasury Ministers agree to come before the Scottish Affairs Committee to answer questions about what they are doing to represent our interests?

    We need a statement on the emerging constitutional crisis on Brexit. The Government now say that they will push ahead with amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill without any agreement from the Scottish Government, who are still progressing their continuity Bill. The BBC says that it has a letter in which the Government say that they cannot counter the “power grab” claims. Perhaps they cannot do that because a power grab is exactly what it is.

  • On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am very appalled, as I think all hon. Members are, to hear of the experiences of his colleague, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black). I sincerely apologise to her, on behalf of everybody here, for the appalling abuse she has received: it is utterly unacceptable. Of course, in my role as Leader of the House of Commons, if she wanted to come and talk to me I would be very happy to do so to see whether there is anything specific I can do for her.

    As the hon. Gentleman knows and as you know, Mr Speaker, we have worked tirelessly, cross-party, to put in place our independent complaints procedure. I am not sure whether, if that were up and running today, it would have gone some way towards improving the hon. Lady’s situation. However, I certainly hope that our commitment across this House and in the other place to stamping out abuse and making our Parliament one of the best places to work and be employed in will stand us in good stead for the future.

    On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, about RBS, I am very aware of the grave concerns about bank closures expressed on a number of occasions by Opposition Members. He will be aware that these are commercial decisions. There are procedures to go through before a bank decides to close, such as consultation with local communities. I point out that one of his hon. Friends has an Adjournment debate on banking in Scotland next week, on 14 March, and I am sure he will want to take part in that.

    Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Scottish National party’s continuity Bill. It is the Government’s position that the EU withdrawal Bill will provide consistency across the UK to ensure that all parts of the UK are ready for our departure from the EU. We are still hopeful that we can reach agreement with the devolved Administrations on the Bill in the coming weeks.

  • In a recent debate in the Lords on the family test, which is perhaps better called the family impact assessment, there was good cross-party support for Lord Farmer’s private Member’s Bill promoting a more satisfactory application of the test than currently appears to be the case, from several questions I have asked of Departments recently. Will the Leader of the House facilitate the safe passage of that Bill in the other place by liaising with the Leader of the House of Lords, so that it can be brought to this House for consideration as soon as possible?

  • First, I would like to commend and congratulate my hon. Friend for the amazing work she does across the parties and the Houses on supporting families. I totally share her desire to see the strengthening of families of all types. In particular, I know that she shares my concern for the importance of early attachment and giving every baby the best start in life. I absolutely support her desire to see the family test carefully applied and would be delighted to meet her to discuss how I can specifically help her.

  • I note from the Leader of the House’s statement that the Backbench Business Committee has been given a holiday from days for Backbench Business debates. We have a number of outstanding applications waiting for time allocation, and I therefore hope that we will get some time before the Easter recess to get some of those unheard debates timetabled.

    I am afraid that the chickens have come home to roost with regard to the membership of the Backbench Business Committee. Despite the fact that we had three members present on Tuesday, that is not quorate for our Committee. We require four, although we currently only have six members. We hope that the cavalry will come over the hill from the Conservative party, as there are two members missing at the moment. Will the Leader of the House look again at the quorum of the Backbench Business Committee? On a Committee of eight, a quorum of four seems excessive.

  • I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is Government time next week for a Welsh affairs debate. As he will recall, we were all disappointed on St David’s day when, owing to the awful weather and the need for Members to get home before the train stations closed and so on, the debate was cancelled. I was at the No. 10 reception for St David’s day and we sadly missed out on the Welsh school choir, who could not get there. That was a great shame. We were delighted to offer Government time for that debate to continue to take place, notwithstanding that it is not under the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, but in Government time. I will of course ensure that I make representations where necessary for his outstanding applications.

    I have discussed with colleagues what we can do to facilitate extra Conservative Members on the Backbench Business Committee and will continue to press for that. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me on the quorum, I am happy to look at that matter seriously.

  • You will know, Mr Speaker, that this House only works if conventions are followed. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) mentioned a private Member’s Bill. My private Member’s Bill passed its Second Reading on 1 December, and another one about constituencies passed its Second Reading on that day. Both were unopposed. Unfortunately, more than three months later, no money resolutions have been forthcoming. There can be only one private Member’s Bill in Committee at any one time. There is none in Committee because of this. This looks to be an obstruction of the private Member’s Bill system by the Government. I am sure that that is not the case—well, I am not sure that that is not the case. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement next week, so that this can be discussed?

  • Earlier, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked a question about migratory species, and in the course of the delivery of the question from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), a number of Opposition Members noted that he has migrated from his usual seat to his new seat. I do not think any particular significance need be read into that, and I should assure the House that even if it is thought to be unusual—

  • I do not think it suddenly means that the hon. Gentleman is pro the European Union. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said that outside the Chamber, I rather imagine that the hon. Member for Wellingborough would be consulting m’learned friends. His behaviour is perfectly orderly.

  • I am slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend is a bit suspicious. How could he possibly think that, especially of me, since we are very much honourable Friends? I can say to him, as I did to our right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), that the Government have expressed support for a number of private Members’ Bills so far this Session—and the Government do support the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, which my hon. Friend is taking through as a private Member’s Bill—and we will bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in the usual way.

  • I really appreciate the right hon. Lady’s comments about President Trump’s announcement on steel tariffs, but I am deeply concerned and I think we need the Secretary of State for International Trade to come and make an urgent statement next week. Some 10% of UK steel is exported to the US and 15% of the output of our automotive industry goes there, so this has huge implications, particularly post Brexit, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to debate it.

  • The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. As I mentioned to the shadow Leader of the House, the Prime Minister has spoken to President Trump and raised our grave concern about his proposals. I can also tell the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is speaking with Wilbur Ross, the US Commerce Secretary, about this matter. She may be aware that there has been an overnight briefing that tariffs may not apply to allies and so on. This is a moving issue, and we will continue to take every step to protect the UK steel and aluminium sectors.

  • On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made a welcome statement on housing and planning in this country. Sadly, it coincided with a meeting of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government at the same time, so those of us on both sides of the House who have a degree of expertise in this area were unable to question him about the new policies. Equally, the estimates day debate on homelessness was heavily over-subscribed, so colleagues could make only very short speeches. Will the Leader of the House find time for a general debate in Government time on housing and planning, so that Members on both sides of the House can express their views and tease out some of the policies that the Government are proposing?

  • My hon. Friend will be aware that the Prime Minister has been very clear that sorting out our broken housing market is one of the top priorities for her premiership. She is determined that young people should be able to aspire to a home of their own, and that means building more houses and changing planning, and it also means protecting tenants and sorting out things such as leases on new homes. All those are among the new policies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

    I just want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The Government have implemented it, and it is part of our determination to deal with the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping in this country.

  • Cancer Research UK says that obesity is the second most preventable cause of cancer and the Government are reviewing their childhood obesity strategy, so may we have a debate on stopping junk food adverts before the 9 o’clock watershed to help to reduce childhood obesity?

  • I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about childhood obesity. It really appears that we have a massively growing problem in this country. He may well want to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can talk directly to a Minister about his own ideas.

  • As we are aware, we have just approved more housing to be built in this country, and we can all say, “Yes, that’s good.” However, I could name councils—I will not do so this time—that have used private companies and estate agents to further their aims. My council, West Somerset Council, is being dragged into such a situation. May we have a debate on making sure that there is a clear understanding between developers, estate agents, planners and companies? If we do not have such an understanding, situations are going to arise that will not help any of us in our future deliberations.

  • My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of keeping good boundaries. Ultimately, the aim is to produce more homes, so that more people can aspire to owning a home of their own. He may want to raise his specific concerns during questions to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which will happen on Monday 12 March.

  • As one of my very favourite feminists, Mr Speaker, may I wish you and everybody else a happy International Women’s Day? Will the Leader of the House consider a debate or Government statement on gender pricing? We now know that consumers have to pay on average 31% more for goods that are marketed or aimed specifically at women. That is not limited to toiletries; it could be toys, stationery, clothes—a whole host of things. We need to put pressure on retailers and manufacturers to stop the pink tax.

  • The hon. Lady raises an issue that many of us are equally concerned about, and it is obvious with toiletries, for example, that men get their face care products much cheaper than women do—let us be honest about that. I would support the hon. Lady in seeking an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise the issue directly with Ministers.

  • Following the recent band of storms there has been another significant cliff fall on to a beach in Newquay, just a short distance from a site that has recently been granted planning permission for the development of houses. That is causing great concern among local residents, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement to make clear to local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate the position on coastal development, particularly in areas that are prone to coastal erosion?

  • I am sorry to hear of the incident in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is right to raise it as a real local champion for St Austell and Newquay. Local plans determine the allocation of land for development, and planning permission should always take account of the risk of erosion. The national planning policy framework sets the expectation that local planning authorities will establish coastal change management areas and encourage development that is suited to an area’s changing coastline. The planning rules are probably there, but my hon. Friend might wish to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss his concerns.

  • I heard what the Leader of the House said about facial products and differential costs and so on, but I am not experienced in such matters because I concluded long ago that I am well beyond redemption. I bear my fate with as much stoicism and fortitude as I can muster.

  • On International Women’s Day, may I remind the Leader of the House that worldwide there will be about 1.5 million knocks on doors, and families will be told that their mother is dead, or their daughter or their son, and the family will be totally destroyed? There is a Commonwealth parliamentary meeting in the next few days in London, but may we have a debate in the Chamber to focus on this scourge? It is the greatest epidemic of our time, and there is not enough concentration on how to reduce these avoidable deaths.

  • I think the hon. Gentleman is speaking about violent deaths—

  • Deaths on the road.

  • Deaths on the road—I beg his pardon but I did not hear that. He raises an incredibly important point, and across the world every day there are tragic and avoidable deaths. In the United Kingdom, our track record is good and improving, and numbers of road deaths are reducing. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to seek a Backbench Business debate to talk about road safety, or an Adjournment debate to raise that specific issue.

  • My right hon. Friend knows well the serious concerns of the people of Redditch regarding the centralisation of paediatric emergency services from Alexandra Hospital to Worcestershire, because I have raised the issue so many times in the House. Will she join me in calling on the clinical commissioning group and the trust to speed up their plans to bring forward the GP-led urgent care centre? May we have a debate about the future of health services in Worcestershire?

  • My hon. Friend is a strong voice for her constituency, and I commend her for raising this matter in the Chamber. Local commissioners are currently reviewing the national guidance issued on urgent care centres, prior to commissioning a revised model for the Alexandra Hospital. I understand that they expect to implement the new service in the next 12 months as planned, and she might like to seek an opportunity to raise the matter directly with Health Ministers.

  • The “beast from the east” brought red danger weather warnings to life for the first time last week. I welcome the fact that organisations such as Renfrewshire Council, the local McDonald’s franchisee Peter O’Keefe, and, as of one hour ago, Swissport at Glasgow airport are paying their employees who were unable to travel to work. May we have a debate on employers’ responsibilities for the safety of their staff and in ensuring that no worker is left out of pocket during severe weather warnings?

  • I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating all those who put in extra effort to keep people safe and transport open. All key transport operators, including airports, local authorities, train operating companies, Highways England and Network Rail, have winter contingency plans, as I am sure do their equivalents in Scotland. We pay tribute to all those who put in extra work. It is for their employers to ensure that they take the right decisions in securing the right balance between keeping services open and protecting their employees at all times.

  • I still hear way too many stories from constituents who are in battle with landlords or house builders about the condition of their homes. May we have a debate on the review of the housing complaints system?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for an excellent question. It is vital that consumers have swift, effective routes through which to complain when things go wrong. People need to know where to go and to be clear about what they can expect. He is right that existing routes can be confusing, so I am sure that he is pleased, as I am, that on 18 February we published a consultation on strengthening consumer redress in the housing market. We are looking at options about how to ensure that people, whether tenants or owners, can have access to quick, easy and effective redress, including at whether a single housing ombudsman could simplify that access.

  • I would like to raise the issue of volunteer drivers who receive reimbursement for patient transport. The present UK taxation rules hit those with high mileage very hard indeed. In my constituency, people have to travel huge distances—well over 200 miles—to get a patient to hospital and back again. Does the Leader of the House agree it would be helpful to have a debate on this issue in this Chamber?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises a very particular issue, which I can well understand is a real concern to his constituents and others where there are long distances to travel. I suggest that he raises the subject in an Adjournment debate so that he can hear directly from a Minister what they can do for those who have to travel particularly long distances.

  • May we have a debate on local businesses that are also global brands? That would allow me to highlight the fantastic Walkers Shortbread company, which has been subjected to unacceptable and despicable abuse this week from nationalists in Scotland because just one of its many products features a Union Jack. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should condemn those attacks and instead celebrate the success of Walkers Shortbread, which has been established in Moray for 120 years, employs hundreds of local people and is a great credit to our area?

  • As ever, my hon. Friend raises a very significant issue for his constituency. He is a great champion for Moray. I absolutely agree that Walkers Shortbread is delicious. It is a vital UK brand and a fabulous Scottish brand. Many of its tins are marked with “I love Scotland”, while others, very often for export, are marked with the Union Jack. It is a fabulous export and a delicious snack. It should be eaten in moderation—we do not want to encourage the overeating of shortbread or any other sugary product—but nevertheless we love Walkers. It is a great UK and Scottish product.

  • The Leader of the House was quite right to say, in her answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and the shadow Leader of the House, that the threat by the US Administration to put huge tariffs on steel is a moving issue, but the very fact that it is a moving issue underlines the need for a statement in this House on what the Government are doing. When will we have a statement on that, and when will the official Opposition be again granted an Opposition day debate?

  • I think that I have said as much as I can about the Prime Minister’s determination to protect UK interests. She has made her views very clear to President Trump. As I have already mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has raised the matter with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and overnight, the White House has indicated that there may be exemptions from tariffs for allies of the United States. It is very important that we continue to work to look after global trade. As we leave the EU, the United Kingdom wishes to be a world leader in promoting free trade around the globe, so that is what we will be doing. In terms of Opposition days, as I mentioned to the shadow Leader of the House, they will be brought forward in the usual way.

  • European Union structural and social funds have benefited local authorities across the United Kingdom. May I request from the Leader of the House some parliamentary time to debate what will replace those funds post Brexit?

  • My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. He will be pleased that we have committed to replacing European structural funds with the UK shared prosperity fund after we leave the European Union. The new fund will be designed to raise productivity and reduce inequalities between communities across all four nations of the Union. We will consult on that later in the year.

  • Every year, 20,000 elephants are slaughtered simply for their ivory. When we can have a debate about the results of the consultation that finished a couple of months ago on the Government’s plans to ban the sale of ivory as soon as possible?

  • I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue because it is absolutely vital that the UK continues to be at the forefront of clamping down on the illegal wildlife trade and, in particular, the poaching of ivory. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was very proud to be progressing that consultation, which is now completed, as he points out. It received more than 70,000 consultation responses—one of the largest numbers in the Department’s history—and it is quite clear that an overwhelming majority support a ban. We will have a conference on the illegal wildlife trade later this year, and I absolutely assure him that we will do everything that we can to bring forward legislation as soon as possible.

  • Yesterday, Babcock announced that 500 defence jobs would be lost at Devonport dockyard. With the uncertainty about the possible cuts to our amphibious warships and the Royal Marines, and the sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil, may we have a statement from Ministers about what support the Government can offer to the dedicated Babcock workers who are losing their jobs in Plymouth?

  • I am sorry to hear about the prospective job losses. As the hon. Gentleman points out, Babcock International has announced 500 job losses. As he will no doubt be aware, 100 of those posts are unfilled, making the reduction in actual headcount potentially 400. Although the restructuring is a commercial matter for that company, a consultation period with staff and trade unions is nevertheless under way, and is expected to conclude in mid April. In the meantime, the Government are closely monitoring the situation, and the Department for Work and Pensions is on stand-by to provide support for those affected via Jobcentre Plus’s rapid response service.

  • May I also wish a happy birthday to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)? Indeed, he shares it with somebody who has every intention of continuing to be 21 again.

    On Friday 2 March, several busy Southeastern trains were stranded for hours outside Lewisham station due to severe weather conditions. Many passengers self-evacuated from the trains, and we were extremely lucky that no one died. May we have a debate on updating the guidance for stranded commuter trains to keep our passengers safe?

  • The hon. Lady raises a really important and topical matter, as she so often does, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss this directly with Ministers. We are all very concerned to hear about the risks that people pose to themselves and to the train system when they decide to self-evacuate from trains, and we need to put a stop to that. She will be aware that safety plans are in place, but it is vital that people abide by them for their own safety.

  • I am sure that the House will join me in wishing me the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) a happy birthday tomorrow. I was her age once, but I must admit that I do not remember it—it is too long ago.

  • You are like fine wine, Mr Speaker.

  • Oh! Such kindness and generosity of spirit from the hon. Lady, who makes an analogy with a fine wine. You say all the right things.

  • May I pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft)? Given last week’s serious travel disruption, may we please have a debate about putting passengers first? When trains are cancelled, for example, passengers should automatically be entitled to use other train services. We have experienced severe disruption in Hull, and it has come to my attention that the East Coast main line company has not been willing to automatically allow Hull Trains passengers who cannot travel all the way to London to use its service.

  • As the hon. Lady will know, train operating companies are beginning to give automatic reimbursements to people who have experienced train delays and so on, but she is right to raise the issue of whether they automatically allow passengers to use other transport. We are all aware that although there tends to be an announcement at some point, it is often made when people have already turned up for a train that is not there, and they then have to move to a different station. I sympathise entirely with the hon. Lady’s point, and encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on the subject.

  • I, too, wish my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) a happy birthday. I am sure that he will be celebrating with a slice of shortbread or two.

  • British shortbread.

  • Chlorinated shortbread, from the United States.

    May we have a debate on the relationship between personal independence payment reviews and the Motability scheme? I have a constituent who faces losing her car for the second time while she waits for her PIP appeal to be heard. When will a Minister come to the House and explain why the system punishes people and takes away their cars even before their appeals have been heard?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises an important and worrying constituency issue. As I always say, if he wants to raise it with me in writing, I can take it up with the Department on his behalf. In the more general context of policy, however, I can tell him that we spend more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions. We are trying to enable more disabled people to work, and we are seeing a significant increase in the number of people who are able to get away from their disabilities and into work, which is a great way into a more productive and enjoyable life. That is the policy that the Government are trying to pursue, but if the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns, I shall be happy to take them up on his behalf.

  • Salisbury Incident

  • With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the incident in Salisbury that has been unfolding over the past four days.

    Let me first pay tribute to the continued professionalism, dedication and courage of the emergency services. They have handled the incident with their customary attentiveness, alacrity, and sense of public duty. First responders put themselves in dangerous situations on a day-to-day basis, and this incident has underlined that fact—to which, sadly, I shall return later in my statement.

    I shall now update the House as far as is possible on the basis of the current facts of the case. At approximately 4.15 on Sunday afternoon, Wiltshire police received a call from a member of the public who was concerned for the welfare of two people in a park in Salisbury. Emergency services were called, and the two were admitted to the A&E department of Salisbury District Hospital. They were a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s, with no visible signs of injury. They are understood to be Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Both remain unconscious, and in a critical but stable condition.

    I regret to inform the House that a police officer has also fallen seriously ill. The officer was one of the first responders on Sunday, acting selflessly to help others. The latest update from the hospital is that the officer’s condition remains serious but stable, and that he is conscious, talking and engaging. Officers from Wiltshire police are providing support for the officer’s family and colleagues. Our thoughts are with all three victims, and their families and friends, at what will be an incredibly difficult time for them.

    Wiltshire police began an investigation on Sunday to determine how the individuals had fallen ill, and whether a crime had been committed. They declared a major incident on Monday. On Tuesday the Metropolitan police decided that, given the unusual circumstances, responsibility for the investigation should be transferred to the National Counter Terrorism Policing Network. Samples from the victims have been tested by experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, who are world-renowned experts in the field. As Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley announced yesterday, that forensic analysis has revealed the presence of a nerve agent, and the incident is therefore being treated as attempted murder. I can confirm that it is highly likely the police officer has been exposed to the same nerve agent.

    I spoke only this morning with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, and he confirmed that we remain in the midst of a fast-paced, criminal investigation. As such, I will not comment further on the nature of the nerve agent. We must give the police the space they need to conduct a thorough investigation. All Members will recognise that an investigation such as this will be complex and may take some time.

    Public safety continues to be the No.1 priority for this Government. Professor Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, stated yesterday that, based on the evidence we have, there is a low risk to the public. The UK has a world-leading emergency response. It is regularly tested and exercised to ensure we can deliver an effective response to a wide range of chemical, biological and radiological incidents. The three emergency services are well supplied with state-of-the-art equipment to respond to such threats.

    The frontline response is supported by world-class scientific research and advice. This ensures that decision making on the ground, by all agencies involved, is firmly based on the available evidence. This will also support the decontamination activity needed to return the location to normality.

    The police are working closely with Public Health England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the DSTL. They have cordoned all known sites in Salisbury that were visited by the two initial victims before they became unwell, and are taking the necessary measures to protect public safety.

    I want now to turn to the speculation—of which there has been much—around who was responsible for this most outrageous crime. The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way. People are right to want to know who to hold to account. But, if we are to be rigorous in this investigation, we must avoid speculation and allow the police to carry on their investigation.

    As the assistant commissioner said yesterday, the investigation now involves hundreds of officers, following every possible lead to find those responsible. Some of those leads have come from members of the public. I would like to thank the people of Salisbury for their help and for the calm they have shown over the last four days. I encourage anyone who visited Salisbury town centre and surrounding areas on Sunday afternoon, who has not yet spoken to the police, to get in touch.

    We are committed to doing all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice—whoever they are, and wherever they may be. The investigation is moving at pace, and this Government will act without hesitation as the facts become clearer. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on Tuesday, we will respond in a robust and appropriate manner once we ascertain who was responsible.

    I would like to close where I began, by expressing my sincere thanks to the emergency services and hospital staff for their tireless efforts over the last four days. They have acted with utter professionalism both to minimise the risk to the wider public and to care for the victims of the attack, for which I know we are all very grateful. Our thoughts will be with the victims and their families over the coming days.

    Finally, I thank Members for their understanding that there will clearly be limits on what we can say as this investigation continues. As and when information can be made public, it will be. I commend the statement to the House.

  • I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. May I start by paying tribute to the courage and dedication of the emergency services that responded to this horrendous incident? In particular, may I say that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the officer who has been hospitalised following this attack? I also pay tribute to the people of Salisbury. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the great cathedral city of Salisbury remains open for business?

    The apparent poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal and the police officer who suffered serious injury must of course be fully and completely investigated. I wholeheartedly concur with the Secretary of State that the investigation should be allowed to take place free from speculation, conjecture or interference. At best, these can be a distraction; at worst, they can hamper the investigatory efforts. Hon. Members and right hon. Members should be equally cautious and guarded in their comments. Idle or ill-informed speculation is not helpful. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that all the necessary resources are being made available to the investigation? Clearly, it is vital that there should be no speculation about the conclusions of the investigation, and that it is allowed to take its course, but will she ensure that she continues to keep the House updated?

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, asked the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that the Government have all the necessary sanctions available to them? A number of proposals are currently being debated in Committee. Will she look at them again to ensure that we have the necessary tools?

    This case raises broader and extremely important issues. These include how we prioritise the fight against crime and terrorist crime in this country. There is, after all, no greater priority for the state than to secure the safety of all those who are resident here. Today is not the day for discussion of those priorities, or divisions over them, in the fight against crime and terrorism, or for a discussion on budgets and how they are allocated. We will return to those matters at another opportunity. For now, let us be clear that we on the Labour Benches are appalled at the idea that anyone might be poisoned on the streets of our towns and cities, and we offer our full support to those seeking to investigate the matter. We commend the professionalism, dedication and bravery of the emergency services, and we share the Government’s determination that this case should be brought to a speedy and just conclusion, and that similar incidents should be prevented in the future.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his carefully thought-out and considerate comments. I am delighted to hear such unity of purpose across the House on this matter. He referred to the great cathedral city of Salisbury, and I share his views on that city and on the people of Salisbury, who have reacted so well. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who is with me here on the Front Bench, for his consideration and support over the past four days.

    Yes, I can reassure the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and the House that the police and the emergency services have the necessary resources. That is always one of my first questions, and they have been reassuring on that matter. On his point about keeping the House updated, of course I will do that. I thank him for his consideration and understanding that there might be limits to that, but when I can, I will of course take the opportunity to come here to discuss the matter with the House. Partly because of the severity of the situation, I recognise the need to do that whenever possible. Members are rightly keen to find out what is happening.

    The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. We are of course engaging with the Members of Parliament who are proposing additional amendments. There have already been amendments to the Criminal Finances Act 2017 that reflect the sorts of initiatives he is asking for. There are additional proposals relating to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, and we will be considering them carefully.

  • The circumstantial evidence against Russia is strong—who else would have the motive and the means?—and I will put the same question to the Home Secretary that I put to the Foreign Secretary earlier this week. Those of us who seek to understand Russia know that the only way to preserve peace is through strength. If Russia is behind this, it is a brazen act of war and humiliates our country. I echo the remarks of the junior Defence Minister last week: defence is the first duty of the realm and spending 2% on defence is now not enough.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for his question. My first concern must be the incident in hand and the safety of the people in the area around the incident. There will come a time for attribution, and there will be further consequences and further information to follow. Now, however, I am concerned about the incident and its consequences.

  • I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. The circumstances surrounding these attacks are extremely worrying, particularly the fact that they constitute a potentially serious threat to public safety—although I am relieved to note that the chief medical officer considers there to be a low risk to public safety now. The emergency services have done a fantastic job, putting their safety on the line to ensure that Mr Skripal and his daughter were stabilised as soon as possible. We are pleased to hear that the police officer’s condition has improved and that he is now able to communicate. Our thoughts are with his and Mr Skripal and his daughter’s family and friends at this time.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) put questions to the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday that I want to put to the Home Secretary today. How do we protect human assets such as Mr Skripal in this country? Will this type of scenario lead to a review of how we best protect such people across the United Kingdom? Considering Mr Skripal’s background, he was at high risk of being the victim of an attempted assassination, so does the Home Secretary know how the planning of such an attack was able to slip through the net of the UK intelligence services? What steps is she taking to ensure that those who are at risk living in the UK are properly protected?

    Earlier this week, the Foreign Secretary stated that the Government would respond appropriately should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility. Will the Home Secretary therefore confirm that she has had, and is continuing to have, discussions with her counterparts from across Europe and further afield to get to the bottom of the matter? Reports that as many as 14 deaths on UK soil could have occurred in similar circumstances is very worrying. Will there be an inquiry into those incidents and the frequency of such attacks?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the general tone of the Government’s approach, and I of course join in her admiration and support for the emergency services, which are doing such excellent work. I must repeat to the hon. Lady that the investigation is ongoing at pace, and the police and the other services involved appreciate the urgency. It does not help their work, which must be our priority, to speculate about what might happen when we make an attribution. When we are ready to bring more evidence to the House, I reassure the hon. Lady that I hope to be able to go further in answering her questions. For now, she must allow me to say that we will not be drawn any further as we allow the investigation to complete.

  • Whoever the culprit, it is just as well that we are currently reviewing our defence capabilities, so that we can increase them—can’t we?

  • As far as our security at home is concerned, I reassure my right hon. Friend that we have already put in substantial extra funds. The security services are recruiting 1,900 new people between now and 2020, and I am reassured by them that that recruitment is proceeding at pace and with success.

  • I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to our remarkable emergency services, which have responded with such professionalism to this awful attack. All our thoughts will be with the brave police officer and with Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

    I have written to the Home Secretary to ask for a review of 14 other cases, and she will know that there are many ways in which that could happen and precedents for doing so. As for the immediate investigation, has she considered going to the UN Security Council to ask for a statement calling on all nations to provide assistance, including willingness to extradite suspects if necessary?

  • I thank the right hon. Lady for that. I have her letter, and will respond, but gently say that now is not the time to investigate what is, at the moment, only rumour and speculation; now is the time to focus on the incident at hand, and the investigation that is proceeding. She makes a suggestion regarding international activity; at some stage, we will come back to the House with our proposals, but for now, we are merely preparing, and concentrating on the incident.

  • I share the sentiments of my right hon. Friend about the bravery of our police officers and the people in Salisbury who witnessed this terrible tragedy; it was an awful thing for them to have to see in their town. Will she assure the House that all appropriate support will be made available, not just for the police officers, but for any witnesses who might come forward?

  • Yes. That is a very good point. Quite a number of individuals in Salisbury have been concerned about their health, and have wanted to report concerns about the incident. They have been coming forward and receiving the appropriate treatment and support.

  • I commend the Home Secretary on her statement, and on the calm and cool way that she has approached the immediate response to the incident. She will be aware, however, that many Members on both sides of this House have for several years warned of the growing threat of the terrorist Russian state under President Putin, whether we are talking about money laundering in the City of London, the targeted murders that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke about, or interference in our political and democratic system. Will the Home Secretary please assure the House that when this immediate crisis is over, she will work with other Secretaries of State in a joined-up way across Government not only to listen to concerns, but to take meaningful action to tackle this threat?

  • I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I reassure him that this Government have not been asleep at the switch, in terms of where our international enemies are. He refers to Russia. Separately from this incident, we have been very clear about our disagreements with Russia, particularly on Ukraine and Syria, and we have been outspoken in our criticism and our determination to take action—hence the amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill, and the considered amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. We will go further, should there be need to do so.

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Will she reassure the public that our renowned, world-leading facilities at Porton Down, where amazing scientific work is done, have the resources and capability to continue with the work that they have rightly been doing? They have been getting good results in the last few days.

  • Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to do exactly that: reassure the public that our facilities, support, scientists and expertise at Porton Down are world-class. I hope that gives the public, and her, the comfort that they need.

  • I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, and the calm leadership that she is showing on this issue. I associate myself and my party with her comments on our amazing emergency services, and pass on our thoughts to the victims.

    Following on from the questions from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), whether or not Russian agents are shown to be responsible for this incident, is it not time that we got more realistic about Russia? Will the Home Secretary confirm whether the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rosatom—the Russian nuclear power company so strongly championed by the former Prime Minister, Mr Cameron— has formally ended? She may not know that today, but will she write to me when she finds that out? If it has not been ended, will she make sure that it is ended, so that the love-in with Russia that we saw a few years ago is completely finished?

  • I cautiously welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. I do not recognise his description of our relationship with Russia over the past few years, but I will indeed write to him on the matter that he raises.

  • I commend my right hon. Friend for her approach. Clearly, Members across the House will be calling for investigation of unexplained deaths that may be connected to this incident. Equally, a number of individuals out there will fear for their life as a result of their activities with Russia and other such countries. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to review the security arrangements for those brave individuals, so that they can live their life in this country in the way that they have chosen to, in a free society?

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point. In this country, we want to make sure everybody is protected and everybody is free, in a free society, as he rightly says, to go about their family life and their work life. He makes a particular point about keeping a certain group of people safe. I gently say to him that that is a matter for the police and the other services, but I am confident that they know what they are doing and we will keep that in hand.

  • I join all those in the Chamber, including the Home Secretary and Opposition Front Benchers, who have praised the emergency workers and hospital staff. My thoughts and condolences are with the families involved.

    The Home Secretary has made a commitment to ensure that the safety of those at risk is looked at again and reviewed once this investigation is completed and we know exactly what has happened. Will she commit to ensuring that the police have the resources necessary to properly implement any improved security procedures once this investigation is out of the way and we know what we need to do?

  • We always make sure the police have the resources they need to keep this country safe. On this particular incident, on this attack, I have made it absolutely clear to the police and the emergency services that they have our entire support to do whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of this investigation. I understand the hon. Lady’s willingness to raise the issue of resources, but I reassure her, this House and this country that the police have the resources they need and are full tilt on this investigation.

  • I wish to add my tribute to the Wiltshire police force. My best friend from school serves in that force, and I know how dedicated he and his colleagues are to the security of the county. How are Wiltshire police working with national teams collaboratively to progress this investigation? What lessons will be shared with police forces throughout the UK?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his support in this important incident, on which it is very important to see local leadership as well from Members of Parliament. I reassure him that the local police and the national police are working well together. I spoke this morning to Mark Rowley, the deputy commissioner who is in charge of counter-terrorism, and he has of course been in regular contact with the Wiltshire police, because local knowledge is just as important as expert knowledge.

  • I commend the Home Secretary and the Opposition spokesman for the calm but clear statements they gave. No Member of this House would seek to compromise an ongoing criminal investigation by speculation about motives or perpetrators. However, given the circumstances and the huge level of public concern, will she consider the request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to review the 14 cases to which my right hon. Friend referred?

  • I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that that is a series of rumours and speculations, and it is for the police to decide what to investigate. I understand that it is reasonable to want to raise it at this moment, but our focus must be on the serious event that has taken place over the past four days. Now is not a time to follow up on some other allegations.

  • I add my voice to those that have congratulated our emergency services and the Home Secretary on the way she is handling this serious event. Following the call from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to examine other unexplained deaths, the Home Secretary will be aware that this is not just confined to this country but can be seen in the international arena. Perhaps it is not the time right now, but will she assure the House that she will work internationally, so that when we find out “who”, “how” and “when”, we will be able to hold those people to account, even in the international arena? Will she join me in regretting the fact that Russia is disengaged from the Council of Europe, and therefore the European Court of Human Rights, which is not a good signal for good international relations?

  • I share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment with that situation. Russia plays a role internationally, although the Prime Minister has been very clear, calling this out at her Mansion House speech in 2017, that she has concerns about its behaviour. Russia does have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and we do engage with the Russians up to a point, but there is no “business as usual” here. We need to make sure that we are very clear-eyed about their role and their intentions, so I do join my right hon. Friend in that matter, and I hope we will be able to work internationally should the situation arise and this be needed.

  • I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Has it been necessary to issue revised guidance to frontline police officers on what to do if they are concerned that such circumstances might arise again? If it has been revised, has she seen it, and is she satisfied with it?

  • As the hon. Lady will know, we have been operating at a “severe” terrorism level for a while now—five terrorist attacks got through last year, of course—and we did therefore review police guidelines on unusual substances last year, so I believe that the police have all the right information and tools available to them.

  • This country is rightly praised around the world for the dedication of our police and our determination to follow proper process to ensure we come to the right conclusions before then acting with calm deliberation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in these most awful and appalling of circumstances we need those attributes more than ever?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the professional approach we need to take to this incident. We must support the police, who have such a strong and rightly earned reputation internationally, to make sure they have the space and time to make the inquiries, collect the evidence and then proceed.

  • Can the Home Secretary tell us more about the work of Wiltshire public health officials to keep local people safe?

  • The chief medical officer has told us, given the information we have now, that she thinks the threat to the public is low, which I know will reassure local health officials in Wiltshire.

  • I agree we should be cautious about attributing guilt at this stage, but does the Home Secretary share my and my constituents’ anger about the cruel nature of this crime, which could so easily have resulted in considerably greater collateral damage, and will she therefore assure me and my constituents that eventually the full force of the law will be brought down upon the perpetrators?

  • My hon. Friend is exactly right. Just because we want to approach this with a cool head in order to collect the evidence, it does not mean we do not share the outrage that he and his constituents clearly feel. When we have the evidence, I will return to the House.

  • As the proud husband of a serving police officer, I welcome the comments from the Home Secretary and Members across the House in support of the brave men and women in our emergency services. Should this not also serve to remind us, however, of the pressures on their families, who every day do not know when their loved ones leave for work what they will face?

  • That is such a good point. It is not just the individuals who are affected but their families, and I know that the thoughts of everybody in the House will go out not just to the victims but to the families around them, who must be having such a worried and anxious time right now.

  • Points of Order

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise me on the correct course of action when a private company gives commitments and assurances to Parliament and its Select Committees on issues that affect national security and public safety and then fails to meet them? There is widely available on YouTube this week a banned illegal propaganda video from the extremist proscribed organisation National Action, despite the fact that the Home Affairs Select Committee has raised this video with YouTube and Google seven times over the last 12 months, and despite the fact that they have promised us that the video is illegal and will be taken down and that they have the technology to prevent it from being put back up. Have you had any indication that the Government will look into this, Mr Speaker, and do you share my immense concern that one of the richest companies in the world is failing to meet its basic responsibilities to tackle extremism and protect public safety in this country?

  • I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order and share her intense concern about the matter. As I am sure everybody in the House will agree, National Action is a despicable, fascist, neo-Nazi organisation. My understanding is that it was proscribed by the Home Secretary. If those commitments have been made by those companies, they must be honoured. The right hon. Lady suggested that commitments have been given by those companies, not merely to her as an individual, but to the Home Affairs Committee. If that is so and those commitments have not been honoured, it is open to the Committee, although it should not be necessary, to demand, as a matter of urgency, the appearance of representatives of one or more of those companies before it to explain themselves. This matter must be sorted sooner rather than later. My strong sense is that that would be the will of the House, but the will of the House can also be expressed, and the public order considerations can most appropriately be articulated, by the Home Secretary, who thankfully is in her place.

  • The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is absolutely right to raise this issue. As you rightly said, Mr Speaker, National Action is a proscribed group—I proscribed it myself—and it is a terrorist organisation. The fact is that internet companies have made good progress in taking down Daesh-focused material. We have demonstrated that with our own system, which we showed them, they can take down 94% of material that goes up from Daesh-type terrorist organisations. We need to see much more effort put into the particular area of extreme right-wing groups, like the one the right hon. Lady has raised. We need to see more effort made using artificial intelligence. I hope that the right hon. Lady and I can work together to make sure that we hold internet companies more to account.

  • I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. We would not want a situation to arise in which the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) felt it necessary to write to me to allege a contempt of the House, although that is of course a recourse open to her if people do not comply and honour their undertakings. We very much hope that that will happen very, very soon.

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today, there are reports in the media that one in 10 councils could follow Tory Northamptonshire into technical bankruptcy, according to the National Audit Office. The main causes are the relentless 50% cuts in central Government funding to councils and the increasing pressures on children’s and adults’ services, which have resulted in the cutting of other vital services, unsustainable one-off sales of assets and the use of reserves.

    Given that this is the worst crisis to face local government in the sector’s 170-year history, and given that the Government are unwilling and unprepared to give time to the Opposition to debate matters such as this, has the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government given you, Sir, any indication that he will come to the House today to make a statement, so that Members can question his disastrous slash-and-burn strategy and the findings of this most devastating NAO report in the fullest manner possible?

  • The Secretary of State has given me no such indication. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State is a very willing fellow, but we would not in any way or case want to countenance the idea of him interfering with the time available for the debate on International Women’s Day. However, the hon. Gentleman has registered his concern, which will have been heard on the Treasury Bench.

    I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the current absence of Opposition days, which would be a normal mechanism by which such matters could be aired. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues want such matters to be aired in the Chamber, he can rest assured that they will be aired. They can be aired on the terms of the Secretary of State, in the form of a statement, which it would be open to him to volunteer. If they are not aired in that way, they will be aired in another way.

    Bills Presented

    House of Peers Bill

    Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

    Christine Jardine, supported by Tom Brake, Tim Farron, Layla Moran, Jamie Stone, Wera Hobhouse, Jo Swinson, Sir Vince Cable and Norman Lamb, presented a Bill to provide for the renaming of the House of Lords as the House of Peers.

    Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed (Bill 179).

    Forensic Science Regulator Bill

    Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

    Chris Green, supported by Vicky Ford, Damien Moore, Maggie Throup, Andrew Bowie, Mr William Wragg, Jack Brereton and Stephen Kerr, presented a Bill to make provision for the appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator; to make provision about the Regulator and about the regulation of forensic science; and for connected purposes.

    Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 180) with explanatory notes (Bill 180-EN).

  • Vote 100 and International Women’s Day

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered Vote 100 and International Women’s Day.

    This House welcomes International Women’s Day as an occasion to come together to celebrate the achievements of women, while also recognising the inequalities that still exist. Around the world, International Women’s Day is being marked with arts performances, talks, rallies, conferences, marches and debates like this one. It is a great honour to lead today’s debate.

    This year, 2018, is a particularly significant year to be having this discussion in the UK, as we mark 100 years since some women won the right to vote after a long and arduous struggle. In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in this House. Can Members imagine walking into this Chamber as the lone woman among a crowd of men? It would not be until 1979 that we would get our first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

    I am pleased to say that the Parliament that I joined in 2010 was a place very different from the Parliament of Nancy Astor’s day. There were 142 other female MPs on these Benches, and we had a female Home Secretary—a trend that I am proud to continue. We now have a more diverse Parliament than ever, with 208 female MPs. A third of the Cabinet are now women and, of course, we also have our second female Prime Minister.

    Nevertheless, getting women into Parliament is not simply about changing the faces on these Benches; at its heart, it is about how we use our positions here to make meaningful change to women’s lives throughout the UK and the world, because from here we can bring about real change.

  • I join the Minister in welcoming International Women’s Day. Does she also welcome the fact that the UN Commission on the Status of Women is meeting again in New York next week? Does she agree that it is really important that it comes up with strong policies so that women in rural communities are adequately supported?

  • I am delighted to agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of that meeting of the commission. Her emphasis on making sure that we get real policies for women in rural communities is essential.

    I am proud to be part of a Government who are wholeheartedly committed to improving the lives of women and girls. Since 2010, we have made significant progress in accelerating gender equality at home and abroad, whether by empowering women in the workplace, tackling violence against women and girls or improving girls’ education around the globe.

    We all know, though, that there is more to do, with sexual harassment scandals, stories of debauched dinners, one third of women worldwide experiencing physical or sexual violence, and the fact that it will take an estimated 118 years to close the global gender pay gap. As the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day makes clear, we must continue to “press for progress”. This effort must span countries and continents, policy areas and political allegiances.

    I wish to kick off today’s debate by talking about three areas in which I think women are still losing out to men globally, and what we are going to do about it. The first is violence: too many women and girls face harm and abuse. The second is money: many women still earn less than their male counterparts. The third is influence: around the world, men still occupy the majority of the top jobs.

    Let me start on the first point, violence. A truly equal society is one in which everyone is free from the threat of gendered violence. Today, I am proud to announce the launch of the Government’s consultation on tackling domestic abuse, which will help to inform the introduction of the domestic abuse Bill. Domestic abuse affects approximately 2 million people in England and Wales every year, and the majority of the victims are women. The Government are determined to do all we can to confront the devastating impact that such abuse has on victims and their families, and in doing so to address a key cause and consequence of gender inequality.

    Our consultation seeks to transform our approach to domestic abuse, addressing the issue at every stage from prevention to early intervention to bringing more perpetrators to justice. It reinforces our determination to make domestic abuse everyone’s business. This comprehensive consultation will last for 12 weeks, and I encourage every Member of the House to engage with it and share it with those in their networks who have, or who should have, an interest in this area. This is a critical opportunity to bring these crimes out of the shadows.

  • The Minister will know that, last week, the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women said that the way we treat women in Northern Ireland, denying them access to abortion in their home nation, is a form of violence against women. Today, 135 parliamentarians from throughout the House have written to her asking her to commit to providing an opportunity to put that right in the legislation she is talking about. Will she give us a right to vote to give women in Northern Ireland equal access to abortion rights?

  • The hon. Lady will know about the limitations on my announcing any such statement, but may I nevertheless take the opportunity to thank her for the good work that she has done in this area, including in ensuring that, for the first time, the women of Northern Ireland have access to abortions? We now have a new system—a centralised system—for those women so that they find it much easier than ever before to access the health support that she, like me, thinks is so vital.

    The consultation will last 12 weeks, and I urge every Member of the House to engage with it. Domestic violence is not the only type of violence that demands our urgent attention, though. Internationally, too, we must continue to combat violence against women and girls. Globally, one in three women are beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime. We are generating world-leading evidence through our £25 million “What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls” programme. This year, results from 15 innovative interventions being evaluated across Africa and Asia will provide new global evidence about what works to stop violence before it starts. We want this evidence to be a game-changer in supporting more effective UK and international support for ending violence against women and girls globally, and it is essential that we put what we learn into practice.

  • I welcome the announcement that the Minister is making about the international dimension to protecting women against violence. Will she assure the House, as part of the consultation on tackling violence against women here at home, that refuges will be properly resourced? Many have closed down in recent years, including in my constituency. Women need proper support when they have to go to refuges because they face violence. Can she assure the House that she will make sure that happens?

  • Quite simply, I can assure the House that ensuring that women have the right support at refuges is an essential part of the support that we will provide women when they become victims of domestic abuse. I know that there are concerns in the sector about funding, and there is a consultation ongoing, but we will not oversee a reduction in beds. We are looking for the most efficient, effective way of delivering that support, and nothing is off the table.

  • Probably all of us in the House were shocked when we heard the reports of sexual harassment and abuse in the aid sector. When we are looking at what happens to women internationally, it is important that we hold our charitable organisations’ feet to the fire to tackle the abuse that has been reported. How does my right hon. Friend propose that we can ensure that those organisations will deal with the allegations of sexual exploitation in the aid sector?

  • My right hon. Friend will have heard, as I did, the absolute conviction and determination of the Secretary of State for International Development to make sure that, as my right hon. Friend says, she holds the charitable sector’s feet to the fire. It is wholly unacceptable that anybody going abroad for a charity should take advantage of vulnerable girls and women. I am confident in the activity of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in this area.

    The second area that I wish to discuss is money. A truly equal society is also one where women and men are equally economically empowered. Globally, women earn less than men, have fewer assets, and still do 60% to 80% of unpaid domestic work. One in 10 married women in developing countries are not consulted by their husbands on how their income is spent, and although in the UK we are enjoying record female employment, we are also grappling with a national gender pay gap of 18%. Therefore, although as women we might think we have equality in the workplace, our pay cheques tell a different story. That is why this Government have introduced world-leading legislation.

  • Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a matter not just of social equality, but of economic equality, bearing in mind the estimate this week that, if we closed the gender pay gap, it would mean an extra £90 billion going into women’s income? That is a staggering figure when we reflect on what that means about women being kept poorer as a result of the pay gap.

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is bad not just for the economics of the individual woman and the individual family, but for the country as a whole. As she says, if we can raise pay in a fair way, it would be good for the economy of the country. That is why we have introduced world leading legislation requiring organisations with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap by the end of the tax year. I want businesses to have their pay gap laid bare and then do something about it.

  • On that point, my right hon. Friend will have read in the press some speculation that organisations may be flouting the gender pay gap reporting regulations that the Government have rightly brought in. Can she outline to the House what action the Government will take to ensure that businesses take this requirement very seriously indeed?

  • I thank my right hon. Friend, who has done such important work in this area. She will know that it was a manifesto commitment to bring this requirement forward. It is the law, and we will make sure that companies stick to it, abide by it, deliver on it and then, hopefully, make changes on it.

    Equality is not just about getting women the same pay as men, but about getting women the same jobs as men. I have lost track of the number of meetings that I have sat in where I am the only woman at the table— I expect that I am not the only one to have found that. Women are still under-represented in a whole range of fields from politics to business, and we are particularly under-represented at the top.

    We have made good progress since 2010, and have eliminated all-male boards in the FTSE 100, but only a quarter of directors in the FTSE 350 and only 4% of FTSE 350 chief executive officers are women. That is simply not good enough, and it is bad economics, too. We know that organisations with the highest levels of gender diversity in their leadership teams are 15% more likely to outperform their industry rivals, so we must think long and hard about what we need to do to improve those statistics.

  • I endorse what the Minister says about being the only woman in meetings; that still happens. Does she agree that when women reach senior levels in business and in work, they must be paid equally to men? Sadly, today, there are still many women doing the same work of equal value and not achieving equal pay.

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Women must be paid the same as men. It has been illegal, for many, many years not to give equal pay for equal work, but we are trying to take that one step further with reporting on the gender pay gap. Hon. Members will know that there has been quite a lot of reporting on substantial banking and media companies, which has shown the scale of the gender pay gap. Managing directors and senior directors are having to take action as a result, which is very welcome.

    I am pleased to support the Hampton-Alexander review’s targets of achieving 33% of women on boards and 33% in executive committees. It is about not just getting in about getting on, and women deserve to get to the top of all the professions and to get as far as their aspirations will take them.

    I end by reminding the House of the aspirations of Emmeline Pankhurst, who famously said of the campaign for suffrage that the suffragettes had to

    “make more noise than anybody else”

    for their cause to be heard and to enact the change that they wanted. Man or woman, we must continue the legacy of the suffragettes, suffragists and their supporters. We must all make enough noise so that the agenda that I have talked about continues to be realised. This is an important debate, and I urge everyone here to continue to “press for progress”, as the International Women’s Day slogan suggests, to finally achieve the true gender equality for which women have been fighting for so long.

  • I am so pleased that we are making time available today to continue the important tradition of marking International Women’s Day. I thank Mr Speaker, because he has done it again—he has made history. He helped me to raise the International Women’s Day flag over the Parliament buildings for the first time in history, and for that, I salute him.

    This year’s International Women’s Day has been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions for me. Reading about the struggle that led to some women gaining the right to vote in a general election 100 years ago has highlighted how far we have come, but also just how far we still have to go. It led me to reflect on the persistent inequalities that relate to class and ethnicity, as well as to gender. Working-class men were denied the vote until 1918, and their enfranchisement paved the way for working-class women. But our demand for equality goes beyond the vote, vital though it is. We are interested in the advancement of equality, on a broad front, and we cannot ignore the fact that class and race often go hand in hand in the struggle for equality.

    There is little doubt that 2018 is turning out to be a landmark year for women. The decades of campaigning that led to women’s suffrage a century ago highlights what women can achieve when we unite and organise. If all women had been granted the vote in 1918, we women would have been the majority, but it was another 10 years before full electoral equality for women was enshrined in the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. That legislation was the result of decades of struggle by famous and not-so-famous people.

    I remember hearing the saying, “If you hold the pen, you write the history.” That is hard to understand until we start reading history and realise that there are bits missing. My theme today is taken from the writer Virginia Woolf, who said that for most of history, Anonymous was a woman. At the march on Sunday, I was asked who I was marching for. I said that I was marching for the hidden history of women—for the women whose campaigning zeal did not make them famous, and for the women who suffered, and still suffer, in silence.

    The role of women of colour in the suffragette movement has often been overlooked. I am so grateful to the Commons Library for unearthing the case of Sarah Parker Remond, the only known woman of colour to have signed the first petition for women’s suffrage in 1866. She was a prominent African American lecturer, abolitionist and agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Sarah was an educated, independent woman of wealth. Why would she be hidden from the history of the suffragette movement? There can only really be one answer: the colour of her skin. Today, I salute Sarah Parker Remond in Parliament so that her name will live on in perpetuity in Hansard. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you.

    A better-known woman of colour and suffragette is Sophia Duleep Singh. She is rightly celebrated even though she was born after the original suffrage petition. She campaigned for women nationally as well as locally. She has been the subject of a BBC documentary and a Royal Mail commemorative stamp. I treasure the photograph of me with a poster-sized version of that stamp—a small one would not have been very good, would it? The part played by the vast majority of black, Asian and minority ethnic women in the suffrage movement has been lost. They are basically a hidden history—a story that might never be told.

    I am proud of the Opposition’s 50:50 shadow Cabinet, and I am truly proud of the fact that 45% of Labour MPs are women. One more heave, and we will have parity. All we need is a general election in the next couple of months. It is also notable that across the House, the number of women MPs is at a record high of 32%. We welcome women MPs from all parties in this place. If we could clap, I would say that we should give ourselves a round of applause—but not too loudly, because we still have persistent problems that will not go away unless we take a radical approach. We should applaud the Conservatives for electing a woman leader—

  • Twice, as the hon. Gentleman says. We should, however, note that for eight years the right hon. Lady has sat at the table of a Cabinet that has sanctioned £80 billion of tax and benefit changes, as a result of which more than 86% of cuts fall on the shoulders of women. So I say this: a round of applause, but not too loudly.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech and the way in which she is reflecting on International Women’s Day. Will she join me in recognising the fact that for the past 66 years we have had a female Head of State? Will she send congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen, who has presided so well over this country through smooth times and rough?

  • I will congratulate the Queen on the dignity and poise with which she has held her position over the years. I hope that we might see the new generation coming in and taking that place in the future. [Interruption.] Long may she reign—absolutely. We do not want to see the end of her reign, but I understand that she is scaling back her duties to make way for the next generation. I am in no way advocating her quick demise.

    Let me offer a cautionary tale from 100 years ago. Just as women were getting the vote, male misogyny struck a blow at women’s sport. Teams of women were playing football in front of large crowds and making big money, but the Football Association banned women from its grounds. The FA said that

    “the game of football”—

    this was probably said in a more pompous voice—

    “is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”

    At a stroke, the FA destroyed women’s football. I bet that if Eniola Aluko is watching, she is probably thinking that not much has changed.

    Women football players have been making up for lost time, however. Sadly, the England team lost narrowly last night to the world champions, the United States, but I wish them well on their continued journey. I would like to acknowledge the first real international women’s football star, Michelle Akers. In the 1991 women’s world championship, she was the winner of the golden boot, and she even appeared on a cereal box.

  • I want to highlight the work that Lewes football club does in the world of women’s football. It was the first club in this country to give equal pay to the men’s and women’s teams.

  • That is excellent news, and I hope that it will be reflected nationally as we encourage the game of women’s football. I would also like to note Briana Scurry, a goalkeeper who was the first black woman to be elected to the US hall of fame.

    As women, we know that we have to break down structural barriers, but sometimes we forget just how deep the roots of those structural barriers are. We have to break down centuries-old traditions to get into places such as Parliament, which were designed to keep us out. Today, too many groups still face discrimination and disadvantage. We must look forward and tackle the structural barriers facing all women and those with protected characteristics so that we can achieve true equality for all.

    The official theme of International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress”. I want to set out Labour’s priorities in the areas where the need for change is most pressing. There is a long list, and it includes tackling violence against women and girls, tackling domestic violence and abuse in the workplace, and, of course, tackling the enduring gender pay gap. I am proud of the role that Labour has played in ensuring progress in the UK by breaking down structural barriers that have long held women back. Labour brought in the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. We introduced the minimum wage and Sure Start. We extended maternity leave and doubled maternity pay, thus valuing women.

    Now, Labour believes that we will make a real difference in closing the gender pay gap only with a combination of sticks and carrots. We will mandate all companies with over 250 employees to produce action plans to close the gender pay gap. Companies would be accredited for their progress and issued with certification, and only companies with certification would be able to bid for lucrative Government contracts. This is a win-win situation—it is the right thing to do. The workforce will be loyal, and companies will make more profit, as the Minister mentioned, and will be rewarded for good practice. We will also benefit as a country. According to a study by PwC, the closure of the gender pay gap would give a £90 billion boost to the UK. Globally, the boost would be trillions of dollars—trillions! In the developing world, it is widely recognised that empowering women is an important step in driving economic growth, and that should be part of our sustainable development goals.

    Between 2015 and 2016, the UK fell from 14th to 15th place in a ranking of 33 OECD countries based on five key indicators of female economic empowerment. Our country deserves better. Our country needs a Labour Government and our policies to put people and progress at the heart—

  • I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she is being incredibly generous with her time. I hear with interest the proposals that the Labour party has on the table. Does she see a time when there will be a female leader of the Labour party, and if so, why has that not happened so far?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. This policy, whether introduced by a male or a female, is important to address pay inequality for women and to ensure that the gender pay gap is not just audited but closed. That is the important factor.

    The near parity between women and men in the parliamentary Labour party has not come about by chance. The introduction of all-women shortlists promoted a change of culture. When the election was called at short notice and we had no time for all-women shortlists, we still selected and elected more women than any other party.

    The test for any party is, “Are you helping or hindering?” I am afraid that many current Government policies fail that test. We in the Labour party are determined that we will be a help, not a hindrance, to women. I do not have time to go into all the elements of our key policy strands, but they form an acronym—AHELP. That covers access to justice; health and wellbeing; economic equality; leadership and representation; and protections for women. With this, we will see a real transformation.

    Women make up 51% of the population, and without that 51%, the other 49% would not be here. So let this be the year that change happens. I will not wait another 110 years for real equality.

  • This is the first time in many years that the International Women’s Day debate has been held in Government time. I thank those on the Front Bench who made that happen—we know who they are—and hope that this is a trend for the future as well.

    Today is a very special day indeed: International Women’s Day in the year that we celebrate 100 years since women first won not only the right to vote, but the right to stand for election to this place. It has also been, for a long time, a day of celebration in my household, because today is my youngest son James’s 16th birthday. I think there might be other Members on the Front Bench who also have children who were born on International Women’s Day. This is a day when men and women can and should come together to celebrate, whether it is for their children or for other reasons.

    Equality affects us all, and persistent inequality disadvantages us all. That is why, in the work of the Women and Equalities Committee, we look at all strands of equality. We have a particular interest in women’s equality, but we are not frightened to look at the issues that face men too. Our latest inquiry has been into dads in the workplace. I thank all my colleagues who are here today—the hon. Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and others who serve on the Committee—for their dedication to the work of the inquiry. We will be publishing the final report in the next two weeks.

    The Government have, as outlined by the Minister, shown their huge commitment to gender equality in this country, but also abroad. Today’s announcement on the proposed tough new laws on domestic abuse indicates that that commitment is showing no sign of diminishing. The Government’s record needs to be put on record, because it is so striking: the criminalisation of forced marriage, two new stalking laws, the roll-out of domestic violence protection orders, new offences on domestic abuse relating to coercive control, shared parental leave, equal marriage, making revenge pornography a crime, and making sex and relationship education compulsory for all children. All those things show that this Government understand the very wide nature of the policies that they need to put in place to address equality issues for women.

    Today’s theme is about pressing for change. The role of the Women and Equalities Committee, which I chair, is to make sure that we continue to hold the Government’s feet to the fire, not just on their existing legislative work but on that for the future. I will talk about three areas of our work in the Committee that I gently suggest require further work in future. Maternity discrimination, despite some of the strongest laws and a clear determination by the Government to outlaw it, continues to blight the lives of too many women. The use of non-disclosure agreements in many of the arrangements that are put forward to encourage women to leave the workplace means that it is difficult for us to see the full scale of the problem. That is why the Committee will be looking carefully at how we should reform non-disclosure agreements for issues not just like sexual harassment, but maternity discrimination as well.

    Another area that I am sure the Committee will want to continue to scrutinise is the role of women in this place. We produced a very important report shortly before the last general election calling for the implementation of aspects of the Equality Act to make it transparent how many women are standing for election at various points in the parliamentary calendar. It was disappointing that the Government did not agree to go forward with the part of the Act that would require all political parties to be transparent about the data on their gender split of candidates at that time. I hope that I can encourage those on the Front Bench to continue to look at how we might be able to use that legislation to throw transparency on to this issue.

    As our previous leader David Cameron said, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that is still the case today, particularly when it comes to the work of parties in the selection of their candidates. While there may be more women sitting on the Labour Benches today than on the Conservative Benches, I am sure they would agree that the selection procedure can stand in the way of women coming into this place. We need to ensure there is transparency of the data.

  • I praise the work that my right hon. Friend does as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I loved the list she gave of what we have done in government; that is an important message, because both parties have something to contribute. Does she agree that we must put forward a very positive view of women’s role in this House? The most important thing is to encourage young women to look at being an MP as a potential career. If we are always complaining and pointing out the downsides of this job, that will not be very encouraging. I encourage her Committee to look at those positives, so that young women know that this could be a job for them, and that it is one of the most fantastic jobs they could ever do.

  • My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The best thing that we are doing at the moment to encourage young women to be interested in politics is having a female Prime Minister. It was when I saw Margaret Thatcher become leader of the party and then Prime Minister of our country that politics became relevant for me. It turned politics from, frankly, a lot of old men in grey raincoats to something technicolour and relevant to me as a 14-year-old girl living in south Wales, where there were not too many Tories around. I could see an amazing role model on the television who was not only a fantastic female politician but was turning our country round from the crisis of the ’70s, when we were—

  • The sick man of Europe.

  • Does the right hon. Lady agree with me about the value of teachers and the role they can play in encouraging young girls to come forward? I want to tell a slightly different story that I have not often shared. One of the reasons I got involved in politics was that, for our homework one day at school, we were asked to go and work ourselves up about something, and I managed to work myself up about Margaret Thatcher. I can honestly say that the rest is history.

    I want to acknowledge the work done by teachers in my schools, such as Cranford school, which has started Cranford Parliament and will be holding International Women’s Day events today and tomorrow. Those initiatives have an impact by making people feel involved in political debate and are important in connecting Parliament with education.

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Inspiring people to get involved in politics is such an important part of our job.

    I want to talk about inspiring women. I might have been the first woman to be elected to Parliament in North Hampshire, but I am now joined by five other female Conservative Members of Parliament in Hampshire, including my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies). Where one woman treads, others will follow. I am very proud indeed that 60% of my borough councillors in Basingstoke are female, led by the incredibly impressive Councillor Terri Reid. It is important to recognise that as Members of Parliament, we can inspire others to become involved in politics through our work.

  • On that point about inspiring women, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that as Members of Parliament, we get into our schools to speak to young women and show them that being an MP is exactly the sort of job they should be aspiring to do, as is being the leader of a company? As a male MP with two female bosses, I know that women are at least as good at this job and probably better. Does she agree that a woman’s place is not, as some old-fashioned people might say, in the kitchen, but on the Front Bench?

  • What we are trying to say is that a woman’s place is in the House, which is a similar thing. I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is absolutely right that we need to recognise the importance of encouraging more young women into politics.

  • It is important that we in this House take responsibility for inspiring other women, including our daughters, but we should also remember on this day that many of us owe our inspiration to our mothers, our grandmothers and important women in our lives. My own grandmother did not have the right to vote when she was born. I wear her wedding ring to this Chamber every day, and occasionally it serves as a reminder of what we owe to generations past.

  • The hon. Lady makes such a poignant point, and I am sure all of us will reflect on the role of women in our own families in getting us here today.

    There are other women in our communities whom we need to celebrate. We are incredibly privileged in Hampshire to have one of only four female chief constables in the country, Olivia Pinkney, who is doing an incredible job of running one of the largest police forces in the country. The chief executive of my local hospital in Basingstoke, Alex Whitfield, succeeded another female chief executive, to make sure we have some of the best health services in the area.

  • The right hon. Lady is right to point out the need to have more women in senior policing positions and to encourage more women police officers to rise up through the ranks. Will she join me in paying tribute to the woman Met Commissioner, the woman head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the woman head of the National Crime Agency? To have Cressida Dick, Sara Thornton and Lynne Owens all in those top positions is a huge tribute to them and the work they have done to rise through the profession.

  • Coupled with a female Home Secretary, they make a formidable team.

    I also want to point out the role of women in business. I represent one of the top 10 centres of business in the south-east, and it is local businesswomen in smaller businesses who I find incredibly inspiring—people like Beryl Huntingdon in my constituency, who runs a business to support other businesses. When I look at my local charities, I see it is often women who are not just helping to run existing charities—people like Evelyn Vincent, who was a founder member of Headway Basingstoke—but setting up new charities. I think of women like Charlie Porter, who set up the Muffin’s Dream Foundation to support families with disabled children, Catherine Waters-Clark, who founded Inspero to help children understand where their food comes from and how they can cook it, and Mary Swan, who is the artistic director of my local producing theatre company.

    It does not stop there. If it was not for the women, I do not know what the Church of England would be doing. It is people like Jo Stoker of St Michael’s Church who keep our churches running. We were talking earlier about football teams. Basingstoke Town ladies football team plays in the FA women’s premier league south-west division, and I am hugely proud of the fact that they are doing extremely well—in fact, better than the men’s team.

  • May I add to my right hon. Friend’s list someone I am going to see tomorrow in my own constituency? Sally Preston runs a company called Kiddylicious, which she has started from scratch. It is producing fantastically healthy children’s food and is now a multimillion-pound international business.

  • By recognising women who are doing things in other roles and walks of life, we can help to ensure that young women in our schools realise that the only thing that limits them in this world is their imagination and the support they get from their families and their schools to realise their ambitions.

    In talking about women in my constituency, I could not fail to refer to the most famous daughter of Basingstoke, Jane Austen. Until very recently, almost nobody in Basingstoke knew that she was born and bred in our borough—the most famous novelist in the world, and we had failed to recognise her. I do not know whether that was because she was a woman, or maybe it was just that people did not like reading her books—I love them, but some people do not; it is an acquired taste. When we commemorated the 200th anniversary of her death, I was immensely proud to be part of a programme to make sure she was better remembered, which culminated in the first ever sculpture of her being put in place in the centre of my town. I would like to put on record my immense thanks to the sculptor, Adam Roud, and Amanda Aldous MBE, who made that project possible. I want to celebrate women now, but also the women who have made my town a great place to live.

    Women in Basingstoke are no different from those in the rest of the country—there is prodigious talent—so why are women still paid less than men? In my constituency, women are paid 25% less than men, and we are in the bottom 4% in the UK. Despite the fact that there is no difference in the levels of education of men and women in my constituency, women are consistently being paid 25% less than men, because they cannot find the sorts of jobs they need to use their experience and talent.

    Organisations are working hard to try to reverse this worrying trend of our not using the skills of our people in the way we should. The local borough council has focused on this, and it now has a positive gender pay gap of 2.16%. Of local employers, AWE has a programme to increase female apprentices and clear targets for increasing female management, and Fujitsu has a programme to attract female apprentices. Companies are waking up and realising that they are not using female talent in the way they should.

    I very much support the Government’s work on gender pay gap reporting. Such reporting provides the sort of transparency that companies in my constituency need if they are to focus more on this problem. There are about 900 businesses in Basingstoke with more than 250 employees, and I will be looking very closely at gender pay gap reporting to ensure that we capitalise on the skills and talents of women that are otherwise lost to the economy.

    I particularly want Ministers to reflect on the availability of flexible working. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister has pointed out the need for flexible working right at the start of somebody’s time in employment. Research by Timewise has shown that at the moment just 6% of job vacancies pay the annualised equivalent of £20,000 a year or more, leaving many women with no option but to take low-paid jobs—often poorly paid jobs with little progression—if they need the flexibility that many require to balance work and family life. I hope that the Prime Minister’s announcement on flexible working last year will be just the start of a much broader set of work that the Government will do to make flexible working a reality from day one for everybody in this country.

    As was asked earlier, is this a turning point and a landmark year? I am sure that people at the time of the first and second world wars and in the 1960s and 1970s, when so much of the legislation we enjoy today was put in place, felt that those were landmark years. The reason why we may do better in calling this a landmark year, following all the revelations of sexual harassment in Hollywood and Westminster, is that we have record numbers of women in work, and economic empowerment is such an important part of cementing the changed attitudes that we are all looking for in the debate today.

    I hope that the establishment of the Women and Equalities Committee has helped to keep equality issues, particularly those that relate to women, at the top of the agenda, and that it has added to the momentum for change. We started our series of sexual harassment reports in 2016 with one on the sexual harassment of schoolgirls. At the time, I was told that we were expecting children to accept something that had been outlawed in the workplace, but how wrong we were about that. Sexual harassment blights the lives of 50% of women in this country, and we must tackle it. I am pleased that the Select Committee is doing two reports on it at the moment: on sexual harassment in the public realm, and on sexual harassment at work.

    There really is more that unites us than divides us when it comes to issues of women. I think that the women—and the men—sitting in the House and taking part in this debate today can make sure that if we work together, this turning point does create the lasting change we want.