House of Commons
Thursday 15 March 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Support for Farmers
We continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament to maintain stability for farmers as we seek to grow our world-leading food and farming industry in a sustainable way. Furthermore, the Government are currently consulting on future farming policy, seeking views on a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming.
I welcome the pledge from the Government to provide financial support for farmers in Wales, and of course in the rest of the UK, after Brexit. Does the Minister agree that this commitment will provide the stability to allow farmers to continue providing high- quality produce, without having a negative effect on the environment?
I agree. British food enjoys a reputation for quality that has been built on high animal welfare standards and strong environmental protections. The Government’s proposals will support farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food, and ensure that we are the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.
Recently I met local National Farmers Union farmers in my constituency who are frustrated by the complexity of and frequent delays in the EU’s basic payment scheme. When working with the Environment Secretary, will the Minister encourage a simpler system that will see farmers paid on time once we leave the EU?
Yes, we will give such encouragement. I know that my colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has listened to concerns and is consulting on arrangements to simplify and improve the delivery of the common agricultural policy while we continue to participate in it. Outside the CAP, with a system based on simpler and more effective rules, we will be able to support farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.
Farmers need to know what a transitional deal is going to look like, what a trade deal is going to look like and about labour constraints. To go back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), why will the Minister not listen to NFU Scotland and ensure that all agriculture powers are assigned to Scotland so that the Scottish Government can design a policy to suit Scottish farmers?
Of course we are listening, and in the run-up to the March European Council we very much have the concerns of the devolved Governments in mind, but we must ensure that the internal market of the United Kingdom continues to function. We will go forward with those two tensions in mind.
Stafford constituency has one of the largest areas for growing soft fruit, and indeed lettuces, in the country, meaning that we have less reliance on imports. However, those involved are very concerned about the great workers who come to harvest those crops. What assurances will the Minister give me that he is working together with his counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that the supply of people to harvest those crops is still available after we leave? [Interruption.]
We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to give us advice on migration policy. As we have always said, this vote was not a vote to pull up the drawbridge, and we will ensure that policy reflects the needs of the United Kingdom’s economy, particularly the sector my hon. Friend mentioned.
Before I answer, may I take this opportunity to express my condolences to the family of Warren Hawksley, an erstwhile colleague of ours? He was a Maastricht rebel and a great friend of mine; he was very highly principled and very energetic—sometimes too energetic—in pursuit of his views, but, as I say, I express my condolences to his family.
Our immediate goal is to agree a strictly time-limited implementation period by the March European Council next week. This is crucial to helping us build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be on our exit. We have also been working hard to codify the joint report into legal text. We are confident that both of these aims are within reach. Finally, the March European Council is expected to issue the negotiating guidelines to the Commission to negotiate the future partnership. We are seeking to ensure that those guidelines are as broad and open as possible to allow the most constructive negotiation to deliver the close relationship we are aiming for.
Does the right hon. Gentleman foresee a scenario in which the deal negotiated is so mind-bogglingly positive that all the other European Union states want that kind of relationship as well, and the European Union itself implodes? Or does he accept that membership is the best possible relationship we can have with the European Union, so any new settlement will be disadvantageous compared with what we have now?
Those who made a decision on the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question were the British people—17.5 million of them—and they decided that that was not the case. Let me respond to the first part of his question, however, because he does have a serious point. Certainly in the institutions of the European Union, and in some member states, there are concerns that if we are too successful that will be tempting to others. I do not believe that that is a real fear, because we have unique circumstances—the English language, our historic traditions, our world network, our island status, our law—that other countries do not have. That is no fault of their own; they just do not have those advantages. That is what will allow us to make the best of this situation.
It is fascinating to have a lecture from the SNP on fantasy politics. We are proposing a transition period based on existing arrangements and rules, so that the British people and companies—and, indeed, European people and companies—have only one transition to make.
It was disappointing to see the aggressive line in last week’s EU document on maintaining full access to our fishing waters. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Department is being robust on behalf of my Northumbrian fishermen in any negotiations, to ensure that we regain control of our fishing waters before deciding whom to allow to fish in them?
My hon. Friend is right, and it was a very odd linkage to make. The simple truth is that when we leave the European Union we will be an independent coastal state, and as a result we will control our own waters. As stated in DEFRA questions last week, we will continue negotiations with neighbouring states about catch—because fish move—quotas, and all the rest of it. However, we will control our own destiny.
The UK is party to around 40 trade agreements negotiated by the EU, but at least two of those countries have indicated that they will seek concessions from the United Kingdom in return for rolling over those agreements during the transition period. Will the Secretary of State assure UK exporters that they will be able to continue to trade with those countries on the same basis as now and with the exact same benefits, and that we will not end up in a situation where those countries will have preferential access to our market, while UK businesses lose the same access to their markets?
The right hon. Gentleman’s stance is fascinating, because the customs union proposal that the Labour party recently came up with induces exactly the risk that people will have access to our markets without our necessarily having complementary access to theirs. Indeed, that was the view espoused by the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade not long ago.
I wish my right hon. Friend every success in the negotiations which, as he said, will reach an important stage next week. Will he confirm that it remains the Government’s position that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that all necessary resources—financial and otherwise—will continue to be deployed with an eye to such an eventuality?
Yes, and interestingly my right hon. Friend’s question links to that asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about whether some people on the continent think that letting us get a good deal would be a bad thing for the future of the European Union. Were people to turn that into a punishment deal, plainly no deal would be better than that. We are, of course, allocating the necessary resources, as the Chancellor has said.
The Secretary of State backs a 21-month transition period. Given that the Government’s own impact assessment points to every sector and region of the UK being damaged by Brexit, what discussions has he had with different sectors about the extra damage that a short, 21-month transition period could inflict on jobs here? Which sectors or companies have told him that a 21-month transition period is acceptable—the CBI, for example, which called for a three-year transition period, or the EEF, which called for at least two years?
The first thing I would say is that there is no official Government document that makes that forecast. There is work in progress, but that is not an official Government forecast—indeed, we do not believe it. The simple truth is that, first off, the most important priority is to establish an implementation period as soon as possible, so that companies can have certainty. That is the view of the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and pretty much every other business group there is.
Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland Border
The Prime Minister reaffirmed her commitment to the Northern Ireland-Ireland border in her Mansion House speech, recognising the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and our shared commitment to avoiding a hard border. The joint report, agreed in December, also made clear our intention to avoid a hard border and physical infrastructure, or related checks and controls, between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have always been clear that we will not agree anything that threatens the constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom.
The Government have made clear their unwavering commitment to three guiding principles in relation to Northern Ireland and the Republic: there should be no hard border between north and south; the Belfast agreement must be honoured; and the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom must remain unimpaired. The Prime Minister set out, most recently in her Mansion House speech, how that might be achieved. We are also building on the options set out in the August position papers, which set out practical options for how we might take this forward.
I am certain my hon. Friend has seen the paper “Smart Border 2.0”, which was prepared for the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee. It does not provide the whole solution, but it does show how technology will help to solve this problem. Does she agree that this will solve it and ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The report to which he refers is an interesting document, but it does not go as far as the commitment made by the United Kingdom. Our unwavering commitment is to not introduce any physical infrastructure at the border. We have explicitly ruled that out. The report is interesting, but it does not go all the way.
May I make a plea to the Minister to recognise that this is about much more than just the movement of goods or services? This is about a cultural issue and the movement of people—it is about all of that. The symbolism is enormous and the Minister needs to ensure that that is recognised, time after time in all the talks she has, to reassure the people of both parts of Ireland.
I do not think that Ministers quite appreciate the level of concern across the House on this issue. Whenever I have visited the Irish border, I have come face to face with the reality of what the installation of any cameras or any infrastructure would mean. It would not last a day, Minister; it would not last a day. Why will the Secretary of State not even visit the border, so that he can appreciate why people are so concerned? I do not know whether she has been, but will she encourage the Secretary of State to do so?
We do not underestimate the importance of this issue. My fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has been to the border and engaged regularly with Members from Northern Ireland and those involved in this issue. The Secretary of State has also been to the border, prior to his appointment to this position, and is very much apprised of the sensitivities and importance of this critical issue.
I think that says all we need to hear. What we want to know is how can we ensure an open border without a customs union? We have looked everywhere we can think of to identify a border anywhere on earth that is open and has no customs union. The Prime Minister referred to the border between the United States and Canada. Can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister has ruled that out as an option, and can she tell us where on earth there is a border that is open with no customs union?
The hon. Lady really needs to go back and listen to what the Prime Minister said at Mansion House. She spent a lot of time looking at this issue and is very much interested in finding solutions. There are many proposals on the table that would be viable and workable, and the Government are in the process of considering them. A trusted trader scheme, exemptions, authorised economic operator arrangements —all these options are on the table and are subject to the negotiations.
Support for Manufacturers
This is, of course, a topic of frequent interest. Leaving the EU allows us to consider how our economy is shaped and presents an opportunity to deliver a pro-competitive, pro-innovation industrial strategy that builds on our strengths, provides certainty and stands the test of time, so that we have a resilient economy, ready for the future.
To ensure that trade is fair as well as free, there are over 40 defence instruments in place regarding steel at the European level. The behaviour of the US Administration at the moment may well mean that increases. Can the Minister give confidence to the steel industry that these trade defence instruments will remain in place at the point of moving out of the European Union?
This Government are very disappointed by the President’s intention to place tariffs on steel and aluminium. The UK fully supports open and free trade and measures to tackle unfair trade practices. As part of the preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU, we are committed to creating a trade remedies framework that is able to react efficiently and effectively. When the UK leaves the EU, we will remain a member of the World Trade Organisation. We will play a full part in promoting compliance with the rules-based trading system and, if necessary, make use of the WTO’s dispute resolution procedures in defence of our national interest—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is barracking me from a sedentary position. I say to him that if we adopted Labour’s position, all our trade remedies would be the policies of the European Union and not of the United Kingdom.
The chief executive of ADS— Mr Paul Everitt—which represents companies in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, has said:
“A customs union with the EU is a practical solution that would put businesses in the best possible position to compete after Brexit.”
If the Government care about manufacturing, will they reconsider their position on the customs union?
Of course we are concerned about aerospace; it is one of our greatest industries. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said by his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). He said that retaining membership of a customs union would be “deeply unattractive”, because it would stop us negotiating our own trade deals:
“As a transitional phase, a customs union agreement might be thought to have some merit. However, as an end point it is deeply unattractive. It would preclude us from making our own independent trade agreements with our five largest export markets outside the EU”.
For all the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) says, his party is at sixes and sevens.
I certainly agree that we should have our own trade policies in place and that we should not be standing against free trade. We should be unequivocally embracing free trade, but we must stand against unfair, anti-competitive practices, and that is what we will do.
I have good news for the hon. Lady. Both sides have agreed in principle that we should have a free trade agreement covering all sectors with zero tariffs. We believe that with a good-quality customs agreement we can achieve near-frictionless trade, and I believe that, taken together, those arrangements will ensure that our manufacturing industries, including aerospace, will have an ever brighter future.
The EEF—the voice of UK manufacturing and engineering—as well as ADS Group Limited, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and trade unions welcome Labour’s call for the negotiation of a comprehensive new UK-EU customs union post Brexit. Can the Minister name any significant manufacturing organisation or association that is on record as stating that either of the Government’s two customs propositions, set out in their future partnership paper in August last year, is remotely credible or workable?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Brent North said that remaining in a customs union would be a “disaster”. What we need to do is stand up for the consumer interest, and that means taking control of our tariff policies while ensuring free and frictionless trade.
Erasmus plus Programme
We have committed ourselves to continued UK participation in the Erasmus+ programme until 2020, and we welcome the opportunity to give clarity to young people as well as the youth and education sectors. While no decisions have yet been made about the post-2020 participation, since the scope of that programme has not been agreed, the Prime Minister said in her recent speech that the Government would seek an ongoing relationship in respect of
“educational and cultural programmes, to promote our shared values and enhance our intellectual strength in the world”.
Is the Department liaising with the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education and its Chair, Petra Kammerevert, and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture to discuss how Erasmus+ applications that are submitted before the Brexit date will be implemented?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s considerable expertise when it comes to the European Parliament. Ministers from our Department regularly engage with Members of the European Parliament. We have also met members of the Committee on Culture and Education to discuss a range of EU exit issues, and we will continue to seek opportunities to meet them. The Department for Education is the lead Department for Erasmus+ policy, and its officials are in regular touch with the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.
Scotland has benefited from €64.8 million of funding for 658 projects since 2014. Coming out of Erasmus+ will mean not only a loss of money, but a loss of opportunity for young people in Scotland. How does the Minister intend to replace that?
In her Mansion House speech, the Prime Minister said:
“There are many…areas where the UK and EU economies are closely linked—including…education and culture.”
It is clear that we have an ambition to discuss potential future participation in those areas; and, of course, the UK has a wide range of international programmes, which we can consider how to extend in the years to come.
As I said in my speech in Teesport, an implementation period will benefit both the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is in no one’s interest on either side for businesses to rush through contingency plans based on guesses about a future deal. That would cause delayed investment, a slowing of job creation and a stifling of the hard-won economic growth on which our continent depends.
Businesses have been clear about the importance of an implementation period, which will give them time to build new infrastructure and set up new systems to support our future partnership and allow for as free and frictionless trade as possible. The implementation period will allow them to make their decisions on the basis of knowledge about what the future deal will look like. It will ensure that our businesses are ready, because they will have to adjust to only one set of changes, and, importantly, it will allow European Governments to do the same.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for his visit to Teesport earlier this year, which was much appreciated. Two thirds of people in my constituency voted for Brexit. Can my right hon. Friend reassure them that any implementation period will indeed be time-limited and handled in a way that will provide for a smooth exit for business?
Yes. A time-limited implementation period will ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union. During the period, the United Kingdom and the European Union will continue to have access to each other’s markets on current terms by replicating the effects of the customs union and the single market, and businesses will be able to continue to operate on the same terms as now. That will provide vital certainty and stability as we move towards our future partnership.
Let us be clear: we are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and only when the United Kingdom is no longer a member state will we be able to take advantage of our status as an independent trading nation.
The manufacturing sector is of course a frequent topic of discussion among Cabinet members and colleagues across the Government. As the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech, the UK will seek the broadest and deepest possible agreement with the EU, covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than in any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today. I am especially encouraged by the Chancellor’s spring statement, which confirmed that the manufacturing sector is enjoying its longest unbroken run of growth for 50 years.
Why, every time there is a manufacturing question, does the Secretary of State hide behind his junior team? That is the fact of the matter: he does not want to confront manufacturing. Is it not the truth that there is a secret document in the Business Department that shows that, post Brexit, London will survive and thrive but the rest of the country—the north of England, manufacturing—will be in dire straits? That is the truth. Why does the Secretary of State not stand at the Dispatch Box and defend manufacturing?
I lament the hon. Gentleman’s continual determination to talk down this country. I am happy to tell him that Unilever has today shown its long-term commitment to the UK by choosing to locate its two fastest-growing global business divisions in this country, safeguarding 7,300 jobs and £1 billion a year of investment. As the company has made clear, its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate headquarters in the Netherlands is part of its long-term restructuring and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.
On the basis that it is subject to negotiation, the Government have refused to implement the agreed replacement to the regime for the inadequate 2004 clinical trial directive. This is essential for our pharmaceutical trade, because we face going off a cliff edge and not being able to participate in collaborative clinical trials with EU research institutions, so when is the Minister going to implement that replacement directive?
As part of exit negotiations, the Government will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation in the field of clinical trials. The UK has been working towards implementation of the new European clinical trials regulation since it was agreed in 2014. The application date of the CTR across the EU will be set by the European Commission, and if it is after our exit from the EU, it will not be part of the withdrawal Bill.
Customs Union and Free Trade Agreements
If the UK were to remain in the customs union, we would be unable to implement our own trade deals or set our own tariffs. The EU would be able to offer other countries access to our market, but we would not necessarily get access to other countries’ markets in return. This would not give us control over our trade policy and it would not respect the referendum result. We have a great chance for the first time in decades to develop a new trade policy by leaving the EU customs union.
Is the Minister aware that there are a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises in Norfolk that are absolutely determined to increase their exports to new markets? These are dynamic, forward-thinking companies. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), what progress is being made with the EU to ensure that we are actually able to negotiate bilateral treaties with third countries during the transition?
It has been the clear commitment of this Government that during the implementation period we will be able to take concrete steps forward in negotiating and signing new free trade agreements with countries outside the EU, although of course they would not come into force until after the end of the implementation period. My hon. Friend is right that leaving the customs union and forging a new trade policy is a chance to open up to British businesses new markets that they have not previously had access to. That will help consumers, increase investment and only lead to prosperity.
I thank my hon. Friend for her answers. India currently enjoys a growth rate of 7.5% and is on course to be the fifth biggest economy in the world. Given our cultural links and shared history with our friends in India, does my right hon. Friend—my hon. Friend; I am getting ahead of myself—agree that we have an opportunity to forge a trade deal with India, which will be excellent news for the UK and India?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. India represents a great opportunity in trade for Britain and British consumers and for our Indian counterparts. It is no coincidence that the Prime Minister made a point of visiting India early on in her premiership. The Department for International Trade has recently completed a trade audit with India to look at the particular barriers, and the joint economic and trade committee has decided to look at four sectors—food, life sciences, IT and services—to see where opportunities can be explored.
At a recent meeting in this place, the director general of the CBI highlighted that Germany sells 4.7 times more to China than the UK does. Therefore, being in a customs union does not prevent countries from extending trade with global partners. Does the Minister agree with her?
I do not often cite the International Trade Secretary favourably, but he was right when he was in China with the Prime Minister in February and accepted that a customs union with the EU “self-evidently” does not prevent us from increasing bilateral trade with countries such as China. What assessment have the Government made of the comparative benefits for the UK of being in a customs union and not being in a customs union when it comes to trade with non-EU countries?
As we have a trade deficit with the EU that is increasing—it is currently £70 billion—and a trade surplus with the rest of the world that is growing, our prospects for increased demand clearly come from the rest of the world, where some of the fastest-growing economies lie. Our future prosperity lies with trade both with the EU but, very importantly, with countries outside the EU.
Common Policy Frameworks: Devolved Administrations
The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments have agreed a set of principles for how we approach the creation of common frameworks. We have made significant progress together over the past few months in our intensive discussions and analysis of what future frameworks should look like. The discussions have been guided by the principles agreed in October and report to the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which the Northern Ireland civil service also attends. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the substantial amendment that we have tabled to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, under which the vast majority of powers returning from Brussels will flow directly to the devolved Administrations by default.
I do indeed welcome the amendment to the clause 11 that has appeared in the other place, and I am grateful for this opportunity to agree with my hon. Friend. Will he assure the House that Brexit, far from undermining the devolution settlement, will in fact lead to a significant increase in decision-making powers in Holyrood and the other devolved Administrations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has pressed us hard on this issue already. The analysis that we published last Friday shows that we are looking at legislative frameworks only in a small minority of areas, and legislation may be required only in relation to a few specific elements. In Scotland, our current analysis indicates that 83 out of 107 powers returning from Brussels will pass directly to Edinburgh on exit. Similarly, the majority of powers for Wales and Northern Ireland will flow directly to Cardiff and Belfast.
It is interesting that it took the Government six months to come up with a single amendment to a Bill that threatens to destroy the devolution settlement, but their colleagues in the Scottish Tory party took less than a week to come up with 100 wrecking amendments to a Bill designed to protect the settlement.
Given that the question was about the mechanisms to agree common policy frameworks, will the Minister clarify what the procedure will be if the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill goes through with the Government’s amendment to clause 11? Does the amendment guarantee that common policy frameworks must be agreed by all four nations working as a partnership of equals, or does it still give the UK Government the power to impose the frameworks against the will of the devolved nations?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman congratulates our Scottish colleagues on their work rate. We are, of course, still seeking consent for the Bill, and discussions to achieve that continue. The UK Government have responsibility for protecting the UK’s common market. We cannot have our ability to take action restricted, so we do not think it right for any devolved Administration effectively to have a veto on common frameworks. The UK and the devolved Administrations have always been clear that we will need common frameworks once we leave the EU to make it simple for businesses from different parts of the UK to trade with each other and to help the UK to fulfil its international obligations. The conversation is ongoing, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to secure an outcome that is in the best interests of every part of the UK.
I note the criticism of the Scottish National party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Government of Northern Ireland—and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, for that matter—for all failing to fall into step with the United Kingdom Government. Is it not a fact that, despite promises of a partnership of equals, the Government’s preferred legislation will still allow a power grab by Westminster against the devolved nations? It looks like a power grab; it reads like a power grab; and it certainly smells like a power grab. Why will the Government not admit that it is a power grab?
It is absolutely clear that not a single power that the devolved Administrations currently have would be taken away or in any way affected by this Bill. We are talking about a significant increase in the powers, as they return from Brussels, for each of the devolved Administrations. I think that is something that all parties should welcome.
Yesterday, following the JMCEN, the First Minister of Scotland said of the Scottish Government:
“We can’t have our powers restricted or reduced”.
Does my hon. Friend recognise the irony in that, given that the only people who are willing to reduce the powers of the Scottish Parliament are those in the SNP, whose policy continues to be that those powers should remain in Brussels instead of coming back to the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I continue to hope that we will all be able to come together to ensure that the powers of each of the devolved Administrations are increased through this process and that we will all be able to work together to secure the prosperity of the UK—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
As the Secretary of State explained in December, we want to ensure that UK producers have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in European markets and to let European producers do the same in the UK. At the same time, we have a unique opportunity to support a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive, productive and profitable, to protect our precious natural environment for future generations and to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide stability for farmers as we leave the EU.
I will seek to provide that reassurance. As the Prime Minister outlined in her Mansion House speech, we want a deep and special partnership with the EU that allows the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods, so we do not want the introduction of any tariffs or quotas, and we will want to ensure open markets for each other’s products, including agricultural products. We are confident that it is in our mutual interests to agree such an FTA.
Health and Social Care Services
We continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on delivering a smooth exit that works for the health and adult social care sectors. We value the huge contribution that EU nationals make to our public services. The agreement reached in principle in December and set out in our joint report will provide EU nationals with certainty about their rights.
I remind the hon. Lady that the latest figures from NHS Digital show that there were over 3,200 more EU nationals working in the NHS in September 2017 than before the referendum result. Formal impact assessments will, of course, be produced in the normal way in connection with legislation.
UK Fishing Waters
We have been working closely with our colleagues. In England, the Marine Management Organisation is working with the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy, as well as the Border Force, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and other organisations to deliver fisheries protection and regulation, irrespective of whether an agreement has been reached when we leave the common fisheries policy.
Remainers and leavers are united in the opinion that the very worst aspect of our EU membership is the common fisheries policy. When we leave the European Union, we leave the common fisheries policy. On that day, the armada of EU trawlers that have been plundering Britain’s historic fishing grounds since 1973 are not going to be happy that their best years are behind them. Will the Minister ensure that the Royal Navy has the resources it needs to protect our sovereign waters and ensure the rebirth and renaissance of the British fishing industry?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point, with his usual force. We hope to reach an agreement in our mutual interests but, as the Prime Minister made clear in her Mansion House speech, we are leaving the common fisheries policy, and the UK will regain control over our domestic fisheries management rules and access to our waters. On enforcement, we will strengthen our surveillance capability and make sure that the appropriate capacity is in place to patrol our waters and enforce regulations, as required. This will be underpinned by a robust approach to risk-based assessments.
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has set out in more detail the two key pillars of our future partnership with the European Union. In Munich, she set out our clear desire to continue to work closely with our European partners on all aspects of our security policy, both internal and external. At Mansion House, she set out a clear path towards a comprehensive future economic partnership that recognises our unique starting point, our shared history and our common values, but that also respects the result of the referendum and ensures that as we leave the EU, we return control over our money, laws and borders to this House. In the coming months, we will be using the negotiations with the EU to deliver that.
On the implementation period, we have made significant progress in a number of areas, and although negotiations are still ongoing, we are confident that we can reach an agreement on that at next week’s EU Council. As my hon. Friend will be aware, article 50 is clear that the withdrawal agreement shall be agreed in line with the framework for the future relationship. We expect new European Union guidelines covering the negotiation of the terms of our future relationship to be agreed at the March Council, as set out by the EU in December. The Prime Minister has set out a vision of the breadth and depth of the future relationship in a number of speeches, and we hope that the EU guidelines will be sufficiently flexible to allow the EU to think creatively and imaginatively about our future partnership. Indeed, I say to him that at least half the effort in the past three months has been aimed at ensuring that we get those flexible, open and broad guidelines by addressing that very issue with the 27 that make up the Council, as well as the Commission.
In January last year, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and assured the House:
“What we have come up with…is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.——[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]
The Government stood by that assurance for 14 months, but then the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech downgraded the Government’s ambitions to reduced access to European markets. What does the Secretary of State have to say for himself now?
I would say two things to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Of course, in a negotiation, we go in with the highest possible aspirations, and that is what we intended. Incidentally, he should read his own policy, which I recall has the same aspirations—not very effectively. What we are about is getting the best possible outcome for this country and that is what we will do.
We have had a lot of non-answers this morning, if I may say so, Mr Speaker. In addition to downgrading the ambition for the final deal, the Government are also delaying vital legislation in this House. We were expecting to consider the trade and customs Bill this week on Report and Third Reading but, apparently, they have been parked until May because the Government fear losing key votes. There is no sign of other vital legislation coming down the track. This should have been a busy period in Parliament. General debates on the EU are always interesting, but meaningful votes are better. What is going on?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. As the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), said earlier, that is one of the great prizes that will come out of our departure from the Union. Indeed, I am rather sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) did not raise the issue of a customs union explicitly. I know that he has difficulties with his own leadership on these matters, so I thought I should find a leader of whom he did approve, Mr Tony Blair, who said:
“So the way I look at it is that the Labour party position is: it’s pulled up its anchor and it’s left the kind of, what looks like a safe port, but actually isn’t, of being in the same position as the Government…but they’d be very unwise to drop anchor at the customs union, because the truth is that doesn’t really resolve your problems. By the way, it doesn’t really resolve your problems in Northern Ireland, either.”
I have had extensive discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the shared prosperity fund. I have heard the hon. Lady’s point and will take it up with him.
My hon. Friend has become a relentless champion of the fisheries cause, as exemplified by his speech in the Chamber yesterday. He is a doughty champion of his constituents and of the fishing cause more widely. The Government share his impatience to leave the common fisheries policy. The view of the House has been made clear in questions on fisheries today. We will take that impatience to leave the CFP forward to our negotiations. As an independent coastal state, we will have control of our exclusive economic zone, be responsible for the management of natural marine resources in that area, and be able to control and manage access to UK waters, including fisheries.
We are not and we never have been. We have been clear from the start that we will protect all our workers’ rights.
The Government recognise the importance of supporting smaller farms, including family farms, as we leave the common agricultural policy. Our consultation paper sets out our detailed proposals for a gradual transition during which we continue direct payments while applying reductions—for example, starting with those in receipt of the highest payments. The Government are seeking views on the proposals and inviting all those affected to contribute to the discussion. I hope that my hon. Friend will ask his constituents to play their part.
While talking about Northern Ireland, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), made the significant statement that the report by Mr Lars Karlsson did not meet the Government’s test of there being no physical border infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State repeat that statement and say that, in his view, the report does not meet that test?
That is an important question. I will certainly say to the right hon. Gentleman that it does not meet all our criteria. We want to maintain no physical structures at the border and no visible border—a very light-touch border. I remind him, however, that the border does exist as a financial border. There are different fiscal and excise policies north and south of the border, and we have to manage that now. We do so without the border being visible, and we will do that in the future.
If we leave the single market, we will also leave the passporting regime, as the Prime Minister has made clear. What steps is the Department taking to negotiate successor arrangements for UK financial services firms that access EU markets?
We are working closely with the Treasury to prepare for a comprehensive and ambitious arrangement on financial services. The Prime Minister gave an indication of that in her Mansion House speech, and we are very clear that it should be in the interests of both the UK and the EU to reach agreement in this area, not least to protect the financial stability of Europe.
I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s most recent answer, but it would be helpful to understand whether all the Government’s requirements can be met without any infrastructure whatsoever. Last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) made a generous offer when she said that she and I would take him to the Irish border so that he could see for himself how it works now. I absolutely support her in that offer, so will he join us on a visit to see how the border works?
I will not take the offer, I am afraid. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham, referred to my previous look at the border. The purpose then—it was around the time of or just before the Belfast agreement—was to look at the issue of smuggling. [Interruption.] That was one occasion. This is an important issue—indeed, the very last conversation I had with Martin McGuinness was about exactly this—and I will do so when the time arises. The simple truth is that this border issue is resolvable if we have a free trade agreement and, if we have a customs agreement, it is resolvable by technical means as well.
May I applaud the Government’s practical and sensible decision regarding their intention to remain part of the European Aviation Safety Agency after Brexit? Can we expect similar sensible and practical discussions around open skies?
There are several Airbus Beluga flights every day between manufacturing sites at Hamburg and Toulouse, and Chester. That complicated manufacturing and supply chain will be put at risk unless we get regulatory certainty soon. When will we get detailed regulatory certainty on manufacturing?
I have to confess that Broxtowe does not have many fishing men or women in the constituency. Well, it has some, but their activities tend to be confined to the Beeston canal. The fisheries and agricultural policies of the European Union are important. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Norway has complete control over its agriculture and fisheries policy as a member of the European Free Trade Association and the European economic area, and a successful member of the single market?
Well, yes, but, of course, it is a rule taker. Its economy is substantially different from our own and it is outside the customs union. We just need to make sure that we follow a path that suits our economy, and that is the path set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
We have been working on clause 11 of the Bill for some weeks and months; we have, of course, been discussing our approach with the devolved Administrations. It was always our ambition to achieve agreement on those amendments with the devolved Administrations.
Last week, I met the chief executive of the Hull and Humber chamber of commerce, Ian Kelly, who expressed support for the concept of exploring free port status for the Humber ports. Is this yet another opportunity that the Government will have after Brexit?
With my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) to discuss the issue with the local port authority from his constituency. Although this is a very interesting opportunity that flows from taking control of our trade policy, it is one of many options that the Government are considering.
May I ask the Secretary of State directly whether he has seen the investigation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that apparently shows the disastrous effect that Brexit will have on manufacturing all over the country, but particularly in the north and the regions? Has he seen it, and, if he has, is he colluding to keep it private?
As the Secretary of State and I have both said, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy and taking control of our waters. My experience of fishermen is that they do wish to access European markets. We need to approach the fisheries negotiation in the same constructive spirit as other aspects of our negotiations but, yes, we will be taking control of our waters.
I did not quite hear the full detail of the hon. Lady’s question, but I can say that our focus on consumer protection is absolute. I spoke at the Which? conference earlier this week to show how we will put consumer rights at the heart of our approach to Brexit.
Thank you for saving me up, Mr Speaker.
Hon. Members know that we will leave this dreadful European Union superstate in 379 days, but they might not know that that will also mark the end of the Secretary of State’s grand tour of Europe. He is in a unique position to advise the British people about which countries like us and which do not so that we will know which countries to go to after we leave. Will the Secretary of State tell us the answer?
I am very tempted to give my hon. Friend the list from the last three weeks, which would take about five minutes. Two things have struck me while talking to all my European opposite numbers: all of them are sad that we are going; and they all want a strong future relationship. They all want to stay our friends and allies, and that is what we will deliver.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Finance Act 2018
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018
Space Industry Act 2018
City of London Corporation (Open Spaces) Act 2018.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 19 March will be:
Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords] followed by general debate on Welsh affairs.
Tuesday 20 March—Consideration of a business of the House motion followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.
Wednesday 21 March—Consideration of a business of the House motion followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Assembly Members, Regional Rates and Energy) Bill.
Thursday 22 March—A general debate on the economy.
Friday 23 March—The House will not be sitting.
The business for the week commencing 26 March will include:
Monday 26 March—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords].
As part of this year’s celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage, on Wednesday the Cabinet Office will be launching a campaign pack for parliamentarians to use as we visit schools in our constituencies to talk about the amazing achievements in the fight for equality.
This week is Shakespeare Week, and he has a solemn message for us in this House as we seek to stamp out bullying and harassment:
“Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak
When power to flattery bows?”
Let us hope that all’s well that ends well.
You might be aware, Mr Speaker, that I am a huge fan of England rugby, and we face a great challenge against Ireland on St Patrick’s Day this Saturday. I am proud of our strong United Kingdom. I would like to wish both teams a superb match, and also to wish everyone a very happy St Patrick’s Day.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business. It is an interesting programme.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will know that the Bill to be debated next Monday consists of only one clause—actually, two clauses: the long title and the main clause. May we have the list of ministerial responsibilities, which has not yet been published? When will the debate on restoration and renewal finally be scheduled, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is still in the other place and is not due to come back until, possibly, May?
The shadow Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), raised a point of order after the debate on Tuesday about the Government not pressing ahead with plans to phase out childcare vouchers for the next six months. I know that the Leader of the House has said that we have to wait 12 weeks before a Minister responds. However, we now have two time limits— 12 weeks and six months. Could we have a bit of clarity on this for our constituents?
Given that there is nothing scheduled after 26 March, could the Leader of the House please schedule an Opposition-day debate? Or perhaps we could have a debate on early-day motion 937, which deals with the statutory instrument abolishing nursing bursaries for postgraduate 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.]
I have asked for this before. We thought that the Chancellor would make an announcement in the spring statement, but obviously as it was a spring statement he could not do that.
The Chancellor now describes himself as “Tiggerish”. If he has read the tweets of some of his Back Benchers, he will know that they are asking him to bounce out of the Cabinet. He may be Tiggerish about the growth forecast, but the OECD says that the UK’s economy is the slowest growing of all the G20 countries, so when he goes to Buenos Aires he will be last in the queue—and this is even before we leave the EU.
I want to share this really interesting point that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg made on the EU:
“We had a special relationship with the UK, before they were in with a lot of opt-outs and now they are out, they want a lot of opt-ins.”
I think that kind of sums up exactly where we are. I did not quite glean from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union whether he has actually visited Brussels. Will the Leader of the House place in the Library information on whether he has, or on when he last visited? He did not say that he had visited the Northern Ireland border within this millennium. Will the Leader of the House urge him to do so? Has the Prime Minister visited the Northern Ireland border?
In yesterday’s statement on the Green Paper on the integration strategy, Walsall was mentioned. I was a bit upset that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government did not alert me to the fact that he was going to mention Walsall as one of the key areas. People in my constituency have already contacted me about this because they resent the fact that Walsall is seen as a place that is not integrated. I heard at 10 o’clock this morning that the Secretary of State was visiting my constituency. It would have been helpful if he had spoken to me and I could have shown him some decent areas.
In July 2015, I raised at business questions, from the Back Benches, the ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—mandation funding from Walsall adult community college. We had to fight to get it back. My constituent, Ray Simmonds, is now offering training courses to women in childcare and in levels 1, 2 and 3 numeracy and literacy. He struggled to get a place to hold those training courses. He tried to get Pleck library, but that has been closed, as have over 500 other libraries, 300 children’s centres, and 500 playgrounds. My Sure Start Palfrey children’s centre, which was twice rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, has been outsourced to a private company. These are the places for social cohesion.
May we have a debate on the National Audit Office report which found that councils are spending less on services and more on social care, and that Government funding has fallen by 49.1% in real terms? The report also suggests that about 15 councils will be at risk of following Northamptonshire County Council in imposing emergency controls. It is the funding of the infrastructure of local government that helps with social cohesion. It is austerity that fuels division as people think there are not enough resources to go round and blame other people who seem to be taking them. May we, then, have a debate on the National Union of Teachers and Runnymede Trust report on visible and invisible barriers to black, Asian and minority ethnic teachers, or an urgent statement on the young black boy who was tied to a tree in Bath and hit by white boys as he was called names? There is no Government strategy to tackle that.
Finally, I do not want to end on a sad note, but I am afraid I have to, in acknowledging the passing of some very eminent people who have made a major contribution to our country. Brenda Dean, from the other place, was the first female general secretary of a British trade union, having joined a trade union as a teenager. Professor Stephen Hawking was 52 years a fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. I have read “A Brief History of Time”—I will have to read it again—and I have visited the large hadron collider at CERN and seen how scientists from all the different countries collaborate. He was also part of the litigation to stop the accountable care organisations, which recently won a cost-capping case on judicial review. In his memory, we must ensure that the UK continues the fantastic collaboration in science with the rest of Europe. He said that a publicly provided NHS was the most efficient system, and so those who say we cannot afford the NHS are wrong; we cannot afford not to have an NHS. Finally, Sir Ken Dodd. I actually saw him at the Palladium when I was younger—a long, long time ago. We hope to see his like again. We will miss not only his jokes and songs, but the image of a man wielding a feather duster.
I join the hon. Lady in her tributes to Brenda Dean, Professor Stephen Hawking and, of course, Sir Ken Dodd—what a fantastic and humorous man he was. I also join her in paying tribute to Stephen Hawking’s commitment to an NHS free at the point of delivery. That is vital. There is consensus right across the House that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, and that will always be the case under this Government.
The hon. Lady and I have had this discussion about ministerial responsibilities a number of times. I have chased the matter, and I am told that the list will be published with the next quarterly transparency round, next Friday—so let’s hope, hey? I am on her side on this. I shall also be updating the House Commission on Monday on when we will bring forward the restoration and renewal debate, and I have been speaking with parliamentary counsel about the drafting of the Bill. We need to get it ready and bring it forward as soon as possible. Again, she and I agree on that.
On Opposition-day debates, I hope that the hon. Lady will be pleased, as I was, that we had the day’s debate on some of the statutory instruments that the Opposition had prayed against. I was delighted, as no doubt she was not, that the Government managed to win, with decent majorities, each of the votes on the statutory instruments, one of which is very important for young people in expanding the number of young people receiving free school lunches by more than 50,000 by the time universal credit is rolled out. We had an Opposition day last week, for Plaid and the Democratic Unionist party, and others will be brought forward through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady talks about our new Tiggerish Chancellor. I was delighted to see this new Disney reference, and long may it last. She says that it is misplaced, but manufacturing output has now grown for nine consecutive months for the first time since records began in 1968; we have had the best two quarters of productivity growth since the financial crisis; we have the lowest year to date net borrowing since 2008; the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high; and employment is at a near record high. These are reasons to be optimistic and to believe in our fantastic economy.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has such faith in my ability to determine where the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister should go. It is very flattering of her to suggest that I can determine their travel arrangements, but I am not sure I can quite do that. She mentions the excellent work on the racial disparity audit and this Government’s determination to ensure that where there is inequality, we take strong measures to try to remove any barriers to the success of people of all races, all ethnic backgrounds and all religions in this country, so that they can progress. She mentions that her own area, Walsall, will be part of the initial pilot scheme. I welcome that, and I hope she does.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the horrifying story of a young black boy being tied to a tree. I think we all feel disgust and horror at that inappropriate and utterly awful experience, and I hope that we in this House are at all times united in stamping out any behaviour of that sort wherever we see it.
It is the 346th anniversary of the declaration of indulgence by His Majesty King Charles II, which was the first attempt at allowing freedom of religion in this country—something we should all cherish. I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, in reporting back from the Backbench Business Committee. The Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is unfortunately not able to be with us; he is detained with urgent business.
The Backbench Business Committee now has eight unallocated debates that need time in the Chamber. Now that the Government have taken today and next Thursday, we will lose the opportunity to debate autism and victims of surgical mesh, which are subjects that Members across the House are very keen to debate. Could the Leader of the House ensure that we get Backbench Business time for those debates as soon as possible?
On my behalf, may I ask for a debate on child sex abuse and grooming of young children, particularly those in care? I have sat on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government for seven years. We went through the Rotherham case in great detail and are now hearing about cases across the country. It is time we had a debate in Government time on that very important issue, so that all Members can voice their views and we can hear what the Government are going to do about it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for standing in for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. I absolutely hear his request for Backbench Business days. I hope he will welcome the Government’s determination to provide Government time for a debate on International Women’s Day in such an important year, which in previous years has fallen to the Backbench Business Committee to table, and a debate on Welsh affairs, which unfortunately was a Backbench Business day that was cancelled due to the appalling weather. We also have a Government debate on the economy, which I know the Committee was keen to have. We are not ignoring the interests of Back-Bench Members in any way. Yesterday and today, we have general debates on the EU, which were strong requests from Back-Bench Members right across the House.
However, I hear my hon. Friend’s specific call for debates on autism and surgical mesh. I have constituents who have suffered profoundly from health issues relating to surgical mesh, and of course, I and all hon. Members will want to do everything we can to support people who suffer from autism. We will be bringing forward Backbench Business days as soon as business allows.
My hon. Friend also raises the issue of child sex abuse, which is beyond appalling. We heard this week about the appalling situation in Telford. I share his concern about that and will make representations on his behalf.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Can I also pay my tributes to the three people mentioned—Brenda Dean, Professor Stephen Hawking and Ken Dodd? I think the best thing we could do in Ken Dodd’s memory would be to progress the cause of independence for Knotty Ash.
I also welcome national Shakespeare Week. We are all very much looking forward to our Shakespeare suppers. I was trying to think of the most appropriate thing for this Government—surely it can only be “A Comedy of Errors”, or “Is that a power grab I see before me?”
I am really surprised that the Leader of the House has not announced any debate on Russian relations. We have had two statements that have been heavily subscribed this week. There is a great deal of interest across the House, and this issue is only going to develop and get more critical. Before we rise for Easter, can she ensure that we have a debate on Russia?
Tomorrow will be a first, with two consecutive Scottish National party MPs’ private Members’ Bills being promoted by my hon. Friends the Members for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) and for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). These particularly good and worthy Bills are on reuniting refugee families and on ending the practice of unpaid internships. Will the Leader of the House do all she can to ensure that there is none of the usual awful, disruptive parliamentary practices that characterise so much of private Members’ days? Our constituents absolutely loathe such stuff, and they want those Bills to progress.
Can we have a proper debate about English votes for English laws? I think that everybody in this House knows that this is an appalling, divisive measure that socially balkanises this place on the basis of nationality. However, I think there are people in this House who are still confused about how it applies to them. For example, my Scottish Conservative friends, determined to exercise their prime function as unquestioning Lobby fodder, rushed through the Lobby on Tuesday to vote to take free meals out of the mouths of 1 million English bairns, only to discover that the votes did not count because of the English veto in the double-majority vote. The Scottish Tory dafties turned up to have their votes discounted in person. The Scottish Tories do nothing other than ask questions of a Parliament 400 miles away that cannot answer them, which is infuriating their constituents and is primarily responsible for plummeting relations. Given the glaikit looks on their coupons the other evening, we now know why they do that.
I am struggling to find something on which to agree with the hon. Gentleman—perhaps the independence of Knotty Ash would be the safest option.
The hon. Gentleman calls for a debate on Russia. The Government were extremely grateful yesterday for the very calm and supportive response of his party leader. The Government very much appreciated that sensible and measured response. I will certainly make representations and I am sure there will be opportunities for further discussion on this very serious subject.
Private Members’ Bills are, by definition, for private Members, and the Government certainly do not seek to interfere in the passage of and debates on such Bills. The hon. Gentleman mentions two very important Bills promoted by Scottish Members, one on the reunion of refugee families and the other on banning unpaid internships. Both proposals have a good deal of merit. The Government have very strong policies in each area. There was an interesting discussion on the radio this morning about the abuse of people applying for a job versus the merits of small businesses being able to check out in practical reality the skills that individuals claim to have. That debate will be useful for tomorrow’s proceedings on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Gentleman talked about English votes for English laws. I want to put on the record that it is absolutely not the case that free school dinners are being taken away from children. I deeply regret that Opposition Members, in their misrepresentation of the policy, have deliberately sought to mislead and to make vulnerable people feel yet more vulnerable. It is clear that 50,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals by the time universal credit is rolled out. It is of great regret to the Government that anyone should seek to misrepresent that.
I very gently say, on advice, to the Leader of the House that I know that she would not accuse Members of seeking deliberately to mislead the House, because that would be an accusation that touched on somebody’s integrity. That is not orderly, so I am sure she will want to withdraw that.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on food labelling? I have been contacted by Diabetes UK and Compassion in World Farming, which feel very strongly that food labelling should be much clearer so that when customers buy food and drink, they can understand the effects it will have on their health and how farm animals are treated.
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is very important not just, as he says, for those with health problems, but for people who care about animal welfare to be able to see precisely how the food they are eating has been treated during its lifetime and, of course, the way it has been slaughtered. When we leave the European Union, we will no longer be subject to EU food-labelling regulations and we will be able to look at the issue as an independent United Kingdom.
Last Friday, I stayed out all night—sleeping rough at Huddersfield Town football stadium to raise money for local homelessness charities. We raised over £40,000 that night. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should encourage other football clubs to raise money locally in that way—perhaps, Mr Speaker, you could influence the mighty Gunners to do the same—and may we have a statement on how the Government’s plans to eradicate homelessness are going?
I congratulate the hon. Lady: that is an amazing thing to do. In my home town of Northampton, a fantastic homelessness centre does a sleep-out every year, and I am fully determined to do that myself one year. [Interruption.] Yes, exactly: I shall wrap up warm. I congratulate her and everybody involved on that amazing fundraising effort, which is excellent news.
As the hon. Lady will know, it is an absolute priority of the Government to make sure that we tackle the huge problem of homelessness and rough sleeping. We pledged in our manifesto to eliminate it by 2027, and to halve it by 2022. These are very difficult issues, and we have committed £1 billion to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. It is not, however, just about money. We are also changing how councils approach the issue. We are implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, a private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) introduced. We are also working very closely with councils to look at what more can be done in targeted ways to tackle the problems that result in homelessness and rough sleeping.
Will my right hon. Friend seek to install a sense of urgency into Departments, perhaps starting with the Department for Transport? Once again, following heavy rainfall, the line from London to Plymouth has been cut—I hope, temporarily—due to flooding in the Exeter region. There is a plan to fix it, but it is taking far too long, and my constituents are fed up about it—and so am I. Will she please help?
My hon. Friend is a huge champion for his constituency, and he is quite right to raise this matter. I absolutely understand his frustration and that of his constituents. If he writes to me, I will be happy to fire a very small rocket towards the Department for Transport on his behalf.
Constituents of mine bought a new biomass boiler, hoping to offset some of the cost by using the renewable heat incentive. The boiler was faultily installed, but after legal action, they got the boiler removed and their money back, and they have a new boiler installed. However, now that they have a replacement boiler, they have been told that they are no longer allowed to access the RHI, and to rub salt in the wounds, they have received a demand to pay back the £7,000 of RHI payments they had already received. May we have a debate on the RHI rules and the fact that customers trying to do the right thing by using green energy are being penalised through no fault of their own?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. We want to encourage everybody to take every opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and to turn our economy green. I am delighted that the UK enjoyed the greenest year ever for electricity in 2017. I urge him to raise his very specific constituency point at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions.
Since Tuesday’s debate on free school meals, I have received numerous emails attacking me for taking food out of the mouths of the poorest children in my constituency. I came into politics to improve the lives of my constituents, so I find this abhorrent, and having to create rebuttals is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Hon. Members will know that no child will lose free school meals as a result of these policies. May we have a debate about the way in which statements made in the Chamber can, unfortunately, when lifted out of context by the Labour party, be used on social media to manipulate public opinion, which ends up harming our most vulnerable constituents and achieving the opposite effect?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and she is right to raise that matter in the Chamber. No children will lose their free school dinners, and in fact there will be an increase of 50,000 in those who are eligible by the time universal credit is rolled out. You have said, Mr Speaker, that although the use of social media is broadly to be welcomed, Members should take care to ensure that the usage of selected clips of debates does not create a misleading impression about what has taken place. Unfortunately, however, your words were not heeded, and a misleading impression has been created. That is greatly to be regretted, and it does not help the integrity of this place when hon. Members deliberately seek to put out information that is incorrect—is that okay?
Yes, and I will not get drawn into arguments about policy. I stand by that statement in its entirety; it is entirely compatible and consistent with saying that people cannot accuse other Members of misleading the House. That first statement is absolutely correct: people should not use selective clips to give an incorrect, inaccurate, or erroneous account of proceedings.
“All’s well that ends well” might not be the case for Northern Ireland—it is more a case of “Beware the Ides of March”. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the Foreign Secretary’s proposals for minimal border controls, and the impact of that on jobs and security in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Government policy is to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and that when we leave the European Union we have a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom and does not seek to undermine or divide any part from any other part. When I read out next week’s business, he might have heard that there will be two days of debates pertaining to Northern Ireland, and he may wish to take the opportunity to speak in those.
May I refer back to the use of statistics? There is nothing wrong with a good, robust argument in this place, but if the Leader of the House, or any Minister, makes an assertion about facts, they can quite properly be challenged and brought back to this place, and made to account for any inaccuracy in the use of statistics as facts. That is not the same for right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches, and it does not enhance political debate for people to assert facts, week after week, almost day after day—this is a growing problem—without any accountability in the House. Is there anything that the Leader of the House can do? On Tuesday we had to rely on Channel 4’s FactCheck. The Library is an excellent source of information, but it is imperative that we all act with veracity and integrity, and are held accountable when we make assertions.
My right hon. Friend is right. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that I raised in the Chamber the issue of a private response that I gave to a Labour Member following a question that they asked me privately, but that they then tweeted, implying that I had somehow answered something else. I personally was extremely offended by that. My right hon. Friend is right: social media clips that are deliberately misleading and ignore facts to make political points undermine our Parliament and democracy, and it simply must not happen.
You might like to know, Mr Speaker, that I fully intended to spend the night with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) at Huddersfield’s Premier League club’s stadium. However, while out walking on a cancer fundraiser the week before I got a terrible cold and had to withdraw from that wonderful night.
I have a serious request for the Leader of the House. Can a group of Members from all parties discuss ways that Members could be made more accountable and transparent? When someone stands up, on any side of the House, I have become rather tired of hearing them mumble, “I refer to my entry in the Register of Interests”. That is all they say, but if one looks at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, some people have amazing business connections, large amounts of investment, and some own half a county and we are discussing agriculture during DEFRA questions. All we get is a little aside. I think the House is not transparent enough, and that when someone makes a speech they should fully declare their interests.
Mr Speaker, I am looking at you and wondering whether this is more a matter for the Chair than it is for the Leader of the House. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying very clearly. If he would like to write to me I would certainly be happy to take it up with the Procedure Committee to see whether this is an area we need to review.
The position is pretty clear. In a speech, a Member should declare an interest so that Members of the House are aware of it. There is no requirement to do so when asking a question. Each Member must take responsibility for his or her decision to declare. I would not want it to be thought that there is huge ambiguity about this. It may be that it takes time for some to be fully conversant with the required procedure, although that is not a problem that will afflict the hon. Gentleman as he approaches his 39th year of consecutive service in the House of Commons, but I hope people will appreciate how to go about this matter. It is certainly very important.
This evening, I have the great pleasure of attending the 90th birthday celebrations of the Coldstream branch of the Women’s Institute. I am sure my right hon. Friend would be very welcome to join me. May we have a debate to pay tribute to the great work the Women’s Institute does, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, to support women and local charities?
I am sure my hon. Friend will be very warmly received by the WI. He is a great champion for his constituency. I thank him for highlighting the incredible work of the WI, which has played a unique role as the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the country. In the century since its formation during the first world war, the WI has dedicated its time to a wealth of worthy causes. I hope all those celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Coldstream branch have a very enjoyable evening with him.
Antisocial behaviour is a growing concern across my constituency. People tell me that they feel intimidated and unsafe in their homes. Please may we have a debate in Government time on the need for increased funding for our police and for statutory youth provision to act as both a deterrent and a solution to the problem of antisocial behaviour?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the real problem of antisocial behaviour, which, while low level, can really wreck people’s lives, their enjoyment of their homes and so on. It is a very important subject. I am sure it would receive great support as a candidate for a Backbench Business debate in which Members from across the House could talk about their experiences.
Each and every week across England and Wales some 80 dogs are stolen from their owners, causing huge distress to both the owners and the animals. During this Pet Theft Awareness Week, may we have a debate on what is a growing and nasty problem?
My hon. Friend has done a great deal to raise awareness of dog theft. It is a terrible crime. Any theft of property can be very distressing for victims, but the suffering will be much greater when it is a family pet. I commend him for raising this issue. The Government are very clear that when such a crime happens it must be reported to the police, whenever it happens, so that it can be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. He will know that the theft of a dog is a criminal offence under section 1 of the Theft Act 1968. We are determined to see it enforced.
My constituents are frankly baffled at the way the Government keep pulling business and not replacing it with time to solve the pressing issues of the day: homelessness, lack of funding for schools and challenges in the NHS. Will the Leader of the House work with the Government to provide either Government time or further Opposition- day time for us to debate, and hopefully try to solve, some of these pressing issues?
As far as I am aware, the only business the Government have pulled was in response to a request from the Opposition on Monday evening. Due to the unprecedented number of urgent questions and very important statements, such as those on bullying and harassment, and a response to the Salisbury attack, the Opposition requested that the Government pull the business that night. That is the only business that has been pulled, so I am not entirely sure what the hon. Lady is talking about.
Last Saturday, I joined the Save Rothbury Cottage Hospital campaign group on a march to highlight the anxiety and frustration that the local community presently feels as we await the outcome of the Department of Health and Social Care independent review panel’s review. Our clinical commissioning group closed down the 12-bed ward in our community hospital 18 months ago, citing underuse. The challenge of rural funding for healthcare means that we are not investing fairly in the Coquet valley, England’s most sparsely populated community. We need to reinvest in these beds for palliative and convalescent care and to give consideration to the practical difficulties and costs of rural distance and poor transport links. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time to discuss rurality funding frameworks to enable CCGs to meet the needs of patients such as my constituents, who live in the most sparsely populated community?
Mr Speaker, I think you have highlighted beautifully what a fabulous champion my hon. Friend is for her constituents. She is right to raise the challenge of sparsely populated areas and their need for healthcare to be as good as anywhere else in the country. I have some challenges with the local healthcare provision in a less populated area, and I appreciate fully what she is saying. I suggest that she might like to seek an Adjournment debate specifically to deal with the issues in Northumberland.
Last Friday, I was door-stepped by the entire primary 3 class at Hannover Street School, who wanted to tell me that Parliament’s use of plastic straws has doubled in three years. They are very concerned about that and would like to know what the Government and the Leader of the House are doing to tackle the issue.
Is it not fantastic to hear of year 3 students door-stepping the hon. Lady? I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed it. The Government are committed to tackling and reducing the use of plastics. All manner of efforts are being made, including the 5p charge for plastic bags, which has reduced the number of plastic bags in circulation by around 9 billion—an extraordinary number. There are the Government’s efforts on the blue belt around the overseas territories to try to protect those valuable marine locations from the impact of plastics. Closer to home, we know that litter very often ends up in our rivers and seas, and very much of it is plastic, so we have a new national litter strategy for England, which I was delighted to announce as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Specifically on the hon. Lady’s point about plastic straws and their use in this place, the Administration Committee has taken this up. It is committed to reducing the use of single-use plastics, which includes plastic knives and forks as well as straws, and I can tell her that a number of hon. Members across this place have committed to a plastic-free Lent. I am sure she would be very welcome to join us, should she wish to do so.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the hard work and determination she has shown to deal with bullying and harassment of all kinds in Westminster. Can we please have a statement on the bullying inquiry that she has proposed this week? Can she confirm that the inquiry will not look at individual cases but will instead look at whether the Respect policy as a whole is working for staff in this place?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I can give him a specific reassurance: the inquiry into the bullying of House staff that I will propose to the House of Commons Commission on Monday 19 March will not be carrying out investigations into individual cases. That is exactly why I expect it to attract the Commission’s full support. There are existing avenues open to anyone wishing to raise specific grievances, and individuals coming forward will be advised to use those where they apply, but the inquiry will look at whether they are functioning properly. My ambition is to stamp out bullying and harassment of any kind in this place. That is something that I imagine every single person here will wish to support.
May we have a statement or a debate on the dispute at universities at the moment? I have two universities in my constituency. This dispute has been dragging on for weeks, particularly in relation to pay and conditions, but more importantly, to lecturers’ pensions. May we have an update on that? Before the Leader of the House gets up to answer me, I am aware that there are Education questions on Monday, but I would rather have a proper statement to show that the matter is being taken seriously by the House.
I am very personally aware of this issue. My eldest son is facing his finals and, because of the picket line, has been denied the opportunity to go to his university even to use the resources, let alone to have any of the face-to-face tuition that he was due to have and for which he has paid. I am therefore extremely cross about the way in which innocent students are being punished during this dispute. I urge all parties to get together and find a resolution, so that a generation of graduates do not have to pay the price.
Two weeks ago, I raised with my right hon. Friend the non-levy apprenticeship funding for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Shrewsbury and other colleges. The situation is becoming serious, and I believe that our young people will be let down if we do not resolve it. May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a statement or a debate as soon as possible?
I know that my hon. Friend is very supportive of apprenticeships. I can tell him that the contracts for the delivery of non-levy apprenticeship training were awarded on the basis of an assessment by the Education and Skills Funding Agency of information that had been supplied and that the tenders were measured against clearly set criteria. Ofsted’s rating of providers was not considered to be part of the process, as new entrants do not have an Ofsted rating and would therefore have been disadvantaged. The Government have awarded more than 700 providers contracts worth a total of £490 million to deliver apprenticeship training for non-levy payers. However, as my hon. Friend will know, those that were not successful in the non-levy procurement process can still supply apprenticeship training to levy payers directly.