House of Commons
Thursday 26 April 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—
Single-use Plastic Bottles
PET is readily recycled, and has good infrastructure and end markets. PET bottles are universally collected. I commend companies such as Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which has switched its drinks bottles so that they are made of 100% recycled PET. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are working with industry to produce a UK bioeconomy strategy that will assess the potential merits of alternative materials, including bio-based plastics. I continue to encourage consumers to use refillable bottles and to take advantage of a growing network of water refill points.
My constituent Noel McGlinchey, who is a food scientist, has demonstrated to me how plant-based plastics such as polylactic acid might be used for plastic bottles, which would then be biodegradable. Do the Government have a view on the use of such plastics, and will the Minister support my campaign, together with Mr McGlinchey, to have them rolled out across the bottling sector?
I have already referred to our bioeconomy strategy, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that research funded by the UK Government and the EU has not found conclusive evidence in support of claims that are often made in that regard. Those broad concerns are shared by the Waste and Resources Action Programme and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which tonight will launch the UK Plastics Pact. What matters is that we continue to invest in research innovation and try to take steps forward. Through such collaboration and industry partnership, we could make progress in that area.
Will the Minister wake up and talk to our European neighbours? Europe has always led on the environment, and until it got involved with plastics and recycling, we were still burying our waste in holes in the ground. What will we do when we leave the European Union with this environmental policy? No one on the Government Benches is even standing to ask a question about this.
We will have the opportunity to have an even better environment and to take direct action through more local initiatives. I commend the work that is being done across the European Union but, as I said to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), EU-funded research is not supportive of oxo-biodegradable plastics. As we make progress, we must be careful that we do not end up with knee-jerk reactions as we look for these important solutions. We need something that is long lasting.
Single-use plastic bottles can be 100% recyclable but, unfortunately, those that we use do not contain anywhere near 100% recyclable material. How can we influence behaviour in how we dispose of single-use plastic bottles to change that?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that most bottles are recyclable; the challenge is how to get more people to recycle them. He might be referring to schemes that the Government have said we will consult on later this year, including a deposit return scheme. One of our biggest challenges involves the littering of plastic, and that is what we want to tackle.
The future farming consultation is still open and continues until Tuesday 8 May. We encourage everyone with an interest in food, farming and the environment to respond. We will make a full assessment of the responses once the 10-week consultation is over, but it is clear from initial responses, and events that have taken place across England, that there is a real appetite to embrace change.
Will my hon. Friend reassure me that as well as protecting and enhancing environmental protections in this country, our future agricultural policy will seek to ensure the primary importance of our landscape as a working agricultural countryside that produces food, and that that will continue to be protected?
Yes, I give my hon. Friend that undertaking. Our consultation sets out how we can change our approach to farm husbandry so that it is more sustainable and we put more emphasis on things such as soil health and water quality. It is clear that we want to support farmers to become more productive and profitable.
I share the bemusement of Sussex farmers that, when the Government published a list of public goods for land use in this country, food production was not one of them. Why? Will the Government reconsider that and, if so, when?
Food is obviously vital to life, and in that sense it is a public good. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand that “public good” is an economic definition that means things for which farmers are not financially rewarded. My view is that food production is vital and essential, and farmers should be rewarded for food production in the market.
The National Trust has two beautiful properties near my constituency—Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton. They would welcome the opportunity for their tenant farmers to be rewarded for the provision of new public goods, but the National Trust seeks assurances from the Minister that if things such as new bridle paths and footpaths need to be provided, there will be long-term sustainability for such a shift.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point—this is crucial as we design environmental land management policy. There will be some interventions that may be highly short term, because they are instant and affect, for instance, the way in which farms approach agronomy or cropping. Others, such as those that my right hon. Friend highlights, may require a longer-term, more multi-annual commitment. That is entirely doable within the nature of the agreements that we are considering.
There are concerns among those involved in agriculture in my area about whether there will continue to be appropriate access to workforce when we leave the European Union. What are the Government doing to ensure that that will be the case?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Migration Advisory Committee is carrying out a large piece of work on the UK’s labour needs after we have left the European Union. We have also listened carefully to industry representations about a seasonal agricultural worker scheme after we leave the European Union, and a working group is looking at seasonal agricultural labour.
Ah. Let us hear from Chris Davies; he knows about these matters.
Can my hon. Friend reassure upland food-producing family farmers that they have a future under his Department’s plans?
Yes I can, and I have had meetings with the Uplands Alliance, which is very excited by the approach set out in our consultation. Our uplands deliver many public goods and environmental benefits, and under our new policy we will be rewarding those.
Food manufacturing and farming are great British success stories, so does the Minister think that a customs union arrangement with the EU will help to ensure their future success?
No, but I do believe we should have a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement.
We will hear from the good doctor— Dr David Drew.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The overwhelming response of farmers to the consultation is that they want to know what help and advice they will get in managing the change from the basic payment to environmental support. As the Minister knows, that is particularly true of smaller and tenant farmers. What will the Government do to put in place some form of advice strategy so that those people can get independent, objective and, more particularly, comprehensive advice about how to completely change many of the ways in which they have farmed in the past?
We will look at that issue, but fundamentally we have been clear that we recognise the current dependency on the existing basic payment scheme—the area payments. That is why we have set out a plan for an agricultural transition period to give farmers, especially those on our smaller family farms, plenty of time to prepare. Our new environmental land management scheme, when published, will have plenty of guidance alongside it.
The Government fully recognise the importance of the seafood sector not only to the economy but, historically and culturally, to coastal and local communities. In 2016, the gross value added for the fish processing sector was £650 million.
Around 5,000 people in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area are employed in the seafood sector, and it is clear that it is vital to the local economy. Will the Minister reassure the industry that the Government will work with it to ensure a continuation of supplies and create further job opportunities?
I have had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the Secretary of State will visit it next month. I have met representatives from the processing sector. My hon. Friend’s part of the world is home to a world-beating fish processing industry. I have had detailed dialogue with the sector about the importance of trade with non-EU countries such as Norway and Iceland. I am confident that we can roll forward the trade agreements on which they depend.
The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation says that the cost of fishing could increase by between 40% and 90% if we have no trade deal with the EU. What is the Minister doing to ensure that fishing continues to make its current contribution to the economy?
We have made it clear that, when we leave the EU, it is our intention to depart from relative stability and current quota-sharing arrangements, and there is an opportunity to secure a better and much larger share of fish in the future. Alongside that, as I said earlier, we are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union.
The seafood sector, particularly regarding supply, is very important, and there are great opportunities post-Brexit. Under international law, we only need to offer any supplies that the UK fleet cannot catch. Will the Minister confirm that that will be the case once we leave the common fisheries policy?
Yes. My hon. Friend is an expert in these areas, given her experience, and she will be aware that when we leave the European Union, the UN convention on the law of the sea becomes the new legal baseline. Under that international law, we are responsible for controlling access to our exclusive economic zone. Indeed, as she says, there are also provisions around joint working with partners and others who have a shared interest in the stock.
I got a text message this morning stating:
“If there is any glimmer of hope from Gove I won’t sell.”
That was from a fisherman on the west coast who is short of crew. Now that he knows that the Home Office has run a hostile policy to migrants and migrant workers, he is hoping that he will not be forced to sell, so what will DEFRA do to ensure that the west coast fishing industry, and I believe the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, are not forced out of business? There is a real need for the Home Office to give fishermen pieces of paper to keep the Home Office happy. In other words, we need non-European economic area fishermen—
Order. We have got the gist of the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to thehon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) about this issue, and the hon. Gentleman is aware that we are in dialogue with the Home Office on these issues. As I said, the Migration Advisory Committee is looking in the round at our labour needs after we leave the EU.
Leaving the EU: Food and Drink Industry
There are regular discussions between Ministers about the benefits of leaving the EU, including for the UK’s food and drink industry. We are committed to helping our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food and drink. The Government have made good progress this year on opening access to global markets, and we also have the opportunity to harness the food and drink sector’s ambitious plans for increasing exports as part of a sector deal under our industrial strategy.
Those discussions must have been the shortest in history if they were about the benefits of leaving the European Union.
This week, the chief executive of the National Farmers Union warned against selling out agriculture for simple ideology. Does not the Secretary of State accept that the unilateral decision to withdraw from the customs union and single market was based purely on ideology? When is he going to stop the platitudes and the mild assurances, and accept that that ideological decision threatens to destroy the future of agriculture in these islands?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have to say that the discussions about the benefits of leaving the EU that I undertake with my Cabinet colleagues go long into the night, often fuelled and sustained by glasses of fine Scotch whisky and smoked salmon from parts of that beautiful country. One of the things we appreciate is that the appetite for smoked salmon, whisky and Scottish and British produce is growing faster outside the European Union than it is within it.
Scotland produces some of the finest food and drink, which is exported around the world. That allows us to punch well above our weight in terms of balance of payments, and it is based on our valued Scottish brand. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to protect Scotland the brand to ensure that our reputation for quality food and drink is enhanced during and after the Brexit process?
That is a very constructive contribution, because Scotland is a very powerful brand. I mentioned whisky and smoked salmon, and it is the case that the high-quality food producers of Scotland—from those who are responsible for beef in the north-east of Scotland to those who are responsible for the wonderful organic carrots and potatoes of Aberdeenshire—are individuals who work incredibly hard, and it is my desire to champion them. That is why I am just a little bit sad that the First Minister of Scotland has decided not to collaborate with the UK Government to make sure that we have effective UK-wide frameworks so that we to provide a firm platform for future exports and growth.
What are the post-Brexit prospects for exploiting the growing demand for dairy products in the middle east and south Asia?
There is growing demand for dairy products, and not just in the middle east and south Asia, as we have also had a very successful drive to increase sales of organic milk to the United States of America. Our dairy farmers do an amazing job and the opportunities for their quality products—yoghurt, cheese and others—to be sold worldwide will only increase as we leave the EU.
While acknowledging that food and drink labelling will be subject to a UK framework post-Brexit, may I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in supporting the Diabetes UK “Food Upfront” campaign to improve food labelling and introduce traffic-light systems so that people suffering with that condition can be clear about the nutritional value of pre-packaged food and drink?
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically acute point. We want to ensure not only that we produce more food, but that we produce more healthy food and help consumers to make the right choices. When we are outside the European Union, we can improve our approach on food labelling.
Food processors in my constituency export their products directly to the Republic of Ireland, straight off the production line. They fear that Brexit might require them to follow new procedures that would delay their exports, largely because of a lack of warehouse space in the Greater Manchester area. What assurances can the Secretary of State give them?
I have already met, and hope to meet again very shortly, Ministers in the Irish Government to ensure that we have a shared approach across these islands and that trade can continue to flow with as little friction as possible, but our success will require good will on every side. I therefore look forward to visiting Ireland in the week after next to talk to its Agriculture Minister and those directly involved in trade.
Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend on being the leader of the group of 50 Conservative Members who gave up single-use plastic for Lent. Her leadership in that regard is well known.
Our microbead ban is one of the toughest in the world. We have taken more than 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation through the 5p levy; we have announced that we want to end the sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds; and we are consulting on the deposit return scheme. At the Commonwealth summit, we launched the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a group of 53 nations. I am pleased to say that the UK and Vanuatu are leading the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, which brings together countries, businesses and non-governmental organisations to tackle the global challenge of plastic in the marine environment.
I was delighted by this morning’s news that all our top supermarkets will ensure that all their plastic is recyclable within seven years. We know that half the plastic in the oceans comes from developing countries, but only 0.1% of our overseas aid is spent on helping those countries to deal with waste. Will you work with the International Development Secretary to increase that amount?
I won’t, but she might.
I am pleased to say that that is already under way. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently announced a £61.4 million Commonwealth oceans package to boost global research and development. In particular, £3 million will fund new waste management initiatives in cities, building on the successful waste management programme launched by the Department for International Development in Sierra Leone. We are also funding the £6 million Commonwealth litter programme.
Does the Minister accept the very weak analysis of UK marine litter in the UK’s “Marine Strategy Part Three”, which has been highlighted by the Environmental Audit Committee? Given that 80% of marine litter comes from the land, is there a plan to monitor litter levels and how the litter reaches the marine environment? When will the Government announce a timescale for the publication of a more accurate assessment of the levels and impacts of marine litter?
A year ago we launched the litter strategy, in which we said that we would estimate a baseline. The inclement weather in the first part of the year has led to a slight delay in the gathering of research findings, but we intend to publish them before the summer so that we can take effective action where there are hotspots. I encourage people to join the clean-up, organised by the Daily Mail and Keep Britain Tidy, which will take place between 11 and 13 May. The purge of plastic goes forever forwards.
Obviously, plastic bottle litter is a huge part of the problem. When will the Government take real action? I know that a consultation is taking place, but will the Minister commit herself to introducing, as soon as possible, effective legislation to provide for a deposit return scheme covering drink containers of all sizes, including plastic bottles? Will she confirm that she has the Treasury’s support in working with producers to finance such a scheme?
The front end of a deposit return scheme is pretty common across different systems; the challenge is how the scheme is operated and financed. We need a scheme that will be effective in tackling on-the-go consumption in particular. No other country faces that specific challenge, and that is why it is taking us some time to complete the consultation, which will be published later this year. If legislation is required, we will of course introduce it, but at this stage we need to work out the details of the scheme.
At the launch of the 25-year environment plan, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister identified that issue of the wide range of polymers used. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are working, through officials, with the Waste and Resources Action Programme and the UK plastics pact to undertake the research and innovation required for manufacturers to work together to reduce the number of polymers, so that there are fewer of them and they can be recycled more readily.
Fisheries White Paper
We have committed to introducing a fisheries Bill in this Session of Parliament, and we will publish a White Paper in due course. It will set out our vision for future fisheries management and the legal requirements to manage our fisheries in future.
What assurances can the Minister give that there will be sufficient time to consult on that White Paper before the Bill is published?
When we publish White Papers, we always ensure that there is plenty of time to discuss their content before legislation is proposed.
Given that the Government have failed in their pledge to take back absolute control of our fishing waters from day one of leaving the European Union, can the Minister be explicit about how he intends to use the powers that he already has domestically to redistribute fishing quota, to deliver a better and fairer deal for our coastal communities?
We have already made many changes to give additional quota to the small under-10 metre fleet in particular. We permanently realigned some unused quota in 2012, and since the introduction of the discard ban, the annual quota uplift has been top-sliced and additional quota given to the under-10 metre sector each and every year.
Leaving the EU: Agriculture Frameworks
I regularly meet Ministers from the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations. The most recent occasion on which I did so was 26 February, to discuss the Government’s planned agriculture consultation document. I am looking forward to seeing Ministers from Scotland and Wales, as well as representatives from the Northern Ireland Administration, on 14 May in Edinburgh.
My right hon. Friend will understand that, whether potatoes are grown in the Mearns or in the March fens, they must all be grown under common UK regulations; otherwise we risk damaging the UK internal market. Does he therefore agree that farmers across the UK expect UK-wide regulations and that politicians must not throw up artificial barriers for narrow political gain?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely brilliant point. Recently, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been negotiating with devolved Administrations to ensure that, as we leave the European Union, we can have a successful internal market in the United Kingdom. Agreement has been reached with the Welsh Government. Mark Drakeford, the Labour Minister, has shown a degree of flexibility and taken a constructive approach, which is in stark contrast to that of the Scottish Government and the First Minister of Scotland, who has put a narrow ideological pursuit of separation ahead of the interests of the people of Scotland—and not for the first time, either.
Many agricultural unions in Wales have expressed concern about clarity relating to the future arrangements for common frameworks. Do the UK Government intend to apply the Barnett formula to any funding allocated to Wales in the future?
We want to make sure that, as is the case at the moment, farmers in Wales—indeed, farmers under all the devolved Administrations—receive more money than would be strictly the case under the Barnett formula. It is appropriate that they should continue to do so, because of the unique nature of the landscapes they farm.
I do not think that anyone disagrees that there might be a need for common frameworks, but I do not think they would disagree either that democratic decisions by democratically elected Parliaments are artificial barriers, so will the Secretary of State guarantee that no frameworks will be imposed across the UK without the democratic consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?
That is a good try, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the stark contrast between the constructive approach of the Labour Administration in Cardiff and the obstructive approach of the nationalist Administration in Holyrood does not redound to the credit of the Scottish National party. The truth is that the SNP has only one policy, which is separation. Everything else is tactics and they are prepared to throw Scottish farmers under the bus—[Interruption]—or, indeed, the bandwagon in their desperate desire to elevate the destruction of the United Kingdom above the creation of wealth for the people of Scotland.
National Park Authorities
The Department is currently recruiting Secretary of State-appointed members for five national parks, including the Peak District. The full criteria have been published as part of the recruitment process. In 2018, these include a commitment to the statutory purpose of the national parks, an understanding of farming or environmental land management, an ability to champion national parks and an ability to provide advice and challenge.
National parks play an important role in protecting our areas of outstanding natural beauty, but they are excluded from any of the Government housing targets. That means ever-increasing house prices in those areas. Will any future appointments have this as part of their criteria, to ensure that we see some limited development in every village?
One of the criteria involves providing advice and challenge. It is important that we continue to build new homes right across the country, but we need to balance that with maintaining the protection of our most beautiful landscapes. My right hon. Friend might be aware that there is to be a national parks review, and I will certainly draw his concerns to the reviewer’s attention.
I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) has a penchant for energetic hikes through the Derbyshire dales, but if so, I think we would all benefit from photographic evidence thereof.
Does the Minister share my sense of regret that not one member of the Yorkshire Dales national park authority lives in any of the great towns or cities West Yorkshire? Does she further agree that if there were more urban dwellers on national park authorities, they would be likely to take more notice of the recent report by the Campaign for National Parks urging more public transport from the towns and cities into the parks?
The national parks tend to reflect a more rural, countryside landscape than an urban environment. There are different ways to identify the conservation areas that are often prevalent across towns and cities, including those in West Yorkshire. I will share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns with the Minister responsible for this portfolio, my hon. Friend Lord Gardiner.
Common Fisheries Policy
On 19 March, the UK and the EU reached agreement on the nature and length of a transition period. Under the agreement, current fisheries rules will continue to apply until the end of 2020. However, in December 2020, we will negotiate fishing opportunities for 2021 as a third country and an independent coastal state outside the common fisheries policy.
The Secretary of State has admitted that the Government accepted a “sub-optimal outcome” for the UK’s fishing industry in the Brexit negotiations, although I think that people in Hull would call it something else. Can the Minister guarantee that, at the end of the transition period, our fishing rights will not be traded away for some other political or economic priority?
We have been absolutely clear that when we leave the European Union and at the end of the transition period, we will be an independent coastal state managing and controlling access to our own waters.
I was delighted to be able to be present at the Countryside Alliance’s “Rural Oscars” awards in the Cholmondeley Room of the House of Lords yesterday. A number of the local businesses that do so much to help local food economies and to sustain and champion local food production were celebrated for their outstanding work, and I was pleased that businesses from across England and Wales were celebrated in that way.
My constituency has a long coastline and, unfortunately, a large amount of plastic pollution, like the rest of our island nation. The coastal communities of Gower are working hard to gain plastic-free status, and thanks to an active community councillor, Susan Rodaway, beach cleans are taking place across the constituency. Will the Government heed the call of the Environmental Audit Committee and introduce a coastal clean-up fund to support the removal of plastic waste from our beaches and seas?
I know the hon. Lady’s constituency, and I know what a beautiful coastline it has. The beach at Rhossili bay in particular is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United Kingdom, and we need to do absolutely everything we can to free those landscapes and our marine environment from litter. I will look at her request. I understand that funding for these matters is devolved, but of course all the nations of the United Kingdom can work together to keep our seas and our beaches cleaner.
We strongly disagree with the position set out in that European Parliament report, and I can confirm that we will become an independent coastal state at the end of the transition period.
The Government are absolutely committed to banning the use of wild animals in circuses, and we will work with all parties across the House to expedite legislation to that effect.
Let us hear about the gorilla situation.
The Foreign Secretary and I—[Interruption.] —will be holding a conference on the illegal wildlife trade in the autumn. It will be our aim to ensure that many of the creatures that my hon. Friend mentioned—charismatic megafauna or, as you and I would think of them, Mr Speaker, attractive big beasts—are preserved for the future.
The only trouble is that the Foreign Secretary’s hair is the wrong colour.
No, the statement was not a sign of that at all. Indeed, there are very strong trading links in food and drink between the UK and Hong Kong, which is a major market for both British lamb and British beef.
Not only do we hope to introduce legislation to improve the courts’ powers and access to additional sentencing sanctions for those who are responsible for acts of horrific animal cruelty, but we also want, as was confirmed by the Lords Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union last night, to introduce legislation to ensure that the principle of animal sentience is recognised and, indeed, enhanced after we leave the EU.
The hon. Lady knows why, because I met with her to explain it. The work is already being done. A Food Standards Agency food survey asks exactly the questions proposed in her Bill, and we also have the annual living costs and food survey.
T.S. Eliot said:
“When a Cat adopts you,”
you just have
“to put up with it and wait until the wind changes.”
A cruel wind may be blowing for the thousands of cat owners who put protective fencing in place to stop their much-loved pets joining the hundreds of thousands that are killed by cars on our roads each year. Will the Secretary of State, a noted cat owner, stand alongside those friends of felines, or will he send T. S. Eliot spinning in his grave and many cats to theirs, too?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising both cat welfare and invoking the spirit of T. S. Eliot. At the beginning of “The Waste Land”, T. S. Eliot wrote:
“April is the cruellest month”.
But this April will not be a month in which cruelty towards any living thing will be tolerated. We want to introduce legislation to ensure that the use of shock collars as a means of restraining animals in a way that causes them pain is adequately dealt with.
My right hon. Friend raises another important point in that containment fences can play a valuable role in ensuring that individual animals, dogs and cats, can roam free in the domestic environment in which they are loved and cared for. Several submissions have been made to our consultation on the matter. I know that my right hon. Friend cares deeply about the welfare of domestic pets and other animals, and he and others have made representations that we are reflecting on carefully.
That exchange should be captured in a reusable bottle and preferably stored in one of our great museums.
Teesdale farmers tell me payments that should have been made under the higher level stewardship scheme are late. They are upland farmers on the lowest incomes. Will Ministers stop blaming Europe and sort out their own administration?
We have made a number of changes and are working very hard to deal with the current problems with countryside stewardship, and progress has been made. I would simply say that we are not blaming the European Union. It is true that it has changed the rules so that all agreements must be processed simultaneously, whereas they used to be processed across the year, which has caused major administrative problems both for the Government and for farmers.
Only 49% of the food consumed in the UK is produced in the UK, while our annual trade deficit on food and drink is now £23 billion a year and rising. What is the Secretary of State doing to address these challenges to our national security and economic sustainability?
The UK’s current food production-to-supply ratio is actually 76% for indigenous-type foods and 60% for all foods. That is not low by historical standards and has been relatively stable in recent years. However, we want to have a vibrant, successful, profitable food and farming industry, and our recent consultation sets out some thoughts to deliver that.
Following local concerns about an animal rescue centre in my constituency of Leigh, I was shocked to learn that in England there are currently no regulations or licensing requirements for pet rescue centres. Will the Government commit to introducing proposals to protect the welfare of animals in rescue centres?
We recently introduced new regulations and licensing requirements covering commercial boarding establishments, but there are no current plans to regulate rescue homes. We do not want to create unnecessary burdens on the charitable sector. However, many such establishments are members of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes, members of which must already meet minimum standards.
I think we can all agree that we have great British food and great British farming, but we also have a processing industry that is 13% of our manufacturing sector. Why does the Command Paper not talk more about food, food security and food production, which are essential not only for our environment but for our food security in this country?
The Chairman of the Select Committee and I share a commitment to making sure that the food and drink sector can become an even more important part of our economy in the future. As well as the consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment, which the “Health and Harmony” Command Paper initiated, there is ongoing work to develop a sector deal as part of the broader industrial strategy, on which the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads.
Last week, the Secretary of State told my Committee that the agriculture Bill is no longer urgent as we have agreed a transition period with the EU. Farmers are the bedrock of Britain’s food industry, but if the European Communities Act 1972 is repealed in March 2019, what is the legal basis on which he will continue to make farm payments? Will it be through extending article 50 or through the transition Bill, taking us straight back into the EU for the transition period?
Through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
In the interests of consumer choice, will the Secretary of State introduce compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat? That would benefit both those who particularly want to buy it and those who particularly do not want to buy it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We are consulting at the moment on how we can improve food labelling to ensure that we can provide consumers with greater choice, but it is also important to bear in mind that freedom of religious worship and practice is a core virtue of the United Kingdom. Although I believe very strongly in improving animal welfare standards, I also believe that we should show appropriate respect towards those individuals, from whatever faith background, who want to ensure that the meat they eat is prepared in accordance with their religious traditions.
The recent floods in York brought back into sharp focus the serious gaps that still exist in resilience planning and in the insurance market. What is the Secretary of State doing to advance that, and will he meet me to talk about these serious issues?
I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Lady. She will be aware of the Government’s ongoing investment to improve defences, but I am more than happy to discuss further resilience measures that home owners and business owners can take.
Last weekend more than 35,000 volunteers collected 65 tonnes of plastic waste from 571 beaches across the United Kingdom, organised by Surfers Against Sewage. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and thanking all those volunteers, and does he agree that we now have a grassroots unstoppable people’s movement determined to rid our coast of plastic waste?
Surfers Against Sewage has done an amazing job in creating wider awareness of what we all need to do together to cleanse our oceans and seas of litter. The Plastic Free Parliament campaign, and its encouragement of all Members of the House to move away from plastic and embrace appropriate alternatives is a model of social action, and one that I know you are anxious to embrace as well, Mr Speaker.
Most certainly, with alacrity.
I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but we are over time and there is exceptionally heavy pressure on time today, as colleagues will know, on account of the business.
The right hon Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Freedom of Religion or Belief
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Commonwealth initiative for freedom of religion or belief convened a two-day summit at Lambeth Palace last week involving 40 parliamentarians and religious leaders from 11 Commonwealth countries. The aim of the meeting was to look at ways in which parliamentarians and leaders from across the Commonwealth could champion freedom of religion or belief.
That is encouraging to hear. The Commonwealth and the Church of England have similar values where they overlap. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the two organisations continue to work in unison to influence Governments in countries where freedom of religion is not respected?
The geography of the Anglican Communion and the Commonwealth do overlap; in fact the communion is larger still. The charter of the Commonwealth contains a commitment to freedom of religion or belief, but the truth is that not all members abide by that. The personal relationships built at Commonwealth meetings and across the Anglican Communion mean that faith communities must advocate for the same global standards for freedom of religion and belief.
It is sad to see Commonwealth countries on Open Doors UK’s world watch list of Christian persecution around the world. What further can we do following the Heads of Government conference to promote tolerance between people of faith and none in the long term in the Commonwealth?
A number of actions were agreed at that seminar. For Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion, freedom of religion remains an important priority. Every time the Archbishop of Canterbury visits a Commonwealth country where there is a problem you can be sure, Mr Speaker, that he will raise it.
Part of the initiative in the Commonwealth involves developing a toolkit that Members of Parliament can use to champion issues of freedom of religion and belief in our constituencies.
Is the Church of England aware of deeply disturbing reports that restrictions on the freedom of Christians to practise their faith have severely increased this year in China, including a ban on taking children under 18 to church? If so, what step is the Church taking on this?
The Church of England is very aware of those reports, and China is a priority for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He hopes to be able to take up the invitation to go there, when I am sure he will raise these issues. Even before such a visit, Church officials are engaging with Chinese officials to discover the implications of the new five-year plan on religious engagement and raise concerns where it appears that Christians are being oppressed.
The Church has for many years been involved in recycling, reuse and repurposing of materials. It completely embraces the circular economy. Most recently, the Church’s environment programme ran a “Lent Plastic Challenge”, which was supported by 40 MPs. It produced a calendar of things we could do on each of the 40 days of Lent, and it was helpful to all who took part to see how much we can do individually.
Last weekend I attended the launch of the Catholic diocese of Middlesbrough’s book about how we can live simpler lives. What is the Church of England doing to further its reach into communities to help people to change their behaviours and lifestyles?
As I have said, all of us as MPs had a golden opportunity during Lent to use the calendar produced by the Church of England, which was available to all Church members and was very popular throughout the Church community. Every day it set a challenge to each of us to do something to change the way we live our lives so that they are simpler and embrace the circular economy. Within the Church, a number of churches embrace the concept completely, with 860 participating as eco-churches in the Big Church Switch, for example, which is looking at ways to ensure that the energy we use comes from renewable sources. We promote the circular economy right across the Church of England.
Yesterday I hosted a reception to highlight the interest of the Church of England in working with the Government and others to support a viable future for rural schools. The Church has published “Embracing Change: Rural and Small Schools”, which I commend to the House.
The Church obviously should be taking a long-term, if not eternal, approach on rural schools. People in Startforth were disappointed when a brief dip in performance led to the closure of that Church school, so in future will the Church take into account the significance of rural schools as community assets?
The Church of England has 4,700 schools, of which 53% are in rural areas. That often presents challenges—for example, the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers—but the report that I have referred to highlights those challenges. In addition to that report, we have a Church of England educational leadership foundation, which is designed to encourage and retain teachers, to ensure that children in small rural schools do not suffer as a result of the shortage of teachers.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) can bang on about out-of-school educational settings instead.
Following the publication of the findings from the Department for Education’s consultation on out-of-school settings, I am pleased to say that the Government have sharpened their focus on tackling risks associated with unregulated out-of-school settings and have come up with proposals that are far more proportionate for use. The Church of England has welcomed this.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that the Government combat radicalisation, but in a way that does not mean the state encroaching on the realm of religion or crossing the Rubicon in a way that could one day lead to the assessment of Sunday schools and the like?
Of course, the Church of England completely underlines the importance of tackling radicalisation, but the original proposals might have caught education in out-of-school settings such as Sunday schools, where teachers are subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks—as everybody in this place who has ever taught in one will know—and domestic premises used to teach children out of school have to be inspected too. The new proposals are proportionate to use and have been welcomed by the Church of England.
The right hon. Lady knows that I have been a champion of forest schools and out-of-school education with the John Clare Trust over many years. Even more worrying is out-of-school education in foreign parts. Many churches support orphanages around the world, but very often they are not orphanages and are not for orphans, but are used in child trafficking. Many churches support these so-called orphanages, so will she look into that?
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. I heard the broadcast of the “Sunday” programme about an Australian Senator who is pioneering an amendment to Australia’s modern-day slavery legislation to ensure that the whole world wises up to the risks associated with donating to orphanages that might be a scam or a front for children who are subsequently trafficked, or certainly put at risk. All of us need to be aware in our dealings with our constituents and their churches of the need to look carefully at where those resources go and how they are used.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
Election Expenses: Northern Ireland
On 12 March 2018, the Electoral Commission published the first information about political donations and loans in Northern Ireland following the necessary legislation coming into force. This gives details about donations and loans received from 1 July 2017. The Electoral Commission welcomes this transparency, but continues to urge the Government to bring forward additional legislation to enable transparency from 1 January 2014, as envisaged by the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014.
I am grateful for that answer, because it confirms the clear view of the Electoral Commission that full transparency requires donations from 2014 to be fully declared, including the £425,000 donation that was effectively laundered through the good offices of the Democratic Unionist party, which was almost certainly raised in mainland Great Britain and almost entirely spent in mainland Great Britain. Will the hon. Lady tell us whose interests can possibly be protected by keeping that particular donation secret?
The law requires the Electoral Commission to keep confidential all information about donations and loans in Northern Ireland before 1 July 2017, and it is unable to make any comments about donations to the DUP prior to that point. However, it remains of the view that donations and loans from 1 January 2014 should be published and continues to urge the Government to bring forward the necessary legislation.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission.
The National Audit Office’s investigation published in March 2018 sets out factually the sequence of events leading up to the Department for Transport’s announcement in July 2017, cancelling the three electrification projects in response to concerns raised about the decision-making process. As such, the majority of the report is focused on the period up to, and including, July 2017 when the Department announced its decision. The investigation also considered the Department’s assessment of the subsequent impact of its decision on promised benefits. The facts in the report were agreed by the Department and reflect evidence that was provided to the NAO.
I congratulate the National Audit Office on its report, but why did the investigation not seek to evaluate either the value for money of the projects or the decision to cancel?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work in this area on behalf of his constituents. The NAO conducts investigations to establish the underlying facts and circumstances where concerns have been raised. Investigations are not evaluative and do not seek to provide a conclusion on value for money. The report was focused on the concerns that had been raised. However, the report does comment on the costs and benefits of the three cancelled electrification projects and the case for electrification more generally. In the Secretary of State’s announcement in July 2017, he explained that projects were cancelled on the basis that it was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits. The NAO investigation says that it was too early to tell whether the promised benefits could be achieved without full electrification. When the Secretary of State made his decision to cancel electrification, the Department told the NAO that it expected the manufacturers to be able to develop bi-mode trains that would deliver the required service improvements on the midland main line.
We are all now considerably better informed, and we are grateful for that.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Representations have been made through previous oral questions to the House of Commons Commission, including by the hon. Gentleman himself. He may remember that I responded in similar terms to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) in January. The Commission has given no formal consideration to a move to electronic voting in the House as part of either the restoration and renewal programme or the northern estate programme. Its responsibility in this matter is limited to any financial or staffing implications of any change to the present system were such a change to be agreed by the House.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain whether the Commission would be prepared to receive any such representations, or whether there should be some other mechanism by which this House can actually have a proper debate and a proper discussion about dragging ourselves somewhere into the late 20th century in time for this restoration and renewal somewhere in the middle of the 21st century?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I suspect that, from earlier responses, he will be aware that he needs to present his ideas, in the initial stages, to the Procedure Committee for it to consider. However, there will also be an opportunity, as part of a consultation around the northern estate programme, for him to contribute, and he could contribute in advance of that by contacting Emma Wharton who is responsible for that programme and for the restoration and renewal. I am sure that she would be happy to receive his representation.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Protection of Churches
The Church works closely with Historic England and other bodies to provide advice and guidance for local authorities. In most cases, good and sensible decisions are made. Disputes do arise in a small number of cases, such as at my own parish church, where the argument was eventually won that we could use a lead substitute product after the lead had been stolen twice.
I am grateful for that answer. St Mary the Virgin’s church in my constituency is a rare and beautiful example of one of the finest small Anglo-Saxon churches in the country, going back to the 7th century. It is threatened by a large-scale development and it has fallen to Historic England to submit objections. Historic England indicates that the proposals would have a harmful impact on the setting of the church and, indeed, of Seaham Hall. Is there a role for the Church of England or the Church Commissioners to object to such developments in order to protect the setting of churches of historical importance?
I understand that the local authority has taken a decision that would adversely affect the setting of this beautiful grade I listed Anglo-Saxon church. I will be in discussion with the diocese about what support we can provide as a stakeholder in this important decision.
Theft from Churches
The Church is concerned about the significant rise in metal theft, which is not unconnected to the fact that the price of lead and copper on world markets has risen by 65%. Our advice to churches follows that of the police, which is to do target hardening wherever possible. There are a certain number of practical suggestions that I can provide that may assist with this inquiry.
While all thefts should be condemned, it is particularly despicable to steal from churches and their graveyards. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what impact the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013—pioneered by Sir Richard Ottaway—has had on the situation?
There is no question but that the private Member’s Bill promoted by our dear friend and former Member of this House gave rise to a change in Government legislation on metal theft. However, there are new thefts—not just of metal, but of stone, ornamental artefacts and even, recently, some 12th-century keys. This is why I have joined the revised all-party parliamentary group on metal and stone theft, and I encourage other Members to support its work in Parliament.
Will the Church Commissioners urge Ministers to introduce a scrap stone Act along the lines of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which improved councils’ regulation of metal and stopped the trading of scrap metal in cash?
Just as with metal, it is very important to mark artefacts with smart water, dye or in other ways where possible, so that thieves may be caught and ultimately prosecuted when artefacts turn up in dealers’ yards. The APPG will be involved in this work and the Church of England will actively support it.
Home Office Removal Targets
Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement about the use of removal targets in the Home Office.
Yesterday, I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the Windrush generation—the people who contributed so much and who should never have experienced what they have. These people are here legally and should never have been subjected to any form of removal action; and, as I told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, I have seen no evidence that that has happened.
Everyone in this House agrees that this group were here legally, but also that people who are here illegally should be treated differently from legal migrants. I am personally committed to tackling illegal migration because I have seen at first hand the terrible impact that it has on the most vulnerable in our society—the exploitation and abuse that can come hand-in-hand with illegal migration. That is why my Department has been working to increase the number of illegal migrants we remove.
I have never agreed that there should be specific removal targets and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people. The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management. These were not published targets against which performance was assessed, but if they were used inappropriately, then I am clear that this will have to change. I have asked officials to provide me with a full picture of the performance measurement tools which were used at all levels, and I will update the House, and the Home Affairs Committee, as soon as possible.
Another day, another revelation about the Windrush scandal. Yesterday, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary said in terms:
“We don’t have targets for removals.”
But the general secretary of the Immigration Service Union told the Committee earlier that there is a net removals target that enforcement teams have to meet and that they are aiming to remove a certain number of individuals in any given month. The general secretary later confirmed that the target this month was 8,337, with targets on posters in regional centres. When Lord Carrington resigned over the Falklands, he said that it was a matter of honour. Is it not time that the Home Secretary considered her honour and resigned?
I would like to make the very clear distinction between legal and illegal migrants. The right hon. Lady talks about the Windrush cohort. We have already established that the Windrush cohort is here legally. This Government are determined to put this right, which is why I put in the new measures to ensure that that happens.
I believe that I have addressed the issue of targets, referring to the fact that some offices are working with them. Unfortunately, I was not aware of them, and I want to be aware of them, which is why I am now putting in place different measures to ensure that that happens.
Will my right hon. Friend be assured that she has the total support of Conservative Members in trying to resolve a very difficult legacy issue? Does she agree that dealing with the Windrush generation, who are entirely entitled to be here, is not the same thing at all, as Labour Members try to say, as removing illegal immigrants?
I thank my right hon. Friend for putting it so clearly; it is such an important distinction to make. This Government, like many Governments before, including Labour Governments, took action against illegal immigrants. Some former Labour Home Secretaries had some very clear targets about removing illegal migrants. Removing illegal migrants is what Governments should be doing in order to protect the taxpayer and in order to make sure that no abuse takes place in the UK.
The revelation that Home Office removal targets exist comes as no surprise to me or any of the hundreds of constituents who have come to my surgeries over the past three years. There is a litany of callous incompetence from this Department. It is a problem of deliberate policy—a cruel “hostile environment” policy introduced by the former Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, and continued unabated by the current Home Secretary.
Can the Home Secretary tell this House when targets were introduced, who signed them off, and how they were monitored? Can she tell us about the local targets and whether they were in place in Scotland? Can she tell us what happened to Home Office caseworkers who failed to meet those targets? If it is true that posters were being displayed to remind staff of the targets, how is it possible that the Home Secretary and the director of border, immigration and citizenship were not fully aware of this? This Home Secretary is presiding over a Department out of control, marked by cruelty and chaos. Will she stop shielding the Prime Minister? Will she do the honourable thing and resign?
I think that once more the hon. Lady is confusing the difference between legal and illegal migrants. Like any other Member of this House, I do not think that she would want the UK to be a home for illegal migrants. That is why we have policies which make it difficult for illegal migrants to thrive in the UK. That is exactly the right thing to do. It was started under former Governments. It has been continued under this one because we must remove people who are here illegally.
I urge my right hon. Friend not to be knocked off course by the Opposition parties on the issue of illegal immigration. Most people in the real world, outside of the Labour party, the Scottish National party and the metropolitan London elite in the media, believe that the Government do not do enough to remove illegal immigrants from this country, not that they are doing too much. All the Opposition parties are demonstrating is how out of touch they have become with working-class communities up and down the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. He is right; the public expect us to remove illegal migrants who are here and who do damage to our society, and it is right that the Home Office has a policy which makes sure that that has happened. Once more, I want to be absolutely clear that that is not the case with the Windrush cohort, who are here legally, and the group of people we are reaching out to, to make sure that we support them and get the documentation they need.
It is obviously deeply disappointing that the Home Secretary did not know the facts when she gave evidence to our Committee yesterday. I look forward to more detail from her on this, and I have a follow-up question. The Foreign Office has said that in April 2016, as part of regular ministerial dialogue with Caribbean partners, Foreign Office Ministers were made aware of concerns about some immigration deportation cases. Were those concerns passed to Home Office Ministers, and what did they do?
The right hon. Lady raised that with me yesterday, and I said to her then, as I repeat here, that I will look into that and come back to her with an answer to that question as soon as I can.
The Home Secretary’s remedy has been rightly generous, but should not the target for law breaking always be zero?
That is a target we can all agree with.
I asked the Home Secretary at the last urgent question how many people had been deported. She said she did not know. I asked her how many people had been imprisoned in their own country. She said she did not know. There are impact statements that have been ignored. There are letters from MPs, and she said she was not aware of a pattern. We now understand that people have been removed because of targets, and she said she did not know. I say with all conscience: is she really the right person to lead this office of state?
The right hon. Gentleman asked early on about the issue of removals, and I have addressed it in the action that I have taken and in the report that I gave to the Select Committee yesterday. We have established that there were 8,000 people within the cohort who might have had Windrush characteristics—the indication that he has put in his social media—and we have gone through them and found that of the 7,000 we have looked at by hand, none qualify in terms of removal. He quite rightly continues to ask questions about what might have happened in different situations, but I must respond by saying that until we have looked, we cannot have a definitive answer. It has come as some element of surprise to have this particular shape as a number of cases that came to the Home Office over a period. As we discussed yesterday in the Select Committee, there were indications, but they were not put together as the systemic failure that clearly took place.
The Opposition talk about a culture of fear being spread, but is my right hon. Friend aware that it was the shadow Home Secretary in 2013 who complained about a reduction in the number of illegal immigrants being deported?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. There are plenty of examples and quotations from the Labour party about its targets and determination to remove illegals. Removing illegals is something that everybody and every Government should do and want to do, and this Government make no excuse for wanting to do it, but the Windrush group, whom we all respect, are a completely separate group, are legal, and we want to make sure that we look after them.
The Government have a target to reduce immigration, legal or illegal. Could it be that officials were following Ministers’ lead?
It is my experience that our caseworkers work with compassion and care in administering their duties. Under this leadership, I will always make sure that they do.
To what extent was my right hon. Friend’s Department’s ability to monitor and assess the level of illegal immigration impeded by the abandonment of exit checks in 1998?
My right hon. Friend is right of course that exit checks are an important part of securing our borders and knowing who comes and goes, and I am very pleased that this Government reintroduced them in 2015.
I have always been puzzled about why my constituent Shiromini Satkunarajah, a Londoner and student at Bangor University, was wrongly detained at Yarl’s Wood last year. The answer now seems to be clear. She was a Tamil who escaped from Sri Lanka as a child and was reporting to the police station, as she was required to do under law—she was doing her duty under the law. She was, to use that horrible, dehumanising phrase, “low-hanging fruit”. What is the Home Secretary now doing to identify and provide redress to those not of the Windrush generation but whose lives have wrongly been disrupted by Home Office target chasing?
I want to make it clear that I would never use that phrase, and it is not an approach I would want anybody working in the Home Office to take. I have said that, as a result of the Windrush changes, I will make sure that the Home Office has a more human face. I am setting up a new contact centre and making sure there are more senior caseworkers so that the more junior caseworkers have the confidence to make their decisions by engaging with somebody really experienced. I accept that we need to make the Home Office more personal, and I will be doing that.
Order. I am keen to accommodate a few more colleagues, but there is huge pressure on time and therefore all inquiries, without exception, need to be brief, and the responses characteristically so from the Home Secretary.
May I commend the Home Secretary for her response to the Windrush scandal but press her on the separate issue of illegal immigration? Press reports this week show that 27,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested by 28 forces in the past four years. Why is it being left to the police to arrest illegal immigrants? Why are they not being stopped at the border?
I accept that we should do more at the border, although there are areas where we are having some success. I point, in particular, to our juxtaposed border in France, in Calais, where we stop an enormous number of illegals trying to get to the UK. We are investing more money, alongside the French, to make sure we can have more success there, so I hope that my hon. Friend will see some progress.
This is not about illegals; it is about British citizens and people with a legal right to be here, and it goes well beyond the Windrush generation. How many cases are known to Ministers and officials of people who have been wrongfully deported or wrongfully detained? I know for a fact that there are cases in both categories—I met some of the individuals yesterday. How many are there in each category?
As I said to the hon. Gentleman yesterday at the Select Committee hearing, as a result of the Windrush scandal, we are going back to 2002 to look at whether there have been any inappropriate deportations, and when we have that information, I will come back to the Committee.
When I was elected in May 2010, I was shocked by the sheer number of unresolved immigration cases I had to deal with straightaway. Does my right hon. Friend recall that under the last Labour Government, the then Home Secretary had to have two separate amnesties because no one knew how many people were here?
I do recall that, and I do recall some of the choice phrases that previous Labour Home Secretaries used about the Home Office. Under this leadership, we will be able to change that and make real progress.
Immigration is one of the most high-profile areas the Home Secretary is responsible for, and one that the public care deeply about. Was she asleep when she did not know there were targets for the removal of illegal immigrants?
Immigration is a really important part of the role of the Home Office and the Home Secretary. It is not the only part, but it is one in which I take a serious interest, and I believe that the changes I will be making will enable better monitoring of issues that arise, such as that of the Windrush cohort, which, as we have discussed, is a situation that has been going on for many years and was not spotted by any previous Government. I hope that those changes will help to give me those sorts of alerts.
Whatever the historical background to the problems, the Government have committed to paying compensation, where appropriate, to members of the Windrush generation. Will the Home Secretary confirm that she will have a wide-ranging consultation before putting that scheme in place?
I do think it is important to set up a compensation package; it is important that that compensation is independently monitored; and it is important that a consultation is carried out before that takes place. I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied when I set that out in due course.
I think people will accept that the Home Secretary and her lead official did not deliberately mislead the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, not least because what she said was so easily disproved. But it is a very serious matter that she and her lead official appeared not to be aware of the removal targets.
I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that I have not authorised any targets for the future. I have seen the information that has been revealed, and I have heard about the types of phrases that the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) referred to, and that were apparently used to the Committee. I thoroughly disagree with that; I think we should have a compassionate, clear and informed approach to immigration, and I am going to ensure that that happens.
Quite rightly, my right hon. Friend has set up a dedicated team to deal with the issues that affect the Windrush generation. Will she update the House on how quickly these cases are being processed?
I committed in the House to making sure that when the information is collected by my taskforce, the conclusions and the documents are passed to the individuals within two weeks. That target is being exceeded at the moment, and it is my strong aim and ambition to ensure that that high level of service is kept up, because those individuals deserve nothing less.
Is the Home Secretary, like her predecessor, the current Prime Minister, “sick and tired” of Ministers who blame others when something goes wrong? Surely, if the Home Secretary takes full responsibility for this serious issue, she should do the honourable thing and resign.
I do take seriously my responsibility, but I think that I am the person who can put this right. I understand that the House will want to hold me to account for that, but I am confident that the changes I am committed to putting in place, and the transparency that will go with them, will deliver the changes that are expected.
May I ask that the Home Secretary bears in mind the views of my constituents, who have praised the compassion that she has expressed on behalf of the Windrush generation but also said that they would like a continued focus on the removal of illegal migrants who take advantage, unfairly, of all law-abiding taxpayers?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Although I do not in any way minimise the serious nature of what took place with the Windrush group, I agree with him that in the vast majority of cases and situations, my office and UK Visas and Immigration do an excellent job, and I am proud of the work that they do.
It is clear that the extreme pressure that is put on local teams is coming from the central target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, and to include international students in that target. Is now not the time to rethink that central approach to immigration, and to make sure we focus the pressure where it needs to be focused, not on things that are unrealistic?
The targets that were apparently being looked at were for illegal migrants, so I think it is wholly different. There may be a time for a discussion about legal migration, but at the moment I think it is right that our focus is on illegal migration to make sure that it is handled in a fair, compassionate and transparent way.
Yet again, the Opposition are playing politics with people’s lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is morally wrong to confuse illegal immigration with that of the Windrush generation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the strong difference between legal and illegal migration. If Opposition Members looked back at their own former Home Secretaries, they would find some very strong language and some clear targets on removing illegals from this country.
Single-sentence inquiries without semicolons or subordinate clauses, please.
I will do my best to delight, Mr Speaker. Many highland families have faced deportation or have been deported because of the highly technical rules, or even because of rule changes during compliance. Does the Secretary of State agree that this aggressive targeting is ripping the heart out of highland communities?
I have resolved to put in place a more personal system for when applicants go to UKVI, and I think and hope that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will, in due course, notice a difference.
Brevity personified, Anna Soubry.
It is not fair, Mr Speaker. You set me up to fail and I always do. This is a serious issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of Labour’s dreadful legacy was an obsession with targets? As an excellent new broom, will she assure us that she will search in every nook and cranny, and ensure that immigrants, migrants, are seen as people and not numbers?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s approach, and I do not want us to be run by a target culture. I want to ensure that the individual is put at the heart of every decision.
I call Richard Burden, who in my experience is also brevity personified.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, I will do my best. Is not the problem that a culture of tunnel-vision suspicion has been encouraged in the Home Office? Only last week in my constituency, that culture led officials to attempt to remove a man who had come to this country legally on a multi-entry visa, to be with his wife who had just been through a difficult pregnancy and termination. He had booked a return ticket to Jamaica, but officials said that he had “undermined his position” because he said that he wanted to spend as much time with his wife as he was legally able to do. Is not there something wrong with that kind of mindset?
I hope the hon. Gentleman was able to resolve the situation for his constituent. I have had nothing but praise from MPs about the MPs hotline, which works well for people—[Interruption.] Clearly there are a few exceptions on the SNP Benches, but most colleagues across the House have said that it works well, and I hope it was able to be of assistance.
Illegal immigration is wrong because it creates unfairness for legal migrants, like the Windrush generation, who do the right thing and play by the rules. Is it vital to keep that distinction and not allow the Labour party cynically to conflate the two issues for political purposes?
My hon. Friend is right: it is a completely different situation. Everybody in the House wants to welcome the Windrush cohort and ensure that they are properly looked after and that a compensation scheme is put in place, but we rightly all have a different view about illegal migrants.
This week the Home Secretary said that she was not aware of a number of policy initiatives. Who is running her Department?
I accept the criticism regarding the issue that I debated earlier today and my conversations with the Home Affairs Committee, and that is why I am in the House to set out the changes that I will make. I hope I will have the opportunity to make those changes clear to the House in future, and to continue to develop the confidence of everybody involved.
I am lucky to have constituents who have come to Leicestershire from all over the world, and they are inspirational people. Does the Home Secretary agree with them that it would not be fair to abolish the distinction between people who have done the right thing and obeyed all the rules, and those who have come to this country illegally?
That is a good point, and people who have come here legally and who go through the rules and pay—sometimes at quite a high cost—to become a member of our communities, are also those who do not want illegal migration to be treated trivially. That is why we are committed to taking a firm approach to illegal migration.
As reported by Faisal Islam yesterday, in 2013 the Foreign Office funded videos that promoted deportation to Jamaica, but it acknowledged that the challenge of resuming a life after an absence of 20 or 30 years can be daunting. Will the Home Secretary explain why Government Departments are pushing for deportations to countries such as Jamaica?
We are not pushing for that sort of event. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may want to bring videos into the Chamber, but I am not aware, Mr Speaker, that we are allowed to play them in here yet.
My right hon. Friend has shown real steadfastness throughout this situation. Is she aware of the disquiet on doorsteps in Solihull about illegal immigrants accessing services? All sensible countries have a balanced approach to immigration, including removal when necessary.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and he is right. His constituents, like mine, will want to make sure that services available from the DWP, such as benefits, are not made available to illegals. Labour of course supported that approach when they were in office some years ago, and this Government have continued to build on that.
The Home Office decides who is legal and who is illegal in these cases. I have seen deported—or threatened with deportation—a man with scars on his back from whipping; somebody who was terminally ill and later died; and somebody whose dead children are buried in my constituency. All those people have been classed as illegal by the Home Office. Surely they should not be removed.
All those cases sound very difficult, but I cannot make immigration comments on the Floor of the House. I am very happy if the hon. Lady wants to talk to me or send me details of individual cases; I will make sure that we look at them.
I thank my right hon. Friend for being completely focused on getting help to real people who need and deserve it. Can she reassure my constituent that the compensation scheme will be designed in full consultation with those people who deserve compensation?
My hon. Friend is right. We need to make sure that the compensation scheme addresses the actual needs of people who have lost out by not having their proper documentation put in place by successive Governments. That is why I am committed to having a consultation on the scheme and making sure that it is run independently.
Will the Home Secretary please commit to Home Office officials playing by the rules as well, and look into the case of the partner of my constituent Kelly, who was deported back to Jamaica last week with no notice, when his appeal had still not been decided? His partner is due to give birth in four weeks’ time.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case with me. The Minister for Immigration is sitting beside me; I know she will want to discuss that case with the hon. Lady.
The independent inspector’s report in 2015 reported:
“The Family Returns Process’s target for the financial year 2014/15 was 252 returns”—
including both voluntary returns and required returns. Is or is not that a target? Did the Home Secretary or her predecessor know about it? Is it still in place or not?
We made changes in 2010 that were specifically to support families and children who might be at risk of being removed. For instance, we banned the detention of children outside of families, which had been taking place before 2010. So I believe we made some changes in 2010 and going forward, which really were trying to assist families and children, rather than the opposite.
Does the Home Secretary consider the Chagos islanders, who are in the UK because they were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands by the British state, to be illegal migrants? Do any attempts to remove them count towards these targets?
I know the Chagos islands have a specific situation. I also know that My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) will be bringing his British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill to the Chamber soon and I look forward to hearing the arguments on it.
Even if they avoid final deportation, the experience of being arrested and being detailed indefinitely without trial is a humiliating and degrading experience for any innocent person. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many innocent, legally here, people have been subjected to unlawful arrest and detention, thanks to these targets?
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The real issue here, which started with how the Windrush generation have been treated, is one that I am looking at very seriously, because I believe that they were incorrectly identified, in some cases, as illegal, when of course, as we all know, they are here legally. That is the case load that I am going through at the moment. We have gone through 8,000 out of 9,000, back to 2002, and we have not yet found anybody who meets that threshold.
Business of the House
Would the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 30 April will be as follows:
Monday 30 April—Remaining stages of the Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill followed by debate on a motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 1 May—Remaining stages of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords] followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill.
Wednesday 2 May—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on Windrush on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 3 May—A general debate on matters to be considered before the May adjournment. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 7 May will include:
Monday 7 May—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 8 May—Remaining stages of the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords] followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill followed by a motion relating to a statutory instrument on criminal legal aid.
I am the 336th woman to be elected to the UK Parliament ever. To put that into perspective, there are 442 male MPs in Parliament today, so for all the great women in this place and around the country, the unveiling of the new permanent memorial to Millicent Fawcett was a superb moment, celebrating her achievements and all those of the suffrage movement.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote, I look forward to the many occasions there are to recognise the valuable contribution that women make to public life. In particular, I recommend that all Members take part in the excellent initiative by Parliament’s education and engagement team for a series of “EqualiTeas” in our constituencies, where schools, girl guides, the women’s institute and many others will be hosting celebratory tea parties.
This week we have had the joyful news of a new royal baby, and the House has sent its warmest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Finally, I take this opportunity to wish the House a belated happy St George’s day for last Monday.
Order. Before I call the shadow Leader of the House, I must emphasise to colleagues that it may not be possible to call everybody today. The Government have put two statements on the agenda before we even get to Back-Bench business, so what is needed is a short question each time and a short reply. I will have to judge when to move on to the next business, because it is Back-Bench business day, not a day for just lobbing statements on to the Order Paper which could have been made at some other time.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and support her in sending our congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the safe delivery of their son on St George’s day. And yes, women are very important—we hold up half the sky.
I asked the Leader of the House about allocating time for nurses’ bursaries. Will she allocate time for a debate on that? I thank for her finally allocating time for a debate on the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018—a matter that was raised as a point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon). I am sure that the Leader of the House will have heard your words, Mr Speaker, when my hon. Friend did that. You said that it was
“a regrettable state of affairs”
“in terms of the smooth running of the House”
does not help to build an
“atmosphere of trust”.—[Official Report, 23 April 2018; Vol. 644, c. 639.]
The changes to the legal aid fees have triggered the barristers’ boycott of new legal aid work. Lawyers are being asked to peruse documents and are not being paid for it. That is part of the evidence bundle. Bizarrely, the Lord Chancellor on Tuesday at Justice questions said that the Government are waiting for information from the Labour party. I am not sure whether he meant that they are waiting for a Labour Government, so that we could then revoke the statutory instrument.
I want to ask the Leader of the House about another small House issue: is it possible to have email alerts for statutory instruments that are published on Fridays? Our hard-working staff have to trawl through all the statutory instruments to see the new ones. They get an email alert for statements, so could we have that for SIs?
The Prime Minister said on the steps of No. 10:
“We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives”,
but that does not seem to apply to the Windrush generation. Amelia Gentleman, a journalist for The Guardian, publicised in November 2017 the case of Paulette Wilson, who used to cook for us in the House of Commons. She had been here for more than 50 years and was taken to Yarl’s Wood and was about to be deported. Although it was grand having the Home Secretary making her statement in the House, it raised more questions than answers. The Home Office should know who is in detention and must know why they are there.
When will the Government produce these figures? Why are they now waiving the citizenship fee for anyone in the Windrush generation who wishes to apply for citizenship when they are British citizens and do not need to apply, as the Prime Minister repeated over and over again yesterday? Why are the Government saying that they will waive the requirement for them to carry out a test on knowledge of language and life in the UK, when most of the Windrush generation have lived here for years—some for over 50 years—and they speak English? The Government do know how many people are affected, because the Home Office has written to tell them that they have to leave.
May we have a further statement updating the House on all the figures, and on whether the Cabinet Secretary should conduct an inquiry into the Department? What sort of Government throw a net using unassessed policy, rhetoric and ads to catch people who are here legally along with those who are here illegally? What sort of Government throw a net that catches the innocent with the guilty?
But there is more chaos in the Government. In the autumn Budget, the Chancellor promised that councils would be compensated for losses incurred as a result of changes to the “staircase tax”. Days later, a letter was written to council finance officers stating that the Government would not be compensating local authorities for any loss of income caused by the reversal of the tax. On Monday, legislation overturned the tax. May we have a statement on why the Government have U-turned, and are not honouring the expenditure that was committed by the Chancellor?
More chaos: the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has finally visited the Irish border, but he broke parliamentary protocol by failing to tell the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mickey Brady). He said that it was
“an administrative oversight for which we are happy to apologise.”
Despite his being a prominent member of the Leave campaign, that was his first visit.
More chaos: EU negotiators have said that backstop plans to prevent a hard border in Ireland after Brexit will not work. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) has described the Prime Minister’s plan for a “customs partnership” as “completely cretinous”, “impractical, bureaucratic”, and
“a betrayal of common sense”.
Had he said that here, Mr Speaker, you would have been on your feet telling that it was unparliamentary language.
Will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister to visit the border, and has she had a chance to work out when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will come here from the other place?
I join the Leader of the House in her congratulatory remarks about firsts for women. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) has been elected Welsh Labour deputy leader, in Labour Wales, and I too was delighted to attend the unveiling of the statue of the suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett in Parliament Square—the first statue of a woman erected there—by another woman, Gillian Wearing. That was excellent, and we should thank Caroline Criado Perez and the Mayor of London for this important work of public art.
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on her new appointment. That is fantastic news. It is excellent to hear of yet more achievements by women.
The hon. Lady asked about statutory instruments, and asked specifically about the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. Let me gently say to her that the Opposition were perhaps a little tardy in making their request for a debate; having prayed against the SI one month after it was laid, they then raised it during Business Questions for the first time on 29 March. By that stage it was already too late to schedule a debate within the praying period without changing last week’s business through an emergency business statement. We have now provided time for a debate as soon as possible, but on that occasion the Opposition’s request was not really a reasonable request with which the Government were able to comply. Let me also point out to Members that in the current Session the Government have already scheduled more negative statutory instruments for debate on the Floor of the House than have been scheduled in any previous Session since 1997. I assure the hon. Lady that we are working very hard to try to deliver on our obligations in this regard. She also asked for e-mail alerts about statutory instruments, and I will of course look into that on her behalf.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of Windrush. As I have said, it is a very serious and very regrettable unintended consequence of the intentions of many Governments over many years to try to limit and restrict illegal immigration. The Windrush generation are absolutely British, and it is absolutely the intention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to regularise their position as soon as she can, to get a grip on the issue, and to sort it out as soon as possible. As the hon. Lady will know, my right hon. Friend has just answered another urgent question on this very subject, and she will make further statements in due course.
The hon. Lady referred to the “staircase tax” Bill. There will be plenty of opportunities, as it passes through both Houses, for discussion of issues such as compensation. She mentioned notice of visits by members of the Government. Of course all Members should seek to give notice when they visit one another’s constituencies, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has said, this was an administrative oversight for which he has apologised.
The hon. Lady asked when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will come back to this place. I had the pleasure of visiting the other place to sit at the steps of the throne and hear the opening of Report stage. They are very interesting debates and take some time. The Bill is due to be back in this place in the next few weeks; the precise day will be announced through the usual channels.
Finally, I join the hon. Lady in congratulating all those involved in the work to unveil the fabulous statue of Millicent Fawcett.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of the National Fund, which was established in 1927 by an anonymous donor? If a debate is held, I think the House would be pleased to learn when the money will be released and what it will be spent on.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, about which I was not aware. The Attorney General’s office is working with the Charity Commission and the fund’s trustees to help resolve what is a legally very complicated matter. My hon. Friend might like to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to receive an update directly from Ministers.
May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and associate myself with all the remarks about suffrage and the raising of the statue of Millicent Fawcett?
Today is World Intellectual Property Day and I will have the great pleasure of hosting the annual parliamentary event to celebrate our inventors, creators and artists. Let us continue to grow our economy on the imagination of our people.
Are the Government going to come out to play in today’s debate on the customs union, or are they going to continue to contemptuously refuse to vote on non-Government business? I say to the Leader of the House that there is no running away from this issue. It will have to be confronted by this Government and it looks like they do not have a majority. All of the business community are saying that they want “a” or “the” customs union, yet the Government are in thrall to the Brexit nutters on their Back Benches, who still hold sway over them. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, if the Government are defeated, the will of the House will be respected?
This has been a black week for devolution. The will of the Scottish Parliament on large swathes of devolved areas is to be totally ignored, and last night we learned that even if we withhold our consent in the Scottish Parliament, it will be considered as consent anyway. No self-respecting Scottish parliamentarian worth his or her salt could sign up to that. There is still time, however, so will the Leader of the House say that nothing will be finally decided until Third Reading in the House of Lords, when this can, I hope, be resolved?
Lastly, the farce of English votes for English laws continues to profoundly embarrass this House. The only thing it seems to be good for nowadays is to give a bit of exercise to the Serjeant at Arms when he lowers then raises the Mace. There is no opportunity to speak on English votes for English laws. It is Dave’s daft legacy to this House—a stupid sop for an English voice that has never been raised. It has not worked and it shames this House. I say to the Leader of the House that enough is enough: get rid of this nonsensical process.
I join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating World Intellectual Property Day. He talked about the imagination of our people, and I certainly celebrate that: we are the most extraordinarily creative four nations, and we can be very proud of that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about today’s debate. As always, the Government will fully take part. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will lead on it and it will certainly be very interesting to hear views from right across the House, which always inform policy and help us to form conclusions as to what should be our approach.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the devolution settlement and the EU withdrawal Bill. Through the amendments to clause 11 the Government are seeking to devolve as many powers as possible to the devolved nations while ensuring that we keep the integrity of the UK internal market, which is worth almost £46 billion to the Scottish economy, approximately four times more than the value of exports to the European Union.
Finally, I genuinely do not understand why the hon. Gentleman keeps talking about English votes for English laws being a waste of time and a travesty. The point is to ensure that those matters that affect only English or English and Welsh voters and residents are voted on only by English and Welsh Members of Parliament. That is fair.
May we have a statement next week to explain why single-lens reflex cameras have been forbidden in Westminster Hall?
My right hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. I shall have to look into it and come back to him.
Despite the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has a number of unheard debates on the stocks, it has been difficult to cajole hon. Members to air their debates on Thursday 3 May. There must be something happening outside in the country on that day, although I am not quite sure what it might be. It therefore falls to us to have a general debate on matters to be raised before the May Day Adjournment. I thank the Leader of the House for giving us that time on 3 May, but I hope that that will not prevent us from getting more time during that month for other debates to be aired. May we also have a debate or a statement in Government time on the strategy to upskill the population and workforce of this country? There has recently been a significant drop in the number of people being recruited into apprenticeships, and that coincides with the number of students doing degrees with the Open University falling by 74,000 between 2012 and the present day. What is going wrong with our strategy to upskill our population to meet the demands of the new technological age?
We always seek to give as much Back-Bench time as we can, because the hon. Gentleman has some very important debates going on and we seek to support them wherever possible. He also raised the issue of upskilling, and I can tell him that we have committed to reaching 3 million new apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, and that there are more than 1.2 million starts already. So we are in a good place and we seek to do more. With the new apprenticeship levy, we expect to see many more taken up in due course. We have also abolished the cap on student numbers in further and higher education, and record numbers—particularly of disadvantaged young people—are now going to university. I do not think we should be concerned about a failure to upskill our young people; to the contrary, there is an enormous improvement going on that we should all be proud of.
The town of Montrose in my constituency is suffering from the impact of coastal erosion. The world-class golf course there is eroding hole by hole, and if the erosion continues at this pace, the town will be at risk of flooding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should debate the impact of coastal erosion on our communities in the United Kingdom and discuss what we can do to alleviate it?
My hon. Friend is quite right to stress the importance of our coastal communities and the impact of coastal erosion. I am aware of the problems at Montrose golf club in her constituency, and of its request for help. She will recognise that this is a devolved matter, but in England we have committed nearly £1 billion to support defences against erosion and coastal flooding. She might want to seek an Adjournment debate, which might be answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who is a fellow coastal constituency Member as well as being an Environment Minister.
The Leader of the House knows how precious business questions are to genuine Back Benchers. Will she try to do a little more to prevent us from being squeezed by so many statements on a Thursday? Also, may we have an early debate on the fact that three former Health Ministers have called for £50 billion more investment in the NHS? Many local hospitals, including mine in Huddersfield, are facing closure, and we are fighting that hard in the constituency. May we have an early debate on the closure of hospitals?
I am always delighted to see the hon. Gentleman in his place at business questions. We do have some good discussions here, and I am not sure that we ever really lose out. There are some good issues raised. I can tell him that the NHS now has over £14 billion more to spend on caring for people than it did in 2010. He will be aware that new plans will be brought forward for a long-term plan for the NHS, which is absolutely vital for the success of its future. Nevertheless, we are doing more, and there are almost 40,400 more clinical staff looking after patients now than there were in 2010.
My constituent Pamela Corbett is extremely poorly—how can I put it; time is of the essence—but power of attorney would not be appropriate in her case, which is not unusual. However, TSB has frozen her bank account, which has caused her and her daughters considerable distress. May we have a debate on how we can ensure that banks see the human being—the person—in such cases instead of having some over-bureaucratic process?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am aware that TSB’s chief executive was on the radio this morning to apologise for the awful service that customers have received over the past week and that he pledged to sort it out. My right hon. Friend is right that there are times when personal intervention is necessary to ensure that constituents can access their money, and I encourage her to seek a debate on the subject.
Acquired Brain Injury Week is coming up in a few weeks’ time, so may we have a debate on the condition in Government time, because it is a hidden epidemic that affects hundreds of thousands of families every year? It is not just about health; it is about the criminal justice system, the education system, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence. The Leader of the House is so nice, so will she—[Interruption.] Well, she supports my private Member’s Bill. Will she please ensure that we can have a debate in Acquired Brain Injury Week?
Flattery gets you everywhere.
I will, of course, be delighted to see what can be done, but I also encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Backbench Business debate, because he raises an important issue, as he has several times. I have a constituent who is in a permanent vegetative state as a result of being attacked and hitting his head. He is a relatively young man and the situation is absolutely appalling, so I am extremely sympathetic towards what the hon. Gentleman says.
A significant amount of construction has occurred in Colindale in my constituency over the past decade. While residential properties are welcome, many of the people who bought these leasehold properties now find themselves subject to crippling service and management charges. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to say what the Government can do to control the situation, as they have done for ground rent?
My hon. Friend raises another important matter. Service charges must be fair and transparent, and there must be a clear route to redress when things go wrong. Consumers should be paying only for the services that they receive. I can tell him that we are establishing a working group on regulating letting and management agents with a remit to look into unfair fees and charges, and to set minimum standards for service charges through a statutory code of practice.
When will we have the promised debate on the Government’s serious violence strategy?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly serious point, as she often does, about the rise in certain types of crime, particularly knife crime. As I have said, I am talking with other business managers about whether we can find time for a debate, and there is a lot of sympathy towards that. The legislative agenda is busy, but she is absolutely right to raise the issue, which is of great concern, and we will seek to provide that time.
My constituent Sharon Hollman went through the devastating consequences of the suicide of her teenage son. It appears that safeguarding procedures were not followed by Kent County Council, so may I call for a debate about the safeguarding procedures that schools should have in place to ensure that children suffering from mental health difficulties get the support they need?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. Everyone in the House is worried about young people’s mental health and the action being taken to support young people. My hon. Friend will be aware of the Government’s Green Paper on mental health in schools. We are bringing forward measures to improve support and training for schoolteachers, peer support, and child and adolescent mental health services, to try to address this appalling problem.
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1115, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and refers to Firefighters’ Memorial Day on 4 May?
[That this House joins with firefighters across the UK on Firefighters’ Memorial Day, on 4 May 2018, remembering the bravery and sacrifice of the 2,524 colleagues who have lost their life in the line of duty; extends its sympathies, especially on this memorial day, to all the bereaved families of fallen firefighters; acknowledges the good work of the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust in remembering and honouring all firefighters who have lost their life while serving humanity and recording their names on The Firefighters’ Memorial located close to St Paul’s Cathedral in London; applauds the commitment and selfless dedication of all UK firefighters who stand ready today and every day to risk their life to save others and protect their local communities from the consequences of fire, floods, terror attacks and numerous other emergency situations; and calls on Members of both Houses to join members of the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust and the Fire Brigades Union at the Firefighters’ Memorial, St Paul’s or to stand with firefighters at their nearest fire station to observe the minute silence at midday on 4 May 2018.]
Given the cuts to the fire service that are now biting deep in my area, where fire cover has been cut by 50%, may we have a debate on the fire service?
I pay tribute to the amazing work done by all firefighters—they really do make our lives so much safer and their prevention work is vital. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, luckily and fortunately, due to much greater fire prevention measures, the incidence of fire has dropped quite dramatically in recent years. Nevertheless, he is right to raise the issue of Firefighters Memorial Day and the importance of a debate on this matter. I suggest that he seeks an Adjournment debate.
May we have a debate on energy security? The southern gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey, and then on to Greece and Italy, is shortly about to open and is a direct threat to the Russian monopoly of supply to Europe. May we therefore have a debate in Government time so we can debate the issues, and make sure that this gas pipeline is secure and operated by BP, a wonderful British company?
First, I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday. He raises an important point about energy security and I am pleased to say that gas security in the UK is strong. Nevertheless, the creation of new gas pipelines, and in particular the gas security of those in eastern Europe, is important. I encourage him to take this up at oral questions on 1 May.
MPs from all parties have signed my letter about plastics pollution. Does the Leader of the House agree that now is a good time to have a debate in Government time on the action being taken across all industrial sectors, not just by supermarkets?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has been able to attract cross-party support. She will be aware that all hon. and right hon. Members are keen to see everything being done to reduce the amount of plastics in our environment. The 5p plastic bag charge that the Government introduced has reduced the incidence of plastic bags by around 9 billion. We have also created the blue belt around our overseas territories to protect our valuable marine areas. Many more measures are under way, and there will certainly be plenty of opportunities to discuss our plans to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.
On Saturday, I will be in Immingham to attend a ceremony to mark Workers Memorial Day. Three events in north-east Lincolnshire are being organised by my constituent Herbert Styles, who does a tremendous job. Mr Styles was delighted when the day was officially recognised, but he would like it to receive more publicity. Will the Government look at putting more details on websites and the like? Perhaps publishers would then follow suit in diaries and so on. Will the Leader of the House consult other Departments and bring forward a statement?
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituency. I commend his constituent, Herbert Styles, for the work he has done in organising these events in north-east Lincolnshire. The Government do recognise Workers Memorial Day, which is a poignant reminder of why it is vital to manage workplace health and safety risks. I am happy to promote it in any way that I can, and people will be delighted to hear my hon. Friend raising Workers Memorial Day in this House. Many people will have been listening to him.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Pontypool rugby club on its stunning achievement of going through an entire league season unbeaten? May we have a debate on the contribution that local rugby clubs make to our communities?
Now we are talking! Rugby is a much better sport than some others that get raised in this place. I only wish that Northampton Saints, my own club, could boast the same proud record. Of course I am delighted to congratulate Pontypool rugby club. Rugby is a fantastic sport. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a debate, and I would be delighted to take part in it.
I think I get the hint.
My constituent Sarbast Hussain was told last year that his application to renew his British passport had been refused. Having fled Saddam’s Iraq before working for the Home Office for 15 years as an interpreter, he has now lost his business, his family are being split up and he is being treated like a criminal. May we have a debate in Government time on the waste of Home Office resource and how this injustice might be addressed?
I am truly sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Lady raises. Members on both sides of the House often raise individual cases, and it is very valuable for our constituents that we are able to take up cases in which the rules have not been applied properly or when further information must be gleaned. I encourage the hon. Lady to take this up directly with Home Office Ministers or, if she would prefer to write to me, I can take it up with them on her behalf.
New data released by the Trussell Trust this week shows that emergency food bank usage has increased by an average of 52% in areas of full universal credit roll-out. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time so that we can prevent the roll-out from inflicting even more suffering on our communities?
I pay tribute to the work of food banks. The volunteers and those who donate to them do a fantastic job. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that food banks should not be necessary, but they have been a feature of our communities for a long time. All hon. Members must agree that, in terms of giving people an incentive to get into work and providing continued income once they do so, universal credit offers a valuable change to our benefits and the safety net for people who are looking for work. It has also had the impact of encouraging more people to look for work and find work. The Government continue to listen to ways in which we can improve the roll-out of universal credit, which is being done very slowly so that all lessons can be taken into account.
My constituent will reach state pension age in 2021, but she has only three years of contributions and thus will not qualify for any pension. That is because she spent her working years with her husband, a warden on a remote island with simply no employment opportunities, while jointly contributing to the married couple’s pension. May I request a debate on pension provision and people such as my constituent whose circumstances are exceptional?
The hon. Lady raises an important and worrying constituency case. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate in which she can raise it directly with Ministers. Alternatively, she can simply write to them—via me, or directly—and seek their answer regarding this very particular exceptional case.
The debate on the Royal Bank of Scotland, latterly in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), has twice been cancelled due to pressure on Government business. Will the Leader of the House rearrange the debate as a matter of urgency with the Backbench Business Committee so that constituents such Clive May, who has real grievances about the way in which he was treated by RBS, can get justice?
As I have said before in the House, I am very sorry that that very important debate has had to be cancelled not once but twice due to unforeseen circumstances. I am very keen to see it rescheduled, and I am working with business managers to ensure that the Backbench Business Committee has the time to reschedule it.
May we have a debate in Government time on community transport? Badenoch and Strathspey community transport group is extremely concerned about proposals for new rules on operating permits. The Transport Committee has already warned of a devastating effect on the sector and communities.
The hon. Gentleman raises a devolved matter relating to community transport. I believe that we have Scotland questions in the near future, and I encourage him to raise the issue then.
Yesterday pupils at St Anthony’s Primary School told me that their local park had been vandalised by yobs. When I met the police last week, they told me about their frustrations when, for example, yobs with 19 breaches of criminal behaviour orders appear before the courts but no action is taken. May we please have a debate about why, since 2010, we do not seem to have been able to hold yobs to account for their actions in our communities?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about antisocial behaviour in our communities. People find it incredibly disturbing and worrying if they cannot get away from appalling behaviour. I take issue with her suggestion that this has been a problem only since 2010; it has been a feature of our community for many years. The Government have done a lot to try to bring in antisocial behaviour orders and restraining orders, and police community support officers take an active part in reducing and preventing bad behaviour. The hon. Lady might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise her points directly with Ministers.
Order. I will take remaining contributors as single-sentence inquisitors.
I support the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for a debate about universal credit. Notwithstanding the fact that the Leader of the House has been extraordinarily helpful, something like 80% of my constituency caseload is queries about the personal independence payment and universal credit. I know of a young couple with two children whose claim for universal credit was closed because of a missed appointment when the individual concerned was in hospital. I have a whole list of cases, but for reasons of brevity I will not go into them, so may we have a debate on this issue?
That sounds like a single sentence as practised by James Joyce in “Ulysses”. The last 40 pages of the book are one uninterrupted sentence.
The hon. Gentleman has the option to raise individual matters directly with Ministers, as he knows. As for a debate, there have been a number in this place. There will be further opportunities, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on those specific matters.
This is a long sentence, Mr Speaker. I recently met Dewsbury Soup, a wonderful group in my constituency that has a simple concept: attendees pay a small donation, receive a bowl of soup and then listen to pitches for funding from inspiring local projects; and then the pitches are voted on and the winner receives the donations. May we have a debate on how we better support innovative local organisations such as Dewsbury Soup?
I congratulate the hon. Lady for pausing for breath in the middle of her lengthy sentence and join her in congratulating that organisation. That sounds like a fantastic concept. Much more of that should be done around the country, and I am absolutely sure that she will find a way to continue to raise it in this place.
The Leader of the House will be aware of concerns about Government cuts to bereavement support payments, which will force many widows and widowers to increase their working hours at the same time as they are trying to cope with the loss of a partner and their children are trying to cope with the loss of a parent. Does she agree that this is an issue on which the House should have further debate?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that we need to do everything that we can to support bereaved families while balancing the need to provide good value for the taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for benefits. The hon. Lady might like to seek an Adjournment so that she can raise the matter directly with Ministers.
This week it was announced that Plymouth Studio School will close. Parents have raised concerns about not receiving enough evidence and not being consulted, so may we have a debate on Plymouth Studio School’s closure before Ministers sign off the closure order?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the matter in this House. I encourage him to seek an urgent Adjournment debate so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
I was very concerned to hear the Home Secretary say that MPs across the House have been overwhelmingly positive about the UK Visas and Immigration hotline service. Given that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) have tabled written questions about it, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has written to the Minister for Immigration to set out our concerns about the service, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary comes back to the House and explains in an oral statement what she meant?
My experience as a constituency Member is that the MPs’ hotline for UKVI is very efficient and effective, but if hon. Members have problems with it, they should raise them with the Home Office. There will be plenty of opportunities, including in next week’s Opposition day debate, to speak to Home Office Ministers directly.