House of Commons
Monday 4 June 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Refugee Family Reunion
The Government’s approach to refugee family reunion has provided a safe and legal route for more than 25,000 partners and children of those granted protection here in the last five years. We are listening carefully to calls to expand family reunion. We are monitoring the progress of two private Members’ Bills and are actively in discussion with non-governmental organisations.
While adults can sponsor their relatives, under UK rules separated children have no family reunion rights—not even to bring their parents to the UK. Every other country in the EU allows children to sponsor at least their closest relatives. When will the UK do the same?
I understand the concerns of the hon. Lady, who is right to raise this important matter. As I said a moment ago, we want to look at the private Members’ Bills and see what more we can do. On her specific issue about children, there is a concern that if we allow children to sponsor adults, whether their parents or others, that might cause harm, in that people might be incentivised to push children forward and put them through danger. I hope she understands that we need to consider such things carefully.
Is it not critical that we help people at home rather than incentivising people to trust people traffickers and so support their illegal activities?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He will know that the Government do a lot—more than any other European Government—to support refugees in conflict zones. With regards to Syria, for example, the British Government have so far allocated more than £2 billion.
The Home Secretary says he wants to consider the private Members’ Bills, so is it not about time the Government brought forward a money resolution so that the Bill in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, can make progress and we can debate the Government’s amendments?
As I have said, this is an important and sensitive issue and we want to consider it carefully, but that means it should not be rushed. We should take the correct time necessary to consider the Bills.
We have two Syrian families living in Taunton Deane. The local community has gone all out to look after them, particularly a charity called Christian Help and Action for Refugees in Somerset and Rev. Rod Corke from St Mary Magdalene Church, who is leaving us soon to go to Malvern—a great loss. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating all those who have given up so much time to look after these needy people?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in commending the work of her local community in helping refugees, particularly the group CHARIS. It shows the importance of community sponsorship, which is something we want to look at more closely.
The importance of family life ought to unite both sides of the House, but the current rules break up families, as many of us see in our own constituency case loads week after week. The rules are inhumane and in breach of the right to a family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. It is also unfortunate that legal aid for some of these applications, which was previously available, was removed under the coalition in 2013. Labour has pledged in government to end the breaking up of families under these rules. Surely the Home Secretary should move faster to review his current family reunion rules.
I say to the right hon. Lady that 25,000 people have been reunited over the last five years—5,000 a year; I hope she would agree that that is not an insignificant number. She says the current rules are inhumane. It is worth reminding her that they were introduced in 2007 by the previous Labour Government. Perhaps she should reflect on that. She talks about legal aid. As she will know, legal aid is under review by the Ministry of Justice and is something we are looking at carefully.
Domestic Violence and Abuse
The Government’s wide-ranging consultation on domestic abuse closed last Thursday. We are analysing more than 3,200 responses received from survivors of domestic abuse, frontline professionals, experts from the domestic abuse sector and academics. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond. As announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Government remain committed to bringing forward a draft Bill this Session.
The previous Chancellor announced that domestic violence services would be among the beneficiaries of the tampon tax and would receive an additional dedicated £10 million a year, but this amount remains inadequate for services already hard hit by successive cuts since 2010. Will the Government set out a long-term funding strategy for domestic violence and rape crisis services?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I know he has taken an interest in this matter. The Government have committed £20 million specifically to domestic abuse accommodation. It is supporting 80 areas, creating 2,200 new bed spaces and supporting 19,000 victims of domestic abuse. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is also conducting an audit of services. Between that audit and the consultation responses, we will ensure that we have a service that supports victims of domestic abuse.
Congratulating him on his knighthood, I call the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett).
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse will recognise that it is not just physical, but can take many different forms—psychological, sexual, economic and emotional—all of which should be considered?
I echo your congratulations to my right hon. Friend, Mr Speaker. I can give him the confirmation for which he has asked. The purpose of the Bill is to include in legislation, for the first time, a cross-governmental definition of domestic abuse. We know that it is not confined to physical violence but can take many forms, and we want the law to reflect that.
I look forward to the introduction of the Bill, and, as the Minister knows, I also look forward to working on it on a cross-party basis. However, may I press her further? Is she aware of a report published by Professor Sylvia Walby in 2009, which, I think, updates earlier research and draws attention to the economic as well as the moral and emotional case for tackling domestic violence earlier and better?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who always brings her outside expertise to the House when she speaks of such matters. It does not feel right to talk about the economic effects of domestic abuse, because the emotional and psychological impacts are of course far greater, but there is an economic side as well. We look forward very much to working on the Bill with the hon. Lady and others.
The Home Office monitors protest threats, but the management of protests is an operational and independent matter for the police so no Home Office guidance or briefings have been issued.
Does the Minister agree that protest groups whose core aim is to disrupt legitimate business, such as meat production, should pay towards the cost of policing? Surely it cannot be right either for there to be too few police covering the protests, or for there to be fewer police elsewhere because those who are covering the protests cannot police the rest of the community.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and I understand how distressing it must be for a legitimate business to be on the receiving end of a campaign of disruption. I am sure that, as a good democrat, my hon. Friend would not want to do anything to undermine the principle of peaceful protest. When that crosses the line into harassment or threats to public safety, we have recourse to the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Ealing’s police have been dealing with one protest for 23 years outside our local Marie Stopes clinic. The aim of the protest is to prevent women from accessing healthcare. Although our council has now introduced a public spaces protection order, this is a national problem that requires a national solution. Will the Minister respond to the letter that 160 of us—including the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and three Select Committee Chairs—wrote to him asking for his predecessor’s review to be published, and will he opt for our proposed solution of buffer zones? That would be an easy win for him at an early stage in his already successful career.
The hon. Lady and I have debated this matter in Westminster Hall, and we both know that there is a balance to be struck between the right to protest and ensuring that protests do not cross the line into harassment and intimidation. As she says, her local council has introduced a public spaces protection order, and we need to see how that goes. As for the review that she mentioned, it was entered into in good faith and it is ongoing.
The application process for resident EU citizens and their family members to obtain that status in the UK after we leave the EU will be straightforward, streamlined and user-friendly, and there will be a dedicated customer contact centre to help people through the process. The majority of applicants will need to meet only three criteria: they will have to prove their identity, prove that they are resident in the UK, and prove that they do not pose a serious criminal or security threat.
According to the Migration Observatory, 64,000 non-Irish EU nationals in the UK have never used the internet, and 250,000 have reported language-related difficulties in accessing or keeping work. What capacity will the Home Office have to deal with the many thousands of applicants who will not be able to apply online?
It is crucially important that, in addition to our assisted digital application process, we will have dedicated support—lines to help people through the process. But I am very conscious that there will be people with language difficulties; that has been raised with us by some of the user groups, and we are looking to see how we can assist them as well.
I greatly welcome the Minister’s announcement that the process will be smooth and easy to follow, but agree with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) that a very large number of otherwise extremely sophisticated people in this country do not know that it is going to be as easy as my hon. Friend describes. By what mechanism will she get the message out to all these people that they are welcome here, that the process will be easy, and, crucially, that the cost of applying for residency will be no more than the current cost for a British citizen of applying for a passport?
We have been very clear from the outset that the cost of the scheme will be no more than the cost of applying for a British passport, and indeed for those who already have permanent residency there will be no cost at all. It is crucially important that we continue to work with our user groups, and as we roll the scheme forward we will be providing more information, including through our dedicated email service that we are sending out to people. But we do have an important communication job to make sure people know how to apply and when the scheme opens.
Efforts to involve community groups and public services such as libraries in facilitating settled status applications seem almost non-existent. I learned from Scottish Government colleagues last week that in Scotland the UK Government have made only cursory contact with only two libraries. Can the Minister tell us what further engagement is planned with community groups and public services?
The Home Office continue to engage with people, businesses and organisations across the UK. We are seeking a deal that works for the entire UK and it is very important that we make sure that user groups in Scotland, including organisations such as Citizens Advice, have the necessary resources and understanding of how this system is going to work. We are rolling forward an engagement programme from this point onwards, and I am looking forward to making further announcements in due course.
Does the Minister agree that the fact that 3 or 3.5 million EU citizens wish to remain in the UK after we leave the EU is a huge vote of confidence in a post-Brexit Britain’s future? Does she wish that all colleagues in this House had as much confidence as those EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK after we leave?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are more EU citizens living and working here now than there were at the time of the referendum, and we want to make sure that it is very clear to them that they are welcome. We welcome the contributions they make to both our communities and our economy and we are working to make sure that the streamlined process is as easy as possible.
EU citizens are worried that they might be subjected to the same treatment as the Windrush generation; we have seen similarly cruel treatment of highly skilled migrants deported because of minor tax errors. What system is the Minister putting in place to ensure that, when the settled status system is up and running, issues can be picked up internally without the need for a media storm and extensive pressure from the Opposition?
Of course, it is crucial that the settled status scheme gives people a digital confirmation of their right to live, work and rent property in the UK, and we are absolutely committed to doing that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of people with minor tax discrepancies. It is important to reflect that there have been several instances where those minor discrepancies have run into tens of thousands of pounds, and it is crucial that we pick up any discrepancies between what people are declaring as their income for immigration purposes and their income for tax purposes. We want to make sure that we collect the amount of tax that is owing.
Sexual Exploitation of Vulnerable Children
The Government attach the highest priority to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse, declaring it a national threat and investing significantly in law enforcement capacity to transform the police response. Last year’s “Tackling child sexual exploitation” progress report announced a £40 million package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to crack down on offenders.
I thank the Minister for her response. Child sexual exploitation victims often struggle to get justice. What steps will she take to ensure that the police identify grooming and child sexual exploitation, and that they do not mistake those serious crimes for consensual sex?
I know that my hon. Friend is pursuing this campaign with great vigour. We have provided £1.9 million to the College of Policing to develop a training package for first responders to vulnerable people. The package teaches the importance of applying professional judgment when identifying signs of issues such as grooming, and police guidance makes it clear that sexual grooming and sexual communication with a child are offences in their own right.
Will the Minister also acknowledge that the grooming of children can lead to young people over the age of 16 being raped, whether or not so-called consent is given, as the manipulation has already been sustained while the young person was under 16? Will she look into changing the law in this area so that prosecutions can be brought?
Every case has to be judged on its own facts, but I would hope that any police investigation—and, indeed, any prosecution—would reflect any history of grooming when the case came before a judge and jury. If the hon. Lady wishes to refer a particular case to me, I will of course be delighted to review it.
Does my hon. Friend understand the level of public unease surrounding Tommy Robinson?
I do. I cannot comment on a specific individual, but we are clear that child exploitation is illegal and that it must be, and will be, tackled by the police and the criminal justice system.
The Minister might be aware that I have raised with her colleague, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the fact that if the child protection information sharing project were able to keep details of vulnerable mothers-to-be as well as of children, Poppi Worthington would have been known to social services before she died. Has the Minister had time to consider this shortcoming, and will she put it right?
I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that important point. We are clear that there needs to be better information sharing between the various agencies involved, to prevent very sad cases such as the one that he has raised.
We all acknowledge that child sexual exploitation can often be a consequence of county lines, but the limited awareness of the signs of it means that vulnerable children are often left to the mercy of their abusers. To improve identification, the emergency services need more support. What training and support are the Government providing to help them better recognise child victims of county lines exploitation?
As the hon. Lady knows, county lines is a policing priority. It is a major element of our serious violence strategy, precisely because we recognise the harm that it can cause not only through acts of violence among gang members but in the wider community. That is precisely why we have contributed £3.5 million towards a national co-ordination centre to help spread the message and the intelligence about county lines among police forces.
The Government have published a serious violence strategy that sets out a range of actions to tackle knife crime, including a national media campaign, continuing support for police action under Operation Sceptre, an offensive weapons Bill and a new round of the Community Fund.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a multi-faceted approach to tackling knife crime? It is essential that we not only disrupt but educate those people who are likely to offend, but it is also important that we retain a high likelihood of imprisonment for anyone who refuses to stop carrying a knife.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Offenders need to know that if they commit serious crimes, a prison cell awaits them. That is a huge deterrent, and it is also very much a part of the serious violence strategy.
Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in the prevalence of knife crime in Essex over the past year. Some of it is associated with county lines drugs operations moving out into Essex from the capital. What action is the Home Secretary’s Department taking, in association with the Essex police, to fight this menace on our streets?
I know that Essex police are taking this issue seriously. Among the actions that they are taking, one thing I would encourage them to do more of is to apply to the Community Fund and to focus a bit more on early intervention, which I know they are interested in and have done successfully before. They have received funding for such projects before, and I would encourage them to seek it again.
We know that prevention lies at the heart of much of the knife crime issue, but there are things that can be done now. The former Home Secretary, who is here today, told the Home Affairs Committee that she would look at using more criminal behaviour orders for people who have been convicted of knife crime to stop them from going on social media to get the attention that they crave. Will the Home Secretary look at that issue?
The hon. Lady is right that much more can be done that does not require legislation, so it can be done more quickly. She talked about criminal behaviour orders. We are looking at that very issue and seeing whether their use can be expanded.
Will the Home Secretary match the £2 million that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner has managed to scrape together to tackle gangs and knife and violent crime with early intervention schemes, mediation programmes and other initiatives? Will he meet me and a cross-party delegation of MPs from the region to discuss how we can work together to tackle the issue?
I commend the work that is being done locally by West Midlands police to fight violent crime, particularly knife crime, and I am sure that the funds that it has put to use will make a difference. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other local Members of Parliament to discuss the matter further.
Perhaps my hon. Friend listened to or heard about the speech I gave to the Police Federation just last week, when I said that the police should be examining all the powers that they currently have, including stop and search. Whenever they think that it is appropriate, they should not hesitate to use it because that will help all communities.
I am sure that we are all as one in wishing to tackle knife crime, but it is the framework of law either side of the Scottish border that interests me. In Scotland, 16 to 18-year-olds can purchase kitchen knives, yet it is a short drive from Coldstream in Scotland to Alnwick in England. Should we not harmonise the laws on either side of the border to tackle knife crime?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Devolution means that it makes sense to co-operate on many important issues, and this is one of them. We hope that the new offensive weapons Bill will be supported by the Scottish Government and that they will take similar action.
It is for police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide the size of their workforces. We are helping the police respond to changing demand with a £460 million increase in overall funding in 2018-19, including through the council tax precept, and many PCCs are using that cash for extra recruitment.
I thank the Home Secretary for that response. Tackling terrorism is obviously extremely important, but the more immediate concern for people each and every day comes from crimes such as burglary and antisocial behaviour. Is he confident that police forces such as Gloucestershire’s will have sufficient officers to follow up complaints about those crimes and see them through right to the end?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we are helping the police to respond to the changing demand that he mentions with the extra £460 million overall. Many PCCs have made a commitment to increase frontline policing. Gloucestershire has received a £3.6 million increase this year and I am sure that that will help. In addition, I will prioritise more police resources in the next spending review.
The Metropolitan police estimate that police officers in London alone are owed 200,000 rest days. How many are owed across the country as a whole?
The Metropolitan police do a fantastic job and their officers are incredibly dedicated. Over the past few weeks that I have been in this role I have had the opportunity to meet many of them. We must ensure that they have the resources they need. That is why the Metropolitan police received a record increase in the recent financial settlement, which has been welcomed.
The Policing Minister is sitting next to the Home Secretary and will be able to brief him on the crisis in police funding in Lincolnshire. He will tell the Home Secretary that we are one of the bottom three authorities in the entire country for funding, so what is the Home Secretary going to do to try to resolve this matter? It would take relatively little and relatively few steps, and it would be cost-effective to ensure that we were fairly funded in Lincolnshire to help to resolve rural crime.
For a moment I thought I was back in Housing, Communities and Local Government questions, as that sounds like a question about local government funding in Lincolnshire. My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is an increase of more than £3 million for local policing in Lincolnshire in the latest settlement, but this is an important issue that I wish to look at much more closely as we get to the spending review.
The Home Secretary has twice talked about police resources on “The Andrew Marr Show” since he took office, first on 8 April, when he said that police cuts have had no effect on crime, and then this weekend, when he said that, as a priority, he wants to secure extra funding for the police. For the avoidance of doubt, is the Home Office’s new line that the police do need high budgets? If so, how much and when?
What I recognise is that, for a number of reasons, there has been an increase in recorded crime and in certain types of crime, such as cyber-crime, and there has been more reporting of past sexual offences and of domestic crime. We are encouraging that and we want to see it reported. We have to make sure resources match that demand, which is why the increase this year is very welcome. As we get to the spending review, we have to make sure that we have the right amount of resources for the long term.
Police resources would go further if those they do arrest and who are subsequently convicted were to serve their time in jail in full, thus reducing reoffending rates. Does the Home Secretary agree?
Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that it is important that people who are sentenced serve the appropriate amount of time. I am aware of the issues he raises, and I would welcome discussing it with him further.
Since the Tories came to power, the number of police in the Northumbria policing area has been cut by 27%. During the same time, violent crime has gone up 177%. Is it just the general public who notice the link between those figures, or has the Secretary of State noticed it, too?
Perhaps it is worth my reminding the hon. Gentleman that at the last election he stood on a manifesto that wanted to cut police funding by 5% to 10%, whereas this Government have protected it. If his correlation were correct—if it were correct—crime would have gone up even more had Labour been in office.
Fire Services: Workforce
The statutory fire and rescue national framework includes principles that all services should follow to ensure that firefighters remain fit and fully supported to remain on operational duties and in employment.
Fire and rescue services attended 574,659 incidents in the year to June 2017, an increase on the previous year. Has the Minister made any effort to ensure that the falling number of firefighters and fire stations are not overstretched?
Yes, because we believe the fire system has the resources it needs to do the job against a backdrop of falling demand for statutory fire services. Of course, the system is sitting on over £600 million of reserves, which have grown by over £0.25 billion since 2011.
The ageing work profile among our firefighters is partially a result of changes to the firefighters’ pension scheme. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of redeployment opportunities for firefighters who are compelled to work to the age of 60?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The average age of our firefighters is 42, and we have more than 1,000 firefighters who are over 56, which makes it extremely important that fire authorities do not just assess fitness but help firefighters to maintain and develop their fitness and give firefighters all the necessary support and protection when there is a problem so they can continue in their operational duties. That is set out in the statutory fire and rescue national framework, and it will be the subject of independent inspection when independent inspection starts this year.
With ingenuity, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) will detect that his question is not unadjacent, and if he wishes to put it now, he can.
I assure my hon. Friend that I speak regularly to Andy Street. The Government are determined to honour the second devolution deal, including with proposals to help to bring police and fire services under the Mayor, as we have done in London and Manchester. I assure my hon. Friend that we are absolutely committed to working with both Andy Street and the police and crime commissioner to make sure that that happens by 2020.
As a result of this Government’s cut to funding, along with no recruitment drive, we have seen both a reduction in the number of firefighters and an increasingly ageing workforce. How do the Government plan to address the rising age of firefighters? Will the Minister please give us some specific examples?
I already have. Through the statutory national framework, every fire authority is required not just to assess firefighter fitness, but to help develop and maintain it, giving assurances about support if problems arise, so that every firefighter, whatever their age, is given the maximum possible opportunity to continue to support their service and remain on operational duties. That is set out in the statutory framework.
Illegal Migrants: Employment
Employers have had a duty to prevent illegal working since 1997. In 2016, we introduced tougher sanctions on rogue employers and made illegal working a criminal offence, so that wages can be seized as proceeds of crime. We have recently introduced additional safeguards to protect legal migrants seeking employment who do not have the necessary documentation to establish their lawful immigration status.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to reducing illegal immigration. Does she agree that the best way to deter illegal migrants from looking for work in the UK is by preventing their entering the country with stringent checks at air and sea ports?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. All passengers arriving in the UK at passport control are checked against watch lists on arrival at the border. The majority of those people are checked against our systems before they even travel, through the collection of advance passenger information. Between April 2010 and March 2018, we refused entry to 138,992 people, including more than 18,000 in the year to March 2018.
Those seeking asylum in the UK are currently banned from working and, as a result, they are forced to live in penury and are denied the right to contribute their skills to our society. Does the Minister agree that this system is lacking in both compassion and common sense? Will she reform it?
Our asylum system provides accommodation and funding for those who are here during the process of their asylum claim. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: we must continue to make sure that the UK has one of the most humane asylum systems in the world. We are working very hard to make sure we do that.
The Government recognise that cyber is a tier 1 risk to the UK’s economic and national security. The Home Secretary and I hold regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, the National Security Council, GCHQ and other Government Departments, both to tackle the overall threat and in response to specific incidents.
With respect to cyber-attacks, what steps have the Minister and the Home Secretary taken to ensure that the major media and social media companies are more vigilant in their approach to cyber-crime and how that connects with what the Government are doing?
Through both the Joint Fraud Taskforce and broader cyber-security meetings in the Home Office, we work together with the industry to produce a common cyber aware campaign, to make sure that everyone is reading from the same hymn sheet and advice is consistent across government. We also work hand in hand with the National Cyber Security Centre to make sure that advice is given both to small businesses and the charitable sector, so that they are not made vulnerable. By investing £1.9 billion in the national cyber-capability programme ,we can invest in the capability to see this off.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the personnel at GCHQ Scarborough, which is known locally as “Wireless station”? Together with their colleagues in Cheltenham, they work day and night to keep us safe from cyber-attacks and cyber-crime.
The workforce at GCHQ do a tremendous job of keeping us safe from our enemies, and have done since all the way back to GCHQ’s history in Bletchley Park. I was delighted that some new GCHQ jobs were recently announced in my region, the north-west, which shows that it is not just a Cheltenham-based organisation, with sites in Yorkshire, Cornwall and now Manchester.
The Security Minister indicated on the radio this morning that counter-terror intelligence will now be shared with local organisations, including the police and local councils. Will he explain how the cyber-security of that data will be guaranteed at a local level and what training will be given to those who handle it? Crucially, will he confirm that additional resources will be given to every organisation that is asked to store it?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are sharing the information more widely in three pilot schemes that will be funded by the Home Office, so the funding will be met by central Government. The first three pilots are going to be based in Birmingham, Manchester and London. Of course, local authorities, social services and mainstream county police forces deal with sensitive information every day, and that is already subject to data protection rules and appropriate levels of security. We will continue to advise them on that, and the information that we share will of course be declassified before they get it.
The Government have introduced a new offence of coercive or controlling behaviour, rolled out new tools such as domestic violence protection orders, and committed £100 million to support victims of violence against women and girls, including a £17 million service transformation fund that supports 41 areas to promote early intervention and prevention. We are of course working towards the introduction of a draft Bill before the end of this Session.
Does the Minister support the concept of family hubs in local communities, which would mean that, if a relationship were under strain, people would have somewhere to go at an early stage? That might prevent the escalation to violence.
I thank my hon. Friend for her important work on supporting children and families. The Government are committed to early intervention in and the prevention of domestic abuse. We already fund schemes—such as Women’s Aid’s “Ask Me” scheme—that create safe spaces in communities so that victims can disclose. Following the closing of our domestic abuse consultation last week, we are considering all options on doing more.
Will the Minister please strengthen the domestic violence services in North Yorkshire, where the Tory council has closed its refuge, meaning that victims flood over into Labour Durham and put our refuges under unacceptable pressure?
I am concerned to hear that accusation. If the hon. Lady feels that local commissioners are not meeting their obligations, will she please write to me so that I can look into the matter?
Leaving the EU: Seasonal Workers
The Government are considering a range of options for the future immigration system. We will make decisions based on evidence and engagement. We have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impact of the UK’s exit from the EU and on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy.
The tourism and hospitality sector’s No. 1 concern is post-Brexit access to the labour force. Many seasonal workers will not qualify for settled status under the current framework because of the seasonal nature of their work. Will the Minister consider some sort of seasonal workers scheme for the hospitality sector, along the same lines as a seasonal agricultural workers scheme?
I recognise the importance of tourism in my hon. Friend’s constituency and his work in the all-party group on the visitor economy. Seasonal workers make an important contribution to the tourism and hospitality sector, and it is a sector that we wish to see thrive. Any EU citizen who is currently in the UK will be able to benefit from the settlement scheme that we are establishing. For the longer term, we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise us; I am sure that it will be mindful of my hon. Friend’s points.
Along with the hospitality industry, the agricultural industry is crying out for help on migrant workers. Will the Government confirm that they will reinstate the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and allow it to reflect the needs in different areas, such as my county of East Lothian?
The hon. Gentleman has identified farming and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) asked about tourism, but a number of other sectors are affected, including fisheries, which has been raised with me recently. It is crucial that we take the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee and that we have evidence-based policy making. I reassure the hon. Gentleman and other Members that I am looking into this issue very closely indeed.
The 2015 counter-extremism strategy committed the Government for the first time to tackling the non-terrorist harm that extremism causes. Since 2015, supported by civil society groups, we have taken steps to protect public institutions from the threat of extremism.
In the light of the Parsons Green attack, which was committed by a refugee who had been fostered in my constituency, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking directly to make sure that the public feel safe when going about their daily business?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the new counter-terrorism strategy introduced today touches on counter-extremism as well, and some lessons were learned from the Parsons Green attack. If he would like to learn more about that, I am happy to meet him.
After the bombing in Manchester, my constituency experienced a sudden sharp loss of police resources in favour of the city of Birmingham, so I welcome the £450 million extra to be spent on combating terrorism. Does the Home Secretary agree that programmes such as the Church Urban Fund’s Near Neighbours scheme are also needed to tackle the underlying causes of extremism and to help strengthen social cohesion?
I agree very much with my right hon. Friend. She will know that I am a big fan of the Near Neighbours scheme. Since 2011 the Government have committed more than £11 million to it, and there is a further £2.6 million agreed for the next two years. There may also be support available from the Government’s “Building a Stronger Britain Together” campaign.
My constituents will be absolutely aghast at the thought of people from organisations such as ISIS returning here. What steps can the Government take to prevent harm to our population by people from such organisations?
My hon. Friend’s constituents are right to be aghast at that, and I fully understand that feeling. This is a Europe-wide issue, and I have already discussed it with some of my counterparts in Europe. We are making sure that individuals who return from conflict zones such as Syria are properly investigated and potentially prosecuted by police, and that if they do come back and live here we have proper restrictions in place.
Will the Home Secretary please delegate a Minister to meet me about an issue on which it is crucial that work is done sensitively, because errors can occur? I refer to a constituent whose home was mistakenly broken into by terror police. He has been unable to return to work, and his neighbours all believe that he is a terrorist. Will the Home Secretary please delegate a Minister to meet me to sort that out as soon as possible?
It sounds like a very important issue, and I will make sure that that is done.
Waiting times for forensic test results differ between police forces depending on the types of tests required and the different arrangements that each police force has in place to deliver its forensic services.
My local police force in Derbyshire tells me that, since the closure of one of the private forensic testing companies, it now takes more than six months for forensic tests in criminal cases to come back. That is obviously far in excess of the pre-charge bail conditions that it can put on people, and is seriously hampering it in its abilities to arrest and detain offenders.
I assume that that data is true, and I share the hon. Lady’s concern about it. Our overall perception is that the majority of forensic services are currently being delivered faster, more reliably and to higher quality standards than in the past, but the system has had to absorb a couple of quite significant shocks recently, which is why I am conducting a review with stakeholders into the future effectiveness of the forensic market.
We will continue building and managing an immigration system that meets the economic and social needs of the UK, and I will set out further plans in due course. I am committed to a fair and humane system, and we are reviewing the operational assurance regime across the borders, immigration and citizenship system to ensure that it is effective and reflects best practice.
In recent months we have seen a squeeze on doctors’ ability to come to this country to fill vital roles in our NHS. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we can access the skills that are needed while ensuring that our immigration system becomes sustainable?
We keep the tier 2 cap under close review. Priority is given to doctors working in shortage specialisms, as determined by the Migration Advisory Committee, and no one has ever been refused for any of those posts. We have taken steps to boost training places for nurses and doctors, and a record number of undergraduates will begin medical training by 2020, with 1,500 new places.
Order. As I seek to squeeze in the penultimate question, I am sceptical as to how enormously helpful it is for a vast array of colleagues suddenly to display an interest, but how can I turn down the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Home Affairs Committee recommended in February that the Government look again at the tier 2 system, because doctors were already being turned away. The BMJ is now reporting that 1,500 doctors have been turned away even though they had job offers in the national health service. In the Home Affairs Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, and across the House, there is a strong desire for us to make sure that we get the doctors we need. The Home Office said in response to our recommendations that it was simply going to wait until the publication of the MAC report in October. That is too late. I urge the Government to change the system now to ensure that we can get in the doctors we need.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question, and I welcome the comments that various Select Committees have made on this issue. I have absolutely no doubt that she heard the Home Secretary’s comments yesterday, and I reassure her that we are looking at the matter closely.
The Government remain committed to stamping out the despicable crime of modern slavery. We have strengthened the operational law enforcement response and introduced world-leading requirements for businesses to report on slavery in their supply chains, and we are now transforming the support that we provide to victims.
Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, stated in his resignation letter that he had too often felt that his independence was subject to the discretion of the Home Office, rather than being on a statutory basis. What will the Minister do to ensure that the next commissioner is given the independence that he needs for his role to be flexible?
May I record our thanks to Mr Hyland for the invaluable work that he did as the commissioner? The whole point of the role of the commissioner is that it is independent, so we very much look forward to filling the position with a similarly robust and independent person in due course.
Yesterday we marked a year since the appalling attack at London Bridge and Borough Market, and less than two weeks ago we remembered those lost at Manchester Arena. Those sobering occasions remind us that the first duty of the Government, and my highest priority as Home Secretary, is to protect the public. Therefore, I today launch the Government’s new counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, following the comprehensive review of our counter-terrorism approach announced by the Prime Minister a year ago. The strategy sets out how the Government will continue to tackle the serious and evolving threat from terrorism.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that an increased ability for MI5 and other public bodies to share information will not only deliver a more effective and joined-up response to the fast-changing nature of potential terrorism, but will also come with the right safeguards to protect the use of that information?
I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. One of the lessons learned from the 2017 attacks was that MI5 could share some of its information on a wider basis—not just with counter-terrorism police, but perhaps with elements of local government and neighbourhood police. That will happen in the pilots to which the Minister for Security and Economic Crime referred earlier. I assure my right hon. Friend that the information will be declassified and that there will be certain safeguards in place.
Denzel Darku is a student nurse and a tireless volunteer who carried the baton for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He dreams of a career in NHS Scotland, but faces deportation on a technicality, through no fault of his own. My colleagues in the Scottish Government have already written to the Secretary of State about this young man’s case, but they have not had a reply. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this young man, who only wants to stay in Scotland to serve the national health service?
I am pleased that the hon. and learned Lady has raised that case, because it was also raised with me last week by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who is also very concerned about it and has asked me to look into it. The hon. and learned Lady might know that there is an appeal going on with regard to Mr Darku, and I should not say too much about that. However, I am very sympathetic about the situation, and there will be no enforcement action while the review takes place.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and I also thank the all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade for its report. I know that my hon. Friend is a member of that group. The Government are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. Those who want to leave should have every opportunity to do so. We have provided more than £2 million to organisations supporting prostitutes and sex workers, and we are now funding a study to look into the scale and nature of prostitution.
With reference to the earlier questions on how the cap on tier 2 visas is depriving the NHS of much-needed doctors, the visa cap is damaging the NHS at a time when it is already facing a doctor shortage of 10,000 and an overall staff shortage of more than 100,000. The Home Office is turning away doctors the NHS needs because it is unable to breach the cap. Ministers have referred to briefings in the press in the past few days, but does the Secretary of State appreciate that the NHS needs him to come forward as a matter of urgency and say that he is prepared to review the workings of the cap to allow us to recruit those doctors?
It is right that we control immigration and try to bring it down to sustainable levels in the long term, but it is also correct that we let in the skills that we need, whether for our health service or our businesses. This is an important issue, and as we heard earlier, Select Committees have written to me and I am looking at the issue very carefully.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this issue as the Government’s anti-corruption tsar. Like him, I was incredibly interested in the sanctions list that the United States published. He will be aware that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 has gone through this House. There are further opportunities to strengthen the regime with, I hope, a Bill coming forward from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with regard to designations. We will be exploring that issue. It is important to note that the United Kingdom has recently been at the forefront of driving out dirty Russian money—or indeed other dirty money. It is important that we tackle this issue head on.
First, it is worth reminding the House that there is no cap on the number of students who can come into the country. I know that the hon. Gentleman knows that, but it is not well known more widely. I do think that this issue is important, and that is why I have committed to take a look at it in due course.
We have taken steps that have led to an additional £460 million of taxpayers’ money going into the police system, including another £9.9 million for West Yorkshire, where the police and crime commissioner has said that he will use it to recruit more than 140 police officers and staff—and that is on top of an increase in 2016. I am sure that my hon. Friend will do a great job in holding him to account to make sure that those additional resources are used to the benefit of her constituents.
The right to rent is an important component of the Government’s policies to make sure that those who are living here illegally do not find it easy to access the services and facilities that those who are here legally access. It is really important that we draw a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration. The Government are determined to make sure that we implement our policies in an effective but humane way.
I was humbled to take part in the Firefighters Memorial Day commemorations in Corby a few weeks ago. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending our brilliant and brave firefighters in Northamptonshire for all they do?
I am certainly happy to commend firefighters not just in Northamptonshire but across the country, who do an incredibly difficult and demanding job within a service that this country can rightly be very proud of.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We regard the action that the Home Office has taken in response to information received from the Educational Testing Service as proportionate. However, we are reviewing the position of those who remain in the UK.
While I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments about ensuring non-EU migration for the NHS, may I ask him to also bear in mind the needs of the private sector and ensure that any solution he finds does not merely put more pressure on the tier 2 visa cap? We must ensure that our private sector businesses get the highly experienced, skilled labour that they need.
It is an honour to take a question from my right hon. Friend, and I can give her that assurance. She is absolutely right; we have to make sure we have the skills that we need for both our public sector and our private sector.
Of course I join the hon. Lady in what she has said, and my thoughts are with all those affected. She is right to raise that issue, and this is a good opportunity to look at it more closely. I will happily discuss it with her.
Further to the comments on the tier 2 application route and the effect on the NHS—it is working against the best interests of patients—will the Home Secretary consider the impact on areas outside London, the costs to NHS staff of making applications and the cost of their failure, in monetary terms and for patients? Will he also look at the effect on scientists and researchers?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I thank her for the letter that she sent on behalf of the Health Committee, in which she made some other excellent points, and I assure her that I am looking at it carefully.
I thank the Home Secretary for looking again at the impact of the tier 2 visa cap on doctors. Will he also look at the impact on trainee doctors such as my constituent, who has completed most of his GP specialist training on a spouse visa but, due to a marriage breakdown, now needs a tier 2 visa?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She makes a really important point. I am conscious that it is not only about NHS trusts seeking to bring in doctors from overseas; there are also a number in training and at university who are seeking to gain employment opportunities here. She will have heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Some Iraqi Kurds who applied for asylum in the UK in Saddam’s time did so under false names because they were terrified of what would happen to them if they were sent back. It appears that some of them, having been granted asylum, are now having their British passports withdrawn simply because they have told the Home Office what their real name is. Does the Home Secretary think that that is fair?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that. I was not aware of it, so I am pleased that he has brought it to my attention. I would love to hear more, and perhaps he could meet me to see what we can do.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, soft fruit farmers in Angus and across the United Kingdom are gearing up for a busy season. What assurances can he provide to those farmers that they will be able to access the workforce they require, and can he give a timescale for when that will be delivered?
My hon. Friend has been consistent in making a very strong case for supporting the Scottish strawberry and, indeed, raspberry. I am conscious that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited her constituency recently and listened to some of her constituents’ views, and we are looking at the issue of seasonal workers very closely.
Several Members have raised the fact that more than 1,500 doctors have been turned away in the past five months because of the tier 2 visa cap being reached. That crude approach, in which points are now gained only with a qualifying salary of £60,000 instead of £30,000, means that many areas of the UK and almost all public services are excluded; a doctor’s salary cannot simply be doubled. When will this be changed?
The hon. Lady will have heard an earlier answer, which stated clearly that nobody on a shortage occupation list has been turned away. Both I and the Home Secretary are very conscious of the points that have been made repeatedly this afternoon. We know that there is a real challenge in the NHS accessing trained doctors. The Department of Health and Social Care is doing excellent work to make sure that we increase the number of training places in the UK, but the calls are being heard.
Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that the current shopfront advertisements of Lush are clearly anti-police, are in very poor taste and should be withdrawn?
People can have legitimate concerns about the so-called spy cops issue, and that is why there is an inquiry, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that Lush should be tarring all police officers with the same bath bomb.
Is the Home Secretary aware of the increasing farce besetting Border Force recruitment in Northern Ireland, and will he meet us to consider how best and most fairly we can have exactly the same conditions for Northern Ireland applicants as those that apply in the rest of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he and others have raised this with me. We have looked very carefully at recruitment processes in Northern Ireland to make sure that there is absolutely no bias, taking into account the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s comments.
Order. I am sorry, but we must move on.
Personal Independence Payments
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the withdrawal of her appeals in relation to personal independence payment claimants with chronic conditions, and what further action she will be taking.
I am absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions get the right support they need. PIP is a modern, personalised benefit that assesses claimants on needs, not conditions. It continues to be a better benefit than its predecessor, disability living allowance, for claimants with chronic conditions. Under DLA, only 16% of claimants with diabetes received the top rate, whereas under PIP 29% receive the top rate.
I carefully considered these historical cases and decided no longer to continue with the appeals in order to provide certainty to the claimants. Since withdrawing the appeals, I have provided instructions to operational colleagues to put these claims in payment urgently. These claimants will receive any backdated moneys owed, and should receive their first payment within the coming days.
These cases were decided prior to the March 2017 amending regulations—the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017—in which the Government clarified our policy for managing therapy under PIP daily living activity 3. These regulations are not affected by our decision to withdraw these appeals.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
The announcement during the recess that, for the second time this year, the Secretary of State has withdrawn appeals, this time on daily living activity 3 of the PIP assessment—the component on managing therapy or monitoring health conditions—raises serious questions. I would therefore be grateful to the Secretary of State if she told me now how many people she estimates have been incorrectly assessed on the PIP daily living activity 3 descriptor who have either been denied support or have had reduced support.
Will the Department be undertaking a review of past claims relating to this descriptor to identify other claimants who may have been underpaid or denied support? If so, when will the process start and be completed? I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reassurance that it will take days. Will additional staff be recruited to undertake this process? What assessment has the Department made of the average award to which claimants will be entitled, and when will the payments be backdated to? Will there be an appeal process for PIP claimants who are not contacted by the Department who believe that they should receive back payments? What assessment has she made of the administrative and legal costs to her Department and the public purse?
Given the Secretary of State’s concession in these test cases, does she accept that the changes made in the March 2017 PIP regulations regarding activity 3 are illegal? Given also that there is a review of 1.6 million PIP cases to identify the estimated 220,000 people who have been underpaid with regard to the mobility activity component, will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the 1.6 million PIP claims have been reviewed to date and when the exercise will be completed? How many of the estimated 220,000 people affected have received back payments to date?
With a record of 69% of PIP decisions being overturned on appeal, it is clear that the assessment process is not fit for purpose. The recent report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on the process said that the assessments caused unnecessary stress and anxiety for thousands of people who have been denied support unfairly, as well as wasting public money by sending many decisions back to the courts. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on PIP, and will she immediately stop the reassessment of disabled people with progressive conditions?
Today’s urgent question was specifically about the cases of AN and JM, on which I have given a decision. For the purposes of clarity, it was not to continue with the court case. Any other issues that the hon. Lady raised are separate, and the question of whether we move on and do other things is not for discussion today. There is a further case under way, and I am sure the Speaker would agree that it would be incorrect for me to discuss an ongoing legal case, so I cannot do so. However, for the claimants on whose claims this urgent question was granted, I have, for the sake of clarity, withdrawn the appeal.
We are talking separately about the mobility issue, on which I have given regular updates to the House. We have been working with stakeholders to create new guidance, and we have consulted claimants and stakeholders. We seem to be on schedule for the first payment to go out to them at the start of the summer.
As the Secretary of State knows, I have written to her about a number of complaints that I have received from constituents about PIP. While it may not be completely on point with the question asked by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), I would respectfully say to the Secretary of State that my concern is not about PIP, which is a very good benefit, but about Capita in my area and the assessments. I have a constituent with a severe brain injury, who is receiving DLA and other benefits. He was assessed for PIP and got a zero. He went through the process and, rightly so, got the full amount. I would be happy to discuss that with my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, but we need to look at the assessments.
I will of course meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this. Over 3 million people have gone for PIP assessments, and while there have been appeals by 9% of them, 4% of those have been overturned. The vast majority of people are receiving awards, and under PIP rather than DLA far more people are receiving higher awards. Under this Government, from 2010 right the way through to 2022, more money will go to disabled people in need than under DLA in 2010. As I said, I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend.
I call Marsha De Cordova. [Interruption.] Ah, there has been a change of personnel. I was advised that it would be the hon. Member for Battersea. Never mind, I call Margaret Greenwood.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this urgent question. I was disappointed to hear the Secretary of State be so dismissive of concerns that have been expressed by Members right across the House. For the second time this year, the Secretary of State has been forced to acknowledge that her Department has made a serious error in assessing claims for personal independence payments. The previous error resulted in potentially 220,000 people being underpaid PIP, causing misery that could and should have been avoided. The Secretary of State now admits a second error, this time relating to activity 3 of the daily living component, “Managing therapy or monitoring a health condition”. The Department has again got the law wrong on interpreting PIP descriptors, leading to possibly thousands of disabled people not getting the crucial support that they need.
In January, when the DWP last admitted that there had been an error, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) asked the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work a series of questions that should have been answered but still have not been. If anyone is to have confidence in the Department, the Secretary of State must now answer our questions.
How quickly will the Department be able to identify claimants? Will the Secretary of State publish her criteria for reviewing cases? Will she include the cases that did not originally score sufficient points? Exactly how many claimants have been wrongly assessed for PIP? What assessment has she made of the administrative cost to her Department of undertaking yet another complex exercise? Given that this is the second error in the Department’s interpretation of its own guidance to come to light in six months, what reason do disabled people have to believe that her Department is fit for purpose?
This is a brand new benefit that, for the first time, looks not just at people with physical disabilities, but looks fundamentally at all the disabilities people have—cognitive, sensory, health and mental health conditions—and supports more people than DLA ever did.
Nobody was forced to come here to explain why I did not appeal the mobility case. I made a decision by myself, which I thought was true and in keeping with how PIP was designed, and I made sure that we did not seek leave to appeal that.
There was a period of uncertainty for the five months between the court case and when the new regulations came into play. I agreed that in the cases of AN and JM, they should not be living in uncertainty. I believe that in both instances, I have done the right thing in not seeking leave to appeal.
I appreciate that the Opposition do not like to hear the fact that we have, I would say, made a positive move by not seeking to appeal and by supporting these extra people. No one would believe it from the screams from the Opposition Benches, but what I have decided to do and what this Government have decided to do is to support disabled people as best we can and to provide this new benefit, which is a personalised, forward-looking benefit, which was not the case with DLA.
How many claimants will be affected by this decision, which I welcome? Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that it will in no way impact on her sterling efforts to ensure that more disabled people find their way into work?
My hon. Friend raises several questions about helping disabled people into work. Over the last three years, we have helped more than 600,000 people into work. People will know that PIP is a benefit for those in work and those out of work, and we have helped another 200,000 people in work through PIP. This is what we are about: supporting disabled people who are in work and out of work, and bringing in a more tailored and personalised benefit. What I will say is that if something has gone wrong and if something is not right, we will correct it to make sure that people get the payments they deserve.
The credibility of this Department lies in tatters. The Secretary of State celebrates the fact that they are not appealing this decision, but the fact remains that they had to be dragged through the courts in the first place to be proven wrong.
I have some questions for the Secretary of State. Will she commit to ensuring that the money for the back payments does not come out of existing DWP budgets? When will the first payments be made and will they be fully backdated, so that nobody loses out? Why are decision-makers making decisions as if the High Court case never happened? I have constituency cases in which people are being assessed under unlawful criteria and then forced into the appeals process, all of which delays payments to which they are fully entitled and means that they are living in poverty. When will new guidance be issued to Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants, because there is so much confusion out there that nobody is aware of what they are entitled to?
This Department is in no fit state to be undertaking the biggest shake-up of social security this country has ever seen. It is incompetent and it is failing the most vulnerable in our society, and the Secretary of State must do something about it.
I reiterate that under PIP we are supporting more people than before and giving them a higher rate than they ever got before. If the hon. Lady is questioning whether money is being handed out to people who need it now, I ask her to consider how many fewer people were getting that support under DLA, the previous disability benefit. On the mobility component, in respect of which I rightly did not seek leave to appeal, we are supporting an extra 200,000 people—I take it that both sides of the House agree I should be helping an extra 200,000 people. That is what we are doing. That is what we are aiming to do. I think I said earlier that the first payments would be made at the start of the summer; I meant at the end of the summer. As I said, in respect of the specific cases that gave rise to the urgent question, those concerned will get their first payment in the coming days.
How much money was spent on disability payments in 2010, how much is being spent today and how much will be spent in 2020, and when will the Secretary of State introduce recordings of PIP assessments?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the expenditure has continued to go up and will go up every year until 2022; it has increased from 2010. For PIP, DLA and attendance allowance alone, expenditure is £5.4 billion higher than it was in 2010. There will be future announcements on the continuous improvements for PIP, but I can say now that we want to introduce video recording—that is key—and when we do we will start with pilots to make sure it is right. We want a modern benefit that looks after and reaches out to disabled people and gives them the money they should be getting.
The Secretary of State has acknowledged that the new benefits are available for a wider range of conditions, including neurological conditions and mental illness. What steps is she taking to ensure that the assessors are fully competent to make these judgments on the wider range of conditions?
We provide consistent training and updating and have mental health champions in place. Of course we constantly review what we do and constantly support our assessors; that is what is needed going forward.
It is important to put the urgent question and the comments from the Opposition in context. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are spending more than £50 billion on supporting sick and disabled people, and that we spend more in this country on supporting disabled people than any other country in the G7, barring Germany?
As ever, my hon. Friend is correct. We are spending more than £50 billion, and are proud to do so, to support disabled people who need it. This Conservative Government are supporting more people and giving them the higher rate they need, and we will continue to do that.
But the Secretary of State has been dragged to the House by an urgent question to talk about her decision not to pursue the appeal in these cases concerning activity 3 of the daily living component. She has very coyly failed completely to answer the question of how many people her decision affects. We know that 165 million people receive the component—[Interruption.] I mean 1.65 million—it is still a lot. Will she now answer: how many people are affected directly by the decision she took in the recess to withdraw the appeal, when will these people get the right amount of money and when will they be assured that they have not been illegally underpaid?
The urgent question was about two cases in particular. This is about those two cases: it is about two people who were affected, and who will receive their money immediately. We are assessing the position, but that is what the urgent question was about. If Members want to talk about matters outside the scope of the urgent question, that will be for a different occasion and a different day.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is considering simplifying the PIP assessment forms to make the process of applying for the benefit less stressful for people?
That is correct. As we work with stakeholders, including people with disabilities, we seek to make the process smoother, easier and more beneficial for people in need, and that is exactly what we will be doing.
This is not the only PIP case that the Government have lost. On 21 December 2017, the High Court ruled that PIP changes made earlier in the year had been “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions, and “cannot be objectively justified”. However, six months later, there is still no confirmed timetable for the full implementation of the High Court’s judgment and the delivery of back payments to the people affected. Will the Secretary of State tell us today—six months on—when that High Court ruling will be implemented?
I have answered that question several times today. As I have said, we have been preparing new guidance and consulting stakeholders on what is best for that guidance and how to work through it. As I have also said, the first payments will be made at the end of the summer. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, having to assess such a number of people will take—and has taken—a bit of time, but the process has been thorough and correct.
It is interesting to hear criticism of the decision not to carry on fighting with lawyers. It seems that some people would have preferred the Secretary of State to carry on and appeal against the ruling, wasting money on further legal challenge. Will she reassure me, however, that she is considering the recording of the PIP assessment process to provide quality assurance, and to ensure that the points raised by this case are taken up in future assessments?
My hon. Friend is right. As I said earlier, more than 3 million assessments have been carried out, 9% have been appealed against and 4% have been overturned, so it is clear that the vast majority are right. However, we want to ensure as far as we can that all of them are right. If that means recording assessments—and I personally would prefer video recording—that is what we should do, so that everyone can have confidence in what is going on.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. PIP applicants who are wards of court because, owing to brain injuries, they are unable to make any decisions for themselves must nevertheless go through the application process and are subject to house visits, although, according to the court, they cannot be allowed to make any financial or personal decisions. Is it not time that such people did not have to go through a process that clearly disadvantages them and causes considerable trauma and angst?
We have a clear process for people who are vulnerable and need extra support during the process. If the hon. Gentleman is thinking of a specific case that he would like to raise with me, I ask him please to do so, so that we can establish what happened in that instance.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that not only are more people able to claim PIP than were able to claim DLA, but satisfaction has risen, as has been proved by satisfaction surveys?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Satisfaction levels have risen and the number of people receiving this benefit has risen, as has the number of people receiving the highest amount—not that anyone would know that from what we are hearing from Opposition Members.
Perhaps the Secretary of State can also explain why brave service personnel suffering from chronic conditions, including PTSD, are being denied access to their PIP entitlements. I have been contacted by a litany of constituents in recent weeks and others supported by the Welsh Veterans Partnership, including my constituent Justin Smith, whose medical discharge documents have been refused by the DWP, while others have been unable to get through on phone lines or are being refused home visits, against DWP guidance. Can the Secretary of State explain what is going on in her Department?
I want to follow up the specific instances the hon. Gentleman raises, as that does not sound right at all and I would not want that to be the case. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to bring those cases forward so that we can look into them immediately.
Is there a formal review process in place for assessments that can be responsive to any trends or issues that might arise?
My hon. Friend raises the good point of how we can make the assessments better: how can we make sure they are consistent and are the best we can possibly do? We are constantly reassessing them and trying to make the service even better, whether through videos to help people, improved guidance for GPs and healthcare professionals, improved communications, or special software so that people with disabilities can read about the service. Those are the sort of constant improvements we are carrying out, and we will continue to do that so as to make sure we have the best system possible.
Mr Justice Mostyn in his ruling on Motability, which the Government also accepted, said of the 2017 regulations:
“The wish to save nearly £1 billion at the expense of those with mental health impairments is not a reasonable foundation for passing this measure.”
The Secretary of State has made a welcome second U-turn, so do the Government recognise that not cutting corporation tax might have been a fairer and more honourable way of balancing the books?
We have not saved any money; let me make that point clear now. We spend more money on PIP, and will continue to do so to 2022—more money every year from 2010 than we ever spent on DLA. If I can dispel the myth that anybody is saving any money through moving from DLA to PIP, that will be the best thing I can do today. This Conservative Government will be spending more on disabled people through PIP from 2010 through to 2022.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today because I do not believe that fighting these cases in court is in the long-term benefit of anyone in this country, so I congratulate her on that. Clearly any of these PIP assessments can be incredibly stressful for our constituents and the system must react when mistakes have been made or situations are difficult. But anecdotally what I am hearing, especially from people with degenerative diseases like MS, is that the PIP system is working better than DLA. Many statistics have been bandied around today, but one statistic is that 30% rather than 15% are now getting the top level of benefit, and that is making a real difference to many individual lives. Can my right hon. Friend confirm today whether the number of assessment appeals is going up or down and whether the percentage of those being accepted as against those being rejected is going up or down?
I have already given the numbers, which show that we are getting the vast majority right: 9% are appealing and 4% are being overturned. This brand new benefit is a personal and modern benefit, and we are adjusting it so that it meets the needs of a 21st century benefit. That is what we are seeking to do. So for the first time we are looking at mental health conditions and exploring the extra support we can give there. This Government, across all Departments, are spending £11 billion more on mental health, so under PIP 66% are getting the higher daily living rate, whereas the figure for that under DLA would have been 22%.
The Secretary of State has failed to say how many people can expect their PIP to be restored as a consequence of this appeal; she said that it will be the two people involved in the two cases mentioned. Will she undertake to come back and make a statement to this House when she has had a chance to research that and tell us which of our constituents can expect to have their PIP reinstated and how many are involved?
If I did not say it clearly enough at the start, this was an urgent question granted specifically on two cases. There is another case going through the court at the moment, which would be sub judice and I would not be allowed to speak about it at the Dispatch Box—[Interruption.]
So today, we are discussing those two specific cases and that is what I am talking about. I appreciate that there is a lot of noise from Opposition Members, but they obviously do not understand what sub judice means—[Interruption.]
Order. The Government are a party to the case, and I am advised that, strictly speaking, the case is not sub judice—[Interruption.] Order. There seems to be a lot of noise and all sorts of naysaying and unattractive chuntering from a sedentary position. If the Secretary of State wished to go beyond the narrow terms of the urgent question, especially in view of the fact that its wording refers to “further action” by the Government, the Chair would not wish to stand in her way. It is a matter for her to judge. However, there is no need for this cacophony from a sedentary position. It is really rather unseemly, and I feel sure that it will now cease.
I call the good doctor: Doctor Philippa Whitford.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As has been mentioned, it is six months since the Government agreed to change the position of people suffering from mental health issues not being awarded mobility support. I too have several veterans suffering from PTSD, including one particularly tragic case of a young man who was involved in two explosions on his patrol, where he was covered in blood, diesel and body parts. He has had to sell his car, but he cannot face getting on a bus because the stench of diesel brings on flashbacks. His application for mobility support was turned down. When will the Government bring in the changes and the new guidance so that people can get a fair assessment?
I appreciate the personal story that the hon. Lady has just told me. We are gradually getting in touch with all the people who might have been affected by the fact that I decided not to appeal so that the claimants could be supported, and her constituent will be contacted in due course. We have been working through the guidance, and the first set of people will be getting paid by late summer. To follow up on the point that the Speaker raised, I took legal advice before I came into the Chamber today about what I could say about an ongoing legal position. The advice was that I should not be talking about an ongoing legal case, but obviously when we get that decision through, I will either be back here with a statement or making a written statement to explain what is going on.
PIP is of course a valuable benefit payment, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are working to ensure that a further 1 million disabled people end up in work?
My hon. Friend is correct. That is what we are looking to do, and in the last couple of years we have helped 600,000 disabled people into work. We have given extra support through PIP, because that can be an in-work or an out-of-work benefit, and we are also helping with access to work. This is about enabling people so that they can live as full a life as possible in society. That is what this Conservative Government are about.
I chair two all-party parliamentary groups: on motor neurone disease and on Parkinson’s. Research conducted by the groups, in conjunction with the charities, on the transition from DLA to PIP has shown that 25% of people with motor neurone disease—a progressive, degenerative, life-ending condition—had a reduction when transitioning to PIP. It also showed that 25% of those with Parkinson’s lost some or all of their benefit, but that 70% of those people had it returned on appeal. How can the Secretary of State say that the system is working when this disaster is being faced by very ill people?
As I have said throughout, we look to get things right first time, but we have processes in place. If things are not right, there is a reconsideration process, and if that is not right, there is an appeal process. Cases are usually turned around because people bring in extra medical information, and more people are getting the higher rate than ever before. The hon. Lady is quite right, however, that we need to be able to give people the support that they need.
If the hon. Gentleman can assure me that he was here at the start of the exchanges, it would be a great pleasure to hear from him.
I was here 10 minutes before questions finished.
Excellent. I look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman.
It is good that my right hon. Friend can be answering for two individual claimants and that she has given the background about the increase in disability spending. May I also say, “Thank you,” for saying that we can refer to individual cases? I have a victim of the infected blood scandal who is being asked to attend an assessment, but I do not think that an ordinary PIP assessor will actually understand what that person has been through for the past 20 or 30 years. Some such things need to be dealt with far more sympathetically and appropriately.
We must ensure that we understand the individual circumstances and the extra support that people need. That will come through this modern benefit, which really does acknowledge a wider cohort of disabilities than ever before. That is what we are trying to get right.
I have spoken to countless constituents who are completely petrified by the PIP process, which causes debilitating stress and anxiety that, in some cases, compounds the effects of their existing condition. When will the Secretary of State go back to the drawing board and come up with a benefit that represents a more humane method of supporting those who need it the most?
Through the extra guidance, the videos and the support that a companion who accompanies the individual can offer, we need to ensure that individuals do not think that the assessment will be scary or petrifying. We have to calm their nerves to ensure that they go for an assessment to get the money that they need. We have to set about making the environment something that they want to go through. Opposition Members do not always help their constituents, because what they sometimes say in the Chamber spreads unnecessary fear.
I may have studied for my law degree a long time ago, but I certainly remember that a case is no longer ongoing when an appeal is withdrawn by one of the parties.
Would the Secretary of State like to explain why so many victims of the contaminated blood scandal who received DLA for life are now being refused the support that they so badly need under PIP?
Just to clarify, I am talking about two specific cases today. Another case is ongoing, but we will not be talking about that because we are waiting for the decision. They are all linked together, but that is the difference between that case and the other two.
We must ensure that the right people are getting the support that they need, and more people are getting that support. We have a reconsideration process and an appeals process for anybody who wants to query why they are not getting support.
On Friday, a constituent told me that when they received their PIP assessment it did not reflect the truth of the conversation that they had had with the assessor. That happens too often to be just coincidence. What is the Department doing to get proper quality assurance in place, so that we do not have constituents coming forward with the same tale again and again?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We must have faith in the conversations and assessments, which is why I have looked forward to having them videoed to ensure that we see, hear and know what is going on. If the process is videoed, people will get an honest appraisal of what went on and, equally, we might see a more suitable conversation between the assessor and the individual.
On Friday a constituent came to my surgery and it was quite obvious, and he explained to me, that he struggles to function due to a combination of excruciating pain in his shoulders and the severe and heavy pain medication he is on, yet he got zero points for mobility and lost his appeal. Hopefully there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel for him, but what comfort does the Secretary of State think he will get from her standing and bragging that the Government have not appealed, that more money is being spent and that more people missed out on DLA, because that is not helping my constituent?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that anybody was bragging. It is known as just putting the facts on the record after people have sometimes sought to provide misinformation or incorrect facts, merely to state that more people are getting the higher benefits and more people are getting PIP than were getting DLA. That really needs to be heard so that we dispel any myths from the Opposition.
The Secretary of State suggests that PIP is more generous than DLA. Can she confirm that the Department’s analysis shows that, once it is fully rolled out, PIP will support 500,000 fewer disabled people than DLA? Can she conform that, six months after the Government admitted that a previous mistake on assessments affected 220,000 disabled people, not one of those disabled people is receiving the full benefit to which they are lawfully entitled?
What we can say is that the reality is that more people are getting PIP than are getting DLA.
Why does it take the DWP to be staring down the barrel of losing a case in court for it to admit that it is unfairly and illegally penalising disabled people? What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that no further cases have to progress this far, with all the consequent suffering and expense to the taxpayer?
It was in my first couple of days in this job as Secretary of State that I sought not to appeal the court case. There was no staring down a barrel and no waiting for me; I did it within a couple of days. Why? Because I think we have to live up to what PIP was meant to be and to the people it was meant to support.
When these two court cases were brought to my attention, which was only a couple of weeks ago, I did exactly the same thing. I will look at the cases when they are brought to me, and I will make sure that this Government do the right thing to support the right people the vast majority of the time.
Following on from those assertions, is the Secretary of State actually telling Parliament that her decision in these cases was not influenced in any way by any legal advice she may have had on the likelihood of losing had the cases gone the full course?
What I have said is that I saw it on day one, pretty much, of coming into this job. I looked at what I deemed was the correct thing to do, knowing how PIP was brought about, and I made what I felt was the right decision.
US Steel and Aluminium Tariffs
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the United States’s imposition of steel and aluminium import tariffs.
On Thursday 31 May, President Trump announced that the United States would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminium imports from the European Union. Canada and Mexico, with which the United States is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, will be subject to the same tariffs. Although Argentina, Brazil and South Korea have avoided tariffs, those countries agreed to lower exports to the US. The indications are that US imports from those countries will be restricted, in some instances involving quarterly quotas.
For products within the scope of these tariffs, in 2017 the US accounted for 7% of UK steel exports and 3% of UK aluminium exports. Put another way, the UK accounted for 1% of US steel imports and 0.1% of US aluminium imports by tonnage, at a value of £360 million and £29 million respectively.
We are deeply disappointed that the United States has taken this unjustified decision, particularly on grounds of national security. We share a strong defence and security co-operation relationship. As close allies in NATO, permanent members of the UN Security Council and nuclear powers, close co-operation between the UK and US is vital to international peace and security, and other EU states are also key players in transatlantic security co-operation.
As I said the previous time I addressed the House on this issue, these unilateral trade measures have weak foundations indeed in international law, and they are not consistent with the US Department of Defence’s own judgment in an investigation that was conducted on the basis of national security. We believe that the EU should have been permanently and fully exempted from the unjustified measures on steel and aluminium. We will continue to make this case at the highest level, in concert with the EU. Our priorities now are to defend the rules-based international trading system, which supports growth, consumers and industry; to ensure that this does not escalate and risk further undermining world trade; and, most importantly, to protect the interests of British industry.
The use of national defence as the rationale for this action threatens to create a worrying global precedent. We are clear that these unjustified additional tariffs could harm consumers, hold back growth and, ultimately, damage industry by driving up the price of inputs and production, and diminish global competitiveness. We remain of the view that issues of global overcapacity in the steel market are best solved through international collaboration, not unilateral action. The UK has worked hard to address the issue of overcapacity. The Prime Minister called for a forum of G20 members to tackle this issue, and the UK will continue to work within the rules-based international trade system to tackle this problem through the G20 steel forum.
However, as the US has decided to impose these tariffs, which will damage the steel and aluminium industries in Europe, we must respond. As a member of the European Union, we will continue to work with the European Commission and member states on the EU response. That is focused on three areas. First, the European Commission is preparing to introduce immediate duties on the US, ahead of a World Trade Organisation dispute. Following a unanimous decision by member states, the EU notified the WTO of a potential list of product lines on 18 May and could trigger tariffs on this list from 20 June. The Commission is required to seek member state approval a second time in order for any of the countermeasures to come into effect. Specific timings are yet to be determined by the Commission.
Secondly, the EU can apply safeguard measures to protect the steel and aluminium industries from being damaged by an influx of imports to the EU caused by the displacing effect of US tariffs. The EU is finalising an ongoing investigation launched on 26 March into potential EU-level safeguard measures to protect its own steel market from trade diversion resulting from US measures. Provisional measures could be adopted as early as mid-July. The EU has also introduced surveillance of aluminium imports to determine whether an aluminium safeguard investigation is justified. We will support any safeguard measures required to deal with steel diversion as a result of these tariffs.
Thirdly, the EU can pursue a dispute at the WTO, and it filed such a dispute, challenging US steel and aluminium tariffs, last Friday. It is right to seek to defend our domestic industries from both the direct and indirect impacts of these US tariffs. The response must be measured and proportionate, and it is important that the United Kingdom and the EU work within the boundaries of the rules-based international trading system. Since the President asked the Department of Commerce to launch the investigations into the national security impact of steel and aluminium imports last April, the Government have made clear on repeated occasions to the Administration the potentially damaging impact of tariffs on the UK and EU steel and aluminium industries. The Prime Minister has also raised her concerns with President Trump. I have spoken on multiple occasions to the Commerce Secretary and US trade representative about the investigation, to the director general of the WTO, Roberto Azevêdo, to the EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, as well as to my colleagues in member states. The Government have worked closely with the EU as part of our unified response. In addition, I assure the House that we have been in regular contact with the UK’s steel and aluminium industries throughout, and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has convened a steel council, which will take place shortly. I have been in touch with UK Steel throughout, most recently at a meeting in Westminster earlier today.
We remain committed to robustly defending and protecting the UK’s steel and aluminium industries and their employees. The Government will continue to press the US for an EU-wide exemption from these unjustified tariffs. In parallel, UK suppliers will want to encourage their US customers to seek product exemptions via the process that is being overseen by the US Department of Commerce. Tomorrow morning, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will host a meeting with the industry to share information and advice on the product-exemptions process.
UK firms without a presence in the US cannot apply directly for a product exemption, which means that UK firms will need to work with their products’ end users in the US to apply for a product exemption and to gather the relevant data and justification for such an exemption. The Government will support applications made on the behalf of UK industry with representations to the Department of Commerce to process applications for product exemptions as promptly as possible. My Department published an information note on the procedure on gov.uk on Friday.
The Government are committed to free and fair trade, and to the international rules that underpin both. We will seek to promote and protect those rules alongside the interests of British industry. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call yesterday afternoon. He is a very courteous man, but no amount of courtesy can hide the fact that he and his party have a record of failure when it comes to defending our steel industry.
When China began dumping its over-production into the European market back in 2015, it was the Secretary of State’s Government who opposed the European Union taking stronger defence measures and who precipitated a crisis for producers in the UK that led to the loss of companies such as SSI and of 1,700 jobs at Redcar. That was not some civil service mistake, but ministerial ideology. That ideology has been confirmed by the Government’s refusal to accept the amendments that Labour tabled to both the customs Bill and the Trade Bill, precisely to strengthen the trade defence measures that we could take against such illegal action.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s initial response was to say that he did “not rule out” countervailing measures with our European partners. Did “not rule out” such measures? He should have been demanding them. On the departmental website it says begrudgingly that while we are members of the EU we
“must abide by EU trade decisions”.
That hardly sounds like a full-throated and co-ordinated position with our EU trade partners—and no wonder: when the EU recently voted to modernise the trade defence measures available to protect our industries, our Government were one of only two to vote against them. It is no use the Secretary of State saying that the Opposition voted against the Trade Bill and the customs Bill and that that would have left us with no Trade Remedies Authority. We voted against those Bills precisely because they were so weak and ineffective on this matter, and he knows it.
Some 34,000 UK jobs in our steel industry and 3,500 more in the aluminium industry are at risk because President Trump is imposing protectionist tariffs that the rest of the world believes are illegal under WTO rules. We saw him use the same protectionist policies to attack Bombardier in Northern Ireland. This time, he has based the policy on a fundamental lie. He is pretending that the tariffs fall under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act 1962 and are necessary for the national security of the United States. They are not. The lie is to try to avoid the perfectly correct response that the EU is now making in taking this as a dispute to the WTO, because the WTO is naturally reluctant to rule on what is and what is not member states’ national security.
All our steel producers want is a fair and level playing field on which to compete. They and we acknowledge that there is a real issue of global over-capacity, which brought our industry to crisis point three years ago and threatens to do so again now. That is why there are three issues on which we need absolute clarity from the Secretary of State. First, will the UK give the consent required to trigger the countervailing measures and enable them to come into effect on 20 June? The implication of the statement is that the Secretary of State will, but I ask him to leave no doubt. Secondly, the greatest threat to jobs is perhaps not directly from the loss of trade into the USA as a result of tariffs—the USA only accounts for 7% of our steel and 3% of our aluminium exports. The real danger is from the products diverted from other countries which can no longer export into the US being dumped here. When I first read the statement, I believed that the Secretary of State had made a commitment to agree to strong safeguarding measures to protect against such an influx surge. On careful reading, however, it appears that he may have given himself a get-out clause. He talks of supporting
“any safeguard measures required to deal with steel diversion”.
Can he confirm that he will support maximal measures to defend the immediate interests of our steel industry as well as any future trade defence measures that go beyond the lesser duty rule?
Thirdly, the Secretary of State mentioned that the EU filed a dispute at the World Trade Organisation on Friday. Strangely, he did not say that he welcomed that move. He knows that President Trump wishes to undermine the WTO and would prefer to do his trade deals on a bilateral basis using America’s economic might to obtain concessions. Can he confirm that, once outside of the EU, it would be his intention for the UK to continue with a WTO dispute against the US and that he is not minded to succumb to the bully-boy tactics for fear of offending the President before a future trade agreement?
We do not want a trade war; most rational people believe that there are no winners in such a war. Only President Trump has said that he believes that he can win one. The UK and the EU must stand up to this behaviour and restore the integrity of the rules-based system. I therefore welcome the upcoming G7 summit and the opportunity that it provides the Prime Minister to press the case with President Trump. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, however diplomatically embarrassing it may be for Canada as the host country, the UK will insist that this matter be given a high priority on the formal agenda and not relegated to the sidelines? The Prime Minister must persuade other leaders to respond to the fundamental problem of global oversupply as well as the unjustified action of the United States. The 37,500 workers in the UK whose jobs depend on these industries will expect her not to fail them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is right that there is an issue of global overcapacity and that, as I have said, that must be tackled on a multilateral basis because it cannot be effectively tackled on a bilateral basis with the use of tariffs. That will not be a successful way of dealing with it. What it has resulted in is a great deal of energy being spent on blue on blue activity, rather than on dealing with the issue at source. However, he is wrong about the support to the steel industry. As of 8 November 2017, the Government have, for example, paid more than £207 million in compensation to the steel sector as an energy intensive manufacturer.
The hon. Gentleman is also wrong about the Opposition’s vote against the Trade Bill. They voted against not the provisions of a Trade Remedies Authority, but the setting up of a Trade Remedies Authority, which would have meant that we had no defence whatsoever. He is wrong about another matter, too. The American President was not involved in the Bombardier dispute. That was a commercial dispute brought by Boeing and nothing to do with the US Administration. However, he is right on the precedent of national security. The problem with using national security, as has been done in this case through the section 232 mechanism, is twofold: first, if the United States were successful, it would set a precedent for others to do the same and to use national security as a pretext for protectionism; and, secondly, it leads the WTO into the realms of having to determine what is, and what is not, acceptable as a definition of national security. That is something that the WTO has always shied away from.
When it comes to the countermeasures, we will still want to see what the measures themselves are. Specifically, we have been talking to the Irish Government about the issue of Bourbon being on the list because of the potential implications for the Scotch whisky industry and the Irish whiskey industry. We will want to continue those discussions with the Commission.
I made it very clear that we will have whatever safeguards are required. I do welcome the WTO dispute. If we are talking about the need for an international rules-based system, it is the appropriate mechanism for us to show our displeasure and that is the correct route for us to go down. Once we have left the European Union, I hope that we will have no problems with a UK exemption.
Will the President of the Board of Trade confirm that we are obliged not to seek an exemption for ourselves because of the duty of sincere co-operation, and that we can therefore can only do things with the EU? Does he share my concern that tit-for-tat retaliation is not in our interests and may make a trade war worse? The lesson of trade history is that protectionism is worst for the country that imposes it, and going tit for tat is therefore not in the national interest.
My hon. Friend, as usual, raises interesting points. He is completely correct that a tit-for-tat dispute will help nobody. The United States has already seen an increase in the domestic price for steel. That means that input prices in the US are likely to rise, its output prices will ultimately rise and it will become less competitive, which is not an answer to its current trade predicament. When it comes to the position of the United Kingdom, had we been given an exemption by the US, we would still have been required to carry forward any counter- measures proposed and implemented by the European Union, but if we had implemented countermeasures without any measures actually having been applied to the United Kingdom, we would have been breach of WTO law. It is a Catch-22.
In spite of what the International Trade Secretary says, so much for the special relationship and the special treatment that the Government were seeking from President Trump. Coming hard on the heels of the weekend’s report that the Government are preparing for a Brexit armageddon, the chickens are truly coming home to roost for Brexiteers, who have had years to prepare for their big moment. But this has an impact on all of us, and the Scottish Government were left to secure steelworks in Lanarkshire. Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government and the industry in Scotland? His statement shows just how important the European Union is in these matters. Does it not make more sense to remain close to those who are closest to us economically and politically in Europe, and stay part of the customs union?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question is no. The Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), has been in touch with the Scottish Government in the past few days to discuss the wider impacts on the industry. I have made it very clear that we regard this as a UK-wide issue. The UK Government will take whatever measures are required, including safeguarding, to protect the whole UK steel industry.
First, I applaud the Secretary of State for focusing in his statement on how unfortunate it is that the United States has used national security as its excuse for this tariff measure. It is particularly ironic given a number of US-UK treaties under which specialist steel products are made available to the United States specifically to assist in its national security. May I encourage him to look at securing a product exemption for those products as soon as possible?
Secondly, as the Secretary of State and his colleagues are aware, Bridgnorth Aluminium in my constituency is one of the largest aluminium manufacturers in this country; 20% of its exports go to the United States, as it provides a product that is not manufactured there. The United States is hurting itself with this measure. The company not only fears that the increase in price due to the tariffs on that product will have an impact on demand; it is also particularly concerned about the displacement factor from incoming Chinese imports.
My hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about this subject from his time as a Defence Minister, is absolutely right. We will be looking at the displacement issue very closely to see whether safeguards are required for aluminium as well as steel. He is right about Bridgnorth in his constituency, which exported £21 million of products to the US in 2017. The irony is that the only potential competitor in that particular market is Alcoa in Warrick, Indiana, which has shown little, if any, interest in it. This situation can only lead to damage to US customers at the other end.
As Chair of the International Trade Committee, may I take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for his courteous phone call to me at the end of last week outlining the situation that he found himself him? These tariffs stem from the very weird belief of the US President that if the US has a deficit with anyone, it is as a result of unfair trading. Given that just about any two sets of nations find themselves in surplus or deficit with each other at times, there would be global trade chaos if the rest of the world were to follow his example of what the Secretary of State calls unjustified decision making. Meanwhile, how confident is the Secretary of State that the UK can legally take safeguarding trade defence measures if it finds itself out of the EU in March 2019, and that a trade remedies authority will be in place? My Committee has concerns about that, as I am sure he knows.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is right that we have to have the TRA up and running. As he knows, we have now advertised for the most senior appointments and agreed its setting in Reading.
On the wider economic issue, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. It is impossible, in an open and free trading system, that all economies will be in balance with one another. Surpluses and deficits are part of the allocation of resources that happens inside a free market. Were we all to aim for a trade policy where everybody was in balance, it would not be a free trading system. Apart from anything else, consumers would soon feel the detrimental effects of such a system.
Picking up on that point, will not a system of retaliatory tariffs hurt consumers more than anything else, and will it not be ordinary workers who suffer? Is the Secretary of State as concerned about that as I am?
As my hon. Friend knows from being a trade envoy to Nigeria, it will not just be those in developed countries who feel the effects if this has a slowdown impact on the global economy. If we have tariffs, countermeasures and then measures against the countermeasures, it is very easy to see how it could ramp up into a global trading disaster. We need to try, in the time ahead, to get the United States Government to change their mind—to listen to the voices coming from American business and the American Congress about the damage that may ultimately be caused inside the American domestic economy.
I would be really interested to know what arguments the Secretary of State thinks are going to work with the Americans. Last time there was a trade war like this, some 200,000 jobs were lost in the United States. What efforts is he already making to identify and analyse the impact on the US economy? It seems to me that that is the biggest argument we can use.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely correct that if we are to get a change in US Government policy, the most effective pressure will come from US business and the US Congress. I was very heartened to hear Chairman Brady of the Committee on Ways and Means making exactly these points yesterday—if American input prices rise, output prices will rise, and that is likely to hinder, not help, the problem with the American trade deficit. I hope that our colleagues in Congress will listen to the views being expressed clearly on both sides of the House and make those points accordingly.
When there was a sharp exchange on trade between China and the US recently, it was resolved surprisingly quickly. Does my right hon. Friend see that there are possibilities for a similarly swift resolution to this? If there are not, how confident is he that our voice in the EU will be able to prevent the EU from taking strong retaliatory measures and getting into the spiral of trade wars that he has described?
The EU’s measures are designed to be proportionate and legal so that we can make the case that we have responded to what we believe to be legally dubious moves in a properly legal way, through the rules-based system. That is the appropriate way to go. I do not believe that the EU tariffs are escalatory, and it would be hugely unfortunate if further moves in that direction were made by either the United States or Europe.
In 2002, similar retaliatory action was organised by the EU and had quite a profound effect on getting the US to drop the tariffs. Does the Secretary of State therefore wholeheartedly support the action that the EU is taking, and also the route through the World Trade Organisation?
The potential countermeasures that the European Commission is setting out fall into two groups in their timing, and it is entirely possible that all or a smaller number of those measures could be put in place. I hope that the flexibility that is being shown in both the timing and the scope of their application lets the United States understand that the European Union is keen to have an agreement. It is keen not to rush into countermeasures, but to give the American Administration time to have second thoughts, which I think would be beneficial to all.
I think everyone will welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has come to the House at the earliest opportunity to make a statement. The European Union is justifiably outraged by the imposition of tariffs, but if we were to leave the European Union without a deal, why on earth would the EU want to impose tariffs on us?
I know that opinions on Brexit are very strong, but with all due respect, we cannot see every global economic issue through the prism of Brexit. This action has been taken against what we believe to be WTO rules. It affects the European Union as much as it affects Canada and Mexico, which have economies of a very different size, and it is because of unilateral action taken by the United States. It therefore requires a proportionate response by all the countries affected, through the WTO mechanism. We have to show that we, at least, show respect for that rules-based system.
I cannot believe what I am hearing. It is a good job that steelworkers and steel communities have not waved the white flag when they have been called upon repeatedly to defend our shared values with the US over the past 100 years. We cannot give into this. The only language that Trump understands is people fighting back. It is about time that this country fought back. We can do it. Trump likes golf—let us bring in some tariffs on golf course owners in Scotland immediately and stand up for our steel communities and steelworkers, instead of this rubbish about not being able to do anything about it. We should fight him.
There are two interesting points to make on that tirade of nonsense. First, we do not have the legal authority in the United Kingdom on our own, because the European Union is responsible for this issue on our behalf. When we leave the European Union we will have greater freedom, but I say to the hon. Gentleman in all seriousness that escalation is not what we require. We need a proportionate response, made calmly, giving the United States time to reflect and change its mind. This is about getting the right result, not the right rhetoric.
Put him in the bunker!
Order. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) is chuntering from a sedentary position about putting something in a bunker. I am not going to comment on that. It is not for me to pronounce on the merits or demerits of the matter, but I simply say, with due affection to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), that it is always interesting to hear from him on the golfing situation, and we have done so today.
How realistic was it to have expected a concession on steel notwithstanding our having publicly announced our intent to undermine US security policy and trade policy on Iran?
I do not think that those issues are remotely related. It has been clear from the presidential election campaign onwards that the President has concerns about the US steel industry and global overcapacity. We do not disagree with the analysis of the problem; we disagree with the remedy being applied.
Does the Secretary of State not worry that future generations will look back on him and the group of people who pulled us out of Europe as the real villains of the piece? Is it not a fact that the promise that we would give up the market of 600 million people in Europe but get a massive market in North America has proven to be false? Will he remember that this country deserves to be in Europe, fighting united for Europe?
It was not me, nor any other Member of the House, who decided to pull Britain out of the European Union; it was the people of Britain, in a democratic referendum. I will send the hon. Gentleman a dictionary, and he can tell me which of the words “binary”, “referendum” and “democracy” he does not understand.
As my right hon. Friend has flagged, the use of national security reasons by the United States is particularly problematic, as history is littered with examples of how nations use it with a very wide definition. What work can be done with the WTO to get a better definition of what national security actually encompasses?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. In fact, the WTO has always shied away from this territory because of the implications it could have, even potentially for the integrity of the WTO itself. It is better that we find a better way to deal with the oversupply in the steel market and that no one tries to use the national security route as a remedy, because as I said, if the United States were to be successful in using it, what would stop other countries doing exactly the same on protectionist measures when it suited them?
Is not the gist of the International Trade Secretary’s position that the US is behaving outrageously—with illegal, protectionist tariffs—so he is working with our EU partners to build a strong, sensible response with the collective weight of the EU, yet he also wants to rip up the customs and trade deal with the countries that agree with us in exchange for a future, potential trade deal with a country that clearly does not agree with us? When he said last year:
“I want the UK and USA together to lead the world as shining beacons of open trade”,
was that a complete and utter fantasy?
The United States has long been at the forefront of leading global free trade, including setting up the WTO itself. That is why we find it so disappointing that the current Administration should take this particular route and try this particular remedy for the problem. The right hon. Lady will notice that being a member of the European Union has no more protected us from these tariffs than Mexico or Canada.
The UK produces some very high-value steels, some of which cannot be sourced in the US. What more can we do to promote British manufacturing overseas?
My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. Not only do we send some very high-end steel to the United States, but some of it is steel that the United States itself does not manufacture. For end users in the United States, that will actually increase the price of a product they do not manufacture domestically, which cannot have anything other than adverse economic consequences. That is why it is very important, as I have said, that the voices of US industry and of those in Congress make their views very clear about the potential damage that this will pose, as Chairman Brady has said, to American families and jobs.
The imposition of US tariffs is rash, probably illegal and certainly self-defeating. Is the Secretary of State still confident that the UK can get a better deal with a protectionist United States after the UK has left the EU than we could with the European Union? Does he agree with me that if the US continues to act like a rogue state, we may reach a point where it needs to be suspended from the G7?
Even for a member of his party, for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to the United States as a “rogue state” gives us pause for thought. With this particular measure, we think the US has behaved in a way that has a very poor basis in law and does not have any justification in national security. However, treating the United States in the way he suggests would be quite wrong, and it does a great deal to explain why his party has such a small representation in this House.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade mentioned in his statement that the industry will gather at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tomorrow morning. What form of support will BEIS be offering UK companies, especially those that do not have a US presence, in order to secure exemptions for their products?
My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary felt it would be of the greatest benefit to those in the industry to have them in and to have experts, including legal experts, talk them through the product exemption system. The product exemption system does not require a presidential agreement; it occurs at the level of the Department of Commerce. Knowing how the system works and being able to access it efficiently is of prime importance.
As has already been said, when President Bush introduced similar tariffs in 2002, it led to the loss of 200,000 American jobs through the steel supply chain. What steps is the Secretary of State specifically taking to influence Congressmen and women from the states that will be most affected this time, because that surely is the point of leverage through to the White House? Will he come to speak directly to the all-party group on steel and metal related industries to explain those steps in detail?
I would be happy to do so. I was in the United States and visited a number of our congressional colleagues just two weeks ago. It is worth pointing out that there are 142,000 steel workers in the United States, but there are 6.5 million workers who depend on steel as part of their business, so either reductions in supply or increases in cost are likely to have a domestic effect. Again, I hope our colleagues in Congress will see—and I urge all Members of the House with links to either party in Congress to use those links to point this out—that history repeating itself would indeed be tragic for everybody concerned.
At present, half of UK steel exports are sent to the EU. In the light of the US decision to impose tariffs, it is highly likely that the steel industry in the UK will become more reliant on the European Union. Will the Secretary of State make representations to Cabinet to agree that Britain should remain within a customs union? If he will not do so, why not? It is the best way to protect steel industry jobs, including in Port Talbot—many members of the workforce live in my constituency.
No, I will not do that. I believe that a customs union gives us greater trading relationships with some at the expense of greater trading relationships with others. As the International Monetary Fund has pointed out, 95% of global growth in the next 10 to 15 years will be outside continental Europe, so to tie ourselves into a customs model with the slowest growing part of the global economy would be very unwise.
What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that this attack on our steel sector will not lead to retaliatory attacks on ceramics?
The hon. Lady makes a useful point that reflects the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) about using national security as a pretext. If that were a successful exercise, there would be nothing to stop other sectors being involved or, indeed, to stop other countries doing exactly the same thing which is why, at the risk of repeating myself, we must try to have common sense prevail before there is any escalation, which could be very damaging to economies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Everyone knows that you have to stand up to bullies, not roll over and have your tummy tickled. I am really pleased that the Secretary of State is making it clear that he will support the leadership of the European Union on this matter so that robust and proper action is taken, as it was in 2002, which led to the US backing down. Will he talk to his colleagues across Government so that we can use this moment to introduce a steel sector deal to show confidence in the steel industry in the UK?
The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), will have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say. Again, I make the point that we have set out a reasonable and proportionate response. There is no point escalating rhetoric; there is no point escalating the terms of this dispute. We should use the time available before the imposition of countermeasures to go back to the United States and say, “You still have time to think again, to stop history repeating itself or to stop economic effects that can only be detrimental in the United States and beyond.”
Following the tariffs on steel and aluminium, it is reported that the US Secretary of Commerce is now looking at the car industry, again on national security grounds. What analysis has the Department undertaken of what other sectors may fall victim to President Trump’s protectionist strategy?
It is very difficult to say. Again, we contend that the mechanism itself is flawed. It is hard to see how an Aston Martin could be a threat to US national security, even if fully James-Bonded.
Will the Secretary of State stop talking as if President Trump is amenable to reasonable arguments? This is a deliberate attack on multilateral institutions and the international liberal order. It is evident from the proposal reported in the Financial Times this morning that the American Administration do not even want to appoint judges to the World Trade Organisation court, so will the Secretary of State support urgent EU retaliatory measures?
I do not believe that it is an attack on the international order. That is far too hyperbolic. It is a response to an understandable concern about the over-production of global steel and the effect that that can have in the United States, including on US steelworkers, but made in an inappropriate way. We believe that it is best done on a multilateral basis, through the G20 steel forum, but if the United States insists on applying these measures we will apply countermeasures. We believe that the rule of international law must be upheld.
The Secretary of State’s words so far have not given me comfort and I am sure that the ceramics workers in my Stoke-on-Trent constituency will have similar concerns. Countermeasures and potential retaliatory countermeasures from the US would do untold damage to the ceramics industry. One way in which the Secretary of State could help domestically to fortify and strengthen the industry would be to talk to his Cabinet colleagues about bringing forward the ceramics sector deal and giving some certainty to an industry that really has had enough.
There are two things that we can do. We can help to define and identify new markets for top-end UK ceramics to guarantee the prosperity and jobs in the sector. We can also make sure that we have a trade remedies authority of our own that is able to guarantee the measures that are needed. Of course, the hon. Gentleman voted against the establishment of exactly that.
It is steelworkers who are on the frontline in terms of the risk from the direct and indirect impacts of the tariffs. Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions he has had with their trade unions to address their concerns?
We have had discussions across the whole steel industry. However, the hon. Gentleman is not exactly right. He is correct that steelworkers will be on the frontline, but they would not be the only ones affected. The problem is that there will be knock-on effects across the whole economy. As countermeasures are applied, more sectors will become involved as a consequence of the dispute. Therefore, it is in the interests not just of the steel industry, although it clearly is at the forefront of this battle, but of all our industries and all our consumers tha