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Commons Chamber

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018

House of Commons

Wednesday 6 June 2018

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

British Transport Police Scottish Division

1. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the plan to merge the British Transport Police Scottish division with Police Scotland. (905612)

The UK Government are working closely with the Scottish Government, the two police forces and police authorities through a joint programme board to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for cross-border railway policing once responsibilities have been transferred. The safety and security of rail passengers and staff remains our No. 1 priority.

I hear the Minister’s reply, but does he agree that this proposal would let down hard-working and dedicated British Transport police officers and staff in Scotland, who are largely against these changes, and that this ideologically driven merger should not go ahead?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we are committed to the devolution of powers for railway policing to Scotland and the Scottish Government. We are keeping the promises made in the Scotland Act 2016. Our priority is that the powers are transferred safely and orderly. How the powers are used, however, is a decision for the Scottish Government and they should be rightly held to account by the Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend will know that our colleagues in Holyrood share his serious concerns and they strongly oppose the SNP’s plans. I am sure that they will have heard the point he has made today.

Does the Minister agree with the Scottish Government that the BTP merger will deliver

“continuity of service for rail users and staff”,

or does he agree with the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, who says that a failure to look at the alternatives would be “somewhat reckless”?

The UK Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government, the British Transport Police Authority and the police authorities to ensure that the terms and conditions of officers and staff transferring to Police Scotland are maintained. However, this is one of the reasons why there has been a delay. It is important that the staff are properly consulted and we would encourage that to happen.

Leaving the EU: Economic Growth

2. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905613)

10. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905621)

The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analysis in support of our EU negotiations and preparations. We want our future relationship with the EU to be a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security co-operation.

The UK Government’s own analysis shows how devastating Brexit will be for GDP. That has already been felt with crippling uncertainty—so much so that Mr and Mrs Mitchell of Allanhill farm in my constituency have written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wondering whether or not they should plant their crop for 2019, because of the uncertainty about seasonal workers. Will he give them certainty today?

The Government have already acknowledged that there will be an ongoing need for a seasonal workers scheme that will support the constituents of the hon. Gentleman, but I thought that he might focus on other constituents, given the report yesterday by the Scottish Government which said that, with Brexit, there will be a huge increase in the number of potential jobs in the fishing industry, which impacts on his constituency, with a £540 million potential boost to the Scottish economy.

Non-UK EU nationals in Scotland contribute around £4.5 billion annually to the Scottish economy. Both the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Prime Minister have failed to rule out an immigration skills charge on companies employing EU nationals in future. Will the Secretary of State oppose any such charge applying in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman knows very clearly that I oppose there being a separate immigration system in Scotland. Scotland has specific issues in relation to immigration, but those issues also arise in other parts of the United Kingdom. When the Government announce their new immigration policy in relation to leaving the EU, I want to see a policy that takes into account the concerns of Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Increasing trade is critical to the success of Scotland’s economy as we leave the European Union, and I was delighted that the first ever meeting of the Board of Trade in Scotland was held in Stirling just last month. It was a hugely successful day, not least for Stirling’s businesses. What lessons has my right hon. Friend taken from listening to Scottish businesses about their experiences in exporting?

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments about the suitability of the location of the meeting in Stirling and the beauty of Stirling castle as the setting for such an historic event. It is clear that businesses in Scotland want to get ahead with focusing on taking up the trade opportunities that will arise when we leave the EU.

Figures last month revealed that since 2007 the SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh have missed five of their economic targets. Does this not demonstrate the incompetence of the Scottish Government in managing Scotland’s economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are real concerns. My view is that the single greatest threat to the growth of the Scottish economy is a second independence referendum, which would put business on hold, disrupt our economy and drive away investment.

11. Given that all of Scotland’s projected population growth over the next 25 years is from migration, does the Secretary of State not agree that reducing net migration would be devastating to Scotland? Does he agree with the leader of the Scottish branch of the Conservative party that a tailored solution for Scotland must be the answer? (905622)

I am clear that we need an immigration policy that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom and that takes into account the very specific needs that we have identified in Scotland. However, we know that the Scottish Government have powers that have very significant effects on immigration, such as the powers on the level of tax, and that making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not a way to encourage people to come to Scotland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that what really matters to the growth rates and success of the Scottish economy is the Union of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that that is most demonstrated by the border area?

I absolutely agree. That is why I am astounded that the SNP now even disputes that there is an internal market in the United Kingdom; even by SNP standards, that is astounding. That internal market is worth four times as much to Scottish business as the whole of the EU put together.

Leaving the EU: Scotch Whisky Industry

3. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on the Scotch whisky industry of the UK leaving the EU. (905614)

The UK Government work closely with the Scotch whisky industry and particularly with the Scotch Whisky Association to assess the industry’s market access needs. As we leave the EU and build our future trade policy, we are also working to ensure that geographical indications are protected and potentially extended around the world.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response, but given the potential trade war with the US, the Government’s strategy to throw in the bin 63 bilateral trade deals when we leave the EU, and reports on both sides of the Atlantic that the three-year designation for Scotch whisky could be removed in any trade deal with the US, what is he specifically doing to protect that vital industry for Scotland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations?

First, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the industry itself has been very clear that exciting opportunities can flow from trade deals post Brexit. That is what the Scotch Whisky Association has said, but the points he makes are very serious ones. I make sure that they are absolutely at the heart of the Brexit negotiations.

Scotch whisky is hugely important to my Moray constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most immediate threat to the industry is the possibility that the EU could include bourbon as a counter-measure against US trade tariffs? Therefore, does he agree that we should urge the EU not to include bourbon for fear of the retaliation action that the US could take?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of the whisky industry and raises an extremely serious and important point. I reassure him that I am in direct contact with the Scotch Whisky Association on that issue and will ensure that the points he has made are fully understood within the UK Government and the EU.

The Scotch whisky industry is very important, but does the Secretary of State agree that the construction industry in Scotland is, too. Crummock, a construction firm in my constituency, went bust last week, with almost 300 redundancies. What is he doing to protect construction in Scotland?

I recognise the issues that the hon. Lady raises, because unfortunately a construction company in my own constituency, Graham’s in Langholm, also went into administration last week. There are significant challenges facing the industry and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the specific issue in her constituency.

These dilations are of considerable interest, I am sure, but they are not altogether related to the matter of whisky. I fear that the Secretary of State was drawn away from the path of virtue, to which I know he will now speedily return, aided and abetted by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers).

In future trade talks with India, will the Secretary of State place a priority on improving access for our exports of whisky from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as it is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest products?

I will indeed, and the Secretary of State for Wales would be unhappy if I did not also reference Penderyn, the whisky made in Wales. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I will take exactly that action in relation to all the United Kingdom’s whisky products.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once we leave the EU, trade deals with countries such as Taiwan will open up massive new markets for Scotch whisky exports?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the Scotch Whisky Association and various companies in the industry recognise that there are exciting prospects out there for future trade arrangements, and I see that they have the confidence and the determination to achieve them.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

4. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905615)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905616)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905624)

15. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament's decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905626)

Having worked closely with the devolved Administrations on significant amendments, I am of course disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has not yet granted legislative consent to the Bill. The Welsh Assembly agrees that these arrangements fully respect the devolution settlements. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office is in correspondence again this week with Mike Russell, and the door remains open for the Scottish Government to reconsider.

Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he has explained to the Prime Minister that, by a 3:1 majority of MSPs, four of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament withheld legislative consent? What has he advised her to do to recognise that overwhelming expression of the democratic will of the Scottish people?

What I have done is explain the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom fully to the Prime Minister, which she was already aware of. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) does not like the existing constitutional settlement and wants to see another one, but the current settlement, the arrangements within it and the Sewel convention are quite clear.

This is the Secretary of State who vowed to make Holyrood

“one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments”

in the history of the known universe, so why is he prepared to see this Westminster Parliament override the ruling of the Holyrood Parliament, which has withheld its consent? How does that square with his vow to respect and empower Holyrood?

I am not going to take any lectures on devolution from the SNP. Only today, Nicola Sturgeon has written, ahead of the SNP conference, that this weekend

“marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence”.

That does not sound very much like standing up for devolution to me.

I have recently learned that the great saviour of the Tory party, and perhaps the next Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson, did not actually believe in the vow. Is it not the case that the chickens have come home to roost and that we are now seeing the anti-devolution party once again riding roughshod over Scotland?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman—the anti-devolution party is riding roughshod over Scotland, but it is the SNP. It does not back devolution; it only backs independence.

The Tory-friendly Spectator magazine has said that no self-respecting Scottish Government of any party could give consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form. So instead of expressing disappointment in the Scottish Government, what is the Secretary of State going to do to engage in cross-party talks and to try to find a solution that respects the will of the Scottish Parliament?

I have wanted to reach an agreement all along, and we have made it clear that we still want to reach an agreement in the exchanges with the Scottish Government this week. Either the Scottish Government need to reconsider their position, or a new proposal needs to emerge.

Why does the Secretary of State think that the UK Government’s proposals on the withdrawal Bill were acceptable to a Unionist Government in Wales but not a nationalist Government in Scotland?

Order. Mr Law, behave in accordance with your surname. Compose yourself, man. Indeed, I advise Members on both sides of the argument to seek to imitate the statesmanlike repose of Mr Alister Jack, from whom we have just heard. He has been attending to our proceedings in a most courteous and civilised way, as is his wont.

The Welsh Government, Welsh Labour representatives in the House of Lords and, indeed, the former Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, who is also in the House of Lords, have been clear that the Government’s proposals did not in any way undermine the devolution settlement.

I can forgive some members of the Cabinet their ignorance in not understanding the effect of their policies on the devolution settlement, but that is not a quality that we expect from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he not agree that it takes a particular form of arrogance to try to force through a position that is supported by only one of the five political parties in Scotland and by less than one quarter of the Members of the Scottish Parliament?

Again, this comes down to the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not accept the current constitutional arrangements, including the Sewel convention. That can probably be explained by this obsession with pursuing independence. The current constitutional arrangements are quite clear, and the Government are proceeding in accordance with them.

Four out of the five political parties in Scotland now understand that this is the first Secretary of State for Scotland in history who seeks to lessen the control of the Scottish people over their own affairs. Will he now stand down and make way for someone who will respect the wishes of the Scottish people and respect the national Government of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag with his final words. Scotland has two Governments. In 2014, Scotland voted to be part of this United Kingdom, and I will continue to stand up and defend Scotland’s place in it.

The Secretary of State should be aware that Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 10 May asking for Scottish cross-party talks. If the Secretary of State really has been standing up for Scotland, what has he done to get his Cabinet colleague back around the negotiating table?

The hon. Lady knows that I regard the position of Scottish Labour in the Scottish Parliament as pitiful, kowtowing to the SNP and not honouring its proud Unionist credentials. We are clear that, if any new, different proposal emerges, the door is open and we will discuss it. However, no such proposal has come directly from the Scottish Labour party.

That door is open. That invitation is there, but the blame for this lies squarely at the doors of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. I have a copy of correspondence between the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Richard Leonard, and the Secretary of State is not even mentioned—he is not even at the table. Does that not epitomise the fact that the Secretary of State is Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet and that his colleagues are excluding him from future negotiations because of the mess he has already made?

I do not think the hon. Lady follows the media in Scotland very closely, otherwise she would know that Scotland’s invisible man is Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour party, who has simply gone along with the SNP at every turn. I am proud, in the Cabinet and elsewhere, to stand up for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.

The founding principles of the devolution settlement have been turned on their head in the unelected House of Lords with its amendments to clause 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, yet we, Scotland’s directly elected Members, will have next to no opportunity to debate and scrutinise what their lordships have decided for us. In what sort of world can that possibly be acceptable?

In exactly the same sort of world in which, two or three months ago, we heard the hon. Gentleman setting out all the virtues of the House of Lords and how it would stand up for the Scottish Government’s principles. With your discretion, Mr Speaker, there will be an opportunity in this House to discuss clause 15 next week, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to do so.

Leaving the EU: Common Frameworks for Business

6. What UK-wide common frameworks the Government have assessed as being essential to business after the UK leaves the EU. (905617)

In March, the UK Government published their provisional analysis of where we believe frameworks may be needed. This showed that, of the over 100 areas in which powers are coming back from Brussels, we think 24 areas may need legislative common frameworks to make sure we maintain the UK’s internal market—a market that is worth four times as much to Scottish businesses as the rest of the EU put together.

Services account for over half of Scotland’s exports to the United Kingdom, so ensuring there are no new barriers to trade in services between Scotland and the rest of the UK is vital for Scotland’s economy. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that, if the Scottish Government really wanted to put Scotland’s interests first, they would be working more constructively with the UK Government to preserve, and indeed enhance, the ability of the Scottish services sector to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government could start by retracting their bizarre recent argument that the UK’s internal market does not exist. We all know they might want the UK’s internal market not to exist, as we realise they have reached such a stage of denial. The truth is that the UK’s internal market is vital to the prosperity and jobs of people across Scotland.

Will the new public relations post in the Cabinet Office covering Scotland and Northern Ireland be one of those essential frameworks that are being built? Is the Cabinet Office riding to save the Secretary of State’s bacon?

As the hon. Lady is aware, the Cabinet Office performs a vital role in operating an overview of the devolved settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in bringing together those constitutional arrangements.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) is no longer committed to coming in. Never mind. We will get him in another time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that common frameworks in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, food labelling and animal welfare are crucial to ensuring that trade within the UK is not disrupted when the UK leaves the EU?

I absolutely agree. One of the first frameworks we want to agree is in the area of fisheries, because this Government want to take Scotland and the UK out of the common fisheries policy, exactly the opposite of the SNP.

Universal Credit: Low-income Families

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the roll-out of universal credit throughout Scotland. (905618)

Universal credit is transforming lives across the country. Research also shows that universal credit claimants spend more time searching for work and applying for work than those on previous benefits. It is great news that employment in Scotland is up by more than 190,000 since 2010.

People in my constituency and elsewhere, especially low-income families across the UK, have been suffering as a result of the roll-out of universal credit. In Scotland, there have been numerous reports of people having to apply for emergency support, such as crisis grants and food parcels, to meet their immediate needs, because of the six-week waiting period. Does the Minister think there should be such occurrences in the sixth largest economy in the world?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been careful to roll out universal credit and where changes have been needed, we have made them. What is really important is that 77% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their earnings from work, which compares with a figure of just 51% for those on jobseeker’s allowance. Universal credit is a pathway to work and that can only be a good thing.

The roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments has led to £56 million of cuts in disability payments every year, hitting Scotland’s poorest the hardest. Six out of the 10 worst-hit constituencies are in Glasgow, and the annual loss to disabled people in my constituency is £2 million. If the Secretary of State is really standing up for Scottish interests, what is he doing to stop this atrocious assault on disabled people?

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Government are spending billions and billions of pounds on disability payments, and we are ensuring that we give the support to those people who need it most and encourage people in receipt of such benefits who want to work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Order. There is considerable noise in the Chamber. The Minister is a most courteous fellow who is delivering an informative reply, which very few people can hear. Let us pay him the respect of hearing what he has to say.

That is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also attending the joint ministerial group on welfare this Thursday, where all these issues are discussed regularly.

Yesterday, I was told by a senior member of the Scottish Prison Service management that discharged prisoners in Scotland are now routinely taken to food banks because prison staff know that the six-week lead-in time for universal credit payments will lead to their using food banks. Does that fact alone not illustrate why the roll-out needs to be paused?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we made some changes in the Budget, which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, following the raising of many of the issues. I should also point out that the Scottish Government do have powers of their own; if they feel they should make further discretionary payments to individuals in Scotland, they have the powers to do so. They have not done so yet.

RBS Branch Closures

I have met RBS to discuss its decision and made it clear that its plans are disappointing for customers and communities across Scotland.

Yesterday, I, along with other Members of this House, met representatives from RBS to voice the frustration of our constituents about how they have been treated by RBS. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what more can be done to pressure RBS to think again about its branch closure scheme in constituencies such as mine?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I must say that I am very disappointed at the response from RBS to the significant report by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on this issue.

With great swathes of Scotland losing bank branches while they are still awaiting decent broadband from the Scottish Government, what steps are the UK Government taking to support local authorities in the next round of the broadband roll-out, so that people losing local banking services can at least have good broadband?

First, I commend the hon. Lady for her part in the excellent Scottish Affairs Committee report on RBS. She will have heard the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport make it absolutely clear that in future this Government are not going to rely on the Scottish Government for the roll-out of broadband and will engage directly with local authorities in Scotland.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Last Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the London Bridge terrorist attack. I, and others from this House, attended the very moving memorial service at Southwark cathedral, and I am sure Members from all sides of this House will join me again in offering our deepest condolences to the friends and family of the victims. I would also again like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery shown on that night by the emergency services and those who came to the aid of others.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks about London Bridge.

The number of children growing up in workless households in the United Kingdom has fallen to a record low. Does the Prime Minister agree that to further drive opportunity and social mobility in our country, it is vital to support projects such as the Cheltenham cyber park, so that, in the future, all our children can go as far as their talents will take them?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we ensure that all children have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them, and initiatives such as the Cheltenham cyber park are an important element in that. The wider point that he makes is absolutely right. If we are to ensure that we lift people out of poverty, as we have been doing, then helping them to get into the workplace is the most important thing that we can do. That is why, thanks to this Government’s economic strategy, we see employment up to another record high, unemployment at a 40-year low, and, as my hon. Friend has alluded to, 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty since 2010.

I, too, attended the service last Sunday in memory of those who died at London Bridge, and I would like to put on record my thanks to Southwark cathedral and the Borough of Southwark for all the work that they put into that, and, of course, to all our emergency services who keep us safe all the year round. Yesterday, I was able to do that in person at the Fire Brigades Union conference in Brighton where I was able to thank them for the work that they do to keep us all safe.

Last month, the Brexit Secretary promised a “detailed, ambitious and precise” White Paper on the Government’s negotiating position. Will it be published in advance of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill debate next week?

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the work that our emergency workers do, day in and day out, to keep us safe, and I think that everybody across this House recognises that and we are all grateful to them for the dedication that they show.

Yes, my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and I agree that we want to publish a White Paper that goes beyond the speeches and the papers that have been given and published so far, that does go into more detail and that ensures that when we publish it we are able to negotiate with our European Union and European Commission colleagues on the basis that this is an ambitious offer from the United Kingdom for an ambitious trade deal and security partnership in the future.

The question was a very simple one actually: it was to ask when this White Paper will be published. Next week, we will be debating the most important piece of legislation we have seen for a very long time and we still have not seen the Government’s negotiating position. Will the Prime Minister at least assure the House that not only will the White Paper be published ahead of the crucial June EU summit, but that there will be an opportunity to debate it in this House ahead of the summit?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the votes that will take place in this House next week on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and indeed those votes will be important. They will be important to show our commitment to do what the British people have asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union. If he is talking about clarity ahead of those votes, perhaps he will take this opportunity to do what he refused to do when I asked him last time in Prime Minister’s questions—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Yasin, calm yourself. You are normally a model of calm and repose. Relax, there is a long way to go.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to take the opportunity to do what he refused to do two or three weeks ago in this Chamber, which is to stand up and rule out a second referendum.

The last time I looked at the Order Paper, it said “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. We were told three weeks ago, to a great deal of fanfare, that the White Paper would set out the Government’s ambition for the UK’s future relationship with the EU and their vision for a future role in the world. It is nowhere to be seen and there is no answer to when it will be published. Four weeks ago the Prime Minister did confirm that the Cabinet was looking at two options for a future customs arrangement with the EU: a customs partnership model and a maximum facilitation option. Will she now tell us which of her sub-committees has met, what decisions they have made, when they are going to report to the Cabinet and whether we will be told about it?

We have already set out our ambition for our future relationship with the European Union, but crucially the Government are delivering on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. I did not ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. I simply suggested that he could stand up and say what the Labour party’s policy was on a second referendum. If he wants to enter the debate next week in the right spirit, he will do just that and rule out a second referendum.

It is not the Opposition who are conducting the negotiations but, very sadly, it is not the Government either. Last week the Brexit Secretary put forward yet another new plan, including a 10-mile buffer zone in Northern Ireland. Is that now the Government’s option?

We are looking at the two options for the customs model. Both of those will do what we have committed to do, which is to ensure that we deliver no hard border in Northern Ireland. We were very clear about what that means in the December joint report. It also means that we ensure that there is no border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland—no border down the Irish sea as the European Union proposed. That is why we are putting forward alternative proposals to the European Union. We continue to negotiate with the European Union on all the issues that need to be addressed before we bring legislation before this House with the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. The debate that will take place in this House next week is important because it will show the sincerity of this House to deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union.

We have had no answer on the White Paper and I do not think that we have had an answer on the buffer zone. I could say that the one thing that the buffer zone proposal has achieved is bringing just about everybody in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together. The British Irish Chamber of Commerce said, “the idea is bonkers”. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it remains her plan to leave the European Union in March 2019 and complete the transition by December 2020?

Well, I look at the faces behind the Prime Minister and they are not all at one on this matter. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) does not share her certainty; he said that there will be a transition period that will follow her implementation period. When it comes to Brexit, this Government have delivered more delays and cancellations than Northern Rail. The Government’s White Paper is delayed, their customs proposals have been cancelled and they have ripped up their own timetable, just like our shambolic privatised railways. This Government’s incompetence threatens our economy, businesses, jobs and communities. My question to the Prime Minister is this: which will last longer, the Northern Rail franchise or her premiership?

If the right hon. Gentleman is not willing to stand up in this House and talk about the Labour party policy on Europe, we actually learned a little today from the shadow Brexit Secretary about the Labour party’s policy on Europe, who made it clear that it was a

“pretence that somehow everybody in the Labour party is in the same place on this”.

So now we know what the right hon. Gentleman is. Labour Members voted for a referendum; they voted to trigger article 50; and since then they have tried to frustrate the Brexit process at every stage. Their MEPs voted against moving to negotiate the trade discussions. They voted against the withdrawal Bill. Today, we saw again that they are refusing to rule out a second referendum. The British people voted to leave the European Union, and this Government are delivering on the vote of the British people.

Q2. Mr Speaker, I know you are keen to learn more about blockchain, so I have written a paper on it for the think-tank Freer, to help inform the people of Bloxwich about the possible benefits of this technology. With some countries saving up to 2% of GDP by deploying this technology, will the Prime Minister commit to harnessing it to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of it as we forge a greater, global Britain? (905628)

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on distributive ledger technology, as I think we should call it. We are committed to supporting the development and uptake of emerging digital technologies in the UK such as AI and DLT. The Government have invested around £10 million through Innovate UK and our research councils. The Treasury and the Bank of England are working on crypto-currencies and looking at these issues in a working group together. We are deploying the technology that my hon. Friend has referred to in order to help Government discharge our duties more effectively, and many Departments are already developing DLT proofs of concept. I thank him for the work that he has done. He might like to distribute the article on the work that he has done to all Members of this House.

Supermarkets running out of food within days. Hospitals running out of medicines within a fortnight. Petrol reserves dwindling after just two weeks. These are the concerns of UK Government officials, and now the—[Interruption.]

Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. Mr Wishart, you are a very distinguished fellow, but you are not conducting an orchestra and your services in that regard are not required—at any rate, not on this occasion. Mr Blackford’s question must be heard, and however long it takes, it will be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

These are the concerns of UK Government officials, and now the Dutch Government are telling Dutch businesses not to risk buying UK products. Does the Prime Minister understand the catastrophic negotiating position she has cornered herself into?

We have already set out our ambition for that trade deal with the European Union in the future. The right hon. Gentleman talks about supermarkets in Scotland and supermarkets across the rest of the UK. He might pay attention to the supermarket chains in Scotland, which said that one of the most important things for Scotland is to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Quite simply, the Prime Minister did not listen to the question, because it was about the fears that have been raised by her own officials on the consequences of Brexit.

For this Government in the negotiations, jobs have been an afterthought, the Irish border has been an afterthought, and the economy—at all costs!—has been an afterthought. While the Leader of the Opposition is playing games, the question he should have asked today is: will the Prime Minister stop her charade and vote for the Lords amendments next week for membership of the EEA and the customs union, protecting jobs and prosperity?

Jobs are absolutely at the forefront of what we are considering in terms of our future trade partnership. That is why we are as ambitious as we are for the possibilities of that economic partnership in the future.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Northern Ireland border. The Leader of the Opposition complains that we are giving too much attention to getting the answer right on the Northern Ireland border, and the leader of the Scottish nationalists says that we are using it as an afterthought. We are committed to ensuring that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We also want to ensure as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union and that we are able to operate our independent trade policy. All those are about ensuring that we protect jobs here in the United Kingdom.

Q6. The second of July marks the 90th anniversary of the passing of the equal franchise Act, when women won the same right to vote as men. To celebrate that, the Government have established the first National Democracy Week, which will take place that week. Will the Prime Minister personally support National Democracy Week and encourage all Members to get involved in it? (905632)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the upcoming National Democracy Week, which is important. I certainly support it, and I hope everybody across the House does. Because it falls on the 90th anniversary of the equal franchise Act, the week gives us an opportunity to look back and see how far we have come as a flourishing democracy. It also gives us an opportunity to champion and encourage greater democratic participation across the country. I hope every Member of the House supports that and will support National Democracy Week.

Q3. I would like to give the Prime Minister another chance to answer the question that she keeps avoiding. The Cabinet agreed to publish a Brexit White Paper ahead of this month’s crunch EU Council meeting, to allow the Government to negotiate. The Brexit Secretary said it would be “detailed, ambitious and precise”. Will she confirm whether the Brexit White Paper will be published before the EU Council meeting, or is she unable to negotiate for the UK because she is negotiating with her own Cabinet? (905629)

What the Government said is that we will be publishing a White Paper that will be detailed and ambitious, and we will do just that.

Q8. In the light of the publication of the Scottish National party’s latest independence blueprint, does the Prime Minister agree with the vast majority of Scots that this is not the time to drag us back to another decisive referendum on independence? (905634)

The people of Scotland voted in a legal and fair referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, and it is SNP Members, who are completely out of touch with the people of Scotland, who are continuing to press the issue of independence. Now is not the time for a second independence referendum. Now is the time for the United Kingdom to be pulling together, to get the right deal for the United Kingdom and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations. As I indicated earlier, and as is recognised by many people across Scotland, the most important thing for the future of Scotland is to continue to be part of the UK’s internal market.

Q4. Together with my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party and across all parties in Northern Ireland, I very much welcome the announcement yesterday by the Transport Secretary of Government support for a third runway at Heathrow. To secure additional jobs and business growth for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to realise tourism potential, will the Prime Minister ensure that there is no undue delay in scheduling a vote on that important matter? (905630)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of support for the third runway at Heathrow. We will ensure that that vote is brought to the House in a timely fashion. There is a requirement for it to be brought within a certain period, and we will ensure that that happens. This is an opportunity to increase job opportunities. It is also an opportunity to increase connectivity with other parts of the United Kingdom, which in itself will be of benefit to jobs in other parts of the UK.

Q11. As my right hon. Friend is aware, this Government are investing more in national infrastructure than any previous Government, from HS2 to the new Lower Thames crossing. However, we must never forget the personal sacrifice that people are asked to make to allow these projects to progress. Will she therefore remind the various Government agencies involved that they have a duty of care to our constituents and that they should ensure that no one is materially disadvantaged or physically harmed in the name of investment? (905637)

My hon. Friend makes two important points: the first is the importance and significance of the investment that is being put into infrastructure across the country; and the second is of course that, as we do that—when we are putting in place these large infrastructure projects—we must make sure that they are planned in consultation with, and with sympathy towards, local communities. Of course, as we see with the proposals for Heathrow, for example, that does come with a significant compensation package for those people who will be personally affected.

Q5. Grimsby hospital has been forced to spend £50,000 not on patient care, but on fees for doctors’ visas. Of those visas, 85% have been rejected because of restrictions that the Prime Minister imposed as Home Secretary, preventing my local NHS from recruiting the doctors my constituents need. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money, and it is hitting patient care. When will she exempt NHS staff from the cap? (905631)

As I have said before in this House, we are aware of the issue that has been raised about—[Interruption.] We have already taken action in relation to nurses. We are looking at the most recent figures, and considering what action should be taken.

Q14. Some people holding taxpayer-funded jobs in the UK are paid disproportionate amounts relative to their roles. Some town council clerks earn up to £90,000 a year; chief executives of councils earn up to £250,000 a year; and we still have too many managers in the NHS earning up to £200,000 a year. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important that we always ensure taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly and that this money would be better spent on our nurses, our police officers, our firefighters and our frontline services? (905640)

I am sure my hon. Friend understands and recognises that, alongside other terms and conditions, pay is a matter for authorities to manage as individual employers. Of course, since 2010, the Government have put in place a number of measures to increase accountability and transparency on senior pay. The Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 and the transparency code 2015 require authorities to publish details of senior salaries for staff earning £50,000 or more, which is why we are now able to see the sums that are being earned. We are also legislating on measures—on another issue that has been of concern, I know, to Members in this House—for capping pay-offs at £95,000 and clawing back redundancy payments should workers return to the public sector within 12 months of their exit, making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly.

Q7. Last year, a quarter of young people thought about suicide, and one in nine attempted suicide. Young people are three times more likely to be lonely than older people. Knife crime is up, and gang crime is up. There are fewer opportunities for young people than ever before—68% of our youth services have been cut since 2010—with young people having nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to. Is it now time for a statutory youth service, and will the Prime Minister support my ten-minute rule Bill after Prime Minister’s questions? (905633)

I think “Nice try” is the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but he said that there were fewer opportunities for young people here in this country. May I just point out to him the considerable improvement there has been in the opportunities for young people to get into work and the way in which we have seen youth unemployment coming down?

Heathrow has played an absolute blinder with the Department for Transport. It is a privately owned company that now has a DFT policy to give it an active monopoly status. Better still, it has somehow managed to get a poison pill clause agreed by the DFT that means the taxpayer has to cover all its costs if things go wrong. Is this not the worst kind of nationalisation—the public sector and taxpayers owning all the Heathrow downsides and risks, and the private sector owning all the upside and the financial returns?

Yesterday’s decision to support Heathrow’s expansion demonstrates this Government’s commitment to delivering the jobs and major infrastructure that this country needs to thrive, but the airport expansion will be fully financed by the private sector. The statement of principles is clear that it does not give Heathrow Airport Ltd the right to claim any costs or losses from the Government should its scheme not proceed.

Q9. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced limits to the renewable heat incentive for large projects, which places in jeopardy the delivery of landmark renewable energy projects in strategically important industrial areas such as Grangemouth in my constituency, where the limit is inconsequential relative to the amount of heat energy required. What actions will the Prime Minister therefore take to ensure the future of the Grangemouth renewable energy project? (905635)

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific issue about the Grangemouth renewable energy project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be happy to meet him to discuss it.

A majority of my Crawley constituents want their trains to arrive without delay, and a majority of them also want Brexit to arrive without delay. Please can we have delivery?

Of course, we are taking action on the issues on the railways, to ensure that trains are able to arrive without delay. We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and the implementation period will last until the end of December 2020. That is our commitment, and that is what is going to happen.

Q10. My constituent Giorgi is 10 years old. He was tragically orphaned in February. He has lived in Glasgow since he was three years old. His only language is English and he speaks it with the same accent as mine. Yet he now faces being deported to Georgia, his late mother’s country of birth, becoming another statistic who suffers at the hands of this Prime Minister’s hostile environment policy. Will the Prime Minister promise today that Giorgi will not, under any circumstances, be torn from his school friends in Glasgow and sent to a country that is entirely foreign to him? (905636)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific individual case. It is right that it be looked at properly, and that is what I will ask the Home Office to do.

I think Members across the House will recognise the role that animals play during war, not only in the sacrifice they make but in the support they give. I thank the Prime Minister for meeting the war horse memorial group from Windsor. The unveiling will take place this Saturday, and I am very proud of the work the group has done. Does the Prime Minister agree that recognition of the role of animals in war can unite us with the Commonwealth and the entire world?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I was pleased to see the maquette of the war horse memorial, which will be unveiled in his constituency this weekend. I am pleased to say that that model is now in Downing Street. We have recognised the important role played by animals in warfare, and I am sure that when the memorial goes up in his constituency, it will remind many more people that we should never forget the part that animals have played.

Q12. I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in congratulating my hon. Friends who are this week celebrating the first anniversary of our election.In December, the four remaining members of the Social Mobility Commission resigned, with the chair citing the Government’s inability to“devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda”.Does the fact that several key roles on the commission were left unfilled for almost two years reflect this Government’s lack of commitment to achieving not just social mobility for the few but true social justice for the many? (905638)

I congratulate all Members who came into this House after the 2017 general election, including colleagues on this side of the Chamber, and I hope they will not take it amiss if I mention in particular the 12 Scottish Conservatives who came in after that election.

This Government takes very seriously the issue of social mobility. We take it seriously through the policies we are implementing to help ensure that our young people get the skills they need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) mentioned in the first question, so that they can take the jobs of the future. I want a country where how far somebody gets on is a reflection not of their background or where they come from, but of their abilities and willingness to work hard.

May I urge the Prime Minister to do everything she can to ensure that Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway get a grip and bring to an end appalling delays suffered by my constituents on the Great Northern line?

I absolutely recognise the problem that passengers have faced. Passengers have been let down and the delays they have been experiencing are unacceptable. That is why we need to take immediate action, which is what the Department for Transport is doing.

Q13. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects every part of an individual’s life, from their education and employment to their relationships and social life. Through the work of the all-party group on ADHD, which I chair, we know that the current diagnosis and treatment process is not fit for purpose. Data is not collected and there is a vast postcode lottery in waiting times. Will the Prime Minister commit to collecting and monitoring the data and to creating a process that puts the needs of people with ADHD first? (905639)

I commend the work that the hon. Lady does with the all-party group on this issue, which I know that, as she expressed through her question, she takes very seriously. As she will probably know, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidance that aims to improve the diagnosis of ADHD and the quality of care and support that people receive. She raised the particular issue of the data that is available; the National Institute for Health Research has awarded £800,000 to fund research to help to identify existing services and gaps in provision for young adults with ADHD, and the Department of Health and Social Care is exploring what data on ADHD diagnosis could be made accessible through the mental health services dataset.

At his valedictory address yesterday morning, the Chief of the Defence Staff said that he was very concerned about the growing practice of legacy investigations of British servicemen and veterans, often many years after the events in question. There is growing concern in the House about the prospect of brave servicemen being, effectively, scapegoated by others for political or financial gain. We call our servicemen and women heroes; we should treat them accordingly, so would the Prime Minister be prepared at least to entertain some investigation of the concept of a statute of limitations to protect those who have served on the frontline and those who will follow them in future?

As my right hon. Friend said in his question, we do not just call our servicemen and women heroes; they are heroes. They are incredibly brave and put themselves on the frontline for our safety. We owe a vast debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women, who have shown such heroism and bravery over the years.

We want to ensure that we do not see our servicemen and women—and, indeed, in relation to legacy issues in Northern Ireland, police officers—as the sole subject of investigations, which is what is happening at the moment. I want to ensure that terrorists are investigated for past crimes as well, which is why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has launched the consultation on legacy issues. It is of course open to people to respond to that consultation. We should recognise the importance of ensuring that these matters are dealt with fairly and proportionately. I want to ensure that a focus is put on and investigation is possible for the terrorists, not just, as we see today, servicemen and women and police officers under investigation and terrorists not investigated.

15. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether her hostile environment immigration policy has been a success or a failure? (905641)

It is absolutely right that as a Government, over the years since 2010, we have taken action against illegal immigration. I am pleased to say that we have been removing illegal immigrants from this country and yes, we have tightened the conditions to ensure that we can take action against illegal immigrants. What is important is that we ensure that people who are here legally are not caught up in the actions intended for those who are here illegally. I hope that the Labour party will understand, recognise and support the need—sadly, one or two comments from those on the Labour party Front Bench suggest that they do not—to take action when people are here illegally.

The biggest challenge between the Commons and the Lords takes place next week—yes, I am referring to the Lords versus Commons pigeon race, which has been revived after a 90-year gap and takes place at Bletchley Park next Wednesday. Each Member of both Houses has been asked to sponsor a pigeon, and the money will go to that excellent charity Combat Stress. Will my right hon. Friend join me in not only wishing this revived event great success but sponsoring a pigeon?

I would be happy to do so. There was a little bit of laughter when my hon. Friend asked his question about the pigeon race, but it is in an extremely good cause: it will raise money for Combat Stress. We have just made the point about the bravery of our servicemen and servicewomen. We should support them in every way we can. I am happy to sponsor a pigeon and I encourage every Member of this House to do so as well.

The Brexit vote means that families are already £900 a year worse off, while both Tories and Labour peddle the fiction of single market rewards without responsibility. I ask the Prime Minister, her hon. Friends and the Opposition: how much poorer will families become as they indulge in fantasy politics?

I have made clear to the House the ambition we have for our future economic partnership. The hon. Lady stands up and talks about fantasy politics. Perhaps she would like to go out and speak to the people of Wales, who I might remind her voted to leave the European Union.

Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment and astonishment that Labour and Scottish National party MEPs last week ignored the interests of British fishermen when they voted to back the European Parliament in an attempt—[Interruption.] It is true—to keep the UK inside the common fisheries policy? Will she confirm today that she still intends the UK to become a fully independent coastal state?

I find it extraordinary that the SNP and the Labour party are supporting our continued membership of the common fisheries policy. This party, the Conservative party, is the party that will take the United Kingdom out of the common fisheries policy and ensure that we can become the independent fishing state to which my hon. Friend refers.

Despite the Prime Minister’s claims that she has put more money into education—she claims she has put £1.5 billion into education—over the past two years she has cut about £4 billion from education. With classroom sizes rising, teachers’ pay capped and school budgets cut, what is the Prime Minister going to do about it?

I do not recognise the description the hon. Gentleman sets out. We have indeed put more money into education in our schools. Through our national funding formula we are ensuring its fairer distribution across schools and we are making more money available for schools over the next two years.

We all appreciate what an extremely difficult job the Prime Minister has in striving for the best possible deal for our country regarding Brexit, but has the time not come to reiterate to our EU friends, echoing the words of the Prime Minister herself, that no deal is better than a bad deal? In what circumstances is she prepared to walk away from the negotiations, saving the British taxpayer billions of pounds?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that I have said consistently that no deal is better than a bad deal. I have also said that we are working to ensure that we get the right deal and the best deal possible for the United Kingdom. We recognise the importance of ensuring that as a country we prepare for all scenarios. That is why Government Departments are looking at the issue of a no deal, because they are preparing for all contingencies. That is absolutely right for them to do so. Some of the arrangements that will be put in place for a deal will be the same as arrangements for a no deal and the Treasury has of course made money available to Government Departments to ensure that they are able to make all the preparations necessary.

Wolsingham school in my constituency has been forced to suspend its sixth form as the result of years of cuts to post-16 education by this ruthless Government and a national funding formula that discriminates against smaller rural communities and their schools. The Education Secretary has washed his hands of the issue. As a result, young people in my community will face four hours or more in journey time for their education. Wolsingham is the first to face this crisis, but sixth forms across the country will collapse under the current funding situation. Will the Prime Minister intervene to help our schools, and the broader network of sixth forms and sixth-form colleges?

I am pleased the hon. Lady mentions Wolsingham—I well remember it from when I stood in North West Durham. [Interruption.] No, I was not successful. [Interruption.]

Order. I hope it is not being suggested that that is some sort of savage personal indictment of the Prime Minister. It probably was not very propitious territory at the time.

I understand that the decision to suspend recruitment to Wolsingham School’s sixth form was made by the school governing body after student numbers had fallen in recent years and that other good and outstanding school sixth forms and colleges are available within travelling distance of Weardale. Some young people are already choosing to access those, rather than the local school sixth form, but the local authority is looking at the question of future travel arrangements—that is its responsibility for post-16 transport—while our new national funding formula for pre-16 schools will help to safeguard rural schools by ensuring a more appropriate funding formula across the country, with a lump sum for every school and additional support for small rural schools.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating four schools in Redditch—Inkberrow First School, Woodfield Academy, Crabbs Cross Academy and Ridgeway Academy—which have received nearly £1 million to improve their buildings, which will help our young people get a great start in life? Does she agree that it is only because of our strong management of the economy that we can invest so much to help young people up and down the country?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I am happy to join her in welcoming the funding available to those four schools in Redditch. We are able to put more money into our schools and education only because our strong management of and balanced approach to the economy means that that money is available. Labour in government would borrow more, spend more, tax more and leave the country on the brink of bankruptcy.

Following the tragic murder of a 17-year-old on Saturday in broad daylight in front of his friends, will the Prime Minister meet me and the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk to discuss how such violent crimes might be prevented in Ipswich?

Of course, we are deeply concerned about crimes such as the one the hon. Gentleman has referenced, which took place in his constituency. The former Home Secretary had already published a serious violence strategy, and the current Home Secretary will be taking it forward. I am sure the Home Office, working with the police, will look at this issue very carefully to ensure that every effort is being made out there to take the steps necessary to deal with serious violence. I will ask the relevant Home Office Minister if he would be prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if you could give me some advice. I do not think the Department for Transport has given the Prime Minister good advice. The statement of principles referred to—[Interruption.]

Order. This matter and the right hon. Lady deserve to be heard. Although I invited her to raise her point of order, I feel that the House is not able fully to savour it in the present atmosphere. When colleagues have successfully beetled out of the Chamber—preferably without noise—we might be able to proceed with our business and to accord her the courteous reception she deserves.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can you give me some advice? I think the Department for Transport has misinformed the Prime Minister about the statement of principles she referred to. Paragraph 2.1.6 states that Heathrow

“reserves its rights (including but not limited to its rights to pursue any and all legal and equitable remedies (including cost recovery) available to it under law) in the event of…an alternative scheme being preferred by the Secretary of State or Government…and/or the withdrawal of the Government’s support for aviation expansion for Heathrow Airport”.

How can I correct this with No. 10?

Let me say a number of things to the right hon. Lady. First, I think that she has found her own salvation, because in raising her point of order she has aired her very specific and detailed concern about the alleged inaccuracy of what has been said, and what she has said by way of contradiction of those statements is now on the record and will, as she knows, be published in the Official Report tomorrow. It is also imaginable—I put it no more strongly—that the right hon. Lady might wish to communicate what she has said, and supply copies of the Official Report, to her constituents or to media outlets in her constituency, which is a perfectly legitimate and proper thing for her to do.

Secondly, I say to the right hon. Lady that this is not a matter for the Chair. Thirdly, I say to her that there are many mechanisms available to her to pursue the matter further. I believe that there is to be a debate in Westminster Hall on the relevant subject tomorrow; there will be business questions tomorrow; and, of course, matters that are judged to be urgent can be heard tomorrow. So I think that there is a long way to go, and I have a sense—knowing the right hon. Lady as well as I do—that we will be hearing from her regularly on this important subject in the period that lies ahead.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced in a written statement that the personal independent assessment contracts of current assessors would be extended. Given that two thirds of assessments are overturned on appeal, and given the general public concern about personal independence payments as a whole, is there any advice that you can give to ensure that future announcements of this kind can be properly scrutinised by the House by means of an oral statement?

The question of whether either a change of policy or a controversial confirmation of existing policy warrants a written or an oral statement is first and foremost a matter for the Government; it is not a matter for the Chair. If, however, a matter is not treated in the form of an oral statement and a colleague, or maybe more than one colleague, reckons that to be unsatisfactory and thinks that the matter should be aired in the Chamber, there are means by which to increase the prospect of that happening. I think that the record over the years shows that I have not been shy in granting such opportunities.

I am not familiar with the full details of this matter, although I understand the thrust of what the hon. Lady has said, but it seems to me that—rather as with the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening)—there is still a considerable distance to travel, and there are plenty of opportunities for the hon. Lady to try to secure ministerial attention to the subject in the Chamber.

Speaker’s Statement

Before we come to the presentation of Bills, there are some words that I want to convey to the House following receipt of a letter.

I have received a letter from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, requesting that I give precedence to the matter raised in that Committee’s third special report, which was published yesterday, namely a prospective witness’s refusal to comply with an order of the Committee to attend. Having considered the issue, I have decided that it is a matter that I should allow the precedence accorded to matters of privilege. Therefore, under the rules set out in pages 273 to 274 of “Erskine May”—pages with which I feel sure colleagues are very closely familiar, and of which I am merely reminding them—the hon. Gentleman may table a motion today for debate at the commencement of public business tomorrow, Thursday 7 June. The hon. Gentleman’s motion will appear on tomorrow’s Order Paper, to be taken after any urgent questions and statements. I hope that that is helpful and informative to the House.

Bills Presented

Counter-terrorism and Border Security

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary David Gauke, Secretary Chris Grayling, Secretary David Mundell, Secretary Karen Bradley and Mr Ben Wallace, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to terrorism; to make provision enabling persons at ports and borders to be questioned for national security and other related purposes; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 219) with explanatory notes (Bill 219-EN).

Parental Leave and Pay Arrangements (Publication)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Jo Swinson, supported by Caroline Lucas, Mr David Lammy, Ms Harriet Harman, Nicky Morgan, Gareth Thomas, Alison Thewliss, Layla Moran, Sir Edward Davey, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Norman Lamb and Christine Jardine, presented a Bill to require employers with more than 250 employees to publish information about parental leave, and pay in the course of such leave; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed (Bill 220).

Youth (Services and Provisions)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to promote and secure youth services and provision of a requisite standard; to impose a duty on local authorities to provide youth services and establish local youth service partnerships with youth participation; and for connected purposes.

There is no doubt that youth services improve the life chances of individual young people, taking them beyond the constraints of the contours of their neighbourhoods and offering them new experiences of everything from the arts to outdoor adventures. Young people gain from those experiences. Youth work supports but does not replace formal education. It enhances the readiness for learning in the classroom and learning in life, but it does not only help young people in the classroom; it also helps them to develop the skills and attitudes that are needed for the employment about which the Prime Minister was so boastful today, and, of course, for general adult life, by giving them a chance to learn to relate better to each other and to different adults in a safe and challenging environment. They are enhanced, and our communities are enhanced.

Despite all that, however, a 2016 study showed that 600 youth centres had closed around the country, 3,500 youth workers had lost their jobs, and 140,000 places for young people had been lost. We should bear it in mind that those figures are two years old, and the cuts have only continued. Research carried out this year by the House of Commons Library has shown what the cuts have meant in terms of funding. In 2010 we spent £1.2 billion on youth work, youth services and related youth activity; last year we spent £358 million, which amounts to a 68% cash-terms cut.

I do not know what service or provision would survive that, and the youth sector certainly has not. Many parts of our country now have no youth service at all. Young people simply seek somewhere to go, something to do and someone to speak to. That is the simplest of mottos, but it sums up what youth work is about. Youth workers can prevent young people from undertaking harmful behaviour, and give them advice so that they can make informed decisions. So starkly is all this being felt that young people aged between 16 and 24 are now the highest demographic age group for feeling lonely. One in 10 say that they always or often feel lonely, which is a disgrace. When young people do reach out for help, in my city alone they can face 12 months to see a professional while their mental health continues to spiral downwards.

However, the problem is not just mental health, but crime as well. Young people who are devoid of positive influences can fall foul of negative ones. The Office for National Statistics has found that knife crime has increased by 22% in a year. We have also heard that the Ministry of Justice is cutting youth offending budgets in real terms this year—and so the misery goes on.

Our news media, and some of us in the Chamber, often characterise young people as the problem. The language used to describe some of the problems that they face is a constant reinforcement of that, referring to “youth gangs” and “young offenders”. The empowerment of young people as actors for positive change is constantly diminished in the narrative that they are a problem to be contained, to be ignored, or to be dealt with. Well, I think we are the problem. Youth work has a positive impact on young people’s lives, and what have we done? We have cut, and cut, and cut again, and then we blame young people when things fall apart. Our young people are not the problem—our inability to support and listen to them is.

I say proudly that I worked in my local youth service for many years and at the National Youth Agency, and I am proud to say that I was also a voluntary group leader in my local youth group, the Woodcraft Folk, and its national chair. Of course, before that, I was a young person involved in the Youth Parliament and British Youth Council.

Thank you. These three roles—young person, voluntary youth leader and professional youth worker—are distinct, but so often they are confused. In times of cuts, voluntary youth organisations are now having to step into professional statutory youth services, with volunteers overworked and frankly under-qualified for the technical detail. Young people have to organise their own activities without the previous support of the voluntary youth leaders who are so busy picking up the pieces. My Bill seeks to clarify the position following the guidelines set out by the Council of Europe and give registered youth workers a footing in law.

Most parents and members of the public will be surprised that the role of youth worker has no professional standards, as there are, say, for teachers, and anyone can profess to be a youth worker. My Bill seeks to redress that while celebrating the important role of voluntary youth leaders in our voluntary youth sector. Youth workers are all too often dismissed. They work long hours in difficult circumstances, often without a “thank you”. For my part, I would like to place on record a sincere thank you to the youth workers who have come to Parliament today to help to lobby for this Bill and for the importance of youth work generally. Thank you for staying back late and having a chat with that young person going through crisis. Thank you for organising those weekend trips or sports activities. Thank you for applying for those grants to give your young people the opportunities that they would never have had. Youth workers’ work is important and that is why they need support, but their support needs resource.

Some may say that councils already have the power to provide resources and to choose to fund youth services, but we know that in times of tight budgets, councils up and down the country are unable to spend what they would like and focus only on statutory provision. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities to secure access to provision, but there are no definitions in that Act of what access to provision would look like, and the Government and councils have largely ignored it. There is little guidance on securing access. There is no requirement to develop plans or monitor the sufficiency of these services. There is no redress if councils fail in this duty and importantly, there is no funding to make sure that it happens.

My Bill rectifies that. It requires each authority to establish a youth services board with young people, parents, professionals and councillors—just like a school governing body—that will assess and plan the provision in that area. My Bill requires the plans to be submitted to the Secretary of State to nominate a body to review those plans. Many bodies exist: the National Youth Agency, for example, hosts much of the standard setting and the joint negotiating bodies for youth work already, but since 2011 it has received no Government funding and has had no statutory underpinning for its work. So bad has the situation got that the all-party group on youth affairs, which I chair, is launching an inquiry into youth services across the country, seeking out good examples and challenges. We have asked MPs to join us and we hope to develop a parliamentary scheme for MPs to visit youth clubs and youth centres around the country during recess. While that cross-party work goes on separately from the Bill, I hope that it too will raise the plight of youth services in our country.

It was the UK that first established clubs such as the YMCA and the Scouts and which pioneered a voluntary youth work sector. The UK, first in Coventry and then in councils around the country, established municipal youth clubs and showed the world how youth services could be run, but these gains have all been whittled or even swept away along with the futures of our young people. This is to our shame. A country where every young person has somewhere to go, someone to speak to and something to do is surely not too much to ask.

Question put and agreed to.


That Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Emma Hardy, Emma Dent Coad, Thelma Walker, Catherine West, Alex Sobel, Rosie Duffield, Liz Twist, Danielle Rowley, Grahame Morris and Karen Lee present the Bill.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 221).

Opposition Day

[13th Allotted Day]

Retail Sector

I beg to move,

That this House notes that 21,000 jobs were lost in the retail sector in the first three months of 2018 due to store closures and company administrations, with more announced since; further notes that the retail sector is one of the largest employers in the UK and contributed £94.6 billion to the UK economy in 2016; regrets that the Government’s industrial strategy contains only three references to the retail sector; further regrets that the Government has presided over the biggest squeeze in wage growth in a generation, is failing to provide certainty around future trading arrangements after Brexit and has failed to ensure a fair business rates system; and calls on the Government to urgently publish a strategy for the retail sector.

I thank the shadow Minister. The point on business rates is one that small businesses in my constituency regularly raise with me as something that not only curtails their opportunity to grow, but impedes their security for the immediate future. Does she think that the Government should do something about this immediately?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and I completely agree. I will come on to business rates and the action that I would suggest that the Government take shortly.

I welcome this debate. My hon. Friend may be aware of research by Revo and intu shopping centres that looked at the UK’s appeal to international investors in the retail sector. They highlighted that business rates were the single biggest inhibitor of new international inward investment. Does she agree that that is a further reason why, in a post-Brexit environment, it will be all the more important that we review our business rate regime?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention—I completely agree. Before I start the substantive part of my comments, it is important to note that the commercial retail sector has faced significant strain over recent years, affecting landlords and tenants alike. That is not least due to the business rates system. A lot of major property investors—for example, St Modwen—have divested themselves of their retail arms, because they are simply not profitable anymore, not only for tenants but for landlords, so it is critical that the business rates question is addressed urgently.

I really appreciate my hon. Friend giving way on such an important issue as business rates. Can she fathom why the Government, when they announced 15 months ago that they were going to review business rates, have not done anything to progress this issue?

I completely agree, and now I will begin the substantive part of my comments, if I may.

The retail sector is undergoing a period of transformative change that will impact millions of workers across the UK. As has been played out in the press over the last few months, the sector is experiencing huge challenges, with almost silence from the Government, sadly. We have seen an onslaught of store changes; big-name chains that have been the stalwart of our town centres and high streets for years have collapsed and gone into administration.

My home town of Stockton won the rising star award in the British high street awards, sponsored, ironically, by Marks & Spencer, which is now abandoning our town after taking profits from our people for over a century. We believe however that our town has got a future, but does my hon. Friend agree that firms like Marks & Spencer should consider the future prospects of towns properly, and show a bit of loyalty to their loyal customers instead of taking their profits and running off to out-of-town shopping centres?

I agree with my hon. Friend, but the issue is twofold. It is not simply about imposing obligations on businesses; the Government have a duty to provide a fertile business environment in which large and small businesses can grow and provide a positive contribution to their communities.

Toys R Us and Maplin collapsed on the same day in February, putting 5,500 jobs at risk in one day. Card Factory, Moss Bros, Laura Ashley, Carpetright and Mothercare have all issued profit warnings this year, and some have entered into company voluntary arrangements, with hundreds of store closures expected. In April we heard news of a possible merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s; a couple of weeks ago the one and only Marks & Spencer announced it will be closing 14 branches this year and 100 stores by 2022; and just this week there were reports that House of Fraser is on the brink of collapse and attempting to negotiate a CVA. That list is not exhaustive but it clearly demonstrates the scale of the challenge faced by the industry.

I am sure many Members across the House will at one point or another have worked in the retail sector; it is many people’s first experience of the working world, as it was for me. My first job was as an assistant at a pawn shop. I must clarify that it was a pawn, not a porn, shop—at a meeting a few years ago I said I had worked in a pawn shop and one lady in the audience, thinking it was a porn shop, was horrified. That first job was important because it taught me valuable skills and allowed me to gain some financial independence, but for millions of people retail is not just a Saturday job; it is their livelihood. It is therefore vital that the Government take the challenges facing the sector seriously and provide support to it.

The industry is one of the largest sectors in the UK, contributing £94.6 billion to the UK economy in 2016. However, staggeringly, its productivity is less than four-fifths that of the national average, and this low productivity drags down the productivity of the UK, a point made recently by the Institute for Public Policy Research. And, sadly, with low productivity comes low pay. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that all people in retail are low paid and in economic hardship—the student doing a summer job would certainly not be in that position—but there is a widespread problem in the retail sector, and according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation there are around 1.5 million people in low pay in retail, with a higher proportion of households facing economic hardship than in working households generally.

Because retail is such a large sector, the industry now accounts for just under one third of the total number of people in low pay in the UK. The economic importance of the sector should therefore not be understated, and the Government should be doing more to support it. I am sure the Secretary of State will listen to my suggestions today, but I hope that when he speaks later he staggers me with a comprehensive plan to support the sector.

I will start my kind suggestions to the Secretary of State by saying that one of the most glaring omissions from the industrial strategy White Paper was an appreciation that an industrial strategy is not just about labs or hard-hats, but is also about low productivity service sectors, where the majority of people work. Investing in and talking about headline-grabbing hi-tech industries is of course critical, but this alone does not constitute an industrial strategy. Despite the Government’s intention to improve productivity, sadly the industrial strategy Green Paper mentioned retail only twice in 132 pages, and the White Paper only three times in 256 pages, with vague references to working

“closely with sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism on each of the foundations of productivity”,

but with very little detail to match.

Many challenges are facing the sector, and I will touch on just a few key areas today. Retail firms have since the economic crisis come under increasing pressure. Things have got so bad that in the first three months of 2018 some 21,000 jobs in the retail sector were at risk. The drive towards online retailing, and indeed bad weather, have of course had a significant impact on our spending habits, but one reason for this that is rarely mentioned is a clear failure to sustain wage growth. Wages are not expected to return to pre-crash levels until at least 2022, and household debt has spiralled to unprecedented levels. This clearly has a significant impact on what people spend their money on, with many, sadly, relying on credit cards just to get by each week, never mind buy luxury items.

The Office for National Statistics has stated that consumer spending is worth around 60% of GDP, and it has been one of the driving forces behind the recovery of the UK economy. Interestingly, however, trends are showing that British consumers have stopped taking on more debt, and Credit Suisse recently told clients that it believes this trend will continue, which would damage one of the key drivers of GDP growth.

Another issue is the increasingly hostile business environment many retailers are now facing. But it is not just businesses that will lose out: communities are having their hearts ripped out and high street after high street is becoming littered with empty shops, charity shops and bookmakers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that another issue for high streets is that the banks have been leaving? Many retailers tell me that having an ATM beside their business makes all the difference to their takings. Does my hon. Friend think that the Government, as the majority shareholder in RBS, should step up to the mark and take action on branch closures?

I completely agree, and interestingly historically RBS had a last-man-standing agreement to be the last bank on many high streets, and that does not seem to have been enforced by the Government, so I call on the Secretary of State to look at this. My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, and it is not just bank closures that are damaging the high street infrastructure; the closure of post offices is also a significant issue.

These issues are exacerbated even further by years of under-investment in many of our regions and nations. If the Government are not prepared to provide the tools businesses and communities need to provide a fertile environment for local businesses, how can we expect these fortunes to change? A worrying report by David Jinks called “The Death of the High Street” argues that, unless we see radical change within 13 years, the impact of online shopping and home deliveries will “destroy” over half of today’s town centre stores. His report also argues that between 2020 and 2030 half of the UK’s existing shop premises will disappear; 100,000 stores will close, leaving just 120,000 shops on our high streets.

Britain’s high streets are fading away because new shops are not opening fast enough to replace those that close. The Government attempted to deal with this issue through the Portas review, which advised that town teams be created to assist towns undergoing significant strain, but official funding for town teams ended on 1 April 2015.

The Government’s recent announcement to develop local industrial strategies was a welcome step forward. However, think-tank Localis stated last month that there was a capacity gap in Whitehall for developing these, leading to concern that a pipeline of local industrial strategies will face significant delays. I will be grateful if the Secretary of State provides clarity on this and confirms what resources are available to local enterprise partnerships and local authorities in taking these strategies forward.

EU funding has also been a significant supporting factor to many areas in decline; it has always been strongly targeted at less prosperous regions. The Government are currently failing to provide any certainty to business over the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, the extent of regulatory alignment, or access to labour, but they have also failed to provide clarity on one key tool that previously helped spur the regeneration of many towns and high streets that had been starved of investment: EU structural funds. We know that the Government are planning a new fund to replace them when we leave the EU, but so far there has been no commitment on the scale of that fund, on how it will be administered or which investment it will be directed at. Will the Secretary of State give us more information on that today?

When we add to this massive uncertainty the significant cuts that local authorities have faced in recent years, we have a recipe for complete high street annihilation. That environment, and the lack of support that many businesses face, was made very clear in the shambolic handling of last year’s business rates revaluation, in which many businesses faced an unmanageable overnight hike in their rates. I am pleased that the Government have brought forward CPI indexation, but I urge them to go further by immediately introducing statutory annual revaluations, guaranteeing a fair and transparent appeals process and excluding new investment in plant and machinery from future business rates valuations. They must urgently evaluate and reform the whole system to make it fit for purpose and capable of addressing the changes that we are seeing in the sector.

Businesses were failed not only in regard to business rates; we also saw a failure to handle the scourge of late payments, which can lead to businesses struggling to cover costs or to invest, and sometimes going bust. We saw the effects of this recently in the collapse of Carillion, when huge swathes of supply chain companies faced a cliff edge due to late payments, often of up to 120 days. Many of those businesses will never see their money again. I urge the Government to adopt Labour’s position by ensuring that anyone bidding for a Government contract is mandated to pay their own suppliers within 30 days and by developing a robust system of binding arbitration and fines for persistent late payers.

As the retail sector struggles, how to boost productivity remains a major challenge. There are at least two schools of thought on this. The first concentrates on improving technology and ultimately automating many jobs. That involves automating warehousing, sales, deliveries and so on, and job losses could result. That was the view of Deloitte, which suggested that 60% of jobs could be lost. The jobs that would remain would require a range of skills such as operating advanced machinery, software and robotics. They are likely to be higher paid and involve higher skills.

The second model involves redesigning how business operates to boost productivity growth. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that many capable employees in the retail sector are reluctant to move up the rungs of the management ladder, as that involves greater responsibilities without much of an increase in pay. Jobs need to be redesigned so that an individual performs a range of different tasks that straddle the staff-management boundary and pay is increased. In that way, talented individuals could be engaged in the management side, raising performance and productivity. Either of those models—or a hybrid of the two, whichever the Government chose to take forward—would require dedicated Government investment in skills training for employees, to enable them to navigate the changes.

I agree with a lot of the challenges that the hon. Lady is outlining. My son works in the retail sector, and he has recently had a promotion to management level. He is only 18, so I give full credit to Zara for encouraging his talents. Does she agree, however, that the Government’s approach in bringing in T-levels has played an important part in tackling those challenges and that they are working with industrial partners to bring those changes forward?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Please will she congratulate her son on his recent promotion? Some of the Government’s commitments are welcome, including the national retraining scheme and the T-levels that she has just mentioned, but sadly they are meaningless in the context of the cuts that we have faced over recent years. For example, £64 million was announced for the national retraining scheme, but £1.15 billion was cut from the adult skills budget between 2010 and 2015. I hope that the Secretary of State will put forward proposals today to increase investment in skills, because if we do not invest in skills, we will not be able to take our employees on the journey that they need to make.

The hon. Lady has been speaking for some time now, giving her analysis and talking about what the Government should do, but in her position as the shadow Secretary of State for Business, does she have any pearls of wisdom to give to retailers on what they should do to attract people into their retail outlets?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I do apologise for speaking for some time. If he listens, perhaps he will get some of those pearls of wisdom in due course. The point I am making is that the Government need to recognise that businesses need support. Businesses themselves need to innovate and to ensure that they drive productivity increases in-house, but the Government need to show dedication to providing the tools required to increase fertility in the business environment. Frankly, that is not happening at the moment.

An essential element in improving retail productivity is innovation, which is the best means of raising wages and boosting the competitiveness of British industry. Innovation is required by businesses themselves, as I have just pointed out to the hon. Gentleman, but the Government must commit more money to research and development spending. They referred in their White Paper to increasing that spending to 2.4% of GDP, which is welcome, but if they are really going to support low productivity sectors such as retail and ensure that we can compete on the world stage, they need to increase it to at least 3%, as other world leaders such as South Korea and Japan have done.

I also welcome the Government’s recent establishment of a Retail Sector Council, but I have heard very little information about it since its establishment. Will the Secretary of State update the House on how often the council has met so far and whether there have been any discussions with the Government about what role the Government can play in boosting innovation in the sector? Labour has pledged to establish a catapult centre in relation to retail, to lead on technological, managerial and employee innovation. This is important because the Fabian Society recently reported that increasing managerial innovation and sharing best practice in retail can drive productivity by improving quality, as well as sale and business growth, and I call on the Government to examine Labour’s catapult centre proposals.

Infrastructure investment is also a critical part of boosting productivity in the sector. We must recognise that the future of our high streets depends on quality infrastructure, transport links, parking amenities and high-speed broadband, as well as on the local anchor institutions that draw people in, such as entertainment and leisure facilities and libraries. The sums announced in the White Paper are sadly negligible, and the TUC has stated that public investment will be increased to just 2.9% of GDP, while the average invested by other leading industrial nations in the OECD is 3.5%. Again, I hope that the Secretary of State has some earth-shattering updates for me today, to restore our faith in what the Economic Justice Commission recently dubbed

“the most regionally unequal country in the whole of Europe”

in terms of investment in our regions.

This brings me to the subject of retail workers, who are vital to the success of the sector. They provide positive customer experiences, and a lack of staff can have an adverse impact on customer service levels. The impact of job losses in retail should therefore not be understated. They have a profound impact on families and communities right across Britain. Retail has traditionally provided entry-level, part-time and flexible jobs for millions across the UK, and it has often provided livelihoods for people who have had to leave declining industries in particular regions.

One of my constituents who is directly affected by this has written to me. Her husband works in retail, and she is appalled by the contract changes being forced on people working in the sector, particularly in Sainsbury’s, where 9,000 long- standing and loyal staff will suffer a significant pay cut of up to £3,000 and see their paid breaks and premium pay scrapped.

My hon. Friend makes a vital point, and I shall come on to that shortly.

For some people, working in retail may be their only viable employment option. If a chain goes under and the local store closes or relocates out of the area, they will either have to travel further afield to find work or decide that the journey is simply not cost-effective and be forced to give up work altogether. According to a recent report by the Fabian Society, forecasts for the reduction in employment in the industry suggest that women, who make up the majority of the retail workforce, will sadly be the hardest hit. Workers in the retail sector are vulnerable, as my hon. Friend has just said. When costs need to be cut, workers are usually the first to face the squeeze. Only recently, Sainsbury’s announced sweeping changes to contracts for up to 130,000 staff in stores across the UK.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the likes of Lidl, which has its senior management at Manor Park in Runcorn, should allow access to the trade union USDAW, because a healthy workforce is a productive workforce?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about another key factor in improving productivity. This is about not just improving skill levels, but engaging with the workforce proactively and collaboratively. That is best done through trade union membership and allowing trade unions access to workplaces, so issues on the shop floor can be identified and dealt with quickly, increasing productivity overall.

I am a proud USDAW member, and will my hon. Friend join me in commending its “Freedom From Fear” campaign, which seeks to ensure that shop workers are safe at work, travelling to work and leaving work? Too many of them still risk abuse and unpleasantness from customers in the workplace.

I thank my hon. Friend and support what she says.

Going back to Sainsbury’s, staff will no longer get paid breaks or higher rates of pay for working on a Sunday under the new terms. Premium rates for night-shift work will be restricted to between midnight and 5 am, and shop floor staff will no longer be able to earn bonuses. It is interesting, however, that the freeze on bonuses is allegedly not likely to impact senior managers or the CEO, who will still receive their bumper bonus packages. There are also worrying reports that staff may be forced to resign if they refuse to sign these new contracts.

Sainsbury’s is not alone in this trend towards fluctuating terms and conditions and insecurity. As USDAW recently reported, a number of clear trends within the sector have led to the workforce feeling increased pressure. Many retailers, seeking to maximise flexibility to deal with fluctuations in customer demand, have introduced flexible, short-hours contracts. As a result, two thirds of USDAW members are regularly working additional hours above those that they are contracted to work, yet they have no guarantee that those hours and the associated income will be available to them in the future. The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union reports similar trends, with McDonald’s workers recently striking in a dispute over zero-hours contracts and working conditions.

The Government’s recent response to the Taylor review included a right to request more stable hours, which I referred to when the Secretary of State made his statement on the review, but how does that actually differ from the current position? Without an obligation on the employer to accept, it is meaningless and I urge him to reconsider.

Coming from a family of shopkeepers and as a former co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on retail, I have been listened very carefully, but the shadow Business Secretary has made hardly any mention of Amazon and the onslaught of online trading that has decimated footfall on the high street. The vast majority of her speech has been gibberish to people in retail, with no practical suggestions. I hope that there will be something in her conclusion.

With the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of the sector, I am surprised that he says that, given that business rates are one of the critical issues affecting the high street. Retailers often tell me about the unfairness of businesses such as Amazon receiving skewed business rates valuations due to the size of their operations, so I have dealt with that point.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady, who has accused British retailers of lacking innovation. However, the UK is the third largest e-commerce market in the world. Digital taxation needs to be done on a cross-border basis, so will she join me in congratulating our Chancellor on getting 100 countries across the world to look at implementing a digital tax to allow us to address the level playing field between online and offline?

I have not in any way, shape or form suggested that any business lacks the capacity or drive to innovate—quite the contrary—but they do lack Government support to drive that innovation. As for making tax digital, I ask the hon. Lady to read some of the Library research. While the sentiment is credible, the implementation has been far from it, with numerous businesses reporting problems from start to finish, and that needs to be addressed urgently.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the retail sector suffers from offshore landlords charging exorbitant prices for property, forcing businesses off our high streets?

I referred earlier to the commercial retail property market, and the Government must recognise that they have to work collaboratively across the sector and with landlords to enable tenants to secure fair tenancies. In the current climate, many tenancies are unfair to retailers, forcing many of them over the edge. Offshore landlords are a significant issue that we have discussed at length in this Parliament.

That completes my whistle-stop tour of many of the issues the sector faces, and I hope that my comments have been helpful to the Business Secretary. He knows that retail is our largest industrial sector. It has the power not only to transform our economy, but to transform our communities, providing high streets and towns with the services and consumer choice that Britain deserves.

When I was little, my Uncle Ray was a butcher. He was proud of having his own business and the family were proud of him. However, he was not just proud of being an entrepreneur; he was proud of the services that he provided to his local community and to the people who came into his shop every single day. In all my life, I have never seen such profound change in the retail sector, and the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. How many more Uncle Raymonds are there who want to start their own business but are frightened to do so in the current climate? How many more Uncle Raymonds are out there who are in business but are frightened of going bust due to the hostile environment they face? Once our high street is gone, it will be gone forever, and the basic lifeblood of an entrepreneurial nation from high street grocers and hairdressers all the way through to department stores will be in tatters. I urge the Business Secretary to act now before it is too late.

To answer the question from the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) about people emulating her Uncle Ray, 1,100 new businesses are being created in this country every day of the year —record levels. We are seeing a resurgence of entrepreneurship right across the country, which she will welcome.

I am delighted that we have the chance to talk about the retail sector, which, as the hon. Lady recognised, is vital to every one of our constituencies. The character and identity of all the towns, villages and cities that we represent are defined by the shops, stores, cafés, restaurants and pubs, which make up the most important places in our settlements. Whether independently owned or part of a chain, and whether large or small, t