House of Commons
Thursday 7 June 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Deposit Return Scheme
The answer is yes.
Tomorrow, a team from AB InBev brewery and Keep Wales Tidy will again be out cleaning up the shores of the Severn estuary, which highlights the very urgent action that is needed to protect our environment from the devastating impact of plastic pollution. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has Treasury backing for a deposit return scheme, and when will we see some action?
We have already seen formidable action to embrace the opportunities that a deposit return scheme would provide and to ensure that we deal with the environmental damage the hon. Lady mentioned. I should take this opportunity to say that it is not just the Treasury that recognises the importance of acting, but our colleagues in the Scottish and Welsh Governments, with whom we have had collaborative successful discussions as well.
Is it not true that this project need not cost the Treasury any money whatsoever, and that we should just get on with it?
No one is keener on getting on with things, and indeed on saving money, than my right hon. Friend, whose own record in government is one of the most distinguished over the past seven years—and, in fact, beyond. He is absolutely right: in delay there lies no plenty.
Keep Wales Tidy does a great job in Blaenau Gwent, too. What steps are the Government taking to address the problem of plastic waste at the manufacturer level?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We already have our plastics pact, which has been agreed by WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme—a charity that we support. That commitment was made by leading companies across the United Kingdom to ensure that they use less virgin material, and that more of the plastic they use is recycled or recyclable. We are also thinking hard about reform of the producer responsibility note scheme, and we will be saying more about that later.
When looking at international comparisons of best practice for deposit return schemes, which countries is the Secretary of State looking at most closely?
No country has a perfect model, but we have looked at examples in Scandinavia. One of the things that those countries have been so successful in achieving is a phenomenal level of return—and, indeed, high levels of recycling. We need to think carefully about the nature of drinking and the pattern of consumption in the United Kingdom to see what exactly would work and go with the grain of consumption habits here.
Beyond incentives such as the deposit scheme, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Chancellor about improving the UK’s recycling infrastructure so that we can recycle a wider range of products, such as coffee cups and microwave oven-ready cartons?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has initiated a review of the taxation and treatment of single-use plastics overall. One of the things we want to do is to make sure that the money that producers remit as a result of using particular materials is used to ensure improved recycling across the country. I know that Treasury Ministers—not just my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but the Exchequer Secretary—are working hard on these matters.
Leaving the EU: Agricultural Sector
Whatever the nature of our future economic partnership with the European Union, we will design and implement our own independent agriculture policy based on financial rewards and incentives for the delivery of public goods, and support farmers in reducing their costs and adding value to their produce so that they become more profitable.
I take it from that answer that we do not actually have any plans in place yet, and time is ticking. The Minister knows that something in the region of two thirds of our red meat exports go to the European Union. The lack of certainty about our future customs relationship with the EU is now causing real and substantial concern. When will the Minister remove that uncertainty?
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have already published our consultation on future agriculture policy—we are analysing the 44,000 responses —and we are looking at this closely. On the issue of trade, the UK is also a very important market for the European Union, notably for Irish beef, poultry from the Netherlands and pork from Denmark, so it is also in the EU’s interests to have a comprehensive free trade agreement.
Farmers in my constituency are concerned about a lack of focus on food production in agriculture policy post-Brexit. Farmers are the biggest guardians of our environment, and they can protect the environment and produce food at the same time. What support will the Minister give farmers to enable them to produce food post-Brexit?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and a number of farmers have also raised the issue with me. I would simply say that the consultation had sections on safeguarding a profitable future for farming, on fairness in the supply chain, on risk and resilience, and on investment in research and development, so there was lots on food production. I simply say that we want to change the way we farm so that it is more sustainable; not stop farming, or do work on the environment instead of farming.
I asked the Minister back in March whether he had held meetings to discuss the problems that might arise because of the overuse of antibiotics in US farming, if we were to move to trading with the US and accept its standards. He would not confirm whether he had met representatives of the Department of Health and Social Care or the Department for International Trade to ensure that we could rule out imports of meat produced in the US, which has five times the use of antibiotics that we have in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met the chief medical officer to talk about the important issue of antibiotics use. We also have the O’Neill report, which set key targets for the UK to reduce its use of antibiotics, and the UK has campaigned globally through various international forums to reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture.
Would my hon. Friend be surprised to learn that farmers in my constituency, while hoping that there will be a trade deal with the European Union, say that Brexit will provide a marvellous opportunity regardless of whether there is any such deal? In particular, specialist food manufacturers such as cheese manufacturers feel that if we can do free trade deals with countries such as the United States and Canada, that will increase their sales.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is an opportunity for us to have a very different approach to agriculture policy and to support producers in this country as we look to the future. It is worth noting that analysis commissioned by the National Farmers Union shows that, even without a trade deal with the EU, most sectors in farming would see a slight firming in farm gate prices.
One of the most critical issues facing our rural communities is the need to ensure that we have a reliable seasonal workforce to harvest our produce this summer. At the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Immigration Minister said that she would not give anything to Scotland that she would not give to Lincolnshire. In Scotland, that went down like a trailer full of rotten raspberries, and I dare the Minister to repeat it. Will the hon. Gentleman tell Scotland—and indeed Lincolnshire—when he intends to announce a new seasonal workers scheme? What will he say to growers in Scotland and Lincolnshire who now face the prospect of their produce rotting in the fields?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I spent 10 years working in the soft fruit industry and I understand the issue of labour in some detail. We are having discussions with the Home Office and other parts of Government about the future arrangements for immigration and a seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
In the responses to “Health and Harmony”, the two areas of greatest concern were the impact of the withdrawal of the basic payments scheme on smaller farmers and tenant farmers, and the transition period. What discussions has the Minister had with the Treasury about extending the transition period, given that that must be the right way to approach this?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about these issues just a couple of days ago. We made a clear manifesto commitment to protect spending on agriculture until 2022—the end of this Parliament. Thereafter we will have a new funded policy.
The Government are investing £2.6 billion to better protect the country from flooding. This includes a programme of more than 1,500 flood defence schemes, which will better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. The programme will deliver £30 billion of economic benefit for the next 50 years and is projected to reduce overall flood risk to the economy by 5% by 2021.
The 2015 Boxing day floods devastated the Redvales and Radcliffe areas of Bury. The Environment Agency has drawn up a £37 million flood defence scheme for the area but, after raising £30 million between the EA, Greater Manchester and Bury Council, there is a £7 million shortfall. That shortfall would be covered if the bid with the Minister were successful. After being unsuccessful in the first round, we are to be considered again for funding from the £40 million pot for deprived areas. Can he update me on the progress of the bid? Successful bids to date have protected fewer than 100 homes, but ours would protect 1,200.
The hon. Gentleman has been a clear champion for his local community in raising these issues with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). He can be assured that his bid is being given serious consideration in relation to the £40 million floods fund for growth and regeneration and that decisions will be made by the summer.
Mr Speaker, I am sure that you have seen the devastating pictures of flooding in Birmingham, the wider west midlands and other parts of the country, including 30 to 40 homes in my constituency. Is it not the case that it was the Conservatives who secured universal affordable flood insurance for the victims after inheriting a situation in which the Association of British Insurers had given notice to end the so-called statement of principles in 2008?
My right hon. Friend is of course right, and our thoughts are with the families who have been affected by the floods, particularly the family of Peter Harnwell, who sadly died despite the best efforts of the emergency services when his vehicle was submerged. Thanks to the Government’s efforts, the vast majority of households at high flood risk now have access to home insurance through Flood Re, which has active plans in place to engage with all communities after flood events once the immediate emergency has subsided.
I join the Minister in sending our sincere condolences to the family of the gentleman who sadly died in Walsall following the extreme flash flooding earlier this month. I also pay tribute to the emergency services and others who worked so hard to protect our communities during that period of extreme weather.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith), in the 2017 autumn Budget, the Government allocated £40 million to boost regeneration in communities at high risk of flooding but, six months on, not a penny has been allocated. Will the Minister tell the House what is causing that delay?
The allocation of flood defence funding is important, as the hon. Lady will appreciate, and it is being properly scrutinised. Conversations are being had and, as I said to the hon. Member for Bury North (James Frith), a decision will be made this summer.
Will the Minister confirm that the creation of 15 hectares of new habitat remains a funded part of the Oxford flood alleviation scheme, which may affect my constituents?
I do not know the detail of that scheme, but I will talk about it in depth with my hon. Friend afterwards to give him the assurances that he needs.
The best form of flood defence is upper catchment management, yet the £45 million provided in York is going towards downstream emergency measures. It was not incorporated in the national strategic review, so what are the Minister’s plans to start investing in upland management?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Looking at natural ways to tackle floods, such as planting trees and wood-based flood defences further upstream, is a priority. We are taking that action further forward with a fund and a plan.
The Minister will recall that the entire Humber estuary, particularly my constituency, was badly affected by a tidal surge in December 2013. There is still concern among residents that insufficient work has been done. Will the Minister meet me and neighbouring MPs to provide an update?
I understand the concerns raised by my hon. Friend, and I am of course more than willing to meet him to discuss them in detail.
Producer Responsibility Systems
We are developing a renewed strategy on resources and waste, which will include reviewing how the producer responsibility scheme works to ensure that we can invest more in recycling.
Does the Secretary of State agree that a reformed packaging recovery note system could provide funds for better recycling and waste collection, particularly for on-the-go packaging; reduce litter; and increase recycling rates? Does he also agree that that is a better option than the “latte levy” scheme, under which there is no assurance that the money will go towards environmental improvements?
My hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about packaging, waste and recycling, makes an important point. If we impose particular costs on producers, we should whenever possible ensure that those costs then go towards environmental enhancement and improving recycling. I am sure that his well-pitched case will be heard with sympathy in the Treasury.
I urge the Secretary of State to be radical here. Not only should he look at how PRNs work and their effectiveness, but he should consider the supply chain of those who make plastics. Professor Steve Evans at the Institute for Manufacturing in Cambridge believes that manufacturing will have to change fundamentally to tackle the problem. Will the Secretary of State speak to him?
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful point. It is the case that the PRN scheme needs reform, but he is also right that we will have to think about how we change packaging and the supply chains upon which we have relied in the past. I will take up his kind invitation.
The Secretary of State is going have a chat with the prof, and that is very good to learn.
Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards
As the House will know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provides continuity and maintains high environmental and other standards as we leave the European Union. My Department is consulting on environmental principles and governance to ensure that we can have a world-leading body to hold the Government and others to account in order to maintain high environmental standards.
I think that the Secretary of State is seeking to group this Question with that of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands).
As ever, Mr Speaker, you anticipate my wishes with perfect clarity.
The “polluter pays” principle underpins the EU’s approach to protecting the environment. Will the Secretary of State commit to the post-Brexit watchdog having legally enforceable powers to make sure the polluter still pays when it damages our land, air and sea, even if that is the UK Government breaking air pollution rules?
The hon. Lady makes three very good points. First, yes, the polluter pays principle is an important one to maintain. Secondly, we do need enforcement powers. Thirdly, of course, if the UK Government are in breach of air quality rules, it will be the case, as in the past, that they have to be held accountable.
We do not believe in kicking cans down the road; we believe that a deposit return scheme is a very effective way of making sure those cans are recycled.
The UK Government have published a consultation paper, “Health and Harmony”, which outlines a post-common agricultural policy future for farmers in England. The Scottish Government have not yet done so. I have the highest regard for Fergus Ewing, the Minister responsible, but, energetic and talented though he is, the one thing he has not done is spell out his vision for the future.
A planning application has been made in my constituency for a recycling plant that will produce dioxins. There is no such plant in the United Kingdom or, as I understand it, in the EU. By the time this process goes through, we will probably be out of the EU. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to meet me and members of RAID—Residents Against Inappropriate Development—who think the construction of a dioxin plant in my constituency, or anywhere in the UK, is unacceptable?
I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue.
The Secretary of State will be familiar with the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty and that, in common with other AONBs, it receives a support scheme for landscape protection and enhancement. Obviously, as a member of the European Union, we have to get derogations and permissions because of state aid restrictions. Can the Secretary of State assure me that support will continue after we have left the European Union? Will he give me an undertaking that he will use this added freedom to increase those funds and support for these valuable and precious areas of our countryside?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The Chilterns are blessed not only as an area of outstanding natural beauty, but with distinguished representatives in this House of all parties and none. One of the things I will seek to do is to work with the new reviewer of designated landscapes, Julian Glover, who is a distinguished writer and thinker, to ensure that the right protection and support are there not only for our existing national parks, but for our AONBs.
The Secretary of State says that this new watchdog must have enforcement powers, but the watchdog he has proposed is completely toothless. It will be able to issue only advisory notices, not enforcement notices, and has no power to fine the Government. That has rightly been rejected by the other place. We expect an amendment from their lordships to come to this place next week. Will he table an amendment to his toothless watchdog, or should I do so?
I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for all her suggestions, amendments and thoughts. We are consulting. We are asking the public exactly how many and what type of teeth this watchdog should have, but we are saying that the watchdog should start with enforcement powers, which include advisory notices. It is then open for discussion as to what additional powers the watchdog might have.
It is also the case that Back-Bench Conservative colleagues have tabled amendments, and we are considering those amendments. The hon. Lady makes a good point that the House of Lords made a case in good faith for how the watchdog could be strengthened, and I always listen to the other place with respect.
I hope that colleagues now feel enlightened about the teeth situation.
Our proposals to enshrine animal sentience in domestic law and to extend mandatory sentences for cruelty to five years received positive responses, and we plan to publish the findings of those consultations soon.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Given that five-year sentencing for animal cruelty has gained cross-party support from MPs, the animal sector and the public, will he tell us how soon he will announce the details of when sentences can be given to those guilty of such awful crimes?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of this measure, and for some time I have pressed to have maximum sentences for cruelty extended, particularly for some of the most shocking cases of cruelty. The Government are committed to doing this, we have published how we intend to do it, and as soon as parliamentary time allows we intend to introduce this change.
DEFRA and the Environment Agency take the environmental risks associated with oil and gas exploration very seriously. We have a robust regulatory regime, drawn from global best practice and more than 50 years’ experience of regulating the onshore oil and gas industry safely in this country. The Environment Agency will issue a permit only if it is satisfied that any risks to people and the environment can be effectively managed.
Given that lots of people are concerned in certain areas where fracking can happen, what is the Minister doing to hold meaningful discussions and involve them in the decision making, so that they feel that their voice has been heard?
As always, the hon. Gentleman asks an insightful question. Our regulatory regime currently lets local residents have their say on two stages in the environmental permitting process: when the application is received by the Environment Agency; and at the draft decision stage, before the permit is finalised. A public consultation takes place once the planning application has been permitted. On 17 May, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government set out that they would be strengthening community engagement further by consulting in due course on the potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement.
Why does the Minister not make a statement on behalf of the Government to stop fracking altogether?
The Government believe, rightly, that shale gas plays an important part in our energy mix and will be an important bridging fuel in the transition to renewable technologies.
Leaving the EU: Fishing Industry
Leaving the European Union will provide new opportunities for the UK fishing industry, including in Northern Ireland. On leaving the EU, we will become an independent coastal state controlling access to our own exclusive economic zone, and the fisheries Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last year will introduce the powers necessary to do this.
I thank the Minister for that response. For the fishing sector, it is important that fishing our own waters will take place. As he will know, the voisinage agreement continues to be an obstacle to that happening, so will he update us on what is happening in relation to that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The voisinage agreement gives Northern Ireland vessels and Irish Republic vessels access to one another’s waters, and it predates the existence of the EU. Following a decision by Ireland’s Supreme Court, its side of this has been suspended, pending further legislation. We intend to put further pressure on the Irish Government to raise this issue to ensure that they act on the undertaking they have given to re-establish their side of this agreement.
Can the Minister confirm that he has a plan to get the UK fleet through the implementation period, in order to tackle the challenges of ensuring we have enough fish to catch and implementing the discards ban?
Yes, I can confirm that we do. We have been working in regional groups on the discards plan, looking at ways to deal with the problem of choke species. In the past week, I have written to Commissioner Vella with some suggestions on how we can adopt the right approach to deal with choke species, particularly hake in the North sea and haddock in the Celtic sea. I assure my hon. Friend that we are still working on these issues.
Given that unfortunately fishermen’s rights have been traded away during the transition period, is not the best way to guarantee that we regain full control of the exclusive economic zone after Brexit to rejoin the European economic area and the European Free Trade Association?
Fishing has not been traded away in the transition agreement. We have made it clear in that agreement that nothing will change for the time-limited period until the end of December 2020, but we will negotiate as an independent coastal state in that year, 2020, for fishing opportunities in 2021.
The fishing industry is hugely important to Scotland, and many fishermen and boat owners want to know what steps the Government are taking to make sure that non-EEA nationals can access the sea.
I know that the Scottish industry has raised the issue of labour, and its representatives recently met the relevant Home Office Minister. The Migration Advisory Committee is looking into the whole issue of our labour and migration needs after we leave the European Union, and representations have been made to the Home Office on the issue.
Fishing is extremely important to my Moray constituency, so will the Minister join me in welcoming—perhaps for the only time—the Scottish National party report this week that said that Brexit could generate £540 million for the fishing industry and 5,000 jobs?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Government Members are clear that we should leave the European Union and that there are opportunities for our fishing industry. The disaster for the Scottish fishing industry would be if we were not to deliver Brexit and leave the European Union, thereby throwing away those opportunities.
We recently strengthened the Environment Agency’s powers to tackle problem waste sites and we allocated an extra £30 million for waste enforcement in last year’s Budget. We have also consulted on tightening the permitting and exemptions regime to improve the waste sector’s performance. Later this year, we will publish a resources and waste strategy that will set out our wider approach.
I welcome the new powers given to the Environment Agency. Will my hon. Friend confirm that those new powers will enable it to curb effectively the rise of waste sites, which continue to break the law and blight our communities?
Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the new powers will enable the Environment Agency to do that. For example, they give the Environment Agency the power to lock gates and physically close down problem sites, and to require all waste to be removed from a site at which there are problems. We are also going to introduce tougher standards for those who hold licences.
On Monday, I shall join Newcastle volunteers on a litter-pick, but they cannot be expected to deal with the vast tubs of oil waste left by fast food outlets or mattresses left by landlords when their tenants change. What additional powers and resources will the Minister give to local authorities so that my constituents can live in the environment that they deserve?
We have already made it clear that we are going to consult on tightening up the powers to take action against people who give their waste to fly-tippers, so that we can bring them to account more easily. Later this year, our resources and waste strategy will address some of the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned.
Additional powers are all well and good, but without additional resources, local authorities can do nothing effective because of the restrictions on their budgets. We have a particular problem in Enfield with things such as tyres and with skip companies not following legislation. It is difficult for the council to prosecute when resources are so tight, so what is the Minister going to do?
All such sites are covered by a permitting regime that is run by the Environment Agency. We have put £60 million of extra money into the Environment Agency in recent years, including £30 million in the past year to deal with these sorts of problems.
Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will travel to Canada to ensure that, in common with other G7 countries, we do everything we can to make sure that our marine environment is healthy. Much of the Government’s groundwork for the conference was undertaken by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey); I know that everyone in the House will wish her well for a speedy recovery and a return to the Front Bench.
May I join my right hon. Friend in sending good wishes to our hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey)? Will he perhaps come to Staffordshire to see the excellent soft fruit, vegetable and salad farming that goes on there and also to discuss the needs for the future, in particular labour needs and needs for addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie before us?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I had the opportunity to visit soft fruit and salad growers in Cambridgeshire and in Norfolk recently and I appreciate the labour concerns that they have. I will take the opportunity to visit Staffordshire as soon as I can.
The Government’s 25-year environment plan sets out commitments to protect our natural environment. Will the Secretary of State outline the steps that he is taking to recognise and protect local wildlife sites, which are currently under threat of development from proposed changes to the national planning policy framework?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that question. I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, and we want no weakening in any protection for these sites.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that, if implemented, these proposals could effectively unprotect 42,000 sites in this country. May I ask whether he was consulted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government before this policy was put forward? If yes, how did this get into the policy, and if he was not consulted, why not, when the Government have such a strong commitment to the environment?
Without going into all the conversations that we have had—and we have had a series of them with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—the inference that many have drawn from the way in which the consultation has taken place is not one that we considered to be warranted. That is why I provide the reassurance that I have at this Dispatch Box, and I know that colleagues in the MHCLG will do so as well thanks to the hon. Lady’s question.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet members of the under-10 metre sector. Their trade body, the New Under Ten Fishermens Association, meets regularly and is actively engaged in discussions about future policy.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will look with interest at that submission for the forthcoming Budget.
I absolutely will. My hon. Friend and I both have heathland in our constituencies and both of us know from personal experience how important grazing can be to the effective management of lowland heathland. It is absolutely the case that the RPA, under Paul Caldwell, is doing a good job, but I am absolutely committed to making sure that we support those who do such valuable work more effectively.
Westminster has not stolen anything from Scotland’s farmers. Indeed, it is only thanks to the strength and the unity of the United Kingdom that Scotland’s farmers have a firm platform on which to build. One of the things that I thought was striking at the general election, which we all remember with such fondness occurring only 12 months ago, was that Scottish National party colleagues, many of them talented individuals, lost their seats to Scottish Conservative and Unionist colleagues because rural Scotland knows that its interests are better represented by the party of the Union than by the divisive, grievance-mongering separatists who masquerade as Scotland’s voice but who are, in fact, Scotland’s girners.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. We have no intention of rolling out badger culling throughout the low-risk area. However, in response to one single incident that we have had in Cumbria of an outbreak that has got into the badger population in a limited way, we have consulted to ensure that we have the option to deal with that following veterinary advice and the advice of our chief scientific adviser.
The Secretary of State is using his current role to flirt with radicalism—in particular, taking cheap shots at the payments made to the landed aristocracy. Rather than capping total amounts paid in the future scheme, would it not be more sensible to look at the rate of return and the marginality of the land?
The hon. Lady, who is a former Treasury civil servant, makes a vital point. As a Conservative, when I take shots at the landed aristocracy, they are not cheap. I find that when the landed aristocracy want others to undertake shooting with them, they often ask quite a high price.
The Secretary of State obviously speaks with experience of these matters, of which I confess I have none.
In the past couple of days I have received a veritable flurry of emails from my constituents, who want to ensure that our environmental laws will be strengthened, or at least maintained, after Brexit. What reassurance would the Secretary of State like to give to the people of Chelmsford?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and for her advocacy for this cause. We are listening with respect to the arguments that have been made by her constituents, Members of the other place and the public about the need to maintain and enhance high environmental standards. That is why we will be looking with interest at some of the amendments tabled by Back-Bench colleagues.
Just before the recess, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made an announcement about proposals for a consultation to create a single shale gas regulator. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be absolutely no change to the powers of the Environment Agency to protect our environment on fracking sites?
Yes, I can. The Environment Agency has been very clear about the vital role that it plays in providing assurance that environmental safeguards are always in place when hydraulic fracturing or other forms of hydrocarbon extraction take place.
Single sentence questions now.
What consideration has the Secretary of State given to including hippos and other ivory-bearing species in the Ivory Bill?
We are looking forward to discussing this in Committee and looking sympathetically on well-made cases.
The Department’s own family food survey found that even when poorer households buy cheaper food, they still spend a higher proportion of their income on it than average households, because of low wages. Does the Secretary of State still stand by his patronising comments that poorer people find “solace” in eating cheap junk food?
My comments to the all-party parliamentary environment group, which were inspired by a very good question from the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), were explicitly designed to say that we should not patronise or judge people on poorer incomes for the choices they make. I know that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) is very busy, but had she been there she would have had a better understanding of the context in which those comments were made.
What are the Government doing to introduce and increase the use of biodegradable packaging?
We recognise that biodegradable packaging should be an alternative to existing forms of packaging wherever possible. We are considering how we can change the taxation and regulation of packaging in order to facilitate the use of biodegradable materials.
What is the Secretary of State going to do to stop the ludicrous and unpleasant practice of farmers illegally putting up great big hoardings in their fields, on the side of motorways? Surely one of the things that makes the British landscape different from elsewhere in Europe is that we have legislation to prevent that.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to ensuring that our green and pleasant land stays beautiful, and I will investigate this matter.
What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give the all-party parliamentary group on endangered species that the protections in the Ivory Bill will be in place in time for the illegal wildlife trade conference in the autumn?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The conference, which will take place on 10 and 11 October, is critical in bringing together international co-operation to help safeguard endangered species. I hope that, with the leave of the House, we will have legislation on the statute book well before then.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Clewer initiative was set up in 2017 as a three-year, fixed-term project with the express aim of securing a world free from slavery. It enables dioceses to develop strategies so that we can better detect instances of modern slavery and provide support and care to victims.
I welcome the Church of England’s commitment to tackling modern slavery. Can the right hon. Lady confirm whether the exploitation of vulnerable young people and adults in the county lines drugs trade is also a focus of the Clewer initiative? What work is the Church doing with the police, the Government and other parties to tackle this menace?
The Church works very closely with a large number of partners in order to try to stamp out modern-day slavery, including the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, the National Crime Agency, the National Police Chiefs Council and immigration service officers—all the parties that need to be involved. The exploitation of very young, vulnerable children in trafficking drugs for illegal gangmasters is something that all these agencies need to work together on, and the Church supports that strongly.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will recognise the work that faith communities do in protecting the victims of human trafficking. Will she welcome the role of the Clewer initiative in detecting trafficked people in our communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In March, the Clewer initiative launched a campaign called Hidden Voices, basically so that all of us open our eyes and our ears to the slavery that is all around us. It provides residential training courses for faith communities and day courses, so that we all become more sensitised to see what is happening around us.
One of the most important ministries of the episcopal diocese of Jerusalem has been the ministry of dialogue and reconciliation between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Its archbishop recently announced the establishment of the diocesan department for peace, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue. We were very lucky, Mr Speaker, recently to have a visit from the Dean of Jerusalem to the Houses of Parliament to talk about its work.
Is the right hon. Lady worried that the number of Christians in the Palestinian territories is declining? What more can be done to bring together, in particular, young people of different faith communities?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The Christian community on the west bank has plummeted as people have left in droves to come to live in Europe or to go to live in America. It is a particular challenge to persuade young people to remain. If they leave for university, it is quite often difficult to get back. So the Church is working very hard on this. There is a scheme whereby children from the region can do exchanges with children in other places. For example, 16 children from the Zebabdeh community did an exchange with Ballinteer Community School in Dublin. This enables them to see beyond their tight and very difficult world but also to feel supported in remaining in their homes, where their roots are.
On Maundy Thursday this year, I had the privilege of attending a service at St Paul’s church in Shefa-Amr, the Anglican church in northern Israel. I commend the work that the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem does throughout the entire diocese, both in Israel and on the west bank. May I urge my right hon. Friend perhaps to visit some of these churches and encourage them as they support their congregations in this wider ministry?
There is no substitute for a first-hand account. I know that my hon. Friend is knowledgeable about the work that the Anglican Church does with all communities in Israel. I hope that, one day, in the not too distant future, I shall get the chance to go to see this for myself, perhaps with some colleagues who have also not had the opportunity to visit the holy land.
Earlier this year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was shut to visitors because of some pressure that the Israeli authorities were putting on because of land changes. Will the right hon. Lady make sure that, through her dialogue with our Church, she talks to the Israeli authorities to make sure that that church is kept open, because visitors want to visit it?
When the Dean of Jerusalem came to visit parliamentarians in both Houses, he explained in great detail the political background to what is going on. If I share with the House that this gentleman is a Christian Israeli, and actually no less than the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, perhaps Members will see that there was no person better qualified to explain to us, as British parliamentarians, just how complicated the situation is in Jerusalem. I think we have to trust the people who really understand this well to try to work through to peaceful solutions for that part of the world.
The Columba declaration was designed to set up a contact group to initiate and promote activities that strengthen the partnership in mission between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. It was set up and met for the first time in November 2017.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In this year, when the Church of Scotland General Assembly has in the Right Rev. Susan Brown elected its fourth female moderator and London has gained its first female bishop, might my right hon. Friend expand on the work that the Churches are doing to attract a wider range of applicants to the ministry?
First, through my hon. Friend, I would like to congratulate the Right Rev. Susan Brown on her appointment. This is now an increasingly strong trend. The Queen has just named the Very Rev. Vivienne Faull as the next Bishop of Bristol, which brings us to a total of 15 female bishops in the Church of England. The ministry department within the Church is also conscious of the need to diversify and encourage more applicants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. It has set up a mentoring scheme, and if any hon. Members would like to be mentors for applicants from those communities, they would be very welcome.
It so happens that my hon. Friend’s constituency lies in the diocese of Lichfield, which has just issued new guidelines that call for a Church where LGBTQ people feel welcomed and honoured. That letter was sent to all clergy and lay ministers in the diocese, which has 600 churches and covers a population of 2 million people.
My right hon. Friend will understand that the whole question of gay marriage has not exactly endeared the Church of England to gay people. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by what she says. Perhaps she could expand a little more on what is happening in the Lichfield constituency, which extends all the way to the border with Wales.
All four Bishops in that diocese—the Bishops of Lichfield, Wolverhampton, Stafford and Shrewsbury—are signatories to that initiative, which gives practical expression to what the Archbishop of Canterbury was referring to when he talked about radical Christian inclusion.
My right hon. Friend knows that same-sex marriages can receive a blessing in some churches, but sadly can be refused in others. What can she do to ensure that that inequality is addressed immediately and that this very important ceremony is offered throughout all our churches in the United Kingdom?
Across the Anglican communion, this is a difficult subject; I acknowledge that. Not all people either in this country or across the wider communion are of one view. The Church is working very hard to try to obtain better understanding. A conversation ensued across the Church of England to try to help people of different points of view to come to a greater understanding of the other person’s point of view, and the Bishop of Newcastle is tasked with running a group relating to sexuality in the Church. Blessings, where they occur, are often at the discretion of the diocese, and the Church is nothing if not a devolved institution.
Mr Speaker, in case you are looking for a new hobby that will build on your already excellent level of fitness and mental alertness, you need look no further than bell ringing. Churches are always looking for new volunteers to whom they can show the ropes.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for her advice. I have been to the church in Lillingstone Lovell—to mention just one location in my splendid constituency—where there are some very enthusiastic and capable bell ringers. Maybe other invitations will be forthcoming.
But there are bats in that belfry.
There may be bats in the belfry; I do not know. The hon. Gentleman is chuntering from a sedentary position. Whether he does so with the advantage of knowledge of the matter is a divisible proposition.
In contrast with bell ringers in churches in most other countries in the world, in this country, bell ringers can change the order in which the bells are rung, thus allowing for great creativity and the creation of wonderful different sounds. It is a startling fact that 95% of all the churches in the world where that is possible are located in England. Is not now the time to celebrate this wonderful part of English heritage and unique contribution to church music?
My hon. Friend has done a good job of presenting the significance of bell ringing in our culture and its wider impact across the world. That significance is recognised by the Church of England, and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has promoted a campaign called “Ringing Remembers”, the purpose of which is to recruit 1,400 new bell ringers in honour of the 1,400 who lost their lives in world war one. The endeavour will be to ring the bells of churches throughout the land on the centenary of the Armistice this year.
I gather, by the way, that bell ringing is quite a strenuous business; it is not to be underestimated by colleagues.
The wonderfully historic Anglican church, St Mark’s in Newtownards in the heart of my constituency, has a working belfry. Does the right hon. Lady believe that there is an acceptable level of funding to help with the upkeep of such towers and their bells? If not, will she apply pressure on the Government to ensure that there is?
I had the great privilege of ringing a bell in a Church of Ireland church, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on highlighting the significance of bell ringing in his constituency. If hon. Members have in their constituencies churches that are in need of grants or funds for the restoration of bells—time is short before the centenary of the Armistice—the ChurchCare website has grants available to repair and restore bells. Other sources of funding are also available—indeed, a grade 1 listed church in Castle Bromwich secured funding from English Heritage. Grants are available, and Members should assist their churches in securing them so that they may be part of the great occasion of the centenary of the Armistice.
Nigeria: Violence against Christians
My hon. Friend is a trade envoy to Nigeria, and he has a wealth of knowledge about that part of the world. The Archbishop of Canterbury also has a great deal of knowledge about Nigeria, having lived and worked there, and he cares deeply about the persecution of Christians around the world. He has appealed publicly and directly in face-to-face meetings to the Nigerian President, to try to bring the violence against Christians to an end.
After the recent terrible massacre of Christians attending church in the middle of Nigeria, the President was summoned to Parliament, service chiefs and security advisers had motions of no confidence passed against them, and Parliament was suspended. Does that not show that the country is taking the problem seriously?
There is no doubt that the problem is being taken to the heart of the Nigerian constitution and its institutions. I remind my hon. Friend that on 22 May we had a debate in Westminster Hall at which many Members raised reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide about the terrible violence perpetrated against Christians, particularly in the north of Nigeria, but also in the middle belt and as far south as Delta state where the oil is. Let us not forget that there are still Chibok girls in captivity. The issue may have fallen from the top hit list of interests and press themes, but young girls are still held in captivity; one of them in May spent her 15th birthday in captivity because she would not renounce her faith.
I am certain that Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which is a magnificent organisation, will appreciate the tribute that the right hon. Lady has just paid to it, and she will share my conviction that it is fantastically represented by Ben Rogers, among others.
Religious Literacy Training
The Church of England fully supports the provision of religious literacy training across all Government Departments. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides religious literacy training through the LSE Faith Centre, following an open competition. It is essential that diplomats abroad and officials here at home understand the histories of different faiths.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. Religious conflict is obviously worst in the middle east. My understanding is that the training is not compulsory. Will she have a conversation with the Minister with responsibility for the middle east and north Africa about this matter?
Despite the training provided by the LSE Faith Centre receiving excellent reviews, the uptake is disappointing. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to join me in having a conversation with the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is very knowledgeable about the area, to see if we can advance take-up of the course across all Government Departments.
The Church of England works internationally to support vulnerable children in various ways through its diocesan links and through Anglican mission agencies. It regularly assesses the range of support provided to make sure of best practice, especially with regard to vulnerable children.
It is evident that there are many good orphanages in the most troubled parts of the world. There is also evidence, however, that some are used for child trafficking and are not really orphanages. Will the right hon. Lady join me in writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask for a meeting and a commission on this involving all the aid agencies? I am bringing together all my local churches and other faith groups to discuss the issue. We must have an assurance that money raised by churches in this country goes to the right places.
The hon. Gentleman and I have both seen the presentation by the charity Home for Good. It brought to our midst an Australian Senator who is pioneering an amendment to modern-day slavery legislation on orphanage trafficking. She made a very important point that there is a cognitive dissonance. In this country, we would not tend to go first to an orphanage as a solution for the needs of a vulnerable child, yet we often give resources to such provision abroad without actually knowing whether they definitely get to the source and whether the children are well cared for by that source. It is very important that we pursue this topic rigorously and I am willing to support the hon. Gentleman’s multi-agency approach.
In England, the Church Commissioners have identified land for development which has the potential to provide an estimated 24,000 new homes, including more than 30% affordable homes, subject to the requirements of the local planning authority.
That is a good news. I am sure the right hon. Lady will not be surprised that, in my constituency, which has such a severe housing problem, many of my churches are keen to deliver their Christian mission in part by providing long-term properly affordable homes. St John’s Hoxton has hit a real problem. Because it is in a heritage setting, it is grade 2 listed. Paragraphs 144 and 145 of the national planning policy framework, on planning and development, prohibits the church from building, and prohibits the council from giving it permission to build, affordable homes on the site. Is she or the Church having conversations with the planning authorities about how to change the law?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for advance notice of this case. I have looked at it and I think the difficulty is that a range of local stakeholders, including Historic England and the local planning authority, do not support the proposed scheme. The difficulty relates to constructing houses on green space, which is also at a premium in London. To give her some encouragement, in the adjoining diocese of Southwark, a very similar scheme was passed after a couple of years of to-ing and fro-ing and trying to make it acceptable to all stakeholders. I encourage her to work together with all stakeholders to try to find the optimum solution.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
I am afraid that information has been collated only since 2012, but there have been two incidents involving Members hurting themselves, I think using the steps into the Division Lobbies, one this year and one last year.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. I have only been here for less than a year and in that time I think I have seen three or four incidents, not least with pregnant female colleagues fainting in the Lobby. It seems rather bizarre that we stuff hundreds of people into a locked room for Divisions. Next week, we will have no fewer than 15 Divisions. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to look at electronic voting, which would make this place at least look like it is in the 21st century?
I rather anticipated that that would be the hon. Gentleman’s line of inquiry. The first thing I would say is that Members who suffer an injury should report it. On the two incidents I mentioned, action will be taken to improve lighting. That should happen next month. On electronic voting, he will know from the answers I have given in the past that this is perhaps very much a matter for a Backbench Business debate and for the Procedure Committee to consider.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Gay Conversion Therapy
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because this allows me to update the House on the similar question that he asked me in January. I did follow my promise to write to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who has responsibility for mental health, and arrange a meeting with her, which was constructive—the right hon. Gentleman came with me. She explained that the Department is surveying the extent of gay conversion therapy. I wrote to her again on 23 April requesting a copy of that Government survey, so that we might all benefit from their findings.
I thank the right hon. Lady very much for what she has done to help on the issue of the intolerable practice of conversion therapy. Can I ask her to go back to the Minister and ask for a timescale? The Minister acknowledged that the problem was bigger than the Government had hitherto recognised and she did promise action. It would be nice to know when we might see that action.
To bring this absolutely up to date, I received a response from the Minister for Women and Equalities on the subject, which stated that the Minister would welcome another meeting with us, so I suggest that we take her up on her kind offer.
Very useful, thank you. I think the House owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), perhaps today, even more than ordinarily, because she has answered 10 of the 11 questions. In the process, she has undergone something of an exercise routine, having had to bounce up and down repeatedly to attend to the queries of right hon. and hon. Members. We are very greatly obliged to her for the quality of her answers and for the spirit in which they have been provided.
Her reward is in heaven.
For the benefit of those listening to our proceedings, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) chunters from a sedentary position that the right hon. Lady’s reward is in heaven.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the potential taxpayer liabilities that the Government have entered into in their statement of principles agreement with Heathrow Airport Ltd.
Let me thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for raising this issue. She has been absolutely indefatigable on it, and I salute her.
As the Secretary of State set out in his oral statement on Tuesday, we recognise the very strong feelings on this matter of some Members across the House and their constituents. I am aware of the various representations that have been made in the Chamber that Government would be liable for Heathrow’s costs should they decide to withdraw support from the scheme. These representations appears to stem from a clause in a non-legally binding agreement between Heathrow and the Department for Transport that has, I am afraid, been taken out of context.
The question was addressed by the Secretary of State for Transport on Tuesday and by the Prime Minister yesterday. Let me repeat in the clearest possible fashion that there is no liability here. The Government have not entered into any agreement that gives Heathrow the right to recover its losses in the event of the scheme not proceeding, and nor would they accept any liability for any of the costs that Heathrow Airport Ltd has incurred or will incur in the future.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I will quote directly from the document in question, which says that
“this Statement of Principles does not give either HAL or the Secretary of State any right to a claim for damages, losses, liabilities, costs and/or expenses or other relief howsoever arising if, for whatever reason, HAL’s Scheme does not proceed”.
We are absolutely clear that we would have a responsibility to Parliament when a liability or, indeed, a contingent liability were incurred.
Yesterday, the Government laid before Parliament a written ministerial statement and departmental minute that set out what was a contingent liability for statutory blight, which will start if the proposed airports national policy statement is designated. The liability is contingent because the Government have rightly protected the taxpayer by entering into a binding agreement with Heathrow Airport Ltd whereby the airport assumes the financial liability for successful blight claims, if the scheme proceeds.
With regard to wider scheme costs, the answer is simple: we have not notified Parliament of any liability because there is none.
I am very grateful to the Minister, for whom I have a lot of respect, for coming to the House today. He mentioned one part of the statement of principles, but he will also know that the immediate clause after that says “notwithstanding…2.1.5”—that is, the paragraph he just read out. In other words, it says that in spite of that, Heathrow Airport Ltd
“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”,
and I set out that yesterday. It has clearly been written by a lawyer. If it does not matter legally, why did Heathrow Airport Ltd include it in the statement of principles? It paves the way for Heathrow to recover costs from the taxpayer when things go wrong. As the Secretary of State himself said on Tuesday, there are circumstances in which the runway could be built but then not used.
My questions are as follows. Why was this term agreed to in the first place? Heathrow is a private company, and should therefore accept the risks. Why was it agreed to exclusively for Heathrow Airport Ltd? Were the Secretary of State and the Department for Transport clear-cut with Parliament about the existence of the clause, and if not, why not? Why was it never flagged up in the national policy statement documents that have been seen by the public? What assessment have Ministers made of the existing outstanding liability under the clause, given that it has already been triggered, and will the Minister confirm that my own assessment is correct?
Was the Cabinet Sub-Committee that made the decision to proceed with Heathrow Airport Ltd’s proposal made aware of the clause? For transparency purposes, will the Minister publish the papers that the Sub-Committee did look at, so that we can establish the level of detail that was available to it when it reached its conclusion? Why should the Minister have any faith in the prospect that if the Heathrow expansion goes wrong—as I suspect it will—and the company pursues the Government and taxpayers for potentially billions of pounds in costs, it will then honour any public service obligation in relation to routes to regional airports, and why does he think that the Scottish Government should have any confidence that it will ever stick to the memorandum of understanding?
My right hon. Friend has asked a vast number of questions. If I do not cover all the points that she raised, I shall be happy to write to her. She mentioned the Cabinet Sub-Committee; I am not a member of the Sub-Committee and have not seen the papers that were presented to it, so I cannot comment on that.
My right hon. Friend asked whether any liabilities had been created, and directed my attention to a specific clause. It is of course a very narrow legal point, but I entirely accept that it is important to focus on it. The Government’s position is that no liabilities have been created, and therefore none need to be disclosed; and no contingent liabilities have been created. The statement of principles is a standard document on which the Government took advice both from distinguished leading counsel and from a top-tier firm of solicitors. It simply allows Heathrow Airport Ltd to reserve rights that it would normally have under commercial law, while making clear that the Department has no liabilities in respect of the issues already described.
We, as a Department, are clear about the fact that the statement of principles is not legally binding. It does not create any legitimate expectation. It does not fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State. It does not give Heathrow Airport Ltd the right to claim
“damages, losses, liabilities, costs and/or expenses or other relief”.
Heathrow does, of course, retain some rights of its own, and that is entirely proper.
There might be circumstances in the future under some future Government, possibly of a different political persuasion, that did create a contingent liability, and the Government would then be under an obligation to present that to Parliament in the normal way. Heathrow Airport Ltd might, in the exercise of its legal rights, have the ability to sue them in some respect, but that is not touched on by this question.
The statement of principles with which we are dealing is not, in fact, the only document of its kind. There were two other such documents. In October 2016, the Government entered into an agreement on a statement of principles with Heathrow Airport Ltd, as we have discussed, but versions of the same document were also agreed with the promoters of the other shortlisted schemes, Gatwick Airport Ltd and Heathrow Hub Ltd. Those, of course, fell away when the Government recommended the Heathrow north-west runway as the preferred scheme. This is not a one-off deal or any kind of special arrangement with Heathrow itself.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on securing the urgent question. This appears to be a devastating revelation, and it is beyond belief that when such a bombshell has landed, the Secretary of State is not here to respond.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:
“The statement of principles… does not give Heathrow Airport Ltd the right to claim any costs or losses from the Government should its scheme not proceed.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 304.]
That does not seem to be accurate.
Can the Minister explain why a statement of principles was entered into between the Department and Heathrow Airport Ltd that clearly states, at paragraph 2.1.6, that
“HAL 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…the withdrawal of the Government’s support for aviation expansion for Heathrow Airport”?
Does he not see that this is a massive revelation of the utmost importance? Given all the opportunities the Government have had to bring it to the attention of the House and come clean, why has this statement of principles, which effectively indemnifies HAL, been unearthed only at this critical stage? Did they think that no one would spot it?
Why was the statement of principles not included in the national policy statement or the consultation on the NPS? Why was it not disclosed to the Transport Select Committee? Has the Secretary of State secured an unequivocal guarantee from HAL that, in the event of the north-west runway not going ahead, the Government will not indemnify HAL for costs expended in pursuit of the project? Is it not the case that the Government have boxed themselves into a corner by committing HAL to a risk-free investment, while exposing themselves to either massive cost recovery on the part of HAL or crushing litigation before the decision has even been taken?
Far from this being a bombshell, I am afraid it is the dampest of damp squibs. No indemnification has been given or was ever in question. The Opposition’s position is not a legal position; it is an expression of some other kind. The hon. Gentleman does not seem able to quote any legal authority. I invite him to quote any legal authority for his position. We have the legal authority of leading counsel and a top firm of solicitors supporting our position. The statement was entered into for a very simple reason: to make it absolutely clear, while reserving HAL’s normal rights, that the Secretary of State has an almost unfettered discretion in this area, and rightly so. I would expect the hon. Gentleman, being a taxpayer, to support that position.
We have dithered over airport expansion for far too long, and it really has had a damaging effect on our economy. Unlike HS2, which delivers no benefits to my constituency and is an open-ended commitment from the taxpayer of billions and billions of pounds—a subject on which the Labour Front-Bench team is always so quiet—we are here making something out of nothing. Heathrow expansion will deliver benefits to my constituents and yours, Mr Speaker, secure jobs now and provide tens of thousands of jobs and opportunities in the future. May I urge my hon. Friend to get on with it and not be distracted by people trying to block it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. We have seen many brilliant examples of crowbarring local and national issues into debates, and I salute her ingenuity in so doing. She rightly makes the point that this proposition has been left unexecuted for far too long, although it has greatly improved as a result. It will bring an almost £75 billion boost to the UK economy, provide better connections to growing world markets and allow better support for regional airports and the regions of the country. She is right that we need to press ahead.
I am rather naive. When the Secretary of State for Transport came to the Dispatch Box to present the decision on Heathrow expansion, I thought he was moving on from the rail shambles and on to firm ground—a subject he had a firm grip on—but clearly that is not quite the case. We are hearing mixed messages about liabilities and a rather flippant, “We don’t need to worry. It is a normal commercial recovery mechanism that Heathrow has put in.” The Government have to be clear about this if they are to carry the vote of the House and take this forward, and time is limited.
The Secretary of State said that the Government had acted on 24 out of the 25 recommendations of the Transport Committee’s report on the NPS, but that claim seems to be unravelling as we go through the Government’s response. Again, it seems the Government are not on top of this. There has been much debate about the cost of surface access and who pays for that. The Government are going to have to be very clear, because they keep saying there are no liabilities there and it will all be private-funded. They need to start to understand the mechanisms for the payment of surface access upgrades; will that be a private finance initiative through fare recovery? What will it be, and what are the associated contingent liabilities? Quite often, the Government end up giving infrastructure guarantees, so will they be in place for surface access upgrades?
In terms of the 15% of new slots—
Order. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is way over time. If he has a single sentence to add, I am happy to hear it, but after that we do need to proceed.
I will need to understand the protection of the 15% of new slots for the new domestic routes before the vote takes place; that is important.
The latter point is so far outside the scope of this UQ that I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I address it in the Committee session this afternoon.
On the issues the hon. Gentleman raises that are germane to the question, let me start by thanking the Scottish National party for its support for this project, which it rightly concludes will be of great value to Scotland—and that is agreed across all parties. There are no mixed messages here and there is nothing fluffy about the legal position on which the Government have—as it appears, uniquely—taken advice. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the statement of principles was published in 2016 and has been available for almost two years, so if there is fluffiness it is not on the Government side of this House.
We have taken very seriously the 24 out of 25 Select Committee recommendations that the hon. Gentleman raised. We are grateful to the Select Committee for its detailed and painstaking work and have acted on many of its recommendations; we have left one to be a point of further discussion, and dispute potentially, but we have been overwhelmingly positive in many ways towards the Select Committee response. That should be reflected on the record, and we are grateful for the support it has given to this project.
Order. I remind the House that there is another urgent question to follow. After that we have the business question and then two moderately well-subscribed Backbench Business Committee debates, so there is a premium on brevity. What I am looking for is not preambles, but single sentence—preferably short sentence—inquiries, to be exhibited in the first instance by the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt).
Is my hon. Friend the Minister as astonished as I am that as distinguished a lawyer as the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), could advance an argument that is so utterly threadbare in respect of the rather limited defence this agreement gives to Heathrow airport and its private investor supporters if the Government change their policy?
I could say that I could not possibly comment. But it is right to acknowledge that a future Government might create a liability or contingent liability. That is not ruled out, and there might theoretically be some recourse for HAL as a result of that. One should just be—[Interruption.] That has always been the case, and it is not changed by this proper recognition of the law.
Order. The day would not be complete without the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) uttering the word “Shocking” while sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I am just waiting now for his usual refrain of “It’s a disgrace.”
Transport for London has estimated that there are liabilities of something in the order of £10 billion for public transport provision, which the Government say they do not recognise. Is that because they do not think the public transport improvements are necessary, or because a private party will carry the cost?
The answer to that question is, because it is a number that we do not recognise, but if there were a better justification for it, it might be that we would. But of course it is perfectly clear that we do expect transport improvements to be made, and we expect the private sector to bear a substantial proportion of the cost.
This private company is running rings around the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State, and there is a history of a litany of broken promises, whether to Scotland, regional airports or the Government or on the number of jobs it would create. Why is this clause here specifically for Heathrow when it is clearly indicating that it wants those liabilities paid for should they arise: why specifically for Heathrow?
Of course these statements were not purely in relation to Heathrow; there were several of them, as discussed, but two have fallen away. All this does is recap a perfectly well-established set of rights it has in law, and nothing has changed from that point of view. The point of the detailed and careful way in which this has been taken forward is to make absolutely clear that, when HAL makes a commitment, it can be held properly publicly accountable for it by due process of law and by agreement with the Government.
This was recommended in the 2003 aviation White Paper and confirmed by the consultation in 2008, so will the Minister confirm that, notwithstanding the question asked by the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the Government will not be deflected from bringing forward an early vote, because it is quite clear that there is support across the House for this proposal?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very constructive and positive comment, and of course we will not be deflected. That is why we have laid this national policy statement, and we will be inviting Parliament to vote on it in due course.
Will the Minister simply confirm that it is anticipated that private investment will fund the expansion of Heathrow, and will he also confirm that the economic benefits he expects will flow to the entire United Kingdom as a result of that private investment?
I know you place a premium on brevity, Mr Speaker, so I will say, yes, and £74 billion to £75 billion of expected boost to the economy.
The whole process of forcing through the third runway has been the opposite of transparent—from overstating economic benefits to understating the cost to public funds, including the £10 billion to £15 billion on surface access. Will the Minister say that he will define the costs and the risks to the public purse in total, and will he give an absolute assurance that this private company will bear the full costs?
I think that it is perfectly clear that the NPS, a national policy statement, sets the guidelines within which this is to be elaborated. We expect Heathrow Airport Ltd—and other private entities, as may be required—to bear the full cost of the expansion, as has been indicated, and we have been perfectly clear about that all the way through.
Will the Minister confirm that my Moray constituents, and indeed regions across the country, will benefit from greater connectivity with the third runway at Heathrow?
Yes, I can. I have visited Heathrow and discussed this issue with the chief executive, and Heathrow is absolutely clear that a central part of the proposal is to enable better domestic connectivity as part of a wider international and national strategy.
Following on from the question from the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), the third runway will, as I understand it, double the passenger capacity of Heathrow, so on what grounds does the Department for Transport believe that the public investment figures suggested by Transport for London for the connection between London and Heathrow are incorrect?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Heathrow’s connectivity will be very heavily supported. It is already the beneficiary of an upgraded Piccadilly line from the east and of Crossrail, too. A lot of work is being done on western and south-western access, to say nothing of potential access from the Chilterns, which will be a matter of great interest to you, Mr Speaker. It will be well connected on the ground, as well as in the air.
Order. If colleagues feel able to focus on the narrow particulars of the urgent question that I granted, rather than on the generality of the subject, to which I did not accede, that would be very helpful to the House. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) has now lost interest, but we look forward to hearing his mellifluous tones on another occasion. [Interruption.] No, he has not lost interest; he just does not want to contribute now. Very good—we are grateful to him.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the offers made to both other competing bids were exactly the same as is now on the table for Heathrow, that there have been no changes to the offer and that Heathrow has not been advantaged as a result?
I am not familiar with any changes of the kind my hon. Friend describes. It is true that the statements of principles were in substantially the same form for all three projects, and that is what we are presently addressing.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not incur any liabilities in relation to an anticipated decline in regional airports, any environmental or health liabilities associated with Heathrow not meeting its environmental targets and any transport cost liability associated with the western rail link? Given all these cumulative liabilities, would it not be safer for the Conservative party to give its Members of Parliament a free vote to reduce the political liability?
Mr Speaker, we are some way outside the terms of the urgent question, but let me respond to the right hon. Gentleman. We are clear that this instrument creates no liabilities for the Government, which is the point at issue. As I have said, it may at some point be a future matter whether changes would encumber a future Government with contingent liabilities. That Government would then be under an obligation to notify Parliament in the usual way.
In papers this week, it has been indicated that airport users could pay up to £20 extra per journey. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will put a ceiling on any extra charges for airport users?
Again, we are way off piste, but let me just say that charges are a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority, and we would expect the CAA, as the regulator, to exercise proper concern. We have made it clear that we do not want charges to rise materially from their current levels in real terms.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his answers, his patience and his characteristic courtesy.
Supreme Court Ruling: Abortion in Northern Ireland
(Urgent Question): To ask the Northern Ireland Secretary, following the ruling of the Supreme Court, whether sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 are incompatible with articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European convention on human rights.
I thank the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for this question and I once again pay tribute to her and to all the other hon. Members who contributed to the debate on these issues in the House on Tuesday. I recognise the strength of feeling and the personal stories that lie behind this issue, many of which we heard on Tuesday. That is the case regardless of where people’s views lie. As I have said in the House before, abortion is an extremely sensitive issue and there are many strongly held views across all sides of the debate on reform right across the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Members will be aware that the Supreme Court issued its judgment in this case this morning. The Government are carefully considering the full judgment and its implications. No formal declaration has been made by the Court, and the appeal has been dismissed. The analysis and comments of the Court on the issue of incompatibility will be clearly heard by this House and by politicians in Northern Ireland. While the Court made no formal declaration, a majority of judges stated their view that the laws on abortion in Northern Ireland are incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights—the right to respect for private and family life—in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.
This is clearly a complex area of law and an extremely sensitive subject matter which raises a number of different issues to consider. I am sure that the House will understand, given that the judgment is more than 140 pages in length, that further consideration of it is needed. I am continuing to engage with the parties in Northern Ireland, where these issues are understandably being raised and discussed. It is therefore important for all of us, including the people of Northern Ireland, to consider this judgment and to approach ongoing debate on this issue with due care and sensitivity. My urgent priority is to continue to engage with the parties in Northern Ireland and to re-establish devolved government in Northern Ireland so that decisions can be taken there.
Today, our Supreme Court has ruled that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is in breach of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland. Let us weigh that sentence for a moment, as a House. Our own law is breaking the basic human rights of our own citizens. These are laws that the Government have said they will retain whether we leave the European Union or not. They are the laws that underpin our own democracy and our own freedom.
A clear majority of the Law Lords have found that how women in Northern Ireland are treated is incompatible with article 8: the right to respect for private and family life. Two judges have also held that the law on abortion is in breach of article 3: the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court was clear that to deny a woman access to abortion care breaches a woman’s right to bodily autonomy—to be able to control what happens to her own body and not to be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy even in instances of rape and incest.
The Court also was clear that the Government must have known that that was the case because of the United Nations ruling. Despite this, just two days ago the Secretary of State told this House of Parliament, as she has said today:
“Abortion has been a devolved matter…and it would not be appropriate for Westminster to seek to impose its will, or to be the arbiter”.—[Official Report, 5 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 220.]
Clearly this ruling challenges that disregard for the human rights of women in Northern Ireland.
The only reason the Government are not facing a requirement to act today is that those bringing the case were not victims; the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission brought the challenge. The House should hear the words of Lord Mance himself:
“the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration. Those responsible for ensuring the compatibility of Northern Ireland law with the Convention rights will no doubt recognise and take account of these conclusions, at as early a time as possible, by considering whether and how to amend the…1861 Act.”
Are the Government today really going to require a rape victim to give evidence in open court to be able to access this declaration and to force them to act? Are we parliamentarians, with the responsibility under the Good Friday agreement to uphold the human rights of all Northern Irish citizens, going to pretend that if they make that happen, we are doing our job? The women of Northern Ireland deserve better. They deserve control over their bodies. They deserve not to be forced to go to court and talk about such issues to get the Government to listen. They deserve the kind of control that Arlene Foster currently has over this Government.
The Secretary of State has the power to direct Northern Irish Departments to take such action that is required under international obligations. Human rights are an international obligation. Minister, I beg of you, do not make a victim go to court. Name the date that the domestic abuse Bill will come to Parliament, so that we can get on and end this scandal. We cannot just take back control; we can give it.
I know that the hon. Lady feels strongly about this issue. The whole House will have heard her words, which were delivered with such passion, but we need to be clear about what the Court was considering. It was looking specifically at the laws in Northern Ireland. She talked about a clear finding, but the Court has not made a declaration of incompatibility. In fact, on fatal foetal abnormality, the judges found five to two in favour, but it was only four to three on rape and incest. Those were majority decisions, not the judges’ unanimous view.
The Government’s view is that the decisions about abortion and the laws that apply in Northern Ireland should rightly and properly be decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their elected politicians. That is why I call on those politicians to come together to form a Government in Stormont and deal with the issue, because I, like the hon. Lady, want to ensure that the personal stories that we have all heard are dealt with. [Interruption.] I can hear her talking from a sedentary position, and I know how strongly she feels about this, but many people in the House feel strongly about this issue, and the right way to deal with it is in Stormont. I will continue to consider the judgment, which is 143 pages long, and there is much that we need to look at. However, I repeat that this is a matter for the politicians in Northern Ireland, all of whom I will be speaking to later today.
Order. This is an extremely important matter, of which the House partly treated earlier in the week, but I gently point out that it is not reasonable for colleagues who were not here at the start to beetle into the Chamber and stand with the expectation of being called. I announced the urgent question some considerable time ago, and it is incumbent upon colleagues to be here at the start of the exchanges. If for whatever reason they were not here at the start, it is discourteous to stand and expect to be called. Everybody is busy and has many commitments and full diaries, but it is incumbent upon colleagues to be here at the requisite time.
This is a heart-breaking legal case. It has basically been lost on a technicality—nothing more—and it is too important simply to be left at that. The women of Northern Ireland deserve better than the outcome of today’s judgment. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Government to get back in place and to take their responsibility to set the way forward? In the absence of that, I urge her to accept that Parliament will now start to examine what steps we can take to ensure better outcomes for women in Northern Ireland.
I thank my right hon. Friend. I agree that this is another example—one that affects people’s lives—of why it is so important that politicians in Northern Ireland come together and form a Government, and it is quite right that they should do so. They represent their constituents in Northern Ireland. and they know what their constituents want. I am sure that they will have heard my right hon. Friend’s comments.
I re-emphasise the point that we are talking about real people. Although this is a legal judgment written in legalese, nevertheless we are talking about real people, which is why there is urgency in what our Parliament must consider.
Although the judgment is disappointing in that it foundered on a technicality as to who brought the case to the Supreme Court, nevertheless the Supreme Court was crystal clear, by a majority verdict, on the important point that, in relation to obligations under article 8 convention rights, it is the United Kingdom—not Northern Ireland—that is incompatible with international human rights law. The summary of the Court’s judgment states:
“If an individual victim did return to court in relation to the present law, a formal declaration of incompatibility would in all likelihood be made.”
That is in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest, for example.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is right that it would be grossly unreasonable to ask a rape victim to pursue a case up to our United Kingdom Supreme Court to have that measure of incompatibility brought to legal justice. I accept that the Secretary of State must ask her legal advisers to pore over the whole judgment, but nevertheless it is clear the judgment insists that the law must change.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be better if the Stormont Assembly were to seize the moment and change the law for Northern Ireland but, in the absence of Stormont, the Secretary of State now has to begin setting out a clear timetable that says to Northern Ireland politicians that, if they are not prepared to come to the Stormont Assembly, Westminster would have to act, and would have to act on the moral and legal basis that the judgment is a judgment about the United Kingdom’s compatibility, not Northern Ireland’s compatibility, with international law. The Secretary of State must consider that seriously and set a timescale within which the Government must act. The law must change. Who does it is now a matter for politicians in Northern Ireland.
I put on record how much I appreciated the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to the debate on Tuesday.
Some Members have suggested that repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 would somehow enable politicians in Northern Ireland to come together to create the laws that are right for Northern Ireland. Let us be clear that this is about the situation in Northern Ireland. I do not think anyone in this House is suggesting that the decision should not be taken in Stormont—we need the politicians to be in Stormont to do that—but if we proceeded down the path of repealing sections 58 and 59, we would be left with no laws on abortion in Northern Ireland. I do not think a vacuum of laws in Northern Ireland would be helpful to those women and girls we are all thinking about.
I make it clear that we want the politicians in Northern Ireland to make the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. We want them to come together, and we want them to do what is right for the people they represent.
The United Kingdom Government have devolved these issues to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would therefore be extraordinary if the United Kingdom Government removed or changed some part of the law—that would make the law a complete mess. Whatever our views on this issue, we should have respect for both sides of the abortion debate, as I do. We should also have respect for the people of Northern Ireland who ultimately, ab initio, have to deal with this.
My hon. Friend is right. The laws on abortion in Northern Ireland were not devolved at the time of the devolution settlements in the 1990s; these laws have always sat with Stormont since it was first founded and since it first sat in the 1920s. It is therefore right, constitutionally and morally, that these decisions are taken in Stormont.
The Supreme Court judgment is as irritating as it is enlightening, with majority views holding sway, rather than unanimity. I note, however, that Lord Kerr, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, was one of the justices who considered that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had the right to bring the case and that the law was incompatible. Given his in-depth knowledge of the Northern Irish legal framework and the fact that the judgment points to the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 as the barrier to addressing that incompatibility, will the Government be taking the advice of the judgment and treating that Act as secondary legislation to be amended, or will they prepare the ground for a reinstated Assembly to repeal section 25 of that Act and bring the law into line with human rights?
As I said in my opening remarks, at 143 pages there is a lot to digest in this judgment. Together with my officials and lawyers, I will make sure that we have gone through every point of the judgment in order to make a final determination, but I think the hon. Lady would agree that where matters are devolved they should rightly be dealt with by the devolved legislature that has responsibility for them. That is why I want to see those politicians come back to Stormont, form that devolved Government and make those decisions.
Clearly, the number of abortions we have throughout this country is far, far too high, but when they have to happen the present state of the law means it is a question of where they happen, rather than whether they happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) has suggested that the Northern Ireland Assembly will have to look at this ab initio. If we were to repeal sections 58 and 59, it would be in the same position of having to legislate ab initio, on the civil side and on the controls on abortion.
I ask my right hon. Friend to understand that those who back her basic approach are willing to do so only for a certain amount of time. Unless and until those in Northern Ireland who are elected are prepared to come together to deal with this issue, there will be an obligation on this country, not a European obligation, but a national, practical and moral obligation, to take action.
Again, my hon. Friend makes his long-standing views on this matter known, and I am sure the politicians in Northern Ireland will have heard them.
May I say to the Secretary of State that the fact the decision on rape was a four-three majority decision means that it was a decision, an announcement, a pronouncement of the court. That is how the Supreme Court works; it does not matter how narrow the majority. May I also remind her of what Lord Kerr said? He said that
“it is incumbent on the state”—
“to recognise the vulnerability of girls and women”
in relation to rape. Does she agree that human rights cannot be devolved and that she and the Government have the responsibility for them?
The questions the hon. Lady asks bring into question the whole constitutional arrangements we have and who and which legislature is responsible for which action. I repeat that my urgent priority is to get the parties back to Stormont, to get that devolved Government up and running so that they can rightly make the decisions in the interests of the constituents who elected them.
I do not agree with the law in Northern Ireland, but surely the whole principle of devolution is that people in devolved areas can make decisions with which we disagree. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we allow devolved areas only to make decisions with which the Westminster Parliament agrees, there is not much point any more in any form of devolution?
My hon. Friend always has an ability to use an appropriate turn of phrase to put his finger adeptly on the problem.
A constituent has written to me as follows:
“I grew up in Northern Ireland before moving to London in 1982…I fell pregnant in 1997. My child would have been very much loved and wanted, but a scan revealed that he had Edward’s syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality incompatible with life. I was ably supported by the NHS in London through the subsequent weeks of decision and grief. I was not forced to continue the pregnancy to bear a dead child”.
What advice would the Secretary of State give to a young woman in Northern Ireland today who was facing the same dilemma that my constituent had in 1997?
It is those personal stories and the reality of the situations in which women find themselves that really bring home why it is so important that this matter is addressed, but I repeat that it needs to be addressed in Stormont by politicians elected in Northern Ireland—that is the right way to deal with this issue.
The women of Northern Ireland deserve a long-term solution and their human rights need to be respected, but with regard to the short term, will my right hon. Friend confirm that no women who have abortion procedures in England are being charged for them?
My hon. Friend is right. As well as the Supreme Court judgment, we have today received the figures for women who have travelled to Great Britain for abortions. In 2016, the figure was 724 women, and in 2017 it was 919, following the Government’s announcement that we would ensure that all costs were covered. It is not a perfect solution, but it does at least show the House’s intent.
Earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) and I were part of a delegation to Belfast. We heard evidence on a long and harrowing day from many parties, including Sarah Ewart, whose name has been mentioned in the Chamber previously, on the difficulties for not only vulnerable women but practitioners, who are often in a dilemma. At the time, my thinking was the same as the Secretary of State’s—that it looks a bit neo-colonial for us in Westminster to impose our will—but things have changed since then: there is continuing deadlock over the lack of an Assembly in Northern Ireland; there was the vote in the Republic; and now we have this 140-page judgment, which finds that there are breaches of many aspects of human rights. Will the Government not think again, as they did on Heathrow?
I understand the hon. Lady’s intent. I, too, have met many organisations and people in Belfast and, in so many ways, this is something that tugs at the heartstrings and makes one want to act. But it is clear that taking rash action that may produce the wrong result is not the right approach. We need time to digest the judgment and to consider what it means, and we need those politicians in Northern Ireland to come back together.
Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the merits of devolution and where these decisions should sit, the fact is that it has now been more than a year since Stormont has been in a position to make such devolved decisions. This issue is part of a basket of others, including the private Member’s Bill on same-sex marriage promoted by the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), and there is perhaps a judgment to come about humanist marriage, which would then need some consideration. How long is it reasonable for us in this Parliament to wait, without Stormont sitting, before we begin properly to exercise our responsibilities to the citizens of Northern Ireland?
I want to see Stormont back and functioning. It always feels like a tragedy to me to walk around an empty Parliament building, which Stormont is, rather than seeing it active and making the decisions that the politicians were elected to make. I will speak to the parties later today, and I will continue to do so, because I want to see the parties coming back together. I want devolved government in Stormont and I want it urgently.
I feel very strongly about this matter, as does my party, the Democratic Unionist party. Following the Supreme Court judgment, will the Secretary of State confirm that it is categorically up to the Northern Ireland Assembly to implement any changes that it believes are necessary regarding the matter of abortion? Will she also underline the fact that it is Sinn Féin’s duty to drop its red line, get back to Stormont and democratically debate this issue?
I do not want to get into what is stopping the parties getting back together. All I will say is that the hon. Gentleman sums up the situation well, and it is right that we should have those politicians coming back together, doing the right thing as Ministers in Northern Ireland, and making these decisions.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the last time Stormont debated this issue, it decided by a clear majority to keep the law as it is. Will she undertake to the House to consult all the parties in Northern Ireland, in the light of this court judgment, on what should happen for the future?
My hon. Friend is right that the last time this matter was debated in Stormont—in 2016—the Bill was rejected. That is part of the reason why we have this case before us today. I have spoken to all the parties about this matter, and I will continue to do so.
A British Government in Westminster should not abrogate to themselves powers willy-nilly, but why are the Government adamantine about not intervening when human rights issues affect British citizens? It was the same in Bermuda: the Government refused to say anything about same-sex marriage being banned, but the Supreme Court in Bermuda decided yesterday that the British Government were wrong and that same-sex marriage should be reintroduced. What will happen here is that the Government will keep on losing legal battles. In the end, human rights are indivisible, so we do have to act and intervene.
We need to go through the judgment, which is detailed, and consider it carefully. The way to resolve this issue has to be with Stormont; that has to be the place in which to resolve this.
I take on board all the points that have been made this morning, especially those about maintaining the position on issues that are devolved, but I just say to the Secretary of State that, obviously, our constitution is constantly evolving. I am not speaking specifically to this issue but, as we look across the United Kingdom and all the changes that we are making, including the devolution of more powers as we leave the EU, we should consider minimums that apply across the United Kingdom for our national UK framework. When it comes to rights, for example, there should be national minimums across the United Kingdom, especially as we have elected representatives from across the United Kingdom in this place.
I am deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman. His question is very well-intentioned, but it suffers from the disadvantage of being unadjacent to the matter before the House and a tad longer than was desirable. Nevertheless, he has volunteered his views and they are on the record.
What my hon. Friend does pick up, however, is that the constitutional implications of decisions that we take in this House regarding devolved matters should be considered and not taken lightly. They need to be carefully thought about because of implications for other parts of the United Kingdom.
It cannot be right to criminalise women in Northern Ireland for actions that would not be criminal anywhere else in the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree with the ruling of Supreme Court Justice Mance, who has held that
“the present legislative position in Northern Ireland is untenable”
and that the current law
“clearly needs radical reconsideration”?
If she does, can she address the point that a number of us have made about how much longer she will allow women in Northern Ireland to suffer this untenable law?
There are many views that we all need to consider in the judgment. As I have said, we will spend a significant amount of time looking at the judgment and considering the points that have been made, but I do come back to the point that this matter needs to be dealt with by the politicians who have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland.
Does the Minister agree that while there has been no declaration of incompatibility on a technicality, and although there is a lot to digest, what is crystal clear is that a majority of the UK Supreme Court has said that, in three crucial respects, the law of Northern Ireland violates women’s article 8 rights. Does she agree that something needs to be done about that as a matter of urgency?
Clearly there is much that needs to be done, but it needs to be done in Stormont. That is why locally elected politicians need to come back together to form that devolved Government.
The Secretary of State’s excuse for inaction is that this is a devolved issue, yet next week we will discuss Lords amendments to a Bill that will steal a whole range of powers from devolved areas to allow the Westminster Government to legislate in devolved fields. Why the discrepancy?
I am afraid that I simply disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 11 June—Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill.
Tuesday 12 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 13 June—Conclusion of consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).
Thursday 14 June—Debate on a motion on the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 June—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 June will include:
Monday 18 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, followed by general debate on acquired brain injury.
In addition to the business next week, colleagues will be keen to know when the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill will next be debated in the Commons. I agree that we must hold these debates as soon as possible, so I would like to update the House by saying that these Bills will come forward by mid-July at the latest. Every week I look very carefully at the progress we are making on all legislation, and I am pleased that the return of those Bills, along with the return to this House of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, demonstrate continued progress towards ensuring that we have a fully functioning statute book when we leave the EU. As Leader of the House, my absolute priority is to give Parliament the time it needs to debate and scrutinise these important pieces of legislation at every stage. I will continue to do exactly that as further progress is made.
This has been a particularly sporting week for Parliament. I was delighted to hear that the Commons have been triumphant against the Lords. I am, of course, talking about the Jo Cox memorial tug of war match on Tuesday in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Yesterday, however, MPs were less successful at the UNICEF and Department for International Development Soccer Aid tournament, with the Press Lobby emerging victorious. Huge congratulations to everyone who took part in support of some great causes.
Finally, I hope to see many women from across the House joining the Processions march on Sunday. Women and girls in London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh will march through the streets in the colours of the suffrage movement to mark the centenary of equal votes. I am definitely looking forward to it.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
I just cannot believe what I have heard. What a mess; what a shambles! The Government were briefing before Whitsun that there would be three days of debate on the withdrawal Bill. They then briefed this week that there would be one day—only 12 hours on Tuesday—and now the Leader of the House announces two days. Could we see the programme motion through the usual channels so that we will know how long we have on each of the two days?
This Government cannot handle democracy. The Leader of the House was one of those who said that we should bring back sovereignty to Parliament, but there is no say for Parliament. The Government tell us to be grateful for 12 hours and then to be grateful for two days, but the Opposition asked for four days. This is the most important piece of legislation that will affect our country and, most importantly, future generations—those young people who voted overwhelmingly to remain. There are 196 amendments from the other place, including 14 important amendments defeating the Government’s intransigent position. Giving even two days of debate is no way to treat a parliamentary democracy; it hardly gives a chance for all Members to take part in the debate. The Government are still working out their position; oh no, 12.30—that is when they decide their position. We are two years on from the referendum, with two Council meetings to go. Yes, we voted to leave, but it is our duty to negotiate what is in the best interests of the country, based on evidence.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of the written parliamentary questions on Vote Leave that have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the deputy Leader of the Opposition. Does she know when the Electoral Commission report on electoral fraud in the Vote Leave campaign will be published?
The Brexit Secretary said that he may resign—not. The Prime Minister said
“we want to publish a White Paper” —[Official Report, 6 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 298.]
But she cannot or will not say when, and she refused to answer the Leader of the Opposition’s question. Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us when the White Paper will be published. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Brexit Secretary and the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary have all visited the border. When will the Prime Minister visit the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
The Government cannot even handle running the economy. GDP figures show that UK growth in the first three months of the year has hit a five-year low of 0.1%. Household spending rose by only 0.2%—the weakest in more than three years. Where is the Chancellor? May we have a debate on the effects of Brexit on the economy? Why is the economy shrinking?
The Government are not even fiscally competent. Let us take the sale of Royal Bank of Scotland. Tell me if this is fiscally competent: the Government bought the shares for 502p each and sold them for 271p. That is £2.1 billion lost to the taxpayer, added to £1.9 billion lost in 2015—£4 billion in total. Is that fiscally competent? [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise. As someone who repeatedly implores Members of this House not to yell at each other but to treat each other with respect, I must repeat that exhortation now. The shadow Leader of the House must be heard, just as the Leader of the House was heard and must be heard. [Interruption.] Order. I am not interested in— [Interruption.] Order. The Whip standing at the end of the Chamber, the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), must calm himself. His imprecations are of no interest or concern to the House at this time. If he does not like it, he is welcome to leave. We can perfectly well get on without him.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Prem Sikka of Essex University said:
“Why sell? Taxpayers bailed out the bank and when there is a glimpse of recovery and profits, the government sells it at a loss to ensure that profits are collected by its friends in the City.”
Those are the words of someone who works at Essex University—or is it waffle? Now the Government intend to open the National Fund, a charity fund established 90 years ago on the condition that it stays untouched until it is large enough to pay off the entire national debt. May we have a statement on what the Government are going to do to the National Fund?
The Government cannot handle democracy, the economy or the rule of law. The courts have decided that the confidence and supply agreement must be voted on by Parliament. If the Leader of the House really believes in the sovereignty of Parliament, will she give time for that debate on the Floor of the House?
On Saturday, we celebrate our gracious sovereign’s official birthday with the trooping of the colour parade. I think that people will have recognised that, at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the Queen was wearing suffragette colours.
Of course, today we remember Lady Wilson, the extraordinary wife of a great Labour Prime Minister, who died this week. Our condolences go to her family and to the wider Labour family.
The Lord Speaker was a gracious host to the 42nd Richard Dimbleby lecture given by Professor Jeanette Winterson—it is well worth watching on BBC iPlayer. I attended that brilliant lecture. She was thought provoking, funny and inspiring in equal measure, but she also reminded us that there is much to be done to get true equality.
I join the hon. Lady in marking the trooping of the colour this weekend. I join her in noting that it did look extraordinarily as though Her Majesty was wearing suffragette colours at the recent royal wedding. That was a great delight to all of us.
I also note the passing of Lady Wilson, at a fine age to have reached, and all her achievements. Notably, I saw that she opposed her husband’s view on the UK joining the European Community, which was not something of which I had been aware before. I, too, commend Jeanette Winterson, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently. I found her very thought-provoking—a very interesting woman.
I am afraid that that is about all I can agree on with the hon. Lady today. In answer to her first points about the announcement of business, as she knows, confirmed business is announced at business questions by me in response to a question by her. That is how it is and continues to be, and that is how it is today. She can talk all she likes about things she has seen in the press, but the business has been announced today as it always is.
As the hon. Lady will know, programme motions are usually tabled by the rise of the House on the day before the relevant item of business is due to be taken. I do hope that we will be in a position to provide more notice than that. I am trying to be as helpful as possible to colleagues so that people can see exactly what the plans are with sufficient time to be able to prepare themselves.
The hon. Lady talks about insufficient time for debate on Lords amendments. Collectively, Parliament has spent 258 hours debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—88 of them in the Commons and 170 in the Lords. Across both Houses, 1,390 amendments have been tabled, of which 1,171 were non-Government amendments. We are now providing a further two days for consideration of Lords amendments on subjects that have already been discussed and voted upon in this Chamber.
The hon. Lady asked when the Government will set out their response to the Lords amendments. I can assure her that the Government will set out their approach to the Lords amendments in good time, whether that is in Government amendments, motions to disagree or other propositions.
As for the hon. Lady’s comments on the economy, she is completely wrong. [[Interruption.] She is chatting, so she is obviously not interested in the truth. The reality of the economy is that employment is up to another record high. Unemployment is down to a 40-year low. Real wages are rising. UK exports rose by nearly 10% in the last year, to a new record high. We saw the highest growth in investment spending in the G7 last year. Our day-to-day spending is in surplus for the first time in 16 years, since 2001-02, and we have the lowest net borrowing in over a decade. Our economy has grown for the last eight consecutive years. She is utterly wrong in her assertions about our economy.
Finally, the hon. Lady talked about the sale of RBS, which just defies belief. RBS was bailed out by the taxpayer on her Government’s watch, when her Government had been responsible for appalling oversight of the financial sector. The financial crash was in no small part due to appallingly soft regulation, which her Government presided over. This Government and this party have sorted out the mess left by her Government, including in returning RBS, which would have otherwise failed, to a position of health, from where we can start to give this money back to the taxpayer. She should welcome that and not condemn it, and the fact that she does not merely goes to show how little the Labour party understands how economic works.
Order. As the record shows, I try always to accommodate all colleagues with an interest in taking part in exchanges on the business question, and today will be no exception, but more than 30 colleagues are seeking so to do. I remind the House that there is the privilege motion to follow two Select Committee statements, and two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is therefore a premium on brevity from those on the Back and Front Benches alike, which I know will be brilliantly exemplified in the first instance by Justine Greening.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Leader of the House set out when the airports national policy statement will be debated and voted on?
The NPS was laid on 5 June and will be subject to a debate and vote in the House of Commons within 21 sitting days of laying the final NPS in Parliament. The last date that that can take place is 10 July 2018.[Official Report, 14 June 2018, Vol. 642, c. 6MC.]
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. What an absolute and utter shambles presents itself today. First, we have a Cabinet that simply cannot agree, with all sorts of rumours that the Brexit Secretary is apparently on the point of walking. We do not need a backstop from this Government; we just need them to stop. This is not taking back control; this is taking back purgatory.
Secondly, I have no idea what will actually be going on next week with the repeal Bill. We have not seen a programme motion, and I do not know when we will. It looks like we will still have 12 hours, but just over two days. Can she confirm whether that will be the case? This is clearly unsatisfactory, particularly with a multitude of Lords amendments to consider. Our constituents will be rightly outraged at this appalling attempt to evade debate and scrutiny, with 12 hours reserved for 196 amendments, punctuated by possible breaks of 20 minutes or so, and 21 votable amendments, as we go round and round in circles with this archaic practice of a 20-minute headcount. That might be the only opportunity for the House to have a meaningful debate and vote on critical issues such as the single market and the customs union.
For Scotland, it is even worse. Amendments to our devolution settlement were designed and passed in the unelected House of Lords, while we, the directly elected Members from Scotland, have had no opportunity to debate, consider and scrutinise what has been designed in this place. May we have proper time for at least the devolution settlement?
One last thing: 650 Members of Parliament are quite likely to be exiting the House in the small hours of the morning next week, when there will be no public transport available at all, making an absolute mockery of all the security arrangements in this place. Has the Leader of the House no consideration for the safety of Members, and what will she do to ensure that we can vacate these premises safely?
First, with great warmth may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who I understand was elected 17 years ago today? He is now the longest- serving Scottish MP—he obviously quite likes being in Westminster, even though he will not admit to it.
As I said to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) , a programme motion normally comes forward the day before a debate, but we will try to bring it forward earlier than that, to help colleagues who wish to prepare themselves. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) says that we are not allowing time for debate, but on the specific points he raised, on two occasions in this Chamber the Commons voted in favour of the Government and against including any statement of membership of the customs union in the Bill. We will be dealing with that amendment by their Lordships for the third time. The Commons also voted in favour of the Government and in support of removing the charter of fundamental rights from our law books, and the Commons again supported the Government on setting exit day in the Bill. There has already been considerable debate, and, as I set out, we will continue to provide time for further debate in this House next week.
May we have an urgent debate on the national parks review, so that we can give a warm welcome to the appointed chair, Mr Julian Glover, who I know will do an excellent job? More importantly, we can also find out who has been appointed to the advisory panel, when the review will start, and when those results will be published.
I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the national parks review. I have no specific information on that matter right now, but if she would like to write to me I can certainly look into it for her.
We are anticipating another two days of estimates day debates in early July, and the Backbench Business Committee will have four half-day slots to allocate to debate departmental estimates. Applications for those slots will need to be submitted by Friday 15 June, and details can be found on the Committee’s website. I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement, and for confirming that 14 June has been protected for the important Windrush debate.
It is always a great pleasure to work with the hon. Gentleman on providing time for Back-Bench debates, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee—all Members will be delighted to see the debate that has been selected for next Thursday.
It is now some time since our debate on the restoration and renewal of Parliament, which I and my colleagues caused to happen. We were told then that there is a present fire risk to this Chamber and royal palace, yet we are still waiting for action. If there is a present fire risk, we should be setting up fire doors and stopping up vents, and one way we can start that work is by closing this building during the entire summer recess and getting on with it. If there is a fire risk, let us deal with it.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important issue, and I hope I can assure all hon. and right hon. Members that we are getting on with the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, as per the instructions from this House. He will realise that immediate issues of health and safety regarding fire, falling masonry or any other risk are things that the strategic estates programme works on instantly—they are not subject to the longer timeframe of restoration and renewal. My hon. Friend nevertheless makes a good point, and I am always happy to meet him and update him on our progress.
Employees in my constituency have time limits imposed on their toilet breaks which are often unreasonable and insufficient to allow them time to go to the lavatory and return to work. What assessment has the Department of the Leader of the House made of businesses that adopt such practices?
That is not a responsibility of my Department, but I think the hon. Lady is looking for guidance on how to progress this issue. Questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are on Tuesday 12 June, and that would be a good question for her to raise directly with Ministers.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future role of the House of Lords? I have the highest regard for its work as a revising Chamber, but it does seem to be somewhat oversized, even allowing for sad deaths and retirements, and the Liberal party certainly seems to be over-represented in the other place.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for his question. There is a complete dearth of elected Liberal Democrats, which is more than made up for by their presence in the other place. The Government are committed to ensuring that the House of Lords continues to fulfil its constitutional role as a revising and scrutinising Chamber, which respects the primacy of the House of Commons. We will continue to work to ensure that the House of Lords remains relevant and effective, and addresses issues such as its size.
I hope colleagues will want to join me in congratulating the hon. Members for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) in the week, if memory serves me, that they mark the 35th anniversary of their election to the House. They have served continuously ever since their first election.
This July sees the 70th birthday of the national health service. Our House should celebrate this brilliant institution and its architect, one of my predecessors, Aneurin Bevan. May we have a debate in Government time to look at the services, the funding and the future of this much loved public service?
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for and love of the NHS. It is an amazing achievement for the United Kingdom, one that is admired and envied across the world. He will be aware that it has been considered the best health service in the world on more than one occasion. He is absolutely right that we need to mark and celebrate its 70th anniversary. That will indeed be forthcoming and there will be many more opportunities to debate the successes, as well as the needs, of our NHS in future weeks and months.
One of my constituents, Nicolle Finnie, has been selected to represent the UK in the cooking competition at the EuroSkills championships in Budapest in September. This represents the pinnacle of achievement for apprenticeships and technical skills for young people. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Nicolle and the rest of Team UK? Does she agree that high quality apprenticeships, and technical and vocational education, which the EuroSkills championships seeks to promote, are vital in instilling the next generation with the skills employers need?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Nicolle and the rest of Team UK on their selection. Cooking is a fantastic skill and my own daughter will be extremely jealous to hear about Nicolle’s success. I totally agree that apprenticeships and vocational and technical education are vital in equipping the next generation with the skills they need. The EuroSkills championships are fantastic events, showcasing talent and skills from around Europe and the rest of the world.
The Passport Office’s one name policy is preventing many British citizens, including my constituent Nabila Damasceno, from obtaining a passport. Will the Government make a statement on the Passport Office’s one name policy?
The hon. Lady raises a very important and significant constituency concern. She will be aware that the Home Office is taking some very strong steps to review the way in which those who are seeking visas are being treated. The Home Secretary has undertaken to review all policies. If she wants to raise a specific constituency issue, I encourage her to raise it directly with Ministers.
Yesterday, along with Members from across the House, I had the pleasure of meeting veterans from the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association—I am their patron. There are just 1,500 survivors of the 22,000 who were sent to far-off places for those nuclear tests. One wrote:
“We are doomed to spend our time in a land that time forgot.”
We are the only country that does not recognise them formally and they are now asking for a medal. I wonder if the Leader of the House will ask a Defence Minister to come to this House and confirm that the Government will award that medal, so we can give to those who gave so much for us.
I certainly join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who undertook this extremely frightening and, in many ways, appalling experience. I encourage him to raise this directly with Ministers on Monday 11 June at Defence oral questions.
I have just been advised—I think I have started a trend—that it is the 17th anniversary of the election to this House of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). We have savoured the experience of hearing him and I am sure that we look forward to continuing to do so. Congratulations to the hon. Gentleman.
Earlier this week, I spoke to the House about my constituent Alex Hodgson who pays £285 a month to travel to work near Manchester. So far he has had to take a number of days’ annual leave because of the chaos on the rail network. Today, he has been offered compensation of £20, so could we have a debate on what meaningful compensation actually looks like?
I am very concerned to hear what the hon. Lady says. That does not sound right to me. She is obviously raising a particular case. I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary made a statement to the House about the problems with Northern Rail, and he has proposed a special compensation scheme. It seems to me that the hon. Lady should raise this issue directly with Transport Ministers. If she would like to write to me, I can take it up with them on her behalf.
I recently organised the first meeting between the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group and West Oxfordshire District Council to plan for our area’s future healthcare needs. Does this not highlight the need for proper, joined-up planning between councils and health bosses in the complicated area of health and social care, and may we please have a full debate to discuss this very complicated issue?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this. It is an incredibly tricky area and it certainly impacts on my constituency, not far away from his. While district councils do not have responsibility for health or social care, the Government absolutely agree that it is vital that health and social care work together at every level to plan and join up services effectively. He will know that upper-tier and unitary local authorities and CCGs are required to sit on their area’s health and wellbeing board to develop a local joint health and wellbeing strategy to address health and social care needs in each and every area.
May we have a debate about the length of time that it is taking to process personal independence payment appeals? My constituent Frankie Cooper of Hyde has waited nearly 10 months for an appeal against the decision to take away her mobility car. This is far too long and she deserves to have the issue resolved. Too often this Government have presided over a social security system that is cruel and inefficient; surely it is time to discuss just how they can do better.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a specific issue. I am sorry to hear about that delay. It does not sound acceptable, and obviously it is something he should raise directly with Ministers. If he wants to do so via me, I am happy to take it up on his behalf, but equally he will appreciate that the point about personal independence payments is to give people greater power and control over their lives, to give them greater quality of life and to support them in maximising the opportunities available to them. Where it goes wrong, we need to sort it, but the policy itself is a good one.
May we have a debate on the Queen’s award for voluntary service? In Moray, we are exceptionally proud to have more recipients this year than Glasgow and Edinburgh combined. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows the true community spirit in Moray? The organisations that were successful include Morayvia, Fochabers heritage centre, Step by Step in Moray and Moray HandyPerson Services.