House of Commons
Tuesday 12 June 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Economic Growth and Emissions
My hon Friends and the House will agree that we should be proud of the UK’s progress in cutting emissions while driving economic growth. Since 1990, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 40% while growing the economy by over two thirds—the best performance per capita in the G7. And we will, as part of our modern industrial strategy, continue to exploit the opportunities for future growth across the UK through our clean growth grand challenge.
As we rightly move towards eliminating the internal combustion engine in all new cars from 2040, does the Minister agree that, in the short to medium term, it is important to jobs and growth that we recognise the role of clean diesel engines such as those in the cars that roll off the production in my local car plant?
My hon. Friend rightly champions the incredible employer in his constituency. He knows that we are right to move towards eliminating internal combustion engines from our roads, but we must do it in a managed way and ensure that we preserve those jobs and particularly the investment in clean diesel during the transition to zero-emission vehicles. I know that there have been announcements today of job losses in his constituency, which will be concerning. However, they are part of the manufacturing plan that has been announced.
The oil and gas industry plays an active role in protecting the environment and reducing emissions. Does the Minister share my shock that the shadow Chancellor advised Cambridge University to divest itself of oil and gas investments when that industry supports 300,000 jobs in the UK? Does she agree that the industry is playing its part, and that 300,000 UK jobs are worth protecting despite the Opposition’s—
Order. I say very gently that the Minister will want to focus on the policy of the Government. Her view about the policy of the Opposition is neither here nor there. With experience, I know the hon. Gentleman will realise that those questions are disorderly.
The Government’s policy is to support a sector that employs 300,000 people and contributes £21 billion to the UK economy. We recognise that the vital oil and gas industry has an integral role to play as we transition to a low-carbon economy, which is why we are investing in technologies such as carbon capture, usage and storage, and exploring how things such as our world-leading submersible technologies can work to support oil and gas.
The Minister will be aware of the potential of the marine energy sector in terms of both UK economic growth and reducing emissions. Will she assure me that projects such as Minesto and Morlais in my constituency will not be crowded out by the funding mechanism in place now, which favours offshore wind?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have set out £557 million to support all renewable technologies over the next few years. We want to make sure that we decarbonise at the right price for taxpayers and bill payers, which is one reason why the mechanism will continue.
One way in which the Government could invest in economic growth while decreasing emissions would be to invest in the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project. They have flip-flopped over the past 10 days, with leaks about when the announcement will or will not be made. May I press the Minister? Can she please tell us when she will deliver that major economic investment for Wales?
Having grown up on one side of the Bristol channel and seen the second-highest tidal range in the world on an almost daily basis, I will take no lessons on the value of tidal and marine technology. As guardians of public money, it is absolutely right that we make investments that deliver the right decarbonisation and the right value for the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman should not rely on leaks and assume that they are Government information. That announcement will come in due course and the House will be the first to know.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent announcement of support for Wylfa underpins the Government’s commitment not only to reducing emissions, but to economic growth, not least in Wales?
My hon. Friend is right. I should clarify that we are entering commercial negotiations—a deal needs to be done—but we should make a virtue of the fact that we have one of the most diversified energy supplies in the world, and one of the lowest-carbon energy supplies. We have also managed to get ourselves off coal, which other countries long to do.
The Government’s shambolic policy on the solar and onshore wind sectors in recent years has meant that significant economic growth and decarbonisation opportunities have been lost. For example, we have seen dramatic feed-in tariff subsidy cuts; business and VAT rate hikes; and obstruction to clean power auctions. Sadly, as we have heard today, there are reports that the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, the world’s first tidal lagoon, which would create thousands of jobs and local supply chains and use 100,000 tonnes of majority British steel, is potentially on the Secretary of State’s hit list. Will the Minister buck that trend today and confirm when the decision will be made, and outline what support she will give to solar and onshore wind?
I remain bemused by the hon. Lady’s ability to seize a disaster out of a triumph. We have delivered more renewable energy than we ever thought possible, at a price that is unimaginable—[Interruption.] I know the Opposition Front Benchers do not give a stuff about consumer bills, as they have made that totally obvious, but we care about decarbonisation at the right price for the consumer.
I think we touched a nerve there. The Minister is living in a parallel universe to me, because in the first quarter of 2018 the deployment of new solar slowed to its lowest level since 2010, and next year onshore wind installation is expected to be at its lowest level since before 2008. But it gets worse: last November, the industrial strategy was published, yet seven months on progress has been slow, with business becoming increasingly frustrated. The industrial strategy council has not yet been appointed, no strategy for reaching the research and development target has been published, and dozens of sectors are waiting for responses to their sector deals. So does the Minister accept, as some key business leaders do, that perhaps her Government’s chaos over Brexit and the apparent inability even to concentrate on an industrial strategy are undermining British business and indeed our growth?
The previous point still stands. We are incredibly proud of our industrial strategy, with its groundbreaking opportunities to link up government and businesses for the first time. I go back to the point on the hon. Lady’s questions about solar: the thing about offshore wind is that we lead—[Interruption.] Again, if they could all stop chuntering, Mr Speaker—God almighty. We lead the world in terms of the installed capacity, and we have created tens of thousands of jobs. I know the Opposition Front Benchers, as per the first question, do not give a stuff about jobs, let alone consumer bills, but the point is that—
Order. Minister, please resume your seat. I am most grateful to you, but I am afraid dilation is not in order today. We have a lot to get through and not much time in which to do so. We have to make progress. We need short questions and short answers.
Energy Generation and Consumption: Kettering
The last time I talked about dilation, I was in labour. However, in Kettering—
Order. What is required is a brief answer and a brief question—no dilation.
In 2016, at least 150 GWh were generated in Kettering, mostly from renewables; this is enough generation to power 38,000 homes. In 2016, 405 GWh of electricity were consumed in the Kettering local authority area.
It is great news that Kettering is one of the greenest boroughs in the country, but we do have a very large number of wind turbines in the borough. What are the Government doing to encourage offshore wind turbines, rather than onshore ones?
We have maintained, and will continue to maintain, our manifesto commitment that says that no more large-scale onshore wind development is right in England. That should reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents.
No. This question was purely about Kettering—both the question and the answer—so we must move on.
Food and Drink Sector: South-west
Food and drink grown and made in Cornwall is exported and enjoyed around the world. My hon. Friend, both as chairman of the all-party group on dairy and as North Cornwall’s MP, will welcome the £75 million investment by Dairy Crest in its Davidstow creamery, announced two weeks ago, to expand its cheese production by nearly 50%. We are working closely with the industry to ensure that companies continue to invest and grow, right across the UK.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and I do welcome Dairy Crest’s recent announcement. The food and drink sector is flourishing right across the south-west, particularly in North Cornwall. We have some fantastic brands, including Tarquin’s Gin, Kernow Chocolate, Sharp’s brewery and Buttermilk fudge, to name but a few. Many of these small and medium-sized firms are looking to export for the first time. What discussions is his Department having with the Department for International Trade in order to expand some of these opportunities for those firms?
We know that there is huge demand for these products. For example, one reason behind the expansion of the creamery is the increasing appetite in China for cheese produced in Cornwall. My hon. Friend mentioned Sharp’s brewery, and the investment in the facility at Rock now means that 340,000 pints of Doom Bar a day can be produced there. I hope some of those will leave these shores and be enjoyed around the world.
Controversially, Britain’s earliest pasty recipe comes from Plymouth rather than Cornwall. It dates from 1510 and was found in Plymouth borough’s accounts. Pasties are a key part of both Plymouth and Cornwall’s identity. What discussions has the Minister had to ensure that the name “Cornish pasties” is protected after we leave the EU, preventing anyone else around the world from forging pasties, be they Cornish or from Plymouth?
Anyone who has enjoyed pasties in Cornwall or, dare I say, Plymouth will attest to their unique qualities. We have products across the United Kingdom that are associated with the places where they are manufactured. It is an association of quality, and we will ensure that they continue to be protected as part of our negotiations.
The automotive sector is one of our great success stories, and our recently published automotive sector deal, as part of the industrial strategy, sets out how we will continue to support it in future. The partnership continues to deliver results. In April, Vauxhall announced an investment of over £100 million in its Luton plant to build the next generation of Vivaro vans. Last month, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the sector body, reported that UK van production had increased by almost a fifth compared with last year.
Jaguar Land Rover is one of Coventry’s biggest employers. Recently, JLR revealed its intention to make Coventry the heart of its large-scale battery and electric vehicle production plans. This is welcome news for my city. With that in mind, what support can the Minister offer to Jaguar Land Rover to ensure that Coventry becomes the centre for large-scale battery and electric vehicle production?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question and I completely agree with her praise and support for that very important employer. JLR’s expansion plans and its plans to make electric vehicles in Coventry are reinforced by the Faraday challenge, which is part of the industrial strategy, and the national battery manufacturing development facility is based at Warwick University’s campus there to support that company and many others besides.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be a cruel irony if Volkswagen, the author of the emissions cheating scandal, were to make large pay-outs in Germany and the United States, which would help those countries to boost their electric vehicle capacity, but made no similar pay-out to help the United Kingdom move ahead in this area?
My hon. Friend is right that the consequences have to be borne by the companies that cheated the system. We need to make the transition to ultra low emission vehicles to make sure that we lead the world in this area. Just a few weeks ago, Toyota announced a big investment in the future of mobility here in the UK, based on the commitments that we are making as part of our industrial strategy.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to see a managed change. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth pointed out that the next generation of diesel can play a big part in not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but improving air quality. We will shortly be setting out our proposals on how we make the important transition to zero emissions across our vehicle fleet.
Hundreds of jobs in my constituency rely on the Jaguar Land Rover supply chain. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he is doing to help car manufacturers to deal with the uncertainty of Brexit and the fall in demand for diesel vehicles?
I will. My hon. Friend is right to comment on the supply chain. A big part of the automotive sector deal, which we concluded with the sector, is to boost the proportion of components that are sourced in the UK. This is a joint commitment that we make, as part of the industrial strategy, but she is also right to draw attention to the importance of our continued ability to trade with the rest of the European Union, free of tariffs and with low friction, so that we can maintain the just-in-time model, which is so crucial to our automotive sector.
Following the loss of the Discovery model to Slovakia, which was a decision at least partly influenced by Brexit, what steps is the Minister taking to head off the risk to Jaguar Land Rover’s exports to China where the rules of origin will conflict with the interests of the company in the event that we lose the customs union and we no longer have sufficient UK content in the cars?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about the decision that was made. In fact, it is a decision to prepare Solihull for the next generation of the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport. JLR described that as a huge investment and a technology upgrade in Solihull, so I hope he will welcome that. He knows that the importance of making sure that we are able to continue to trade—this includes recognising rules of origin not just with the European Union, but around the world—is vital for this company.
Many intending to purchase new cars are unsure what type of engine to opt for, partly as a consequence of Government taxation policies. That is having a serious effect on the British motor manufacturing industry. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there remains a future for clean diesel?
I will indeed. We are not the only country that is seeing a fall in the sales of diesel. As I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have said, clean diesel and the new generations of diesel engines have a very important role to play in the transition to ultra low emission vehicles.
Contrary to what the Secretary of State has said, over the past six months nearly 2,000 job losses have been announced in the UK’s automotive sector. This week in the media we have seen speculation about thousands of further redundancies caused by a combination of factors, including worries about possible consequences of a no deal Brexit and the absence of the customs union. May I press the Secretary of State to set out how the Government will work with business, industry bodies and trade unions to ensure security of the automotive industry and those employed in it both in the immediate future and beyond UK’s exit from the EU?
We work very closely with the industry with great success. Engine production in this country was up over 17% last year, reaching 1 million engines. That is a record. Never in the history of the British motor industry were more engines produced than last year. Over the past year, the net number of jobs that are being created—note the word “created”—in the automotive sector in this country is 9,000.We have a very good record of working closely with the industry to support an industry that is not only very successful today, but will continue to flourish in the future.
The Government are committed to helping energy consumers. We have brought forward the price cap Bill, and more than 2 million low-income households receive £140 a year through the warm home discount.
Does the Secretary of State agree that a wide-reaching energy efficiency programme would help vulnerable customers in Eddisbury and elsewhere, as well as helping the UK meet its climate change targets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the missions that the Prime Minister announced as part of our grand challenges in the industrial strategy is to reduce by 50% the energy consumption of homes built in the future. That has an important impact not only on our greenhouse gas emissions, but on the bills that people face.
With recent rises in fuel costs, many motorists in the Scottish borders feel like they have been taken for a ride. What steps are the Government taking to try to reduce the impact of higher taxation on fuel, and what analysis has the Department carried out on the allegations of rocket and feather pricing on petrol and diesel sales at the pump?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. It is a very important market. Obviously, recent oil prices rises have had an impact at the petrol pumps. It is important that prices are competitive and not, as he implies, subject to rising quickly and then taking a long time to decline. The Office of Fair Trading last looked at this in 2013, but I expect its successor, the Competition and Markets Authority, under Andrew Tyrie, a noted consumer champion, to keep this under close review.
Up to 200,000 customers do not benefit from the warm homes discount because they get their energy from smaller energy suppliers. Is it not time to extend the warm homes discount, especially since energy bills are going up and we are trying to crack down on rip-off tariffs?
The hon. Lady, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, makes a very important point. We are reviewing whether the threshold for exclusion is appropriate; I know that she will welcome that.
Some 169 households in my constituency have been affected by the mis-selling of insulation and solar panels by HELMS. This company was accredited by the Government under the old green deal scheme, so what will the Government do to compensate these people—often vulnerable pensioners—and how will they prevent such mis-selling from happening under the new green deal scheme?
As with any other supplier, consumer protection rights are in place and available. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this particular case and see whether we can help.
Vulnerable customers can benefit from the use of smart meters. Will the Secretary of State update the House on how many SMETS 2 meters have now been installed and are connected to the Data Communications Company?
I can tell my hon. Friend that 1,000 new SMETS 2 meters have already been installed. That is a significant milestone because it represents the beginning of the roll-out of the next generation of meters.
As businesses look to expand their market share in the wider evolving world market beyond the EU ahead of next year, what priority are the Government giving to maintaining and trying to reduce energy bills to create employment and prosperity right across the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. We have commissioned Professor Dieter Helm to look at how we can reduce the costs of our energy system for businesses and consumers. One of the advantages of the strategy that we have pursued is that we have brought down the costs of offshore wind—a major contribution—by targeting and investing substantially in it at a rate, as my the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) said earlier, which has resulted in a reduction beyond what anyone expected even a couple of years ago.
Sustainable Electricity Generation
Since 2010, we have seen a large increase in renewables deployment and investment, with more than £52 billion invested, and indeed it is paying off. In 2017, more than half our energy generation came from low-carbon sources. As prices tumble, we can buy more with the same amount of money, which is why we are making £557 million available for further contracts for difference. We have started negotiations with Hitachi to bring forward the country’s second new nuclear plant, which my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) mentioned.
The Minister talks a good talk, but rooftop solar panel take-up is at a seven-year low. In my seat, Alternergy has gone from topping the Fintech 100 to an 80% drop in business since the end of the feed-in tariff was announced in 2012. What assurances does the Minister have for such firms after the scheme closes next year?
It is right that we look at how we can deliver subsidy-free energy using schemes such as the feed-in tariff that have been wildly successful. I will shortly be launching a call for evidence so that we can come up with a good replacement for the feed-in tariff scheme.
What was the principal driver in the reduction of the price of new offshore wind?
There were two things. First was the world-leading contract structure that we set up with our auctions; I pay tribute to that very good coalition policy. The second thing was the enormous deployment globally and the reduction in price of the various components. It has been a great British success story.
In 2015, the then Secretary of State said that 2018 would be the year for the UK to ratchet up our Paris climate commitments and our progress towards sustainable generation, but in the past three years the Government have capped support for low-carbon energy and destroyed 12,000 solar jobs. Clean energy investment, which fell by 10% in 2016, fell by a further 56% in 2017 to its lowest level in a decade. How about the Minister comes down off cloud complacency and finally gives investors certainty about the renewables industry, starting with a date for the consultation on the post feed-in tariff framework?
I think that the question in all that preamble was, “What is the date?” As I said, we will be announcing that soon.
Globally, the nuclear power market is declining rapidly while the low-carbon power of offshore wind and battery storage becomes more affordable. How can the UK Government justify taking a reported £5 billion direct stake, and a further guarantee of £9 billion, in the nuclear white elephant that is Hitachi Wylfa Newydd?
As I have said repeatedly, we have entered into negotiations. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that one of the saddest things I saw at the conference of the parties in Bonn this year was the barge-loads of dirty brown coal sailing down the Ruhr because countries like Germany have made an ideological choice about their energy supply rather than focusing on what keeps the lights on, costs down, and carbon falling.
The Minister said earlier that she “gave a stuff” about household budgets, yet Tory dogma is set to saddle consumers with nuclear energy costing about £80 per megawatt-hour compared with under £60 for offshore wind. Is it not time that the UK Government stopped living in the past, scrapped this nuclear project, and put households, who bear the brunt of costs, front of mind?
The hon. Gentleman cites numbers that have no relevance to the negotiations. We have to keep bills down, and we have to make sure that the lights are on, that we have a secure energy supply, and that we decarbonise. We think nuclear is very much part of that mix.
Feed-in Tariff Scheme
The feed-in tariff scheme was launched in 2010 and now delivers £1.5 billion-worth of support a year for low-carbon generation. It has been really successful, and over 6 GW of it has been deployed—2.5% of UK electricity consumption. We want to see how we can deploy it at a subsidy-free level, as that is where prices are going. I will launch a call for evidence on the future of small-scale generation soon.
Although I was delighted to hear that the world-leading small wind turbine manufacturer in my constituency, Gaia-Wind, was saved from liquidation this week by an overseas buyer, the unnecessary uncertainty that the Government have created around the future of small-scale renewable energy persists. So will the Minister put investors and companies at ease and make a cast-iron promise to bring forward the consultation on future support before the summer recess?
I am really glad that, as the hon. Gentleman says, it looks as though at least some of the jobs at the company in his constituency have been saved. With these schemes, we always have to think about what is value for money and what is the right thing to do in terms of energy security and supply. I will not make cast-iron guarantees, but I can promise him that it will happen soon.
Ben Dyson at Lakes Renewables Ltd in Kendal, which focuses on solar power, has seen a 50% reduction in his work due to the impending closure of the scheme. He has kept going by diversifying, but many other firms have gone to the wall. Ben urgently needs policy clarity from next March, and to see business rates on commercial rooftop solar abolished. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that these rates are abolished and that the growth of small green businesses such as Ben’s is encouraged?
I met representatives of the various trade associations to discuss this really important point. It will be considered separately from the consultation. However, I invite the hon. Gentleman and his constituent to make any representations; I would be keen to receive them.
High Street Businesses
The retail sector is an important part of our economy and our industrial strategy, as are the 3 million jobs employed in it. In March, I established the Retail Sector Council so that retailers can work together with Government to develop policies to support the sector. Last week, the Secretary of State and I held a roundtable in Downing Street with retailers to establish how to tackle the challenges facing the sector.
As more retailers struggle to survive on our high streets, what discussions has the Minister had with Treasury colleagues to move business rates away from a property-type tax so that high-street retailers can compete on a level playing field with online businesses?
As my hon. Friend will know, in April 2017, retailers saw a 6% reduction before inflation in their business rates, with £3.6 billion of transitional relief. We are doing what we can to support businesses. The Retail Sector Council will be looking at a range of issues, including business rates. The Government are determined to ensure that the taxation system is up to date and fit for purpose.
One of the areas on the high street that is particularly struggling is that of our important pubs. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on the extent to which pub-owning businesses and tenants enjoy confidence in the Pubs Code Adjudicator—and if they do not, what steps the Government are taking to put that right.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I take a particular interest in the health of public houses up and down the country. He will know that this Government set up the Pubs Code Adjudicator to ensure that landlords and tenants across the country got a fair deal. It is still early days, but the adjudicator is getting on and making decisions. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), is in close discussions with the adjudicator to ensure that he is getting the job done.
Do the Government feel that there is a level playing field between internet providers and businesses on the high street?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his election to the Select Committee; I am sure he will do a great job in standing up for British business. He highlights a key issue, which is the transition from traditional bricks and mortar to online. Last year alone, we saw a 9% increase in online retail. Clearly that is a challenge for Government and business. That is why we are looking at the business rates structure and also at what we can do to help business to transition during this difficult period.
The British Retail Consortium has estimated that up to one third of retail jobs could disappear by 2025 as a fundamental transformation of the market occurs. Does the Minister agree that providing retail workers with the opportunity to upskill and reskill is critical to avoiding mass job losses over the next decade?
I absolutely agree that it is important to ensure that our workforce are properly skilled, which is why that is an important part of our modern industrial strategy, but I am less pessimistic than her. Retail employment has been stable at about 3 million. Yes, those jobs are changing, but retail sales totalled some £362 billion last year, and jobs are being created in the retail sector.
Last week, House of Fraser announced that 6,000 jobs were at risk. Yesterday, another 5,000 jobs went at Poundworld. Since the start of the year, tens of thousands of retail workers have lost their jobs. Some 3.9 million people work in our retail sector. They, their employers and anyone who cares about our high streets want a retail sector deal, so when are the Government going to publish the strategy? More to the point, will it have any meaningful action?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Yesterday I spoke to the chief executives of both House of Fraser and Poundworld to properly understand the challenges that those businesses face and what Government can do to support them. The hon. Gentleman talks about a sector deal. I politely point out that it was this Government who had to take action to bring together the Retail Sector Council, a forum in which to develop policies. While the Labour party sit by and watch, this Government are getting on and working with the retail sector to protect those jobs.
Sirius Minerals Polyhalite Project
The Sirius Minerals polyhalite project has the potential to create 1,000 skilled jobs at the mine near Whitby and on Teesside, with many more jobs in their supply chains. That is an important type of business that will benefit from our industrial strategy, creating skilled jobs in the north of England.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the recent Quod report, which shows the long-term economic benefits of this investment. The polyhalite fertiliser mining project does not only bring the 1,000 jobs that the Minister mentioned but is the largest single investment in the north. Product will be exported to the world through Teesport, growing the local economy by almost 20% and adding £2.3 billion to the economy. Does the Minister agree that that is precisely the kind of project that the Government should be getting behind as part of the modern industrial strategy?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. This is a very important project for him, as the Member of Parliament for Whitby. It is an important developing business, and I agree that it is exactly the kind of business that would benefit from our industrial strategy.
I worked for some years in the chemical industry, so let us talk in real terms. We are talking about potash, and as one of the biggest reserves of potash in Europe, this business is seriously important. On a day like today, when we face the ruination of Brexit, when my local engineering companies are desperate about losing their markets in Europe and when Ministers are resigning, it is vital that we use this resource to compensate for the disaster in the rest of the economy.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; this potash project is very exciting and very good for the UK. It is exactly the kind of business that he would want in his area, and it will help businesses throughout the United Kingdom.
Science, Technology and Innovation Investment
When it comes to science, research and innovation, this Government are putting their money where their mouth is. We are investing an additional £7 billion in research and development funding by 2022—the biggest ever increase in public funding. Our ambition is to increase the UK’s R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, which will be an additional £80 billion over the next decade to help us to dominate the new industries of the future.
The industrial strategy’s commitment to supporting new innovation and investment in science and technology for food production was much welcomed, especially in areas such as North Yorkshire. Will the Minister update the House on what the Government are doing to deliver on these ambitions so that we can fully realise the sector’s potential as a source of high-skill jobs and growing exports?
My hon. Friend is right to mention agri-tech. As he is aware, we set out in the industrial sector that agri-tech is one of the six priority areas for the artificial intelligence and data economy grand challenge. On progress in what we are doing, we have announced a £90 million transforming food production challenge, which will continue to bring together the UK’s world-class agri-food sector with expertise in robotics, AI and data science.
In Chelmsford, we are making the sensors that will go on the Sentinel satellites, which will provide a step change in how we monitor our planet’s environment from space. Many European countries have national space programmes and are members of the European Space Agency, Will the UK have a national space programme and contribute to the European Space Agency going forward?
I can answer categorically: the UK will continue to be a member of the independent European Space Agency—currently, for every £1 we invest, we get £10 back—and Innovate UK is looking at a national space programme with the UK Space Agency. In addition, we are looking at a space sector deal to boost the work in our thriving space sector.
Some of the most exciting and innovative work in engineering at the moment is being done on the development of renewable energy from wave and tidal stream power. The sector itself has come up with a proposal for innovation in power purchase agreements. Will the Minister, or perhaps some of his colleagues, agree to meet me with a delegation from the sector to discuss how it can contribute to the Government’s industrial strategy?
Absolutely. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentions the industrial strategy, and I would be delighted to meet him.
No mention of Galileo—not one word.
Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to keep banging on about Galileo from a sedentary position. We want to hear the views of the hon. Lady, but we have heard the hon. Gentleman chuntering and we may hear him on his feet in due course.
When looking at investment in science and innovation across the UK, will the Government do what has not been done in recent years, and make sure that the north gets its fair share?
The hon. Lady mentions the Strength in Places fund—it is actually a big part of our industrial strategy—which is designed to ensure that research and development does not just benefit the so-called golden triangle, but benefits all parts of the UK in terms of jobs and growth.
Even though telecoms are reserved to Westminster, the UK Government are contributing just £21 million to the Scottish Government’s programme to provide superfast broadband to everyone in Scotland. What representations will the Minister therefore make to the Chancellor about matching the Scottish Government’s whopping £600 million contribution?
It is for the Scottish Government to make their own budget representations, but as we have always said, we are committed to the roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK. Some 95% of the country has superfast broadband thanks to the work of this Government.
Science is a great British success story, supporting jobs and growth across the country. With Europe’s funding for UK science down a fifth, more than 6,000 engineers and scientists denied visas in this year alone and universities reporting that Brexit chaos is freezing them out of Europe’s new £90 billion science fund, UK science risks crashing down to earth. Does the Minister accept that his threat to spend the entire UK science budget on duplicating Galileo because the Government have bungled negotiations on this £9 billion UK-EU collaboration is final proof that his science strategy is lost in space?
As I said, we have the biggest increase in science and innovation in this country for 40 years. As for the UK-EU science collaboration, the EU Commissioner himself said:
“It is very important for the UK and it is very important for the EU to have a relationship in science and innovation. We’ve had this relationship for so long”.
On Galileo, negotiations are under way and we have made it very clear not only that it benefits the UK but that EU member states stand to lose skills and other important issues without the UK’s involvement.
Gas Sector: Scotland
This Government have provided unprecedented levels of support to help this incredibly important sector—that is something on which we do agree. The Government announced the transferable tax allowance, the sector’s No. 1 ask; established the Oil and Gas Authority; invested in the Aberdeen city deal, including the excellent £90 million Oil and Gas Technology Centre, which I was pleased to visit; and put together a fiscal package worth £2.3 billion. It is working, with 16 new final investment decisions this year.
That all sounds very good, but the reality is that in 2016 the Budget measures on support for the oil and gas industry were only a third of the measures on inheritance tax. The measure on transferable tax history has been delayed further, so when will that come forward? Why can the Government find billions and billions of pounds for nuclear but not for the oil and gas sector?
The hon. Gentleman and I usually talk about the sector in very positive terms. We have delivered the things that the sector has asked for and it is working. It is fantastic to see investment happening in the North sea basin. The fact that the sector has gone through a time of building resilience given the oil price decline means that it is now starting to invest and grow again.
In December 2017 we published Government-commissioned independent research that identified high-value market opportunities for UK steel producers worth up to £3.8 billion a year by 2030
The national shipbuilding strategy sought to improve UK prosperity through shipbuilding. The MOD fleet solid support ships contract is worth more than £1 billion. What steps will the Government be taking to ensure that British steel manufacturers are ready to bid for that contract?
As the hon. Lady will know, because I met her the week before last, I am very conscious that Tata is in Port Talbot in her constituency. I promise that I will do everything in my power to ensure that Tata and other British steel companies, all of whom I meet regularly, are poised to act on these contracts.
Carbon Capture and Storage Taskforce
I am delighted to answer this question and continue the conversation about carbon capture and storage that the hon. Gentleman and I were having last night. We are determined to deploy cost-effective carbon capture and storage at scale and in a way that helps to decarbonise both generation and industry. That is why we have asked the taskforce, the best minds in the country, and our CCUS council to convene. I am looking forward to receiving their report and acting on it very soon.
Does the Minister agree that the development of carbon capture and storage is crucial for much of British manufacturing and for the use of gas during the transition, and will she encourage innovation not just in technology but in finance, with both the Government and the fossil fuel sector contributing?
The hon. Gentleman might have been reading one of the report’s recommendations. He is absolutely right. We must deliver this in a way that is cost-effective and supports further innovation. I am confident that with the taskforce’s help we will have very good recommendations and ideas to move forward with.
Our modern industrial strategy will boost productivity and earning power across the UK. We have announced four sector deals in areas including life sciences, the creative industries, the automotive sector and artificial intelligence. More will come in the weeks ahead. I am encouraged by the work of the mayoral combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships in developing local industrial strategies.
I and my Front Bench colleagues have been informed that dozens of sectors have put forward proposals for a sector deal, including the steel industry, but have had little or no engagement from the Government. Will the Secretary of State confirm how many proposals for sector deals he has received and to how many he has formally responded?
I am delighted to report that we have had a huge interest from sectors right across the country, including the steel sector. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) and I have had substantial discussions with the steel industry and we look forward to developing that deal in the weeks and months ahead.
What progress is being made on the Greater Grimsby town deal?
I know this deal is close to my hon. Friend’s heart and that of his constituency neighbour. I have made a commitment to come to Cleethorpes and, I dare say, Grimsby to help with that negotiation. I look forward to doing so soon.
We can take Question 19, if it is brief.
The right hon. Gentleman knows, more than many in the House, the need to invest in innovative technologies while maintaining a focus on value for money. We have rightly looked at this project with very serious scrutiny. There are some very attractive things about it, but it has to pass the value for money test. When that decision is made the House will be the first to know.
Does the Minister accept that nuclear and offshore wind needed pathfinder projects, first-of-a-kind projects, to prove the technology and the economics, and to get the cost down. Why can tidal lagoons not have such a pathfinder project, just as Charles Hendry recommended?
Partly because of the right hon. Gentleman’s great policy decisions, we have had a world-leading advance in offshore wind in terms of the cost at which we can deploy it. He is right to say that we have to consider the whole life cycle of technologies and that is exactly what we have been doing in considering tidal technology.
The right hon. Gentleman has been given the accolade of being the source of world leadership in a particular field. I trust, therefore, that he will be gratified with his efforts today.
Since our last departmental questions, we have taken further steps to implement our industrial strategy. In early May, we launched UK Research and Innovation, with a budget of £6 billion a year, to drive forward our growing investment in research and development. The Prime Minister announced four missions that our grand challenges will achieve, including to save 20,000 lives a year through artificial intelligence-assisted cancer diagnosis. We have launched sector deals in AI, convened the first ever retail sector council and launched a major programme to drive productivity in smaller companies. On the 150th anniversary of the creation of the TUC, from the party that established the royal commission that decriminalised trade unions, that brought in widows pensions and holiday entitlements, that created the national living wage—in other words, Mr Speaker, the true workers’ party—we wish the TUC a very happy birthday.
Of course, I say to the Secretary of State that the Labour party was founded by the trade unions.
My question is about retail. In Hull, retail employs 12,000 people. Hull’s House of Fraser store is going to close, with the loss of 207 jobs. Hull has three Poundworld stores that are under threat and there are also concerns about Hull’s Marks and Spencer store, which may be one of the 60 unidentified branches closing by 2022. After the Comet collapse, which cost taxpayers some £45 million, what is the Minister going to do to assist shop workers and protect taxpayers?
The hon. Lady will concede that the efforts and engagement through the city of culture year between the Government and Hull were very substantial and very effective. I am familiar with the House of Fraser store in Hull. I know what an important part it plays in the life of the town centre. I understand that the council is confident that such a prime site, which I know well, will be taken up. I will work closely with the council to make sure, through the sector council, it has all the help it needs.
Of course, the whole House will shortly be able to pass the price cap Bill, which will assist all consumers with the cost of energy, and this comes on top of the prepayment meter and vulnerable consumers price caps that are in place. We are determined to continue supporting vulnerable consumers through such things as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and through repurposing the very large energy company obligation scheme to tackle fuel poverty.
I have always admired the hon. Lady’s passion. Again, as I have said multiple times, we absolutely are very keen to scrutinise this deal. It has to deliver the low carbon energy we all want and the jobs we all want at a price that is affordable for the consumers we all represent.
Those who missed the Clackmannanshire energy project Adjournment debate missed a massive treat: it was a very enjoyable, informative debate. We are very supportive of the project. My officials are working closely to explore funding opportunities, and I commend my hon. Friend for his continued leadership in this important area.
As you may well be aware, Mr Speaker, highland products are absolutely excellent and should well be distributed to all parts of the UK. The Government’s policy, with the industrial strategy to develop business by helping with research and development and through keeping fuel prices low, without the troughs and peaks that the Secretary of State mentioned, will help significantly.
The Festival of Engineering is particularly important for students because we want to encourage and inspire people to take engineering subjects and follow engineering careers. A lot of activity is planned and I will be delighted to share this with my hon. Friend.
We are getting on with major infrastructure investments that would be good for the whole United Kingdom and which the previous Government did not take.
I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s brilliant chairmanship of the all-party group on this technology area. He is absolutely right: we do think that water power has incredible potential. That is why the Government have invested over £100 million since 2010 in investigating various forms of the technology and why we are keen to continue to pursue opportunities, but they have to be at the right price for consumers.
As I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware, I meet the steel industry regularly, and I am very interested to meet him to hear his views on the subject. I can assure him that everything that can possibly be done to deal with tariffs is being done. I had a meeting with all the chief executives of the steel business. I went to Brussels last week and met the director general of trade, as well as other CEOs and European colleagues.
High street businesses lose out when banks close, pensioners lose banking services, and post offices are also facing challenging times. What can be done to make sure that the main high street banks provide their services at least in a host post office that acts as a hub?
My hon. Friend, who makes some important points, will know that the Government have invested £2 billion in the post office network to ensure that across the country, in communities where retail banks are closing, the Post Office can step up and allow his constituents and businesses, among others, to access both personal and business banking in their local post office. That is good for the post offices and for our communities.
The hon. Lady will know that the retail sector is particularly impacted on by changes in consumer behaviour. More people are shopping online, and that is a challenge for the sector. There is no silver bullet, but through the retail sector we are sitting alongside industry and trying to understand the challenges it faces, such as on business rates and how we adapt to ensure that we not only help the sector to make that transition, but protect the jobs of the 3 million people employed in the sector.
When will the Government respond to the joint report on Carillion by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank the Select Committees for their work on Carillion. They did a truly remarkable job in holding the directors of Carillion to account and uncovering exactly what went on with the Carillion collapse. I think the report was issued on 16 May, and the Government have 60 days in which to respond, but I can assure him that we are doing all we can to meet the challenge.
Order. We have run out of time so we must have very brief questions. I think a sentence will suffice.
Factory output has decreased, according to the papers today. Will the Minister outline what he can do to assist factory manufacturing and initiate a clear industrial strategy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, through the industrial strategy, which has been developed in close collaboration with the Engineering Employers Federation, and through investment in research and development and skills, we are doing everything we can to take the opportunities arising.
Given the success of auto-enrolment, will the Minister outline what steps the Department is taking to ensure that as the country saves more, we invest more in British industry?
The hon. Gentleman will know that through the industrial strategy we are doing all we can to support British business and make sure it gets the investment it needs, particularly through the British Business Bank, which is looking to release £20 billion of patient capital to give our businesses the rocket fuel they need to grow.
The decision by JLR to invest in electric vehicles is very welcome, but equally the decision to produce the Discovery model in Slovakia is profoundly worrying. Does the Secretary of State agree that it underlines the need for tariff-free access for both cars and components in the EU?
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said at the end—of course we need tariff-free access with a minimum of frictions to these important markets—but I disagree that this is not a sign of significant confidence. JLR is investing in the next generation of vehicles. I hope he will welcome that.
What is the Secretary of State’s No. 1 initiative to ensure that the Greater Grimsby town deal moves from theory to reality?
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I will come and sit down with Grimsby and Cleethorpes leaders to negotiate it myself.
There is clearly a crisis on our high street, so will the Minister ensure that business rates are fully addressed in this year’s Budget?
I can assure the hon. Lady that, together with the retail industry, we are looking at business rates, their impact on businesses and our ability to ensure we have a fair taxation system.
The industrial strategy challenge fund round closed in April, but the Government are not expected to make a decision until the tail end of this year. Can they speed up the process please?
We are determined to speed up the process, and obviously we are investing more than ever before, but it is important that we take our time to make the right investments to benefit UK industry.
Employees in my constituency have time limits imposed on their toilet breaks, which are insufficient. What assessment has the Department made of businesses adopting such practices?
The Department keeps a close eye on developments of this kind, and I assure the hon. Lady that the matter is firmly on our agenda. We want to ensure, through the Matthew Taylor review and the work we are doing ourselves, that workers are treated fairly, receive the support that they need in business, and are fairly paid.
One of the biggest missing links in the tackling of money laundering is the Government’s own agency, Companies House. When will the Minister ensure that it is funded adequately and has enough staff to carry out proper checks on businesses?
I assure the hon. Lady that we are seeking to ensure that Companies House is fit for purpose. As she will know, in 2016-17 it brought some 3,182 prosecutions. Companies House is very attuned to the challenges that it faces, particularly in relation to money laundering. That is why we are introducing, for instance, measures relating to Scottish limited partnerships, which I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome.
I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man. He is the Business Secretary. If we have a hard Brexit, British business will be devastated. Will he join us today in voting to keep us in the single market?
I work night and day to make sure that British and international businesses continue to invest in this country, and they have shown a willingness to do so. We want to be the best location not only for trade with Europe but for trade around the world, and that will form part of our negotiations.
What support can my constituents, who are among the 5,000 set to lose their jobs at Poundworld, expect from the Government?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I spoke to the chief executive of Poundworld yesterday to try to understand the challenges that it faces. Through the official receiver, the special manager is seeking to do everything possible to rescue the business, and they are hopeful that there are buyers out there for at least part of it. We in the Government have pledged to do all that we can to ensure that the business is rescued.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice? Last Monday, following the oral statement on rail timetabling, I asked the Transport Secretary whether he would refuse any request by Arriva Northern to extend the immensely disruptive two-week suspension of the Lakes line in Cumbria. He replied:
“I am not prepared to accept more than the current two weeks and…I have been clear to Arriva that doing this over the long term is simply unacceptable”.—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 58.]
I was therefore horrified to learn on Friday that Arriva Northern had, in fact, extended the suspension by a further two weeks, to 2 July, and that a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Department had said that it did not object to the “operational decision”.
The Transport Secretary told the House that he would do one thing, and he has gone and done the complete opposite. What can you do, Mr Speaker, to compel him to appear before the House and explain himself, and to ensure that commitments made by Ministers of the Crown in this House are actually fulfilled?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am not privy to the details of this matter, but my response to the hon. Gentleman, off the top of my head, is twofold.
If a Minister feels that he or she has been inaccurate in a statement to the House, it is incumbent upon, and open to, that Minister subsequently to correct the record. It may be that the Minister holds a view, and would offer an interpretation of the sequence of events, that differs from that of the hon. Gentleman. I do not, in all candour, know.
I would just add, without offering any judgment on the merits of the case—which it would not be right for me to do—that a less than 100% correlation between what is said at one time and what happens at another time is not entirely without precedent in our parliamentary history.
I feel that on this occasion—and he will take it in the right spirit—the hon. Gentleman was perhaps more interested in what he had to say to me than in anything that I might have to say to him, and he has been successful in his mission: it is on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sir Winston Churchill said:
“The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate.”
With that in mind, Mr Speaker, I would like to draw your attention to the disgraceful front page of today’s Daily Express, which gives one “simple” warning to “our elected representatives”:
“ignore the will of the people at your peril.”
This is a threat, pure and simple, and an attempt to intimidate and threaten Members ahead of the votes on the Lords amendments today.
That paper is not the only protagonist. This gives licence to people to abuse and threaten Members of this House who exercise their judgment to do what they think is best for our country, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), has done in resigning this morning. Already on social media, a UKIP supporter has called for him to be hanged, and another individual has called for him to be hung, drawn and quartered; and you will know, Mr Speaker, that just last week a gentleman was given a nine-week suspended jail sentence for sending threatening emails to the right hon. Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith), the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and other Members. What advice, Mr Speaker, would you give to Members in the face of such abuse and threats?
My advice, in so far as it is ever required, is: do as your conscience dictates. That is what Members of Parliament on any side of any argument are not merely entitled, but perhaps constitutionally obliged, to do. The freedom of speech that we enjoy in this place was hard-won and by all Members of whatever hue will I am sure be jealously, and rightly jealously, guarded.
I must say en passant to the hon. Gentleman that until he held up that copy of that paper I had not seen the headline or report to which he referred; I am not in the habit of reading this sort of material and it is a matter of no interest or concern to me whatsoever. All that is of interest and concern to me is that hon. and right hon. Members do what they believe to be right by their constituents, by their conscience and by their country.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you share my concern that to my knowledge at least one hon. Member on these Benches will today and tomorrow not vote in accordance with their conscience because of threats to their personal safety, to members of their parliamentary staff and to members of their family? Do you take that as a very serious threat to the democracy of this place, and if you do would you expect a senior member of Her Majesty’s Government to come forward and make it clear that this will not be tolerated by any party against any Member of Parliament?
I can only repeat what I have said: Members must speak and vote as they think fit. No Member of this House, whatever opinion he or she holds, should be threatened because of it. No Member should be subject to threats, and any Member subject to threats of a kind—
In a moment I will of course come to the Leader of the House.
Any Member subject to threats of a kind that would be unlawful must take the appropriate action. As we know, there are lots of things that happen in politics whereby attempts to persuade people are made which are perfectly legitimate and in which neither the Chair, nor I suspect the Leader of the House or any other Member, would seek to involve himself or herself. If the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is suggesting that illegality is involved, Members know what course of action to follow. I would hope, and am confident, that today’s and tomorrow’s debates will take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect, in which opinions sincerely held will be robustly articulated. But no one in this place under any circumstance should be under threat.
If the Leader of the House still feels that anything needs to be added, she is welcome to attempt to do so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should like to accept the invitation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and to say on behalf of the Government that any threats of violence or intimidation are utterly unacceptable to the Government. The Government will absolutely uphold the right of every Member to do what they believe is the right thing to do.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. That is very clear, and it is on the record. I for one appreciate it and I rather imagine that it will be appreciated by other Members. If there are no further points of order—at any rate for now—we come to the ten-minute rule motion. [Interruption.] Order. I know that colleagues are eagerly anticipating the next business, but I am sure that they will want to accord a courteous hearing to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) as she presents her ten-minute rule Bill.
Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (England)
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the minimum price at which alcohol may be sold from licensed premises in England; and for connected purposes.
I should like to begin by thanking the Government for the action that they have already taken on alcohol harm, including the duty increase on white ciders proposed by the Chancellor in his latest Budget, when he said:
“Excessive alcohol consumption by the most vulnerable people is all too often done through cheap, high-strength, low-quality products, especially so-called white ciders.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 1053.]
The Health Secretary recently announced £6 million of funding to support the children of alcoholics, stating:
“The consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating for those in the grip of an addiction”,
as well as for those around them. Alcohol harm affects not only those who drink but their families, children and colleagues, and wider society. Tackling this issue is a matter of social justice.
In England, more than 23,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, and many are from the poorest sections of society. The availability of cheap alcohol is a key driver of health inequalities, and it perpetuates deprivation. Of the 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year, half were from the most deprived sections of society. Alcohol harm is the leading cause of death among 15 to 49-year-olds and, in 2015, it caused more years of life to be lost to our workforce than the 10 most common cancers combined. Alcohol harm is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion a year, which equates to 117,000 nurses’ salaries, and Public Health England has estimated that the problem of dependent drinking could be costing UK society as much as £52 billion a year.
There is no silver bullet to eradicate alcohol harm, but I do not accept that we have exhausted our options for reducing it. There are still a number of reasonable, targeted policies that would have a significant impact, socially, economically and fiscally, and not least by helping to boost productivity. One is minimum unit pricing. What is minimum unit pricing? MUP sets a minimum price, sometimes called a floor price, below which drink cannot be sold. It is based on the number of units of alcohol that a drink contains. For example, the floor price could be set at 50p per unit, as has been done in Scotland, where MUP was recently introduced. That would mean that the minimum price at which a pint could be sold would be £1.15.
Crucially, that would leave most drink prices untouched, including those in pubs, while increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest products, which are consumed by the most dependent and vulnerable drinkers and which cause the most harm. That should end the sale of irresponsibly discounted drinks in the off trade and, in so doing, provide some protection for local pubs. Moderate drinkers would barely notice the difference, as nearly all the alcohol they buy would be above the minimum price. Under a 50p MUP, moderate drinkers would spend just £2.25 extra a year, according to research quoted by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Concern. MUP is not a tax, nor is it telling people how to live their lives. It is a policy aimed at discouraging consumption among those drinking at harmful levels, many of whom want desperately to reduce their drinking and are far more likely to purchase alcohol at less than 50p a unit than other drinkers.
MUP would have the limited, specific impact of helping
“those who are most vulnerable: the heaviest drinkers, the lowest socioeconomic groups and children.”
That is not my claim, but what was said in expert evidence to the Select Committees on Health and Social Care and on Home Affairs earlier this year by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance. Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England, told those Committees that MUP is “exquisitely targeted” at people who are drinking the strongest, cheapest alcohol. That is a staggeringly small group of people. About 4% of the population drinks just under a third of the alcohol consumed in this country—about 2 million people. Again, to distinguish it from a tax, Professor Nick Sheron, academic clinical alcohol adviser to Public Health England, told the Committees that MUP
“is far more likely to be effective in reducing alcohol-related harm, because it does not put up the price of alcohol across the board, it does not increase the price of alcohol in pubs and clubs, and it is targeted at cheap alcohol.”
By affecting the affordability of the lowest-cost, often high-strength alcohol, the policy is well targeted at health outcomes, and the Government’s own evidence review, undertaken by Public Health England in 2016, stated that tackling affordability is
“the most effective and cost-effective approach to prevention”
and health improvement. Since then, Scotland has introduced MUP, the Republic of Ireland is preparing to legislate for it, and the Welsh Assembly’s Bill is currently at stage 3—its Report stage. Aside from the cross-border complications that will ensue if England is out of step with both Scotland and Wales, particularly across the more populated England-Wales border, and notwithstanding what the Government are saying about waiting to see how MUP impacts in Scotland a year or so hence, would it not be preferable, and indeed right, to prepare for action now? Hence, my Bill. Can it be right that England lags behind on this social justice issue?
The policy would disproportionately benefit the poorest, with evidence suggesting that 80% of the lives saved by MUP would come from the lowest-income groups. An MUP in England of 50p would save 525 lives, prevent 22,000 hospital admissions, and lead to 36,500 fewer crimes every year. MUP is targeted well, because it does not adversely affect local community pubs. Indeed, research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies shows that publicans support MUP by a rate of two to one. The measure is widely supported not only by colleagues across all the major parties, but by doctors, the police, homelessness services, children’s charities and 51% of the public. The significant and tragic impact of alcohol harm is far too great for us to fail to act. This matter is urgent. Public Health England’s latest update, published in January this year, states:
“In recent years, many indicators of alcohol-related harm have increased.”
This Bill has support from across the House, and I urge the Government to give it serious consideration without delay.
As a postscript, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), for announcing just last month—after I applied for this motion—that he is commissioning a review of the evidence for MUP in England. No doubt that will form part of the current Home Office-led consultation on a new alcohol strategy, which I greatly welcome. I hope that that work will eventually lead to a Government Bill on MUP in England and that my Bill will therefore become unnecessary. In the meantime, I thank all colleagues who support my Bill here today.
Question put and agreed to.
That Fiona Bruce, Sir David Amess, Jack Brereton, Dr Lisa Cameron, Alex Cunningham, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Frank Field, Norman Lamb, Sir Edward Leigh, Jeremy Lefroy, Dr Philippa Whitford and Dr Sarah Wollaston present the Bill.
Fiona Bruce accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October and to be printed (Bill 223).
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 11 September 2017 (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme)) and 16 January 2018 (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme) (No.2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be completed in two days.
2. The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.
3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Lords Amendments Time for conclusion of proceedings Amendments 110, 128, 37, 39, 125, 19, 52, 10, 43, 45, 20, 11 to 14, 18, 21 to 23, 44, 47, 102 to 107, 112, 113, 115 to 119, 121 to 124, 126, 127, 130 to 134, 136 to 140, 142 to 148, 150, 152, 154, 156 to 158, 171, and 172. Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the first day. Amendments 25, 15 to 17, 26 to 31, 46, 48 to 50, 54 to 101, 108, 109, 111, 114, 120, 129, 135, 141, 149, 151, 153, 155, 162, 165, 169, and 173 to 196. Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the first day. Amendments 51, 1, 2, 5, 53, 4, 3, 24, 32, 6 to 9, 33 to 36, 38, 40 to 42, 159 to 161, 163, 164, 166 to 168, and 170. Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the second day.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments 110, 128, 37, 39, 125, 19, 52, 10, 43, 45, 20, 11 to 14, 18, 21 to 23, 44, 47, 102 to 107, 112, 113, 115 to 119, 121 to 124, 126, 127, 130 to 134, 136 to 140, 142 to 148, 150, 152, 154, 156 to 158, 171, and 172.
Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the first day.
Amendments 25, 15 to 17, 26 to 31, 46, 48 to 50, 54 to 101, 108, 109, 111, 114, 120, 129, 135, 141, 149, 151, 153, 155, 162, 165, 169, and 173 to 196.
Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the first day.
Amendments 51, 1, 2, 5, 53, 4, 3, 24, 32, 6 to 9, 33 to 36, 38, 40 to 42, 159 to 161, 163, 164, 166 to 168, and 170.
Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments on the second day.
4. Any further Message from the Lords may be programmed. —(Mr David Davis.)
12 June 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that on today’s Order Paper there is a Liberal Democrat amendment to extend from two to three days the debate on the Lords amendments. I understand the reasons why it has not been possible to vote on that amendment today. However, can you advise me on how in future it will be possible for this House to secure adequate time to debate critical amendments, take back control and avoid situations such as the one we are likely to face today where, by Government design, there will be no time at all to discuss critical Northern Ireland amendments and critical devolution amendments? [Interruption.]
First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that a lot of these matters will still be able to be debated—whether they will be divided upon is another matter. Secondly, in response to those who were muttering from a sedentary position that he was eating into the time, let me say that simply as a matter of fact that is not correct. He is not eating into the time, for the simple reason that the Clerk has not yet read the Orders of the Day—we have not yet got to the start of the six hours. It is therefore quite wrong for people to say that the right hon. Gentleman is eating into the time—it is factually wrong and that is all there is to it.
Thirdly, I realise that the right hon. Gentleman regrets the course of events, but the passage of the programme motion has set in train a course of events and that is the reality of the matter. The only remedy would be for the House to divide upon fewer questions in the first group, but in relation to that I say simply two things to him and for the benefit of the House. First, on the merits of such a course of action—having fewer votes earlier—there would be different opinions in the House. Secondly, as he knows, such a remedy lies outside my hands.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 3, 13, 18, 22, 72, 103 and 121 to 124.
Repeal of the European Communities Act 1972
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 110.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 128, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 37, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 39, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 125, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 19, amendment (a) thereto, Government motion to disagree, amendments (i) and (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 52, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 43, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 45, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 20, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 11 to 14, 18, 21 to 23, 44, 47, 102 to 107, 112, 113, 115 to 119, 121 to 124, 126, 127, 130 to 134, 136 to 140, 142 to 148, 150, 152, 154, 156 to 158, 171 and 172.
Let me start with the obiter dictum that there is a difference between eating into time and exhausting patience.
Over nine months, across both Houses, we have debated more than 1,000 non-Government amendments and hundreds of Government amendments to the Bill. Before us today are 196 Lords amendments—the outcome of hundreds of hours of debate in the other place. I beg your indulgence, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to my ministerial team who have brought the Bill this far: my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for Worcester (Mr Walker), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington); and, in the other place, Baroness Evans, the Leader of the House of Lords, and her team—Lord Callanan, Lord Keen, Baroness Goldie, Lord Duncan and Lord Bourne. I extend the same thanks to Opposition Front Benchers.
It is worth at this early point remembering that the Bill has a simple, clear purpose: to ensure that the whole United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave the European Union. That involves the considerable task of converting 40 years of EU law into United Kingdom law. This is an unprecedented task, carried out under a strict timetable.
The Government respect the constitutional role that the House of Lords has played in scrutinising the Bill and, whenever possible, we have listened to sensible suggestions to improve it. However, when amendments seek to—or inadvertently—undermine the essential purpose of the Bill, which is to provide for a smooth and orderly exit, or the referendum result, we must reject them. For example, on the interpretation of Court of Justice of the European Union case law, we have worked closely with former Law Lords such as Lord Hope, Lord Judge, Lord Browne, Lord Neuberger and Lord Thomas to develop a solution that has genuinely improved the Bill. Our other Lords amendments represent the outcome of similarly productive discussions. The role of the House of Lords is clear: to scrutinise legislation that comes from this House, not to recast it or repurpose it. Of course, it should not undermine decisions that were put before the British people in manifestos or in referendums.
The House of Commons’ improvements to the Bill span a number of areas, ranging from narrowing the types of deficiencies that can be corrected using the delegated powers in the Bill to bolstering the rights of individuals by extending the ability to bring certain challenges under the general principles to three months after exit day. I will address in turn the main issues covered by this group on which the House of Lords has asked this House to think again but where their lordships’ approach has either undermined the essential purpose of the Bill, or attempted to overrule well-considered amendments from this House.
The first such area is the sifting system proposed in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chairman of our Procedure Committee. The proposal was that a committee would consider instruments subject to the negative procedure that were brought forward under the main powers in the Bill, and could recommend that they be subject to the affirmative procedure instead. This unanimous recommendation of the cross-party Procedure Committee was clearly born out of careful and detailed consideration by that Committee, and the Government were happy to accept it. My hon. Friend’s amendments were agreed by this House following an extensive debate.
What we have back from the other place—Lords amendments 110 and 128—is both an imposition on our procedures by the other place, and a threat to the workability of the whole process of correcting the statute book. This is for two important reasons. First, a binding recommendation following the sifting process is not a recommendation at all—it is an instruction to the Government that would mark a significant departure from established procedures for handling secondary legislation. It is equally unacceptable, as the Chair of the Procedure Committee has noted, for the opinion of a Committee of the unelected House to govern procedure in this place. The Commons Procedure Committee’s proposals have teeth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne said in December:
“The political cost to my Front-Bench colleagues of going against a sifting committee recommendation would be significant. The committee will have to give a reason why it is in disagreement, the Minister will be summoned to explain his or her Department’s position, and it will be flagged up on the Order Paper if a particular SI has not been agreed between the sifting committee and the Government. That will result in a significant political cost”.—[Official Report, 12 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 266.]
He was right.
Secondly, although I understand concern about the pace at which committees will be required to operate, an extra five sitting days, as the Lords propose, would risk taking the process for a negative statutory instrument into what might well be its fifth or sixth calendar week. That would seriously jeopardise our ability to deliver a functioning statute book in time. For our part, the Government are poised to do everything we can to support the speedy work of the sifting committees. On a slightly wider point, I understand that the House of Lords wants to improve the Bill in various ways. Some of its changes can individually seem sensible and proportionate when seen in isolation, but the cumulative effect of those changes could sometimes make it impossible to deliver the smooth and orderly exit we want.
I turn now to the question of exit day. After considering the issue at length, this House accepted amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) that set exit day in the Bill, but allowed that time to be altered in the unlikely event that the exit date under article 50 differed from that written into the Bill. That is a sensible approach. It provides certainty about our exit day, but it also incorporates the terms of article 50. Let us remember that exit day will be determined by international law rather than by this House.
We discussed this issue at length when we considered the Bill that became the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Their lordships have suggested that this House abandons the conclusions of the lengthy and considered debates that we have already had on this issue by returning the Bill in broadly the same state in which it was first introduced. I accept the helpful scrutiny of the Lords on many aspects of the Bill, but this House has already reached a sensible position, which commanded a significant majority, and we propose to adhere to this House’s original decision on this matter.
At the heart of the Bill are the delegated powers that are essential for the United Kingdom’s orderly departure from the European Union. Those powers will ensure that the statute book continues to function as we leave the European Union. As we have consistently said, we do not take the powers lightly, which was why, in addition to the changes approved by this House, we made further amendments in the Lords. When using the principal powers in the Bill, Ministers must now give their good reasons for the changes they are making, exactly as the Lords Constitution Committee recommended. We have introduced further safeguards by preventing the powers in the Bill from being used to establish public authorities. We have also removed the international obligations power from the Bill entirely, as it has become clear that there are better and more effective ways to ensure that the Government’s international obligations continue to be met than through the use of that power.
That means that the approach before us is substantially different from what we first introduced, while still protecting the core purpose of the Bill. This reflects the fact that the Government have listened to the views of Parliament throughout the Bill’s passage, but we cannot accept Lords amendments 10, 43 and 45, which replace “appropriate” as a reason for using the powers to “necessary”. This House has accepted the premise of the Government’s approach to delivering a functioning statute book—specifically, that we will preserve and incorporate EU law, and then make the appropriate corrections via secondary legislation. Given the scale of the task and the speed necessary, that could never have been done through primary legislation, but at every turn we have sought to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Given that that fundamental premise has been supported, there needs to be sufficient flexibility for Ministers to propose changes that might not be strictly considered necessary, but that everyone here would think appropriate. “Necessary” is not a synonym for sensible, logical or proper; it means something that it is essential to do.
Does the Secretary of State recall that on page 21 of the original White Paper on the great repeal Bill, the Government pledged to make changes to retained EU law by delegated legislation only “where necessary”? Does he accept that if this House does not accept the Lords amendments, the Government will be breaking the pledge that they made in their original White Paper?
With great respect, the hon. and learned Lady is a lawyer, and she knows that the words in an Act of Parliament matter, and matter very precisely, rather more than an individual word—[Interruption.] They matter very precisely. Let me explain why.
As I said, “necessary” is not a synonym for sensible, logical or proper. In many cases, changes such as correcting inconsistencies, changing terminology, removing redundant provisions, or improving clarity and accessibility could be left unmade, even if the consequences were perverse. That is not the best outcome for businesses or individuals across the United Kingdom. I do not believe that their lordships intended to constrain our ability to change the names of documents such as European aviation documentation. Nor do I think that they intended to require us to use cumbersome terms such as “national regulatory authorities of member states”, and then to have to designate our national regulators underneath that. That would be an inefficient way of making Ofcom the regulator for our open-access internet legislation, for example. This will be UK law, applied only in the UK. It would be confusing to businesses and individuals to keep laws that suggest otherwise, but such changes, while appropriate, might fail the “necessary” test.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend is making, but I have to say that I am not sure that I agree with him. I think that all the examples that he has given would meet the necessity test without any difficulty at all. Where the necessity test provides a higher bar is that if it were thought that a Minister was using powers to change legislation in a way that was not necessary, he would be prevented from doing so. My right hon. Friend cites examples, but I just do not think that the test would be a problem for a Minister at all.
My right hon. and learned Friend, as I have known for a long time, is a very good lawyer, but I am afraid that other lawyers disagree quite seriously.
The Lords amendments effectively increase the risk of judicial review. What that does—[Interruption]. This is an incredibly serious point, because that process asks judges to make a policy decision that this House should be making by saying yes or no to a statutory instrument. It really is as simple as that.
I am rather sorry that my right hon. Friend is so distrustful of judges on what are essentially procedural or constitutional matters, but could he define “appropriate” to me? It is one of those vague words that I suspect means “if the Minister feels that he or she wants to, one way or the other”. A decision could almost certainly not be challenged by judicial review, because the word is so wide and vague that there is no conceivable argument that could be raised to challenge the Minister’s opinion. We cannot take powers in that way meaning that the Government are able to legislate on matters that will be important to some individuals entirely at a Minister’s uncontrolled discretion.
I hear my right hon. and learned Friend—and old friend, because we are still capable of having a dinner for two hours and not talking about Europe throughout it; in fact he paid, and it was lunch.
The simple fact is that we are not just leaving this to a single word. As I said earlier, the House of Lords Constitution Committee looked at the matter, in the context of this Bill and the sanctions Bill, and said that we should require the Minister to give “good reasons”—that was the test—which is what we have proposed in our amendment.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will make a little progress, because I am quite sure that my next section will provoke quite a lot more interventions than the last one.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 19 and parliamentary approval of the outcome of the negotiations. This is the Hailsham amendment, which Lord Bilimoria described in the other House as the “no Brexit” amendment. What it amounts to is an unconstitutional shift that risks undermining our negotiations with the European Union. It enables Parliament to dictate to the Government their course of action in international negotiations. [Interruption.] Labour Members ask what is wrong with that. Well, I will read them a quote from Professor Vernon Bogdanor who is not exactly a well-known leaver, but he is a constitutional expert. He described this at the weekend as “a constitutional absurdity” that
“would weaken the position of Britain’s negotiators.”
I agree with him that this is not practical, not desirable, and not appropriate.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman who has campaigned long on this issue.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. What the Lords amendment seeks to do is to reassert parliamentary sovereignty such that this House approves and gets to vote on every scenario that can be conceived of in terms of the way that we withdraw from the European Union. On the Secretary of State’s amendment, may I ask him a factual question? I am not asking him whether or not he thinks we will be in a situation where there is no deal. I am simply asking him this: is it not the case that his amendment to Lords amendment 19 gives his Government a passport to take this country out of the European Union with no deal, with this House having had no say on it whatsoever?
I start by saying to the hon. Gentleman that I respect his point of view. He has the honesty to say that he would like us to stay in the European Union irrespective of the referendum result. Although I disagree with it, it is honest position to take. But what he describes as giving the Government the right to take us out of the European Union under, frankly, any circumstances was article 50, which was passed by this House and the other House by a very large majority, so I am afraid that he is not right in that respect.
I will give way in a moment.
It is accepted practice that Governments negotiate treaties, and this was the case for the European Communities Act 1972, the Lisbon treaty, the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the Maastricht treaty. I do not remember any argument over Parliament undertaking those treaties from people who today argue that this amendment is appropriate.
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I do hope the Whip’s Office was not responsible for his injury.
I hope that our Whip’s Office is kinder than the Government’s Whip’s Office will be in getting this measure through.
Mr Speaker, I hope to catch your eye in a moment to talk about what the effects on the Labour vote will be in those constituencies that voted to leave, but on this crucial issue, is it not true that if we pass what the Lords want us to do, we, as Aneurin Bevan said, will be sending our negotiators back naked into the negotiating room? The European Union will know that the Government are beaten and that it can then impose any terms whatsoever on them.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is certainly the case that the European Commission reads every newspaper in Britain, particularly the Financial Times and The Times. It reads them all, but, more surprisingly, it believes them. The simple truth is that it looks at any option that it thinks the British political system will throw up, which will allow it to get a negotiating advantage. Let us remember, too, that most, if not all, of the 27 would much rather that we did not leave—full stop. If it sees an opportunity to create that outcome, that is what it will do.
I want to make a little progress, and then I will give way again.
Furthermore, the Lords amendment sets deadlines that would simply allow the other side to use time against us, as it has already tried to do. What we have proposed in lieu is an amendment that builds on commitments that I first set out to the House in a statement on 13 December last year. The amendment provides that the withdrawal agreement cannot be ratified unless both the agreement and the future framework have been approved by a motion of this House. It also prevents the agreement from being ratified unless an Act of Parliament has been passed to implement it. This is all before the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 as well. Therefore, this is in addition to the Government’s commitment to introduce the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill if Parliament votes in favour of a final deal.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is not clear what the choices are on a meaningful vote. Is a meaningful vote going to be between the deal that might be struck with the European Union on the current status quo, or a deal struck with the European Union and the World Trade Organisation? We need to know that.
People keep using the phrase “meaningful vote”. What it conceals in some cases, and I suspect that that is the case for the hon. Gentleman, is that they want to reverse the result of the referendum, and nothing we do will be organised to allow reversal of the result of the referendum.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will give way in a moment.
The Government have also made provisions to allow the vote to happen in this House before the European Parliament votes on the deal, as long as it is practical. This follows the spirit of the Lords amendment, but our proposal has some significant differences. First, we have attached a deadline to the Lords’ consideration of a motion on the final deal. It is not right that the Lords could have a veto on the deal simply by filibustering or refusing to consider the motion. Anyone who suggests that this is unlikely should consider that it was a concern raised by their Lordships’ themselves in debate.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Not for the moment, no.
Secondly, we have removed Parliament’s power to give binding negotiating directions to the Government. As I have said, this would represent a profound constitutional shift in terms of which branch of the state holds the right to act in the international sphere. I turn again to Vernon Bogdanor, who said:
“Parliament’s role is to scrutinise legislation and policy; 650 MPs, still less 800 peers, cannot themselves negotiate.”
I will give way in a moment.
Instead, we have provided that, in the event that Parliament rejects the deal put to it, the Government will be legally obliged to make a statement on their proposed next steps in relation to article 50 negotiations within 28 days of that rejection. This House would of course then have plenty of tools at its disposal to respond, but I am as confident as ever that we will secure an agreement that this House will want to support.
I think that everybody in this House would accept my right hon. Friend’s proposition that we cannot bind the negotiations, but clearly the point of concern, which he is getting to now, is this: if there were to be no deal, does the amendment in lieu cover that circumstance? If it does not, how does he propose to deal with that?
If there were no deal for some reason other than the House rejecting it—it is incredibly, almost implausibly, unlikely but let us imagine that the Government decided that they would not have a deal at all—we would of course do the same thing and come back and make a statement to the House, and the House would then have the right to respond.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I recognise some of the problems that he has and why the Government came forward with their amendment in lieu, and some of the deficiencies that can be identified in the Lords amendment. But the simple fact is that the Government have not made provision for no deal, and there is a way of doing it. The amendment that I have tabled provides a mechanism for doing that. One of the key issues for me at the end of this afternoon will be whether we make some progress on having a proper structure to address no deal. I do not think that this Bill can finish its course and get Royal Assent until we have that.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his view on this. He sort of expressed it in an amendment that he tabled late last night, so I only saw it this morning. I have not really had a lot of time—[Interruption.] Well, this is an interesting demonstration of the Labour party’s perception of how easy it is to make constitutional law on the fly. Its own voters will come to a view on that.
Let me say this with respect to my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposed amendment—as he knows, I am always open to have a conversation with him on this although he seems to have fallen foul of my telephone security system—I always want to keep three principles in mind. First, we must never do anything that undermines the Government’s negotiating position, or encourages delays in the negotiations. That is very, very important. Secondly, we cannot change the fundamental constitutional structure, which makes the Government responsible for international relations and international treaties.
Will my right hon. Friend allow me?
In a moment.
We cannot do that. This constitutional structure has stood for hundreds of years and many thousands of treaties. As I said earlier, nobody suggested for a moment that the House of Commons should negotiate the Maastricht treaty, the Lisbon treaty, or one or two other controversial treaties that came before the House. We cannot change that structure now, on this basis.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Not for the moment.
Thirdly, we must—under all circumstances—respect the result of the referendum. That is what this House voted for when it voted on article 50. I am very happy to talk to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) again in the next day or two, and we can discuss how we can meet his concerns in that time, within those principles.
Is not the kernel of the problem that all the amendments tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and others make no deal more likely, because they give every incentive to the European Commission not to agree to a deal? The amendments would bind the Government and we would end up with the worst possible result. Therefore, they should be resisted.
My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the problem, which is that we have to consider that anything passed in this House and the other House will have a very serious effect on the negotiating strategy of the other side. I hope that this House will recognise that the Government have taken a fair and positive approach to the new clause, retaining those elements that are sensible and viable, while removing those elements that are practically and constitutionally untenable. These constitutional and practical concerns also apply to Lords amendment 20, on a mandate for negotiations on the future relationship. The Government cannot demonstrate the flexibility necessary for a successful negotiation if their hands are tied mid-way through that process. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for Britain. It is for the Government to set the direction during the negotiation. That is the key point.
I do not need to remind the House about the importance of this legislation. The purpose of this Bill is to maintain a functioning and effective statute book when leaving the European Union—a statute book that people and business can rely on. That is what our approach will deliver.
May I start by paying tribute to their lordships for the diligent and considered manner in which they so thoroughly scrutinised the Bill? In particular, I pay tribute to Labour colleagues in the other place for the extensive effort they put into securing many of the cross-party amendments that we are debating today.
This Bill began life as a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation. Many of its original flaws stem, I suspect, from the fact that at the time it was being drafted, the Government had yet to fully work through precisely how withdrawal would have to take place. Indeed, some of us still remember the Secretary of State’s glib dismissal of the need for any transitional arrangements after 29 March next year, and the misplaced magnanimity with which he made it clear that he would only consider granting transitional arrangements in order to “be kind” to the EU. But as with so many aspects of the Brexit process—even if not yet in every respect—reality has slowly caught up with the Government, just as the very real deficiencies in this Bill have now been subject to thorough scrutiny in the other place.
If anything has vindicated the Opposition’s decision to vote against this legislation on Second Reading, it is the succession of defeats that the Bill has faced in both Houses, as well as the scores of amendments that the Government themselves have had to table. That said, after successive defeats in the other place and the latest round of concessions from Ministers, some of the worst aspects of the Bill have been ameliorated.
As we only have three hours of debate on the first group of amendments, I intend to touch only briefly on most of the Lords amendments towards the end of my remarks, and focus instead on what we believe to be the critical issue in this first group. That is the issue of what form parliamentary approval of the withdrawal agreement should take. Many of the amendments passed in the other place are of great significance in terms of their constitutional implications and how they might shape what is left of the Brexit process. It is deeply disappointing that the programme motion only allocates 12 hours to debate them.
Rather than praising the Lords for the number of amendments they have passed, would it not be more in line with Labour party philosophy and views to say that they have gone way beyond their constitutional remit in trying to overturn not only the decision of the electorate but the decisions of both the Labour party and Conservative party manifestos, which together received 82% to 84% of the vote at the last general election?
I respect my hon. Friend’s argument and his long-held views, but I have to fundamentally disagree. None of their lordships’ amendments seeks to frustrate the Brexit process in any way or to allow this House to overturn the referendum result.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and pay tribute to the work that our Front-Bench Brexit team in this House and in the Lords have done to improve the Bill. The Secretary of State was not courageous enough to take my intervention, so may I ask my hon. Friend what does more to harm the Prime Minister’s hand at the negotiating table—the principle of parliamentary consent; the Foreign Secretary making damaging, unguarded remarks at a private dinner; the Brexit Secretary playing the hokey cokey about whether he is going to stay in the Government; or the spectacle of Ministers resigning because their own Government are too intransigent to listen to the constructive and sensible direction on Brexit that many of us would like them to pursue?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is nothing more damaging. As the Secretary of State himself said, the EU monitors with great interest developments in this House and what is said across the country. It sees the open warfare and disagreement in the Cabinet, and the Foreign Secretary continually undermining the Prime Minister’s approach.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am just going to make some progress.
Lords amendment 19 is of critical importance. In many ways, it is the most important amendment that we will consider over the 12 hours allotted. Before I explain why and set out the reasons why we agree with Lords amendment 19 and disagree with the Government’s amendment (a) in lieu, it is worth taking a little time to remind the House how we arrived at this point.
As hon. Members may recall, before 7 February last year Parliament was to be given absolutely no role in approving the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU, because there was no commitment from the Government to a parliamentary vote of any kind. Under pressure, the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), came to the Dispatch Box during the Committee stage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill with a concession—a vote on a motion in this House and the other place on the article 50 deal, including the framework for a future relationship. We welcomed that concession, but we were clear that it did not provide for a meaningful vote, merely a vote on a non-binding motion and one that would essentially take the form of “take it or leave it”—accept the final draft withdrawal agreement, even if it is found wanting, or accept that the UK will walk away without a deal, triggering the hardest of departures from the EU.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way.
Order. No discourtesy intended to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) had the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) in mind.
Is it not the case that some of the staunchest Brexiteers, including the Secretary of State himself, have always defended parliamentary sovereignty, but when it comes to a meaningful vote on the deal, they seem to ignore it?
That is absolutely right, and I thank my hon. Friend for that point.
Some people in this House have been quite clear that they want to prevent Brexit. Others disguise that fact with the very careful construction of terms. In the Lords, where there are no constituencies to vote Members out—sadly—people have been more honest. Surely my hon. Friend was wrong to say that there was nobody in the Lords who was saying that this was actually a “stop Brexit” vote; we have already heard a quotation. The aim was to prevent Brexit; the Lords have no responsibility to anybody and they said that that was their aim.
I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend’s point. I did not say that there were no lordships that do not intend to block Brexit, just as there are hon. Members in this House for whom that is the intention. But the aim of the Lords amendments, as they are designated, is not to frustrate Brexit. There is no majority in this House for overturning the referendum result, as my right hon. Friend well knows. It is disingenuous to say that that is the aim of this amendment.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not accusing any individual Member of being disingenuous—[Interruption.] I need it to be clear that that is not the case. Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough just to confirm that he is not making any such suggestion?
I am happy to clarify that.
That is good enough. The hon. Gentleman may continue.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As I was saying, the choice that faces us under the Government’s amendment is between the draft withdrawal agreement, even if it is found wanting, and the hardest of departures—the most disorderly exit. Let us remind ourselves of what that would mean: legal chaos, significant damage to our economy, the erection of a hard border in Northern Ireland, and serious harm to Britain’s standing in the world. That is why at Committee stage we tabled new clause 66, which would have guaranteed both Houses a vote on the motion on the terms of withdrawal—and, just as critically, a vote in the event that no such agreement is reached.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am going to make a bit of progress.
However, we also recognised at Committee stage that there were other requirements needed to ensure that Parliament has a meaningful vote, one of which is the need for a vote on a statute. That is why we supported amendment 7 in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and other hon. Members—an amendment that ultimately passed in this House by 309 votes to 305. That amendment took a slightly different approach in that it was quite deliberately aimed at restricting the use of, and limiting the potential abuse of, the extensive and wide clause 9 power in the Bill as it then stood.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the fact that the decision to transfer the vote to the people was done quite deliberately and voluntarily by this House by six to one, as a sovereign Act of Parliament? Any attempt to reverse that is in defiance of the decision that was taken by Act of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman makes the same point as many others have done, and I have dealt with it in saying that their lordships’ amendment is not about overturning the referendum result. [Interruption.] No, it is not—not at all. It is about giving Parliament a say in shaping the direction under one scenario that could well occur.
Would it not be one of the most supreme ironies of this entire Brexit debacle if, at the end of it, the European Parliament has a meaningful vote and 27 member states have a meaningful vote, but the state that is leaving—and leaving in a state—does not have a meaningful vote?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Commission cannot approve the deal on the European Union side until the European Parliament has given its consent, and if it does not give its consent, the Commission cannot move on and ratify.
My hon. Friend is making the points about a meaningful vote with a great deal of power. Does he agree that if we get to a stage—which I suspect some Eurosceptics want—where we are approaching a disorderly, no-deal, hardest-of-hard Brexits, this House has a right not to be given a fait accompli of a deal that is inadequate, or no deal at all? Is that not what this battle to have a meaningful vote on the deal is actually all about?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the choice that faces every hon. Member in the Chamber today when we come to vote on Lords amendment 19.
I am going to make some progress.
I want to return to amendment 7 in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. As I said, that amendment took a very different approach that was about restricting the clause 9 power. That amendment having been passed, the Government cannot now give the final withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect without first gaining parliamentary approval in primary legislation for the planned EU withdrawal and implementation Bill. But what his amendment 7 did not do, consciously and deliberately—I remember him saying so at the time—was deal with a scenario in which Parliament does not approve the draft withdrawal agreement. That scenario, I would argue, cannot be ruled out given how badly this Government are handling the negotiations and the limited time they have left before agreement must be reached.
I am going to make some more progress.
With their new clause, their lordships have developed the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendment 7 in its guarantee of a statutory vote and made explicit provision for what would happen if Parliament were not to approve the deal when it is put before us later this year. In those circumstances, under the provisions of their lordships’ amendment, it would be for Parliament, by resolution of this House—the Government having found time for that resolution—and subject to consideration in the other place, to give direction to the Government about how then to proceed. It is not about Parliament taking over the negotiations or about stripping Ministers of their authority to make decisions.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that no Lords amendment is intended to frustrate the result of the referendum, but amendment 19 says very clearly that Her Majesty’s Government
“must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations…approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and…subject to…a motion in the House of Lords.”
That is entirely transferring responsibility for the aims and the detail of everything we negotiate to Parliament and away from Government. Can he name any precedent for that in the whole history of this nation?
If such a scenario were to occur—this is the important point; I take head on what the hon. Gentleman has said—it would be for Parliament, although we are talking about any unknown number of hypothetical situations at that point, to direct the Government by resolution. Is he saying that Parliament would come forward and support a resolution to overturn the referendum result? There is no way that that could happen. He knows that there is no majority for that in this House.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The aim of this amendment is to establish a clear process, with appropriate deadlines, by which Parliament can approve the outcome of the article 50 negotiations, and to provide clarity on what should happen if a majority of hon. Members in this House come to the conclusion that the final deal the Government return with is not good enough for the country.
I am not giving way; I will make some progress.
The amendment is about ensuring that in a scenario where this House rejects the withdrawal agreement, Parliament does not then simply become a passive spectator to what happens next but instead secures a decisive role in actively shaping how the Executive then proceed.
My hon. Friend has said that supporting this amendment would not necessarily lead to a resolution of this House saying that we wish to maintain membership of the European Union. Can he explain, for the purposes of clarity, what safeguards are in place to prevent such a thing from happening, given that we cannot bind Parliaments and that, as such, if we vote for this amendment, we could resolve to tell the Government that re-entry is the point of the negotiation?
My hon. Friend is dealing in hypotheticals. Under that scenario, it might be the case that an hon. Member tries to bring forward a resolution, and that the Government provide time, but does he believe, realistically, that such a resolution could pass and would command a majority in this House? It would not.
This is not about frustrating Brexit. Ministers know full well that there is no majority for that in this place, and it is disingenuous, as I said, to argue as much. Lords amendment 19 is about trusting this sovereign House of Commons to do what is right for the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is Government’s job to bring forward policy and Parliament’s job—the Commons, in particular—to legislate? It seems to me that far from taking back control or establishing sovereignty, the Government appear to want to deny Parliament its fundamental role as legislator.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point.
Lords amendment 19 is about trusting this sovereign House of Commons to do what is right for the country should it come to pass that the Government bring back a deal that does not secure approval in this House.
I will not give way.
In contrast, the Government’s amendment (a) in lieu of amendment 19, would guarantee precisely the opposite. It would ensure that in the event that this House does not approve the withdrawal agreement, Parliament would have almost no role whatsoever.
I am not going to give way at this point.
Yes, the amendment provides for a statutory guarantee of a vote before the withdrawal agreement is put on the statute book, but it removes from the Bill what their lordships deliberately chose to insert: provision for the legislature to constrain Ministers in deciding to crash us out of the EU without a deal should Parliament choose to reject the deal. What does the Government amendment offer in its place? It offers provision to send a Minister back to the House within 28 days with a statement—a statement!—as to how the Government intend to proceed: a commitment that does not go much beyond what was set out in the written ministerial statement that was hurriedly issued on 13 December in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the House in voting for the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendment 7.
I am not giving way; I will make some progress.
It almost beggars belief. The vast majority of Members of this House want the Government to succeed and to return with the best deal possible, but let us be clear about what it would mean were the House to decline to approve the deal they bring back. That would represent a catastrophic failure of the Government’s Brexit policy and their handling of the negotiations. In such a scenario, are hon. Members really content for the sum of their role to be the chance to listen to a ministerial statement and attempt to catch the Speaker’s eye to ask a question? That is what hon. Members will be giving their consent to if they vote for the Government’s amendment in lieu today. It is the same “take it or leave it” vote that the Government offered last year, with a few extra baubles.
Does my hon. Friend understand that Labour voters in the midlands and the north, who voted in large numbers to leave the European Union and who are a little bemused at the arguments even among the Cabinet over how that is delivered, do not wish to see the negotiations carried out by 650 Members of Parliament, and want to see Brexit got on with? If the Lords amendments are agreed to, how will we explain to those Labour voters that the unelected House of Lords can overturn both the Commons and the referendum?
I will tell my hon. Friend how we will explain it to them. We will say that their lordships asked us to consider and vote on whether, in the event that a majority of Members of this House do not approve the deal, we should take control of the situation and shape how the Executive then proceed. I think they would support that.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am going to make some progress.
There has been a considerable amount of debate over the past 16 months about what is meant by a “meaningful” vote. Any member of the public watching our proceedings today will struggle to understand how a vote on the draft withdrawal agreement that simply takes the form of “take it or leave it” could in any sense be genuinely meaningful. In reality, it would be anything but. It would be meaningless, not meaningful. It would be a Hobson’s choice.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way one final time.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I put it to him gently that his proposition presupposes that the European Union would wish to re-engage in negotiations. Were there to be a meaningful vote and this House were to veto the deal, we would be likely to crash out without a deal and not deliver the pragmatic common-sense Brexit that I think he and I would like to see.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Crashing out of the European Union without a deal is exactly what this amendment is designed to prevent. [Interruption.] Yes, it is.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I said that that was the last intervention; I am not giving way again.
I want to turn briefly to the amendment tabled yesterday evening by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. We welcome it as a significant improvement on the Government’s amendment in lieu. His amendment is a clear acknowledgment that the Government’s amendment is deficient, that there is a need to make provision for a scenario in which Parliament does not approve a motion on the withdrawal agreement and that this House may need to insist on a decisive role for Parliament in what we all acknowledge would be an unprecedented situation.
We recognise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has, throughout this process, been at great pains to secure a consensus around how this complex legislation can be improved in the context of the many challenges that the Government face. In taking such an approach, his and his colleagues’ intent has not been, as many have suggested and as is plastered across the front of many of the tabloids today, to sabotage the will of the people or betray their country. They are simply trying to secure what the vast majority of hon. Members of this House desire: a proper process codified in law that ensures that the right decisions are made at the right time and that Parliament has the tools to hold the Executive to account effectively on some of the most significant decisions any of us will be asked to take.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am not going to give way; I am going to conclude.
The question of what form parliamentary approval of the withdrawal agreement takes is one of the most significant decisions this House will have to take. To be meaningful, a vote cannot simply take the form of a binary “take it or leave it” choice. It must provide a means by which Parliament can indicate to the Government that it desires a re-examination of particular aspects of the draft withdrawal agreement or even a change of approach. Unless hon. Members insist on it, Parliament will not have a genuinely meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal, as this House insisted upon in December. That is why we must insist on it and why I urge hon. Members to agree with Lords amendment 19 when we go through the Division Lobby in a few hours.
I want briefly to turn to some of the other Lords amendments in this group, starting with Lords amendments 37, 39 and 125, with which we agree. We remain of the view that amending the Bill to incorporate a specified exit day and time was an ill-conceived and unnecessary gimmick that unduly fetters the Government. Ministers are well aware, just as they were when they amended the Bill in Committee, that exit day for the purposes of the Bill is a very different matter from the actual date on which the UK will cease to be an EU member state, which is a settled matter and a legal certainty. Common sense dictates that we return to the situation before November in which there was a necessary degree of flexibility around exit day for the purposes of the Bill, although we agree with their lordships that it is Parliament, not Ministers, who would agree the various exit dates.
We agree with amendments 110 and 128, which we believe strengthen parliamentary scrutiny—for example, by ensuring that Ministers cannot overturn decisions made by the triage committee. We also agree with amendments 10, 43 and 45, which rightly circumscribe the scope of the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill. We debated that issue extensively in Committee, and we remain of the view that concerns about the subjectivity inherent in the word “appropriate” must be addressed. Lastly, we agree with amendments 20 and 52.
I know that many Members on both sides of the House wish to speak, so I have sought not to repeat or rebut every argument made about each of the Lords amendments in this group with which we agree, but simply to set out, with particular focus on Lords amendment 19, why we believe they must be retained.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not going to give way at this stage.
The amendments in this group are, at their core, about what we, as hon. and right hon. Members, believe the role of Parliament should be in the Brexit process. They are about ensuring that Parliament plays an active role in shaping our country’s future, rather than accepting that the House of Commons is to be little more than a spectator and a passive observer to one of the most important decisions that has faced our country in generations. They are about ensuring that the withdrawal agreement cannot be ratified unless we approve it, and in the event that we do not approve it, that the UK cannot crash out of the EU by ministerial fiat. They are ultimatel