House of Commons
Wednesday 13 June 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Universal credit is already operating in 15 jobcentres across Wales, with a further nine scheduled for roll-out this month. The number of people receiving universal credit in Wales is now over 40,000, and 36% of them are in employment. Wales’s jobcentres are in the latter part of the roll-out schedule and will be fully in place by December this year.
My constituent suffers from Huntington’s and early onset dementia. As a result of a 10-week delay to receive universal credit, her rent arrears went up £1,000. A couple of weeks ago, she attempted suicide. Thankfully, I managed to help her on this, but there may be other cases in Wales just like it. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues and revise this damaging policy?
I obviously cannot comment on the individual case, but I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s constituent was in that position. We have tried to do everything we can to ensure that the roll-out has been as smooth and as slow as possible, and where we have had issues such as those that she raised, we have made changes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made the announcement in the Budget about the changes—we want to deal with the housing issues that she raises.
The IPPR, Shelter Cymru, the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, the Bevan Foundation and the Trussell Trust all argue that Wales should have the same powers that the Scottish Government have been using so effectively to mitigate this Government’s horrendous social security cuts. Why will the Conservative Government here and the Labour Government in Cardiff not make it happen?
My understanding is that there has never really been consensus on devolving this to Wales. I also point out that the Scottish Government have many of these powers and are yet to use them.
In Scotland, the transfer from disability living allowance to personal independence payment has resulted in a total of more than £56 million being lost in annual payments. In my constituency, the total loss to people with disabilities is over £2 million a year, so what assessment has the Secretary of State made of a similar impact on disabled people in Wales?
The reason we have introduced PIP is to make sure that people who are living with disabilities are able to have as independent a life as possible. The problem with the old system of DLA is that people were given the payment and their needs were never reassessed. That is the reason why with PIP, we are making regular assessments, so that as those conditions may deteriorate, they will get more support. I also point out that more people are getting the higher rate of PIP than they did of DLA.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that it is welcome that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has put measures in place to make sure that there is no delay in people getting universal credit, and that it is worth reminding people that universal credit means that it always pays to take a job, and that people are better off as they move up the income scale in work? Those are the important benefits of the policy that people need to be reminded of every day of the week.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. People who are on universal credit are spending 50% more time looking for a job than they did on jobseeker’s allowance. They are getting into work quicker and when they are staying in work, they are staying there longer. The figures are quite staggering: 86% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their hours, because they can do so, compared with just 38% on JSA.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures show that 44% of universal credit claimants have seen their arrears rise by the time that they are nine months into their claim. Many of these claimants are vulnerable because they have issues with mental ill health, literacy and using computers, or they may have experienced domestic violence and recent bereavement. Whatever the reason, nearly half of them are suffering financially as a result of universal credit. Will the Minister and his team meet Opposition Members and advice agencies from Wales to discuss these issues and to see how we can improve this dreadful situation?
There are a number of reasons why people who come to universal credit have arrears—I presume that the hon. Gentleman is talking about housing costs arrears and rent arrears. Some of those people had arrears when they were on JSA. That said, we have listened very carefully. That is why in the Budget we made provision that from now on, people who are going on to universal credit will have two weeks’ extra payment to address that need.
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
I have regular discussions with Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on energy matters pertaining to Wales. A statement on the proposals for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon will be made in due course.
The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon is vital to Britain’s future energy supplies and is the first of many major schemes to harness the vast marine energy resources around our shores to generate electricity and switch the country to renewables, to reduce and prevent climate change. That is now urgent. Given that, among other things, the Welsh Government have offered to help pay for it, when are the Government going to stop dithering and make the scheme happen?
I would really like the tidal lagoon to go ahead, but of course it must prove to be value for money. Tidal projects could have a positive energy potential, but of course they must deliver value for money for the taxpayer. A number of proposals have been made, and I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is supportive of just the project he mentions or marine and tidal projects in general.
The Secretary of State is fast becoming the grim reaper of Welsh politics—the bearer of bad news. When he pulls the plug on the lagoon there will be huge public anger in Wales. Many people back in the motherland will be left asking not only what the point of the current Secretary of State is, but what the point of having a colonial Secretary at all is.
I am disappointed with the tone the hon. Gentleman takes. I would hope that he would recognise the fair funding settlement that we got for Wales—something that the Labour party ignored for 13 years; the Severn tolls announcement; and the city and growth deals that we have got. For Swansea there is a £1.3 billion scheme, and the Cardiff scheme is the biggest in the UK. I hope that demonstrates the value that a Secretary of State for Wales can bring.
Electrification—we have not had it. Tidal lagoon—if the Financial Times is to be believed, we are not going to have it. When is the Secretary of State going to start speaking up for the people of Wales?
No announcement has been made on the tidal lagoon because we are still looking at the numbers. We are doing anything and everything possible to try to make this fit. The hon. Lady should not want it to go ahead if it is not good value for money for the taxpayer. She will be well aware that Tata is an energy-intensive industrial site right next door to the site for the proposed tidal lagoon. I do not think she or any other Member would want to increase energy prices in a way that could put those jobs at risk.
Will the Secretary of State point out to the Business Secretary that once nuclear energy commands 12% of global output, we will run out of uranium in 10 years and the price will go up, as will the price of fossil fuels, because we cannot use 80% of them if we are to fulfil the Paris agreement, whereas the price of energy from the lagoon will go down over 100 years? Will the Secretary of State point that out, rather than just sit there doing nothing?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentions the Wylfa project, because it is a great demonstration of the Government being prepared to look at the financial model and adjust it in order to make projects happen. It will be the biggest infrastructure project in Wales for well over 30 years, and it provides fantastic prospects. I hope that tidal and marine energy could offer the same, but we should want a scheme only if it is good value for money.
When the people of Wales and the Welsh Labour Government can see the merit of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon to the extent that they are prepared to invest more than £200 million to achieve the benefits in jobs, growth and cheap, clean renewable power, why will the Secretary of State’s UK Tory Government not even go as far as to sign the same deal they have already concluded with the French and Chinese Government to pay £92.50 per megawatt-hour for nuclear electricity that will be produced at Hinkley C for the next 35 years?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, because she talks about projects that are value for money. Of course £92.50 was rightly highlighted as extremely expensive at the time, and we said that that would be the highest we would pay for such energy projects. We have already said that the tidal lagoon, under the current proposals, would be twice the price of nuclear, so clearly we would not want to be in that position. I should add that I really want this project to happen if it is good value for money for the taxpayer, and my record is strong. I was the one who took Tidal Lagoon Power to meet the special advisers at No. 10 at the very beginning of this process in 2012, and it was from that moment on that the project was taken seriously.
The whole of Wales is waiting for this decision, because the tidal lagoon project is not just about Swansea. If the Secretary of State’s UK Tory Government accept Carwyn Jones’s kind offer, tidal lagoons for Cardiff, Colwyn Bay and Newport will quickly become real prospects. They could bring jobs and prosperity to the whole of Wales and boost our vital steel industry. This is about the development of technological innovation and bringing it to the point of full commercial productivity. That is what we do in Wales, in stark contrast to the way the Government have proceeded. Were the Government to participate in a general election in the next few months, what exactly would the Secretary of State be able to claim as the industrial or infrastructure achievement that they have delivered for the people of Wales?
I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Lady’s questions are more in the manner of an academic thesis. I trust that they will be published, because they are in Hansard.
The hon. Lady referred to the Welsh Government’s commitment of £200 million, but that is merely a small fraction of the cost of the proposal. We are working with the Welsh Government: we have shared our financial analysis of the project and they have not rejected or pushed back on the sharing of that data. That demonstrates the collaborative approach to the project that we want to take. I point out to the hon. Lady that the city and growth deals throughout every part of Wales are a good demonstration of the industrial strategy and of how the UK Government are committed to development and growth in Wales.
I call Michael Fabricant.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker.
Very good—well done!
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including about how we work together to promote Wales across the globe. Along with the Minister responsible for tourism, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), I recently met key figures from our tourism sector to discuss the industry in Wales and the important role that the UK Government and VisitBritain have to play.
Whether it be the beautiful beaches of the Gower peninsula, on which I entice my hon. Friend to join me one day, the Clink restaurant in Cardiff prison, or whitewater rafting—I could go on and on—
But you won’t.
But I won’t; does my hon. Friend agree that the tourism offer in south Wales will be enhanced by the removal of tolls on the Severn crossing?
Given my hon. Friend’s participation in the programme “First Dates”, I am somewhat perturbed by his proposition. Anyway, I agree that the removal of the tolls will show that Wales is open for business and that we are determined to get people to come and visit the wonderful sights on offer in south Wales and throughout the country.
The fastest-growing industry in Wales is tourism, and as the Minister will know, the jewel in its crown is Anglesey, Sir Môn. Many businesses have been helped to establish themselves by the European social fund; how will that gap be filled post Brexit? Those businesses need the UK Government’s help.
Having been born and brought up on Anglesey, I have to agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a wonderful place to visit. The European funding systems have been very complex and a source of frustration for businesses. We want to ensure that the UK prosperity fund is far more effective for exactly the industries that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
The 24 policy areas held back by Westminster in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill have now, with Labour’s seal of approval, been increased to include state aid. Why are the Government deliberately intervening to deny Wales the means to help ourselves?
The Government are absolutely determined to make sure that our exit from the EU is as smooth as possible and benefits every part of the United Kingdom. We will make sure that in that process, we fight Wales’s corner in every part of Whitehall.
Last night, the Unionist parties showed their complete contempt for devolutionists by collaborating to ensure that we had no longer than 18 measly minutes to debate the fate of our national democracies. Is this another attempt by Westminster to defeat what a former Prime Minister once described as the “enemy within”?
I have the utmost respect for the hon. Lady, but I completely disagree with her. I am a proud Unionist and I am also proud to be Welsh. I have to say that it was not Members on the Conservative Benches who curtailed the debate; it was the Opposition, who pushed every single Question to a Division.
It may be a small thing, but one way of attracting tourism to Wales is to clean up our verges and our roads. There is nothing worse than coming to Wales and seeing rubbish thrown across the sides of the valleys. What are the Government doing to speak to the Welsh Assembly and local councils to ensure that they are cleaning up their roads to attract more people to Wales?
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is actually issues such as that that matter a great deal to people and give a good impression. That is exactly why we have given more and fairer funding, to the Welsh Government. My understanding is that it is £120 per head at the moment.
Heathrow Expansion: Benefits for Wales
Heathrow airport is an asset for the whole of the United Kingdom and we will make sure that the benefits of expansion are shared as widely as possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the logistics hubs are absolutely vital to ensure that places such as Wales and Scotland benefit from Heathrow’s expansion plans?
My hon. Friend is right, and I know that he is keen to gain a logistical hub in Scotland, which demonstrates that Heathrow airport expansion is a project not just for London and the south-east, but for the whole of the UK. I was in Shotton just a couple of weeks ago showing Heathrow airport as one of the potential sites for a logistical hub, so I suspect that we may be in competition.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the demand for the Heathrow rail spur link is of paramount importance now, and that the original date for implementation and opening of 2020 should be adhered to?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Public transport is an important part of the expansion of Heathrow, including the western rail link. I am as keen as she is to see that progress as quickly as possible.
I welcome the moves that my hon. Friend is taking to ensure that Wales benefits from Heathrow expansion. I have a Heathrow hub in my constituency, just on the other side of the Severn. Aside from removing the tolls on the Severn bridge, which is an excellent thing to do, what else is he doing to try to strengthen economic links between the south-west of England and Wales?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, because the removal of the Severn tolls creates a great opportunity to create and generate a new economic region. I held a Severn growth summit in Wales in January, and more people attended from the south-west of England than from Wales, which demonstrates the will to combine the capacity of the area to compete with the northern powerhouse, the midlands engine and London and the south-east.
Liverpool and Manchester airports serve north Wales. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those airports, which want further contacts with Heathrow, are not relegated to a position behind Heathrow on the issue of service access to airports?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He talks about Liverpool and Manchester. Part of the condition of the expansion of Heathrow airport and the construction of the third runway relates to the protection of 15% of slots for regional airports around the UK, and Liverpool and Manchester stand to benefit significantly from that.
Community transport operators provide vital services to the people of Wales. The Government have recently consulted on how to align domestic law on section 19 and 22 permits with EU legal obligations, as well as updating existing guidance on permits. We are now analysing the responses and will respond in due course.
As the Minister said, community transport operators in Wales have many valuable functions, including helping isolated people get to the shops, doctors, friends and family. They will be hit very hard hit by Government changes in terms of extra licensing and certification. The Community Transport Association says that this will affect 95% of operators, so what will the Minister do to help the Department for Transport listen and make changes?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that community transport operators provide vital services, particularly in Wales, where there are an estimated 2 million passenger journeys over a total of 6 million miles. But we do have to align ourselves with the EU regulations, so we are consulting widely and looking at the responses in detail to ensure that we come up with the right answers.
The Minister will be aware that community transport providers along the Welsh border play a vital role in helping patients get to hospital and undertake some school contracts. I encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure that these vital services continue, irrespective of the court ruling, so that these services can be maintained in rural areas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These services often carry some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of society, which is why we are being careful to consult widely. I assure him that I already have an appointment in the diary with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman).
Bridgend Community Transport has some specific concerns about having to employ a transport manager costing in excess of £35,000. There is a real risk of that if the regulations go through after the consultations by the Department for Transport. May I ask the Minister, with all sincerity, to please be aware that these measures will have real implications if the Government simply do nothing to support community transport organisations?
I am aware of the real concerns of many operators. I have seen a lot of letters that have come in. There have been more than 500 responses to the consultation, and 550 operators attended each of the events around the country. We will ensure that we look at this in detail. [Interruption.]
Order. We are listening to exchanges about the effect of section 19 and 22 permits on community transport providers in Wales, upon which we need to hear the inquiry of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke).
Will my hon. Friend press his colleagues in the Department for Transport to query the legal advice that has changed the interpretation of these European Community rules, because it seems to be ultra-cautious? Will he ensure that genuine community services with unpaid, voluntary drivers and unpaid staff—providing services that no commercial operator would provide—are not put out of business by quite unnecessary regulations and costs?
Yes, indeed, in Wales, Mr Speaker. Well, I defer to my right hon. and learned Friend’s expertise in all matters legal. I would therefore, perhaps, in preparation for my meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, ask for my right hon. and learned Friend’s guidance and advice so that I can present a case for the people of Wales.
Air Pollution: Chepstow
I have met Monmouthshire county councillors and share their concerns regarding air pollution around Chepstow. The abolition of the tolls on the Severn crossings represents a huge opportunity for economic growth in Chepstow and Monmouthshire, but we must also be alive to those sorts of pressures.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the interest that he has taken in this issue. Will he continue to press the Welsh Labour Government to fulfil their obligations by building a Chepstow bypass and showing the same commitment to clean air and a better environment that is being shown by this Conservative Government?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has established a strategic roads group in Britain, in which we can discuss cross-border issues. A meeting was held just last week. I am disappointed that the Welsh Government were not present, but we can continue to engage on a positive basis to ensure that these cross-border opportunities are exploited to the best of our ability.
I was about to say to the hon. Gentleman that Ceredigion is a considerable distance from Chepstow, but I am sure that he will construct his question in terms that make it orderly.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about air quality, which is why the Government have launched their clean air strategy. There have been significant improvements in this field since 2010, but we absolutely recognise the challenges. I am not sure about the second element of his question, which relates to further devolution of fiscal policy.
I regularly discuss the role of Welsh steel plants in supporting a successful UK steel industry with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. We remain committed to supporting the sector to remain competitive in a challenging global marketplace.
US steel tariffs represent a major threat to the Welsh steel industry, so what are the Government doing not only to get the US to see sense, but to limit the threat of displaced steel being dumped in the UK and further undermining our steel industry?
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised this matter directly with the President of the United States. The Secretary of State for International Trade has also raised it with his counterpart, and I have spoken to the UK’s trade commissioner in the US and to the US ambassador here in the UK. It is only by working with the European Union on these issues that we can bring about the best pressure. I am confident that the UK can play a leading part in those negotiations.
It is estimated that 100,000 tonnes of steel will be needed for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, so what representations has the Secretary of State made to his colleagues to show that scrapping the project would mean denying the Welsh steel sector that vital opportunity?
We had a series of question on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon earlier, and we said that the project should only go ahead—I would really like it to go ahead—if it represents good value for money for the taxpayer. The hon. Lady notes the amount of steel that would be needed, but that is less than a month’s output for a major steel plant. The project has an important procurement role, but it should not be overstated.
North Wales Growth Deal
I am meeting the leaders of the growth board later today to discuss the progress they are making towards a deal, and last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met member of the CBI in north Wales to hear what business needs. I remain committed to securing a deal, but it must deliver a step change in economic activity.
North Wales has a thriving voluntary sector and some excellent social enterprises. What engagement are Ministers in the Wales Office having with them?
The hon. Lady might be interested to know that I have met every single council leader in north Wales—I had a particularly good conversation with the leader of Conwy Council about this issue—and I am encouraging them to involve the sector in the growth deal bid.
Leaving the EU: Benefits for Wales
The Welsh economy approaches EU exit from a position of strength. Leaving the EU will allow us to shape our own ambitious trade and investment opportunities, in Europe and beyond, and put Wales and the wider UK at the forefront of global trade and investment opportunities.
Some 67% of Welsh exports are to the European Union. Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics reported that manufacturing in our country declined by the greatest amount in the past five years, and Ernst and Young says that our exports are nosediving. How is Brexit going to help?
I would say in the first instance that the hon. Gentleman is calling for a second referendum, which would create the greatest uncertainty for the UK, both economically and constitutionally. I also point out that exports from the UK are growing, and at a faster rate than areas outside the European Union, and he well knows that exports from Wales cannot be taken in isolation without considering the wider procurement and networking of businesses across the UK.
My hon. Friend is obviously very interested in how the successor to European aid programmes will work, as I am in relation to west Wales and the valleys in general. We have committed to a UK shared prosperity fund, which will allow us—this is one of the benefits of leaving the European Union—to come up with a much simpler and more targeted approach that can help the poorest communities across the UK.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with colleagues on the promotion of Welsh exports, and I am pleased to say that those exports continue to grow. The latest figures show that the value of exports from Wales, including those to destinations outside the EU, increased by more than 7% over the past year.
E-commerce gives even the smallest Welsh businesses the opportunity to get into exporting. What will the Department do to encourage the use of e-commerce among small and medium-sized businesses in Wales?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention that. Indeed, a good example is Net World Sports in Wrexham. That is an example of Welsh success in the retail market. Over 60% of its sales were in foreign markets last year, and it has won numerous industry awards in recognition of its success. There will be more of that in the future.
When the Government Chief Whip is comfortably seated—I do not want him to be discombobulated—and the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is happily seated, we will proceed to questions to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Tomorrow marks one year on from the Grenfell Tower fire. I know that Members on both sides of the House will join me in saying that this unimaginable tragedy remains at the forefront of our minds. On Monday, I had the privilege to attend the very moving vigil in memory of those who were lost that night, and I was honoured to take part in an iftar with members of the local community. Let me again reassure the House that we are doing everything we can to see that the survivors of Grenfell get the homes and support that they need and the truth and justice that they deserve.
I would also like to take this opportunity to wish the England men’s football team the very best in the upcoming World cup.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I am sure the whole House will want to echo the Prime Minister’s comments about the Grenfell tragedy 12 months ago. My constituents certainly will want me to echo her good wishes to the England football team.
Last year, the top five co-operatives in our country paid more than four times the corporation tax of Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Starbucks and E.ON. I am sure the Prime Minister will want to praise the patriotism of those who have signed up to the Fair Tax Mark campaign. Might this not be an opportunity to encourage the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury to take a more proactive and supportive interest in the growth of co-operative and mutual businesses?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about his constituents’ support and thoughts for all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
On the issue of taxation, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has been requiring some of the large companies that he referenced to pay more tax and has ensured we get that tax from them. It looks fairly across all types of institution that operate in this country.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The Labour party used to say that it wanted control of our borders. Now what it wants is free movement. We will take back control of our borders.
I wish the England team all the best in the tournament in Russia and hope that it goes really, really well—[Interruption]—and that England win!
This week is national Carers Week, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of usually unpaid carers whose commitment to family and friends too often goes unrecognised.
As the Prime Minister pointed out, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. I will be meeting families again tomorrow at their silent march. The sad truth and reality is that many of them are still waiting for the security of a permanent home one year on from that disaster.
When the Prime Minister met President Donald Trump last week, did she do as the Foreign Secretary suggested and ask him to take over the Brexit negotiations?
Order. Mr Geraint Davies, you are a senior and supposedly cerebral Member of the House—in a leap year anyway—and you must attempt to recover your composure, man. I am worried about you, and I am worried for you.
On the Brexit negotiations, I might remind the right hon. Gentleman that, before December, Labour cast doubt on whether we would get a joint report agreed—we did—and before March, he cast doubt on whether we would get an implementation period, and we did.
I wanted, if I may, just to respond to the comment that the right hon. Gentleman made about the very important subject of providing those who were the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire with permanent homes. Just so that I can make it clear to the House: 203 households were in need of a new home; every household has received an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation; and 183 have accepted an offer of a permanent home.
I just wanted to say this, because it is not just about the buildings; it is not just about the bricks and mortar of a home. People who suffered that night are having to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost somebody—members of their families—with whom they had been living and making a home for years. They lost all their possessions; they lost their mementoes; and they lost anything that reminds them of the person they loved. When they move into that new home, they will be restarting their lives, and I wanted to pay tribute to all the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire for the strength and dignity that they have shown.
I, too, pay tribute to the families for all they have been through and all the fortitude they have shown, but, sadly, the reality is that some of them have still not got a permanent home to move into. It is very important for the mental wellbeing of everybody that they have somewhere they can call home and they know it is their home.
Last week, the Prime Minister confirmed we would leave the European Union in March 2019 and the transition would end in December 2020, but we now know the Government are working on the basis that the transition could continue for a further year, till December 2021. Could she be clearer today? Which December are we talking about?
No, the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in the way he has put this to the House, so let me be clear to the House. I think what he is trying to talk about is the backstop arrangement that we have agreed. Let us be very clear what this backstop is: this is an arrangement that will be put in place in the circumstances in which it is not possible to put the future new customs arrangement in place by 1 January 2021. It is there to ensure that, if those new customs arrangements are not in place, we are able to continue on the basis that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are working to make sure that the future customs arrangements overall deal with the issue of ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We do not want the backstop to be necessary. We are working to ensure that we can have our future customs arrangements in place on 1 January 2021.
I am not really sure whether it is a backstop or a backslide that the Prime Minister is talking about here.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister about this, and I am sorry to bring this subject up again because it is probably quite painful for her, but when is the Government’s Brexit White Paper going to be published? She did say it would be published before the June EU Council summit. Is that still the case?
No, I did not actually say that. I said the White Paper would be published, and we will be publishing it. We will be bringing Ministers together. [Hon. Members: “When?”] Just calm down. We will be bringing Ministers together after the June Council, and the White Paper will be published thereafter.
It gets ever more confusing, because at the weekend the Minister for the Cabinet Office told the BBC that it would not now be until July. Can I offer a solution to the Prime Minister? Instead of worrying about this White Paper, on which the Cabinet would have to agree, how about making it a Green Paper in which all their disagreements are in the open, and we can all comment on it? If the Government do not, as looks likely, have their detailed proposals ready for the June summit, surely the Prime Minister cannot be going to Brussels without anything to negotiate on, so is she going to seek a delay to that summit while the Government decide what their position actually is?
Perhaps I could just help the right hon. Gentleman. The June European Council is not a summit about the Brexit negotiations. There will be many issues that the European Union leaders will be discussing at the June European summit, including the important issue of sanctions against Russia. I will be pressing to ensure that we maintain sanctions against Russia, because the Minsk agreements have not been put in place, and indeed I think there are some areas where we should be enhancing that sanctions regime.
The right hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office said that the White Paper would be published in July and that that is different from what I have just said. I have to say to him that after the June European Council is July. But if he wants to talk about differences of opinion, I will tell him what division really is: it is Labour Members—[Interruption.] It is all very well the deputy leader of the Labour party pointing like that. Division is members of the Labour party circulating instruction manuals on how to deselect all the Labour MPs sitting behind him.
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown.” They are not actually my words, but those of the Foreign Secretary, even as his fellow Cabinet Ministers are preparing people for the Government's negotiations, which he clearly thinks are going to end in disaster. Last week, he also took aim at the Treasury—the Chancellor is sitting absolutely next to him—calling them “the heart of remain”. He criticised them, saying:
“What they don’t want is friction at the borders. They don’t want any disruption of the economy”.
Does the Prime Minister back the Foreign Secretary in wanting more friction and more disruption to the economy?
Let’s talk about the positions on this issue. Labour said it wanted to do new trade deals—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear both the questions and the answers, and as the record shows—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance in this matter. As the record shows, that will always happen, however long it takes. There is a lot of noise and much gesticulation from Members on both sides of the House, but I want to hear the questions and I want to hear the answers.
Answer the questions—you’re in government.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is absolutely right: we are in government, not Labour. We have set out our position on the border, but what we see is a Labour party that said it wanted to do trade deals, and now wants to be in a customs union that would stop that. They said they wanted to control our borders, and now they want free movement. They said they would respect the referendum, and now they will not rule out a second referendum. That is the difference between us: the Conservative party in government is going to deliver on the will of the British people.
In the parallel universe inhabited by the Foreign Secretary, we are apparently not respecting the referendum result unless we want friction at the borders and disruption of the economy.
The Cabinet is divided, and they are briefing against each other—they are even whispering during Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Prime Minister has been left with no White Paper on which to negotiate. Last week the transition period was delayed by a year, in the space of 24 hours. Yesterday a deal with her Back Benchers was reneged on within hours. Meanwhile, the economy is weakening and industry is increasingly alarmed at the sheer ineptitude of her Government. How much more damage is the Prime Minister going to do to this country before she realises that the important thing is to get a deal for the people of this country, not one to appease the clashing giant egos of her Cabinet?
It is the Labour party in opposition which is trying to frustrate Brexit. It is the Labour party which is trying to stop us getting a deal for the British people. This Government will deliver on Brexit. This Government will deliver a Brexit for jobs. This Government will deliver a Brexit that is good for Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the economy, the last Labour Government left office with half a million more people out of work than when they went into office. What has happened under the Conservatives? We have seen nearly half a million more people in work just over the past year: that is the Conservatives delivering on a Britain that is fit for the future.
I have heard that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to organise a music festival, Labour Live. I will pass over the fact that it is going to have a “solidarity tent”, which obviously won’t have any Labour MPs in it. I do not know if all Members of the House are aware of the headline act at Labour Live. The headline act at Labour Live are the shadow Chancellor and the Magic Numbers—that just about sums them up.
Order. The House must come to order. We must now hear a most courteous fellow, Richard Drax.
I commend my hon. Friend for his work. I know he has worked hard on the issue of flood defences. I am sure, however, he will understand that Ministers need to consider the various options for allocations of the fund very carefully. We need to ensure we are getting the best possible outcomes across the whole country. The scheme to which he refers is on the list of projects being considered for the £40 million fund. It is intended to support high risk communities and I can tell him that we anticipate the decision will be made by summer 2018.
The Prime Minister gave a commitment that she would treat Scotland as part of a union of equals, yet last night she pressed ahead with a power grab in direct opposition to Scotland’s elected Parliament. The Prime Minister silenced Scotland’s voice. Having broken constitutional convention and plunged Scotland into a constitutional crisis, will the Prime Minister now commit to bringing forward emergency legislation, so that the will of the Scottish Parliament can be heard and, more importantly, respected?
We expect—and it will happen—that the outcome of the whole process of Brexit is going to be a significant increase in Holyrood’s decision-making power. It is not the case that this is in any way a power grab. More than 80 areas of decision-making responsibility will flow directly to Holyrood. Only the Scottish National party could say that was a power grab. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the legislative process the House has followed, he should really ask why the Labour party used procedural manoeuvres last night to ensure that there was no debate on the amendments that referred to Scotland.
I really hope that the people of Scotland listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister said. The reality is that powers enshrined under the Scotland Act 1998 are being grabbed back by this House—it is a power grab—and MPs from Scotland were not given the courtesy even of being allowed to debate the matter last night. It is a democratic outrage. The people of Scotland will not be disrespected by this Parliament. In the circumstances, given the disrespect shown, I have no option but to ask that this House now sit in private.
I am not hearing that at this time, and I am not obliged to do so—that is my clear understanding.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman can resume his seat. I will happily take advice, but I do not think I am obliged to hear the matter at this time.
I think the relevant Standing Order requires that the matter be put, if it is to be put, forthwith—[Interruption.] Order. It might be for the convenience of the House for the matter to be addressed at the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions, and if the right hon. Gentleman, who had not signalled to me his intention to do this now, wishes—[Interruption.] Order, order. I am always grateful for the moral support of the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), even when chuntered from a sedentary position. I realise it is done for my benefit, but I think I can handle the matter. We could have the vote now, or it could be taken at the end. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to indicate a desire to conduct such a vote now, so be it.
I beg to move, That the House sit in private.
My advice—I have had a mixed sequence of advice—[Interruption.] Order. This has not happened before. [Interruption.] Order. My view is that it is better for the vote to be conducted—[Interruption.] Order. My view is that it is better for the vote to be conducted at the conclusion of questions to the Prime Minister.
Order. I always admit of the maximum number of votes and Divisions, as the right hon. Gentleman should know from his experience in the House, and I hope that he will trust that I know of what I speak. There can be a Division, and it will be at the end of questions, not now. That is the end of the matter. I call the Prime Minister.
Mr Speaker, might I ask—
No, resume your seat, Mr Blackford. [Interruption.] No, you are not moving anything. Resume your seat!
Resume your seat. No, no. Mr Blackford, resume your seat. No, no. Resume your seat. No, no. Resume your seat. [Interruption.] Order, order. The House will have heard very clearly—[Interruption.] Order, please. The House will have heard very clearly my acceptance that there can be a vote on this matter—
Mr Linden, I say to you, and I say it in the kindest possible spirit: do not tell me what the procedures of this House are. I am telling you that there can be vote at the end of questions, and not now. I am not—
No, no, Mr Blackford. Order, order.
Under the power given to me by Standing Order No. 43, in the light of the persistent and repeated refusal of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to resume his seat when so instructed, I order the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day’s sitting.
The Speaker ordered Mr Blackford, Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of the day’s sitting (Standing Order No. 43), and the Member withdrew accordingly.
Order. [Interruption.] Order! Mr Jayawardena, you are a very jocular fellow, but you are a little over-excitable today. Calm! There is a long time to go. [Interruption.] Order. I say only to the House, what a pity that the Scottish National party Members have left the Chamber, because some of them have questions on the Order Paper, and, as colleagues know, I always like to get to the end of the Order Paper. They would have had their chance, and they have lost that chance by their own choice.
I call Mr Luke Hall.
Order. I recognise that the House is in a state of some excitement—even Mr Hollinrake, who is normally a model of solemnity, is looking as though Christmas has come early—but I beseech the House to try to resume calm, not least out of courtesy to Members who have questions on the Order Paper, to whom, and to whose questions, we wish to listen. Luke Hall.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Youth unemployment in Thornbury and Yate has fallen by 23% in the last year, and the scrapping of stamp duty for more than 80% of first-time buyers means that more people in south Gloucestershire can afford a home of their own. Does the Prime Minister agree that while the Labour party can offer only higher taxes, fewer jobs and broken promises on student debt, this Government will focus on finding opportunities for young people up and down the country?
I am pleased to hear that a significant number of young people in Thornbury and Yate now have jobs. If we look at the figures, we see that, nationally, youth unemployment has fallen by about 141 every single day since 2010. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not just about ensuring that young people are in jobs, but about helping them get on the housing ladder so that they can get a home of their own. That is why we are building more homes, and that is why the cut in stamp duty has been so good for young people, enabling them to be in work and to have their own home.
I am not aware of the particular circumstances of the former Mayor of Ipswich. However, what we have done in relation to the European Union citizens who are living here in the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union is to negotiate very good arrangements which will ensure that their rights here are protected.
In congratulating the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex on his knighthood—and I do so with some warmth and feeling, as we have known each other for 30 years—I call Sir Bernard Jenkin.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
May I join my right hon. Friend in remembering the anniversary of the Grenfell fire and commend her on the way she has established the inquiry looking into that tragedy. May I testify to her, having met victims of the Grenfell fire, as she has, that they are showing growing confidence that the findings of that inquiry will be what they want, to make sure that such a thing never happens again? That is a testament to my right hon. Friend’s personal courage and persistence in making sure that the inquiry was not blown off course by the understandable anger that immediately followed the tragedy.
I add my personal congratulations to my hon. Friend on his knighthood. I absolutely agree with him about the importance of ensuring that the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is able to provide the truth, to get to the answers of exactly why what happened happened and to ensure that justice is provided for the victims and survivors. It is a statutory inquiry; it has the power to compel witnesses and the production of evidence, which is important, and anyone who is found to have misled the inquiry would face prosecution. I hope this gives confidence to the survivors and people in the local community that this inquiry will indeed get to the truth.
The hon. Lady has raised a specific case and I am sure that she will understand that I do not have the details to address it, and it would not be right to do so here in this Chamber. What I can assure her and other Members is that individual cases that are raised with me in Prime Minister’s questions are taken extremely seriously and this one will be no exception. So I will ensure that the case is looked at urgently by the relevant Minister; obviously cases are complex and multifaceted, but this case will be looked at urgently.
My constituents have been incredibly tolerant in the face of the fiasco of their commuter journeys following the reorganisation of the timetables. However, added to their misery is the fact that when trains do turn up they are incredibly overcrowded. I have written to Govia three times asking it to conduct a risk assessment on the safety of my constituents who are their passengers as they come into London, and three times Govia has refused to answer me. Will the Prime Minister please use her good offices to ensure that our passengers travelling on overcrowded trains at the moment and suffering because of the rail delays are safe?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and the experience of passengers of Govia Thameslink and also Northern as a result of the change in timetables and the way that was done is simply unacceptable. It is important that they improve the services, and they have plans in place. I think, for example, that Govia Thameslink is introducing a new timetable that is better than the pre-May timetable and will have 200 more planned journeys. But of course passengers want to feel that they can travel in trains that are not too crowded, and I am sure that Govia Thameslink will be looking at that issue very seriously. The Department for Transport is working with that company and Northern to ensure that we can provide the services that people deserve; they pay for a ticket—they book a ticket, they pay for a season ticket—and they deserve to have a decent journey.
Of course it is important that people are able to have their appeals heard in a timely fashion. My right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is looking at exactly this issue to see what can be done in the tribunal system to ensure that people get a more timely result.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Mr Andriy Parubiy, to Westminster—although I suspect that he is utterly mystified by the events that took place 10 minutes ago? Will she take this opportunity to reaffirm the support of the UK for Ukraine, which is in the frontline against Russian aggression? Does she share the concern of Ukraine, along with Lithuania and Poland, about the strategic threat of the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline?
I am very happy to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to and support for Ukraine. Only a matter of weeks ago, I was pleased to be able to have a further conversation with President Poroshenko about the support that we are able to give to Ukraine, and about the work we are doing with Ukraine on the reforms that are being put through. Also, as I mentioned in response to a previous question, it is important that the European Union should maintain the sanctions on Russia, because the Minsk agreements have not been put in place and fully implemented. We need to continue to show the Russians that we do not accept what they have done in Ukraine.
The hon. Lady raises a number of aspects of this issue. The domestic violence and abuse Bill will be published in draft first. We have been taking our time, through the consultation, to work with those involved in working with victims of domestic violence and abuse, and to hear from victims and survivors, because we want to ensure that, as we bring this legislation together in the new Bill, we are getting it right for people. She refers to the issue of abortion. I believe it is absolutely right that a woman should have the right to a safe and legal abortion. As regards Northern Ireland, I believe that the best way—and my preferred way—is for that decision to be taken by the elected politicians in Northern Ireland, because it is a devolved matter. As regards votes on abortion in this House, they have always been treated as conscience matters and they will therefore be subject to a free vote.
This month, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—NICE—will decide whether to fund a new treatment for neuroblastoma, a vicious childhood cancer that is affecting my constituent, Isla Caton. Will the Prime Minister encourage NICE and the drugs companies to do a deal to provide new treatments for children in Britain, so that their families do not have to fundraise for them to receive those treatments in America?
I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue on behalf of her constituents; I believe that she has a constituency case involving the issue. NICE is developing guidelines for the NHS on the use of dinutuximab beta—I am not sure if I pronounced that correctly—for the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma. It has not been able to recommend the drug as a clinically and cost-effective use of resources in its draft guidance, but it has consulted stakeholders on its draft recommendations. This is an ongoing NICE appraisal, and it is not for the Government to intervene in that, but NICE will obviously take all comments into account in its final guidance. I think that the manufacturer of the drug is currently making it available to some NHS patients through a compassionate use scheme, and has agreed to continue the scheme for patients who are currently receiving the treatment.
I call Brendan O’Hara. Not here. I call Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Vernon Bogdanor called the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham’s amendment, which we rejected yesterday, a “constitutional absurdity”. While it is essential that this House should hold the Government to account and have meaningful votes on many things, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely essential that the separation of powers should be observed, and that it should be made clear in any compromise amendment that the job of the Government and the job of Parliament are different?
I am happy to be clear about this situation. We have seen concerns raised about the role of Parliament in relation to the Brexit process. What I agreed yesterday is that, as the Bill goes back to the Lords, we will have further discussions with colleagues over those concerns. This morning, I have agreed with the Brexit Secretary that we will bring forward an amendment in the Lords, and there are a number of things that will guide our approach in doing so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the separation of powers and the different roles of Government and Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary made clear in the House yesterday, the Government’s hand in the negotiations cannot be tied by Parliament, but the Government must be accountable to Parliament. Government determines policy, and we then need parliamentary support to be able to implement that policy.
The other aspect of this that I am absolutely clear on is that I cannot countenance Parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people. Parliament gave the decision to the British people, the British people voted to leave the European Union and, as Prime Minister, I am determined to deliver that.
I call Pete Wishart. Not here.
Fifteen months ago, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), called in the planned expansion of the Mall at Cribbs Causeway in my constituency. The plan represents huge economic benefit to the Bristol and south Gloucestershire area, and there are 3,000 construction jobs, 3,750 permanent jobs and 150 new homes at stake, as well as a significant amount of infrastructure investment. Will the Prime Minister urge the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to start as he means to go on and make a good decision quickly?
Obviously, my hon. Friend refers to the independent public inquiry, and after that took place the then Communities and Local Government Secretary called in the decision, and the new Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary is considering the inspector’s report. I understand that the Secretary of State hopes to issue his decision on or before the published target date of 2 August.
We have given Transport for the North unprecedented powers to influence decisions about transport investment in the north, but what is more we have backed it up with £260 million of Government funding. It has the powers to deliver a transport strategy, which the Government must formally consider, to fund organisations and to deliver transport projects. Those and its other powers are exactly what Transport for the North requested.
The Prime Minister is, I know, aware of the severe difficulties that my constituents have faced with recent delays to train services. Will the Prime Minister reassure me and my constituents that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail get into shape to ensure a better-quality train service both now and into the future?
As I said in response to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), the immediate priority is to ensure that we see an improvement in services for Govia Thameslink passengers. That is why it has introduced a new timetable that is not the final timetable, but it is better than the pre-May timetable. We also need to ensure that GTR takes action so that it can bring forward the proposed new timetable, which will provide more services and better services for passengers. In the long term, the Government are working to bring train and track together so that we do not see problems like this in the future.
Chris Law—not here.
All these Opposition opportunities are being lost, and I think that should not continue.
The Prime Minister will be aware that schools are often targeted in warzones. A couple of months ago, I met year 7 students from Lees Brook School in my constituency, and they implored me to ask the Prime Minister to sign the safe schools declaration, which I understand has subsequently been signed. Does that declaration mean that she will now veto future arms sales to brutal regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which has been targeting schools as part of its military campaign in Yemen?
The issue of the education of girls and boys in conflict zones is an important one, and it is one that was addressed at the G7 summit. We have been clear, as the United Kingdom Government, that we are providing financial support to ensure 12 years of quality education for girls, particularly in developing countries, and the G7 summit gave its commitment not only in financial terms, as we are contributing more to provide for quality education, but to focus on areas where there are conflict zones and particular action needs to be taken to ensure that education can be provided.
Very sadly, my constituent Gena Turgel lost her life last week, aged 95. Gena survived the Krakow ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald, and she became known as the bride of Belsen when she married her liberator. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the life of Gena, who dedicated her life to informing young people about the horrors of the holocaust, and in ensuring that, although a light has gone out, her legacy lives on?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Gena Turgel and to the work she did over so many years. She was one of the first survivors to go into schools to share her story. I have seen, as I am sure other hon. and right hon. Members have, the impact on young people of a survivor of the holocaust going into schools to explain what happened. It is moving, and she showed considerable determination and strength. Her example is truly humbling.
It is right that Gena Turgel is going to live on in the national holocaust memorial and in the accompanying education centre, which will house her testimony for generations to come. We must never forget what Gena taught us. We must fight hatred and prejudice in all its forms.
When I go walking in Wales I tend to walk up and down hills, rather than on the beaches, but I know that Wales has some fantastic beaches. The hon. Lady raises the important issue of marine plastic. The UK public, as well as Members across the House, have shown great energy in picking up this cause and in wanting to fight against plastic waste.
Indeed, the UK is going to be leading, jointly with Vanuatu, the newly formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and we are committing £61 million to fund global research and to improve waste management in developing countries to tackle plastic pollution. Again, this is another issue we took forward at the G7 summit and we got commitments on dealing with plastic waste.
I say to the hon. Lady that, with the greatest of respect, I am sorry but I think my diary has already been slightly changed as a result of what has been happening in the Chamber today. I regret that I will not be able to sit and listen to her speak to her Bill.
Does the Prime Minister agree that those people who want a meaningful vote in this House which would allow the House to vote to stay in the European Union would be betraying the result of the referendum? That shows how much the Labour party has lost touch with working-class people up and down this country. Does she further agree that those people who want to take no deal from the Government’s negotiating hand would only incentivise the European Union not to negotiate in any meaningful way, and would betray not only the result of the referendum but the best interests of the British people?
As we go ahead with these Brexit negotiations, we are of course ensuring that we make preparations for all eventualities. That is entirely right and proper for the Government to do but, as I set out in response to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), I am also clear that I cannot countenance Parliament overturning the will of the British people. The British people were given the choice on whether to stay in the European Union, and they were given that choice through the overwhelming vote of this Parliament. It is right that we listen to the British people and deliver what they asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union.
Angela Crawley—not here.
For a number of years we held a march in Islwyn to commemorate the service of test veterans to our country. Last week, test veterans were in the House of Commons to campaign for a medal for their service. Will the Prime Minister look at their campaign with a view to giving them a medal for the service they have given to this country?
I think this is the first time the issue has been raised with me, and I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman has said in the House.
As a father of twin girls who, as they are happily growing up in Clacton, enjoy a very equal upbringing and education, I celebrate the announcement of the G7 supporting girls’ education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should support equality for women across the globe?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in agreeing with that and in saying that there are many ways in which we can express that and put it into practice, not just in supporting girls’ education but in the work we are doing on modern slavery. Modern slavery affects men as well as women, but we see many women from around the globe being trafficked into other countries for sexual or labour exploitation, and we are leading the fight to ensure they have equality and are not put into that position.
Alison Thewliss—not here. Tom Brake—
Order. Mr Brake is here. He is always here. He stands every week and he is going to be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The president of the CBI has said today that sections of the UK car industry face “extinction” unless the UK stays in the EU customs union. Is there any level of damage inflicted by Brexit that would cause the Prime Minister to consider supporting the people having a final say on the deal and a chance to exit from a disastrous Brexit? I could also put that to the Leader of the Opposition.
As I have said many times in this House, we are looking to ensure that our future customs arrangement with the European Union enables us to have as frictionless trade with the European Union as possible and no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while also enabling us to have an independent trade policy and to negotiate trade deals around the world. I have been clear in a number of my answers that I and this Government will deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. I seem to remember there was a time when the Liberal Democrats thought that the people should have the choice.
Finally for today, Mr Iain Stewart.
Today marks the Princess Diana Award’s Stand Up to Bullying Day. Although much progress has been made, too many young people take their own life as a result of bullying in schools. Will the Prime Minister congratulate the people at the Diana Award on their work, and recommit her Government to tackling this scourge?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. I am happy to join him in congratulating the work of all those involved in the Diana Award. He raises a really important issue. We have made progress but, as he has pointed out, too many young people are bullied in schools, and sadly that sometimes has tragic consequences. We are providing £1.7 million of funding over the next two years for anti-bullying organisations, one of which is the Diana Award, but more needs to be done. We will continue to press hard on this issue and to work hard to eliminate bullying.
I must say to the House, before we come to points of order, that for all the turbulence and discord of today’s proceedings, the little baby who has been observing them has been a model of impeccable behaviour from start to finish. [Applause.] I have just been advised that the father is the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis). I am not going to go so far as to say that his behaviour is always impeccable, but the little baby has been impeccable, and we salute that—the future of our democracy and the future of our country. I am most grateful to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and colleagues.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As he left the Chamber, the leader of the Scottish National party apparently said that it will use parliamentary devices to hold this Government to account—I wonder how you use parliamentary devices when you walk out of this Chamber in a co-ordinated move. As you will know, Mr Speaker, I had submitted an application for an urgent question on the Sewel convention, which I hoped to call Ministers to the Dispatch Box to discuss. I am sure that in your determination of that, you considered the fact that we had a Standing Order No. 24 application in front of us. Because the mover of that SO 24 application has now left the Chamber—been forced to leave in a co-ordinated move—and applications must be lodged by 10.30 am, there is no opportunity for any Scottish Member of any party to raise that now. I wonder if you can tell me how those of who remain on these green Benches—who remain here representing our constituents—can address these issues, rather than those who take the pathetic, theatrical route of leaving this Chamber and not representing their constituents by walking out. [Interruption.]
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman —I would urge that we try to lower the decibel level. I understand that he feels his point keenly and he has made it with sincerity. He is a very assiduous Chamber contributor and I respect that.
I will not make any personal criticism of any Members. We have had what we have had and people will make their own assessment. The hon. Gentleman’s surmise is, of course, correct. I say this as much for people attending to our proceedings as for people sitting in the Chamber: an SO No. 24 application—an application for an emergency debate under the relevant standing order—requires notice by 10.30 am, on a Wednesday, and I fear that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), for example, who has expressed some interest in this matter, and I will come to him soon, made no such application. Nothing new or urgent has happened since. We have to take things on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. I cannot be expected to work retrospectively. The fact is that there was an application. It would have been heard. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) who had made the application chose to put himself in a position in which he would not be able to persist with his application. Responsibility for that choice is that, and that alone, of the right hon. Gentleman. It is not down to the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and it is not down to me. Members must take responsibility for their own actions. As to whether there will be either an urgent question on the matters of which the hon. Gentleman has just treated, or indeed an SO 24 application on another day, is a matter for another day.
I see that a former shadow Secretary of State wants to get in, but I will take the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) first, and then the shadow Leader of the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker—this is, in fact, further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). As you have said, Mr Speaker, applications should normally be made by half past 10 in the morning. Obviously, I did not make such an application, but Standing Order No. 24, subsection (4), allows you, Mr Speaker, to consider an application if
“the urgency is not so known”
at 10.30 am, and notice can be given
“as soon thereafter as is practicable.”
My suggestion to you, Mr Speaker, is that the urgency became apparent at the point at which the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) decided that pulling a stunt was more important than allowing Scottish Members a proper debate on this subject.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I say that with sincerity. He is an accomplished and dextrous lawyer—[Interruption.] Well, I think he is an accomplished fellow. What I say to him is “nice try”, but I am afraid that it does not work. The reason why his argument, or thesis, if I may dignify it thus, does not quite work is that the matter in question, which was arguably urgent or even constituting an emergency, was the need for a debate on the Sewel convention, adherence to, violation of or non-compliance with it. That was the urgent matter, and not the fact that there was subsequently an eruption, whether pre-arranged or otherwise, in the Chamber. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for having a go—he would not be the versatile lawyer he is if he did not—but I am afraid that it does not work on this occasion. I rather think that the genial smile on his face suggests to me that he knows he was being a cheeky chappie. We will have to return to these matters subsequently—I hope at not such excessive length, but I will take the remaining points of order briefly.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice on clarification about this misinformation that seems to be circulating that the Opposition did not want to take part in the debate on devolution yesterday and on the amendments? You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Opposition voted against the Government’s programme motion. Initially, we were allocated only 12 hours, but then under pressure, it was extended to two days. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) made this point yesterday through a point of order and was shouted down. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) mentioned in the debate that the only voice that would be heard was the Deputy Prime Minister’s. Could we seek your clarification on the fact that the Opposition did want the extra time to debate the devolution amendments?
I am not sure that it is for me to interpret proceedings, and to attempt to place my own construction on motivation not publicly declared, but what I would say to the shadow Leader—I think I can say this without fear of contradiction, because it has the advantage of being true, and demonstrably true—is that the Opposition opposed the programme motion. That is a matter of unarguable, incontrovertible fact. There was a Division on the matter, and I was notified by the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), courteously—he was not obliged to notify me, but he did notify me in advance—of an intention to oppose that motion, so it certainly should not be said that the motion was bought into by or was under the ownership of the Opposition. It was a Government programme motion.
I have tried throughout these difficult altercations of the last 24 hours to be scrupulously fair. As I said to Scottish National party Members last night in the presence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister was not guilty of any procedural impropriety yesterday at all. He was entirely entitled to speak for the length of time that he did in setting out the Government’s position and indeed, characteristically, taking a very significant number of interventions, including from people who subsequently complained about the fact that they did not have the chance to speak. He was entirely in order and the Government were procedurally perfectly in order to operate as they did in the construction and submission to the vote of the programme motion. The Standing Order is written in that way presumably for a reason, and it has been written, in a sense, and approved with Government support. There was nothing disorderly about that, but it certainly was not the Opposition’s programme motion. It is abundantly clear to me that the Opposition were opposed to the programme motion. I do not think that I need to add anything more beyond that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to have caught your eye from such an unfamiliar place in the Chamber. We had lengthy points of order yesterday on what the shadow Leader of the House has just intimated, and we were looking forward to the Standing Order No. 24 application today, so that we could represent our constituents on major amendments relating to devolution and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Given that we no longer have that Standing Order No. 24 opportunity because of the childish antics of certain Members of this House from the Scottish National party, I wonder whether, through you, I could ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in his place, whether he would be willing to bring forward a statement in the House today, or first thing tomorrow morning, so that Scottish Members who are here, with their voice, to represent their constituents can make the points about the Sewel convention that were the basis of the Standing Order No. 24 application and so that the SNP cannot gag us as well as themselves on behalf of the people of Scotland?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I simply say to him that I do not think I need to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland on this point. There is no possibility of a statement on that matter today, even if the Secretary of State were minded to volunteer it. That would interfere with our proceedings in a way that a lot of Members would regard as frankly unsatisfactory. In so far as the hon. Gentleman is seeking some guidance from the Chair, I would say that that would not be appropriate today. Tomorrow is another day. I simply point out, without wanting to venture further into this otherwise hazardous terrain, that even had an Standing Order No. 24 application been successful, the debate would not have been today—it would have been on a subsequent day. The debate would not have allowed any vote on any propositions appertaining to parts of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; it would simply have been a debate on a “take note” motion. There could be such a debate subsequent to today; tomorrow is another day and let us wait to see what happens.
I must apologise to the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), because she has an important point of order, which hails from her experience not just as the Member for Derby South, but as a former Leader of the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that under the rules of order of this House, if the parliamentary leader of the SNP had had his way, not only the baby to whom you referred but every member of the public and indeed of the press would have been cleared from this House? Can you inform me, because I am not now sure about this, whether under present circumstances it would also have led to the cessation of the broadcasting of this House, which would have brought a great loss in public scrutiny?
In the first instance, people would have had to exit the Gallery—I am pretty certain of that and the right hon. Lady is quite right. The specific proposition was that the House do sit in private. I do not know whether amid the hubbub people heard that that was the thrust of what the leader of the SNP here was requesting, but it is the gravamen of what he was requesting and it would have required members of the public to exit the Gallery at once. If the motion had been carried, the broadcasting of our proceedings would have had to be halted with immediate effect. It is important that people understand the implications of some of these devices that people use.
I also add, without prejudice to any particular application but on the basis that I think the House will believe me and that the record shows this to be true, that I am very open to urgent questions being heard in this place and to Standing Order No. 24 debates taking place, whether the Government of the day particularly like it or not. I might make the judgment, as Speaker, that it is in the interests of the House for such a debate to take place, but of course if people absent themselves when they have the opportunity to make these applications, they cannot then complain. I really do think it would be a good thing if we perhaps brought to a close the operation of stunts and focused instead on the proper discharge of our responsibilities in this place. I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that where someone is named, as happened today, they have to leave the House for the remainder of the parliamentary business? I believe they also give up pay for the day. They certainly cannot vote in any proceedings that happen in the day, so the implication of what the leader of the SNP parliamentary group did today, apart from pull a stunt, is that he made it easier for the Government Chief Whip to get his business through.
I hope the hon. Lady will understand when I say that all she needs to know, and all the House needs to know, is that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber is out for the day. You cannot be half in and half out. You cannot come in and out.
Not like the customs union.
We are not talking about the customs union. The fact is that the Member is out for the day. He cannot speak today and he cannot vote today. The position has now been made crystal clear.
The right hon. Gentleman is on his feet, so let us hear the fellow.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wondered whether you were aware of a piece of paper that came into my possession just before the start of today’s business. It listed points of order to be made on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, with eight of them written out. It even had words such as “outrage” and “disappointment” in three of them. I am happy to put this in the Library so that all Members can get hold of it.
I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that there will have to be quite a lot of copies.
Of course I take a point of order from Mr Dennis Skinner.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a bit of an expert in being thrown out, may I just explain to you that there are various ways of throwing people out? Obviously, one is where everybody follows, but that has never happened in my case. Secondly, it has been possible for somebody to be sent by the Speaker’s Office to the room upstairs that I inhabited and for them to say to me, “On reflection, the Speaker said you can stay.” That is a different way. Another way is where people are sometimes barred from the House but not from the building. These variations have something to do with the Speaker at the time. So all I want you to explain to me is: just which one is this, because it is different?
I am always open to discussing these matters with the hon. Gentleman. I did not discuss this matter with him at 7.30 am, because, obviously, the eruption had not happened by then,. However, as I toddled my way back from the health club this morning, we did discuss the question of last night’s points of order. He volunteered his opinions to me about that matter with his customary forthrightness, of which I was duly appreciative. He asks what type of exclusion today’s was. The answer is that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber was excluded from the Chamber and from the precincts of the Palace of Westminster for the remainder of the day. I think that is now clear. If there are no further points of order, and I hope there are not, as we have a long way to go and many hours of Chamber debate to come, we will now come to the presentation of Bills.
Employment Guarantee Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Frank Field, supported by Sir Nicholas Soames, Jack Brereton, Margaret Beckett, Stephen Timms, Jeremy Lefroy, Sir Roger Gale, Kate Hoey, Ruth Smeeth, Sammy Wilson, Jim Shannon and Diana Johnson, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to guarantee paid employment for six months for claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance, or the jobseeker’s component of Universal Credit, who have been unemployed for six months or longer; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July, and to be printed (Bill 224).
That is a very good day—the first Friday of Wimbledon.
Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir Oliver Heald, supported by Sir Roger Gale, Sir Paul Beresford, David Hanson, John Spellar, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Neil Parish, Gareth Thomas, Maggie Throup, Mr Nigel Evans, Jim Fitzpatrick and Sir Mike Penning, presented a Bill to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in relation to service animals.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed (Bill 225).
Packaging (Extended Producer Responsibility)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require producers of packaging products to assume responsibility for the collection, transportation, recycling, disposal, treatment and recovery of those products; and for connected purposes.
In recent years, Members of Parliament have worked hard on this issue in an attempt to safeguard our wildlife and oceans for future generations. I pay tribute to their efforts, and I am grateful to colleagues from all parties for their support for the Bill. Packaging pollution first came to my attention more than 10 years ago, while I was working as an adviser to Ministers in the Welsh Government. Back then, the impact that packaging and plastic pollution were having on wildlife, natural resources and climate change was becoming increasingly evident. That is why in Wales we introduced the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags, which has resulted in a 71% reduction in their usage since 2011. That is a perfect example of the difference that can be made when a Government acts.
The UK Government followed Wales with a 5p charge in England four years later, but since then their commitment to addressing the overwhelming amount of single-use and non-recyclable packaging that we use every day can only be described as erratic at best. David Attenborough recently said:
“Wherever I go now, whether it be in the mountains, on the moors or on the coast there is discarded plastic everywhere. The government hasn’t a clue, by the time they act it will be too late.”
Only last week, tests carried out by Greenpeace found that even in the remotest parts of Antarctica there is microplastic contamination. Not only is it ruining one of the most pristine environments on the planet, but the tiny shards of plastic—often less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide—can be mistaken for prey by tiny marine animals. Those microplastics then make their way up the food chain, potentially inflicting harm on larger animals such as sea birds and whales, as well as getting into our food chain via shellfish.
My father spent two years in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, from 1961 to 1963. I am really proud of the pioneering work that he carried out there—and even more proud that it was recognised by the naming of the McMorrin glacier after him. I remember from when I was growing up his many stories of life in that vast, beautiful, untouched landscape and of how the natural world shaped him. His passion for the environment and his determination to change things has stayed with me. It is unthinkable that our actions today are threatening those previously untouched landscapes, and many others just on our doorstep.
We have now reached a crisis point. In Cardiff, clean-up volunteers describe seeing on the banks of our rivers piles of takeaway cartons, broken-up polystyrene, and even a swan’s nest made of plastic bottles. The founder of the Cardiff rivers clean-up group said:
“There is a huge opportunity with people wanting to make a difference, the governments need to be a lot stronger, stop talking and just do it.”
A recent study by Eunomia suggests that UK Government figures drastically underestimate how much plastic packaging waste Britain generates. Its analysis suggests that it is a staggering 50% higher than projected. However, that is unsurprising considering that Eunomia also analysed the composition of UK waste and found that the system for calculating recycling rates is inclined to overestimate success. That is not ideal when we use those figures to make decisions and future projections.
In France, there is a proposed 50% penalty for packaging that is not easily separated and that is therefore considerably disruptive to the recycling stream, such as coffee cups and black plastic packaging, which is problematic. Instead of just introducing a higher penalty, the Government need to address a common complaint of producers, which is that the current system does not substantially reward, and therefore encourage, recyclability in product design. A solution could be to introduce bonuses for producers via a reduction in the levy that they pay. The bonuses could cover three categories, including reducing the packaging weight of their product, making it easier to recycle, and raising awareness by applying a clear and correct label to the product.
Why is the Bill so important? Because crucially, with extended producer responsibility currently not enshrined in law, the cost of recycling falls to councils, which are already struggling to pay for social care, education and community services, while also being asked to pick up the tab for recycling and waste management. Currently, businesses that handle packaging are required by law to pay for the recycling and recovery via compliance schemes, whereby the more packaging they produce, the more they pay. Between 2014 and 2016, the average revenue from that compliance was about £60 million a year, but the estimated cost of the delivery of recycling services across local authorities is nearly £600 million. So even if local authorities benefited from the full amount, it would still come to only 10% of the cost borne by local authorities. It is a cheap form of compliance for the producer, but one that means that others pay the cost of ensuring that products are properly recycled and disposed of at the end of their life cycle, which is absolutely necessary. Research shows that more than half of UK councils have had to cut budgets for collections and for communications and advertising for curb-side plastics recycling.
The aim of the Bill is to encourage producers to take responsibility, not only for the product but also for its disposal—to be responsible for the clean-up and not just contribute to it. It would encourage producers to innovate and change the packaging of their products and to contribute more to getting better recycling infrastructure for all councils within whose area their product is consumed.
Most importantly, this Bill is what the British public are calling out for. A recent study shows that almost all 16 to 75-year-olds in the UK are concerned about the effects of plastic waste on the environment, with 54% willing to buy more products made from recycled materials, but there is only so much that consumers can do if alternatives are not available. In my constituency of Cardiff North, students at Rhiwbeina Primary School have started the Kids Against Plastic #PACKETin campaign. The children collect crisp and chocolate wrappers and post them back to the manufacturers with a letter asking them to switch to packaging that can be recycled. That is a positive campaign that gives our next generation a voice—but are the producers listening?
Some supermarkets are willing to play their part and listen to customers, but they cannot force independent producers to change their packaging. Manufacturers welcome the Bill because it would help innovation and drive growth. That is why I urge the UK Government to take heed, work with me on the Bill and respond to the growing number of voices becoming more and more frustrated by being unable to prevent packaging pollution. The BBC’s “Blue Planet” has had a massive impact on our psyche. Who can forget the image of the turtle wrapped in a plastic sack, or the photo of the stork wrapped in a plastic bag? If the UK Government do not use their power to legislate properly, such images are going to keep on coming. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Anna McMorrin, Mary Creagh, Zac Goldsmith, Ben Lake, Kerry McCarthy, John Mc Nally, Dr Matthew Offord, Jo Platt, Liz Saville Roberts, Mr Barry Sheerman, Alex Sobel and Matt Western present the Bill.
Anna McMorrin accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 226).
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Lords amendments
I remind the House that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 3.
Commencement and short title
I beg to move amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 51, amendment (b) thereto, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 1, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 2, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, motion to disagree, and amendments (c), (e) and (d) in lieu.
Lords amendment 24, Government motion to disagree, amendment (i) and Government amendment (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 32, 6 to 9, 33 to 36, 38, 40 to 42, 159 to 161, 163, 164, 166 to 168 and 170.
I rise not only to move amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, but to support the other Lords amendments that we are considering today. May I start by thanking the other House for its work? In particular, I wish to record our thanks to our Labour Lords team, led by Baroness Hayter and Baroness Smith, who have worked extremely hard to improve this Bill.
The amendments in this group this afternoon, as with yesterday, cover a number of crucial issues, such as enhanced protection for EU-derived rights, environmental safeguards and the charter of fundamental rights. In many respects, that should not be controversial, and I will return to those issues later on.
Let me start with Lords amendments 1 and 2. These amendments, if upheld here, would require a Minister to lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement outlining the steps taken in the article 50 negotiations to negotiate our continued participation in a customs union with the EU. I do not suppose that it is the making of a statement that the Government object to; it is the negotiation of a customs union with the EU. In fact, so determined are the Government not to accept a customs union with the EU that they have gone to extraordinary lengths to dream up alternatives.
When the so-called partnership agreement and the so-called maximum facilitation options first saw the light of day last summer, nobody really took them seriously, not even the Brexit Secretary. Within two weeks, he was describing the customs partnership as blue-sky thinking. Thus, when the Prime Minister resurrected them in her Mansion House speech earlier this year, many of us, including myself, were genuinely surprised. Since then, it has become increasingly apparent that neither option is workable, that neither is acceptable to the EU and that neither will get majority support across this House. The Foreign Secretary calls the customs partnership “crazy”. The Business Secretary says that the maximum facilitation option would cost thousands of jobs in manufacturing. It is no wonder that a Cabinet peace summit is planned for July.
The proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangement is a sensible one for many reasons.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to accept free movement as the cost of a customs union, or is he not?
I will come to that issue, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that free movement has nothing to do with the customs union.
Given the reports that we are hearing just now that No. 10 has rejected the agreement that was made yesterday with sensible Conservative MPs on the Grieve amendment, at least the third part of it, there is no guarantee now—absolutely none—that there will be a meaningful vote. Is it not absolutely essential that a loud voice goes out from this House today to say that we want the least damaging Brexit possible—in the customs union and in a single market?
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen the news that is just coming through. If that is the case, it is extremely concerning. A strong message needs to go out from this House about the proper role of Parliament in the article 50 process and one that argues for the best possible outcome in terms of a close economic relationship with the EU.
I will give way—
I have already given way, so I cannot be accused of not giving way.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. We need to be very clear about this. Something may have happened, but I heard the Prime Minister saying very clearly from the Dispatch Box that an amendment would be forthcoming, that it would largely incorporate much of the amendment that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tabled yesterday, that discussions and negotiations are continuing, that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords in due course and that the job will be done on a meaningful vote involved for this House.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen whatever news is coming out, but having observed the proceedings yesterday and the various interventions, it seems to me that what the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was saying was very clear for us all to hear. He spoke about the specific paragraphs that were of huge importance, and we heard about what the proposed amendment in the Lords would contain. Obviously, we will have to wait and see what the wording is, but, from my point of view, as someone who was observing it, I thought that it was pretty clear what was being said from the Front Bench about what was likely to happen in the course of next week.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way on that very point?
I will, but I must say that I was not anticipating spending the whole afternoon on re-interpreting yesterday, but let us see how we get on.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, though it was fun yesterday, the truth is that, if this House wants a meaningful vote, there are ways and means by which we will have a meaningful vote irrespective of what the legislation says?
I could not help noticing yesterday that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) was spelling that out, the Government’s position was that, should article 50 be voted down, they guarantee that they will make a statement within 28 days and that that was not particularly convincing—the Brexit Secretary himself found that to be a cause of some amusement. That is certainly not enough. What is needed is the opportunity for this House not only to vote on the article 50 deal, but to have an appropriate and proper role if the article 50 deal is voted down. I am afraid that we are rehearsing yesterday’s argument, but we on the Labour Benches voted for the amendment, which would have given not only a meaningful vote, but a proper role for Parliament afterwards to decide what happens next.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely innocent in this matter, but he has, almost unavoidably, been diverted from the path of virtue as a result of interventions. I simply want to remind not just him but the House that we are supposed to be focused on amendments that relate to the European economic area. What we must not do is have a replay of yesterday’s proceedings.
Well said, Mr Speaker.
Well, that is very generous of the hon. Gentleman—
It’s right hon. Gentleman.
Well, the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). Well, my cup runneth over today. I am having moral support from sedentary positions both from the right hon. Gentleman and from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) to boot. It is clearly my lucky day.
I will press on, make my case and take some further interventions later on.
I was saying that the proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangements is a sensible one for many reasons. The first is the economy. Over a number of decades, our manufacturing model has adapted to the arrangements that we currently have with the EU, including the customs union. Thus, typically, we see, across the UK, thousands of manufacturing businesses that operate on the basis of a vital supply chain in goods and parts from across the EU. The car industry is an obvious example, but not the only one.
Such businesses operate on the basis of a just-in-time approach. Whereas years ago there were stockpiles of parts and so on, these days there is a just-in-time approach. Parts come in and are assembled, and the finished product then goes quickly and seamlessly across the UK and/or out to the EU. That is the manufacturing model that this country has operated for many years, and MPs across the House know that that is what goes on in their constituencies.
The outgoing president of the CBI said today that manufacturing sectors, particularly the car industry, would be severely damaged if the UK did not stay in a customs union with the EU. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those comments are very concerning?
One of the risks for Members taking interventions is that the very next point we are about to make is stolen, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will just remind the House that the president of the CBI this morning said:
“If we do not have a customs union, there are sectors of manufacturing society in the UK which risk becoming extinct... Be in no doubt, that is the reality.”
This is at the heart of the debate. If we destroy the manufacturing model that I just described, we destroy a vital part of the economy and job losses will be considerable. That is why there are such high levels of concern across the business community about the Government’s current approach.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being very generous in taking interventions. Will he just tell the House whether he believes that Britain should remain in the EEA—yes or no?
For the benefit of the House, I am going to go through the customs union argument before moving on to discuss the EEA and the single market, and then I have other remarks to make. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will deal with his point when I deal with the EEA. I am currently dealing with the customs union.
Is Labour in favour of staying in the customs union, or a customs union that approximates to a customs arrangement that would allow us to make free trade deals with states other than the EU—the customs union, or a customs arrangement?
The current customs arrangements are in the membership treaty. Therefore, if they are to be replicated and if there is to be a customs union that does the work of the current customs union, there needs to be a new treaty. That is why we are in favour of a customs union, but a customs union that does the work of the customs union that we are currently in. Although this was a point of great heat and discussion weeks and months ago, I think most people now understand that there will have to be a new agreement that replicates and does the work of the current customs union.
I am going to make some progress; I have taken a lot of interventions and I will take others later.
The concern about the customs union is not confined to the business community. It inevitably extends to trade unions, on behalf of those they represent; those who depend on the manufacturing sector; and those who work in and operate our ports and places of entry and exit. I have visited Dover to look at the operation there and to talk through with management and staff the impact of any change to the current customs arrangements. I have also visited Holyhead, the second biggest port, where there are high levels of concern.
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to separate out the customs union from the single market, but we cannot separate those two things if we are talking about frictionless trade and just-in-time deliveries. Checks would be required not just for customs and rules of origin, but for product regulations and conformity with standards. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), is the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore willing to accept free movement of people as the price of access to the single market?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will discuss the single market and the EEA, and I will deal with his question then. At the moment, I am making a case on the customs union, although I accept the proposition that the customs union on its own does not produce frictionless trade, and nor does it answer the question, “How would you prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland?” I will specifically deal with this matter later in my speech, and I will take further interventions then.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Dutch Government and the European Commission have begun to advise businesses not to take car parts produced in the UK for export because of concerns about rules of origin. Will today’s proposals address that?
I had heard that. It is not an isolated example; there are others. This is deeply troubling, which is why the amendments before the House today are so important.
My right hon. and learned Friend has already reminded the House that the Cabinet has not made up its mind on what sort of customs arrangement it wants. Is it his understanding, as it is mine, that the maximum facilitation option would entail infrastructure on the border in Northern Ireland, so it would get us back to the hard border that everyone says we want to avoid?
The main problem with maximum facilitation is that it involves technology yet to be invented and certainly yet to be made to operate. Nobody knows quite what it is, whether it can be developed and delivered, and if so, when. On the Northern Ireland border—although I will speak about Northern Ireland later—the commitment is to no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. I will come to that point specifically when I deal with Northern Ireland.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs indicated that the implementation costs of maximum facilitation would be £17 billion to £20 billion a year. This information was shared across Whitehall, so Ministers are well aware that it would be damaging to our economy.
Yes, I did see that figure. It is deeply concerning that those sorts of costs are even contemplated for that option in relation to technology that has not been developed or, in many respects, even invented. That is why there is such a bitter dispute going on in the Cabinet.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I am going to press on, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I will take other interventions later.
I realise that all sorts of fanciful promises about new customs arrangements were made during the referendum and have been made since, but we have a duty to protect our economy, jobs and the manufacturing sector across the UK. That is at the heart of today’s debate. The only way to uphold that duty is to negotiate a customs union with the EU.
There is, of course, another important aspect. In December last year, our Government made a solemn promise in the phase 1 agreement: no hard border in Northern Ireland. And that was spelt out—no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. Now, in all the to-ing and fro-ing yesterday, what may have been missed is that one amendment that went through, without any dissent from the Opposition, was a Government amendment to Lords amendment 25 for that obligation to be legally binding in UK law. That is a very significant amendment; after the political commitment in December to no hard border, no infrastructure, no checks and no controls, we now have a binding law to that effect. This goes to the issue of maximum facilitation, because if maximum facilitation does involve infrastructure, checks or controls, it would be unlawful under the provision passed yesterday. Therefore, it cannot happen.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. We did not get to debate that amendment because we ran out of time yesterday, but it is huge. It means that, logically, we will have to come to a customs union agreement, partnership—[Interruption]—I’ll do that. I do not care what we call it, but that is what we will need to avoid any border at all in Northern Ireland. It is great progress.
It is a significant amendment, and it was also a significant amendment in the Lords. Even as amended—taking it back to being closer to the wording of the phase 1 agreement—the amendment is still a very significant measure.
It also goes further than that, does it not? Not only will we have to stay in a form of customs arrangement amounting to a union, but we will also have to have a high level of regulatory alignment. Otherwise, the life that takes place along the border will be impossible because of different regulations on either side.
I agree, and I will develop that argument, because a customs union alone will not solve the conundrum of how to keep to the solemn commitment to having no hard border in Northern Ireland.
I will not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) have said, because I was about to make the same point. It was the most significant thing that happened yesterday, but given the circus that surrounded everything and the timetable that stopped us debating it, nobody so far has taken any notice. However, it does bear on today’s debate, because yesterday’s legally binding commitment extends the needs of the Irish border to the whole United Kingdom. We are talking about Dover—and we settled that yesterday—and we are not having a border down the Irish sea. The United Kingdom has therefore got to negotiate an arrangement with the EU as a whole that has no new frontier barriers. Effectively, we are going to reproduce the customs union and the single market, and the Government will be unable to comply with yesterday’s legal obligation unless it does so.
I am grateful for that intervention. When the phase 1 agreement was reached in December, I thought that commitment was the most significant thing that had happened since the referendum, with regard to indicating what our future relationship with the EU would be. I think that it is clear to everyone who has considered this and visited Northern Ireland to talk it through that the only answer to having no hard border, in the end, is a customs union and high-level single market alignment, and that is why yesterday was so significant. The fact that that was accepted by the Government and turned into domestic law gives it a status that it did not have until yesterday, because previously it was a political agreement at international level. I am not suggesting for one moment that it was not solemnly entered into by the Government, or indeed that they would resile from it as a matter of international negotiation, but it will now become a matter of domestic law. It is probably the most significant thing that happened yesterday.
May I just remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the vast majority of people, not only at the referendum but at the general election—85% of those who voted—voted to leave the customs union and the single market? It was a very clear result. Let me ask him this one straightforward question, for clarity: in their search for a customs union, are the Opposition willing to sacrifice our ability to negotiate trade deals outside the EU in order the achieve that customs union with the EU?
We all want new trade deals. At the moment we have got an excellent trade deal with the EU, and we have 37 additional agreements with 67 countries through our membership of the EU. The first thing we need to do is preserve that. Lots has been said about new trade agreements and how they will be fast and how we will get much better terms than would be offered to any other country in the world. In fact, we are told that they will be queuing up to give us preferential treatment, and quickly. I think the Brexit Secretary said that by March next year we will have had trade deals with countries in an area that is geographically 10 times larger than the EU. Well, he has only a few months left to pull that one off. The Opposition consider that if new trade deals are struck together and jointly with the EU, we have a better chance of getting quicker and better trade deals.
On Monday I was in Ireland with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and I think that what happened yesterday will be welcomed across the island. I remind the House that many things that happened in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years did not necessarily arise because of a border; they arose because of civil rights discussions across the island. The House must be mindful that, as we go forward in these discussions, we need to be careful when talking about our relationships across the island, both north and south, and within the United Kingdom.
This is a matter that I know every Member across the House is really concerned about. The commitment to having no hard border in Northern Ireland, which was set out in the Good Friday agreement, was not just a question of how technically one might get people or goods across a line in the road between the Republic and the north, and nor is it as we go forward; it is a manifestation of peace. I had the privilege of working for the Policing Board in Northern Ireland for five years, implementing some of the Good Friday agreement. Having talked to both communities consistently over those five years, I know that this is deep in the hearts of everybody there. This is more than a technical issue; it goes to the heart of what was achieved 20 years ago. We must always bear that in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks truthfully and eloquently about preserving peace in Northern Ireland, and of the centrality of the border to that. He also says that in order to achieve that we must effectively be in a single market and a customs union. Does he accept that one of the concrete ways we might deliver that is to be in the customs union and the European economic area, which is entirely possible, as Michel Barnier pointed out yesterday?
I assure my hon. Friend that I will come to the EEA later and take interventions on it, but first I want to deal with the customs union.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He referred, quite rightly, to his service to the people of Northern Ireland through the Policing Board in earlier years. I am aware that he visited Northern Ireland recently and met the present chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He will therefore be aware that the chief constable has recently withdrawn from sale three unused border police stations and asked for funding for an additional 400 police officers to deal with the border arrangements after Brexit. Can he throw some light on why on earth the chief constable would do that if we are not going to have a hard border?
I did go to Northern Ireland recently and I did have a meeting with the chief constable, who I know in any event. We spoke in confidence, and I will not break that confidence, but the facts about staff, posts and buildings, as the hon. Lady has just laid out, are right. Although having no hard border was a political commitment made in December, and it is now a legal commitment, there is a concern that that should be delivered. That is not a concern solely of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; it is a concern across the piece.
I will take two more interventions, from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), but then I really must press on—I keep saying that, and I must do it.
May I just bring the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)? My understanding from his answer, as it tailed off, is that he is only in favour of trade deals severally and jointly with the European Union. Is he not aware that currently the EU has trade deals in operation with under 10% of the world’s economies? Is he saying that under Labour’s vision we would be unable to secure trade deals with the other 90%? Does his vision also include the fact that at the moment four fifths of the tariffs collected under the customs union are paid to Brussels? Does he want to see that sort of arrangement continue under his vision?
The EU has trade deals with 67 countries through 37 agreements. It has a further 49 agreements with developing countries. There are 200 countries in the world, 28 in the EU, and 67 are already in extra agreements with the EU, and there are 49 in the developing country agreements. That is a considerable number of countries in the world.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the crux of today’s debate is whether we want a close working relationship with our neighbour and social, cultural and economic partner, the European Union? Ultimately, that is why so many of us—including the business community, trade unions and many Opposition Members —want a customs union.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and I agree.
I just want to finish this point—[Interruption.] I do not think that anybody could accuse me of not having taken interventions. I need to move on.
Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. There was a less than wholly polite chunter from a sedentary position. I warn the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) that I might need to have a word with family members of his who live in my constituency, who would expect him to behave in a seemly manner. I simply say to the shadow Brexit Secretary that I am listening to his disquisition with great interest, and will do so, but I know he will be sensitive to the fact that although we have six hours for debate, there is a very large number of Members wishing to contribute.
I am grateful for that, Mr Speaker.
To finish my point about Northern Ireland, I think that the conclusion of the vast majority of people who have considered this in great depth and with concern is that there is no way of delivering on the solemn promise that there should be no hard border in Northern Ireland unless the UK is in a customs union with the EU and there is a high level of single market alignment. The so-called backstop argument that has been going on in recent weeks is testament to that, because the Government are trying to find a post-implementation period phase when in truth we will be in a customs union and in high-level regulatory alignment with the single market. For our economy, and to enable us to keep our solemn commitments on Northern Ireland, I urge hon. and right hon. Members to vote to uphold Lords amendments 1 and 2.
I now turn to the EEA and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, which is in my name and those of other shadow Front Benchers. I understand why their lordships have become so concerned about the state of negotiations that they want an amendment to cover the single market. The Prime Minister’s red lines of October 2016 were a profound mistake. If we are to keep to our duty of protecting our economy, including the manufacturing sector and the services sector, and our solemn promise in relation to Northern Ireland, we need a customs union with the EU, and we also need a strong single market deal based on shared regulations and institutions.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain the tangible difference between us being in a customs union with full access to the single market and our being members of the EU, other than the fact that we will not be electing Members of the European Parliament?
Obviously, politically, we will not be in any of the institutions, and we will not be a member of the EU. We are dealing with the question of whether we should have a close economic relationship with the EU, which everybody recognises is a critical issue, and working through the best configuration for that. I do not think that the mere fact that there has been a vote to leave the EU can be interpreted as the wish of anybody who voted to make our economic relationship with the EU any worse. I do not think that anybody was voting to harm the ability of businesses in this country to do business.
I am going to press on and then I will give way again.
The EEA has a number of real benefits with regard to shared regulations and shared institutions, but it also presents real challenges. I have taken this option very seriously. I went to Norway to discuss it with that country’s political leaders, trade unions and businesses, and I also visited an EEA border—the Norway-Sweden border—to see what it was like.
The EEA undoubtedly works well for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but their economies are very different from ours, as is their size—Norway has 5 million people, Iceland has 300,000 and Liechtenstein has 37,000. Those countries chose not to be in a customs union with the EU. The European Free Trade Association is, after all, a free trade association, and those countries have struck trade deals in their own right as a group. I am sure that those trade deals work well for them, but I think that the 37 trade deals that the EU has struck work better for the UK than the EFTA trade deals would.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will just complete this point.
The EEA excludes agriculture and fisheries, which presents a problem in relation to the solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland. When I went to the border between Sweden and Norway, there was infrastructure, checks and controls—not for people, but for goods. The EEA also provides very little flexibility on the four freedoms, including freedom of movement and the way in which single market rules are implemented. Some say that those challenges can be overcome. I will continue to listen to those arguments, because there is no doubt that, in addition to a customs union with the EU, we need a strong single market deal, but I do not think we can ignore those challenges.
Despite their small populations, Iceland and Norway represent the two biggest catch sectors in Europe’s fishing industry. If the exclusion of the common fisheries policy is so bad in terms of UK membership, how on earth is it that Iceland and Norway, which depend heavily on fishing, are still in the EEA and benefit from it?
I am obviously not making my point in the right way. If the question we are trying to answer is how we ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to see how we can answer that by adopting the EEA model as it is, because agriculture is outside of the agreement that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have struck. That is the point I was trying to make.
It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, in effect, making the same argument on this issue as the Government, which is that we want to negotiate a free trade deal without the bureaucracy or the regulations—in other words, to have the best of the EU and the single market but without the downside. That is a very valid position to take, but can he confirm that he is in concurrence with the Government’s position on that?
No, our position is not the same as the Government’s at all. I recognise that we need a strong single market model. All I am saying is that I think there are challenges in the EEA model, which is not the only model, and that we would be better off with a model that does not tie us to a particular deal that another country has done. However, and this is why our amendment is important, that model should ensure full access to the single market and no new impediments to trade, with common rights, standards and protections as a minimum, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations. That is a long way from the Government’s position because they are not prepared to sign up to those commitments. The frustration in the negotiations is that nobody yet knows, because the Cabinet is still divided, whether the Government really want to negotiate something that is close economically to the EU, which will require shared regulations and institutions, or if they want to negotiate something else altogether.
I hope that all of us who support Brexit wish the UK to have access to the single market on the terms we have now, with the conditions about regulation that will follow from that. A key part of the campaign was that we should have control of our borders and not be subjected to foreign courts. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we might have to pay for the privilege of gaining free access to the single market but controlling our borders?
I accept that freedom of access was bound up with the referendum, and that is why every time I have stood at this Dispatch Box, I have said that we accept that freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU. The question is: what comes next, what does it look like and how do we negotiate it with the EU? That does not make things easy, but I think the Government’s approach, which was to abandon any argument for the customs union or the single market at the outset for fear of having that discussion with the EU, was wrong in principle.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that, when we leave the European Union, freedom of movement should end, and this is about what comes next. Does he agree that the EEA Norway-Liechtenstein-Iceland model does not allow us to have control over how freedom of movement will change and ties us in to “no say”? Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland have signed up to having no say over freedom of movement.
I have looked very carefully at the provisions in the EEA agreement, and there has been a lot of discussion about articles 112 and 113 in particular. I have to say that my reading of those articles is that they are what are called “in extremis” provisions, which actually do allow some flexibility on all obligations under the EEA agreement, but only in extreme circumstances and for a short period. The argument that others have put to me is that there is a different interpretation, but we are still discussing that matter.
I will give way once more and then I really will have to get on.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the EEA would become a viable option only if Britain were able to negotiate fundamental changes to the EEA agreement, which would be a huge challenge for the United Kingdom?
In fairness to those who advocate joining the EEA, there is a recognition that the EEA agreement, unamended, would not be the right deal for the UK, but the argument is that it could be amended.