House of Commons
Tuesday 17 July 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
University of London Bill [Lords]
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 4 September (Standing Order No. 20).
Rotherham Independent Review
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of a Paper, entitled The Rotherham Independent Review: a review into information passed to the Home Office in connection with allegations of Child Sexual Abuse in Rotherham (1998-2005), volumes I and II, dated 17 July 2018.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Offshore Wind Sector
Offshore wind has been a fantastic UK success story. Costs have halved and jobs have been created. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, the port of Lowestoft has been a construction base for the Galloper project. It will shortly become the base for East Anglia ONE’s 25-year operations and maintenance work. We want to build on that success. Our clean growth strategy said that we could see a further 10 GW of new capacity in the 2020s. There is the opportunity for additional deployment if that is cost-effective.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer and I will be at the opening of the East Anglia One operations and maintenance base on Friday in Lowestoft. Offshore wind, as he said, is bringing significant benefits to coastal communities, though to realise its full potential there is the need to ensure that local people and businesses have every opportunity to take part in the success story. Can he confirm that this will be the Government’s No. 1 priority in the forthcoming sector deal?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I hope that the event later in the week goes well; I am sure it will. He is absolutely right that part of the industrial strategy, in particular the local industrial strategies, is to make sure that the benefits of these investments are available to the local workforce, and I know that he will work very closely with new Anglia local enterprise partnership to ensure that that is the case.
Britain needs about £22 billion a year of investment in clean energy to meet our legally binding EU renewables targets, but my Committee heard that, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, investment has collapsed over the past two years. Given that the Brexit White Paper says that the Government believe that there is no need for a common rulebook on environmental or climate change rules, what confidence can investors in offshore or onshore wind have that the Government will support low-carbon energy if we leave?
We are very clear in our support for that in the clean growth strategy and, as the hon. Lady can see, in the level of investment that is being made right across the country. It was very clear in the White Paper that followed the Chequers meeting that we had made a commitment to the highest of environmental standards.
I recently visited the Rampion offshore wind farm, which is a stunning achievement, supplying enough power for a third of Sussex’s needs. Is the Secretary of State also looking at how to expand existing wind farms as well as just building new ones, particularly if it can be done in a way that does not have a visual impact from land?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. There is the opportunity, through the auctions that have been so successful, for expansions to come forward and be proposed, but he should also be aware that, given the leadership that we have in this area, we are also leading in replacing blades and turbines when they come to the ends of their life. That is a very important source of jobs that will be available to the exports markets around the world as well.
Offshore wind has an excellent strike price of £57.50 per megawatt-hour, yet this Government’s dogma will see consumers locked into paying £20 to £40 more per megawatt-hour for new nuclear. If that was not enough of a hit on family budgets, it has been reported that the Government will use the public purse to let Hitachi off the hook for the cost of any safety breaches at its Wylfag nuclear plant. Is it not time that this Tory Government ended their obsession with outdated, expensive and risky nuclear and put the public and consumers first?
It is always necessary to have a diverse source of energy supplies, and nuclear has made and does make a big contribution to that: about 20% of our current electricity comes from nuclear. That is very important for households and businesses, including in Scotland. Every new project has to be assessed as value for money for the taxpayer and consumers and that will continue to be a criterion that will be rigorously imposed.
Renewable Power-Generating Companies
The hon. Gentleman will know, because there are more than 6,000 installations in Manchester alone, that the feed-in tariff scheme has been hugely successful in attracting investment in small-scale renewable electricity, delivering more than 800,000 installations across the country. Partly as a result of that scheme, costs of the technology have dropped dramatically, but also because of the success of the scheme, it became, as he will know, very unaffordable. I am very aware of the need to set out what the next stage of small-scale renewable investment looks like, and I look forward to doing so shortly.
Businesses are very aware of the need too. There are thousands of stakeholders in the renewables industry who need to understand the regulatory framework that they will be operating under when the feed-in tariff ends. The Government promised an update on the approach to small-scale renewables by the end of last year, but we have heard nothing. Will the Minister please tell us today when the feed-in tariff consultation will be published?
I share entirely the hon. Gentleman’s desire for us to get on with it. In fact, I have met many representatives of the sectors. We just have to get the scheme right. We must not create something that causes a bonanza for people who are gaming the system or that puts up bills for consumers. We are very aware of the need to provide certainty for investors, and I look forward to doing so soon.
I can only refer to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We want to provide a balanced, secure energy supply that keeps bills down for consumers. That is why we will be investing in nuclear. We have invested in many forms of renewable energy. In fact, we are now leading many parts of the world in that investment, and we will continue to do so.
Solar PV installations this year will be running at just 2% of their peak rate in 2011. This is certainly due to the downgrading and forthcoming closure of the FIT scheme in March 2019. As the Minister has mentioned, a consultation on FITs has now been promised for a year. It was supposed to have been published by this recess; now it is not. Why is the Minister fiddling about the future of FITs while the solar house burns down?
Such alliteration, despite such late nights. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have been really successful in pulling forward a huge amount of solar. In fact, solar has contributed enormously to the energy mix over the past few days, as the hon. Gentleman will know. Much of it is not recorded because it sits behind the meter. However, I acknowledge his point. We intend to bring forward a scheme that works, that does not put up bills for consumers and that acknowledges that much of our renewable future will be subsidy-free.
Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices
In the Government’s response to the review, we committed to take forward recommendations to improve clarity on employment status, boost protections for agency workers and increase state enforcement of basic rights for vulnerable workers. Consultations finished last month, and we have had more than 420 responses. I give huge thanks to all stakeholders who contributed; we will be responding very shortly.
Insecure work weakens our economy. Last week the Office for National Statistics reported falls in manufacturing and construction output. The past few weeks have been dominated by Ministers worrying about their jobs. When will the Government have a functioning industrial strategy that worries about my constituents’ jobs?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will welcome today’s news that we have record employment in the British economy. We totally agree with him that the future of work is good work, which is why we commissioned the Taylor review and want to deal with the challenges of the gig economy. I hope that we will get cross-party support for those vital protections for his constituents and for mine.
Rather than simplify employment law, the Taylor review has recommended introducing yet another category of workers, so we will have three tiers with different employment protections. The EU directive on transparent and predictable working that is currently being considered provides an EU-wide definition of workers, clarity and transparency, and the right to a written statement of terms and conditions on day one of employment. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will support the directive, so that it is adopted before 29 March next year?
Again, I thank all respondents to the consultation, including many high quality responses from the unions. We will respond to the consultation in due course.
One in six workers in our economy is now self-employed. Some are bogusly self-employed—not entitled to the basic protections that we should all expect when we go out to work every day. Matthew Taylor’s review into good work was published more than a year ago. When are the Government going to respond and bring forward legislation to end this abuse?
The hon. Lady, as always, makes a powerful point. We are taking action by prosecuting companies that are not paying the national minimum wage and we are ensuring that those basic rights are enforced. We want to get this right because this legislation will have to last not just for six months or a year, but for many years as our economy develops.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) all the best during her maternity leave. As we know, the Taylor review failed to offer much protection for those in the gig economy who are pregnant. The Government’s earlier Deane review on self-employment made recommendations on equalising maternity allowance, but that was two and a half years ago. Do the Government intend to implement those recommendations?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I was around his constituency on Saturday helping to launch the RSS Sir David Attenborough—what a fine place he represents. He is absolutely right to focus on these basic maternity protections. This Government are continuing to improve paternity and maternity rights. We want to get that right and that will be part of our response.
University Research: Commercialisation
We want the UK to be the place where innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. Our universities have a strong part to play within this, alongside business. That is why we are funding, through United Kingdom Research and Innovation, support for research collaborations between universities and business. We also have the industrial strategy challenge fund, as well as higher education innovation funding and our Connecting Capability funding. All of those will help universities work together with business.
The research partnership that exists between the University of Tokyo and Imperial College London is an excellent example of how the UK can benefit from sharing innovation and technology. What more will my hon. Friend do to ensure that we continue to strengthen academic networks and communities post Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our research and innovation collaboration is important in what we do with the EU, but also globally in what we do around the world. That is why UKRI has established a new £110 million fund to explore and develop international partnerships with leading science and innovation regions. We will also bring forward an international science strategy in the autumn.
The Minister knows that many people working in our universities—brilliant scientists and innovators—are not on gold-plated pensions and do not have inherited wealth, like some of his hon. Friends. Will he look at universities in the United States, such as Cornell University, which have different ways of paying and incentivising research on those campuses?
Just focusing on the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s question—[Interruption.] The reason behind UK Research and Innovation, which brings together all the research agencies in the UK, is that, for the first time, we have a strategic brain to direct UK research so that we can allow innovation and ingenuity to flourish in our universities. That is the best way to create returns that benefit the economy but also the best minds in our country.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) did not bellow from a sedentary position like that when, as I referenced recently, he served with great distinction as a local councillor in the 1970s.
I have one of the foremost medical research centres on the border of my constituency at Queen’s University Belfast. Will the Minister outline what grants are available to enhance facilities in these world-class research centres?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am particularly interested in the research that Queen’s University Belfast is doing, particularly around areas of cyber-security. I look forward to visiting it in due course. Obviously, UKRI deals with all of the UK and that university will benefit from grants from UKRI too.
British Motor Sector
On 25 June, I met Unite the union to discuss its views on how Government can best support the UK automotive sector. I met Tony Burke and representatives from the Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and GKN unions. The Secretary of State and I also speak to the unions regularly through their membership of the Automotive Council.
I thank the Minister for having that meeting, because under Conservative, Labour and even Lib Dem Ministers, Britain rebuilt its motor industry by working closely with industry and the unions. Unfortunately, more recently, ill-considered lurches in policy by the Department for Transport, which are less like the prosperity agenda and the industrial strategy and more like Soviet 10-year plans, are creating deep uncertainty, especially for the diesel sector, where Britain is a world leader. What will the Minister now be doing with unions and companies to get our motor industry policy, across Government, back on track?
The Government’s “Road to Zero” strategy, which was published last week, made it clear that there is a continuing role for clean diesel vehicles as we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from UK road transport. It has been generally welcomed by the automotive industry.
We have seen tremendous investment in the motor industry over the years, not least in Toyota in Derbyshire. What are the Government doing to encourage more investment?
My right hon. Friend will be very aware of the number of meetings we have with the automotive industry and of how closely we are working with it on the sector deal. The Automotive Council met only in the past couple of weeks, and that was one of the top things on the agenda for discussion.
Some 53% of our exports rely on Europe. What are you doing to protect that market for us?
I am doing absolutely nothing on the matter.
I hope the hon. Gentleman has read the Chequers agreement and the White Paper. I will be very happy to forward him a copy. It explains how the views and interests of the motor industry are central to how the sector works throughout all countries in the European Union, including us. We will continue in a friction-free way that is very much to the advantage of the automotive industry.
The success of Jaguar Land Rover and the Jaguar plant in my constituency has transformed the lives of thousands in an area of high unemployment. Now JLR is facing the twin challenge of the transition from diesel on the one hand and the threat of Brexit on the other. Does the Minister agree that wide-eyed Brexiteers appear to believe that we can crash out of the European Union with no consequences for jobs, that they are wrong and they are letting down British workers, British industry and Britain?
I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think my eyes are too wide. Despite your efforts last week, Mr Speaker, there seems to be a shortage of Members on both sides of the Chamber who have actually read the White Paper. I would be very happy to give one to him.
Moving to electric vehicles should be transformative for our country and our £77 billion car sector, creating new markets and jobs in manufacturing, services, the supply chain and battery recycling. What are the Government doing? Their Faraday challenge does not cover manufacturing or skills, they have ditched renewable energy investment, delayed the £400 million investment in charging infrastructure and allowed the takeover of GKN’s world-leading battery technology, and yesterday they voted for a customs plan that will sever automotive supply chains, putting more than 800,000 jobs at risk. Is it not the Government’s role to help create high-skilled, high-productivity jobs, not destroy them?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady: it is the Government’s role to do exactly that. That is why we have the Faraday battery challenge, which covers skills, and why the Government are putting so much effort into battery technology and clean technology for this country. I am very proud of that. I have seen skills in the automotive industry when I have visited car factories and the schools around them. The number of apprenticeships shows that the Government are totally committed to skills. We have a very bright future with batteries.
There used to be those who said it is not possible to have protection for minimum-wage workers and lots of jobs. How wrong they are! Today, thanks to a Conservative Government since 2010, we have record employment, and a full-time worker on the minimum wage is now £3,800 better off thanks to the wage legislation we passed and changes to the income tax personal allowance. Since 2015, we have doubled the budget for enforcing the national minimum wage, and last year we identified a record 15.6 million workers who were not being paid properly for low-paid work.
Will my right hon. Friend encourage HMRC to investigate proactively employers who are systematically breaching national minimum wage legislation, instead of expecting each worker individually to complain and produce detailed evidence?
That is absolutely right. Any employer who is not paying the national minimum wage and is breaching the law deserves to be found out and taken to task. That is why HMRC is conducting proactive risk-based analyses, particularly in sectors or areas where there is a high-risk of workers not being paid. In 2016-17, HMRC proactively investigated over 1,400 cases, in which 68,000 workers were being illegally underpaid. That is absolutely outrageous, and penalties have been issued. The work will continue: employers must pay the national minimum and living wage.
I thank the Minister for her answer. She highlights that a number of employers are not paying the minimum wage, so what support do the Government intend to give small employers to help ensure that they can pay their employees a fair wage?
That is an excellent point, and it is quite right that small employers who may struggle with some of this are encouraged to do so. We have taken up to £3,000 off their national insurance contributions bill through the employment allowance. We have cut corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 19% today, and we reduced business rates to the tune of £2.3 billion in the 2017 Budget. All that is going into small employers’ cash flows, so they can pay their workers what they deserve.
The latest figures show that weekly wages in Mansfield are notably—several hundred pounds a week—lower than the national average. Projects such as the Heathrow logistics hub could provide huge opportunities for my constituents, but what support are the Government offering to help low-wage areas such as Mansfield and Warsop attract such high-skill and well-paid jobs?
I commend my hon. Friend for fighting tirelessly for his constituents. I basically reassure him that, through the industrial strategy—it, of course, sets out our long-term plan to boost productivity and earning power across the country—we are supporting the development of local industrial strategies to drive up productivity, because productivity increases are what drive pay increases.
Given the Court of Appeal’s decision last Friday, will the Government now urgently bring forward legislation to end the uncertainty and to enshrine the right of all workers on all shifts to the national minimum wage, including for careworkers’ sleep-ins?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I know from my own constituents the difficulty that the original decision has provided both for employers and for workers. I am afraid that I cannot answer her question from the Dispatch Box, but I will take it away and write to her.
Not only is it true that the number of people on zero-hours contracts is rising at a very high rate, but the Government do not seem to think that it is anything to do with them. There are close on 1 million people on zero-hours contracts—there are 2,000 or 3,000 on one pit site in Shirebrook near Mansfield in my area—and the Government sit idly by. It is only when they talk about the golden future for workers and get stuck in with getting rid of zero-hours contracts that we will believe a word they say.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman, despite the rhetoric, is just wrong. I have visited some of the pit areas, and one of the saddest things I ever saw was a former pit engineer who, because of the appalling transport links left as a terrible legacy to the pit areas, was unable to get out of the area and find work. [Interruption.] If he would just listen for one second, he would know that many people on zero-hours contracts actually choose that level of flexibility. [Interruption.] Well, they do, and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) should talk to her constituents and find out. However, he is absolutely right that the thing we need to do—[Interruption.] Blimey, you must be hell to live with. [Interruption.] He must be hell to live with; not you, Mr Speaker, clearly. The hon. Gentleman must be hell to live with. He will know that this Government are determined to drive up wages and standards for working people, because we, not the north London intelligentsia, are the party of working people.
The lowest-paid workers are young workers, who are not entitled even to the Government’s pretendy living wage. A 17-year-old is entitled to £3.63 an hour less than a 25-year-old starting on the same day in the same job. When will this Government end the scandal of state-sponsored age discrimination?
My understanding is that there have always been differentials for different age groups. We will continue to review this because we are the party that nationally—right across the UK—wants to make sure that productivity and wages increase, rather than using the rhetoric we hear from other Members.
Blimey, Mr Speaker, I am getting through them today.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid out at the northern powerhouse business summit, the industrial strategy is encouraging innovation across the UK, developing those high-quality jobs and wages we all campaign for. Sector deals are about building long-term partnerships and businesses, and the grand challenges in areas such as clean growth will equip the UK to seize opportunities and be a world leader in the industries of the future.
One of the biggest challenges we face is the STEM skills gap, something that I repeatedly mention in this place, given that Wiltshire is a hub of engineering design and technology. What work is my right hon. Friend doing with the Department for Education to ensure that we are developing the skills needed by businesses?
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for the work that she has successfully done in her constituency promoting the importance of STEM skills. We are working with the Department for Education to grow STEM skills in the UK through initiatives such as T-levels, by investing more than £400 million, and I am particularly keen that that work focuses on harnessing the huge potential of women, a group who are very under-represented in the sector. That is why initiatives such as POWERful Women are so important.
The Government’s commitment to creating a globally competitive technical education system must be applauded, and I hope that they will draw on best practice from establishments and institutions in my constituency, such as York College and Askham Bryan College. Can the Minister update me on discussions she is having directly with businesses about the creation of new institutes of technology, and will she consider rolling them out as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is right: these have to be a collaboration between the Government, business and local decision makers. We will announce in the autumn which institutions will make up the country-wide network, supported by £170 million of funding for the institutes of technology. As we set out in May, the first pupils will sit the first of the new T-levels in September 2020.
One of the real challenges for the Government’s industrial strategy is how to ensure that investment is rolled out across all the regions and nations of the UK. How, practically, will the industrial strategy ensure that that happens—in particular, in regions that have failed to get the investment they deserve such as the east midlands?
That is an excellent question, and the proof of all this will be taking our grand aspirations for the UK and making them work locally. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have fantastic local areas, often working cross-party—I am thinking particularly of Teesside and the west midlands—[Interruption.] The east midlands; thank you. We have really engaged local leaders and decision makers in pulling that investment through and developing their own local industrial strategies.
Northern Ireland has an excellent construction industry. Unfortunately, it has been difficult over the past number of years because of the lack of the Northern Ireland Assembly and decision making. Can the Minister outline what discussions have taken place between her Department and Northern Ireland to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from the new construction sector deal?
We talk regularly with representatives from Northern Ireland, which is—as the hon. Lady will know—a vital part of the UK. The sector deal that we have done with the construction sector—more than half a billion pounds set out between the Government and industry to drive up the productivity of that sector—of course applies to Northern Ireland. We look forward to seeing productivity increase across the UK.
The space sector will play an important role in achieving the aims of the industrial strategy. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister join me in welcoming the agreement signed by Virgin Orbit with Spaceport Cornwall at Farnborough air show yesterday, and will she ensure that the Government continue to work with Spaceport Cornwall to make sure that we have horizontal satellite launch in this country as soon as possible?
Unlike the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, I was unable to enjoy the announcement at Farnborough yesterday, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a fantastic announcement. He and Cornwall County Council should celebrate it, and I look forward to visiting Cornwall on Friday, where this topic and many other industries will be addressed.
One of the challenges but also opportunities for the Government’s industrial strategy is working with the devolved Administrations. Can the Minister set out what discussions she has had with the Welsh Government to ensure that the long-term industrial strategy supports industries such as Ford in Bridgend, which employs many hundreds of workers in my constituency?
Again, that is an excellent point, demonstrating that we are so much stronger when we work together. We all, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, speak to representatives of the devolved Administration on issues such as the auto sector deal and the nuclear sector deal, which was very much a joint effort.
Industrial Strategy: Scotland
I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that our modern industrial strategy continues to deliver strongly for Scotland. The progress in negotiations for a growth deal with Ayrshire demonstrates our commitment to regional growth. Investment in Scotland through the industrial strategy challenge fund includes last month’s £13 million for a medicines manufacturing innovation centre in Renfrewshire.
I thank the Minister for that reply. In November 2017, the Secretary of State announced a review into how Scotland’s two Governments can collaborate better on business support. Will he update the House on the progress of that review, and will he reassure me that he will strive to ensure that the industrial strategy and the Scottish Government’s business support programmes complement, rather than compete, with each other?
I am very pleased to reassure my hon. Friend, who works so hard on this subject, that we continue to work closely with the Scottish Government on many industrial strategy priorities, including our support for innovation and business productivity. Regarding the review, work is under way across government to determine its scope. Clearly, our partnership with the Scottish Government will be essential as that progresses.
Scrapped subsidies for renewables, failure to support the oil and gas sector in its time of need, betrayal over the pledge to invest £1 billion in new carbon capture in Peterhead—now, the Government are seemingly poised to splash £15 billion more of taxpayers’ cash on outdated nuclear technology at Hitachi’s Wylfa plant. When will we get an industrial strategy that actually works for Scotland?
That is not the picture of the oil and gas industry that I know following a visit to Aberdeen, where I saw more investment, more Government support and more support in the area for this Government’s industrial strategy. I am a great admirer of the hon. Gentleman normally, but I think he must have read the wrong script for this question.
Small Business Sector
Corporation tax rates will be cut from 19% to 17% in 2020. We have doubled the annual allowance for people investing in knowledge-intensive companies through the enterprise investment scheme, and we are investing over £26 million through Be the Business. The Government’s British Business Bank is supporting over 70,000 smaller businesses to access £4.6 billion of finance.
Thirty three jobs have been created and supported in my constituency through the small business loans platform, Funding Circle. What more can we do to encourage small businesses, particularly those that are female-owned, to look at wider ranges of finance options to help them to grow?
We want to ensure that all businesses get to know how to use the finance they need, including our 1.2 million women-owned businesses. Alongside the online finance finder and the business bank’s finance guide, the business bank is working with partners to understand the representation of women in venture capital firms.
Some small businesses in Cornwall have seen increases in their business rates. This is against a platform of increased online sales. What discussions is the Department having with the Treasury to ensure fairness in our taxation system?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Some people would argue that Ministers engage with the Treasury too often on many matters, but we engage with them regularly on this matter. The Chancellor has been clear that we need to find a better way to tax the digital economy. We are making on progress on that before considering the implications for the wider tax system, including business rates.
Small businesses in Torbay could benefit significantly from a coastal enterprise zone, as part of a town deal for our area. What view does the Minister take of this type of arrangement?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done for Torbay businesses. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), who has responsibility for local growth, recently had a positive meeting with him and representatives from Torbay to discuss their proposals for local economic growth. I encourage Torbay to continue to work with local partners as it develops its plans, including the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership, which will play a central role in the local industrial strategy for the area.
Evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on the operation of the minimum income floor for small businesses under universal credit stated that the percentage of small businesses surviving the first 15 months would fall from 70% to less than 20%. What representations has the Department had with the Department for Work and Pensions to support the growth of enterprise and small businesses?
We have many and regular meetings at all levels with the Department for Work and Pensions on that subject, but the hon. Lady is right: starting small businesses is very difficult and it always has been. Some of them survive and some do not, and some go on to be extremely successful larger businesses. She is right to be concerned about the amount of support that government, local and national, give them, and I can assure her that it is at the top of our agenda.
There may be a lot of discussion between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury, but the reality is that there is no action on business rates. Our retail sector is closing down and 200,000 businesses have been taken to the magistrates court for non-payment, so when will we have a review of business rates and when will we see change?
I think that the hon. Lady is misinformed. There has been significant help for small businesses on business rates in previous Budgets and this is being looked at all the time.
The Scottish Government Budget provided £96 million to deliver the most attractive business rates package in the UK. How long do firms and entrepreneurs have to wait till the UK Government use their industrial strategy, put their money where their mouth is and follow Scotland’s lead?
The UK Government really do not need to take very many lessons from Scotland on how to help businesses with business rates and every other form of business support. Actually, the working relationship between the two Governments is pretty good and we aim to provide a good business environment for all businesses on both sides of the border.
UK Science Base: Funding
The principal research funding route is through UK Research and Innovation, which in 2018 alone accounts for over £6 billion of investment in research and innovation. I am proud that the Conservative Government have overseen the largest increase in scientific research and development funding that we have ever seen in the UK. We are investing an additional £7 billion in R&D by 2022, as a first step in delivering our ambition of increasing the UK’s R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP.
As a former shadow Science Minister, I am very conscious of the increases in funding, particularly in cash terms, but I am also acutely conscious that it is not just cash but the availability of talent that matters when it comes to science, innovation and the industrial base. Given the recent concerns around Brexit and everything else, will the Minister reassure me that the availability of highly talented scientists will still be a priority for this Government?
The increase in funding is actually in real terms, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: to succeed here, we have to be open to ideas and open to talent. He will have seen the recent relaxation in the tier 5 visa restrictions for scientists. We are also investing £900 million in UKRI’s flagship future leadership fellowships and a further £350 million for the national academies to expand their prestigious fellowships. When it comes to science, innovation and research, we are open for business.
I am sure that the Minister saw the recent report from the Office for Life Sciences, which showed that R&D investment in the pharmaceutical sector fell from £4.9 billion per annum in 2011 to £4.1 billion in 2016—a decline of £800 million per annum. To what does he attribute that, and given that life sciences are so important, what does he plan to do about it?
I am aware that everyone in the life sciences sector has welcomed the life sciences sector deal. As part of our work to reach 2.4% of our GDP being invested in scientific research by 2027, we will be working with the pharmaceutical industry along with other industries to increase their research investment in the UK.
When can we expect an announcement of the funding for the next phase of the national quantum technologies programme?
I am very much aware of that and am in discussions with UK Research and Innovation. An announcement will be made very soon.
As far as the Asda-Sainsbury’s merger is concerned, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in close contact with the chief executives of both organisations. They have confirmed that there are no planned store closures as a result of the merger.
Asda and Sainsbury’s combined will have a workforce of 330,000 people. Will the Secretary of State provide any assurance to these workers today that the Government will do everything in their power to stop any job losses or any cuts to pay and conditions? Is this a supermarket deal for workers and customers, or is it one for private profiteer shareholders?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the merger is a matter for the companies themselves. They have, however, given an assurance that there are no planned closures and confirmed that Asda will continue to be run from Leeds with its own chief executive officer. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking at other aspects of the merger.
A lot of jobs are sustained by local suppliers to both supermarkets. What opportunities will the Minister take to ensure that that continues, and in fact increases, with the newly formed company?
The potential impact on suppliers and the supply chain is a very valid concern, given the market power that the combined entity will have, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the CMA asking it to look at the impact on the supply chain as part of its ongoing investigation.
Leaving the EU: Services Sector
The Government are seeking a comprehensive deal on services that will continue to allow our thriving services sector to trade with the rest of the EU, including, for example, through the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and a new economic and regulatory arrangement on financial services.
The City of London Corporation said of the Brexit White Paper
“the financial and related…services sector will be less able to create jobs, generate tax and support growth”
across the wider economy. What discussions did the Government have with the services sector before the Chequers deal was signed off?
I and our colleagues in the Treasury have constant discussions with the services sector. It is important that our distinctive financial services sector not be subject to a set of rules in the future that might be very much against its interests. Everyone who knows the City needs to recognise that the flexibility and distinctiveness of our approach must continue.
Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Siemens—just a few of the businesses that have recently spoken out about the Government’s handling of Brexit. They alone provide thousands of jobs and significant investment in the UK, but the Government’s chaos is putting this in jeopardy. The Secretary of State himself was forced to rebuke the flagrant dismissal of his own Front-Bench colleagues, stating that big employers were entitled to be listened to with respect. Would he say that he has now listened to the concerns of business with respect?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Those businesses did speak out. Since the publication of the White Paper, they have also recognised that the zero-friction proposal made in it merits support and they have committed to advocating for it across the rest of the EU, as I hope that she will.
Well, the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have both said they are no clearer on the Government’s negotiating position in several key areas, and last night business leaders are reported to have warned the Prime Minister that her customs legislation was not fit for purpose, but the Government pressed ahead, even accepting amendments that their own colleagues state fundamentally undermine the Chequers proposal, and wrecked it, caving in to the hard, no deal Brexiteers. When exactly will the Secretary of State’s Government start paying more than lip service to the concerns of business?
The hon. Lady is wrong. All the organisations she mentioned have given the White Paper and the Chequers proposals a warm welcome. In the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, we committed to minimising frictions at the border. The proposal now is to have zero friction at the border. That is strongly in the interests of business and allows our successful supply chains to continue to prosper. We need the Opposition to recognise the national interest in having a good deal. Almost everyone in the country wants a good deal negotiated between Britain and the EU. Rather than edging for difference and trying to make political points, she should get behind this excellent suggestion for the country.
The hon. Lady will know through her long and distinguished service in various union careers that the challenge of ensuring that all workers, whether employees, workers or self-employed, receive the rights and protections they are entitled to without having to fight for them is at the heart of the Taylor review. I hope that she and her colleagues will welcome the recommendations made.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the plight of many self-employed workers in today’s modern workforce. More and more people are classed as self-employed, but they have no protection rights. They have no redundancy rights, no pension protections, no sick pay, no holiday pay and no parental leave pay. Why do the Government believe that self-employed people do not deserve the same entitlements as employees?
I think the hon. Lady probably knows that the Government do not believe that. However, she has identified the real challenge that is out there in the workplace. It is not always clear what status an employee has, and that is something that we must clarify. One of the fundamental points in the Taylor review related to employment status and access to statutory employment rights. I am not ruling out being able to do more for self-employed workers, but at the heart of the review is the need to understand the definitions involved, and to ensure that people in those categories are given the rights and protections that they deserve and for which the hon. Lady and I have campaigned.
Companies such as Uber and Pimlico Plumbers wrongly categorise their workforces as self-employed in order to deny them basic rights such as holiday pay and even the national minimum wage. I have heard what the Minister has had to say today, but when will the Government finally clamp down on false self-employment and exploitative practices?
The hon. Lady will know that we have already made progress. Up to 300,000 workers who are entitled to payslips will now receive them, all workers are given a statement of their terms and conditions from day one, and 1.2 million agency workers are given a breakdown showing who pays them. We know that we must do more, but we want to respond carefully to the hundreds of responses to the Taylor review consultation that we have received, so that we can make the necessary changes and ensure that those practices are stamped out.
Facilitated Customs Arrangement
The proposed arrangement is a significant advance on the Mansion House speech. Instead of just minimising frictions at the border, it provides for zero frictions. That has been welcomed by businesses generally, including, at the Farnborough air show yesterday, Boeing, which is of course an important investor in the hon. Lady’s city.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but I am somewhat surprised. The Government’s White Paper tells us that the facilitated customs arrangement is designed to
“preserve frictionless trade for the majority of UK goods trade, and reduce frictions for UK exporters and importers.”
Will the Minister please tell us which goods will be excluded by the arrangement, and what level of friction business can continue to expect?
We are very clear about the fact that, as has been recognised by businesses up and down the country, the proposal provides for zero frictions at the border. That is very important for advanced manufacturing, which is itself very important in the city that the hon. Lady represents.
John Whittingdale—not here.
Eight months ago I told the House that the aim of our industrial strategy was to create prosperous communities throughout the country, and since our last questions session we have implemented that strategy across the United Kingdom.
Last month, at the international business festival in Liverpool, we announced £1.3 billion of investment in the next generation of research and innovation talent. I travelled to Trawsfynydd, in north Wales, to launch the nuclear sector deal, which will drive down energy costs for consumers. In Newcastle, as part of the Great Exhibition of the North, we launched our construction sector deal, aiming to cut build time by 50%. At the same time, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) was in Grimsby, helping to unveil stage 1 of a landmark town deal.
Just yesterday I was at the Farnborough air show, where the Prime Minister announced £343 million of investment in civil aerospace, and we announced a new era of space flights in the UK, with a vertical satellite launch site at Sutherland and support for the development of horizontal launch sites at Newquay, Snowdonia and Prestwick.
Businesses in my constituency say that they need exactly the same regulations as those that apply in the European Union so that they can continue to compete with competitors for EU custom. What is the Department doing to ensure that, not just now but in the future, there will be no regulatory divergence and no undercutting of British firms?
A big part of the White Paper is the commitment to a common rule book. Our sophisticated supply chains allow goods to be sold throughout the European Union, and businesses have made it clear that they want to continue to do that after Brexit, which is why they have welcomed the White Paper so warmly.
I have met my hon. Friend to discuss his Bill, and we fully understand that the practice of retention has caused problems for the construction industry supply chain. We are fully committed to tackling the issue, but any action we take needs to be robust, proportionate and evidence-based. We have listened and consulted, and we will shortly be publishing the response to a public consultation considering several options including a retention deposit scheme.
UK steelmakers are paying up to 50% more for their electricity than their European counterparts, which is reducing their competitiveness on the global stage. Ofgem’s targeted charging review is set to exacerbate the situation. What representation has the Minister made to Ofgem regarding its review and the effect of that review on both the steel sector and energy-intensive industries in the UK?
We meet Ofgem very regularly to discuss this and other matters, and we are very aware of the situation. As the hon. Lady knows, I have met many companies in the steel industry and discussed this, and it is very much part of our discussions with Ofgem and others.
I think most people in this country want to have an agreement that means that we do not have checks and bureaucracy at the border and that we can continue the success of our businesses. Part of the negotiation that will take place during the summer is to make sure we can deliver that, and I am sure most Members of this House wish the Prime Minister success in that.
We have been very clear in commissioning the Matthew Taylor report; we have been in advance of any other country in the world in looking to make sure that as the economy changes we preserve the protections we have always insisted on for workers, and the hon. Lady should welcome that.
Like me, my hon. Friend has a rural constituency, and many of us live off-grid and are at the mercy of these rises. We know that the market for heating oil does function: it has been reviewed and is considered to be competitive. But my hon. Friend will know that I have also set out an aim that we want to get all new properties built in areas off-grid off fossil-fuel forms of heating by 2025, as that is not only costly but very carbon-producing.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss this. I am thinking back to the days when we used to go out and try to sell goods from various catalogues and I used to collect the money. That was exploitative then, and I suspect that it is exploitative now. Perhaps she and I should meet; I would be happy to discuss the matter.
I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier answer. If a contract is in place, that wage must be paid, and if he has any evidence of systematic underpayment or any level of avoidance, HMRC and the Government want to hear about it.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are having regular meetings with all the business representative bodies and the Department for Education to ensure that levy funds are spent properly, for the purpose for which they are meant and in local areas by the companies that pay the levy.
The Secretary of State referred earlier to the visit of his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), to north-east Lincolnshire to sign the Greater Grimsby town deal, which is very welcome and I thank him for his support in achieving that. One of the things that his colleague will have seen is the great opportunity to develop trade through the Humber ports. The Humber local enterprise partnership, the local authority, the Hull and Humber chamber of commerce and local businesses have been working towards the possibility of free port status, post-Brexit. Can the Minister assure them that nothing that comes out of the negotiations will prevent that from happening?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I am sorry that I was unable to be in Grimsby. I could not be in Newcastle and Grimsby on the same morning, but that does not remove my commitment to visit Cleethorpes and Grimsby, and perhaps the free port proposal is one of the things that we could discuss when I do so.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and other Members who have worked closely with the development corporation. The discussions have been very positive. They have not concluded yet, but I think everyone recognises that there has been great progress and that there is a very good future for that site.
The Stirling city region deal is the perfect opportunity for the industrial strategy to deliver for Scotland. Will Ministers meet me to discuss what resources could be diverted from Victoria Street to Stirling to support the industrial strategy’s execution?
My hon. Friend knows that I am a great champion of devolution and decentralisation, and he makes an intriguing suggestion, which I would be very happy to take up in discussions with him.
Many small care agencies face bankruptcy in the light of the Treasury advice on the way in which sleep-ins are paid, which has now been changed by the courts. The Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), did not seem to know too much about this, but may I urge her to avail herself of the facts urgently, because many small agencies will go bust if we do not get this right?
I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. I have had strong representations and visits about this issue in my own constituency. My reluctance to comment on it at the Dispatch Box is because it is legally incredibly complicated, as he knows, and we have just had the freshest possible news about the judgment. We need to take that away, and we will comment on it shortly. I would be very happy to work closely with him on this issue.
Two weeks ago, I and colleagues from across the House, along with hundreds of others, attended a poignant service of remembrance at the Piper Alpha memorial in Aberdeen to mark 30 years since the worst tragedy in offshore oil and gas production. That tragedy claimed 167 lives, and many of those people were from Aberdeenshire. What are the Government doing, along with the industry, to ensure that UK oil and gas remains the world leader in health and safety practices offshore, so that we can avoid another tragedy such as this?
Thirty years seems like a long time ago, but this is still the freshest possible knowledge for many people in my hon. Friend’s constituency: 167 men, many from a tight area in the north-east of Scotland, perished in the worst offshore disaster we have ever had in the history of our industry. Nothing will ever bring them back, but it was the findings of the Cullen inquiry that drove the changes that have made the UK a world leader in health and safety, and I want to pay tribute to our colleagues in the Health and Safety Executive, because they continue to focus on safety first when it comes to exploiting the resources in the North sea.
To avoid double-charging on battery installations, the Government have pledged to amend the Electricity Act 1989 when parliamentary time permits. Instead of a two-day holiday next week, is that change something that the Government could start to look at?
That will be part of the entire review of how we bring forward the necessary investment in battery technology to support renewable energy intermittency.
Will the Minister confirm support for the Civil Nuclear Police Federation in its meeting this summer with his Cabinet colleagues over the proposals to reduce retirement and pension ages for armed officers from 67 to 68 down to 60 to match those of the police?
I can confirm that I have been in discussions with the CNPF. I have met the chief constable and the chairman, and I visited the civil nuclear police on site at Sellafield. I am well aware of the issue, and I am in discussions with colleagues at the Treasury and elsewhere.
I always encourage people who are unsuccessful in substantive questions to put a topical if they so wish. It is sometimes difficult to attract their attention if they are busily studying their electronic devices, but if the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) wishes to participate, now is his opportunity.
Such forbearance. We will hear from the hon. Gentleman subsequently. He has had his chance, but he does not want to have a go on this occasion—it is a self-denying ordinance. [Interruption.] We know about Mr Sheerman, who is always ready to have a go.
May I urge the Secretary of State to visit West Yorkshire to talk to our highly successful textile entrepreneurs? They are not quite gold-plated, but they are not daft and they want to know about frictionless trade. They need to be persuaded, because they do not believe that it is possible after Brexit.
I am always delighted to go to Yorkshire and to meet industries, including the textiles industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me so that we can go through the proposals in the White Paper, and the entrepreneurs will see that they will be able to continue to trade free of frictions.
Prestwick, with its clear weather, transport links and aerospace park, is one of the frontrunners to be a horizontal-launch spaceport. In 2016, the then Transport Minister said that the Government would no longer be picking spaceport sites, but the narrative around the current grant process seems to be reversing that. Will the Business Secretary clarify who will choose where launch facilities are developed: the space industry or the Government?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady has not welcomed the fact that the first commercial rocket site in Europe will be in Sutherland in the north of Scotland. We are keen to bring the next wave of innovation, which is horizontal launch, and it is the UK Space Agency, which brings together the expertise that is required, that will advise on the right location for it.
Order. We must now move on.
Electoral Commission Investigation: Vote Leave
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the findings of the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the conduct of the Vote Leave campaign.
I am proud to say—[Interruption.] Is there something happening as I begin my words, Mr Speaker?
No, there is just a general air of excitement.
Let us take that and work with it.
I am proud to say that the UK has a clear and robust electoral system, and we should all be proud of the democracy in which we live and work. I place on the record my thanks to all those involved in the electoral community, which works hard at every poll to deliver it within the law such that we can be proud of our democracy.
The Electoral Commission is the independent body that oversees the conduct of elections and referendums and regulates political finance. The commission regularly reports on the running of elections and referendums and conducts thorough investigations into allegations that rules have been breached. Electoral law exists to ensure fair campaigning, and the commission has determined that those rules have been broken. Both Vote Leave and BeLeave have been fined and referred to the police, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to comment on ongoing police investigations.
That electoral rules have been breached is rightly a cause for concern, but that does not mean that the rules themselves were flawed. The Government will continue to work closely with the Electoral Commission, along with many other stakeholders in the electoral system, to protect the integrity, security and effectiveness of referendums and elections. Let me make it clear for the record that we will continue to implement the referendum’s result and to make a success of it.
The findings of the Electoral Commission are shocking, and Vote Leave’s actions are an affront to our democracy and to the fundamental British value of fair play. The commission’s legal counsel described Vote Leave’s behaviour as follows:
“Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.”
Who do these people think they are? They think they are above the law.
With new facts arising every week, it is well known that there will be no extra £350 million a week for the NHS, and so on. We know Vote Leave’s claims turned out to be a fantasy, but we now know it cheated, too, and it is official. Given that there was a four percentage point gap between leave and remain, and given that Vote Leave overspent by just under 8%, does the Minister agree that we cannot say with confidence that this foul play did not impact on the result?
Does the Minister believe that Vote Leave acted in contravention of natural justice and of our democracy in acting in such an obstructive way? What urgent legislation will the Government bring forward to address the Electoral Commission’s serious concerns about the enforcement regime for electoral law, which it has raised today?
And who was at the scene of these crimes? Vote Leave was co-led by the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who co-convened its campaign committee. Where is he? Why is he not here? That committee was charged with overseeing the implementation of a framework that included the way in which fundraising was conducted and donations collected. He, along with the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), was part of a core group of the committee who met on a daily basis to ensure the campaign was on track. As such, either the Environment Secretary knew what was going on, which is a very serious matter, or, if he did not, how can we have any confidence that he is capable of overseeing his Department? What did he know? The International Trade Secretary, the Transport Secretary and the Brexit Secretary also sat on that committee. What did they know about what was going on?
In short, members of the Cabinet sat in an organisation that has been found to have flouted our democracy. Does all that not demonstrate that we need a full, urgent public inquiry into the leave campaign, given that it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Brexit process that is preoccupying this House?
What this report demonstrates is that we have an electoral regulator that operates to rules that Parliament has set and that has found people in contravention of those rules. The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions that go severely away from the report and, just to be clear, the report—I am reading from the report’s front page—is
“of an investigation in respect of Vote Leave Limited, Mr Darren Grimes, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain”.
The report is not in respect of a number of others raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I will therefore not enter into those questions. [Interruption.] I simply will not enter into discussion of other named individuals, nor will I enter into discussion of ongoing investigations, whether by the police or by the courts. [Hon. Members: “Why not?”] Do we really need to begin by asking ourselves why the Government should not interfere in independent investigations and police examinations? I cannot believe that the Labour party needs the answer to that question so early in the afternoon.
As I said in my earlier remarks, we are getting on with delivering the result of the referendum. We have very clearly set out why we think that is the right thing to do, and it is fundamentally because we believe in the people’s ability to make a choice. That is why we respect the referendum result. Unfortunately, it is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not believe in the people’s ability to choose, and I think he argues instead that they should be asked again and again. I do not agree with his arguments but, none the less, I am here today to answer questions on this report by an independent regulator—I am happy to do so within my powers.
On a more general point, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great glories of this sadly now diminished country was our electoral and democratic system? This example today is gross, and I say to her that if we are to retain the integrity and the trust of the voting public, the whole damn thing needs to be blown and started all over again.
I understand the seriousness of that point and the points made earlier by the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), which were similar, but what I would just note is that the rules we are looking at in this report are rules that comprise our democracy. Our democracy comprises having such rules, among some other very important principles. In essence, our democracy is underpinned by the fact that we have such rules. That the rules were broken means that the system is in fact working; that we have a regulator that is able to conduct an investigation is one of the things that marks out the quality of our democracy. That the rules were broken does not actually mean the rules in themselves were flawed. In concluding my answer to my right hon. Friend’s question, let me say that Parliament, over the course of many years, has put in place those rules for referendums and for elections. If I heard him correctly, he asked for a wholesale reform of all of those rules. That is a very large undertaking indeed and it goes wider than the report we have before us today. I note that other investigations are ongoing, such as the Information Commissioner’s, and that ought to be looked at in the round by Parliament.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) on securing this urgent question and on his introductory remarks. Today’s report from the Electoral Commission is a devastating indictment of the official leave campaign’s conduct during the referendum, which has been found to be based on cheating and possibly lawbreaking. Financial expenditure was deliberately co-ordinated through what now appears to be nothing more than front organisations, and Vote Leave failed to co-operate with the Electoral Commission inquiry. It showed contempt for the law set by this House, which makes a mockery of claims to “take back control” and displays the breathtaking arrogance of people who clearly believed that the law of the land did not apply to them.
We only got to hear about these activities because of the bravery of whistleblowers. What was the response of those involved? They outed one of the whistleblowers as gay, without his permission, and therefore put him and his family at risk. One of the people responsible for this outing was working as a senior adviser in Downing Street. The Prime Minister refused to sack him, so presumably she supports, or at least excuses, these monstrous actions. Will she now, on the back of this report, dismiss him as an adviser?
Of course, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, senior members of the Government were involved in the Vote Leave campaign. Those include the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the recently departed Foreign Secretary, who is uncharacteristically silent today. Will they now come to the House and explain their role in both the initial scandal and the cover-up? If the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign cannot be trusted to abide by the rules of the referendum, how can we trust them to abide by the rules of any future election? Indeed, how can we trust them to conduct their ministerial duties with honour, integrity and honesty? So can the Minister tell us whether those leaders of Vote Leave who are now Ministers or who are former Ministers will be referred to the Cabinet Secretary for investigation as to whether they have broken the ministerial code?
Yet again, we have been confronted this week by the chaos this Government have got themselves and the country into, dumping their own euro civil war on the rest of us and sowing division throughout. We have Brexit extremists at war with their own Prime Minister, and a Government who at every stage have put party before country. Hon Members in this House and the public are entitled to ask how on earth we got here, yet British politics and the British people deserve better than this. We cannot allow cheating and dishonesty to become accepted norms in our political system, so let me ask the Minister: what is her proposal to bring decent honest politics back to the fore? If this Government have not got any, perhaps it is time they moved aside for a Government who have.
Given that Labour Front Benchers are so committed to propriety, perhaps they should report themselves to the police for their national spending in the 2015 general election, for which the Labour party was fined by the Electoral Commission in October 2016. They are on thin ice if they think they are able to say that this cuts only one way. It does not.
We have in front of us a report of an investigation in respect of named individuals. I have already said that I am not going to comment on ongoing investigations, and that covers several of the points that the hon. Gentleman just raised. I will say again that the Electoral Commission is an independent organisation and can undertake any investigation that it feels is necessary. Indeed, as you know, Mr Speaker, it can report back to this House through your Committee on the Electoral Commission. That is its governance. The point is that we need to be able to say to the public who are watching this debate that we are getting on with delivering the result of the referendum in which they voted. [Interruption.] I can hear some Opposition Members shouting; perhaps it is that faction of the Labour party that believes in having a second referendum, or perhaps it is that faction of the Labour party that believes in not having one, or perhaps it is that faction of the Labour party that does not know what it believes in. What we believe in is that our independent—[Interruption.]
Order. I understand that there is very considerable angst about this matter, and I do want to accommodate colleagues who wish to question the Minister, but her answers must be heard.
We have an independent electoral regulator and it has done its work. I applaud it for doing its work and I am pleased that we have a regulator that is able to carry out such investigations into our democracy. That is what our democracy comprises—that we have rules that can be investigated is what makes this a democracy. That is a good thing. As I said before, there are questions that arise from this investigation and from others that are still ongoing. Those ought to be looked at in the round in due course. Where appropriate, the Government will of course come back to the House to do that.
This matters. May I respectfully say to the Minister that she should not let the Government’s commitment to delivering on the referendum result obfuscate the real questions that are being raised? This has not come out of the blue; there has been a series of accusations and suggestions, in not only this campaign but others. The protection of the valid confidence that the public need to have in our elections every time is absolutely vital.
My right hon. Friend is right. We should all be in agreement that we should be seeking to protect confidence in our democracy. That is precisely the point. The point is that the regulator has carried out this investigation and we should be able to look at its report and understand what it says. That is today’s job in hand. After that, there may come things to which we need to return as a House, including various aspects of regulation, which would of course be a matter for Parliament. I made the point earlier that the extent of regulation that we apply to our democracy is quite great. It has been put together by Parliament over many decades. As my right hon. Friend says, this does all matter—absolutely. That is why we should all be prepared to look at the report and the other ongoing investigations and look at such things in the round.
The Government are presiding over crisis and chaos as they drag the country towards an exercise in collective self-harm on an unprecedented scale. They are doing that on the back of a campaign that was morally questionable, based as it was on mobilising fear and prejudice, and politically questionable, based as it was on glib half-truths and lies, and we now know that it was a campaign that was organised illegally. The Minister’s responses are woefully inadequate. We need to know whether the Government will draw a line between themselves and the people implicated in this illegality. If they do not do so, they will lose any respect and integrity that they have left. I would like an assurance from the Minister, now, that anyone who was involved in working for Vote Leave, or who was on its board, will cease to hold office in Government or cease to be on the Government payroll.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not going to make that commitment today, because a number of questions raised in the report are still subject to ongoing investigations. As I have already pointed out, that is in itself one of the important principles of our democracy and of how the regulation works independently of Government. The short answer is that no, I am not going to give such commitments here today.
Order. There is extensive interest in this subject and I have granted the urgent question for the very simple reason that I have judged it to be urgent, so I am keen to accommodate colleagues. I remind the House, though, that there is a statement to follow and that the debate on the first group of new clauses and amendments to the Trade Bill has to conclude by 3.30 pm. There must be some time for debate on those matters; otherwise, it rather obviates the purpose of the remaining stages. I will call some colleagues, but some colleagues may be disappointed. I shall do my best, and I ask colleagues to help each other.
Will my hon. Friend put the synthetic outrage of remain campaigners into some kind of context by reminding the House that many of those same remain supporters in this House tried to change the Electoral Commission’s rules on referendums to enable the then Government to breach the purdah rules? Fortunately, that attempt by that Government was thwarted by this House. Many of those remainers would have liked to have a relaxed purdah arrangement.
My hon. Friend’s point reminds us that, as I said earlier, there are arguments on this issue that cut both ways. He highlights how he sees an example of an infraction in another direction. I simply return to the point that we in the Government are getting on with implementing the result of the referendum. We think that is the correct response to retain the people’s trust in our democracy. As has already been said, that matters.
I do not think there is any moral equivalence between Members in this House attempting to change the law and organisations outside this House breaking it. Today, we found out that Vote Leave did break electoral law. Our democracy is fragile, and we have a responsibility to protect it and not take it for granted. How can we look the next generation in the eye and tell them to have faith in British politics when we know that false claims have been made, that the rules have been broken, that there has been international and foreign interference, and that the legitimacy of the most important vote in a generation has been undermined so profoundly?
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that because we have an investigation, we can look voters in the eye and say that where rules have been broken, punishments follow. That is what the report says.
The reality is that punishments are not following. We are talking about deliberate cheating and this money going to a firm that used highly sophisticated targeted Facebook advertising. In a quote since removed from the Aggregate IQ website, Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings said:
“We couldn’t have done it without them.”
That is Dominic Cummings, who will not appear before Select Committees, having claimed during the campaign that he wanted to restore the sovereignty of Parliament. He runs away from accountably himself. Consequences must follow. We cannot have confidence that the referendum was secure, and it should be rerun.
The report is clear that consequences do follow. The Electoral Commission has issued fines and referred both Vote Leave and the BeLeave founder to the police. That is what I refer to when I say that consequences and punishments are following.
I reported the leave campaign’s intentions to both the Electoral Commission and the police two-and-a-half years ago, and four months before the referendum itself. In February 2016, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who was then a leading figure in the leave campaign, wrote to colleagues saying:
“It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum.”
The Electoral Commission’s rules are specifically designed to stop this kind of thing. It says that we should
“stop people getting around the spending limits by coordinating several campaigns at the same time.”
We have now established that spending limits were broken by the leave campaign precisely through separate legal entities following a common plan to get around the rules. Why is it that when such intent was reported four months before the referendum, it has taken two-and-a-half years to get to this conclusion? What does it say about the integrity of this result? Is it not ironic that the so-called people’s revolt against the elite was conspiring from the get-go to get around the rules with limitless money from goodness knows what source? Does the Minister not agree that this needs to be fully investigated to cleanse the cloud that has been cast over our democracy by these findings?
It is exactly the case that allegations of impropriety should be investigated. As I have said a number of times, it is that that means we have a robust democracy. I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s story. In part, I think it ends with this investigation. An investigation has been carried out, and it should be welcomed that it has been carried out and that it has found a result. If, on the other hand, his points are about the efficacy of the Electoral Commission—I think he was driving at the fact that it took two and half years—then that is a matter for Parliament. The Electoral Commission is accountable to Parliament through your Committee, Mr Speaker. It is indeed an independent regulator of Government, as it should be, and it is accountable to Parliament for how it conducts investigations and indeed whether it does so quickly enough.
Mr Speaker, it will not have escaped your notice, and I know that it will not have escaped the Minister’s notice, that one of the most respected Members of this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), has, in condemning what has occurred in the leave campaign, gone so far as to call for a re-running of the referendum. These are serious matters. They go to the heart of government and, of course, to the heart of democracy and the trust that people must have in the democratic process. There are concerns not only about the overspend, but about the source of the money. The evidence is mounting. It is clearly there that another country—let us be honest, it is Russia—exercised its influence to undermine this country’s democracy and indeed this country’s security as it has a long history of doing. I say to the Minister that this is not a party political matter. It is nothing to do with delivering Brexit; it is about democracy. Can she give us an assurance that this Government will take these very important matters extremely seriously and act now on them?
I absolutely can give the assurance that the Government take these matters extremely seriously. That is the very point here. The very point here is that we have a precious democracy that demands our protection, and that is what we do by having an Electoral Commission, an independent regulator, that can make such investigations, publish them, expose the points of that investigation to scrutiny, and be held accountable in its turn by Parliament. Then it is for Parliament to consider whether, in the round, amendments might need to be made to the rules against which the regulator does that. That is the landscape that we are looking at here.
Vote Leave was a deeply dishonest campaign with deeply dishonest slogans and a cast of right-wingers who were prepared to go to any length to achieve their ideological endgame, and now we know that they cheated and broke the law. Can the Minister confirm whether the right hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and others involved will be jointly liable for the Vote Leave fine? Can she also confirm that of course this strengthens immeasurably the case for there to be a final say on the deal and a chance to exit from Brexit?
No, I am not in a position to comment on individuals. I have already said that very, very clearly. What I will say again for the benefit of the Liberal Democrat party is that we will be delivering the referendum result and we do not intend to hold a second referendum.
I regret the atmosphere in which this urgent question is taking place. I have just spent nine months sitting on the Independent Commission on Referendums under University College London’s Constitution Unit looking at what is wrong with the rules on referendums, and looking specifically at financing. A member of the Opposition party also sat on that commission. We have looked at the use of public funding, spending limits and transparency, and there is a common concern that our regulation does not fit the purpose that we would like in a modern democracy. May I recommend to my hon. Friend the Minister that she reads this report cover to cover and takes on board our recommendations for new regulations and new legislation to try to improve this area, which, after all, is a very important part of our democracy these days?
I have begun to read that report and I welcome its thoughtfulness about how referendums fit into the rest of our election landscape. I look forward to more discussions with my right hon. Friend and her colleagues on it.
These are extremely serious matters. That said, we do need much shorter questions if we are to have a chance of accommodating some colleagues—[Interruption.]—and shorter answers as well. We will have to move on in a quarter of an hour or so.
We have in our democracy clear rules so that we do not exercise, or see the exercise, of undue influence. For that reason, certainly in the last decade, we have had two elections declared void—in South Thanet and Oldham East and Saddleworth. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government can declare this referendum void on the basis of the evidence that we have been provided with by the Electoral Commission? If not, given that this was an advisory referendum by this Parliament, can she bring forward a vote in this Parliament to declare this referendum void?
No, the Government will not be bringing forward such a proposal.
Let the law take its course. By what factor did the Government and the other remain campaigns outspend the leave campaigns? It was 2:1, was it not?
My right hon. Friend reminds us that there are designated lead campaigners in referendums. The subject matter of this report is in part how leave campaigners interacted with other campaigners. The virtue of having this report is that it allows us to examine spending—it brings spending into the light. It is about transparency of spending, as is, of course, the rest of the apparatus of what we do to regulate elections. This is an examination of allegations rather than the whole dataset. Again, my right hon. Friend reminds us that there are people who feel that these arguments cut both ways.
A £60,000 fine is peanuts to these people. Found guilty, they could not care less and instead defiantly lash out. For these Brexiteers, and all the UK parties, our electoral laws are an optional extra and fines but a mere electoral expense. When will we get serious about our electoral laws, because no one and no political party takes them seriously? It is time to review the whole useless, ineffective system. When will the Minister do it? ‘
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that his political party does not take these rules seriously; we do.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the faux outrage that we are hearing today from Members from all parts of this House, some of whom have now left, is nothing to do with a breach of the rules by the leave campaign? It is to do with the fact that they lost; they are not representing the people. They lost that referendum despite the fact that they themselves overspent by millions of pounds.
I came here today to try to respond to the subject matter of the report, but also very clearly to lay on the record again that the people in this country want us to get on with delivering the result, rather than to go back over it.
The Government propose legislation. The Electoral Commission has made specific recommendations to the Government about what they need to do. Will the Minister do it?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Electoral Commission’s earlier report on digital campaigning, which I am considering very carefully. As I said earlier, there are a number of issues to look at in the round. There are other ongoing reports and investigations such as that of the Information Commissioner, which last week produced a progress report, but not its final report. As the right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in government, it is important to look at those things together, and that is what the Government will do.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government, in the run-up to the EU membership referendum, spent over £9.25 million on a taxpayer-funded leaflet advocating that we remain members of the European Union?
It is the case that such a leaflet was produced, and that was because the Government recognise the importance of the public being informed ahead of a referendum. Again, I think that the debate—even on that leaflet—has been had. The point is that we should now get on and implement the result.
I feel slightly sorry for the Minister, because she has been sent to defend the indefensible. Given her complacent demeanour today and her complete lack of acknowledgement about how serious this issue is, can she tell us quite how big a scandal would have to be before she actually reacted to it appropriately?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has felt the need to get quite so personal. I am not complacent. If she had been listening carefully, she would have heard me say that these issues are very, very serious. I am also saying that the Government respect the work of an independent regulator and do not comment on its ongoing investigations, but will wish to look in the round at the results of all the ongoing investigations.
Have the Government received any representations from the Labour Front Bench to rerun the referendum?
Not at the last count. I believe that there were 60-odd individuals who did want to do so, but I am not sure whether they are on or off the Front Bench at this time.
The Government’s response to electoral fraud is shockingly, obscenely complacent. In trying to give some impression that she is taking this matter seriously, could the Minister agree to three really simple things? First, the fines should be unlimited, because £20,000 is pitiful; it is a tap on the wrist. Secondly, campaigns should declare their expenditure online in real time so that they cannot overspend in this way. Thirdly, does she agree that we need a digital bill of rights so that we can clear up the data harvesting that has been taking place on an industrial scale by organisations such as Facebook?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s policy suggestions as a contribution to this point. If she will forgive me, she underlines exactly what I have been saying—that we need to look at a number of these issues in the round. For example, her last point does not at all come from the report before us today; it comes from the Information Commissioner’s work.
This is undoubtedly a very shoddy affair. In hindsight and on reflection, the referendum campaign—on either side of the argument—was not our finest hour in democratic activity. Would the Minister take the point about the reporting of expenditure in real time, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)? Reporting after the event leads to the sort of situation that we have at the moment. If we do not address this matter of real-time reporting, the shysters and the snake-oil salesmen who seek to undermine our democracy will have won.
I welcome that as a policy consideration that ought to be looked at in the round alongside the results of a number of ongoing investigations. I would just return to the core point, which is that we have these rules in place. It is these rules that buttress our democracy and that mean that we have an independent democracy where sanctions follow misdemeanours, and that is what the report tells us today.
If the Minister will not talk about the specifics of this case, will she address a very simple general question? Can she envisage any level of corruption so gross that it would ever invalidate any referendum?
I am really not in a position to answer the question. The hon. Gentleman tries to tempt me with a yes or a no or a very simple question, but this is not a simple matter. There are a number of reports across a number of different investigations with a number of elements that are still ongoing. It is for that reason that I have come here and tried to be very clear, in a way I hope is understood by parliamentarians, that I cannot prejudge the investigations of independent bodies. [Interruption.] If you would bear with me for one second, Mr Speaker, I will offer a thought to the House. Those who have looked at election regulation over time—including many Members of this House who served here for some decades—have not seen fit to place in those election rules the idea that a result can invalidated. I am simply stating the current law. That concept does not yet exist in our law. It would be a new concept, as it has not yet been seen fit to be put in place by Parliament.
Transparency is hugely important. I know that investigations are ongoing, but following this report does my hon. Friend agree that all investigations into our elections and the running of our democracy generally must be conducted in a way that is thorough, transparent and that people have faith in?
Yes, I do. That is exactly my view. Investigations should also be done by an independent organisation that is given the space and time to conclude its work.
I never thought that I would see the day when a Government Minister would come to this House and seek to downplay one of the most serious attacks on our democracy in history. This is not just about overspending, as important as that is. This is about dark money, foreign interference in our democracy and serious misuse of data. The Government must commit to a full, police-led investigation of all aspects of this matter. I suspect that I know why the Minister will not commit to that; there are at least four sitting members of her Cabinet who are not here today, but who served on the campaign committee for the organisation in question. That is even more reason why the Government must now stand up for our democracy and against its abuse.
The hon. Lady is quite seriously misrepresenting my words. What I have said today is that these are very serious matters. I have agreed with all right hon. and hon. Members around the House who say that this matters and that it is serious. That is precisely my point. The hon. Lady went on to say that this matter ought to be the subject of a police investigation. It is. Individuals from this investigation are also being investigated by the police. The hon. Lady also said that this is—
Order. Please resume your seat, Minister. I say two things. First, Members should not stand up while an answer is being given; that is not the right way in which to operate in the Chamber. Secondly, may I very politely say that the Minister could help herself by giving somewhat pithier answers? It would be most unfortunate if people thought that long answers were preventing other people from having the chance to ask a question. A short answer, not a disquisition, is required. Minister, we are grateful.
I shall leave that one there and wait for the next question.
The Minister’s own words are that this cuts both ways, but I do not think that that is the case. The Electoral Commission has been absolutely clear. It did all it could, but it lacks power to do more. Will the Minister correct herself? This does not cut both ways, does it? As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said, this is one of the worst, most despicable abuses of electoral law that we have seen in the lifetime of this House.
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the powers of the Electoral Commission that has been put forward in its reports—for example, on digital campaigning. As I have said, the Government will be looking at those issues in the round.
First, Scottish Tory dark money; now, the Electoral Commission showing that the leave campaign broke the law. We have these rules for a reason—to stop people buying our democracy—and yet the Minister appears complacent about that. So what confidence can our constituents have not only in the referendum result, but in the former and current Government Ministers who were involved in the running of Vote Leave?
I will say it again: the issues in the report are extremely serious. It is right that they have been investigated. The Government are not going to comment on individuals or organisations that are subject to ongoing investigations. We hope that those investigations will be speedily concluded. We believe that that is a way to give further confidence to our constituents in this referendum and in other elections.
In the light of what the Electoral Commission has said today—and, indeed, the evidence that has been given to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on which I serve, that has clearly proved that this referendum was won by cheating—will the Minister do what the Government should be doing, call this referendum null and void, and protect British democracy?
No, we will not be re-running the referendum; we will be continuing to deliver its result. However, the hon. Lady reminds us that her Select Committee—an organ of this Parliament—is also conducting an ongoing investigation into fake news. There is another part of the larger set of issues that I am referring to that I want us to be able to look at together.
This House is the guardian of free and fair elections. It is now clear that this referendum result was corrupt because it was bought, quite possibly with Russian money. Which Minister will now ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider a joint enterprise prosecution so that it is not just the staff of these campaigns that are prosecuted but the governing minds as well?
The police have already received references from this investigation, and I think that stands for itself.
Does the Minister understand that the anger is because we are not discussing a parish council election or a local authority by-election, but a matter that goes to the heart of the most important political and constitutional arrangement that has happened in most of our political lifetimes? Does she recognise that the scale of the fines being imposed is derisory, not just in terms of the overspend but the size of the prize that the leave campaign cheated to obtain?
I entirely understand the points that Members have come to the House today to make. I am simply acknowledging that there are broader issues than only those in this report that need to be looked at together to continue to maintain confidence in our democracy. For the record, though, I think that any election, parish council or otherwise, is important and deserves its security.
Today, Darren Grimes of BeLeave has accused the Electoral Commission on Twitter of putting him through hell by seeking
“to justify this by saying that I failed a box ticking exercise”.
Can the Minister confirm that what has happened here is much, much more serious than that? The Electoral Commission has found that Vote Leave broke the law, that it cheated during this referendum, and that it had undermined our democracy. What are the Government now going to do about that?
Certainly, what is in this report today is very, very serious. Consequences follow for those organisations that are named in it.
The issue of the lack of transparency on social media political advertising is a problem for every democratic country. In the US, there are moves to prohibit anonymous advertising whereby social media platforms have to publish who pays for the adverts. Is this something that the British Government are considering?
Yes, it is. In response to a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, we will shortly bring forward a consultation on ensuring that there are imprints on digital campaigning material just as much as there would be on paper. I think that is important.
The Minister confirms that there is now an ongoing police investigation as a result of this report. Does she not therefore think it is right that all those who could potentially be part of that police investigation recuse themselves from Government until it is concluded? Surely law-makers should not be law-breakers.
It is not for me to confirm a police investigation—it is for the Electoral Commission. It is not for me to comment on what ought to be in a police investigation—it is for the independent regulator. I think that distinction is quite important.
Order. I am very sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but the House is heavily constrained for time. Perhaps I can give advance notice, in respect of the statement that is about to be delivered, that the exchanges on it will need to be extremely brief. We have a live debate on the Trade Bill, and the votes on the first group of amendments have to be at 3.30 pm, so extended exchanges on the statement will not happen today.
Combat Air Strategy
On 21 February, I informed the House that the Ministry of Defence would produce a strategy for the combat air sector. Development of the strategy has drawn heavily on expertise from across defence, wider government, academia, think-tanks, industry, and international partners. Defence of the United Kingdom, protection of our people and our contribution to securing the rules-based international order requires us to deter adversaries by having the capability and the will to use decisive force to deliver our defence, foreign policy and economic objectives.
The threats we face are evolving and increasing ever more rapidly. World-class combat air capability allows us to maintain control of the air both at home and around the world. The United Kingdom’s combat air sector provides the capability to underpin our ability to keep Britain safe and act around the globe. It also makes a significant contribution to the United Kingdom’s economy and to our international influence. The UK is a global leader in combat air, with cutting-edge military capability underpinned by world-class industrial and technical know-how. That is why we are creating Tempest.
The UK combat air sector has an annual turnover of over £6 billion and directly supports over 18,000 highly skilled jobs across the UK. It supports over 100,000 jobs in the supply chain and more than 2,000 companies across the UK. The UK is the world’s second-largest exporter of defence equipment, with defence aerospace representing over 80% of the value of these exports. This is a position that I and, I am sure, the whole House wish to protect going forward.
We are at the heart of a number of key international programmes, including F-35—the largest defence programme in the world. Our position was secured through world-leading intellectual property, understanding, innovation and industrial capability. As we leave the European Union, we will continue to seek partnerships across Europe and beyond to deliver UK, European and global security. To do this, we must retain access to our proud industrial base. The UK’s combat air sector is therefore critical to the UK’s prosperity and to our ability to deliver the best capability to the frontline to deter and act against the threats that we face.
The future of the UK’s combat air sector, however, is not assured. There has been a gap between major combat air development programmes, and a clear indication of future UK military requirements is required to stimulate and deliver the research and development investment that is needed. The strategy defines a clear way ahead to preserve our national advantage and maintain choice in how it is delivered.
We will work with wider government, industry and international partners to deliver the strategy by taking the following steps. We will invest in upgrading Typhoon to maintain its world-class capabilities for the coming decades. The MOD will provide investment in key UK design and engineering skills as a means to generate UK intellectual property by the implementation of the future combat air system technology initiative. The initiative was established by the 2015 strategic defence and security review and builds on recent UK technology investment. We will work together to achieve a more open and sustainable industrial base that invests in its own future, partners internationally and breaks the cycle of increasing cost and length of time to introduce new fighter aircraft.
The UK will work quickly and openly with allies to build on or establish new partnerships to define future requirements and how they can be delivered in a mutually beneficial manner. By preserving our ability to maintain operational advantage and freedom of action, the strategy will ensure we have greater choice in how we deliver future capabilities and are able to maximise the economic and strategic benefits of future combat air acquisition programmes.
In the 100th year of the Royal Air Force, this strategy demonstrates that we can achieve anything. Britain is a world leader not only with our armed forces but in the fighting machines we can produce. The strategy demonstrates that Britain will retain its world leadership in this sector, by having the greatest fighter aircraft of any nation in the world. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. May I pay tribute to the former Defence Procurement Minister, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who was forced to resign last night for supporting the Prime Minister’s position on Brexit?
Our aerospace and defence sectors are truly world leading and are vital to our security and national prosperity. We welcome the publication of the combat air strategy, but might it not have been better to publish an overarching defence industrial strategy to give the wider industry the certainty it requires? If the Secretary of State’s Department will not do that, will it publish a land strategy sometime in the near future?
A key aspect of the combat air strategy is the creation of a project to consider how to deliver next-generation capability. I am not quite sure how the Government adopted the name “Team Tempest”, but it seems apt this week. The Secretary of State has been clear that the future approach hinges on international collaboration, so what discussion has he had with allies about this project? Has he considered the impact that partnering with non-NATO nations could have on our interoperability?
This strategy has been published at a time of great uncertainty in the aerospace industry about the impact of Brexit. Does the Secretary of State agree with the assessment of the industry, the trade body ADS and Members from across the House that the UK must be in a customs union to guarantee the industry’s future success?
The Secretary of State said that he wants to see the Tempest fly alongside the Typhoons and the F-35s. Will he confirm how many F-35s the Government plan to buy, in what timeframe and which variant they will be?
Rumours abound that the UK’s future airborne warning and control system capability will be gifted to a company without competition, just as the mechanised infantry vehicle was. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would be a hypocritical approach, when his defence industrial policy refresh emphasised the importance of competition? Can he confirm that there will be an open competition for the UK’s future AWACS capability?
Members from across the House, our industrial partners and our allies are all eagerly awaiting the publication of the modernising defence programme. We were told that we would get the headlines before last week’s NATO summit, and then we were told that it would be out before the summer recess. In the light of the Government’s proposed new parliamentary timetable, will it be tomorrow or Thursday?
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who served with great distinction as Defence Procurement Minister and was instrumental in securing the order of the future frigates programme from Australia, which benefits many people and adds to the prosperity of this nation.
The hon. Lady proposes a defence industrial strategy. We have looked at a national shipbuilding strategy and at combat air, and we will look at the concept of developing a land strategy. We want to ensure that whatever we do in defence adds to the prosperity of our nation. That is why we welcome the report by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), which highlights the importance of defence in creating jobs and economic growth.
We should look not just to Europe in forming partnerships with other nations. For far too long, we have been bound by the thought that we can look only to other European Union nations. Now is the time to look to the whole globe, see what other nations we can partner with and build strong new alliances. We have strong military links and deep connections with many nations. We are confident that, because of our world-leading position in combat air, many nations will want to work with us. I do not believe that we should be in the customs union, and that is the Government’s policy. I do not believe for one minute that being outside the customs union will in any way restrict our ability to deliver Tempest.
Finally, on the modernising defence programme, as I said just the other week, we intend to update the House before the recess.
The combat air strategy signals the Secretary of State’s commitment to the importance of conventional armed forces in the future. How is his combat ground strategy going in persuading the Treasury to pay for it?
There is always great value in heavy armour. In the combat air strategy, we highlight an exciting future. We highlight the fact that we are willing to embrace new technologies and fuse them with traditional jet fighters. We are ensuring we are able to bring new technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence on to platforms to make sure that the Royal Air Force has the cutting-edge capabilities it needs to keep Britain safe.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and pay tribute to the resigning hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). The Scottish National party broadly welcomes the new strategy, but one overarching question is, where on earth is the money coming from? Surely the £20 billion funding gap in the procurement budget will drag many of the aspirations in the strategy to the ground.
May I ask the Secretary of State about spreading the economic benefit around the UK? What will the benefit be to Scotland? Admittedly, it has a small industrial sector in this area—shipbuilding is much bigger—but I certainly hope this is better than the national shipbuilding strategy.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that the currency projections are much better? As National Audit Office pointed out, his Department has been getting them wrong by as much as 25% in some cases.
How will this strategy complement the modernising defence programme? Where on earth is that programme? The House may rise on Thursday, and I would not dream of robbing the Secretary of State of his moment in the sun at the Dispatch Box. Will he ensure it is not sneaked out in a written statement, so he does not avoid scrutiny?
I hope to avoid the many problems relating to currency projections by ensuring this new fighter is built in Britain. It is a great advantage to have the pound sterling. How do we bring the benefits to Scotland and every other part of the United Kingdom? Some 2,000 companies across the United Kingdom benefit from combat air. We are happy to have discussions with the devolved institutions about how to encourage them and work with them to build their industrial base for combat air.
This is a great opportunity for the whole of the UK. We are a world leader in this sector: other countries turn to us for leadership. That is what we are providing; that is what we will deliver, and we will provide the jobs and prosperity that come with it.
I very much welcome this statement, in which the Secretary of State mentioned the Typhoon. From memory, we are contracted to buy about 160 across three tranches. When the older tranche 1 aircraft retire, rather than sell them off, will he consider keeping them as a war reserve to provide mass for our Royal Air Force if we are ever involved in a peer-on-peer conflict?
My right hon. Friend actually makes a very valid point about our ability to maintain the mass of aircraft. I want to pay tribute to Sir Stephen Hillier, the Chief of the Air Staff, who has driven forward so much of the Tempest project, as well as driving forward the utility of the Typhoon aircraft. We will certainly be looking at that to make sure we maintain the utility and mass of the Typhoon force.
On 17 November 2017, we had a debate in the House about the need for a defence aerospace industrial strategy. This combat air strategy is one step forward, but it does not talk about sovereign skills in terms of the need for a training platform. May we have a serious conversation about what is going to happen at Brough?
We listened very carefully to the hon. Lady in calling for a combat air strategy, and we have answered by providing one. We are aiming to look at all the different aspects of how we actually provide all the different areas of combat air. On fighter jets, Tempest is obviously one of the most important and significant investments that we will be making, but we will look at all the different aspects, along with our industrial partners, BAE Systems.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the statement, and I thank him for choosing to make the announcement yesterday at the opening day of the Farnborough international air show. From what he has seen at Farnborough, does the Secretary of State agree with me that Farnborough is the beating heart of the British aerospace defence and aviation industry, and that it will surely play a leading role in turning the vision of a combat air strategy into a reality?
My hon. Friend very much represents the beating heart of the aviation industry. In the 110 years since the first manned flights took off from Farnborough and the 70 years since the creation of the Farnborough air show, Farnborough has really been at its heart. What has been so useful over the past few days has been engaging with international partners, and the fact is that they are so keen to work with the Royal Air Force and our industrial base to start making this project a reality.
I welcome the combat air strategy, but does the Secretary of State agree with my constituent Andrew Moxham, who wrote to me yesterday to ask how on earth the UK alone can afford this project. This can only be delivered as part of a collaboration—preferably a European collaboration, as with the Typhoon—and it will also require export orders. Britain alone cannot afford this project.
I remember that in one of the first questions I was asked as Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Gentleman demanded a combat air strategy and called for this type of investment and leadership, but when we actually deliver it, he starts saying that we need to be looking to others. We can lead: we have always led in this field, and we have the world’s greatest technology. To show such leaderships means that other nations will come and be part of the project, and that is part of the dialogue we are having.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for driving the combat air strategy through the Department, alongside Air Command? It is a very exciting moment to be at the outset of a new combat air programme, but will he elaborate on what he thinks it will do for the defence industrial landscape of this country for generations to come?
Had we not taken the decision to do this, as we have done, we would have been putting in jeopardy many tens of thousands of jobs not just in the north-west, but right across the country. That is why we have to make this investment and why we have to show world leadership. We must continue to invest in the technology, the science and the skills in order to keep that world leadership role and to continue to benefit from the exports and the wealth that this industry creates.
I welcome the statement and the combat air strategy, but I say to the Secretary of State that it is deeply worrying how often we have gone to America to buy our fighters. Will we be looking to British industry to provide the AWACS aircraft, because these advance warning aircraft should be British-made and British-built?
We always look at how we can do the very best for delivering for British industry, and at how to make sure that we have the capabilities that the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the British Army need to do their job.
Havant-based Lockheed Martin has worked successfully with my right hon. Friend’s Department to deliver the new F-35 jet. Will he ensure that the new combat air strategy benefits the south coast, and will he come and join me in meeting those involved in the F-35 programme?
Over the past few days, I have had the privilege of having discussions with the chief executive of Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is an important industrial partner for us, providing a great number of jobs and a great deal of investment in the United Kingdom. I would certainly be happy to join my hon. Friend on such a visit.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to Britain’s future air defence, but will he say a little about affordability? It is important that we have cutting-edge units, but it is equally important that we have sufficient room in the budget to buy enough of them.
Absolutely. We need to be able to build mass into our air force, as well as exquisite technology. One of the key changes we want is rapidly to reduce the amount of time it takes to develop the new airframe. With the F-35, we saw that go on for far too long, and we need to reduce that period. I would like to see Tempest flying in the first half of the next decade, and we should bring forward the technology and give this project the inspiration and the drive to make it a reality as quickly as possible.
France and Germany are already co-operating on a sixth-generation fighter, so although this strategy is welcome, we are playing catch-up. Will the Secretary of State set out whether this will be an allied, NATO, European or transatlantic project, and how will workshare benefit aerospace businesses, including those in Plymouth?
This is going to be a global project. One thing I would say is that Britain is a nation that actually has fifth-generation fighters and has the industrial expertise to develop new generation fighters. France or Germany do not have that expertise; we do, and we have that leadership role. We do not want to limit our sights just to European partners, but to open this up to the globe, working with partners with whom we have not worked in the past and bringing the benefits to our allies that are global allies.
Order. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) was looking uncontrollably excited, to the extent that I was mildly worried about his circumstances, but we must hear from the fellow.
It is very good of you to think of my welfare, Mr Speaker.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement. Many of my constituents work in the defence aerospace sector. Will he say how this fits in with the Government’s industrial strategy, and what does it mean for skills and for securing the jobs that currently exist and for creating new jobs in our great defence sector?
This is about securing those jobs and those skills not just for the next decade, but for the decade from 2040 onwards. My hon. Friend makes an important point, because this is part of our wider industrial strategy. Defence leads: for every £1 that is invested in defence, £4 is generated. We spend 2% of our GDP on defence, yet it accounts for 8% of our economy. It is vital for the prosperity of Britain to continue to invest in defence.
The UK’s defence aerospace industry is vital for the future of our economy, providing higher-quality, high-skilled jobs up and down the country. What does it say about this Government’s ability to protect those jobs and that industry when one of the Secretary of State’s own Ministers resigns over the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit negotiations? What are the implications of that shambolic handling not just for his Department and the industries it is supposed to champion, but for every other sector of our economy?
Britain has been a world leader in this sector, and we continue to be a world leader in this sector. We continue to deliver the jobs and prosperity that are absolutely vital and on which so many of our constituents depend. That is what Tempest is about, and that is what we are delivering. We are going to make sure that the Royal Air Force has the finest, the greatest and the most technologically advanced fighter jet to ensure Britain continues to remain safe.
I understand that directed energy weapons use concentrated bursts of microwave or particle beam energy to inflict damage. Does the Secretary of State agree that the intention to equip the Tempest with that sort of weaponry signals our intent to be at the forefront of aircraft technology for some considerable time?
What is absolutely critical is that we embrace these new technologies and we lead the world in using these technologies on the new platforms that we introduce for the RAF and the other services. By leading in terms of the defence of the UK, we end up leading the world, and that creates new opportunities for British industry to export. This is a massive vote of confidence in Britain, by industry—by Leonardo, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and MBDA. They are saying that they want to invest in Britain, British skills and British technology because they believe in this country.
I have worked in the defence industry. In fact, I worked at Rolls-Royce and a lot of people there probably welcome this statement. So that we can all welcome the statement, will the Secretary of State tell us who will fund it, how it will be funded and who are these new partners he is thinking about outside of Europe? If he is thinking about the United States, I am sure that many people in the defence industry will tell him that we always come off second best when we are up against them.
We are looking at a range of different international partners. We see this an opportunity to offer something that is different and alternative to the offerings that the United States has traditionally brought forward. We see this as an opportunity to collaborate with new nations that have not usually been involved in such collaborations before. The initial indications are exceptionally positive.
This is a very heartening announcement, especially given the recent centenary of our fantastic Royal Air Force. My right hon. Friend mentioned the potential for lucrative defence sales downstream from this announcement. When we leave the EU, what partners does he envisage us having as, in trading terms, we spread our wings?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: we do need to spread our wings. Before the recent order placed by Australia for future frigates— the new Hunter class Type 26 frigates—Opposition Members said that we would not be able to sell ships to any other nation, and we have proved them wrong. Naysayers on the Opposition Front Bench constantly want to talk down Britain: we want to talk up Britain. Industry, and not just British industry, wants to invest in our technology and our capabilities.
It would be churlish and mean-spirited not to acknowledge that there is much that is very good in the Secretary of State’s statement. However, does he agree that a no-deal Brexit would hamper his well-intentioned idea of working with European partners?
We are seeing a massive vote of confidence in British technology, in the Royal Air Force and in our leadership in the world. Four major companies—not just British companies—will invest in this technology and I have no doubt that it will, in the expression used by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), spread its wings and be a great success.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government have said, in a more than usually bovine announcement, that they intend to adjourn the House on Thursday. You are the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers. This decision will bring opprobrium on the whole House. There is important Back-Bench business on Monday and Tuesday and questions on local government and health and social care. What advice can you give the Leader of the House to rescind this idiotic and bad new announcement?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who expresses himself with his characteristic clarity but—if I may say so—uncharacteristic force, which the House will have noted. Needless to say, I take what he said and the passion he feels about the matter—as someone who has served in the House without interruption for 35 years—extremely seriously. Standing Order No. 25 provides that motions for the Adjournment of the House for a specified period and moved by a Minister are put forthwith—that is to say, without debate. It would have been possible for the Government to table a Business of the House motion overriding the Standing Order, but they have not done so.
If a Minister moves motion 13 on the Order Paper this evening, the Chair will be obliged to put the question without debate. If the Chair’s opinion on the voices is challenged, a Division would be deferred until tomorrow. As ever, it would be up to Members whether to vote for or against the proposition. Salvation lies in Members’ hands.
I add, merely by way of information and in the name of transparency, that no indication of this intention on the part of the Government was communicated to me in advance. I am not complaining about that; I simply want to make it clear to people who might think, “Oh, the Speaker must have been aware of and in on this”, that that was not and is not the case.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware, and colleagues certainly will, that a strong rumour is going round to the effect that the Government will not move motion 13 this evening. Surely it would be courteous for the Government to indicate now whether it is their intention to move the motion or that they have responded to the concerns expressed and will withdraw it. Why can we not know that now, rather than it being left until later?
I tend to take the view that clarity and the resolution of uncertainty are always desirable. I do not know whether a decision on the matter has been made. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that if decision has been made, it should be communicated to the House first, rather than to the media. If a decision has not been made, it is very much to be hoped that it soon will be.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday, during the Backbench debate on forced adoption, I got some facts wrong in the story of my constituent, Ms Jean Robertson Molloy. She was in fact living in New Zealand in 1963, not the United Kingdom, when she became pregnant and went to live in Australia. There she had a baby daughter which she reluctantly gave up for adoption, following advice and pressure from others. Can you advise on how I may set the record straight?
The hon. Gentleman has achieved his own salvation. He has courteously and properly done so. He has put the facts on the record, and I thank him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On your advice about a deferred Division, is there any clarity on when the result would be announced?
It would be announced as soon as possible after the conclusion of the vote. It is reasonable to suppose, if there were a deferred Division tomorrow and on the assumption that the ballot closed at 2 pm, that we would have an announcement of the result pretty shortly thereafter. I must emphasise that we do not yet know whether there will be such a deferred Division, but a result would be declared shortly thereafter. If the hon. Gentleman is worried that by 4, 5 or 6 o’clock tomorrow he still would not know the answer, his brow need no longer be furrowed on that account.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government are currently engaged in the most important set of negotiations in this country’s peacetime. It seems to me extraordinary that they should want to bring Parliament into disrepute by sending us scuttling back to our constituencies and suspending our deliberations several days early. You have explained that this is something that they can properly propose and that should that motion be opposed this evening, there would be a vote. Is there any way that we can secure a debate so that we, as Members of Parliament, can consider properly whether this is a measure that we would want to support?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Off the top of my head, I am not aware that there is a means by which to secure a debate, other than Members deciding that they regard consideration of the matter as an emergency. If they regard it as a matter of emergency, there is a means by which people can seek to bring such a matter to the attention of the House using the Standing Order with which the hon. Gentleman, who is both knowledgeable and perspicacious, will himself be closely familiar. I offer no guarantee that it would be regarded as an emergency matter, but he very specifically asked whether there were any other means by which to secure a debate. That is the only one, given the time constraints and the proximity to recess, that occurs to me. There is always scope for urgent questions, but that is not the same as having a debate. I hope that that is as helpful an answer as the facts allow me to provide.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I received a reply from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), to parliamentary question 156404, which confirmed that an automatic insulin pump could be considered an aid in relation to the awarding of points for personal independence payments. However, when I raised the Minister’s answer with Atos, the independent assessment service, Barrie McKillop, the Atos clinical director, stated that its stance is correct. He said:
“as it stands, I feel that you have been given an incorrect response by DWP”.
Mr Speaker, there appears to be a discrepancy between what the Minister is saying and the response from the organisation responsible for implementing the policy. The question of who is correct could have serious implications for a constituent of mine, who I believe is being unfairly denied access to PIP. Who actually has the final say on what the policy is in practice?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. All Members of this House, including Ministers, are responsible for the veracity of what they say in and to it. Insofar as the hon. Gentleman is concerned that he should have redress in respect of this matter, it seems to me there are, in the approach to the recess, only two avenues open to him. One is for him to table a written question. He will be aware of his entitlement to put named day questions, that is to say questions that receive a more urgent response. The other option is for him to seek to persuade me that the matter warrants an urgent question on the Floor of the House between now and when the House goes into recess, in which he would have an opportunity directly to engage with a departmental Minister on this matter.
On a point of order of which I gave you notice some hours ago, Mr Speaker. In 1975, Short money was introduced for Opposition parties to carry out their parliamentary duties. In 2006, a change was made and representative money was introduced for Members of those parties who do not take their seats in this House and therefore do not partake in the work of this House. I understand that one particular party, namely Sinn Féin, has claimed over £1 million since that date to provide them with expenses for a job they patently do not do. Mr Speaker, I wonder what your view on that is and whether you could advise me on how that may be challenged.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not think it is a point of order. It has to be said that that does not put the hon. Gentleman in a particularly exclusive category, as most attempted points of order are in fact more attempted than points, if I may say so. What I would say to him by way of response, and I appreciate the sincerity with which he raises the issue as a former Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, is as follows. Money akin to Short money, representative money, is paid to Opposition parties represented by Members who have chosen not to take their seats in respect of costs incurred exclusively in relation to the party’s representative business. That was, as I suspect the hon. Gentleman knows, decided by the House in November 2005. I had no role in that matter, other than as a Member of the House. I had no greater role than anyone else. As the Speaker, I have no role in changing that arrangement or, alternatively, upholding it. It is the property, if I may say so, of the House. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about the administration of this arrangement, or about the fact of payment or particular payments, he should direct his concerns to the Accounting Officer of the House who, as I am sure Members will know, is also the Clerk of the House. I well understand the hon. Gentleman’s unhappiness on this matter, but he should communicate with the Accounting Officer about it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following on from the point raised by the hon. Mem