House of Commons
Thursday 19 July 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Access to EU Markets
The UK proposes a UK-EU free trade area underpinned by a common rulebook, including on agri-food, but only for those rules necessary to provide frictionless trade at the border. On services, we seek to minimise new barriers to trade, enable UK firms to establish in the EU and continue mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
While welcoming the Secretary of State to his new post, may I ask if he shares my view that all Members of this House have a sacred duty to look at the long-term future of the people that we represent? Will he join me in looking at the front page of the Financial Times, and did he listen to the radio this morning? He knows that many of our constituents working in manufacturing and in services are deeply distressed and worried about their future.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to look to the long term, and we need to try to bridge some of the divisions in this country. I believe that the White Paper that the UK Government have published is a principled, pragmatic but ambitious approach that delivers the best deal for the UK but also makes sure that we continue our firm, strong ties with our European friends.
May I wish my right hon. Friend well, particularly at the start of his negotiations this afternoon? Amid all this talk of no deal, can he reassure me and the House that it is still the British Government’s intention and expectation that they will be able to reach a good deal in these negotiations?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will have seen from the White Paper that we have set out the approach that we are taking—the strategy that we have. I will be out in Brussels today because we do need to step up the pace, the intensity and the heat of the negotiations. But, at the same time, the only responsible thing for the Government to do is to prepare for all eventualities out of these negotiations.
The Secretary of State will be only too well aware that, without an agreement on a backstop for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, there will be no withdrawal agreement. The technical note on customs arrangements that the Government published last month was only half a backstop because, as the paper itself acknowledged, it would need to have added to it something on regulation. Now that the Government have committed to a common rulebook in the White Paper, can the Secretary of State today confirm that that will now be added to the proposal for a backstop so that he can make progress on it?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the progress that we have undoubtedly made with our European friends on the withdrawal agreement, but to say that issues such as Northern Ireland remain to be resolved properly. He is also right to say that the White Paper and the proposals have a principled but flexible approach that will allow us to make sure that we not just continue the frictionless trade but avoid any issues at the border. We will obviously take forward those negotiations today, and I look forward to discussing this with Michel Barnier later.
I call Rachael Maskell. [Interruption.] I mean Rachel Maclean—I do beg the hon. Lady’s pardon and the other hon. Lady’s pardon. They are both very distinctive, and it is my fuzzy memory, not their lack of distinctiveness. I do apologise to both of them.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Laughter.] Oh, I am sorry, Mr Speaker. It is obviously flattering to be confused with the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell).
My constituents voted to leave the EU because they did not want our laws to be made by bureaucrats in Brussels—they wanted our laws to be made by our own country. Can the Secretary of State, who I know shares this ambition, reassure my constituents that the Chequers proposal will allow our laws to be made in our country after we leave the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made a narrow exception where there will be a common rulebook for agricultural goods and manufactured goods at the border, but only to the extent that that is necessary to ensure frictionless trade—and even there, elected Members in this House will have the last word. Of course, the UK Supreme Court will finally do what it says on the tin, which is to have the last word on the application of the laws of the land.
Fears that the schism at the heart of the Tory party is driving the country towards a no deal Brexit are once again on the rise, and it is clear that the new Secretary of State is stepping up preparations for such a scenario. Will he therefore tell the House what specific advice his Department is giving to the financial services sector on how to prepare for a EU departure without a deal?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Of course, many of the banks and people in the City are already preparing and are very confident that they can withstand any of the uncertainty in relation to Brexit negotiations. We have been preparing for some time now. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for all the preparatory work that he has done. We will be starting to step up some of those preparations. Some of that will become more publicly facing in the weeks and months ahead. That is necessary, and any responsible Government would have to do it. We will obviously set out the details of that shortly.
But all our manufactures will have to be produced in full accordance with the acquis, will they not?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but the common rulebook relates only to those particular rules that relate to the border, to enable frictionless trade. We will ensure, through technical-level consultations, that we have a voice in the formation of those rules. Ultimately, it will be for this House to say yes or no to whether those rules become the law of the land.
Support for Farmers
We work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on farming support. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament, maintaining stability for farmers as we grow our world-leading food and farming industry in a sustainable way.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government’s policy is to leave the customs union, leave the single market, leave the common fisheries policy and leave the common agricultural policy, and that the Government are committed to the fact that in that new framework North Devon’s farmers will continue to thrive outside the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, our White Paper confirms that the United Kingdom will leave the single market and the customs union. Outside the CAP and the CFP, we will be free to develop a domestic agriculture policy that works in the best interests of farmers in North Devon and across the UK, and at the same time we will become an independent coastal state with full control over our waters.
Order. I have just been advised that the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) is not here. She has not yet been able to access the building. If she gets here later, I will try to accommodate her, but it means for the time being that the grouping falls.
The chemicals regulation division of the Health and Safety Executive regulates biocides and pesticides under the EU REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—regulation. The pesticides have to be tested within the EU, so we will lose that work on 29 March 2019. Will the Government buy into the new replaced EU body, losing 300 jobs in York and Bootle, or will they be forced into having separate EU testing, placing additional costs on farmers?
Obviously, that is subject to negotiation, but I understand the concern that the hon. Lady has raised. We will seek to pursue a relationship whereby we are engaged with the regulatory structures in Europe to ensure that we have continuity and stability in that sector.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his elevation to Cabinet. A number of leavers suggest that the governing classes or the establishment are calling the shots on Brexit and that that is why it is such a mess. Farmers in my constituency want to know who is calling the shots—is it the Secretary of State?
No, it is the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. I will be deputising for the Prime Minister in the negotiations. I will be out seeing Michel Barnier shortly, and I hope that I can attest to his full support for the White Paper.
Not so long ago, the Secretary of State, in a burst of youthful exuberance, published a blog—[Interruption.] It was not that racy. It included his 10 policies “for a Better Britain”. Policy No. 7 stated:
“We need to deregulate…the common market”.
Does he still agree with his own manifesto for Britain?
In all those areas, as important as they are and whatever the different views across the House on those sensitive matters, the crucial thing is that elected Members in this House have the last word on the laws of the land. I share her concern about those areas and her interest. Why on earth would she want to abdicate responsibility for law making to Brussels, when in this House we need to be accountable to our constituents?
For British farmers to trade successfully with Europe, we must remain on the same level playing field, with common standards and regulations. The president of the National Farmers Union said earlier this year that
“the floor is for our standards to be in line with the rest of Europe”.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the Farmers Union or himself?
I think that he has welcomed the White Paper—
She has welcomed the White Paper, but I would gently say to the hon. Lady that the CAP’s land-based subsidy and the bureaucratic structure that goes with it has held back productivity in this country and has not delivered the scale of environmental improvement we need. When we leave the common agricultural policy, we will make sure that we have the best agricultural but also environmental policy for this country.
Let me just say to the hon. Lady that it was a reckless door or barrier—electronic or otherwise—that sought to deny her access to the House, but she is with us now and we look forward to hearing her.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Speaker.
Leaving the EU provides opportunities for Wiltshire farmers; hence why they voted to leave. Does my right hon. Friend agree that making our own decisions for farmers to suit farmers will ensure that their interests are better protected?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want a more dynamic, more self-reliant agricultural industry as we continue to compete internationally, supplying products of the very highest standard for the domestic market and increasing exports. We also want a reformed agricultural and land management policy to deliver a better and richer environment for Wiltshire and across the UK.
Economic and Social Rights
The White Paper published last week makes it clear that the Government are committed to high levels of social and employment protection and proposes a reciprocal non-regression requirement for domestic labour standards. The paper also proposes a mutual commitment to individual rights, noting that the UK will remain a party to the European convention on human rights after it has left the EU. This is also reflected in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which maintains existing rights protection as part of EU retained law.
I thank the Minister very much for her response. In 2009, the Secretary of State said that he did not believe in economic and social rights. How can he guarantee that he will not use Brexit as an excuse to slash protections for minorities and workers?
The Secretary of State is experienced and has a proven track record not only as a Justice Minister but as a lawyer, and any attempt to undermine his credentials and commitment to the rule of law, civil liberties and now delivering a successful Brexit is fundamentally misguided. The Government have made it clear—not just in the White Paper, but on numerous occasions during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act—that leaving the EU does not mean a diminution of human rights.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier to the mooted common rulebook as very narrow, but when we look at what is necessary for free circulation, it is actually extremely wide. I am concerned that the parliamentary lock in the White Paper is actually unworkable, because there will be the sword of Damocles of a hard border in Ireland should we derogate from any of it. Does my hon. Friend remember that decades of Conservative manifestos have committed to retaining or increasing our autonomy over such regulations?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I know what an indefatigable campaigner he is for the UK leaving the European Union, and his expertise on this issue is well known. At the end of the day, the common rulebook is going to be subject to a parliamentary lock, and it also reflects rules on goods that have not changed for many decades.
The Minister rightly points out that the White Paper proposes non-regression clauses on environment regulations and on social and employment protections. In 2016, however, the Secretary of State wrote in The Times that Brexit was an opportunity to
“100 most burdensome EU regulations”.
He took exception to the agency workers regulation, for example, on the grounds that it
“gives agency workers the right to the same basic employment and working conditions as full-time staff”.
Does the Minister agree with the White Paper or with her Secretary of State?
The Government have been clear in the White Paper that our commitment to rights protection is unequivocal and that how those rules are applied is ultimately a decision for Parliament. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that rights do not emanate from the EU? We have our own rich and proud tradition of civil liberties, such as the Race Relations Act 1965 or the Equal Pay Act 1970, and we acceded to those critical pieces of legislation before our accession to the European Economic Community.
I understand my hon. Friend’s position on guaranteeing UK rights—indeed, I respect her position, which is that UK rights need no foreign courts to guarantee them. Perhaps she can help me understand how she views the rights of others on our continent. The great achievement of many of our people in the past 50 years has been the extension of those rights, yet today I see lists of Jews being suggested in Vienna, and I hear about the erosion of the rule of law in other parts of eastern Europe. What will be the Government’s position on making sure that those human rights still exist?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said, we have a long and proud tradition, which predates our membership of the EU, to protecting civil liberties, upholding human rights and enhancing the position of the individual, whether through the rule of law or our commitment to the ECHR. Brexit will not change that.
Withdrawal Agreement Negotiations
On 19 June, we published a joint statement on the draft withdrawal agreement, setting out our progress in agreeing the text on a majority of separation issues. Negotiations are ongoing, and my officials are in Brussels. With last week’s publication of the White Paper, we hope to intensify negotiations on the future relationship.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the financial settlement contained in the withdrawal agreement is one of our strongest bargaining cards? Will he therefore include in the Bill provisions to ensure that its full payment is conditional on our achieving a satisfactory outcome to negotiations?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and as the EU says, there is no deal until the whole deal is concluded. The withdrawal agreement must come alongside a framework for the future partnership agreement—article 50 requires that—and if one party does not meet its side of the bargain, that will inevitably have consequences for the deal as a whole.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the UK has a near £70 billion trade deficit with the EU, and it is transparently in the EU’s interest to get a deal that keeps trade flowing. Is he aware whether European businesses and companies are lobbying EU negotiators and Governments to ensure a mutually beneficial deal?
My hon. Friend is right. The Government have a regular and productive dialogue with the European business community, and in those discussions we highlight our common interests with those businesses. It is important that their voice is heard because a lot is at stake, not just for UK businesses and jobs, but for European businesses and jobs.
Does the Secretary of State agree that remaining inside the customs union or the single market would be a breach of the outcome of the referendum and totally undermine the trust of the British people?
My hon. Friend is right. Not only would it be a breach of the referendum, but every hon. Member, at least on the Government Benches, went into the last election promising our constituents that we would leave the customs union and the single market. Crucially, the White Paper forges a plan that can deliver that, while maintaining the strong relationship that we want with our European friends.
PPG Industries in my constituency provides 200 jobs. It tells me that if we leave the European Chemicals Agency, it will have to close. Will the Secretary of State commit to the common rulebook and not to making any compromises on that part of the White Paper?
The hon. Lady is right to point to that issue, but she also mentioned the White Paper. She will know that we are committed to staying with a strong regulatory relationship with our EU partners, for precisely the reasons she gave.
Given that so many of his friends and colleagues want to bring down the Prime Minister, how will the Brexit Secretary get his withdrawal agreement through in the autumn?
The same way that we got the customs Bill through this week—by working hard, listening to all sides and delivering for the people of the United Kingdom.
My constituency of Strangford depends greatly on the agri-food sector for employment, jobs and opportunities. With reference to the border in Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State explain how he intends to foster cross-border trade in a safe and effective way?
The hon. Gentleman will know from the White Paper that we have set out a paradigm that works, not just for trade between the UK and the EU, but that specifically will avoid any return to a hard border in Northern Ireland. We now need to take that proposal to our European friends. I will see Michel Barnier later this afternoon, and I will be sure to convey to him the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
International Broadcasting Businesses
The Department is working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to understand the complexities of the issue relating to broadcasting. Together we are listening to the international broadcasting sector to understand its needs and concerns. I was very pleased to address the Creative Industries Federation in March.
Is the Minister aware that the Commercial Broadcasters Association has expressed its concern about the lack of clarity in the Government’s proposals post-Brexit, particularly for international TV channels based in the UK, which are currently worth more than £1 billion to the economy and provide one in five jobs in the broadcasting sector? At the moment, UK-based international TV channels have a licence for the rest of the EU, and the Commercial Broadcasters Association is concerned that it is not clear whether that will continue. We are already seeing international broadcasters moving, so what steps are the Government taking?
The Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech committed to exploring creative options, with an open mind, to replace the country of origin principle enshrined in the audiovisual media services directive. The UK’s position represents the best credible proposal for the future relationship. It reflects the EU’s aim, as stated in Council guidelines, of allowing market access to provide services under host state rules.
The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is leaping to her feet with a vigour and enthusiasm that reminds me of my younger self.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given that the advice the Government now seem to be hinting at—that businesses should prepare for a no deal situation—looks an awful lot like the consequences that we remainers were criticised for raising during the referendum as “Project Fear”, does the Minister understand why the creative and digital industries in my constituency, of which there are many, do not trust the Government to negotiate on their behalf one little bit?
I know how experienced the hon. Lady is in the arts sector. The White Paper proposes new arrangements for services and for the creative and digital sectors, recognising that the UK and the EU will not have the current levels of access to each other’s markets. The EU and the UK included broadcasting in the joint list of topics for discussion in the future framework, which reflects our shared understanding of the importance of the sector as a whole. Obviously, it is the responsible duty of the Government to prepare for all outcomes.
Rights, Standards and Protections
The UK has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that our rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of promoting high standards across a range of issues on the international stage. The EU withdrawal Act 2018 will ensure that, wherever practical, the same rights, standards and protections apply after exit. We will not engage in a race to the bottom in the standards and protections we set.
The recent White Paper committed the UK to membership of the European convention on human rights. Will the Minister confirm that the Human Rights Act 1998, which puts that in domestic law, embodies that commitment to the people of the UK and our European partners?
One of the most tangible benefits of the EU for my constituents is their ability to travel across the EU and not pay roaming charges on mobile phones. Will the Minister guarantee that once we leave the EU, my constituents will still be able to travel and not pay roaming charges?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I do not see how it relates to rights, standards and protections, but we will be discussing the matter with commercial operators in the sector. A number of key UK providers have already said that they do not intend to apply roaming charges.
The question relates to when we leave the EU, and I have a little digital thing on my phone that says that we are going to leave in 253 days’ time. There has been a lot of talk in the media today about the Government considering extending the article 50 period and the exit date. Will the superb Minister lay that rumour to rest, and confirm that the Prime Minister will stick to her guns and that we will leave on 29 March next year?
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that, as it says in the EU (Withdrawal) Act, and as is clear in the White Paper, we are going to leave on 29 March next year.
We are very clear in the security partnership section of the White Paper that we are seeking the same levels of protection. We are seeking to engage with the EU on how these issues can be arranged between us so that we maintain the protections that we have now.
UK Service Industry
The White Paper sets out a comprehensive vision for our partnership with the EU. For services, our ambitious and credible proposals include guaranteeing that suppliers and investors can operate across a broad number of sectors, enabling firms to establish cross-border services, ensuring that professionals continue to get their qualifications recognised, and establishing a new economic and regulatory partnership for financial services.
Successive British Governments have expended significant effort and time on negotiating a single market in services in the EU, achieving a 40% increase in services exports since 2010 as a result. How long does the Minister think that it will take to negotiate a similarly open market in services with other parts of the world, and what does he suggest my constituents working in insurance and IT do in the meantime?
The White Paper sets out a number of proposals for the services sector on how we can maintain those benefits, but we have also been growing our services trade with the rest of the world. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a 40% growth in trade with the EU, but there has been a 70% growth in UK services exports to countries outside the EU over the past decade. Our UK services industry is world leading and will continue to be as we go through this process.
In preparing for negotiations, a responsible Government would establish the impact on the services sector of both the Chequers agreement and no deal, so will the Minister confirm how the profitability, job creation potential and ability to export to the EU of the services sector would be affected if either the Chequers proposals or no deal were reached with the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UK has a world-leading services sector. As we have just discussed, it is exporting both to the EU and the rest of the world very successfully. Sadly, the single market in services was never completed. I think that our services sector will remain hugely profitable and a huge success story for the UK throughout this process.
The White Paper says repeatedly that on services, which make up 80% of the UK economy, the Government’s proposals will mean less market access for UK businesses to European markets compared with at present. Have the Government made an assessment of the impact of this lower level of market access, either on the volume of trade or the impact on jobs?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we have been engaging with businesses across the whole economy, which of course includes our world-leading services sector. It is clear that the advantages that make the services sector world leading are created here in the UK. We will make sure that the services sector has the right arrangements to continue to do business within Europe and to continue to have qualifications recognised but, of course, we are leaving the single market and there will be changes as a result.
We have made significant progress in negotiations and are confident that we will secure a deal with the European Union. However, as a responsible Government, we are continuing to prepare for all possible outcomes.
There has been recent press speculation that the Government are considering emergency measures that would include the stockpiling of food and medicines. Will the Minister confirm whether that is accurate? If so, what would be the proposals for the distribution of those stockpiles?
Departments’ plans are well developed and designed to respond to all scenarios, including the unlikely possibility that we leave the EU without a deal. Some contingency plans have already become evident and more will become public over the coming weeks.
If, in the end, there is no deal, can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government’s contingency plans will take into account often overlooked areas, such as Clacton?
Clacton, Mr Speaker, is never overlooked by its Member of Parliament.
The Government are engaging with businesses and other stakeholders in every region of the United Kingdom in order to understand the challenges and opportunities that may have an impact on them. Later this year we will consult on the new UK shared prosperity fund, which will give us an opportunity to consider carefully how we should address barriers to growth and tackle inequalities faced by all parts of the country, including rural and coastal areas such as my hon. Friend’s Clacton constituency.
The Government’s own analysis shows that no deal would be a financial disaster, and this week the Governor of the Bank of England warned that a no deal Brexit would have “big economic consequences” for the UK. The White Paper was a sham: it just talked about “exploring options”. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to do a lot more than explore options, and that they should work hard to secure a deal, rather than facing a no deal scenario?
Obviously we would much rather have a very good deal with the European Union than not, and most of the work in my Department is focused on that, but we must prepare for every scenario. As for the gentleman whom the hon. Gentleman quoted, let me finish that quotation by saying that the financial consequences for the EU would be far greater.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position. There is absolutely no one whom I would rather see in his job at this time, and I wish him every possible success.
Papers that are available to my hon. Friend will show that as long ago as October, I was seeking to create a parliamentary moment to galvanise the whole Government to prepare not only for the unwanted contingency of no deal, but for all scenarios, including the end of the implementation period. Will he now use the collective agreement reached at Chequers to go out and galvanise the whole Government to deliver, in the knowledge that that is not something that the Department for Exiting the European Union can direct, and that it will require those at the very top of the Government to mobilise every Department?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for leaving me an unbelievable quantity of reading to do because of the diligent way in which, as he rightly says, he prepared for every scenario.
I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister to their elevation to the governing classes. Given that the Minister’s predecessor has now chosen to reveal some of what was in unpublished Cabinet papers, I hope we can expect to see the rest published quite soon.
Today Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for England and Wales warned police forces that they need to be ready for an increase in hate crime after we leave the European Union. Does that take the Government by surprise?
I had not heard about that particular report, so I cannot comment on it. What I can say is that, in preparing for no deal, we have already recruited 300 extra staff to police our borders, and we have an ongoing programme to recruit a whole load more.
With the greatest respect, hate crime is not committed by people who cross our borders to come here; it is committed by people who are already here, all too often provoked by irresponsible and inflammatory language from those who really should know much better. I ask the Minister again: did the Government realise before the publication of today’s report that Brexit—intentionally or unintentionally—would create a climate in which hate crime was more likely to take place?
I am afraid that I do not recognise the basis for the hon. Gentleman’s question—I do not believe that in the slightest. I can only point out to him that a group of people called the “cybernats” were not particularly pleasant in the run-up to the Scottish referendum.
Crashing out with no deal looks increasingly likely, particularly as former members of the Government have stated that they intend to undermine a deal. What is needed now is a plain English guide to the consequences of no deal for individuals, families, communities and businesses. Will the Minister commit himself to publishing such a guide so that people can see the consequences and step away from the edge of the cliff?
As my—right hon. Friend? [Interruption.] It is only a matter of time; everything comes to those who wait.
As my hon. Friend knows, because she chairs the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister said yesterday that a whole bunch of technical notices would be produced for exactly that purpose.
We have already heard a great deal about no deal and potential problems at Dover. What are the Government’s plans in respect of the second busiest roll-on/roll-off port in the UK, which is Holyhead?
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has already met representatives from Holyhead. I look forward to travelling around the country, visiting such places and listening to what people have to say.
We work closely with Ministers and officials from all Departments, including DEFRA, to further our preparations for exit from, and a new partnership with, the EU. This includes discussions on the recently published future framework White Paper and the fisheries White Paper.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Can she confirm that her Department shares the commitment of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the UK having full control of our territorial waters when we leave the EU, with trade in fish and fish products being a completely separate matter, and that there will be no trade deals linked to access to our fisheries?
The Government are clear that upon our exit from the European Union the UK will be an independent coastal nation free to set our own rules including on access to our waters and fisheries policies, and we seek to agree a process for future annual negotiations with the EU on access and fishing opportunities. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend that we will be taking back control of this significant sector of our economy.
With our leaving the EU next year, access to European funds that have done a great deal for fishing communities around coastal areas will be lost. Will the Government themselves replace those funds in the same way that they propose to deal with funding for farmers?
I was delighted to visit the hon. Lady’s Grimsby constituency earlier this year and I know how energetic she is as a representative of her constituents. The fundamental principle, as set out in the fisheries White Paper and the future framework, is that we—this Parliament—will be in control of how we distribute funding, how we set the rules and how we empower our fishing communities around the country.
I tell the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) that I have not visited her constituency recently, but during the general election campaign, in Buckingham, in the market square in Winslow, I did buy, and then consume, fish that was, of course, from Grimsby.
Notwithstanding what the Minister has said and what her colleagues have said on previous occasions, she will be aware that in fishing communities there are still concerns that the Government will use fishing in some way and make further concessions. Can she give an absolute guarantee that there will be no further concessions on fisheries?
Again, I was very happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency as part of my travels as a Minister. Like him, I represent a coastal constituency, where we know that our fishermen work very hard to earn their livings. The Government have been absolutely clear that once we leave the EU and no longer abide by the common fisheries policy, we will be an independent coastal state managing our fisheries and controlling access to our own waters. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
International Business Community
The Government have regular and productive dialogue with the international business community, and the DExEU ministerial team has visited 18 EU member states this year alone, meeting businesses to understand their priorities and explain how our proposals enable businesses to thrive. Tomorrow, the Secretary of State and the ministerial team will be meeting business leaders from a number of countries at Chevening House, which is a dedicated opportunity to hear from them.
One issue that the business community has raised is continuing access to the working and investment capital currently supplied through the European Investment Bank. What arrangements are the Government making to ensure that continued flow of capital to our businesses?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that investment is crucial for the economic future of our nation and of the wealth creators in our country. The UK believes it may be mutually beneficial to maintain some form of ongoing relationship with the European Investment Bank, and we are exploring those options now.
What assessment have the Government made of the costs to international and domestic business of preparing, amidst the chaos of this Government, for all the possible outcomes of new relationships with the EU?
As has been set out this morning on many occasions, the Government are carrying out extensive preparations for all outcomes. No deal is not our objective, but we are preparing for that scenario, as is responsible and expected. Our future framework White Paper, however, sets out how we see our economic relationship working with the EU so that UK and EU businesses can continue to trade fruitfully as we leave the EU.
Following on from that question, when will the Minister’s Department properly publish an impact assessment for all sectors on the impact of a no deal scenario, in contrast to the shambles that we saw at the end of last year?
The Government have been clear that we will provide the appropriate analysis at the time that a deal is presented to Parliament. Many predictions of impacts and outcomes were made at the time of the referendum, but let us look at the facts. Manufacturing is at a record high, exports are rising faster than imports, and unemployment is at its lowest in 40 years. Let us base our predictions on the facts, not on scaremongering.
Extensive discussions were held with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Council for EU negotiations and the ministerial forum for EU negotiations, which I chair, and at official level, to ensure that their views were taken into account in finalising the White Paper.
If that is the case, will the Minister tell the House why the White Paper includes absolutely no mention of how the UK Government will include the devolved Administrations in the development of new trade relationships with the EU?
There are many references, which I was pleased to talk through on the day of the publication of the White Paper with a Minister from the Scottish Government, and indeed a Minister from the Welsh Government, a number of which they welcomed.
It will come as no surprise to anyone here that the Scottish National party do not want to make a success of Brexit. They want to wreck Brexit and wreck our United Kingdom, and the implementation Bill is designed to do just that. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he is doing all he can to ensure the implementation of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 across the whole of the UK, to enable the smooth transition out of the EU that is needed for business and the economy to thrive?
I agree with my hon. Friend, but significant concerns remain about whether UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. As he knows, the Supreme Court will be considering that matter next week. I remind the House that the Government have worked hard over the past year to try to secure the support of the Scottish Government for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. However, we could not go as far as the Scottish Government would want, because it cannot be right that one legislature in one part of the UK should be able to veto the approach of the Union when there is agreement on the UK-wide framework.
Given that the implementation of the agreements reached between the EU and the UK will be in devolved areas of competency, why was there not proper discussion with Scottish Ministers in advance about how that would happen? When will those discussions take place?
There has been regular discussion between the Government and Scottish Ministers, including ahead of the White Paper, and those discussions will continue. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government in good faith on the arrangements for a future partnership with the EU and on preparations for contingency planning.
I think that the Government are still planning to bring forward a withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill in due course, so will the Minister tell us whether that will require legislative consent from the devolved institutions? Will he also tell us whether he expects it to have to amend or repeal any aspects of the customs and trade Bills that we have been debating this week?
We will be bringing forward more detail on that legislation shortly. This is something that we have already discussed in some depth with the Scottish Government through the ministerial forum for EU negotiations.
Intellectual Property Rights
UK-owned trademarks and design rights in the EU27 will be unaffected by our withdrawal. Meanwhile, we have agreed to protect all existing EU trademarks, community-registered designs and unregistered designs in the UK as we leave the EU. In place of those EU-level rights, 1.5 million new UK trademarks and registered designs will be granted automatically and for free. The creative industries can therefore be confident that their existing intellectual property rights will not be diminished, and that the UK will remain one of the best places in the world to protect and enforce IP rights.
I thank the Minister for that response. It is extremely reassuring, particularly to the all-party parliamentary group for textiles and fashion, which I chair. However, concerns have been raised with me this week regarding EU-wide trademark and design registrations, because they do not feature specifically in the White Paper and could therefore be at risk, once the definition of the EU no longer includes the UK. Can the Minister reassure the industry in that respect?
Yes, I would like to reassure the industry that we have set out in the White Paper that we want to work with the EU to reflect common arrangements in this space. We recognise that the UK is a world leader in fashion, and it should continue to be. We will ensure that trademarks and unregistered design rights are protected in the UK.
Employment in Scotland
We are committed to securing a deal that works for the entire UK, including Scotland. We approach the negotiations anticipating success and neither want nor expect a no deal outcome. The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analysis across a range of scenarios in support of our EU exit negotiations and preparations.
I welcome the new Ministers to their jobs. As we have seen this week, the Government’s Brexit plans are in tatters. What assurances can the Minister give the House, my constituents and residents across the country that no deal is in fact the worst of all worlds and that the jobs of hard-working people in Scotland will not be sacrificed to keep this Tory party together?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my new role. If the Labour party had supported us, no deal would have been far away and a deal would have been on the table.
As we set out in the White Paper, the future UK-EU relationship is likely to consist of several separate agreements covering different elements of economic, security and cross-cutting co-operation, and those arrangements could take the form of an association agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. According to the European External Action Service, an association agreement must offer “a privileged relationship” between the European Union and its partner and must create enforcement bodies that are
“competent to take decisions that bind the contracting parties”.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is now the Government’s aim?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. An association agreement is a flexible legal form. It is a term of art in general international law, but it does require binding treaty arrangements. In relation to recourse for dispute settlement, we have set out detailed proposals in the White Paper for arbitration, and that obviously has the advantage, whether it is a three or five-person arbitration panel, of being balanced. The UK and the EU will be able to appoint arbitrators to the panel, so disputes can be resolved with good faith, trust and confidence on both sides.
Industrial Chemicals Regulation
As set out in the White Paper, the UK seeks participation in the European Chemicals Agency, which will ensure that products go through only one approval mechanism to access both UK and EU markets. Given the sector’s complex multinational supply chains and the well-developed regulatory framework, there is a strong incentive for the UK and the EU to continue co-operation in this area.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Much of Britain’s manufacturing and engineering sector relies heavily on an uninterrupted supply of industrial chemicals, which are used on the production line to carry out processes such as non-destructive testing. Will my hon. Friend update the House on what progress has been made in negotiations with the EU on the REACH regulations? Will he reassure businesses in Erewash that they will continue to have ready access to industrial chemicals after we leave the EU?
As the hon. Lady says—I recognise this from my constituency, too—chemicals are an important part of production input, and the proposed free trade area for goods, underpinned by a common rulebook, will protect existing supply chains. Our proposals will ensure that products meet the necessary regulatory requirements for both the UK and EU markets, removing the need for regulatory checks at the border, and will mean that existing chemicals regulations and authorisations will remain valid in both markets.
Last week, the Government published their White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and EU. Today, I will travel to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier to discuss the negotiations, and I look forward to working with him to secure a deal in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and our European partners.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to bolster and emphasise the importance of no deal planning across Government?
Most of our no deal preparation has been developed internally with targeted engagement with the relevant parties, but we are now at the point at which more of that delivery will start to become more public. Over the summer, the Government will release a series of technical notices to set out what UK businesses and citizens in various sectors will need to do in a no deal scenario and to make public more of our preparations. That is the responsible thing for any Government to do.
Yesterday, the former Brexit Minister, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), made a direct threat to the Secretary of State that Conservative MPs on his wing of the party are not prepared to vote for any Brexit deal that does not meet their demands. Talking about the White Paper, he said that 40-plus Conservative Members
“do not like this deal and are willing to vote in line with that dislike”.—[Official Report, 18 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 489.]
Against that threat, and without just saying that it is a great White Paper, what evidence can the Secretary of State point to that suggests the White Paper could command a majority in this House?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems more interested in doing the job of whipping Conservative Members than in coming up with any serious, substantive proposals. We have a White Paper, and I am going to Brussels. We ought to unite the United Kingdom behind getting the best deal for this country and for our European friends.
Let me follow on. Given the threat that has been issued by the hon. Member for Wycombe, the burning question for the Secretary of State, which will be asked again and again in this House, across the country and, I have no doubt, by Michel Barnier later today, is whether he personally is prepared to face down that threat. What is the answer?
I am not interested in the media circus or in any of the drama. We have proper scrutiny in this House, and we have relentlessly and unflinchingly focused—I am sure our European partners will be doing the same—on narrowing the differences, accentuating the positives and getting a win-win deal that is good for this country and good for our European friends. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should get behind that effort.
My hon. Friend makes his point in his usual powerful and eloquent way. Of course, when the referendum legislation was passed it was agreed by all parties that we would respect the verdict of the referendum. That was how we entered into the legislation, that was how the legislation was passed by the House and that was how we campaigned. It would be a shifting of the democratic goalposts and a breach of democratic trust to suggest otherwise.
Having sat on various Select Committees with the hon. Gentleman, I know that he takes these issues very seriously. We detailed it in the White Paper, and he has the reassurance of the detail in that extensive document. I will be going out to talk to Michel Barnier and our European friends about all these issues to make sure we can take it further forward.
I assure my hon. Friend that I share his and the Environment Secretary’s view that, once we leave the EU, we will be able to control access to our waters by non-UK registered vessels, which will be a matter for negotiation. Access to markets for fish products will be agreed as part of our future economic partnership, just as with other goods and food products.
Obviously we need to see any of those allegations, any of those cases, followed up by the relevant authorities. I was on the campaign board of Vote Leave. I had nothing to do with the financial implications, with donations or with anything like that. What I think the hon. Lady is really trying to do is somehow, in a back-handed way, to discredit the outcome of the referendum, which is not going to work. The country voted to leave the EU, and that is what we are going to do.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; that is what the White Paper sets out. This is about maintaining a strong trading relationship with our EU friends; broadening our opportunity to trade more energetically, with a bit more vim and vigour, with the growth markets of the globe, from Asia to Latin America; and, of course, in those vital other areas of co-operation, including security, making sure that we retain those strong ties.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She comes from a wonderful city that I used to live in and which voted heavily for leave. People there will therefore be surprised that she is trying to undermine that referendum result. However, I can tell her that there is no intention on this side to undermine any of those workers’ rights.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are ending free movement. We want, in order to restore confidence in our immigration system, to control the numbers of people coming here. We want to make sure we have stronger checks at the border, for security purposes. But it is absolutely right to say that this country benefits from immigration, including in the way he described. The proposals we put forward on mobility will make sure we continue to do so in the future.
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I am meritocratic to my heart; I do not believe in any discrimination, be it against men or women. Of course we are going to maintain our strong equality standards— and indeed reinforce them. We do not need Brussels for that; we need active and energetic Members in all parts of this House.
Many Conservative party members in Chelmsford voted leave, but when I met them last week the vast majority supported the Chequers deal and the White Paper. May I urge the new Secretary of State to continue to fight for a deal that delivers for our security and protects jobs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She has a wealth of experience and expertise in all these different areas, and I have listened carefully to the strong contributions she has made in this House every step of the way. She will have seen the White Paper. I believe that, not just in the letter, but in the spirit, it will deliver the kind of Brexit she wants to see: one that is good for this country and good for our European friends, and one that will allow Britain to go from strength to strength.
I thank the hon. Lady for that. She has always been powerful in her contributions, both on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and right throughout on Brexit. As she will know from the White Paper, we have a detailed set of proposals that are not only principled, but flexible, to make sure that we not only sustain the strong trade we want with our EU friends but take advantage of the global opportunities to trade more energetically. This will be good for exporters and for cutting the costs of living in this country by reducing prices.
Following this week’s votes, which make aspects of the White Paper less tenable and certainly less likely to be accepted by the EU, has the Secretary of State had any discussions with No. 10 and within his own Department about modifying the UK’s negotiating position?
Our negotiating position is set out clearly in the White Paper. Obviously, we listen to my hon. Friend, who is a strong campaigner on this issue, with a powerful voice. We are listening to all sides, but what we need to make sure we do now is come together to deliver these proposals, get the best deal for the UK and forge the agreement with the EU. These proposals are a principled and pragmatic way of delivering that.
The National Audit Office says that unless we at least agree a mutually recognised driving licence, up to 7 million licences may have to be issued in the first year after Brexit alone, and that detailed delivery plans are yet to be completed. Is that not an example of our unreadiness for falling out of the European Union? What is being done to make sure that drivers can drive on the continent if we come out without a deal?
The White Paper makes it clear that on those measures we want to reach arrangements that are in the mutual interests of the UK and the EU. Of course, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, there will be more announcements on contingency planning in due course.
On citizens’ rights, UK citizens in some EU countries may have to renounce their British citizenship to stay living in those countries. It is unclear whether any of the 1.2 million in the EU will be able to move from living in one country to living in another without making further applications. At the same time, the EU is very reluctant to secure reciprocal voting rights. It is good that our approach is generous, but is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of reciprocity in some areas of citizens’ rights? Will he raise the issue with Michel Barnier later today?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue. The Home Secretary has issued a statement that sets out his disappointment that the EU has not necessarily put into plan the reciprocal arrangements that it agreed to for EU citizens. For our part, we have made it clear that we have agreed the sections of the withdrawal agreement that provide for an exhaustive and comprehensive series of protections for EU citizens. That is on a reciprocal basis and we expect the EU to respond in kind.
This week, the Office for Budget Responsibility followed the Institute for Fiscal Studies in pointing out that there is no such thing as a Brexit dividend. Given that the OBR was set up to provide expert advice to the Government, may we have an assurance that there will be no more talk from Ministers of this fantasy Brexit dividend?
It is clear that when we leave the EU and take back control of our borders, law and money, we will not be paying the gross contributions to the EU. We will continue some domestic payments in the way that we have described, but we will of course be able to take back control of our net contribution and will pay a lot less to the EU as a result.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) to his new role. Will he confirm that he will continue and build on the good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), and that he is by no means starting from scratch?
I can confirm that I will build on the amazing quantity of diligent work that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) has put in place. I only wish he was still on the Front Bench to finish it off.
Famers say that crops are rotting in the ground because of a lack of European labour. When will we see a seasonal agricultural workers scheme?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of mobility. We detailed some of the proposals in the White Paper and we will of course take forward the negotiations. As he will know, I am seeing Michel Barnier later today. It is crucial that we make sure that we have a balanced approach to immigration in which we control the numbers coming here and make sure that we fill the skills shortages in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described, while also making sure that we restore public trust by having proper control over our borders and immigration policy.
Colleagues are a rum lot, I must say! I was just about to call the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) but he has beetled out of the Chamber, poor chap. Admittedly, he was not to know that I was going to call him, but had he stayed, I would have done, and I usually do. It is very odd. As for the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), we always savour his contributions but he has already spoken at topical questions so cannot do so again.
Given that HMRC makes available online the documentation for its computable general equilibrium model, will the Department follow suit so that the public can be objectively informed about the shortcomings of such models and so that the model can be fully scrutinised by interested external economists?
I thank my hon. Friend for the first in what I am sure will be a series of valuable and important forensic contributions. I shall take a good, long, hard look at the matter.
Andrew Muirhead Leather in my constituency has been in business since 1840 and relies on the EU for importing rawhides, exporting leather and chemical processing. Will the Secretary of State meet the people from Andrew Muirhead Leather to hear their concerns? They are extremely worried about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for their business.
We do understand some of the concerns relating to supply chains. If the hon. Lady looks at the White Paper, and in particular at the facilitated customs arrangement, she will see our approach and the detailed way in which we are going to resolve those concerns, not only to maintain that strong EU trade that I understand her constituents need, but to make sure that we grasp the opportunities of Brexit, particularly in respect of global trade.
I welcome the association agreement with the EU that the White Paper seeks. Will my right hon. Friend therefore also seek a category of associate citizenship for UK citizens with the EU? I think that will be welcomed both by the European Parliament and by many, many millions of people in the United Kingdom who are losing their European citizenship and would like something to replace it.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, and I know that it is something that is very dear to the heart of the President of the European Parliament and something that he has discussed. The EU Commission is, of course, running these negotiations with a mandate from the Council and, at this stage, there is no mandate for it to discuss the issue of associate citizenship.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to make this personal statement at this time. It is with profound personal regret and deep personal embarrassment that I have to make this statement.
In 2013, in the course of my first Parliament, I failed properly to register and declare two overseas visits. I had no ulterior motive for that genuine mistake. I do recognise how serious a mistake it was. As a Member of Parliament, I know that I have personal responsibility to seek to be above reproach. I acknowledge that registration of such matters and subsequent declarations must be adhered to diligently. I accept my total failure in that matter. I have given an unreserved apology to the House and to colleagues. I take the opportunity to do so again from my place here, and I do it without qualification. I say sorry and apologise for the failings that were identified in the Standards Committee report.
I am disappointed that I was not able to persuade members of the Committee of the weight of my arguments on some of the major matters of mitigation, especially on the issue of paid advocacy. However, I accept the report, but I do so regret its sanctions. I have apologised to the House and to colleagues and I understand that, subject to the decision of this House, I may, from September, be subject to a suspension lasting 30 days.
I take my duties as a Member of Parliament seriously. I believe that I conduct myself with colleagues with integrity and openness, which is why I have such remorse about the matter, as I believe it goes against the grain of who I am, especially how it is portrayed.
It is to my constituents, who have sent me here since 2010, that I make the profoundest of all apologies. They have honoured me with unwavering support to be their voice and I hope that they will continue to have that confidence in me in the future.
We all in this Chamber know that, in public life, if we make mistakes, they are amplified, and rightly so. That is the nature of the job that all of us do and all of us understand that. However, I believe in a politics and in politicians who can admit to human frailty, who can apologise, mean it, and move on, because that is what real life is all about. It is often said that it is how we respond to these challenges in our lives that defines who and what we are, and defines our character and demonstrates to us where the true source of our personal strength rests. The 8th-century prophet Isaiah said, “You were angry with me, that anger has turned away, you comfort me.” I hope to learn that lesson.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and the sincerity with which I feel sure the whole House will accept that he has said it. The matter rests there. Thank you.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the employment and support allowance underpayments.
In 2017, the Department for Work and Pensions identified an error that had resulted in some claimants being underpaid employment and support allowance between 2011 and 2014 while their claims were being converted from incapacity benefit, a legacy disability payment. The Department proactively informed the House of this problem in 2017 through a written statement before briefing partners and the media.
On 15 March, the Secretary of State tabled a statement setting out how the work to correct the underpayments was progressing. She explained that the Department would supply 400 staff for this exercise to ensure that we could identify as quickly as possible any cases where underpayments had occurred. Yesterday, she tabled a further statement to confirm that this work was under way. Staff are reviewing cases, contacting claimants and making payments. So far, we have paid out over £40 million in arrears.
As outlined in yesterday’s statement, the Department has analysed the relationship between official error and section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 in regulating how and to what point in time arrears can be paid out. As a result of this analysis, we will now pay arrears to those affected back to the date of their conversion to ESA. Where we have already corrected cases by paying backdated arrears to 21 October 2014, we will review these cases again and pay any additional arrears due prior to that date. As planned, the Department will contact all those identified as potentially affected. Once an individual has been contacted and the relevant information gathered, they can expect to receive any backdated payments within 12 weeks. Once contacted, individuals will be provided with a dedicated free phone line on which to contact the Department to discuss their claim.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting me this urgent question.
The ESA underpayments were a major error by the Department for Work and Pensions. Dating back to 2011, 70,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid thousands of pounds, after being wrongly migrated from incapacity benefit to the contributions-based ESA and thereby denied additional social security payments, such as the severe disability premium. This meant that people already neglected by the Government’s social security system were denied vital support and caused significant hardship.
The DWP was alerted to the error as early as 2013, but, in what the Public Accounts Committee report, published yesterday, described as a “culture of indifference” at the Department, the error was neglected, only to be taken up six years after it had occurred. The Government had claimed they were legally prevented from paying arrears to those underpaid prior to 2014, but in a significant climbdown yesterday, they seemingly pre-empted a legal challenge and committed to paying arrears from the date claimants were migrated to ESA.
Significant questions remain unanswered. How many people does the DWP estimate will be entitled to additional arrears payments? How soon does the DWP expect to be able to identify people affected by this announcement? Will the DWP pay compensation to those who got into debt as a result of the underpayments? When will these payments be completed? What measures has the DWP undertaken to ensure that similar mistakes do not happen again?
The review into the ESA underpayments is just one of six the DWP will be carrying out to identify ill and disabled people to whom it has wrongly denied social security support. Five of those reviews have been undertaken only to pre-empt legal judgments. The latest announcement is yet further evidence of a Department in chaos, and the chaos is chronic, with millions of disabled people affected by the DWP’s failures. That needs to be sorted and sorted now.
I will take each of the hon. Lady’s detailed points in turn, but I first want to disabuse the House and the hon. Lady of the characterisation of people working in the DWP that we hear week after week. It simply is not fair. Day in and day out, the staff of the DWP work very hard to support people with health conditions and disabilities. The amount of money that this Government—in coalition and now as a Conservative Government—spend supporting people with health conditions and disabilities has grown every single year since we took office in 2010. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support from us that they need.
I want to put this issue in context. I fully accept, and have accepted, that these mistakes should not have happened. We are acting at pace to resolve these issues as soon as possible. Yes, some individual cases were raised in 2013, but at that time the Department felt that they were individual cases. It was not that the Department was lacklustre in trying to deal with the issue, as the hon. Lady is trying to portray. In fact, it was the proactive work of the DWP—in ensuring that we look out for fraud and underpayment—that identified this problem, and Ministers in the Department have worked proactively to put the necessary resources in place to resolve the issue as soon as possible. One mistake is one too many, but in actual fact this issue has affected about 5% of the people who made the transfer from incapacity benefit to ESA, and 3% of everyone on ESA. We are sorting the situation out as soon as possible.
The hon. Lady specifically asked how many people are affected. Our initial assessment was that 70,000 people were affected. However, in the light of our decision to go right back to the point at which people transferred from IB to ESA, we are going to look at more claimants—even dormant accounts—to ensure that no one is left out of this exercise, and the number will therefore rise. I will be able to update the House, as I regularly do, once we have taken this action over the summer recess. At the moment, we estimate that we will end up spending around £390 million, but given our further announcement yesterday, I expect the number of people affected—and therefore the amount of money—to go up. People will be paid their full arrears. It is absolutely important to me, the Secretary of State and the whole Department that we rectify the situation as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) has spoken of a culture of indifference, but the bill for disability benefits this year will be £5.4 billion higher than it was in 2010. Is there an exponential increase in the number of disabled people between whom payments are being spread ever more thinly?
We are absolutely determined to ensure that everyone with a health condition or a disability is supported so that they can lead as full and as independent a life as possible. That includes supporting people with a health condition or a disability who want to work into work. I am delighted that we have seen 600,000 more people with disabilities in work in the last four years. Of course, we want to ensure that those who are unable to work also get the support that they need.
This is the latest in a long line of concessions forced on the UK Government by campaigners and the courts. In this case, I pay tribute to the efforts of the Child Poverty Action Group for achieving this victory for more than 70,000 disabled people in the face of the DWP’s “culture of indifference”, as described by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee. More than 70,000 disabled people have been denied money that they were due and knock-on support for between four and seven years. They were denied between £5,000 and £20,000, and support for the costs of prescriptions, dentistry and school meals.
Will the Minister advise the House on when this money will be paid out and whether it will be followed by compensation? Has the Department done any work to check whether its mistakes have had any other adverse consequences for those who have lost out, such as increased debt or mental health problems? In the light of the errors on ESA, PIP and universal credit, will the Department carry out a cross-departmental, cross-party review of its social security system to create one that is built on fairness, dignity and respect, as is happening in Scotland, rather than one that is subject to frequent legal challenge?
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that this action was due to the work of Department itself? Because it is so important to us to make sure that people are not underpaid, it was our own work that led us to find this error and, as soon as we did, to put in place the actions to ensure that it was corrected.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the date on which we pay back the benefit, as I said in my statement, all the legal advice that we were given was around section 27. However, having listened to concerns raised by a range of stakeholders, we went back to look at that analysis. We really wanted to make sure that we were doing the right thing by our claimants, and that is when we came forward with the decision that we made yesterday.
In terms of the Department’s routine work, of course we welcome the fact that we have two very well-supported Select Committees. Only yesterday, I spoke to the Chairmen of the Public Accounts Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee. I always read with great interest and care any reports that they do. As I said to both Chairmen yesterday, we will seriously consider all their recommendations and report back to them, as they requested, in October.
May I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? I commend her for finding this issue, moving it on, and getting a solution to it. Does she recognise the important role that so many employers are playing in signing up to the Disability Confident scheme and recognising that people with disabilities are an important part of our workforce for the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for making such an important point. We must always recognise the really positive contribution that people with health conditions and disabilities make across the whole of society, including at work. I commend her for accepting the community challenge. I commend all Members across the House who will go out into their communities this summer and encourage more employers to provide work experience, internships and employment for the huge talent pool of disabled people that we have in our country.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that once a claimant has been identified and contacted about their under-payment, they will have access to a free phone line so that they can pursue their claim, and will be paid within 12 weeks?
Yes, I can make that commitment. We have already started to contact people and we are already making payments. Once we have contacted someone, we will make the freephone telephone number available to them, and we will pay them as soon as possible, but certainly within 12 weeks.
I welcome the fact that the Minister took action to make sure that the wrong was righted for those people who would otherwise not have had this payment from 2011 to 2014. I congratulate her on that. However, the real concern is that there were warnings from 2013 onwards, both from her staff in the Department and from agencies dealing with these people. She says that the Department found this out, but it took a long time to act. Many people have still lost out on passported benefits, some easy to calculate, like free school meals. Will she, in the light of the recommendations in our report, look closely at the impact of the passported benefits that were lost and consider a compensation scheme?
I thank the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Of course, the whole Department will take her report very seriously. The Secretary of State herself wanted to be here today, but she is making a very important speech elsewhere. That is the only reason she is not here herself to really underline the importance of what we are doing in the Department.
The hon. Lady raises a very good point about what more we can do to support frontline staff in the DWP who spot something wrong or feel uncomfortable with something that is happening—perhaps an unintended consequence—and to escalate their concerns so that they are heard by managers and those right at the top of the organisation. As a result of the work that the Secretary of State has been doing since she has been at the Department, with our new permanent secretary, new structures have been put in place to ensure that that escalation of concerns is appropriately considered across operations, policy and legal, and that appropriate action is taken. I believe that that action will prevent this from happening again.
I welcome the Minister’s answers and the fact that £40 million has been paid out so far. She rightly highlighted the fact that claimants will get a free phone number to contact. Obviously, people listening may have concerns about what their own position might be. Will she update me as to whether she will be working with local advice agencies, such as Citizens Advice, and ensuring that they have information so, if people contact them, they too will be able to give out advice?
My hon. Friend makes such an important point. I work very closely with a range of stakeholders, including the absolutely outstanding citizens advice bureaux. We will ensure, as we do in all the work we do, that they are fully updated so that they can give their customers good advice. I say to everyone in the House and to everyone listening that if people are struggling to make ends meet or are uncertain about what benefits they might be entitled to, they should go to Jobcentre Plus. There they will be greeted by compassionate, well-informed members of staff who will want to help them.
As a former shadow Minister with responsibility for disability rights—a very long time ago—I have a keen interest in this, and, as chairman of the Westminster Commission on Autism, a contemporary one. In my time, I have seen a lot of mistakes in this kind of area. The secret is to come to the House, to apologise fulsomely and to put it right. The numbers she mentioned mean a lot of people in every constituency. Will she ensure that she does something fast to compensate them, and to help Members of Parliament, who with Windrush and this issue have an even greater workload in helping their constituents?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his vital contribution. His work on autism, along with colleagues across the House, is really important. I always welcome opportunities to meet the cross-party group and I seriously consider all its reports. As soon as we identified the problem and how to sort it out, we were very open, coming to the House and updating it regularly, so that we can sort the problem out as soon as possible and provide Members with the information they need. I am first and foremost a constituency MP and I hold my weekly advice surgeries, so I know MPs’ vital role in supporting people through the benefits journey in our country.
My hon. Friend is a diligent Minister and I welcome the steps that she has taken to ensure that this is put right, but will she confirm for the House that internal learning has taken place and that future processes will be improved as a result?
Yes, I can give that assurance. The permanent secretary has been scrutinised and questioned by the Public Accounts Committee. He has made all sorts of commitments to improve the internal processes of the DWP, and, as I outlined in a previous answer, those processes are up and running. This summer I will visit the operating centre that is undertaking this administrative exercise, and I will be reinforcing to the staff on the frontline not only the importance of their work but how important it is to speak up and speak out if they experience any problems. I will be listening.
I thank the shadow disability Minister for bringing the urgent question to the House. The Minister will know that the fact that at least £390 million is owed to tens of thousands of sick and disabled people—the most vulnerable people—is a shocking revelation. I have two questions. First, will the Minister give an estimate of how long it will take for the people affected to receive the money that they are owed? Secondly, with respect, apparently the DWP learned about this 12 months ago but it is only the media that has brought it out into the open. How does the Minister respond to that?
It was not the media that brought this out into the open; there was a written ministerial statement to this House. We have been acting at speed to make sure that we identify people we have underpaid, and we have already started to make payments. In the original statement, we said that we hoped to complete the exercise within the year, which takes us up to next spring. We are absolutely working as fast as we can to make these payments.
The Minister has again been brought to the Chamber by an urgent question, not to make a statement herself. I want to mention that the 100th anniversary is coming up of when George Lansbury and the Poplar councillors went to prison because they refused to cut benefits for the poor and the disabled. Does the Minister feel ashamed that she has had to come here today to explain the culture of indifference in her Department, and what is she personally going to do about it so that the poor and the disadvantaged in our communities do not suffer any more under this Government?
I gently remind the hon. Lady that we made a written statement yesterday—the third statement we have made—and that we have been open with the House and will continue to be open with the House because this is a matter of such importance to us. I also respectfully point out that she should look at the facts. Each year, we are spending more money supporting disabled people and people with health conditions, and the benefits that support them increase each year. They are not subject to cuts; the rates are increasing each year.
The all-party group on disability has heard that 28% of those in poverty are disabled, while a further 20% of people in poverty live in a household with a disabled person. Shamefully, nearly half of the poverty in the UK is therefore associated with disability. Does the Minister agree that significant errors of this gravity perpetuate this poverty, and that there must be compensation for the most vulnerable who have been affected?
Let me absolutely clear: I do not want anyone in our country to be living in poverty. Nobody on the Conservative Benches wants to see anyone living in poverty, which is why we have put so much effort since 2010 into lifting people out of poverty, including people with disabilities. We have been increasing benefits each and every year, and we will continue to do so. We are also increasing the amount of support for disabled people and those with health conditions who tell us they would very much like to work.
I, too, thank the shadow Minister for bringing this urgent question to the House, and the Minister for a very comprehensive response and for righting the wrong. Well done, Minister. With some 70,000-plus people who have transferred to ESA from another benefit not being paid the full amount of ESA, does the Minister have any idea at this stage of the number of those in Northern Ireland who have been underpaid, and who is looking after the Northern Ireland applicants who are seeking reimbursements?
Every person who deserves their payment will be treated fairly and equally—I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman of that—but I will write to him with specific details about people in Northern Ireland.
The DWP—not the staff—is quick to point out and to recover overpayments, but it takes rather longer to correct underpayments. That has taken six years in this case, and underpayments are at the highest estimated level to date. What actions will the Government take to put that right and, more importantly, to make sure that it does not happen again?
I have repeatedly said that we are very sorry that this happened in the first place, and that we are doing everything possible to rectify the system—not just in this particular case, but to learn across all our benefits. Of course we take underpayments very seriously, and we have a well-resourced team that is taking up that issue.
The arrears being paid to people may be quite considerable in some cases. Will the Minister confirm to the House that these will be disregarded for their current benefit entitlement, because people should not lose out now for mistakes that the Department made previously?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I am more than happy to put it beyond any doubt for people who are receiving payments for these underpayments that those payments will be disregarded for the purposes of other benefits.
Rather than waiting for this failing Department to contact my constituents about any underpayments, how can MPs make proactive inquiries on their behalf? Is the Minister aware that despite the MPs’ helpline for universal credit, some DWP offices are hiding behind general data protection regulation and saying that they cannot deal with verbal inquiries? Will she ensure that the MPs’ helpline does what it says on the tin?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and as a constituency MP I understand the important role that we all have to play. I will ensure that he is able to raise constituency cases effectively and swiftly, and if he experiences any specific problems, he should please contact me so that I can rectify them.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 23 July—General debate on strengthening the Union.
Tuesday 24 July—Debate on a motion relating to the Third Report Of Session 2017-19 from the Committee On Standards, followed by a general debate on matters to be considered before the forthcoming adjournment.
The business for the week commencing 3 September will include:
Monday 3 September—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 4 September—Second Reading of the Civil Liability Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Tenant Fees Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Voyeurism (Offences) (No.2) Bill.
Thursday 6 September—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 7 September—The House will not be sitting.
I am also pleased to announce that there will be a debate on proxy voting in the second week of the September sitting.
As we head off for a much needed summer break, may I take this opportunity to wish Members across the House a peaceful and enjoyable few weeks, spending time with their constituents as well as with their families? Most importantly, I sincerely thank all our hard-working parliamentary and constituency staff, and the dedicated House staff, including the Clerks, Doorkeepers, catering staff, security, and all those who do so much to support our work. I wish them all a very restful and sunny recess.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business, and for the debate on proxy voting, although I still feel that that could have been held next week, rather than waiting until September.
I am not sure why the Opposition half-day debate was taken from us last week when business seems so light for next week. There is no specific debate on Monday, other than on strengthening the Union. I am hoping that that will be expanded to cover all unions—the European Union, for example, or even trade unions—but I am pleased that the Government have found something for us to discuss next week.
The list of ministerial responsibilities has been published for June 2018. My parliamentary assistant has been very assiduous in marking up the list—the green colour represents the leavers, and yellow represents the remainers. As there seems to be lots of movement, will the Leader of the House ensure an updated June 2018 list of ministerial responsibilities before the House rises?
On restoration and renewal, the Shadow Sponsor Body has now been set up and we have a Chair. Sadly, however, the lovely Members in the other place outnumber Members in this place on the body, and I hope that when the legislation comes forward that will be rectified. Will the Leader of the House say whether there have been any draft instructions to consult, and when the legislation will come before the House?
Later, as the right hon. Lady has said, there will be a debate on the independent complaints grievance delivery report, and I congratulate everyone who took part in that report. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, will be responding. That is appropriate, given that she was at the first meeting in Downing Street, and led for the Opposition on the delivery review. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) who has used her great expertise as a trade unionist to enhance the quality of the discussion and report. I also add my thanks to all the staff, some of whom had to carry out their own jobs alongside working on this report. I thank all the experts and Members who have been involved and served on both review bodies.
I particularly want to thank the Leader of the House, and acknowledge her determination and commitment to seeing this through. It has not gone unnoticed that there will now be a workable solution. The culture in this place will change.
I am so pleased that the Prime Minister listens to business questions. Today, she is visiting the border. But it is quite confusing, isn’t it? There was an agreement. Then there was a White Paper, over which two Cabinet Ministers resigned because they did not like it. The Prime Minister has now agreed to the amendments, so it is not clear where that leaves the White Paper. If it is the same White Paper, why did the two Cabinet Ministers resign? Should we not have a second White Paper, the miserable Brexit plan mark II? What about the other White Paper on the withdrawal agreement, which was due to be published on 18 July? The Vote Office confirmed that the Government have cancelled it. When will it be published?
Will the Leader of the House look again the bizarre situation of the Government not voting against Opposition motions? We have got to the stage where we have an oral statement in certain situations, but yesterday two very important statements, on social care and school funding, were put out in written form. It is not right that we cannot hold the Government to account on those two most important matters. Will the right hon. Lady please review the situation? If the Government do not like the motions, they should vote against them.
The School Teachers’ Review Body report is usually published before the end of recess. Will the Leader of the House say when it will be published? Schools are already setting their budgets. They want to know whether they will be responsible for lifting the pay cap. They are already struggling with the funding formula, so I hope they will not be responsible for lifting it and that the money will come from central Government. May we therefore have a statement on the matter from the Secretary of State for Education?
Mr Speaker, I want to add my thanks to you and your office for their unfailing courtesy; the Deputy Speakers; the Clerk of the House for his judgments; the House staff; the Serjeant at Arms and his office; Phil and the Doorkeepers; Hansard; the House of Commons Library on its 200th anniversary for its fantastic independent advice, which has integrity running all through it; the police and the security; the cooks and the cleaners; and everyone who keeps this place in working order. I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and everyone in the Opposition Whips Office for all their hard work behind the scenes, and of course everyone in my office.
Yesterday was Nelson Mandela Day. The Nelson Mandela Foundation is dedicating this year to fighting poverty, honouring Nelson Mandela’s leadership on and devotion to fighting poverty and promoting social justice for all. He said:
“It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”
I wish everyone a peaceful recess.
I thank the hon. Lady for her very warm words about Nelson Mandela. She is exactly right to pay tribute to him. He did so much in the whole area of truth and reconciliation, and on the importance of peace instead of continuing to wage war against each other. He was so right and he will always be remembered for that.
The hon. Lady mentions Monday’s debate on strengthening the Union. There was some discussion yesterday about having the proxy voting debate on Monday. I genuinely feel that it is important we have that debate, so that issues can be raised: potential unintended consequences, and the very key points about when a proxy vote should be used and who it should be used by. I am very keen that all Members get the chance to do that and I am aware that many Members would not be here to take part in the debate if it were on Monday. I hope she accepts that. I will be bringing it forward as soon as possible.
I will look into ministerial responsibilities. I think the hon. Lady means for July 2018, not June 2018.
The hon. Lady also had a question about the Shadow Sponsor Body. We discussed this at House Commission. We are delighted that we do now have the Shadow Sponsor Body in place for the restoration and renewal of the Palace. It is of course right that there are four Lords Members of the Shadow Sponsor Body to only three Commons Members. As she will be aware, it was agreed that the Commons Commission would write to the Lords Commission suggesting that when the body is set up in statute that will be reviewed. She asks when the legislation will come forward. I can tell her that it has been agreed that we will bring forward a draft Bill, through joint scrutiny by both Houses, in the autumn. It is in draft form already. I have been working on it very carefully with the parliamentary counsel over the past few weeks.
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and all those, including the shadow Leader of the House, who have worked so hard on this new complaints procedure. Today, Parliament can be proud; we are tackling our challenges and shortcomings and we want to be leading the world in treating everyone with dignity and respect. Following the debate later today, we will be turning to a new chapter, and I look forward to that.
The hon. Lady asks about the White Paper on the withdrawal agreement, and she will know that that will come forward in due course. We are not quite at the point of the withdrawal arrangements being finalised. It was very important that the Prime Minister’s White Paper following the Chequers agreement was brought forward. My views on that are on the record: I believe that it continues to uphold the will of the people.
The hon. Lady asks about voting on Opposition day motions. As I have made clear, we will continue to support the Standing Orders for Opposition days, and when the House does not divide and a motion is passed, the Government will come forward with very specific actions to be taken as a result of a motion passed by this House.
I, too, thank everyone who makes this Parliament work, and that relates to the question I would like to put to the Leader of the House. This House relies much on tradition and trust, and a number of things have happened recently that have disturbed me. I was quite ill when we were voting on the EU withdrawal Bill, and there were a lot of votes. I came in to vote and after a number of votes, the Labour Whips agreed to nod me through. That courtesy should be extended to everyone, and I do not think that happened recently. I am very concerned to hear that a pairing was broken, and I am very concerned that we tried to end Parliament two days early, which I think was for party political reasons. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House when we come back, or early next week, on this place and the fact that we must uphold the rights of this House and not hide behind small print because, otherwise, this place will not work?
My hon. Friend is of course right to raise any concerns that he has, and I will always be happy to discuss them with him. As I said yesterday in the urgent question, a pair was broken. People were extremely apologetic. It was an error. In addition, I set out again that I absolutely uphold the rights and conventions of this House at all times, and will always continue to do so.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Usually, when I get on my feet on a Thursday morning, I gently chide the Leader of the House about the performance of her Government this week. There might be the occasional rhetorical flourish, an over-emphasis here and there perhaps, or even a bit of exaggeration to help to fully describe the current predicament. This week, that is not necessary, because there simply is not a sufficient range of adjectives to adequately describe this dysfunctional Government, the current state of their Brexit disaster and their chaotic stewardship of prosecuting this mad enterprise. The chance of a no deal Brexit has apparently been raised from “possible” to “likely”. Let us remember what that means: endless queues at our ports, shops running out of food and hospitals without medicines. May we have an urgent and timely debate when we get back about what all this mad no deal Brexit actually means?
We are coming back next week, and I think we are all delighted about that. I do not know what the Leader of the House was thinking about by trying to adjourn this place five days early and how she thought for a minute that she would get away with it, given that, effectively, we have a leaderless country and an unprecedented crisis. Apparently, we cannot plan our recess to accommodate school holidays throughout the United Kingdom, but we can go into an early recess to help a beleaguered Prime Minister. We will be back to debate strengthening the Union—I presume that it is our Union, and not the associated union of beekeepers. Let us hope that the Leader of the House might clarify that.
After all these pious apologies yesterday about the breaking of pairing arrangements with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), there are stories in the press today that the Chief Whip told three Tory MPs to break their whipping arrangements. Will there now be a full inquiry into what exactly happened? I am just so pleased that the Scottish National party have absolutely nothing to do with this broken whipping arrangement.
There are all sorts of rumours today about the date of the Budget. Will the Leader of the House give us some clarification? Will it be September; will it be November; or will it be at the end of the year?
Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House—all those who work in the place and make it easier for us all to do our jobs as Members of Parliament—a good holiday. I say to you all, “Enjoy it, because this will be the last year in which you will be in the European Union. Next year you will be classed as a ‘European other’, with all the travel misery that that is likely to bring as you go off to the costas and playas.”
Well, Mr Speaker, I rather like bees myself. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the very important debate on Monday, which will indeed be about strengthening the Union of the four nations of the United Kingdom. I look forward very much to seeing all his colleagues in the Chamber as we discuss the means by which we can keep the United Kingdom together—stronger and better together.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the motion calling for an early recess. I can tell him that the idea was suggested by representatives of a number of political parties. It was discussed in the usual channels, and the Government decided to put it to the House so that the House could decide. On Tuesday, it became clear that there was no desire to do that, which was fine, and which is why the motion was not moved. This was about trying to listen to the views of the House.
I am very much looking forward to next week. We have some important business to get through—questions to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and some interesting debates in Westminster Hall on, for instance, the remit of the Office for Budget Responsibility and nuclear investment—and, of course, we all look forward sincerely to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who for once is not present for business questions, but who is one of the stalwarts of the pre-recess Adjournment debate.
I know that you are aware that I go on about local government, Mr Speaker, but I should like to have another go at it now. We are going through a transformation at the moment. Nearly 100 members of staff of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council have applied for redundancy, and we are in trouble when it comes to actually manning the councils. Local government is under enormous pressure, so please may we have a debate in Government time on where we are going with local government in the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend often raises local government in his constituency. No doubt he is pleased to learn that oral questions to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will take place on Monday, when he will be able to raise the issue directly with Ministers.
I can tell the House that I have some devoted friends who are keen apiarists. We should not mock the beekeepers.
Blessed are the beekeepers. [Laughter.]
Just in case Back Benchers are wondering why the Backbench Business Committee has not given them time for a debate on 6 September, as the Leader of the House suggested, it is because on 6 September the business will be agreed by the Backbench Business Committee but determined by the Liaison Committee, so the debate is not in our gift.
I note that in the future business section of the Order Paper—I have written to the Leader of the House about this—the business in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 4 September, the day on which we return from the recess, is still shown as scheduled to begin at 9.30 am. That seems incongruous, and I hope it can be fixed. Members have to make travel arrangements before then.
I am looking to my officials, but I believe we have changed that. I believe the motion went through yesterday, but I shall have to check. I was pleased to try and help out, and if those times have not yet been changed, they certainly will be.
I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman: we all love bees. They play a very important part, and I think that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) should repent of his slightly anti-bee approach.
He must beehive himself.
He certainly must beehive himself, at all times.
Let me say again to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) that I look forward to visiting the great exhibition of the north. I think that he will have received my letter informing him that I shall be in his constituency next week and that I look forward to it very much.
The Leader of the House will be pleased to know that she is right: the list of future business publicly declared has not yet caught up with reality, as both the advice of the Clerks and the enthusiastic nodding of the officials’ heads alike testify.
A few weeks ago, the Government announced that they were likely over the summer to consult on changes to the planning process for shale gas and fracking. There is a shale gas application in my constituency, and this is of concern to a number of residents in my part of the world. Will the Minister consider giving Government time for a debate on shale gas and, in particular, proposed changes to permitted development rights?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and I am well aware that very often constituents have concerns. As an ex-Energy Minister, I can tell him that I am very supportive both of the concept of shale gas exploration and shale gas as a future source of revenue and energy security for this country and, importantly, of a very robust regulatory environment for shale gas. As he will know, the Government support shale gas exploration, and we are launching two consultations: one on the principle of including shale gas projects in the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime and the other on permitted development rights. We look forward to many stakeholders contributing to those consultations to ensure that planning decisions are fast but fair to all.
Listening to the Leader of the House this morning and looking back at the record for yesterday, twice now she has told this place that what happened with the breach of pairing arrangements was a result of administrative error. If the report in The Times newspaper is to be believed, it was a result not of accident, but of design. So when she returns to the Dispatch Box, I hope that she will choose her words carefully, because she may have been set up to mislead, however inadvertently, the House, which would be serious. [Interruption.] Before Government Members heckle, I will say that some silence and humility might be required, because the idea that pregnant women and new mothers will be cheated out of their vote and representation to save the skin of this shambolic Government is an absolute disgrace and an affront to the House.
To add insult to injury, we now have to wait until September for a debate—a debate—on what should be a sensible arrangement for proxy voting, so will the Leader of the House at least come to the Dispatch Box to confirm that when we debate proxy voting in September, it will be on a motion, because actions will speak louder than words and the Government have shown through their behaviour this week that acting according to courtesies and conventions is not enough because this Government, with their shambolic record, cannot be trusted?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
There is no point of order now.
The words of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) stand for themselves; it is absolutely abhorrent for him to be calling me out in particular when I came to the Dispatch Box yesterday with exactly the regret and sorrow he is now falsely calling for. It is a deep regret to me that that breaking of the pair happened in error. I assured the House yesterday that it was an error that the Chief Whip and the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), had both apologised for.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there were three pairs on Tuesday. I myself was one of them; I did not receive any call from anyone telling me to vote. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that, because he is calling me something that is not acceptable parliamentary language. I have made absolutely clear my personal commitment to resolving this issue so that new parents can spend time with their new babies uninterrupted. What happened was an error that has been copiously and profusely apologised for, and the hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself.
Order. There are strong feelings on this matter, and I have heard very clearly what the Leader of the House has said by way of her account. I know that she will not, however, cavil, or argue with me, when I say that I am the arbiter of what is parliamentary language, and no unparliamentary language has been used; I am clear about that and the Clerk is very clear about that. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) has obviously irritated the right hon. Lady, but he used the word “inadvertently”. There is no breach of order; nothing disorderly whatsoever has happened. We do need to be clear about that.
My right hon. Friend will know from her own constituency experience the problems that people affected by HS2 have in selling their property and not getting a quick resolution. There is no good resolution to this, and that applies even more to my constituents who are affected by the roadworks on the M6 and cannot get anyone to buy their property, the value of which has fallen precipitately as a result of the disturbance. When people are forced into a situation of being unable to sell their properties because Government action—whether in relation to road, rail, airports or anything else—causes the value of the property to plummet, can we ensure that there is justice for them and that they can sell their property at market value or get the appropriate compensation?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about compensation for those affected by Government projects. I encourage him to talk to the HS2 mitigation and compensation forum that I established—back in 2011, I believe—which takes forward particular issues for constituents who are seeking proper compensation for such problems, particularly with regard to selling their homes.
Under new data protection rules, subject access requests to GP practices and NHS services can no longer be charged for. I have received a deputation from GP surgeries in my constituency saying that this is already causing undue cost to them. May we have a statement, either from the Department of Health and Social Care or from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to explain how they might be able to help with this probably inadvertent issue, because it is costing NHS services money that they can hardly afford?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important issue. I do not have the answer right here, but I encourage him to attend Health and Social Care questions on Tuesday, because I am sure that this will be something that Ministers will be keen to try to address.
Official figures show that house building is booming in Erewash, with the number of completed homes up by 75% and the number of homes under construction up by 70% on the previous year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a vindication of the Government’s housing policy and that it is good news not only for those in the construction industry in Erewash but for those who aspire to own their own homes? Will she grant Government time to debate the benefits to the economy and to the wellbeing of our constituents of building more homes?
I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend on the success in building new homes in Erewash. The Government are absolutely clear that fixing the broken housing market is a top domestic priority for us. Housing needs to be more affordable, and we want people to have the security of a home of their own, which means building many more of the right homes in the right places. We have set out an ambition to deliver 300,000 homes a year on average by the middle of the next decade, and we have an ambitious package of reform to support that.
Mr Speaker, you very kindly granted me an urgent question yesterday in relation to the breach of the pair involving my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) on Tuesday night. You might recall that I indicated during that urgent question that I had received an apology from the Government Chief Whip, which of course I accepted, but that I did not quite understand how things had come to pass in this way. I indicated also that I would pursue the matter with the Government Chief Whip. I have to tell you and the House that, subsequent to the urgent question, I met the Government Chief Whip and that he offered me a fuller explanation, which I have considered very carefully overnight. Regrettably, I have to say that I still do not understand how this highly regrettable state of affairs came to pass, so today I have a somewhat novel request for the Leader of the House, which is that the Government Chief Whip should come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement himself.
I have been here long enough to know the conventions, Mr Speaker, and I know that the convention is that the Government Chief Whip does not speak in the House, but conventions are exactly that. Ours is a system of checks and balances, and if we take out a check we have to adjust a balance. What happened on Tuesday night did serious damage to the pairing system on which we have all relied over the years, and for that reason I suggest that it is necessary to re-establish the basis of trust and the confidence that agreements will be honoured that we should have this most novel departure. This is not a suggestion that I make lightly, but I hope that the Leader of the House will take it seriously and that this is something that we will see happen.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his measured words, and I am glad that he met the Chief Whip. As I made clear yesterday, I have been absolutely assured that it was an administrative error. I sought to explain to the House that pairing often involves an absence of an hour or two, so the administrative complexity of managing temporary pairings during the course of a day is significant. I also stated that, by virtue of my conversations with my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), it was absolutely clear to me that he was totally unaware that he was paired with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). I texted the hon. Lady to make it clear that I will continue to ensure that her maternity pair is in place and I reassure the House that that is the case. I apologise again for the error and assure the House that it did not change the result, but I will redouble my efforts to ensure that the pairing system remains in place.
Like me, many in the House will be suffering from football withdrawal symptoms now that the World cup is over, but they need not worry for long, for as I speak the qualifying rounds of the Europa league and Champions league are under way. While smaller teams, such as Hibs and a couple called Celtic and Rangers, are already engaged, one week today sees the battle of Britain game between Burnley and the mighty and, some might say, famous Aberdeen take place at Pittodrie, with the Dons trying to win their first silverware since 1983. In wishing all those teams, but especially Aberdeen, all the best over the next few weeks as they try to qualify for Europe, will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the importance of our national game to local communities and our economy?
I am so glad that my hon. Friend has raised the matter of football again, because we have not talked about it much recently, have we? We would all welcome many more debates on football as our England team no doubt makes their way up the world rankings once more. I hope that the game between Aberdeen and Burnley next week will be a cracking match to watch, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising such an important subject.
I have also been in the House for quite a long time, and I must tell the Leader of the House, for whom I have great respect, that Tuesday’s events were cataclysmic for this House’s reputation. We are supposed to be the mother of Parliaments, but my constituents think that there was skulduggery on Tuesday night. They do not get messages or texts from the Leader of the House; they read in the newspapers that something dodgy went on and they say, “Why can’t it get put right? Why couldn’t you have another vote?” This goes to the heart of the reputation of this House. It was one of the most important votes in the history of this House, yet something strange went on that was the responsibility not of the Leader of the House, but of the Whips. I say in all earnestness that things must be put right, and I associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) who thinks that the Chief Whip should come to the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Gentleman who, as he says, has been in this place for a long time knows that there is collective responsibility and that the Leader of the House speaks for the Government, and I have apologised for something that should not have happened. I have been clear about my personal regard for the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and that I would not under any circumstances condone anything that would be seen as deliberately breaking a pair. I have been assured that such a thing did not happen and that it was a mistake.
Blackrod Primary School in my constituency has recently been awarded the prestigious Artsmark platinum award. This Government have the right idea in supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our schools, but can we have a debate on upgrading STEM to STEAM to fully appreciate arts, culture and creativity?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Blackrod Primary School in his constituency on earning that fantastic award. The Government want all children to have a broad and balanced curriculum, and the creative arts play an important role. We are investing nearly £500 million of funding from 2016 to 2020 for a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes that are designed to improve arts provision for all children.
NHS Property Services has been required to dispose of the Bootham Park Hospital site. The city urgently needs capacity for new health services, yet developers want to move on to the site to build luxury apartments—we have far too many of those. Can we have a debate about public interest in the disposure of public sites?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. Having been to her constituency, I know it is very beautiful and I totally understand that there is a lack of space for things like a new hospital. I encourage her to raise the matter with Ministers at Health questions next Tuesday by asking what they can do to try to help to protect that space.
Four weeks ago, Bishop James Jones published a report on the Gosport War Memorial Hospital showing that at least 560 elderly patients had inadvertently died as a result of opiate transfusions. I put it in layman’s terms by saying that at least 560 people were killed.
I immediately wrote to the Prime Minister asking that the relatives get the justice they deserve and that the Government implement a criminal inquiry. The term for the Prime Minister to respond to an MP is 20 days, and I still have not heard. Tomorrow is the 20th day. If I do not hear back from the Prime Minister about getting a public inquiry, will the Leader of the House allow a debate in the Chamber on this incredibly important issue?
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s grave concern about those reported deaths due to opiates. He raises an important issue, and I recommend that he seeks a BackBench Business debate so that all Members will be able to share their concerns and the experiences in their constituencies.
Homebuyers in Woodsend in my constituency have suffered shoddy building work and very poor customer service from Persimmon, which informed them that it is not its policy “to deal with MPs” when I tried to intervene to help my constituents. May we have a debate on the recommendation of the all-party parliamentary group on excellence in the built environment for a mandatory ombudsman scheme for house builders?
The hon. Lady will have heard that roar of approval for her suggestion. All hon. Members are concerned about house building standards, and it is vital that house builders take seriously the need to provide quality products to those who, let us face it, often struggle to afford them. I recommend that she seeks a BackBench Business debate, because I think there would be cross-party support for raising these important matters.
Wales was due to get £2 billion of EU structural funds between 2014 and 2020, and those funds are to be replaced by the hitherto mythical shared prosperity fund. Forward-looking organisations are now thinking about their planning cycle post 2020, but they are hampered by the lack of any detail. Can we have an early debate on the shared prosperity fund, hopefully preceded by some detail as to its operation?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of the shared prosperity fund, and I sincerely recommend that he raises it in Monday’s debate on strengthening the United Kingdom. He will, of course, be aware that there has been significant investment in the city deals and growth deals in Wales. Nevertheless, he raises an important point that I encourage him to raise with Ministers on Monday.
We are approaching the school holidays, when many children will lose the important contribution that a free school meal makes to their overall sense of wellbeing. Will the right hon. Lady therefore make time for a debate early next week on how the Government can help plug that gap and better support provision to tackle holiday hunger?
The hon. Lady raises a matter of great concern to Members right across the House: many children suffering nutritionally during the school holidays. I know of a couple of schools in my constituency whose headteachers worry about that, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue. She might seek an Adjournment debate, if Mr Speaker were happy to grant one, so that she could raise the issue directly with Ministers.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for confirming which Union will be discussed in the debate on Monday—it is just as well it is not a debate on the Conservative and Unionist party being strengthened! I notice that almost all the business for the first week back is likely to be subject to the EVEL—English votes for English laws—procedure, so it is ironic that it comes on the back of a debate on strengthening the Union. Is it not time that we at least had a little balance in how the business is presented? Indeed, is it not time we simply got rid of the EVEL procedure altogether?
I am a fan of the EVEL procedure. The issue of devolved Administrations and the very many powers that have rightly been devolved to the individual nations of the UK means there is the important need for issues affecting only England or only England and Wales to be voted on by those relevant Members and not by all Members of this House. That is an equal and fair approach to what has been a very beneficial devolution settlement right across the UK.
May I ask the Leader of the House whether the Government still intend to publish a draft law of property Bill, which was announced in 2016? It is of particular relevance to the residents of Llandevaud, who next week will see their communal common come to auction because someone has bought up an old manorial title.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting and particular question, and I genuinely do not know the answer to it. [Laughter.] There are lots of things I do know the answer to, but that is not one of them. If she would like to write to me, I can take it up with the relevant Department or of course Ministers will provide her directly with the answer.
My constituent Lisa Conway recently experienced a burglary at her home. The police ascertained that access was gained to the property by using force to prise open a window. However, her insurance company, Policy Expert, refused to help because it said “forcible and violent” entry was not used to access her property. So may we have a debate on how we can stop companies such as Policy Expert exploiting our constituents through ridiculous legalese in these insurance policies?
First, let me say that I am really sorry to hear about that break-in. Having a home broken into is traumatising for families, and being treated in that way is just appalling. I certainly encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise the particular concerns about that insurance company directly with Ministers.
The Assam state government in India has asked everyone to prove that they were in the country before 1971. Many of those who came to India without any paperwork are unable to do so. If residents cannot prove this before 30 July they will be declared illegal immigrants. Millions of residents do not have this proof because they had never needed it before. The very serious concern is that, as was the case with the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, this could lead to millions of impoverished Muslims being stripped of their citizenship and deported—or even worse. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this pressing issue?
This is a very serious issue and, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, it could have urgent and serious ramifications. I encourage him to take it up with Ministers directly in the short period before recess, so that he can find out exactly what they are able to do to help.
The Safe Anchor Trust is a charity in my constituency that does wonderful work with people who are disadvantaged through social isolation, age, deprivation and physical or mental disabilities. I have seen at first hand the incredible work the trust does, and I am sure that the Leader of the House would be very welcome were she to take one of its wonderful boat trips. The trust is entirely reliant on volunteers and donations to survive. May we have a debate on how we can support such groups, which are such an asset in our communities?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating that charity on the amazing work that it does. There are so many voluntary organisations and community-based societies that do so much for us all. I encourage her to seek a BackBench Business debate so that she and other Members can share the excellent examples in their own constituencies.
Can we have a debate or statement on the work of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the annual report and accounts of which are published today? The latest figures I have seen have shown a huge increase in the number of potential victims of forced labour: from 2016 to 2017 it rose by some 47%. This is the UK in 2018, and we have huge numbers of people in forced work. It is unacceptable and we need to speak about and debate it much more than we do.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is appalling that in this day and age there continues to be so much forced labour. I am sure he recognises that in her previous role the Prime Minister did everything that she could, including introducing the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to try to stamp out this absolutely appalling treatment of human beings. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
We now know from the findings of the Electoral Commission that the Brexit result may have been bought and sold with dark money and gold by a sick parcel of rogues in these nations. Regardless of whether we debated or voted to remain or to leave, it is now being treated as a serious criminal matter, so may we have a debate in this place, as soon as possible after recess, about the validity, legitimacy and, indeed, legality of upholding the EU referendum result?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Electoral Commission is an independent organisation that has made its findings and referred the matter to the police for a criminal investigation, and it is not the policy of this House to comment on ongoing criminal investigations. I have no doubt that there will be many opportunities to raise the issue over the forthcoming weeks.
Last week, I visited the Endeavour unit at Parc prison in my constituency. It is a specialist unit set up for ex-serving military personnel and looks to use their experience to deal with reoffending. May we have a debate on Parliament’s and the Government’s ongoing responsibility to ex-serving personnel, and how we can utilise their capabilities, perhaps in reserve units?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the importance that we place on making sure that those who have served us in our armed forces have meaningful and useful jobs and lives when they leave the forces. I am delighted to hear about the work that is being done in her constituency to help them to help others to get off the offending route. The hon. Lady is right that we should do everything that we possibly can. She will be aware that the Government introduced and put into law the military covenant, to make sure that we support our armed forces as far as possible. I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that we can talk about what more we can do to support the wonderful people who have given so much to our country.
Last December, I launched the much-needed campaign for Lucy’s law, to ban third-party puppy sales in pet shops and to outlaw vile puppy farming. Since then, almost 100 Members from all parties have backed my early-day motion 695.
[That this House calls for the immediate ban on the sale of puppies by pet shops and other third-party commercial dealers; recognises that implementing Lucy’s Law will be a major step forward in putting an end to unnecessary animal cruelty and helping to eradicate forms of irresponsible dog breeding and selling, such as puppy farming, smuggling and trafficking; notes that irresponsible breeding practices, such as puppy farms, are enabled and even encouraged by the third-party trade in puppies that are sold away from their mothers and place of birth in locations such as pet shops; and acknowledges that Lucy’s Law will help to protect breeding dogs and puppies by making all breeders accountable and transparent, ensuring consistency with the Government’s advice that purchasers should see puppies interacting with their mother in the place that they were born.]
There was consensus in the Chamber after our debate on the related e-petition, so may we have a statement on the introduction of legislation? It is much needed to protect puppies from odious puppy farmers who seek to undermine their and their mothers’ welfare.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that this is an incredibly important issue. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department was looking carefully at the matter, and we brought in new laws on licensing. There is also a knock-on impact for those who purchase the puppies and take them into their lives when they have been deeply damaged and traumatised early in their life. The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can talk to DEFRA Ministers directly about what more can be done.
For her summer reading, I offer the Leader of the House a copy of the newly published report of the all-party group on home electrical safety titled “Electrical products: setting the course for safety”. We are all acutely aware of the importance of protecting our constituents from fires caused by domestic appliances. When the House returns, may we have a debate on a Government strategy to reduce fires caused by domestic appliances?
That sounds like a very sparky report—[Interruption.] Sorry. Certainly, the hon. Lady is raising a very important issue. Household fires are devastating, as we saw in the tragic Grenfell disaster, and she is right to raise this very important issue. I sincerely hope that, come the autumn, she can at least seek a Back-Bench debate so that hon. Members can share their experiences.
A veterinary practice in my constituency has plugged the skills gap by employing an Australian vet on a youth mobility visa, but the problem is that the visa runs out in September. It is well known that there is a shortage of vets in the UK, but the cap on tier 2 visas is causing vets problems in getting visas so that they can continue working. May we have a statement about the merits of exempting vets from the cap altogether, and, more importantly, about how I can expedite a decision so that Jock Patterson can continue working in my constituency rather than being sent home to Australia?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue, as he often does, and he is right to do so. I suggest that he takes up that specific issue directly with Home Office Ministers or, if he wants to write to me, I can do so on his behalf.
The Leader of the House will know that the housing crisis blights communities across our United Kingdom. Will she find time for a debate on the pay, terms and conditions of the senior management of housing associations? Money should be put into building decent and affordable homes for all our constituents, not filling bosses’ pay packets. I want to know what the Government can do about this.
I call Alison Thewliss. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon; I call the Leader of the House.