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Commons Chamber

Volume 648: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2018

House of Commons

Wednesday 24 October 2018

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Care Placement of Young People

1. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the placement of young people from England in private sector care homes in Wales. (907183)

The Government are clear that the needs of the child are paramount when making decisions about the right care placement. The specific issue the hon. Lady refers to has not been raised with me directly by the Welsh Government.

More than 300 children from England are placed across Wales, often in small Welsh villages. Problems are experienced by some police forces and local authorities about early notification of vulnerable children being placed there who may be seduced into county lines, grooming operations and generally be vulnerable in isolation. Will the Secretary of State share my concern and raise it with the Welsh Assembly Government?

The hon. Lady clearly raises a very important point and is passionate about the subject. The most appropriate and suitable setting should always be the overriding factor in deciding the best placement for a child, but planning policy and approval from care inspectors should also be considerations, and, naturally, the police should be part of that process. I will happily raise the matter with the Welsh Government.

Does the Minister share my view that it is crucial that there are enough foster parents with the right skills in the right areas to care for children and meet their diverse needs? Would not a collaborative approach between local authorities be helpful in that respect?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The appropriate setting has to be the overriding factor at all stages, but, of course, not all local authorities can offer appropriate settings for some complex needs that different children will have. Co-operation between authorities is always helpful and it is something that we want to encourage.

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales police and crime commissioner has long warned that, post Brexit, criminals will use the common travel area to gain access to the UK. This warning has been reaffirmed today in a National Audit Office report. Will the Secretary of State tell me what provision he is making personally to protect Wales from becoming both the highway and the victim of international organised crime?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the question, but I am not sure where Brexit is linked with this. Clearly, there is freedom of movement across the European Union and the common travel area—those positions will still be in place, particularly in relation to the common travel area. I do not think that this is about where the children originate from, because, clearly, there are Welsh children being sited appropriately in England as well. We have to have as an overriding factor the most appropriate setting and it is important that the authorities co-operate wherever the regulations come from.

It is no secret that the Secretary of State does not speak as Wales’s voice in Westminster on Brexit. He has, in fact, poured scorn on the efforts of others who seek to make representations for Wales in Brussels. He may be aware that, together with other sensible Opposition leaders in this place, I am meeting Michel Barnier tomorrow, and I will do my duty to represent my country. Does he have any Wales-specific priorities that he would like me to raise with the EU Brexit negotiator-in-chief, or would that be against England’s interest?

The hon. Lady talks about meeting Michel Barnier tomorrow with other colleagues, but I hope that she will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister who is acting in the UK’s interest rather than in any local national interest.

Returning to the subject, what changes does my right hon. Friend propose in terms of inspection of care homes to ensure that children are safe in those care homes?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The social care innovation programme plans to change the laws in England so that local authorities have to promote the physical and mental health of looked-after children, and this would be a major step forward in this area of policy.

Leaving the EU: Aerospace Sector

2. What representations he has received from the aerospace sector in Wales on the priorities for that sector when negotiating the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. (907184)

The UK, and specifically Wales, is home to a world-class aerospace industry. I have regular meetings with the aerospace sector and met Airbus last month in north Wales as part of my engagement with the CBI. It is a top priority to continue to create and maintain the right conditions post Brexit for this growing international sector to thrive.

First, I welcome the Minister to her post. In June, Airbus said that a no-deal Brexit would severely undermine

“UK efforts to keep a competitive and innovative aerospace industry.”

It concluded that it would be “catastrophic” to have a UK Brexit. Does the Minister agree?

As I have said, the aerospace sector in north Wales is absolutely vital. Airbus has been making those statements through conversations with those involved with the north Wales growth deal. I know, having met the hon. Gentleman last week, that a thriving sector, and the skills associated with it, are absolutely vital. The F-35 avionics global repair hub shows that this is a sector in which we are world-leading, and the UK Government in Wales will continue to support it.

My hon. Friend is quite right to mention the importance of the proposed north Wales growth deal to the aerospace industry in north Wales. Can she say when the Government are likely to make a substantive announcement about that deal?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing commitment to the north Wales growth deal, and for pushing for action and progress in this area. There are some very positive movements, and we hope to make real progress. We need a further update from the Welsh Government, and there will be key meetings later this week.

Airbus employs many of my constituents in Newport and Filton. Close collaboration between the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency is vital to this industry. What are the Government doing to safeguard that?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the jobs and opportunities around the avionics sector in Wales. We are aware of the benefits of collaboration, and seek that as part of the overall deal. It is something that Switzerland—a non-EU member—enjoys, and we will continue to look for it as part of our overall deal.

Airbus employs a number of constituents in Eddisbury. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to striking a deal that provides for frictionless trade in this sector?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting how important this sector is in her constituency. As an assiduous constituency Member, she raises the challenges ahead, but a good deal that works to support jobs in the supply chain is absolutely the primary focus of discussions, and a pragmatic, frictionless deal is what the Government are working for.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate Louise Magee, general secretary of Welsh Labour, and her partner Luke Holland, who have had a beautiful baby girl, Catherine Ivy, who is to be known as Kitty? Mother and baby are doing fine, and Luke is coping well, I understand.

I welcome the Minister to her place. The Welsh Government have pledged £3 million to support Airbus in preparing for Brexit. ADS, the national trade association that represents aerospace companies, has urged the Chancellor to ensure that there is enough financial liquidity for companies such as Airbus, which rely on just-in-time European supply chains. What are the Minister’s priorities for the Welsh aerospace sector?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As I have said in my previous answers, Wales has a deep-rooted, world-leading aerospace sector, and the Government understand that. There has been cross-Government engagement with all key stakeholders to support it. Frictionless trade and supporting the sector are absolutely vital, and we are ready to work and step up to that challenge.

That may well be, but the Government’s Brexit advice paper suggests that companies such as Airbus may move their headquarters to an EU member state in the event of no deal, which would be absolutely catastrophic for our Welsh economy. Does the Minister agree with her Prime Minister that no deal is better than a bad deal, as far as Wales is concerned?

The UK Government in Wales are not complacent about the challenges of all scenarios. They are working extremely hard to make sure that all the opportunities are there in any deal, and are working to make sure that the sector thrives. That is vital to the Secretary of State, and to the UK Government. We will continue to stand by the Prime Minister in getting that frictionless deal.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

3. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. (907186)

12. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. (907195)

13. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. (907196)

The UK’s exit from the European Union provides us with an opportunity to reconsider how funding for growth across the UK is designed and delivered. In our manifesto, we committed to engaging with the Welsh Government on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and that work is under way.

At the moment, the so-called opportunity of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund falls within the remit of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a Department wholly devolved to England. It therefore does not understand the needs of the devolved nations and is bound to put the needs of England before those of the devolved nations. Does the Secretary of State agree that the devolved nations should have control?

The answer is in the title—it is the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and, therefore, joint work is taking place across Government. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have shown a strong interest in it, as have my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Clearly, we are keen to work together.

The retention of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund at Westminster undermines the devolution of economic development. Does the Secretary of State not see that his Government’s refusal to give the fund to devolved Governments is yet another power grab?

I certainly do not accept the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s question in relation to a power grab, because the Welsh Government supported the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which demonstrates that his assertion does not stack up. On EU aid and how it has been spent in Wales, more than £4 billion has been spent over 17 years and west Wales and the valleys remains the poorest part of the United Kingdom. The development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a great opportunity to reshape something that suits local communities and businesses far better and more efficiently.

This is a shambles. Over a year ago, the Secretary of State boasted of an efficient and responsive UK Shared Prosperity Fund, but today he admits that the Government have not even started the consultation on it. With months to go before the Brexit catastrophe, what guarantees do we have that there will be any fund fit for purpose for Wales or the other nations of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman is highly selective in his references. He fails to recognise that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed to guarantee the funding for the existing programme until 2020. That gives us the opportunity to design a UK Shared Prosperity Fund with appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations, as well as with businesses and local authorities, and we are ready for immediate discussions before the consultation.

In the past, too much EU funding was wasted in Wales on low-impact projects that did not help to close the economic gap. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the prosperity fund will not just repeat the mistakes of the past, but will be used in high impact projects to renew the Welsh economy?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point and obviously speaks with experience. He will remember the £38 million Technium project that built nine office spaces across Wales with the support of EU aid, six of which closed after nine years because they were unsustainable. That demonstrates the waste that was in the system: we can design a much better system for local businesses.

This is my first ever Welsh question, and I came because I want to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) to her position and wish her well.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which should benefit the south-west and Wales, provides us with an opportunity to break away from the complex and restrictive processes that characterise the EU structural funding scheme?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will recognise that the current rules on EU funding exclude some areas that should qualify because they have wards that are among the most deprived in the UK. We can design a UK fund that is more appropriate for and responsive to those local communities.

What opportunities does the UK Shared Prosperity Fund provide for making sure that the money is spent on our priorities in all four constituent parts of our United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and he will recognise the benefits of co-operating on a cross-border basis. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund could give us an opportunity to consider how that can work imaginatively—although obviously I do not want to pre-empt any consultation.

It is always a pleasure to hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Gentleman, but I said “Owen” rather than “Nick”.

Long may it continue.

In the first spending period after Brexit, will Wales receive more money or less than it would have received under EU structural funds?

The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to pre-empt the Chancellor’s comprehensive spending review and Budgets that will come within that period. It is wholly inappropriate for me to respond on that basis, and much will depend on the detail of the nature of the deal we get with the European Union.

Businesses and community organisations across Wales are alarmed at how little detail has been provided about the Shared Prosperity Fund. They are doubly concerned that the consultation that has been promised by the end of this year has not even started. Will the Secretary of State at long last provide a date for this consultation and, if he cannot, may we at the very least have a date on which we can have that date?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we will consult on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund very soon. I am sure that even he will agree that the existing programme has not gained the greatest value for money, as he will also be aware that the then first Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are now on our third round of EU funding. There must be a better way.

Non-funded Pension Schemes

4. What assessment he has made of the implications for public authorities in Wales of the Treasury’s draft valuation directions for non-funded pension schemes. (907187)

The valuations indicate that the amount employers pay towards the schemes will need to increase, and details will be finalised when the valuations are completed early next year. Treasury has committed to support the Welsh Government with additional funding in accordance with the statement of funding policy.

The 2016 actuarial valuations will have an unprecedented impact on the constrained resources of local authorities, teaching institutions, the fire service and police forces in Wales if UK Government funding is not forthcoming. Will the Minister confirm that this funding will be forthcoming from the Treasury to the Welsh Government?

The hon. Gentleman raises this concern on behalf of his constituents, and it is correct that some increases in costs were predicted in the 2016 Budget. We will of course apply the principles set out in the statement of funding policy in determining any additional funding for the devolved Administration, and continue to do what is right for Wales.

On the Minister’s first outing at the Dispatch Box, will she join me in welcoming the additional funding given to the Welsh Government to fund teachers’ pay rises in Wales?

Order. This is about non-funded pension schemes, not funding pay rises. It was a nice try, and the hon. Gentleman is a cheeky chappie, but we will leave that one there and come to the other Smith, Nick Smith.

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have tackled the fiscal challenge that Wales has suffered with for decades. In fact, Wales now benefits from £120 for every £100 spent in England. As I said earlier, we will do what is right for Wales, as we have done in the case of teachers raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).

Exports/Foreign Direct Investment

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on increasing (a) exports from and (b) foreign direct investment into Wales. (907188)

Since 2010, Welsh exports have increased by 41%, growing faster than the UK average of 36%. There are a whole host of exporting success stories and it was a privilege to support SureChill and Hydro on the Prime Minister’s recent trade mission to Africa.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will he outline what specific measures he is looking at promoting at the forthcoming UK Board of Trade meeting in Swansea to promote trade and investment in both Wales and the wider UK?

I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he did at the Department for International Trade and his contribution to the establishment of the UK Board of Trade, which is an excellent innovation. It will be in Swansea in a number of weeks, so we have a great opportunity to highlight and champion to international businesses the best that Wales can offer in terms of exports.

The Welsh automotive sector is a real success story, but it depends on frictionless trade. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that that continues after Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that that is a plan for and determination of our negotiations. That is exactly what we will seek to agree with the European Union. It is in the UK’s interest, it is in the European Union’s interests and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is working to that end.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of our biggest exports is tourism, and the sector deal still awaits to be made. Will he undertake to speak to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to see whether the sector deal for the UK, and Wales in particular, can be enacted?

My hon. Friend, with his great knowledge and interest in Wales, recognises the value of tourism to the Welsh economy, and I meet him regularly. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for delivering on the industrial strategy, but my hon. Friend is right: Lonely Planet named north Wales the fourth top place to visit in the world in its recent report. [Interruption.]

There are a lot of very noisy private conversations taking place, but I want to hear the mellifluous tone of Jonathan Edwards.

The latest HMRC statistics show a 7% increase in Welsh exports to the EU, worth £643 million, while non-EU exports have fallen. Is it not the reality that trade deals with the US, China and the moon will never replace lost trade with the single market and the customs union?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the export data that I highlighted—that exports from Wales have grown faster than from other parts of the United Kingdom—and I could cite a range of export opportunities in other parts of the world on which Wales is doing better than other parts of the UK. I am hugely impressed by the renewed interest in the UK by an international audience as a result of our leaving the European Union—Aston Martin, Qatar Airways and a host of others that I could cite are clear demonstrations of that.

New Prison: South Wales

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the plan to build a new prison in South Wales. (907189)

This Government are investing in the prison estate—replacing older prisons with high-quality, modern establishments. A new prison in Wales could create up to 500 jobs and contribute £11 million a year to the economy.

Over one third of adults released from prison in Wales go on to reoffend. Considering that the last prison that the Ministry of Justice built in Wales cost £250 million, does the Secretary of State not think that money would be better spent on rehabilitative measures that actually help those who need them—which, alongside a presumption against short sentences, in Scotland has been shown to reduce recidivism rates considerably—rather than on another costly UK Government vanity project?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and clearly we would like the population of the prison estate to decline, but of course we also have to keep the community safe, and it is the right thing to do. We need to modernise the estate, and we would like to build a prison in south Wales.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that high-quality modern accommodation located as near to prisoners’ homes as possible is a vital part of the rehabilitation process? Will he therefore join me in welcoming this Government’s extra commitment to spending on the prison estate?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s interest and the expertise that he shows in working with the police on this basis. A new prison would create 500 new jobs. More importantly, it provides for much better outcomes for offenders, in order to help their rehabilitation and keep our communities safe.

Welfare Changes

7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on people in Wales of the UK Government’s recent changes to welfare benefits. (907190)

11. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on people in Wales of the UK Government’s recent changes to welfare benefits. (907194)

Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. The employment rate in Wales is at a record high, and the unemployment rate is at a record low. We will continue to take a test and learn approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.

Why are this Government determined to press ahead with managed migration against the advice of more than 80 disability organisations, the Resolution Foundation and the National Audit Office that they should not do so until the major flaws in the universal credit system are sorted so that it can cope with the higher claimant volumes?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I dispute its premise. This is a personal, focused benefit, which offers us an opportunity to help people with health conditions, provide tailored support from work coaches, assist with housing costs, and give advances. We are listening and responding during the roll-out. This is a huge change in a complicated system, and we are testing and learning, but above all we are helping people.

Universal credit is a shambles. In my constituency, a homeless gentleman was told that phone claims for universal credit were not allowed, and that claims must be online only, although he has no access to IT or a computer. Vulnerability was not considered, and, ironically, the man was even offered a home visit. Will the Minister urge DWP colleagues to reconsider the online system and reintroduce phone claims?

There is an opportunity to make phone claims. I would be happy to hear about that constituency case, although it is very concerning. This benefit is about ensuring that people are better off in work, and are able to respond in particular circumstances. In the Cwmbran jobcentre, positives are being fed back in terms of adjustments and simplification on the ground. If that is not happening in this gentleman’s case, will the hon. Gentleman please let me know?

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame that Labour Members fail to recognise the transformative effect of universal credit in lifting people out of poverty and getting them back into work? That is in stark contrast to Labour’s approach, which left people trapped on benefits for decades or more.

My hon. Friend is exactly right about the myriad complex reasons for which people may struggle to get back into work. The reason may involve personal circumstances, it may involve long-term legacy benefits, it may involve skills, or, indeed, it may involve confidence. With this project of universal credit, if we continue to scare people off approaching jobcentres and making use of advice—budgeting advice, and the advice of work coaches—then we will not be listening and learning from the people whom the Labour party has left to fester on legacy benefits, and that will not help anyone.

Order. Having consulted his scholarly cranium, the Clerk advises me that, by land, Witney is closer to Wales than Torbay, and upon that basis, I call Mr Robert Courts.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I, too, welcome the Minister to her post. Does she agree that the Government’s welfare reforms show that people are better off in work, and that it is the best route out of poverty?

I absolutely agree. From Witney to Torbay, people are getting into work more quickly, staying in work longer and progressing in work, which is very important. We are listening and learning. This is a huge change, but we do not need to row back. Claimants are getting into work and staying in work, and, as we know from the Prime Minister, the route out of poverty is having a job.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

It has been announced this morning that Sir Jeremy Heywood is sadly standing down as Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service to concentrate on his recovery from ill health. Jeremy has been an exemplary public servant for more than three decades, serving with the highest distinction Prime Ministers and Ministers in all parties in the finest traditions of the civil service. As he steps down, he can look back on a contribution to public life that few in our country can match, and I am personally very grateful to him for the support that he has given me as Prime Minister since my first day in No. 10. I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering our very best wishes to Jeremy and his family.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Two teenage brothers from my constituency, Somer and Areeb, have lived in Glasgow since the youngest was five years old. They are now naturalised Glaswegians, but they live in constant fear of deportation to a country from which they fled in fear of their lives. Their school friends at Springburn Academy rallied to their cause by launching a petition, which has now been signed by more than 90,000 people, and which was recently presented to the Home Office by the school and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. However, that action has been met with callous indifference.

When the Leader of the Opposition met the children in August, he was appalled by the lack of compassion shown by the Home Office towards these boys who have been kept in limbo for years. Will the Prime Minister now review the case, and meet the boys to witness at first hand what life is like at the sharp end of this Government’s hostile environment?

Every case in relation to people’s right to stay here in the United Kingdom is looked at extremely carefully, and I will certainly ensure that the Home Office looks again at this case.

Q2. If music be the food of love, we could certainly do with a lot of music just now. In that regard, will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming Sir Michael Parkinson having opened the expanded premises of the United Kingdom’s first jazz centre in Southend on Saturday, inspired by Digby Fairweather and displaying wonderful jazz memorabilia and music—and is that not yet another reason why Southend should be declared a city? (907244)

I have of course been known to move to a little bit of music myself on occasions. I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this excellent new centre, and I am extremely pleased that it was opened by my constituent, Sir Michael Parkinson. My hon. Friend might know that culture is one of the key strands of the Government’s GREAT Britain campaign; that is about promoting arts from across the whole of the UK to global audiences. We like to see and support events around the country showcasing the excellent range of performing arts that we have, and I join my hon. Friend in welcoming this new jazz centre—and I note the bid he has put in once again in relation to Southend.

I join the Prime Minister in thanking the former head of the civil service Jeremy Heywood for his public service and wishing him well in his recovery. I know from my conversations with him what an impressive, well informed and dedicated public servant he is, and I hope he gets through this difficult condition he is in at the present time.

The Prime Minister says that austerity is over; the Conservative leader of Walsall Council says austerity is alive and kicking. Who is right?

After a decade of austerity people need to know that their hard work has paid off and that, because of their sacrifices, there are better days ahead. We will be setting out our approach in the spending review next year. [Interruption.] What does it mean? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what it means: it means debt going down as a share of the economy and support for public services going up. Unlike Labour, we will continue to live within our means and we will not go back to square one.

This process has not been very convincing to Mike Bird, the Conservative leader of Walsall Council, who says: “Never ever believe what you hear from central government, austerity is not over.” The Prime Minister’s MPs seem to have lost confidence in her, and so have her councillors. Not far away, in Derby, the Conservative council says the financial outlook is “extremely challenging with Government austerity measures confirmed as continuing.” Will the Prime Minister try to cheer up these gloomy Tories in Derby and confirm to them that next week the Budget will cancel the planned £1.3 billion cut for local government next year?

Actually, we are making £1.3 billion more available in the next two years to councils, and I am pleased to say—[Interruption.] I am pleased to say that council tax is down in real terms since under the last Labour Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make statements about what should be in the Budget, perhaps we ought to look at his past predictions. He said our plans would mean 1 million people losing their jobs. What have we seen? We have seen 3.3 million more people in work. He said our plans would mean Greek levels of youth unemployment. What have we seen? Youth unemployment is at a record low. He will find out next week what is in the Budget, but there is one thing that we know for certain: Labour will still make a mess of the economy.

The Prime Minister did not get round to mentioning the record numbers of people on zero-hours contracts; the record levels of in-work poverty, meaning that people who are in work have to access a food bank; or the fact that wages are lower in real terms than they were eight years ago and that her Government have cut 49% from local government since 2010.

Staffordshire police have lost 500 officers. On Sunday, the chief constable, Gareth Morgan, said sorry to his police colleagues and their families as they had to cancel rest days just to maintain the service. He apologised to his officers. Will the Prime Minister apologise to the police as well?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the police and about what is available for the police. Of course, what we saw at the last election was the Labour party saying that £300 million more should be made available to the police. What we have done is make available £460 million more to the police. If he wants to talk about figures, I have a book here that is edited by the shadow Chancellor. In it, an article by an economic adviser to the Labour party says about its last manifesto that

“the numbers did not add up”—[Interruption.]

I have even got the page marked. It also said that this was “a welcome feature” and “largely irrelevant”. Well, it may be irrelevant to the right hon. Gentleman and the shadow Chancellor, but it is not irrelevant to the people whose taxes go up, whose jobs are lost and whose children have to pay Labour’s debt.

Only one party costed its manifesto in the last election, and it was not the Tory party.

For all that the Prime Minister says about the police, the reality is that there are 21,000 fewer police officers than there were eight years ago. She should listen to the chief constable of the West Midlands, who says that criminals are taking advantage of these cuts. He says:

“We are struggling to deliver a service to the public. I think the criminals are well aware now how stretched we are.”

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House that people on universal credit “will be protected”. The very next day, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said that, on universal credit,

“some people will be worse off.”

Which statement is true?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what I made clear to the House: those people who are moved through the managed migration process on to universal credit will indeed have, I think, around £3 billion of transitional protection. Let me just tell him what happens under universal credit—

The shadow Foreign Secretary says “No, no, no.” Labour Members do not want to know what happens in terms of universal credit: 200,000 more people into work, 700,000 people getting the extra money they are entitled to and 1 million disabled households getting more money per month. We are not replicating the old system, because the old system did not work. This is a system that helps people into work and makes sure work pays.

The Prime Minister is completely out of touch with the reality of what universal credit is about: £50 per week worse off; weeks waiting for the first payment when people move on to universal credit; people going into debt and losing their homes; and people who are stressed out beyond belief because they cannot make ends meet and have to access a food bank just to feed their children. That is the reality of universal credit.

Eight years of Tory austerity means that there are 40,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS. The number of students applying for nurse training has fallen by over 16,000 since the cut in the nurse bursary. The Prime Minister told us that austerity was over. Will the Government take the necessary step next week in the Budget of restoring the nurse bursary so that those who want to become nurses in our NHS can realise their ambitions?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the wait that people experience in order to get their first universal credit payment. We announced in last year’s Budget that we were reducing the period of time that people had to wait for their first payment, and what did the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party do? They voted against that change.

The right hon. Gentleman said that if austerity is ending, we should be doing more for the national health service. May I remind him that this Government have announced that we will be putting £394 million a week more into the national health service? At the last election, Labour said that, with 2.2% more money going in each year, the NHS would be the envy of the world. I can tell the House that we are not putting 2.2% in. We are not putting 2.5% in and we are not putting 3% in. We are putting an extra 3.4% in, with a long-term plan that will deliver for people up and down this country.

Applications for nurse training dropped by 12% in September—that is the reality of taking away the nurse bursary. Those who want to become nurses cannot afford to go into debt in order to do a job that they want to do and that we all need them to do.

This Government are simply not being straight with the public. They promised an end to austerity; they cannot even fool their own councillors. They promised the NHS an extra £20 billion, but we do not know where it is coming from or when it is coming. GP numbers are falling, health visitor numbers are falling and nurse numbers are falling. They promised that universal credit would protect everyone, but the Work and Pensions Secretary let the cat out of the bag, saying that

“people will be worse off”.

The Prime Minister claimed that she is ending austerity, so will she confirm that next week’s Budget will mean more police on our streets and more nurses in our hospitals, and that elderly people in desperate need of care will not go ignored and forgotten by her Government?

What have we seen under this Government? We have seen more money being made available to the police, more money for the health service, more money for social care, more money going into local authorities, and more money going into our schools. At the end of this Parliament, we will be spending £500 million more in real terms on people of working age and children in our welfare system.

Let us look at what we now know about the Labour party’s alternative. We now see, as reported by a respected academic, that Labour’s plans, by its own admission, would cost £1,000 billion. That is the equivalent of £35,000 for every household in this country. We know what that would mean: higher debt; higher taxes; fewer jobs—Labour just taking us back to square one.

Q3. Belmont and Betteridge special schools do a fantastic job of educating children with special educational needs in my constituency, but over the past decade they have had to contend with an explosion in pupil complexity—emotional, behavioural and medical. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need a careful examination of what lies behind such seismic changes so that we can deliver the best possible outcomes for all our children for years to come? (907245)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. It is absolutely vital that such children have the right combination of education, health and care provision to ensure that they have the support that is right for them and that they are able to reach their full potential, just like other children. Our reforms to both SEN provision and disability assistance are key to that. However, my hon. Friend’s question was about research, and the increasing complexity is an important matter. I am pleased to say that the Department for Education has several research projects under way in fields relating to such children and young people, and we are committed to building up a rich body of evidence on both identification and the outcomes of educational experiences. The Department is also scoping new work that will help to lead to our understanding of such issues so that we can ensure that these children get the support that they need.

The kidnapping, killing and mutilation of the respected Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has rightly shocked the world. The killing has all the hallmarks of being a premeditated murder. Angela Merkel has announced that her Government will no longer approve new arms sales exports to the Saudi kingdom—that is moral leadership. The UK Government must take decisive action; words of condemnation will not do. Will the Prime Minister finally commit to ending the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia?

It might be helpful if I take this opportunity to update the House on this particular issue. As I told the House on Monday, we condemn the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the strongest possible terms. After his disappearance, we made it clear that Saudi Arabia must co-operate with Turkey and conduct a full and credible investigation. The claim that Mr Khashoggi died in a fight does not amount to a credible explanation, so there remains an urgent need to establish exactly what happened.

The Foreign Secretary, other Foreign Ministers and our ambassador have been making our position very clear to the Saudi Arabians, and I expect to speak to King Salman later today. I can tell the House that no Minister or official is attending the investment conference in Saudi Arabia, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking action against all suspects to prevent them from entering the UK. If these individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today.

I am afraid that the Prime Minister said nothing about arms sales. Condemnation will not do; it is action that is required.

The Saudi Arabian regime is responsible for multiple human rights violations: critics face death by crucifixion; teenagers are tortured; and women are imprisoned for campaigning for their human rights. The brutal bombardment of Yemen is pushing that country to the brink of famine, and now we have the state-sponsored murder of Jamal Khashoggi. What more evidence of criminality does the Prime Minister need before she fully commits to ending the sale of arms to the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia?

We are concerned about the humanitarian issues in Yemen. We are actually the third largest humanitarian donor to Yemen, where we have provided significant support to millions of men, women and children. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, yes, we do support the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen, which has been recognised by the United Nations Security Council and came at the request of the legitimate President Hadi.

On defence exports, the procedures we follow are among the strictest in the world. They were introduced in 2000 by the late Robin Cook, and they were updated in 2014 by the Conservative-led coalition Government to reflect our obligations under the arms trade treaty. A licence will not be issued to Saudi Arabia or any other destination if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. In July 2017 the High Court ruled that our sales to Saudi Arabia were compliant with those regulations, but of course we keep things under review.

Q7. The shadow Chancellor visited Gloucester last week and said that my constituency has suffered from austerity. In fact, Labour’s high unemployment has been slashed; investment, manufacturing and apprenticeships are strongly up; a new centre for the homeless has been established; our two NHS trusts are rated good; and a new Gloucester transport hub funded by the Government opens tomorrow. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we must do more, all we have achieved so far would be severely damaged if the Opposition leadership had its chance to impose economic bankruptcy on us again, with constituents better off on benefits than in work? (907249)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this Government’s record. I congratulate him on the work he has done and pay tribute to his work with the charity HaVinG—Having a Voice in Gloucester—alongside Bishop Rachel. The charity is doing important work in Gloucester.

My hon. Friend is right that, overall, we see employment at a near record high, youth unemployment at a new record low and real wages rising. That is the benefit of a Conservative Government taking a balanced approach to our economy. The one thing we do know is that the Labour party would undo all that good and leave our economy in a mess once again.

Q4. May I give the Prime Minister some brief relief from Brexit and ask her about dogs? Last week, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, with its specific breeds definition, was not fit for purpose, as hundreds of pit bull-type dogs are confiscated yearly and destroyed, with no impact on dog bite numbers. Will she ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to act urgently on the Committee’s recommendations and not take the approach of the Lords Minister, who told the Committee that even a good-tempered dog had to be put down as “collateral damage”? My wonderful bull terrier-type dog was rescued from the streets, and to think of her being destroyed because her face did not fit in court is chilling. (907246)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I had not looked at the detail of the Select Committee report on that particular issue, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State is a keen dog owner, as indeed is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is sitting next to me, and that the Secretary of State will be looking at this issue very carefully.

Q10. We might not make much whisky in East Renfrewshire, but we do enjoy drinking it, and Scotch whisky is the jewel in the crown of our food and drink sector. Last year’s duty freeze has raised more money for the Exchequer, just as Scottish Conservatives argued it would, and the industry continues to make more positive investment in our communities. Would not the least we could do on Monday be to extend that freeze for another year? (907253)

I thank my hon. Friend for the lobbying he has carried out, and I am sure that the Chancellor heard what he said. Of course, as ever, everybody will have to wait until the Budget is delivered to find out what is in it. My hon. Friend and my Conservative colleagues from Scotland mounted a robust campaign on Scotch whisky duty last year, and we were pleased to be able to take the stance that we did on the duty, because we recognise the importance of Scotch whisky to the UK. I have to say that 2017 was a record-breaking year, and that in the first half of 2018, Scotch whisky exports increased further to nearly £2 billion. This is an important industry.

Q5. How does denying, delaying or disrupting visas for Moldovan and African trade commissioners, Palestinian academics, artists at WOMAD and Celtic Connections, or Malawian priests and pupils enhance the Prime Minister’s vision of a global Britain? Does the Prime Minister understand that the visa crisis and perceived travel ban serve only to prove that the “hostile environment” lives on, and that Brexit is a small, isolationist retreat from the world stage? (907247)

The reality is far different from the situation the hon. Gentleman has suggested. There is no travel ban. We remain open to business and to people from around the world, and we will continue to be so under the new immigration system—a skills-based immigration system—that we will be introducing when we leave the EU.

Q11. Women who have concerns about proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act 2004 that would allow self-definition of gender have had their meeting venues cancelled, have been subject to intimidation and have even been dragged into courts as a result of private prosecutions. Will the Prime Minister agree to a short meeting with a victim of sexual violence who believes that these plans will needlessly put more women in danger? (907254)

My hon. Friend raises a very important subject. It is right that we are making these proposals on gender reform, but of course this is a very sensitive issue and we have to make sure that any changes take into account their potential impact on women. I am very sorry to hear of the experience of the individual whom he mentioned.

In the run-up to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act and during it, officials met more than 90 different groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, women’s groups, refuges and domestic abuse charities, but this is an important and sensitive issue, and we want voters to be heard. May I suggest to my hon. Friend that I will ask a Minister from the Government Equalities Office, which leads on this issue, to meet him and the individual concerned to hear directly about their experience?

Q6. It seems that our laws allow rich and powerful men to pretty much do whatever they want, as long as they can pay to keep it quiet, so does the Prime Minister support the Court of Appeal’s decision to back non-disclosure agreements that have been used to silence women who have been sexually harassed and others who have been racially abused? (907248)

The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot comment on a particular case that is currently before the courts. What I will say, and what I have said previously, is that sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law and such abhorrent behaviour should not be tolerated. An employer that allows the harassment of women to go undealt with is sending a message about how welcome they are and about their value in the workplace. Just as we will not accept any behaviour that causes people to feel intimidated or humiliated in the workplace, there must be consequences for failing to comply with the law. Non-disclosure agreements cannot stop people from whistleblowing, but it is clear that some employers are using them unethically. The Government are going to introduce for consideration and consultation measures to seek to improve the regulation around non-disclosure agreements and to make it absolutely explicit to employees when a non-disclosure agreement does not apply or cannot be enforced.

Currently, if someone pays a mortgage, their mortgage payments every month help them to build up their credit history, but if someone pays rent every month, that does not happen, which just is not fair. We can fix this situation for 15 million renters. The Creditworthiness Assessment Bill could help to give millions more renters throughout the country affordable credit, including mortgages, so that we can all get on in life. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of next week’s Budget to look at whether the Government could support this Bill, which has cross-party support and has already passed through the Lords unamended?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. As she will be aware, I cannot say what will be in the Budget next week, but she will have noticed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was here to hear her point.

Q9. My constituency, unlike that of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), does depend on the Scotch whisky industry, which is perhaps why the industry is suffering, given that so many people like myself are currently supporting Macmillan with “Go Sober”. There is also the threat from Brexit, of course. Stubborn Brexiteer isolationism could see us faced with a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and a disconnect with parts of the country that voted overwhelmingly for remain. Is the Prime Minister ready to accept that her party’s narrow-minded nationalism poses an existential threat to the United Kingdom and that Brexiteer belligerence could break up Britain? (907251)

We are working in the national interest and we are working for a good deal with the European Union that will ensure that across all industries that are important to this country, including that of members of the Scotch Whisky Association, we can continue to trade with not only the EU but other countries around the world on good terms that will enhance that industry which, as the hon. Lady says, is important for her constituency. We are working for a good deal for the whole United Kingdom once we are outside the European Union.

Given that the new generation of diesel engines are much cleaner and are comparable with petrol engines, will the Prime Minister use her good offices to help to adjust vehicle excise duty rates, which are having the perverse effect of encouraging people to hang on to their older, more-polluting diesel cars and causing job losses due to falling sales in the car industry?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I think that she was making a Budget bid; as she will know, and as I have said in previous answers, the Budget will be announced last week. Nevertheless, this is an important issue because we saw demand for new diesel cars fall by 17% in 2017. That decline is in line with the trend in other major European car markets—demand fell by 13% in Germany, for example. It is because of the health impacts of nitrogen oxides that we see these changing patterns and that it has been important to take action. We want to ensure that manufacturers come forward with cleaner cars as soon as possible.

Q12. West Yorkshire police have 900 fewer officers than they had eight years ago. The result is a 45% rise in violent and sexual crimes in my constituency this year. Now the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has warned that the Government’s pension shortfall will cost £165 million and leave 4,000 fewer officers on our streets. For West Yorkshire alone, that will mean another 400 officers lost. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a national scandal and that the police should be fighting crime, not fighting for funding? (907255)

The hon. Lady particularly referenced sexual abuse crimes and other crimes of that sort. We have seen an increase in the number of crimes being reported, but that is partly because we now have an atmosphere where people are more willing and ready to come forward and report these crimes. She refers to pensions; this issue has been known about for some years.

There have been reports today that the Government are willing to agree that the European Court of Justice would be the final arbiter in most cases arising from Brexit. As this would be inconsistent with the Prime Minister’s previous commitments, will she authoritatively deny it?

I see quite a few reports and claims about what is happening in relation to Brexit, but I have not seen those particular reports. If they are as my hon. Friend has suggested, they are wrong. We have been very clear, in the work that we have been doing, about ensuring that the European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction in the UK in the future.

Q13. This week’s hard-hitting Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment in public places, the use of NDAs by perpetrators of sexual harassment, the pernicious two-child policy and women bearing the brunt of budget cuts to services show that equality is stalling under this Government. How is the Prime Minister going to address this? (907256)

The position is not as the hon. Lady has set out in her question. In fact, we see women with greater opportunities today. For example, there are more women in the workplace. Crucially, action is being taken as a result of the work that we have been doing on the gender pay gap and the requirement on companies to report on gender pay, and the pay gap has been coming down over the years. I absolutely take seriously the issue of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. It is very important that anybody in any workplace is treated—and feels that they are being treated—with respect and dignity, and that action is taken to ensure that we eradicate sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Does the Prime Minister agree that when veterans have already been investigated by both military and civilian authorities, they should never be hounded and pursued unless there is overwhelming new evidence? I thank the Prime Minister for her personal engagement on this issue, but does she agree that what is happening to numerous Northern Ireland veterans is against natural justice, damaging to recruitment and contrary to the military covenant?

We owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it—something that will always set them apart from and above the terrorists who, during the troubles in Northern Ireland, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. The current system in Northern Ireland is flawed. It is not working. It is not working for soldiers, for police officers or for victims; and, of course, that group of victims also includes many soldiers and police officers. Although a number of terrorist murders from the troubles are actively under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other police forces, I am clear that there is a disproportionate focus on former members of the armed forces and the police under the current mechanisms for investigating the past. We are committed to ensuring that all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland should be investigated in a way that is fair, balanced and proportionate.

Q14. The Prime Minister has already said that she does not know what is in next week’s Budget. As she probably does not know whether she is going to be Prime Minister next week, perhaps that is not a surprise. Does she agree that providing tax reliefs for private schools is not a good use of public money? Will she just have a little word about that with the Chancellor, who is sitting next to her? (907257)

What I said about the Budget was that I was not going to tell the House today; hon. Members will have to wait until Monday.

My right hon. Friend will remember visiting the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall, which sits between the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my constituency of Loughborough. The Prime Minister knows that the “N” relies on the NHS being able to work with and benefit from the rehabilitation of those brave members of the armed forces she has just spoken about. What we really need now is my right hon. Friend to bring together people in national Government with local NHS commissioners to get the final decisions made so that we can ensure that we have this world-class facility to benefit people in need of rehabilitation. I will not be going there myself, but I can see that repairing injured legs is very important.

First, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the courage and dedication of our armed forces. For the vast majority, their experience of serving is positive. Of course, we do see those members of our armed forces who sadly do suffer injuries that are life-changing. The rehabilitation capacity and capability that has been built up at Headley Court and that is now being put forward in the new Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre is very important. It was incredible to actually meet people who had been through that rehabilitation and see the massive change it had made to their lives.

This could be a huge benefit to the national health service as well. I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting this issue. The question of national health service patients being able to use this centre is an important aspect. Everybody’s aim is to be able to ensure that that can happen. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is currently reviewing the proposal for NHS patients to benefit from this legacy of expertise in the new centre.

Does the Prime Minister not accept that the very sensible objectives of universal credit, to simplify benefits and improve work incentives, were seriously undermined by the 2015 Budget of her friend, the former Chancellor, who slashed the work allowance, and that that, together with administrative rigidity, is now causing enormous hardship for families and single parents? So will she listen to the charities and her own Back Benchers who are urging her to pause the roll-out until these deficiencies are remedied?

The right hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point that the universal credit system introduces a system that is simpler, with a single benefit and a single claim, rather than something like the six claims that people might have been making. It is also a benefit that encourages and works with people to help them into the workplace, and a benefit that ensures that, as they earn more, they keep more. This is a benefit that is good for people, as we see from the extra numbers in work in receipt of universal credit and from the fact that, for people who go on to universal credit, the evidence is that they then go on to earn more in the workplace. Encouraging people into work; making sure that work pays; a simpler system: those are the benefits of universal credit.

As a children’s doctor, I have seen how some young people with life-threatening conditions, and their families, can struggle to receive the care and support they need, particularly respite care and out-of-hours community care. I would therefore like to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the report by the all-party parliamentary group on children who need palliative care, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). May I ask my right hon. Friend to take a personal interest in this report so that we can work together to ensure that our most vulnerable children, and their families, get the support that they need?

This is an important issue, and obviously my hon. Friend, with her particular experience, is well aware of it in a sense that many of us will not be. I thank her, first, for the work that she undertakes as the co-chair of the APPG on children who need palliative care. Of course, I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with those parents who find themselves in this situation. We have made a commitment to everyone at the end of life, including children, setting out the actions we are taking to make high quality and personalisation a reality for all and to end the variation in end-of-life care. This covers a whole range of aspects, including practical and emotional support, because that is an important aspect of good end-of-life care. That is set out, of course, in our end-of-life commitment and our ambitions for the palliative care framework. But it can be difficult for some commissioners to develop suitable care models for children. That is why, I understand, NHS England is convening an expert group to develop commissioning models that are suitable for this particularly vulnerable group of patients and ensure they get the support and care they need.

Can the Prime Minister assure the hundreds of my constituents in Warrington South who have been trapped in their homes by spiralling ground rents that the Government’s commitment to crack down on unfair leasehold practices will be fulfilled and that the Government will restrict some ground rents to zero, as promised by the former Housing Minister less than a year ago?

The whole House should welcome the commitment to another £20 billion for the NHS. Does the Prime Minister agree that is it vital that the NHS produces a plan to use that money wisely and to strengthen frontline care, including expanding GP services for my constituents in Chipping Barnet?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the biggest cash boost that the NHS will have received in its history. It is important that this money is used carefully and properly, to ensure that care for patients is improved. That is one of the principles that we have set out for the 10-year plan that the NHS is working on at the moment, and I am sure the NHS will be looking carefully at the GP services in her constituency.

I am sure the whole House will want to send their best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), who is recovering from a recent operation. In his absence, and with his blessing, we will proceed with the Third Reading of his Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill this Friday. It is a Bill that will save lives and give hope to many. The Prime Minister previously has been very supportive, as has the Leader of the Opposition. Will she today reconfirm her support for this important Bill on Friday?

First, may I join the hon. Gentleman and other Members of the House in wishing the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) the very best? We do indeed continue to support the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is very important, and it will save lives.

May I join my right hon. Friend in her praise of and best wishes to the retiring Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood? He not only served many Governments, but appeared in front of many Select Committees, including my own, and was as popular among Members of Parliament as he was among his colleagues. He will be missed.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right. As I said, Sir Jeremy has been for more than three decades an exemplary civil servant. His public service is second to none, and I am sure that he enjoyed the opportunity to appear before my hon. Friend’s Committee.

Oh, I imagine it was probably the height of his enjoyments. Who could possibly have thought otherwise? We are grateful to the Prime Minister for what she said.

Given the £1.2 million-worth of cuts per year since 2014 to children’s services in my constituency, does the Prime Minister believe we have adequate resources for special educational needs and disabilities in Peterborough?

We treat the issue of children’s services very carefully, because all children, no matter where they live, should have access to high-quality care. Spending on the most vulnerable children has increased by over £1 billion since 2010, but of course, this is not simply about money; it is about how councils deliver good and excellent services. We need to ensure that everybody is delivering according to best practice. That is why we are improving social work training and spreading innovation and best practice, and where councils are not delivering the standard of service we expect, we will intervene to make sure they improve.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am extremely grateful to you for accepting this point of order.

It is entirely correct that Members of both Houses engage in robust political debate around the parliamentary estate, but today we have learned that the violent, racist thug and fraudster known as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Tommy Robinson, was invited on to the estate and wined and dined in the House of Lords yesterday. I understand that sometimes we have to engage with views that we might not agree with, but surely a man who is as guilty as he is of stirring up racial hatred, organising violent, thuggish crimes around the country, setting up the English Defence League and everything that comes with it crosses a line, and such a person should not be invited to walk among us on the parliamentary estate. Can you advise me and other Members whether that is in order, and will you take it up with your counterpart in the House of Lords?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of which—I make no complaint about this—I have had no advance notice, so I am reacting on my feet and I am perfectly content to do so. What I have to say to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First, I share his assessment of the individual concerned: a loathsome, obnoxious, repellent individual. I make no bones about my view being the same as his on that front.

Secondly, and this is the procedurally significant point, the question of who might be invited to dine in the other place is outside my remit. I always appreciate the enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman for extending my reach and scope. I am very grateful to him for thinking in those terms. However, this is a matter for the other place, so when the hon. Gentleman asks me for my advice, my advice to him is that, if he wishes to pursue the matter, he should in the first instance—as a matter of both courtesy and practicality—write to the Lord Speaker to register his views, perhaps enclosing the relevant extract from today’s Official Report. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Housing Reform

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to housing; to make provision about housing space and thermal performance standards; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to require the provision of serviced plots of land; and for connected purposes.

I am pleased to introduce the Housing Reform Bill, which will improve space standards, increase the minimum thermal performance of new homes and require the Secretary of State to provide serviced plots of land at scale to offer real choice to anyone who wishes to get their own place to live, whether through a housing association, a housing co-operative, a council house—to that end, the Minister may have noticed the article by Lord Porter in The Guardian the other day—or for private purchase. I declare my interest as an ambassador for the Right to Build Task Force, which is supported by the Nationwide Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nationwide building society.

The Prime Minister has said that housing is the Government’s top priority domestically. True, there have been four Housing Ministers in the past year or so, which does not make it sound like the Government’s top domestic priority, but after all there have been eight Housing Ministers in the past eight years and 17 Housing Ministers in the past 17 years. No recent Government have really taken housing seriously enough, although there are encouraging signs with the new Minister for Housing, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I will come on to him later; I am delighted to see him in his place.

The planning system should be about making great places to live that are well designed and well built; well connected; well served with schools, health, community and sports facilities; environmentally sensitive, where green is normal; part of a thriving economy with local jobs; and active, inclusive and safe—that is to say, fair for everyone. In other words, we should separate the business of place making from the business of home building, which, so long as it is done to the required standards, can be built by anyone, including—increasingly, and often to higher standards—in an off-site factory.

Instead of that, we have a system that is broken. According to the National Audit Office, 74% of the Government’s housing budget goes on housing benefit, which is 3% of all public expenditure. Some 86% of people would like to own their own home but, despite this, home ownership is falling. There has been a surge in the number of people privately renting, particularly families with young children, not because they want to, but because they have no choice.

Dr Julie Rugg of the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, who has done excellent research in this area, points out that in most cases the private rented sector is now a proxy either for people who wish to buy but cannot afford to do so, or for people who need to be in social housing. We have scarcely considered the long-term consequences for pension provision and affordability of people not owning their own homes, if more people are paying rent until they die. Meanwhile, we have two nations developing: one nation of those people who are invited to landlord evenings by estate agents and who in some cases already own several buy-to-let properties; and another entirely separate nation of those who cannot afford somewhere to live at all, either to rent or to buy. Home ownership among young adults has collapsed, falling to just 27% in 2016 from 65% 20 years ago.

We have a system that maximises opposition. I have yet to meet the grandmother whose daughter has just had a second baby who does not want her daughter’s family to have a good home. However, the reason there is so much opposition to new housing is that most people feel they have no real say over what gets built; where it gets built; how it performs—its thermal performance; what it looks like; crucially, who has the first chance to live there; and what the benefits of the new housing will be for the existing community. If we change all of that, we change the conversation.

We need a system where there is not a prolonged argument that prevents houses from being built quickly. At present, a very small number of very large companies build houses when, and only when, it is sufficiently profitable to do so. I do not blame them for that—they are doing their duty by their shareholders—but there are no real alternatives at scale for consumers who wish to buy something else. We have to tackle the root causes of the lack of supply. Some 67% of people are unlikely to, or would prefer not to, buy the product of volume house builders. That figure is based on research by the trade body for volume house builders, the Home Builders Federation.

The normal essentials for any vaguely competitive market to operate properly—first, real variety and choice for consumers; and, secondly, low barriers to entry for new suppliers—are wholly absent. My Bill will fix this by doing three things. First, it will improve minimum space standards. The large volume house builders are making houses that are ever more like shoe boxes, and they need to be stopped. When the 1961 report by Sir Parker Morris, “Homes for today & tomorrow”, was published, it ushered in a brief period when a decent amount of space was considered normal. The 1970s are blamed for many lapses of taste, but at least one thing that went well—so well that it is now regarded almost as a halcyon period in this respect—was that houses started to get bigger. Now they are getting smaller again.

Volume house builders routinely construct what are little more than shoe boxes, even commissioning extra-small furniture for show homes to create an optical illusion, whereby rooms in a house seem larger than they actually are, to deceive their customers. We need nationally enforced minimum standards, rather than the set of rather ad hoc arrangements we have at present. There is clear evidence that people in larger spaces are healthier, which reduces the burden on the NHS.

We also need better lifetime adaptability not as an add-on by the rare more thoughtful developers, but as standard, so that houses can easily be made suitable for young families, older people or individuals with a temporary or permanent physical impairment. In this context, I am looking forward to the launch later today by the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings of its report, “Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings”. The chairman of the group, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), is one of the sponsors of my Bill.

Secondly, my Bill will raise the minimum thermal performance standard that new-build residential property must achieve. We have known for decades how to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but the main house builders just do not do it. The main capital cost may be slightly higher in the short term, although even that is not necessarily true, but the long-term higher costs of poor-quality housing and higher heating bills are borne the most by those who can least afford to do so, and there is also the excessive and wholly unnecessary extra burden on our planet.

It is possible to produce homes that cost a few pounds per month for heat and hot water. I recently saw one at Graven Hill in Oxfordshire, and I know that the Minister, although he has not been in office for very long, has already visited Graven Hill, which is the site of the biggest self-build and custom house building development in the UK, where eventually 1,900 serviced plots will have been built on. I saw a house where, with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, someone can have heat and hot water for £125 a year.

Thirdly, my Bill will require the Secretary of State to provide or to ensure the provision of serviced plots of land at scale—that is to say, plots of land where the difficult parts, such as the connections for water, gas, electricity and broadband, are already done. On the continent it is quite normal to go to one’s local authority and buy a serviced plot of land. One can be produced for £12,000 to £15,000, plus the land cost. The Right to Build Task Force is working with willing local authorities across the country to make it more normal here, but we could go much further.

Recently, the city of The Hague in the Netherlands has provided serviced plots that can be purchased for €40,000, and a house can then be built for about €120,000 or £105,000. If somebody cannot afford to buy the plot, they can rent it and buy it later. Another innovative scheme in the Netherlands, known as “Ik bouw betaalbaar”—“I build affordable”—takes people on limited incomes who are on the housing register and helps them to bring forward their own affordable scheme to their own design. Lord Porter referred to that in the article in The Guardian the other day. I propose a system where such plots could be obtained by anyone from a housing association or a local council to a private individual or a housing co-operative. Simple rules would prevent volume house builders or other developers from buying large numbers of plots and would also prevent flipping.

We have sites with serviced plots, but not enough of them. It should become a normal choice. In the past 20 years, the ratio of average house prices to average incomes has doubled from three-and-a-half times average income to 7.7 times average income. In the 1980s and until the late ‘90s, the average 30-year-old could afford a deposit for a home if he or she saved for three or four years; now, they would have to save for nearly 20 years. The system is broken. We need a radical change of approach, and to succeed we must engage the energy of our people.

I know that there are people who say that this cannot be done, or, if it can be done, that it can be done only on a small scale in certain limited sites. It is certainly true that it works for small sites, but those people who do not believe that it can be done on a large scale are wrong, and the reason why I know they are wrong is that I have seen it being done; it is just not being done here in the United Kingdom. We will not succeed without muscular help from Government and without engaging the energy of our own people. To those people who think that the energy of our own people is insufficient, I simply join Rod Hackney, the architect, in saying that it is a dangerous thing to underestimate human potential and the energy that can be generated when people are given the opportunity to help themselves. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Richard Bacon, George Freeman, Jeremy Lefroy, Hilary Benn, Siobhain McDonagh, Mr Simon Clarke, Sir Vince Cable, Eddie Hughes, Mr Clive Betts, Jim Shannon, Sir Robert Syms and Sir Graham Brady present the Bill

Mr Richard Bacon accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 277).

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill (Business of the House)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill:

Timetable

(1)(a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.

(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

(2) When the Bill has been read a second time:

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

(3)(a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

(4) If, following proceedings in Committee of the whole House and any proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a legislative grand committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put.

(5) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill—

(a) a legislative grand committee withholds consent to any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill),

(b) the Bill is amended to remove any provisions which are not agreed to by the House and the Legislative Grand Committee, and

(c) a Minister of the Crown indicates his or her intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill,

the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.

(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;

and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph (17)(a) of this Order.

(7) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(8) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(10)(a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(11) Paragraphs (2) to (11) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (10) of this Order.

Subsequent stages

(12)(a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(13) Paragraphs (2) to (9) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (12) of this Order.

Reasons Committee

(14) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order.

Miscellaneous

(15) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

(16) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(17)(a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.

(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.

(c) Such a motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.

(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.

(18)(a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(19) No debate shall be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.

(20) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(21) No private business may be considered at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.—(Karen Bradley.)

I should inform the House that an amendment has been put to me, and I am calling the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) to speak to and move her manuscript amendment.

I beg to move a manuscript amendment, in line 43, paragraph (6), after sub-paragraph (b) at end insert—

“(ba) the question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the Chair or Speaker for separate decision.”

There is much talk right now in this Chamber, and indeed in our country, about what a meaningful vote is. I wager that a meaningful vote is one that people can vote on—a very simple line. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) and I have tabled this amendment to today’s programme motion because we are concerned about the programme motion. Let us be clear: we understand that this is considered emergency legislation. We have no desire to delay this important legislation as it passes through the House, but because it is emergency legislation it is all the more important that, where there are concerns about what it may concern, or may include, or may not include, the House is able to take a view and Members are able to decide. Therefore, to see the programme motion today and discover that a crucial element of it—one that is in most other Bills—is missing is a concern to us. It is the part that allows the Chair of proceedings the right to select any amendment, new clause, or new schedule for a vote. To remove that section of a programme motion and not to inform the Opposition of that is a concern to us because it recognises that there may be issues on which Members have a strong view, but, by dint of the programme motion, not by the consent of the House ahead of the time, they would not get a say on them.

I am sure that the error is in overlooking the matter rather than a deliberate intent by the Whips to deny a debate. Therefore, my hon. Friend and I wish to be extremely helpful, which is why we have tabled a manuscript amendment to restore that section of the programme motion, which allows the Speaker and the Chair, at their discretion, to select any amendment, new clause, or new schedule for a meaningful vote on this legislation.

I say to everyone in this House that, whatever they think of the amendments tabled for today, to cross this Rubicon and decide that there are some matters on which the House should not be paramount is a dangerous move to make. I also say that the people of Northern Ireland, who have already seen so much democratic dysfunction, deserve better from this House.

I will happily quickly give way to the hon. Lady, but I know that the House wants to get on and have its say about this process.

I will be very swift indeed. I just want to say to the hon. Lady that there are many colleagues on the Conservative Benches who are absolutely with her on this, and that this item should be voted on.

I thank the hon. Lady, because I know that she, like me, believes that the democratic process must be open and transparent, no matter how difficult the conversation and the issues at hand may be.

I hope that all the House will agree that it is right to stick to the kinds of programme motions that we have all come to know and love. With that, I move this manuscript amendment.

The point is that we should do things properly. It is an established principle in this House, and in this Parliament, that we normally have three Readings, a Committee stage, and Report, with gaps in between, so that people can consider matters properly. The only time that we suspend that is for emergency legislation. In all honesty, I do not see why this is emergency legislation. By definition, it is only emergency legislation normally when there is no controversy; there is clearly substantial controversy here, which is why we should have a proper Business of the House motion to allow us to consider amendments that have not been tabled by Ministers.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. His reference to a proper Business of the House motion is the view that he has volunteered, but I say this as much for the benefit of people attending to our proceedings and in the name of their intelligibility as for any other reason that it is precisely because I judged that this matter should be capable of amendment, even at the last minute, that I selected the manuscript amendment, so I know perfectly well how to operate in these matters. I am very glad that we are in agreement on that—[Interruption.] No, no, I appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman does not need to be touchy about it. I was merely claiming credit for selecting the amendment.

I take the point that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has made in putting forward her manuscript amendment, but surely it is the case that when we are dealing with this type of procedure—emergency legislation that is fast tracked—this procedure is not normally included. The Speaker does not normally have this discretion in a fast-track motion procedure. As I understand it, it is not a question that the Government are trying to mislead anyone; they are just following what is the normal procedure for this type of legislation. Therefore, it is unfortunate that some are suggesting that, somehow, this is a fast move on the part of Government or anyone else. I note that, on previous occasions when Northern Ireland legislation has been dealt with by this procedure, we heard nothing from the Opposition; we heard nothing from the hon. Lady about the need for some of our amendments, for example, to be pushed to a vote. It is worth putting it on record that this is the normal procedure; it is the way that the House deals with fast-track legislation.

I am not sure that I would in any sense put myself forward as the arbiter of normality; I am not sure that that is my role. I am simply the person who guarantees or underscores order. Nor is it really for me—I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman says that it is—to offer my understanding of the Government’s interpretation of these matters. If the Secretary of State wishes to explain her reasoning, and give an exegesis, she is welcome to, but she is not under any obligation to do so.

The motion is exactly the same as the programme motion tabled to the Budget Bill earlier this year. It is the standard programme motion used for this kind of emergency legislation. The Government are not at all trying to do anything underhand.

This is, of course, a Business of the House motion, rather than a programme motion, but I think I know at what the Secretary of State is getting.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill:

Timetable

(1)(a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.

(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

(2) When the Bill has been read a second time:

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

(3)(a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

(4) If, following proceedings in Committee of the whole House and any proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a legislative grand committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put.

(5) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill—

(a) a legislative grand committee withholds consent to any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill),

(b) the Bill is amended to remove any provisions which are not agreed to by the House and the Legislative Grand Committee, and

(c) a Minister of the Crown indicates his or her intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill,

the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.

(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(ba) the question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the chair or Speaker for separate decision;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;

and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph (17)(a) of this Order.

(7) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(8) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(10)(a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(11) Paragraphs (2) to (11) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (10) of this Order.

Subsequent stages

(12)(a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(13) Paragraphs (2) to (9) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (12) of this Order.

Reasons Committee

(14) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order.

Miscellaneous

(15) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

(16) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(17)(a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.

(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.

(c) Such a motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.

(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.

(18)(a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(19) No debate shall be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.

(20) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(21) No private business may be considered at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I inform the House that the noble Lord Caine, who will be well known to many Members of this House, cannot be with us because, sadly, his father passed away this morning. I am sure that we will all join together in sending our condolences to him and his family. We send him, and his mother in particular, our very best wishes. [Interruption.] Lord Caine.

Yes, Jonathan to you, Mr Speaker, I am sure.

I begin by inviting the House to join me in remembering those who lost their lives in the horrific Shankill Road bombing, the Greysteel massacre and the series of attacks that followed. These atrocities took place 25 years ago, but their effects are still felt by those who lost loved ones and by the dozens of people injured. Those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. People from across the community in Northern Ireland suffered in those dark days, and we must not forget that suffering.

When the people of Northern Ireland voted, by a huge majority, in favour of the Belfast agreement, they voted for a shared future in which no one would have to experience the suffering and loss that took place during the troubles. None of us in this House should forget, or underestimate, what was lost before the Belfast agreement, or what has been achieved since.

The Government remain completely and unequivocally committed to the Belfast agreement, not just because of what it stands for, but for what it has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland. At the heart of that agreement is a devolved power-sharing executive Government, and restoring that Executive remains my top priority. Northern Ireland needs devolved government. It needs all the functioning political institutions of the Belfast agreement and its successors. The only sustainable way forward lies in stable, fully functioning and inclusive devolved government. As Secretary of State, achieving this aim is my absolute priority.

The Bill delivers on a number of commitments that I set out in my last statement to the House on 6 September. It is an important step towards our goal of restoring the devolved power-sharing Executive and Assembly. It seeks to provide for a fixed period in which an Executive can be formed at any time. It provides the space and time for this Government to continue our engagement with the political parties in Northern Ireland, and with the Irish Government where appropriate, so that we can renew the talks process, with the shared aim of restoring devolved government at the earliest possibility. The Bill also provides the Northern Ireland Departments with the certainty and clarity they need to continue to deliver public services during this fixed period.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s purpose in bringing forward the Bill is limited to ensuring that administrative functions in Northern Ireland continue efficiently, and that it is not about deciding on key devolved policy issues, which are more properly decided on by the people of Northern Ireland and their elected, accountable representatives?

My hon. Friend sums up very well the intent of the Bill. It will enable civil servants to continue to run public services; it will not make them law makers. They will not have the power to change policy decisions, but they will have the ability to continue to make decisions. That is why the Bill is a matter for urgent debate, and why it is emergency legislation. Without the Bill, there would be a danger of essential public services in Northern Ireland not being delivered. That is why the Government have brought it forward.

The Bill does not give civil servants any new powers; rather, it gives clarity on the exercise of their existing powers in the absence of Ministers. It will be underpinned by supporting guidance that provides a framework for decision making for Northern Ireland Departments when a judgment is being made on whether those existing powers should be used in the absence of Ministers.

As the Secretary of State is well aware, the date of 26 March 2019 appears in clause 1. I am sure people are intrigued to know why that date—three days before we Brexit—was chosen.

An agreement would have to be reached by the Democratic Unionist party, whose Members are here, properly take their seats in Parliament, and work assiduously on behalf of their constituents, and Sinn Féin MPs, who absent themselves and do not take their seats. Will an agreement between Sinn Féin absentee MPs and the DUP have to be arrived at by 26 March next year?

I will—[Interruption.] I am not having a good day, am I? [Interruption.] I thank the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound); he is such a gentleman, as I am sure we all agree. [Interruption.] Better still, he is ensuring that I do not waste any water.

The date in the Bill was chosen after consultation with all the main parties in Northern Ireland. It is not easy to determine the most appropriate date, but we have chosen the date that we believe gives the best chance for an Executive to be formed, and for meaningful talks to take place.

That is very helpful indeed. In fact, it is very succinct, and leaves a lot to the imagination. Will the Secretary of State give just one past example of the DUP or Sinn Féin having met a deadline for political talks?

I do not see this as a deadline as such; I see it as a date by which a decision will have to be taken on whether an election is called. The hon. Lady will be aware that the date is around the time when purdah starts for local elections. She will know very well that there are local elections in Northern Ireland next May. The date was chosen with that in mind, because clearly once a local election campaign starts, political parties focus on campaigning. She will know that we have had stable devolved government in Northern Ireland, but for most of the last 10 years, we have had a hiatus; that is far too long, and that is not right for the people of Northern Ireland. It is not what they deserve. I am trying to put in place, through the Bill, the best conditions to allow those talks to recommence, and to enable us to get an Executive in place. The date was chosen after consultation with all the main parties and the civil service of Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State has made several references in her speech so far to the political hiatus. Does she agree that the reason we do not have a functioning Executive and Assembly is that out of the five political parties in Northern Ireland eligible to be in the Executive, four—the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party—have all said that if the Secretary of State convenes a meeting of the Assembly for the purpose of appointing Ministers, they will be there and will appoint their Ministers immediately and without precondition, but one party, Sinn Fein, has declined to give such an undertaking? Should we not be honest with the House, and instead of blaming all of the political parties, put the focus where it belongs, on the people who do not take their seats here, who do not take their seats at Stormont and who are outside, looking in? They are the people denying Northern Ireland its proper democratic Government.

I do not want to provide a running commentary on the talks I have had with parties since the talks broke down in February between the two main parties. What I would say is that I have heard a willingness from parties that they want to get back into Government. That is why I believe that the best thing for the people of Northern Ireland is that we give those parties the chance to get back into devolved Government and provide the best conditions to enable that to happen—and the Bill is part of achieving that. It is important that we use this time and the powers in the Bill to ensure that public services continue to be run and there is no distraction from the parties coming back together and forming a Government.

Does the Secretary of State accept that if an Assembly is to come back to Northern Ireland—and we all here support that—the structure of that Assembly has to be right, so that no one party can pull it down?

I want to see a fully functioning, devolved Government as we have seen in the past, as that would be best for the people of Northern Ireland, and so that many of the decisions and the policies that right hon. and hon. Members will raise today can be taken in the right place, which is Stormont.

Is cearta daonna iad cearta teanga agus tá cothrom na féinne tuilte ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge.

Under the St Andrews agreement of 2006, the British Government pledged to introduce an Irish language Act based on the experiences of Wales and the Republic of Ireland. Will the Secretary of State uphold that commitment by introducing an Irish language Act if power-sharing institutions are not restored within six months?

I thought it had been offered, but if it has not been, I hope that the hon. Lady will indulge not just me, but the House.

The hon. Lady is right that the St Andrews agreement includes a political declaration to legislate for an Irish language Act, but it is also clear that once devolved Government restarted in Stormont in 2008, that power became a devolved power for Stormont to legislate on. I support the fact that we have statutory underpinning for many of our indigenous languages. For example, during the 2010-15 Parliament, the Cornish language was granted statutory underpinning, and S4C, which was legislated for by a Conservative Government in the 1980s, has delivered a status for the Welsh language that I am sure the hon. Lady appreciates and enjoys on a regular basis. The important point is that it is a devolved power, and I am sure that as the leader of Plaid Cymru in the House she would not want to see the House undermining the constitutional devolution arrangements that exist across the United Kingdom, or cherry-picking points that right hon. and hon. Members may feel strongly about—and I have great sympathy with much of the strength of feeling—as we have to respect those arrangements.

The Bill will also enable key public appointments to be made in the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers, including reconstituting the Northern Ireland Policing Board. To make it clear to right hon. and hon. Members, a properly constituted Northern Ireland Policing Board is essential for proper governance and accountability, and public trust in policing in Northern Ireland. That is why it is essential that we pass the Bill urgently.

I shall turn to the specifics of the Bill. First, the Bill extends the period provided for in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 for Northern Ireland Ministers to be appointed before the local elections next year. As the House is aware, because Ministers were not appointed by 29 June 2017, the 1998 Act requires a further election before an Executive can be formed. As I set out in my 6 September statement, an election at this time would not be helpful, nor would it increase the prospects of restoring the Executive. The provisions of clause 1 aim to create a period in which an Executive can be formed and talks can take place, by removing that current legal impediment to an Executive being formed for a defined period. Let me be clear about what that means: as things stand, if the parties were able to find agreement and form an Executive, the House would have to pass primary legislation to enable that to happen. During a recess or periods of intense parliamentary activity, we might be unable to find parliamentary time to allow an Executive to form. I do not think that that barrier or impediment to forming an Executive is one that right hon. and hon. Members would want to see, and the Bill will therefore enable an Executive to be formed without the need for primary legislation during the period covered by the Bill.

The Bill also contains a provision in clause 2 that this period may be extended once, for up to five months. That will remove the need for further primary legislation in the event that, for example, Northern Ireland parties have made progress towards a deal, but a short extension is judged necessary to finalise an agreement and form an Executive.

I want to be clear to the House—I will not wait until March to begin efforts to bring the parties together to work towards Executive formation. Following the passage of this legislation, I intend to meet party leaders to discuss the basis, process, and timing for a further phase of talks, and will at all times continue to stress the urgent need to restore devolution. I welcome all efforts to improve political dialogue between the parties in Northern Ireland, including those by church leaders, who I met earlier this month— following their meeting with the parties—to discuss how best to encourage meaningful political engagement towards the restoration of an Executive.

I admire the stamina and diligence that the Secretary of State has demonstrated in trying to achieve the restoration of the Assembly since January last year. However, I am intrigued to learn whether the Northern Ireland Office has taken time to assess the unpopularity of the Assembly in Northern Ireland caused mainly, although not exclusively, because the 90 MLAs continue to receive their full salary while not doing a full job. When the Secretary of State announced in September that she would cut MLA salaries, she delayed the cut until November. Can she explain that three-month delay to the people of Northern Ireland who are outraged by MLAs continuing to receive a full salary?

I know that the hon. Lady feels strongly about that matter and she has raised it in the House on several occasions. It is not a three-month delay: I made the statement on 6 September. She will understand that issues need to be dealt with, including notifying MLAs of my decision to cut their pay and changing the payroll arrangements. As I said in September, the November pay cheques were the earliest opportunity to cut the pay, so the pay cheques that will be delivered next week will include the pay cut. The next pay cut will be in January, if we have been unable to get the Assembly and Executive reconstituted by then.

Although I fully understand and appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), I appeal to her to understand that at the end of the day these are people with families. Yes, I understand the public ire at the lack of an Assembly, but most of the Assembly Members are not functioning there properly through no fault of their own. As I explained to the House, it is the actions of one political party in Northern Ireland and its army council—its illegal army council—that are holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom. It would be nice just for once to hear the hon. Lady call them out for that, instead of labelling in such a way all 90 Members of the Assembly, many of whom are innocent of the charge that they do not want to make progress in Northern Ireland or do their job fully. We treat them unfairly when we label them all in the same way without calling out the people who refuse to do their jobs and sit outside; the majority of Assembly Members want to work full time and do the full job. Of course, the House has taken the decision to cut their pay and we support that, but there are practical issues. They and their families need proper notification. When she makes these points, the hon. Lady should not just put the blame on everyone.

Order. Before the Secretary of State responds, let me say this in good humour, if I may. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) are themselves so unfailingly courteous to colleagues and, indeed, to everybody, that it is really very difficult to get annoyed with them—and I am not. I hope, however, that they will take it in the right spirit if I say that in respect of both of their “interventions”, the erudition was equalled only by the length.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I could not have put it better myself.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) makes an important point, in that it is not the fault of Members of the Legislative Assembly that this is the situation. The MLAs I meet regularly want to get back to the Executive and the Assembly, and it is important we recognise that. I also want to put on record once again that I am of course not cutting the pay of any of the staff of MLAs. As we all know in this House, our staff work tirelessly for our constituents, as do the staff of MLAs. They are dealing with casework and constituency matters, and it is quite right that those staff should not be prejudiced against as a result of decisions taken by others.

During the period covered by the Bill, it will be necessary to provide Northern Ireland Departments with certainty about their decision-making powers. Clarity is needed on the decisions that they should or should not make. This follows a recent court ruling against a Northern Ireland Department’s decision to approve a major waste disposal and energy generation facility. The Bill clarifies that a senior officer of a Northern Ireland Department is not prevented from exercising departmental functions in the absence of Ministers during the period for forming an Executive, if the officer is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. The Bill also requires that I, as Secretary of State, should publish guidance about the exercise of departmental functions, as I will, of course. That includes principles that senior officers in Northern Ireland Departments may take into account when deciding whether or not to exercise a function, and they are required to have regard to that guidance.

I thank the Secretary of State for her engagement on this issue. It will come as no surprise to her if I mention the transport hub, which is in my constituency but of regional significance for Northern Ireland. Will she confirm that the decision hoped for before Christmas is the type of decision that can be made under the terms of this Bill by a senior civil servant in the relevant Department?

I thank the hon. Lady and her colleagues and members of all the main parties across Northern Ireland who assisted in the development of the guidance. Clearly, as Secretary of State I am not able to say what decision a civil servant would make, but we have looked at the kind of decisions and how they might be made. Given that the example she has cited was approved in the programme for government before the Executive collapsed and that Ministers had indicated that they had wanted to see it happen, it is the kind of decision that a civil servant should be able to take on the basis of the guidance as issued.

The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. From reading the Bill and listening to the Secretary of State’s answer, it is very unclear to me precisely which sort of decisions will or will not be enabled under this legislation. Can she give us an example of a decision that would not be allowed to be taken by a civil servant?