House of Commons
Thursday 25 October 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
No Deal: UK Border Delays
The Government have published 106 technical notices addressing the no-deal scenario. We are striving for a good deal with our European Union partners, but we will be ready for all outcomes from the negotiations.
Recent National Audit Office estimates state that if customs declarations are required for trading between the UK and the EU, the total number of declarations could increase by about 360%, from 55 million currently on non-EU trade to 225 million. What estimate has the Minister made of the additional staff that will be required and, not least, the likely tailbacks that could ensue at UK ports?
There certainly is a risk of no deal, especially if the EU engages in a deliberately intransigent approach. The hon. Gentleman asks about staff. We are recruiting 300 extra staff, with a further 600 planned. We have given a range of advice through our 106 technical notices, half of which gave advice on customs procedures for businesses. There have been 300,000 letters sent to current customs users and 145,000 letters to VAT-registered businesses.
The Health Secretary told pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines in case of a no deal Brexit because of potential delays at the border. Will the Brexit Secretary confirm whether he envisages circumstances where companies could be asked to stockpile for longer than six weeks?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, not least because Government and the pharmaceutical industry already liaise on stockpiling for far longer periods in other circumstances, including in relation to vaccines. We will keep it under review, but this is something the industry is used to doing and we are used to co-operating with it.
In September, the Borders Delivery Group reported that 11 of the 12 major projects to replace or change key IT systems were at risk of not being delivered on time or in a workable condition. Many of my constituents who work at the port of Felixstowe are at their wits’ end about how this is going to work. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is going to be done with those IT systems?
We had an extended Cabinet session last month. We looked at a whole range of action points right across the piece, including some of the IT issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We want to make sure we are in the best position to manage, avoid or mitigate any risk in a no-deal scenario, but of course we are striving for the best deal with our European partners.
A very significant number of automotive parts enter the UK and the European Union from third countries for just-in-time delivery. It seems to work, doesn’t it?
My right hon. Friend will know that that is one of the reasons the White Paper proposals deal with the kind of customs arrangements and co-operation with our EU partners which will not just prevent friction at the border, but, particularly in relation to just-in-time manufacturers, provide them with the frictionless trade they need.
Can we be absolutely sure that, should this House reject a deal brought back by the Government, we will still leave the European Union on 29 March, and that those who vote against that deal will be responsible for no deal?
My right hon. Friend raises, responsibly and assiduously, the stark reality of those who would seek to wreck the deal, as the Labour party leadership has suggested, come what may. Every hon. Member of this House will have a choice to make between the good deal we are confident we will bring back and the alternatives.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the event of no deal the UK Government will not create a hard border on the island of Ireland? And if we do not do it, who does he think will?
My hon. Friend is attempting to draw me down an avenue of inquiry I will not be pursuing. What I will say is that we have made it clear that under no circumstances will we see or erect a hard border in relation to Northern Ireland.
This week the NAO warned that not a single one of the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ preparations for a no-deal Brexit was in anything other than a red-amber state of lack of preparedness. That is on top of the 80,000 Scottish jobs, £2,300 out of the pockets of every Scottish household and a 9% hit to our economy that a no-deal Brexit is likely to bring. Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that it is possible for him and the Prime Minister to bring back a bad deal that is worse than that?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the risks of no deal, but the point is to have the planning and preparations in place to ensure we can avoid or mitigate those risks. In addition to the remarks I made earlier, £8 million of funding announced for customs intermediaries has been announced. We also need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, whereby the authorities at Calais are deliberately directing a go-slow approach, by supporting a diversion of the flow to more amenable ports in other countries.
HMRC will not have the capacity to cope and the Border Force will not have the capacity to cope, but at least we know that the Government’s capacity for incompetence is utterly unbounded. The Secretary of State is criticising others for so-called intransigence. Is it not time for the Government to drop their own intransigent stance, go right back to the beginning, rub out the three stupid red lines and start again?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that at this late stage of negotiations, we can go back to the beginning, I am afraid his approach is rather delusional. We have made good progress and we are close to agreeing a deal. The responsible thing for Members from all parts of the House to do, regardless of their views on Brexit, is to get behind the Government so we can clinch that good deal for all quarters and all parts of the UK.
Has the Secretary of State made the Republic of Ireland aware that if the French start mucking about with Calais and a go-slow in the event of no deal, the biggest impact will be not on UK trade but on trade with the Republic of Ireland that passes through this country?
I am confident that the authorities in Dublin are well aware of the implications of no deal. All of us, on all sides—not just in this House but in the EU—want to lock horns, close the outstanding issues and seal the good deal that will serve everyone’s interests.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto was rightly hailed as a transformative blueprint for a Britain that works for the many, not the few, but even we did not go so far as to propose the nationalisation of roll-off, roll-on lorry ferries. In addition to contingency plans for Government-owned or operated logistics, can the Secretary of State tell us which other industries the Government are considering taking into public ownership under a no-deal scenario?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to look at all possible contingencies to ensure that in a no-deal scenario British businesses and livelihoods are safeguarded. I think it was rather unfortunate of him to refer to the Labour manifesto, because with the Labour party’s current commitment to rejecting any deal that the Government brings back opening the door to a second referendum, the Labour leadership have driven a coach and horses straight through the promises that they made to every Labour voter at the last election.
Leaving the EU
We are negotiating to secure a strong deal that works for the whole United Kingdom, and our White Paper proposals will deliver on that.
I do not believe in a second referendum, and I have grave doubts about referendums in general. We had the vote, and the people voted to leave. I voted to remain. Now, after all this time and division, what are we going to do to heal the scars left by the referendum?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; a second referendum would create far more uncertainty than it would resolve, and would erode public trust in our democracy. We will heal the divisions created by the campaign and the politics of Brexit by delivering on the outcome of the referendum, and by making sure that we deliver jobs for working families and build homes for the next generation beyond the Brexit negotiations.
Now that we know that the referendum that delivered this entire process was conducted illegally, surely that is another reason to give us all a people’s vote at the end of the process. The Secretary of State can have his Bill endorsed, and we can have the option to remain, because we know what that looks like.
I always listen to the hon. Lady, who is thoughtful and passionate in her views. However, I think that a second referendum would create a huge amount of uncertainty, returning us to square one and eroding public trust in the system.
Has my right hon. Friend been able respectfully to persuade our negotiating partners that Northern Ireland is not some enclave of the character of those around the area of the Bodensee, for example, but an integral part of the United Kingdom that is not, in any circumstances, to be split off from our country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have made the point that we would never accept any proposals that would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, whether constitutional or economic. We have also made the point that a lot of the proposals that we have seen would not be acceptable to many on the EU side, given the separatist pressures in places such as Corsica, Catalonia and other parts of Europe.
Does the Secretary of State agree that Brexit represents a real opportunity to become a global United Kingdom, free to make vital trade deals with countries across the world? Does he feel that increasing the backstop would be unhelpful because it would only hamper our ability to negotiate trade deals and would not help to resolve any outstanding issues?
I certainly agree that we must secure the right deal that strikes the right balance between preserving the frictionless trade that we want with our EU partners and taking advantage of the global opportunities of the future, from Latin America to Asia. We have committed ourselves to providing a backstop in case there is a gap between the end of the implementation period and the coming into effect of the future relationship, but we will do nothing to threaten—and will not accept anything that does threaten—the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Every nation in our Union exports more to the rest of the UK than it does to the EU27, and the UK internal market accounts for 61% of Scotland’s exports. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will do what makes sense for the Union and for the Scottish economy?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is true that we have a large export relationship with our EU partners, but equally, as the EU itself recognises, the vast majority—the lion’s share—of future growth opportunities will lie with the growth markets of the future, from Latin America to Asia, as I said earlier.
Last Sunday, when the Secretary of State was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” how long the proposed UK-wide customs backstop might last, he said:
“It could be time-limited, there could be another mechanism.”
Whichever of the two it turns out to be, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the backstop—if needed—would not be terminated before the conclusion of our negotiations on the future partnership? If he is not able to give that assurance, will he tell the House what would replace it to ensure that the border in Northern Ireland remained open?
The Chair of the Select Committee is right to say that we need to respect our commitment to provide a bridge between the end of the implementation period and the future relationship. That does need to be something we are not locked into indefinitely, and, of course, the EU side cannot agree anything under article 50—which provides only for the winding down of the EU arrangements—that would allow something to be indefinite, so this ought to be a matter that there is mutual interest in and agreement on resolving.
Our White Paper proposals will ensure that there is frictionless trade at the border, which is in the interests of businesses but will also avoid any potential extra infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland.
Does the Secretary of State understand why some of us who have Irish heritage are worried by what is said by some Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who said a moment ago that under no circumstances could Northern Ireland be split off from the United Kingdom? He knows full well that the Belfast agreement envisages that prospect if the people of Northern Ireland and the people of Ireland agree to it, and that is Government policy. Will he confirm his commitment to the Belfast agreement, and will he also confirm the Government’s commitment to the agreement made last December with the EU about the future of the border in Northern Ireland?
I certainly do understand all the sensitivities on this side. In fairness, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) was referring to the negotiations, and whether we would accept anything relating to them that would have the effect of drawing a line down the Irish sea or threatening the integrity of the UK. But, of course, the Belfast agreement says that nothing should happen in relation to Northern Ireland without the consent of Northern Ireland, and we will not allow the EU to threaten that.
Last week I met a group of young people from Northern Ireland who were members of Our Future Our Choice. They were clearly extremely worried about the border arrangements, and also very worried that they might not retain the right that I have had, and the Secretary of State has had, to live, work and study in the European Union. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give them that they will be able to continue to do that after we have left the EU?
I think we can provide that assurance, not just in relation to the progress that we have made in the withdrawal agreement, but as a result of the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the event of no deal. For those who are anxious about the uncertainty that lies ahead, the very worst outcome would be a second referendum, which is the policy of the Liberal Democrats, and which would only make that uncertainty worse.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said that if the UK and the EU were to make a legally binding commitment to a
“temporary UK-EU joint customs territory”,—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 47.]
the EU’s proposal for a Northern Ireland-specific customs proposal “is no longer needed”. If it is “no longer needed”, does that mean that it will no longer be in the withdrawal agreement, or does the Prime Minister really mean that she thinks it will no longer ever need to come into force?
I think the Prime Minister was very clear on that. We will not be able to accept any Northern Ireland-specific arrangement that would leave Northern Ireland in a customs regime that was separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that.
After the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 the implementation period will provide a bridge to our future relationship, ensuring that citizens and businesses only have to plan for one set of changes. During the implementation period the UK will no longer be a member state of the EU, nor will it have MEPs at the European Parliament or a judge at the European Court of Justice. We will have the freedom to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade deals with third countries, although they will not come into force until the end of the implementation period.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but clearly the position should be that on day zero we are full members of the EU and by the end of the transition period we have no connection other than the future arrangements that we have. It seems to me that instead of a curve as we reduce the transition period, all we have is a postponing of the cliff edge and a delayed departure. Will my hon. Friend comment?
I take note of my hon. Friend’s comments. The aim of the implementation period is to provide certainty for businesses and individuals with access to each other’s markets on terms similar to those today. There will be a number of changes to reflect the UK’s new status as a third country—those I mentioned before—but crucially we have got new opportunities to start taking steps to enjoy our new freedoms, and that time should be used effectively.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Secretary of State and I meet regularly with ministerial colleagues to discuss a range of EU exit-related matters. As the recently published meeting climate change requirements technical notice made clear, in the unlikely event of no deal the UK Government will initially meet our existing carbon pricing commitments via the tax system, taking effect in 2019.
The carbon tax as outlined would be devastating for companies such as CF Fertilisers in Stockton and energy-intensive industries across the country. Will the level of relief against the proposed carbon tax or any other new arrangement for energy-intensive industries leave exposed industries with no greater financial burden than they have under the EU emissions trading scheme?
That is a very good question for a Treasury Minister. More details will follow at next week’s Budget, with legislation to follow in the upcoming Finance Bill.
Some excellent biotechnology research is going on in universities across the UK, including in my constituency. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that will continue to be the case after 29 March next year?
The Government are committed to ensure that science and new technologies such as the one the hon. Gentleman mentions are able to continue and thrive in a future relationship, deal or no deal.
The Government remain committed to fully involving the Government of Gibraltar as we leave the EU together. We have been working closely together including through the Joint Ministerial Council for Gibraltar on EU negotiations, which has met seven times since the referendum. In addition, I am in regular contact with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, most recently at the Gibraltar Day celebrations in London this week, when we both welcomed the real progress made in negotiations.
I warmly welcome the apparent agreement on Gibraltar with our Spanish friends—and I do mean friends, because 10,000 Spaniards work in Gibraltar every day, the UK is Spain’s fifth biggest trading partner, and 18 million Brits went to Spain last year. Will the Minister confirm that it is in the best interests of Spain, Gibraltar and the UK that we have as frictionless a flow of goods, tourists and workers as possible?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: a good deal is in the interests of all sides. Gibraltar is an engine of prosperity for the surrounding area, and a deal that benefits Gibraltar will also benefit the wider region. A well-managed and smoothly operational Gibraltar-Spain border is vital for prosperity. It is important not only for the flow of frontier workers, but, as my hon. Friend says, for the flow of tourists and other visitors, who make a key contribution to Gibraltar’s thriving economy. And our strong relations with Spain are underpinned by deep economic, cultural and people-to-people links, which we want to strengthen moving forward. We look forward to enhanced co-operation, which will benefit Spain, Gibraltar and the UK.
That was very interesting, but rather long.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most significant indeed that yesterday the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, in saluting the support the Prime Minister has personally given to the negotiations, observed that for the first time the Prime Minister of Spain has publicly accepted that the inclusion of a protocol to protect the interests of Gibraltar is a done deal if there is a deal and an agreement? Does that not demonstrate how important it is for any friend of Gibraltar that there is a deal and it is carried in this House?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that he has worked assiduously through the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar to protect and promote the interests of Gibraltar. I would like to return the compliment to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, who has played a crucial role in these negotiations.
We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across the Government on all aspects of exiting the European Union, including environmental policy. The UK has a long history of environmental protection, and the Government have been clear that they have no intention of weakening our current environmental protections as we leave the European Union.
I visited one of my local schools a few weeks ago, and the young people there are very worried about plastic use. This Government are unambitiously pledging to eliminate avoidable plastic waste significantly later than the EU target. Does the Minister agree with me and with the children at the Lincoln Carlton Academy that, with climate change posing an immediate threat, Britain’s environmental protections must not be downgraded after we leave the EU?
Yes, and we would not be doing that. In fact, the Prime Minister has announced that a new environment Bill will be introduced in the second Session to build on the vision we have set out in our 25-year environment plan to leave our precious environment in a better state than the one we inherited. It will help us to create richer habitats for wildlife, improve air and water quality and curb the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.
Will the excellent Minister tell the House who he thinks will be better prepared to look after the United Kingdom’s interests on the environment: this Parliament or EU bureaucrats?
I thank the excellent Back Bencher—my neighbour—for his question. I obviously believe that this Parliament is better placed to do that.
Yesterday’s National Audit Office report on the lack of no-deal preparations lists a whole raft of serious issues facing our country in the eventuality of no deal, particularly on environmental standards, where it points to a collapse of our biosecurity standards. What is the Minister’s response to this, given that the Secretary of State said a moment ago that he was looking at all scenarios? Frankly, that is not good enough, so what will he and his Department do to ensure that we are adequately prepared?
I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I just do not read the NAO report in the same way that she does. We are obviously preparing for a no deal. We have regular meetings to ensure that we will hit all our targets, and I am confident that we will do so.
We have agreed to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU under the withdrawal agreement. Our message to EU nationals is that we value the contribution that you make and we want you to stay.
My question has been prompted by a particular case at my surgery involving a German couple who have been here for many years and contributed hugely to my town of Solihull. They have been concerned by scare stories and by EU intransigence on this issue, and they would like me to ask the Secretary of State whether he can clearly confirm that, after Brexit, EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU will be able to continue to live their lives as they do today.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, under the withdrawal agreement, we have set out very clearly the rights that people would have in order to give effect to the assurance that he is seeking. They include the right to stay in this country; the right to work; protection for those working as frontier workers; the right for close family members to join them; the recognition of EEA professional qualifications; and a role for the independent monitoring authority in relation to the application of the citizens’ rights element of the agreement, which would mirror what the Commission will do for UK citizens on the continent.
Does the Minister seriously believe that the Home Office will be able to cope with the number of applications from EU citizens, when its existing immigration systems are in overload?
I have had a number of conversations with the Home Secretary and indeed with the Cabinet to ensure that not only the legislation but the operational systems will be in place.
A technical notice on EU citizens in the UK was expected as part of the no-deal preparations. That was confirmed in a recent technical notice from the Department for Transport, but it has not yet been produced and the Prime Minister’s spokesman apparently told journalists on Tuesday that there were no more notices in the pipeline. Will the Secretary of State clarify which is correct? If there is to be a notice, will he tell us when it will be published?
Most hon. Members would agree that citizens’ rights are an issue of scale, importance and sensitivity, which means that it will be dealt with not in technical notices, but in a different format. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that all the details will be coming along shortly to provide the assurances that I think both sides of the House want to give to EU nationals here. We value their contribution and want them to stay.
Both sides of the House certainly do want those assurances, but I am unsure whether that answer provides them, so let me try with another issue. The Prime Minister said that, in the event of no deal, she will make a unilateral offer to EU citizens remaining in the UK, but the right to remain in itself does not provide the reassurance that they need. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that, in those circumstances, their rights will be identical in every respect to the provisions in the withdrawal agreement as currently drafted?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Prime Minister made that commitment after the Salzburg summit. We are going to set out all the details in due course, but I can give him some reassurance right now, because the healthcare Bill, which is due to be introduced shortly, will provide reassurance, for example, in the context of reciprocal healthcare for UK nationals who live in, work in or visit the EU, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait just a bit longer for all the details.
I have regular discussions in Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, on all aspects of our future economic partnership with the EU, which of course includes the customs arrangements.
How is the Secretary of State going to persuade the hardliners on the Conservative Benches behind him about the benefits of a customs union for jobs and for defending the United Kingdom?
We made a clear commitment that we will be leaving the customs union, so I do not think it is a question in the way the hon. Gentleman has described. Our White Paper proposals are designed to secure frictionless trade at the border, which is important for all businesses, particularly the UK’s just-in-time manufacturers.
Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland about the incompatible arguments that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can have different customs and trading arrangements but have no border, but Scotland and England would require a border if Scotland were independent? Is the Brexit that the Government are pursuing not just giving more succour to the nationalists?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. I have regular discussions with all my Cabinet colleagues, and we are clear that we will not allow any proposals to be accepted by the EU that would threaten the territorial, constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom, and that means the whole of the United Kingdom.
We have regular discussions with our EU counterparts about all aspects of the relationship, and we are making good progress. Of course, I cannot give the full details or provide the reassurance that my hon. Friend and others would want until we have the full deal, because there is no deal until we have the whole deal.
The withdrawal agreement makes provision to bind us into paying an exit payment of £39 billion. What provisions are there to ensure that the future trade agreement, which will only be in the form of a political statement, will actually get delivered and that we will not find ourselves paying the £39 billion without locking in the future trade arrangements in return?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he and other hon. Members are concerned about that. We need a package in place that not only deals with the separation issues and the money in the way that he described, but has a clear path and a clear commitment to put the future relationship into effect.
It has been reported that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit and chaos at the Channel ports, the Government will need to charter additional vessels to bring in food and medicine. What is the assessment of cost for both the Government and industry? What capacity is there in alternative ports to do that?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Of course, any blockage at the border ought to be addressed with pragmatism on both sides to alleviate it, but we must ensure that we are in a position, regardless of what the EU, the French or any other EU member state does, to weather any short-term disruption. We will ensure not only that we have the money and investment in place, but that we are co-operating with businesses and port authorities not just in the UK, but in Belgium, the Netherlands and other parts of the EU.
We continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for fishermen after we leave the European Union. The Fisheries Bill, introduced today, will allow us, for the first time since 1973, to take back control of our waters, set our own fisheries rules and exclusively determine who fishes what in our seas as an independent coastal state. That will ensure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen.
Sea fishermen and cocklers are greatly looking forward to our leaving the European Union at 11 o’clock on 29 March 2019, but will my hon. Friend reassure them that their expected increase in living standards will not be damaged by any extension to the transition period?
I fully recognise the importance to fishing communities in Leigh-on-Sea of leaving the common fisheries policy, and my hon. Friend is a strong voice for those communities. We fully expect to negotiate as an independent coastal state in 2020 and, as the Prime Minister set out earlier this week, the interests of UK fishermen are at the forefront of our thinking as we consider the different options that have been proposed. What is clear is that, when EU rules no longer apply, the UK will be making its own decisions. We will control access to our own waters and we will seek to gain a fairer share of quotas.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and with the Scottish Government about replacing the European maritime and fisheries fund and devolving the equivalent budgets?
All European maritime and fisheries fund projects approved before the UK leaves the EU will be fully funded under the Treasury guarantee, even when those projects are not completed by the UK exit date. Work is under way to consider the long-term future of all the programmes that are currently EU funded. Leaving the EU means that we will want to take our own decisions about how to deliver the policy objectives previously supported by EU funding.
With the Fisheries Bill being presented later this morning, and with the Lowestoft fishing industry coming forward with exciting plans to regenerate the industry, will the Minister reconfirm that in December 2020 the UK will negotiate fishing opportunities for 2021 as an independent coastal state?
As I said, we fully expect to be negotiating as an independent coastal state in 2020. Any of the options put forward will take account of all that has been agreed in the draft withdrawal agreement. We have clarified that the UK share of quotas will not change during the implementation period and that the UK can attend international negotiations. I am sure my hon. Friend is aware of the structures that have been agreed to ensure that the UK has a representative voice in those negotiations.
Support for Businesses
We recognise the importance of a pro-business agenda for Brexit, and we have engaged across the economy on getting a deal that works for business. That includes seeking frictionless trade with EU markets and an implementation period, allowing businesses time to prepare and ensuring only one set of changes.
Businesses in my constituency are reporting having to pay six-figure sums for Brexit contingency planning. How much of that will they be able to claim back from Government?
It is vital that both the Government and businesses work together on contingency planning, which is why the Government have published the 106 technical notices. We will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure that they can bring their contingency plans up to form. We will also continue to work on a deal that means those contingency plans do not have to be put into force.
Will the Minister elaborate on an earlier answer? The continued success of Nissan is really important to my region. What specific action is he taking to support the manufacturing businesses that operate in the supply chain that supports the Nissan car factory?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the huge importance of our automotive sector. We continue to engage with the automotive sector, both with the big companies and organisations such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and with the supply chain to ensure that we are taking their views on board. Securing frictionless access to the European market is so important to protecting those supply chains, which of course exist both in the UK and in Europe.
The port of Immingham in my constituency, measured by tonnage, is the largest in the UK. When I meet businesses on the port, they constantly tell me about the opportunities they foresee for Brexit to extend trade through the port. Will the Minister, and the Government as a whole, support them by talking more about the opportunities of Brexit, rather than talking down those opportunities as the Opposition do?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are huge global opportunities for the UK as a global trading nation, and ports such as those in his constituency will thrive as the UK pursues global free trade.
In the spirit of helpfulness to new Members, may I gently say to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), whom I know wished to come in on the previous question, that with modest guile it would be perfectly possible for him legitimately to shoehorn his inquiry into the current question?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As has been said, the Fisheries Bill is to be introduced today. So does my hon. Friend find it as strange as I do that the Scottish National party is leading a delegation to Brussels today to advocate not only staying in the single market and customs union, but, presumably, the common fisheries policy, as well as all the other institutions of the EU in which it is the SNP’s policy to remain? Can she confirm that it is this Government’s position to stay in none of those institutions?
It is now a he, rather than a she, but the thrust of the inquiry stands.
We are grateful, Mr Speaker. I can absolutely confirm that it is our Government’s position to leave the CFP. Having met the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Seafood Association to discuss these issues, I think they would be as shocked at the SNP’s position on this as my hon. Friend is.
Second EU Referendum
After sustained public debate, a clear majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU in June 2016, with the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK electoral history. We must respect both the will of the British people and the democratic process that delivered that result. As such, it is a matter of Government policy that there will not be a second referendum on our exit from the EU.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. As someone who voted remain in that referendum, I was naturally disappointed by the result. But I am also a democrat, and it is important that we all respect the results of all elections, regardless of whether we win or lose them. Putting aside the questions on the so-called “people’s vote” and what it would actually achieve and deliver, does she not agree that it would undermine fundamental principles of democracy in this country?
My hon. Friend makes his point skilfully. People trusted that their voices would be heard, and to ask the question all over again would be a betrayal of our democracy and of that trust. Whether on Brexit or on Scottish independence, politicians north and south of the border should think twice before they choose to let people down in this way.
When are this Government going to wake up to the madness of where we are? There is no deal I can see coming from Europe that will look after my constituents better than remaining in the EU. Whether it is through reasserting parliamentary sovereignty or having a second referendum —yes, I was out on the march in Parliament Square on Saturday—can we please have a Government who wake up to their responsibilities and look after the future of this nation?
Looking after the future of this nation means respecting the democratic voice of this nation. Yes, 700,000 people marched on Saturday, but 17.4 million people voted to leave, and we do not simply ignore their voices just because we do not like what they said. I ask the hon. Gentleman, who obviously supports a second referendum and, worse still, one that would have remain as an option, to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask himself whether he can truly call himself a democrat.
I should say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that I was speaking at a theatre in Colchester last night and I referenced him in the course of my remarks. Knowing that he is not altogether averse to a focus upon himself from time to time, I think he would have enjoyed my observations.
Does the Minister agree that, if the 2016 referendum is not honoured, a second referendum would have no credibility whatsoever?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is not the best of three. It is not about, “You keep trying until you get the result you want.” This was a historic vote, when millions of people put their faith in democracy. To do anything other than revere that vote would undermine democracy and cause a collapse in that faith.
I am relieved to see that the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who is a most assiduous attender in the Chamber, has beetled into the Chamber just in time. This is very good news.
No Deal: Other States’ Preparations
We are committed to negotiating a successful exit and, as a responsible Government, we are also preparing for the unlikely scenario in which we leave without a deal, including by co-operating with member states to minimise disruption to citizens and businesses. We will continue to impress on member states our joint responsibility to work together.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Speaker.
Although we do not expect a no-deal scenario, which is clearly not in the interests of anyone, does the Minister agree that it is completely incumbent on EU member states to work with the UK, because it is in their own interests to get a good deal as well?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Member states are playing a key role in ensuring the successful delivery of our exit and in negotiations. We hope to work with them fully in future.
Have the discussions with the Republic of Ireland Government about the possibility of our leaving with no deal next March identified that they would have a clear obligation, enforceable quite quickly through the European Court of Justice, to impose customs and other checks on trade across the border with Northern Ireland?
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that the Irish Government have said that they would not do that.
In the event of no deal, the EU’s free trade agreements will cease to apply to the UK. How many of those 37 free trade agreements have the Government successfully agreed with our partners to retain and carry over in the event of no deal?
We are currently in negotiations with all those individual partners so that we can do exactly that.
Leaving the EU: Devolved Administrations
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State holds detailed discussions with the devolved Administrations on the negotiations, through monthly meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations). I co-chair the Ministerial Forum (EU Negotiations), which met most recently on Monday. We had a productive discussion on co-operative accords, including on science, education and culture.
Has the Secretary of State read the Scottish Government’s most recent publication, “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward”? Will he pledge to consider the recommendation in the report that staying in the single market and customs union would be best for jobs and the economy?
I am clear that the Government’s position is that we will leave the single market and customs union, but I did receive a delightful bound copy of said report at the ministerial forum and will of course take it away and give it due consideration.
Yesterday, the Russian Federation formally objected to the post-Brexit schedule proposed by the UK at the World Trade Organisation. Unless the Russian veto is removed, if there is no deal, Welsh companies will not be able to trade on WTO terms. What discussions has the Minister had with the Welsh Government about this catastrophic likely outcome for the Welsh economy?
The hon. Gentleman refers to something that happened yesterday. I understand that the Department for International Trade has already responded and said that such objections at the WTO are not unusual and that it is already taking steps to address them.
The Minister knows that I am the vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which he is a much-missed member. The assembly recently visited the Scottish Parliament, where we were shown the recent report. I have recently been to Wales and BIPA has just had its conference in London. The Minister greatly respects the United Kingdom and its constituent parts, but may I pick up on what the Secretary of State said? It is not good enough to keep on talking to Cabinet colleagues; Brexit is undermining the integrity of the Union. How often has the Secretary of State visited the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland to talk to the people there about how they really feel about the strain in our constitution?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her important work with BIPA, of which I was a keen member as a Back Bencher. We take the Union very seriously. The Secretary of State regularly meets representatives of the two devolved Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service at the Joint Ministerial Committee. Although he is relatively new in his role, I am sure that he will visit all four parts of the United Kingdom during the course of his duties.
We are running slightly late, but I want to accommodate the last two questioners.
Leaving the EU: Legislation
We are continuing to put in place the legislative building blocks to deliver our exit, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, including the unlikely event that a deal cannot be agreed. The Government have stated consistently that a wide range of legislation will be required to correct retained EU law and ensure a functioning statute book on exit day. Examples include the recent Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, which is now law, and statutory instruments on civil aviation and airports.
Greater Manchester has started to draw up plans for the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit. Council leaders have warned that supermarkets in the north-west do not have warehouse space to stockpile food. Planes from Manchester airport could be grounded. Councils have already faced eight years of austerity, and they will be the ones picking up the pieces after no deal, providing housing and children-and-adult services to people who are out of work because of economic downturn. Will the Minister commit to sharing the Government’s no-deal planning with local authorities?
The Government take very seriously the concerns of local authorities when it comes to Brexit preparations. I have met local government leaders all over the country to talk about the subject. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has set up a Brexit delivery board to co-ordinate the work of local authorities and Government on preparations for Brexit—deal or no deal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We firmly believe that it is in the interests of both the EU and the UK to strike a deal, but it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all scenarios. The UK aerospace industry is a high-growth, high-value sector driven by innovation. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with the sector to ensure that the UK continues to be one of the most competitive locations in the world for aerospace.
I thank the Minister for that answer. No deal would be extremely serious and damaging for aerospace both in the EU and the UK, so it is vital that we avoid that. In terms of cash flow, I ask him, even if there is a deal, to look very seriously at ensuring that cash flow is available for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises that are likely to be impacted even by small disruption to their business.
I thank my hon. Friend for his supplementary question. Although there are programmes already in place, including the Sharing in Growth performance improvement programme, I will happily take away the point that he has made and perhaps have a conversation with him about it later.
Since I last updated the House, our negotiations with the EU have continued and the withdrawal agreement is now 95% agreed. There is one key outstanding issue, namely the Northern Ireland border. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister set out the proposals that we are discussing with the EU and, as we intensify our negotiations to secure a good deal, we are also expediting preparations for no deal just in case the EU does not match the ambition and the pragmatism that we have demonstrated.
It is clear that no deal would be a national disaster and the thousands of EU citizens living in Battersea fear that a no-deal Brexit risks causing personal disaster and their rights to be jeopardised. Groups such as the 3 million have called for the citizens’ rights section of the withdrawal agreement to be ring-fenced so that there is no change to their rights in the event of a no deal. Why will the Secretary of State not make that commitment?
The Prime Minister and I have made the commitment to secure the rights of EU nationals here. We will set out the details very shortly, and we do expect the EU to reciprocate in relation to UK expats abroad.
It is a deeply irresponsible approach. I have to say that it is one that the Labour leadership have taken, but it is one that all Members on all sides might have to think about very carefully when we bring back a good deal from the EU.
The Secretary of State has now published 106 technical notices relating to no deal. The analysis by the Institute for Government shows that, taken together, his own technical notices commit the Government before next March to the creation or expansion of 15 quangos, further legislation in 51 areas, the negotiation of 40 new international agreements either with the EU or other countries, and the introduction of 55 new systems and processes. That is a huge legislative task for any Government, let alone this troubled Government. That is his own analysis. On a scale of one to 10, can the Secretary of State indicate how confident he is that this can all be done in the next 22 weeks?
I thank the shadow Brexit Secretary. What he has set out, of course, is the concerted plans and preparations that we are rightly undertaking to make sure that, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations—and we want a good deal—we will be ready to deal with the short-term risk, which there will undoubtedly be, and make a success of Brexit.
I notice that I did not get a number between one and 10, and I notice, therefore, that the Secretary of State is not adopting the blind confidence in the face of the fact that his predecessor went in for. The truth is that it is already too late to plan for no deal. This is bluff not planning. May I ask a very simple question? Why was this legislation not introduced months ago?
There has actually been a variety of legislation, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which is now in place. The irresponsible thing to do is take the position of the shadow Chancellor, who has said that he would make no financial provision for no deal. That is deeply irresponsible, as it would leave us as a hostage to the negotiations and leave the UK overexposed in the unlikely and regrettable outcome that we do not get a deal with our EU partners.
Studying abroad is a great opportunity for many students and we want to ensure that it continues. We have proposed a UK-EU co-operative accord on culture and education for after we leave, allowing British and EU students to continue to visit one another’s countries, and study in one another’s colleges and universities.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. In our White Paper, we have set out a labour mobility framework that includes visa-free travel for tourists and short-term business visits. I think that that would address her constituents’ points.
Will the Government ensure that our contingency plans reflect what we know of our European partners’ contingency plans?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on no deal when he was the Minister, and the preparations that have been in place for more than two years. As he will know from his experience in the Department, we closely monitor what our European counterparts are saying. If he were to listen to our French counterparts at this point in time, he would be hearing noises about two-minute checks at the border, not longer. France is employing lots of customs guards to ensure the flow of goods and trade, and will increase the number of border posts at Calais.
Through our White Paper proposals, we are absolutely committed not just to secure and build on our brilliant trading relationship with the EU, but to take advantage of the growth opportunities globally. We are also committed—not just through the EU withdrawal Act, but through the legislation that will be coming forward—to ensuring that we leave the country in an environmentally stronger position for the next generation.
If anyone were to cut up rough at the borders, what is the significance of our being signatories to the World Trade Organisation trade facilitation agreement?
The WTO rules provide some legal checks in relation to discrimination and other aspects, but the reality is that there would be disruption at the border. We can mitigate to a large degree, but not wholly; that will depend on the response from our EU partners and friends. The French, the Belgians and the Dutch are co-operating with us constructively with regard to Eurotunnel. My hon. Friend will have heard what the Minister for no deal planning said about the French approach. We are confident that there would be a constructive approach on both sides in the case of a no deal scenario, but we do need to prepare for all eventualities.
It has always been the case in these negotiations that we have to agree the whole deal in order for it to apply. It is right to say that we have made a great deal of progress on that protocol, but it is linked to the overall withdrawal agreement.
Witnesses to the Select Committee on Justice on Tuesday stressed the importance of ongoing contractual continuity and certainty of enforcement. That is especially important to the financial services sector, where many of my constituents work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss progress on a number of the important technical aspects around this issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will remember that I answered questions on this topic before his Committee when I was a Justice Minister. These are key aspects of the future relationship, and aspects that we continue to negotiate. We will continue to engage with him and his Committee to ensure that we get the right approach.
Any pay-offs to MEPs are obviously a matter for the EU rather than the UK. In relation to young people, we need to be very clear on the benefits of Brexit, both in relation to trade and to the global horizons that will be the USP of this country. In relation to the mobility provisions that allow them to keep studying, travelling and taking advantage of the rich cultural and educational opportunities on the continent, we will engage with all sectors and all stakeholders.
Yesterday, at our evidence session in the Exiting the EU Committee, representatives of Northern Irish businesses made it quite clear that no deal would be really damaging for them and for the people of Northern Ireland. Does that not therefore make it absolutely imperative that the whole question of the Northern Ireland backstop is resolved, and resolved quickly?
My hon. Friend is always a very constructive commentator on these issues, and I welcomed my time serving with him on the Brexit Committee. He makes a very important point. We want to see a sensible approach to the bridge between intellectual property and the future relationship; the de-politicisation, frankly, of this issue; and making sure, which is in both sides’ interests, that we resolve this issue and get the deal done, which is good news for both sides, and particularly for Northern Ireland.
Stockpiling is a part of what the NHS and businesses do already. We will be leaving the European Union successfully on 29 March next year, and we will be getting a deal.
The UK has the world’s third-largest aviation industry, yet there are no WTO defaults in the event of no deal. What discussions are taking place to help the aviation industry to plan for all Brexit scenarios?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He will have seen, no doubt, the technical notices that have been issued relating to the aviation sector, which set out very clearly that we would seek to strike the relevant bilateral agreements to ensure that aviation companies and aeroplanes have access to each other’s airspace.
We hear a lot of fighting talk from the Front Bench, but what attempt are the Government making to heal the terrible divisions that still scar our country, and what attempt are they making to listen to the concerns of remain voters such as mine in Bristol West?
It has nothing to do with fighting talk; it is to do with the professionalism and the smart approach we are taking to the negotiations, both on the substance and the detail of our proposals. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is laughing, but Labour has come up with no serious alternative on the substance. We will continue to make sure that we get the best deal for the country, because that would provide the unifying effect and the healing of the divisions that the hon. Lady refers to.
When I came back from Berlin during the October holidays, I went through the blue lane rather than the red lane or the green lane at customs. What lane will I use on 30 March next year, on 30 March 2020, and on 30 March 2021?
The hon. Gentleman can come back through the UK lane.
I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is now clear about his domestic arrangements for the future. No doubt we will get an update in due course.
Bed manufacturing contributes over £330 million to the UK economy, employing 7,000 people in over 155 companies. In Batley and Spen alone, there are 35 bed manufacturers employing over 1,000 staff. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with bed manufacturers to protect them from a no-deal Brexit?
We engage with all sectors and businesses of all kinds, both through the business advisory group, which I have gone and presented to, and the CBI’s business committee. We want to make sure that manufacturers like those in the hon. Lady’s constituency are protected in a no-deal scenario in relation to their EU trade links, but also their global ones. The best thing she can do is to get behind the Government so that we get the best deal for them.
There are two colleagues bobbing who have not had a question so far. I call Martin Whitfield.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
On this sitting day in 1971, by 356 votes to 244, this House voted to join the EEC. Could the Secretary of State give us the benefits of that decision?
I am not quite sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to raise, but I gently suggest to him that life has moved on a little bit since the 1970s, although some on the Labour Front Bench are a bit slow in catching up. We had a referendum in 2016. The British people voted to leave and we are going to get the best deal for them.
This morning, a family-owned business in my constituency, FreestyleXtreme, announced that it is moving some of its jobs to Bucharest because of uncertainty about Brexit, and particularly the fact that it might be hit by tariffs after exit day. It warned me several months ago that that move would have to be on the cards. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to small companies? I can see further businesses taking the same option if they do not get more clarity.
The hon. Lady is right to point to the uncertainty at this moment in time. The best way of alleviating that is for us to get a good deal. The economy is doing well. Youth unemployment is half the level it was in 2010. Wages are rising at the highest level since the financial crash. In terms of businesses voting with confidence in the UK economy, Rolls-Royce, Unilever and Amazon recently announced fresh investment in this country, and that is the reason we should go into these negotiations with economic self-confidence.
I am sorry, but we must now move on.
Before we hear the urgent question, I wish to make a short statement about the recording of names in the Division list printed in Hansard relating to new clause 7, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill.
I am sorry to report that there are a large number of errors in that list. Those appear to have been caused by a technological failure. The numbers recorded as voting on either side of the Division are recorded by the Tellers. Those numbers—I hope the House is following me—are correct. Moreover, the names recorded on the Commons voting app—with which all present, I feel sure, will be closely familiar—are also correct. Urgent steps are now being taken to correct the record, and the Clerk Assistant is investigating what went wrong, with a view to taking necessary corrective action. He has asked me to pass on his apology to Members concerned. I cannot identify them individually—that would be a most burdensome and lengthy task—but I hope that they will take this as an apology to all. A revised, corrected list will be printed. I hope that that satisfies the House for now.
It could be the Russians.
I am always grateful for the assistance proffered from a sedentary position by the hon. Gentleman.
Nuclear Treaty: US Withdrawal
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the planned US withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty and its implications for UK and European security.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to put up with the Minister of State this morning.
If I may, I will first set out some of the context. The intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty is an agreement signed 31 years ago, in 1987, between the United States and the Soviet Union. The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges. For over three decades, the INF treaty has played a valuable role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security. By removing an entire class of US and Russian weapons, the treaty has contributed to strategic stability and reduced the risk of miscalculation leading to conflict.
Russia’s aggressive actions, including the threat and use of force to attain political goals, continue to undermine Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order. Full compliance is essential for the treaty to be effective, yet a pattern of behaviour and information over many years has led to widespread doubts about Russia’s compliance. Of course, it was the Obama Administration in 2014 that first strongly called out Russia’s non-compliance with this treaty. It is important to remember that this has been a long-running concern for several US Administrations and, indeed, for their European allies.
Alongside NATO allies in July, we made clear that in the absence of any credible answer from Russia on the 9M729 missile, the most plausible assessment would be that Russia was now in violation of the INF treaty. Since then, we have received no credible answer and so judge that Russia is indeed in violation.
In the interests of preserving the treaty, to which we in the UK and I think all our allies in Europe remain fully committed, we urge Russia to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and to come back into full compliance with the treaty. The situation in which only one side—the United States—adheres to the treaty and Russia remains in non-compliance is not sustainable, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree.
It is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from this treaty. While the treaty remains in force, we shall continue to support it, and in particular to press Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance. Indeed, it is worth noting media reports that Presidents Trump and Putin plan to meet in France next month—on Remembrance Sunday—to discuss this further. May I reassure the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the House at large, that dialogue is ongoing and that we shall remain in close contact with our US and NATO allies?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the Minister for a very helpful reply.
As the Minister said, last week President Trump announced that the United States intends to leave the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, which was signed by the US and Soviet Russia in 1987. At that time, the threat of nuclear war brought the two great powers together at the negotiation table. The result of those negotiations was the elimination of all short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles, many of which were placed in Europe. Worryingly, however, nuclear war seems more tangible and real today than at any time since Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF. Yet instead of realising this very real threat and its implications for global peace and security, the United States has apparently decided unilaterally to pull out, offering no alternative proposal or replacement. That is why I very much welcome the Minister’s comments.
What we are seeing at the moment is the erosion of the rules-based international order that underpins global peace and security. I must point out that the US was at the forefront of painstakingly creating such a system over the past 70 years. Leaving the INF is a dangerous unravelling of part of the architecture of trust and understanding that has prevented nuclear conflict. That system began exactly 50 years ago with the signing of the non-proliferation treaty, and certainly Labour Members—and, I am sure, those on both sides of the House—strongly support it.
Many experts have concluded that we are now entering a new arms race that has the potential to be more unpredictable and dangerous than at any time during the cold war. Have the UK Government consulted the United States on the implications that an arms race might have for European and United Kingdom security? I ask because this has deep implications for European security. In 1987, Europe was at the epicentre of the cold war and the arms race between Russia and America. Today, events in places such as Ukraine, and even here at home in Salisbury, have shown that Europe is at the forefront of a new conflict between east and west.
Withdrawal from the INF brings back the spectre of Pershing missiles being stationed in Europe and here in the United Kingdom, which I remember vividly from the 1980s. If such a nuclear conflict was to happen between the two major nuclear powers, the UK and our European allies would probably be the first to be hit. Finally, have the Government been given assurances by the United States Administration that we will not see a return of the deployment of short and intermediate-range missiles in Europe?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he and I agree—I hope the whole House would agree—that there is a great worry that there seems to be an erosion of the international rules-based order on which we have relied since the second world war. I think that we all recognise that that order perhaps needs to evolve and adapt to the world we are living in, and we need to engage with as many partners as possible to ensure that that comes to pass.
We have long-standing concerns about Russia’s development of a range of new capabilities that stand ready to undermine strategic stability. The US is a responsible nuclear power, with which we work closely. I have twice been to the UN Security Council in the past year for the debates that have taken place on non-proliferation. Interestingly, those debates were held at the behest of Kazakhstan and other nations that one would not necessarily think of as being immediately concerned about such matters. It is very much the policy to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. We shall continue to work with all partners across the international community to prevent proliferation and to make progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament.
I wish to touch on one other matter that the hon. Gentleman did not mention but is worth commenting on. As he is aware, there is also the bilateral new strategic arms reduction treaty. It was signed in 2011 by the US and Russia, and is designed to expire, under a 10-year process, in 2021. We are very pleased that both sides met limits by the deadline earlier this year, and we welcome the continued implementation of that treaty, which has an important impact on the broader proliferation of nuclear and other weaponry. New START contributes to international stability, and allies have expressed strong support for its continued implementation, and for early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability.
This week marks the anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, when the world came to the brink of nuclear war. Clearly the most important issue is that both sides have to come to compliance. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Russia needs to come to compliance with its obligations under the treaty to make the world safe?
My hon. Friend was alive during the time of the Cuban missile crisis, unlike one or two of us on the Government Benches—and elsewhere I am sure, but I would not wish to be too glib about it.
We absolutely recognise the seriousness of the challenge that lies ahead. Tackling INF is essential for the security of the US and Europe, but we need to ensure that all sides that sign up to such agreements continue to implement them fully. That is where we are at the moment—working with all our allies to get Russia back to the negotiating table and keeping to its obligations.
I was definitely not alive at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, but I have been to eastern Ukraine, and two miles from the contact line with its occupied part, so I am under no illusion about the threat from Russian aggression. The Minister knows that Scottish National party Members have supported the Government on that when required. However, if we believe in the integrity of this vital treaty—the shadow Minister was right to adumbrate its importance—it cannot be the case that we can bring Russia into compliance at the same time as the United States is threatening to depart from it. It therefore follows that we cannot be cheerleaders for the US departing from the treaty. There were somewhat mixed messages—the Minister has partly cleared things up this morning—coming from the Defence Secretary in New York at the tail end of last week, when he stated that we would be with the United States should it choose to leave the INF treaty. I hope the Minister will confirm that the British Government should not take such a position. I would hope that Britain will knock heads together. He will have our support if he chooses to do that, because if the integrity of the treaty is unravelled by President Trump—I am mindful that this is all during an election campaign—we will all be the worse off for it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his wise comments. It is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from the treaty, and clearly we are in discussions with all our allies to avoid that outcome, but it is equally important that Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance. It is also worth reflecting, as I did in my comments about New START, on the fact that there are other treaties around. I accept that this issue very much focuses the minds of all of us on the European continent, but other treaties are still being adhered to, and that is a positive starting point in trying to bring both sides together.
It is my understanding that it would take six months to withdraw from the treaty under the formal process. Is it effectively the case that we now have a crucial six-month period in which to make some progress in reaching an agreement between Russia, America and ourselves?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we engage routinely with the US on a wide range of foreign policy and security issues, and similarly, this week US officials in Moscow will be talking about a range of issues. There is a timeframe, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. We very much want to adhere to the treaty while it is in place, and in our view it is Russia’s responsibility to come to the table and ensure the proper implementation of its obligations.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw unilaterally from hard-won international agreements, including the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, is cause for concern. I agree with the Minister that states need to honour the commitments they have entered into, but does he agree that it sends a damaging message about the need for international agreements to solve the problems of the world when the United States of America can no longer be relied on to uphold agreements that it freely entered into?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government also have concerns about the Paris climate change agreement, and we think it greatly to be regretted that the US decided to withdraw from it. I reiterate that it is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from this treaty, and it is the work of allies—particularly here on the European continent, and not least the big three of the United Kingdom, Germany and France—to try to exert as much pressure as possible in that regard. The easiest way to resolve this matter is to ensure that the bilateral arrangement that has been in place for 31 years is adhered to by one of the parties that is not doing so. In a way, this is frustration boiling over, and as I have pointed out, this is not something new to the Trump Administration; this high-profile issue goes back almost half a decade, including during the Obama Administration.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that none of us wants a return to the era of thousands of short and intermediate-range nuclear warhead missile delivery systems in Europe that could potentially be used at a moment’s notice to start a world war. Does he agree that when Russia has developed a new missile system that is potentially in breach of this treaty, we must be clear that that treaty will not survive if one party ignores its obligations?
My hon. Friend is right and there are very deep-seated concerns, not only for the US but for all allies about Russia’s development of new missile systems. Those long-standing concerns are shared by all NATO allies, not least those close to the Russian border. Along with NATO allies, and supported by US efforts, we worked to bring Russia back into compliance as recently as the NATO summit last July.
One disturbing thing that President Trump added to this conversation was when he said that he is not convinced by the treaty because it does not include China, which is increasing its arsenal. Does that suggest that something in the mind of the President of the United States of America would quite like an escalation of nuclear weaponry? That is something to be abhorred by us all, is it not?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is, in part, in the realms of speculation. As Members will know, Russia and the US alone are the countries bound by the treaty, although it obviously impacts on many other countries across the world, especially in Europe. We are engaging, and will continue to engage, with the United States Administration to understand their assessment, although obviously, I, too, have read some of the speculation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Fundamentally, this treaty concerns Euro-Atlantic security and can be effective only if there is full compliance.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm what specific engagement there has been with representatives from the US Administration and Russian authorities on these matters?
I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that I do not want to get into too many matters of sensitive intelligence regarding verification and other issues. Clearly, lines of communications are open, and not just with the US. One benefit, however frustrating, of the bilateral relationship between the UK and Russia is that we are members of the UN Security Council, and there are opportunities to engage on a regular basis. My hon. Friend should be assured that we will continue to do so.
There is a continuing undermining of the international order by many nations across the world, including Russia and China. How will the UK Government ensure that upholders of the international order—NATO, the UN, the USA, Britain and Europe—make the case that the person who is also undermining that international order, President Trump, must show an example, or else we cannot make that argument to other countries?
I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from on this matter. He wants to criticise the US Administration, but the truth of the matter is that there has been frustration on this issue for over half a decade. We are working closely, and do work closely, with the US to try to ensure nuclear non-proliferation. I agree that it is a matter of great concern that we are living in a world where there are continued threats, from a number of unexpected quarters, towards a rules-based international system that has stood the world in very good stead over the past seven decades. I spend a lot of time in the Foreign Office on this matter. I know that the new Foreign Secretary feels just as strongly about it and will want to speak very openly about the rules-based system.
May I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who spoke from the Labour Front Bench, for tabling an urgent question on this matter and you, Mr Speaker, for accepting it? Does the Minister share my concern, however, that in the Labour Front Bencher’s comments there was not a breath that was critical of Russia for not complying with the treaty? Does he agree that there is no point in having international treaties unless both signatories adhere to their terms?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which he asks in his usual robust style. In fairness, I think that the Labour Front Bencher was slightly more even-handed in his approach to the matter than he gives him credit for. It is, however, worth reiterating my hon. Friend’s point that ultimately we would not have come to this pass had Russia adhered to its compliance obligations.
Just to be clear, if the INF treaty falls apart that would mean the relocation of short-range and medium-range nuclear missiles on UK soil. The UK Government have not been critical of President Trump’s diplomatic moves, so can I take it that they would not stand in the way of the relocation of those missiles on UK soil?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is highly speculative and several steps ahead. We are doing our level best to ensure that, for the reasons I have laid out, the INF treaty is not torn up and thrown away. For as long as the treaty remains in force, we shall continue our efforts to bring Russia back into full and verified compliance.
My right hon. Friend referred to the ongoing work on multilateral nuclear disarmament. Will he express what the United Kingdom is doing? It is absolutely vital that far more visible work is done on this globally, in addition to seeking to maintain the other treaties that are a vital stepping stone towards that?
I reassure my hon. Friend that a lot of work does go on. It is often said that the best way to keep matters secret in British public life is to say something about them on the Floor of the House of Commons. Perhaps the floor of the UN Security Council provides the same anonymity. Whenever I go to New York, I am very struck by how many nations, particularly those who are non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, feel as strongly about non-proliferation. We continue to work very closely on it. With all the issues around Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that have been at the forefront of people’s minds over the past year, there has never been a more important time to make the robust case to which he refers.
Russia’s non-compliance with the treaty is very serious, but may I press the Minister on what assurances, with regard to the deployment of short-range and medium-range missiles in Europe, he has gleaned from our US partners?
That is a fair question to ask, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that this is sheer speculation. We are a long way off the idea of having to take assurances about where the citing of any weapons may or may not be. Obviously, one of our biggest concerns is that President Putin’s immediate instinct is to come out and make a rather destabilising and uncalled for comment about a further threat in this regard. Our hope is that both parties will return to the table to look at the treaty, but that would require good will, particularly on the Russian side.
The UK has a long and strong interest in this treaty, thanks in no small part to Margaret Thatcher bringing the two sides together. Tempting as it is for some in this place to enter into a little bit of America bashing, will the Minister confirm that it is Russia, not the US, that is in breach of the treaty?
I thank my hon. Friend for robustly putting that case. He is absolutely right; the whole issue has come to pass because of Russia’s continued and long-standing non-compliance. The truth of the matter is, as I have said, that this is not just an issue for the Trump Administration. Very robust action was taken in 2014 and grave concerns were raised about Russia’s failure to adhere to its obligations.
The Minister will recall that yesterday was the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945. In 1945, some real statesmen and women got together and said, “How do we stop these world wars? How do we stop this chaos? How do we stop the killing?” They came up with the United Nations, NATO and the European Coal and Steel Community, which became the European Union. Is it not a fact that we now have to realise what perilous times we are in and find unity in Europe to make a contribution to the peace?
Understandably, we often take the situation for granted. I am the father of a 10-year-old son, and we have perhaps taken for granted the fact that he is the third generation of Field menfolk who have not had to go to war. We should be aware that that is the exception, rather than the rule.
I am a great believer in utilising the strongest possible bilateral and multilateral communications, in diplomacy terms. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that one thing has been very evident in all the discussions since that fateful day in June 2016: when we leave the European Union, we have to work together in security, defence and intelligence. We have focused our minds on that a great deal, and we will continue to do so even when we are outside the European Union.
As recently as this summer, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Russia, described the INF as
“probably the most successful treaty”
“history of arms control”.
Does the Minister agree with Jon Huntsman, and, if so, will he make that point to the US and Russian Governments as he meets them?
It is fair to say that although that treaty has particular resonance in Europe, a number of other treaties have come into place since then. There has been a new strategic arms reduction treaty, and constant discussions are taking place to try to secure non-proliferation. The treaty is clearly important in its own terms, but it is a treaty signed between two countries. We would like one of those two countries, which is clearly in breach of it, to come back to the table. Only when that happens can we be sure that the stability that came into place at the signing of the treaty 31 years ago will be maintained.
Regrettably, both Trump and Putin seem committed to tearing up the international rules-based order. What specific initiatives does the Minister anticipate the UK taking with the European Union to bolster the international rules-based order, so that we can ensure that there is a focus on reducing nuclear weapons, but also on tackling other global issues such as climate change?
It is wrong to suggest that America is trying to tear up the international order, although there are perhaps more threats to that order than has hitherto been the case. We will work together in as many international institutions as we can. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Germany joins the Security Council in January next year for a two-year term, and we anticipate tremendously important work being done between France, Germany and the UK in that forum to try to hold things together.
The problem with the politics of brinkmanship is that it takes people to the brink. Is it not about time the Government used the so-called special relationship to tell President Trump so?
I do not want to reiterate what I have said for the last half hour, but the truth of the matter is that we have reached this point because Russia has persistently and consistently failed to meet its obligations. The important thing is not that we turn our fire in the other direction, but that we work with all our allies—we are united among our NATO allies here in Europe—to ensure that Russia adheres to those obligations.
Mr Speaker, you know that I am by nature a conviction optimist, but my optimism—and, more importantly, that of my constituents in Bristol West, who turned to me over the weekend for hope and reassurance about the international rules-based order—is being sorely tested. I ask the Minister from the heart: what help can he give me to pass on optimism and hope for a better world?
I am sure the hon. Lady will be glad to hear that I am by nature a glass-half-full person, but these are serious issues. We must continue to talk, and we must continue to make the case internationally, along the lines that she has suggested.
All our NATO allies are totally united on this issue. Their consistent message is that Russia has a key role in preserving the treaty, and it must be made aware of that key role, which we agree has been a very important pillar of the European security agreement. I say to the hon. Lady, “Please do not be pessimistic.” This is one of the things about diplomacy. I know that a lot of it goes on under the radar, but we are working together with all our allies, in this particular space but also generally, where there are other breaches of the rules-based international system.
The INF treaty has been important across the NATO alliance in preventing miscalculation. Across the alliance there has also been concern about Russia’s failure to comply. Can the Minister confirm that advance notice of the American stance was given to the alliance, and that he will press for America to keep members of the alliance up to date and informed about its position in relation to any cancellation of the treaty?
I am happy to confirm that we will do that. I reiterate that the United States is still in the treaty, and we will continue to engage routinely with the widest range of foreign policy and security issues with the United States and, indeed, with other partners in this regard.
Before we come to the business question, I wish to make a few brief remarks.
I am delighted that the House of Commons Commission has decided to support fully the three main recommendations of Dame Laura Cox’s report, namely the removal of the previous complaints procedures that are considered not fit for purpose, the call for an entirely independent process to handle complaints, and the inclusion of historical allegations. I believe that this is an important first step in our root-and-branch reform of the culture of this House.
We need to create an internal movement that looks at everything and everyone, and ensures that we all treat each other with respect. We know that more than 200 people came forward to give their testimonies to help Dame Laura to form her opinions, and we owe it to each and every one of them to get this right. Specifically, I am very keen to see the establishment of an independent body to hear and adjudicate on all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct as soon as possible. Knowing that there is a safe place—a haven—for staff and Members of Parliament to approach when things go badly wrong should send out the strongest signal yet that we are listening, we have heard, and we are willing to change.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business next week will be as follows:
Monday 29 October—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.
Tuesday 30 October—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 31 October—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Thursday 1 November—Conclusion of the Budget debate, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Friday 2 November—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 November will include the following:
Monday 5 November—A general debate on the Dame Laura Cox report on the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff, followed by a general debate on road safety.
Tuesday 6 November—A general debate on the centenary of the armistice.
May I start by sending the very best wishes of the House to Sir Jeremy Heywood, a man whose public service we have been so lucky and thankful to have?
Today we celebrate the coming into force 50 years ago of the Race Relations Act 1965, a critical piece of legislation that made the United Kingdom a better place in which to live and work. As Black History Month enters its final week, we acknowledge the extraordinary contribution to the United Kingdom that is made by all our black and minority ethnic communities. Finally, as we approach the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, may I draw all colleagues’ attention to the concert in Westminster Hall being performed by the Parliament choir and the Bundestag choir at 7.30 pm on 31 October? I plan to attend and hope that many colleagues will be able to join what I am sure will be a fantastic event.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business—although it is still only for a week and two days. At last week’s business questions the Leader of the House said I was complaining when I asked for the dates of the Easter recess, but I am going to try again as she has not announced them, and I do not think that is a very nice way of describing what I asked for—I was just doing my job. Maybe unconsciously the right hon. Lady is irritated by my questions, but this is business questions not business discussions. Members, staff and the House need the dates in order to plan ahead.
I note that there has been no rescheduling of time for the Offensive Weapons Bill. It is a very important Bill: it covers the sale and delivery of corrosive substances, possession of dangerous knives, possession of offensive weapons. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and other hon. Members have consistently asked the Government for action on this to protect the public. The last time the Bill was scheduled to be discussed the Government put on three statements, and the next time there were two urgent questions and then a statement by the Prime Minister statement. When will we have the Report stage and Third Reading?
The right hon. Lady mentioned race relations and the anniversary of the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965—by a Labour Government. A point of order was raised yesterday by the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). He said a person was welcomed for lunch on the parliamentary estate; at rallies this person’s supporters have been pictured performing Nazi salutes. Will the Leader of the House join me in opposing far-right extremists being invited on to the parliamentary estate? Does the Leader of the House know if he read the behaviour code?
Also last week I asked about the statutory instrument on managing migration on to universal credit, saying it should be taken on the Floor of the House. I have asked for this twice, and the right hon. Lady has not given me a yes or no answer. Can she just say, “Yes it will”? We know how to pray against it; we just need a confirmation and reassurance from her that we can debate it on the Floor of the House.
Again last week I asked about Northamptonshire County Council-owned NEA Properties. The Leader of the House again did not answer the question and say what happened to £1.5 million of public money spent on unspecified projects. Will she ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to update the House?
The Government seem to be profligate with public money and state assets, because apparently the UK equity firm Cerberus misled the Government in the biggest sale of state assets in UK history. The company told the Government it was planning to offer homeowners better mortgage deals before its £13 billion purchase of former Northern Rock mortgages. It has not provided any new mortgages and 65,000 homeowners are still trapped on high interest rates. May we have a statement on the sale of the loan book from UK Asset Resolution, which was set up by the Treasury?
On the EU, can the Leader of the House clarify either now or in a letter to me—and the House—what has actually been agreed in the negotiations? In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister said that
“95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 47.]
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that 90% was resolved. Which is it? The Prime Minister said that the Irish border was still a “considerable sticking point”, and the European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt agrees, as he said yesterday that “progress is at 0%” until the Irish border issue is solved. The EU offered to convene a special summit in November to help the Prime Minister, but it seems that that has now been withdrawn and that the special summit will now be in December. Do the Government have any idea when Parliament can express its view on the terms of the deal? We also heard from the almost millions of people who took to the streets of London last week to give us their view.
Will the Leader of the House say whether the Finance Bill vote will be in November? Will it be before the vote on the final deal, or after? We need to know because the Procedure Committee has to respond to the letter of the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), of 23 October in which he asked that the business motion allow for multiple amendments to be tabled, selected and voted on before the main motion. This is a sovereign Parliament, not a supine Parliament.
While the Government’s negotiating strategy is in chaos, what are they saying to Sir Paul Nurse and other Nobel prizewinners about the effect on science of our leaving the EU? What are they saying to the CBI, 80% of whose members say that uncertainty has had a great impact on their investment decisions? What are the Government doing following the freedom of information request that revealed that most NHS trusts have made no preparations for Brexit, despite worries about the effect on staffing and the availability of drugs? We could have a statement on this, but better still, could the Government update the sectoral analysis on how much money they are going to give to each sector?
I, too, want to join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in sending my good wishes to Sir Jeremy Heywood. He has spent 35 years in the civil service as Cabinet Secretary, permanent secretary to two Prime Ministers at No. 10 and, among other jobs, principal private secretary to two Chancellors. His first job in the civil service was as an economic adviser to the Health and Safety Executive. We wish him all the best; we have lost a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge.
I also want to send my good wishes to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray), my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who have all taken a tumble recently. We wish them a speedy recovery.
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that some of our colleagues seem to have been a bit accident prone recently. I would add my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) to that list, and I wish them all a speedy recovery.
The hon. Lady asked for recess dates. As she will be aware, we are rising for the November recess on 6 November and returning on 12 November. We rise for the Christmas recess on 20 December and return on 7 January. We rise at the close of business on Thursday 14 February and return on Monday 25 February. I will give recess dates for the Easter break as soon as I can.
The hon. Lady asked about the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Government have tried twice to debate the next stage of that Bill, but I think all hon. Members will appreciate that there have been some important statements. This week, we had the Prime Minister’s statement on the EU Council, and I believe that more than 100 questions were asked of her. We also had an important Government statement on the untimely death of Mr Khashoggi, an absolutely shocking situation that all hon. Members will have wanted to hear about. Mr Speaker also granted two urgent questions, which made it clear that, for the second time, it would not be possible to do justice to the many amendments that Members wanted to discuss within the time agreed by the House for the debate. Unfortunately, we therefore had to delay that business again, but we will reschedule it as soon as we can.
The hon. Lady mentioned the visit to Parliament of a certain individual. I think that all hon. Members would abhor the comments and views of that individual, but I also think that they would uphold the right to free speech. This is a dilemma, and we all need to be careful about how we address it. Nevertheless, I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the views of that individual.
The hon. Lady asked about the statutory instrument on universal credit that is being prayed against by the Opposition. The Government have already scheduled more negative SIs for debate on the Floor of the House than in any Session since 1997. It is a matter of parliamentary convention that, where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for that debate. I think that we have demonstrated in this Session that the Government are willing to provide time in line with that convention and to accede to reasonable requests made by the Opposition, and we will continue to do so.
The hon. Lady then raised a number of questions that are rightly for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. If she wishes to raise specific points, I can direct them to MHCLG on her behalf, or she can await MHCLG questions. She could also encourage hon. Members who want to have specific questions answered to submit written questions. I am happy to facilitate obtaining those answers for her.
With regard to Brexit, the Prime Minister made it very clear in her statement on the state of the preparations on Monday that there had been extraordinary progress. She also went through a number of areas of concern to the House, such as the outstanding issues on Gibraltar, on EU citizens’ rights here and UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and on financial payments. There has been a huge amount of progress.
The PM also made it clear that there is a serious sticking point around Northern Ireland and the EU’s desire for a backstop whereby Northern Ireland is kept within the customs union. That would lead to a border down the Irish sea, which would be unacceptable to any UK Government—I am sure that all hon. Members would agree with that. There has been great progress, but some sticking points remain.
The hon. Lady mentioned last weekend’s march for a second referendum, so it would be interesting if the Opposition made it clear whether they support a second referendum. The Government have made it clear that we absolutely do not support such a move, and we fully intend to respect the view of the people, as expressed in the 2016 referendum.
The hon. Lady asked about the meaningful vote but, as I hoped that I had explained last week, once the deal with the EU has been agreed, Parliament will have a vote on the withdrawal agreement and the terms of our future partnership, and Parliament will have the choice to accept or reject that deal. The House will already be well aware that whether debate ought to be organised through a business of the House motion, and the form of any such motion, will ultimately be in the hands of the House itself, which has the power to amend, approve or reject such a motion.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the Government’s Brexit preparations. I absolutely reassure all hon. Members that the Government are preparing for all eventualities, including a no-deal Brexit. I sit on a committee that looks at least once a week at different aspects of the no-deal preparations, which are far advanced.
My constituent Amanda Kopel from Kirriemuir has been a tireless campaigner for Frank’s law—which will support thousands across Scotland who are suffering with dementia—after losing her husband Frank to the disease at the age of 65. Amanda is now hosting a fundraising dinner on Saturday at Frank’s old football ground, Dundee United’s Tannadice Park. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should champion those who give so much to ensure that no one goes through what they have been through? May we have a debate to celebrate people such as Amanda?
I congratulate Amanda on a fantastic achievement and wish her great success with the event. My hon. Friend is right to highlight our gratitude for the work of volunteers, fundraisers and campaigners and some of the things that make us one of the most generous countries in the world. Through the Government’s “Challenge on Dementia 2020”, we are working towards a society in which every person with dementia receives high-quality, compassionate care from diagnosis through to end of life. My parliamentary office staff and I have all undertaken dementia-friendly training in the past couple of weeks, and I recommend it to all hon. Members. It really is a fantastic way for all of us to be more attuned to the needs of those with dementia and their carers.
I endorse that call. My own office undertook that training over a year ago—I cannot remember exactly when, but it was well over a year ago—and it is a very good training programme and well worth enjoying—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) does not need to be frivolous about it; it is in fact a serious point.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. It has been a depressing and dispiriting few weeks for those of us who are concerned about workplace bullying in this place, and Dame Laura Cox’s report contains a damning litany of the scale of the problem. The Leader of the House has been an effective champion in tackling the problem, and I am glad to see that a debate on Dame Laura’s report has been scheduled for a week on Monday.
We know that the report will be implemented in full, but it is time to challenge the ingrained culture of and the power relationships within this House, and an easy start would be to tackle the deference. That means no more “hon. Gentlemen”, no more swords, no more spying strangers or segregated areas. For goodness’ sake, it should really mean the end of people calling themselves Lords on the parliamentary estate. If we are serious about changing the workplace culture and environment, we must challenge those symbols and power relationships, and I hope that we can include that as part of our ongoing work.
Simply appalling remarks were made in the Scottish Parliament yesterday when the Conservative social security spokesperson, a Ms Michelle Ballantyne, said about the two-child benefit cap:
“It is fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like”.—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 24 October 2018; c. 52.]
That comment has shocked and appalled mainstream opinion in Scotland. We do not want those 19th-century Tory Victorian values in Scotland. We want a social security system designed with dignity and respect at its heart. Can we have a debate on further devolution of social security so that the views of people such as Ms Ballantyne hold no sway in our nation?
Lastly, Mr Speaker, we are very grateful to you for allowing MP4 to use Speaker’s House tonight for the launch of our new single. We have teamed up with Musicians Against Homelessness and Crisis to draw cross-party attention to homelessness throughout the UK. I do not think we will bother the charts, and we are not seriously considering giving up the day job, but I hope the Leader of the House might be among the first to download the single this evening.
MP4 are a great band and, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, they have performed in my constituency—I have very fond memories of that experience. The band have been in Speaker’s House before, and I am keen that they should come again and again.
Mr Speaker, I completely share your enthusiasm for MP4. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) might want to think about a cover version of a well-known song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. I will leave that thought with him.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman: his personal involvement in the establishment of the complaints procedure and his absolute commitment to stamping out bullying and harassment wherever we see it are completely united with those of the entire working group. This was a fantastic piece of cross-party work, and there can be no doubt that all hon. and right hon. Members want to see change in this place.
The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting suggestions, and I have a lot of sympathy for what he says. I am therefore delighted to provide a debate on Monday 5 November so that we can hear from all hon. Members about the changes they want to see. I would prefer to see structural changes, rather than superficial changes to titles—perhaps something a little more deep and meaningful. I hope that on that Monday we will also be able to discuss what structural changes could be made.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the Scottish Parliament and further devolution. Of course funding for the Scottish Government, the block grant, will have grown to more than £31 billion by 2020, a real-terms increase over the current spending review period. It is for the Scottish Government to make some of their own decisions, rather than just looking to the UK Parliament to resolve those issues for them.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on childhood cancers? My constituent Mrs Lorraine Mitchell tragically lost her young, much-loved son Finn in June 2018. The family are still very raw about it and, although they do not wish to blame anyone for his death, they feel there is a lack of awareness of the symptoms of childhood cancer.
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Finn. I am sure the whole House will want to send our sincere condolences to Lorraine and her family. Cancer is a terrible disease but, thankfully, survival rates have been improving year on year. For childhood cancers, 82% of children now survive for five years or more, but of course there is so much more to do and that figure will be no consolation to Lorraine and her family.
This month the Prime Minister has made it clear that she is determined to introduce a package of measures to invest in state-of-the-art technology to transform how we diagnose cancers, as well as to boost research and innovation. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) is right that it is also vital to raise awareness among doctors, who often do not expect to see cancers in the very young, so that we do not miss out on early diagnosis.
I am also grateful to the Leader of the House for the business statement. I assure her that the Backbench Business Committee is still here and that we have managed to timetable debates in Westminster Hall—they are on today’s Order Paper— for 6, 15, 20, 22 and 27 November and 4 December. I remind her that, by the week beginning 12 November, it will have been four parliamentary weeks since the Committee has had any time in the Chamber. I ask her to look favourably on our getting some time in the week beginning 12 November, because we are starting to build up a backlog of unheard debates that require Chamber time for votable motions. I would appreciate her giving that some consideration.
As ever, I am keen to support the Backbench Business Committee. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Standing Orders specify that it is allocated 35 days each Session. So far in this Session more days than that have already been provided—[Interruption.] He says it is a longer Session, and I absolutely accept that, but I hope he will appreciate that he was asking for a debate on folic acid, which takes place later on today, and a debate on it being 100 years since the armistice, and that debate is also being provided. So I think that we are aligned on trying to get these debates, but I hear what he is saying and will endeavour to ensure we have time allocated.
In a world that is frail, faulted and fallen, lives that might otherwise be made brutish, nasty and even short are prevented from being so by our police forces, which stand between us and disorder. Yet, as you know, Mr Speaker, the hot-off-the-press Home Affairs Committee report I have here paints a sorry picture of overstretched police forces, rising rates of crime and fewer people brought to justice. My own county of Lincolnshire is particularly affected, with our force being one of the poorest-funded in the country. The report goes on to say that a fundamental change to the funding formula is required. I hope a Minister might come to the House by order of the Leader of the House to explain to us when an urgent review of the police funding formula is going to take place to benefit counties such as Lincolnshire and others. This is a choice: between chaos and order; between penny pinchers and the people; and between what is easy and what is right.
We can all enjoy my right hon. Friend’s way of putting his question. I would be delighted if I were able to do things by the order of the Leader of the House, but, sadly, that is not really open to me. He might be aware that in December 2017 the Home Office did make it clear that it would revisit plans to change the funding formula at the time of the next spending review. There is a statement from the Home Office to follow this, and indeed we have the Budget debate next week, so he has opportunities to raise this issue. There is some good news: following the 2018-19 police funding settlement, most police and crime commissioners have set out plans to either protect or increase frontline policing next year; and the police workforce has grown by 1% over the past year, following the Government’s decision to protect police funding at the 2015 spending review.
In March, NHS England changed its guidance on conditions for which over-the-counter items should not be routinely prescribed in primary care, with one being head lice. An average bottle of head lice shampoo costs between £10 and £12, which is a significant sum for parents in the most deprived areas. The charity Community Hygiene Concern fears that that decision will lead to an epidemic in schools and communities. Please may we have a debate, in Government time, about the effects of that change in NHS guidance?
I was not aware of that and I share the hon. Lady’s concern; I remember the nightmare of trying to get rid of head lice when my kids were young, and I am sure all hon. Members will have their own horror stories of how persistent head lice are. I am very sympathetic about this, and if she wishes to write to me, I will be able to take it up with the Department of Health and Social Care. Alternatively, I encourage her to put in a written question to see whether she can get an answer directly.
May we have a debate on the 384 bus, so that hon. Members can urge the Mayor and Transport for London to drop their plans to remove this much-valued bus route from many roads in New Barnet?
We are all big bus fans, although, sadly, I do not think I have ever taken that bus. My right hon. Friend should certainly challenge any reduction in bus services, and I thoroughly recommend that she raises the matter directly with Ministers to see what pressures can be brought to bear on the Mayor.
The Leader of the House knows that we produced a report on acquired brain injury recently. One of the new statistics is that about 60% of people going into prison, when they have been properly screened, have had a brain injury; many of them did not know that. In January, we are going to have a brain screening session for all Members of Parliament. I wonder whether she could make a room available so that every Member of Parliament can go through the screening that we would like to see for prisoners.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work in this area; he really has brought this issue to the House’s attention in a significant way. I absolutely support him in his desire to make that facility available to all Members. From my own passion for early brain development, I know just how profound the effect of the development of the brain and any subsequent brain injury can be on personality, character and outcomes for human beings.
A key policy currently pursued by Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, is the recruitment of 200 additional officers between now and 2022. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the importance of supporting frontline community policing?
I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend’s news about the Sussex PCC’s policy. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, a number of PCCs have decided to increase the number of frontline police officers in their areas. We should pay tribute to all police officers and staff, who do a fantastic job every day to keep us safe. I am glad that Crawley will benefit from more officers on the beat. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss with Ministers this issue, and in particular how other areas can benefit from the sensible decision of his local PCC.
The provision of in vitro fertilisation treatment on the NHS is currently a postcode lottery, with some areas offering an entitlement to three fully funded IVF cycles while others offer just one, and there are areas where people are not offered any at all. May we have a debate in Government time on regional variations in IVF provision and the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that all clinical commissioning groups give this treatment the priority that it deserves, in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. I have had constituents come to me who have had different experiences with one CCG versus another, and who have found for themselves, at the sharp end, that there really is a postcode lottery, so I am really sympathetic to the hon. Lady for pointing this out. I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that she and others can talk directly to Ministers about what more can be done to provide fairness and equality for all those who seek IVF support.
May we have a debate to celebrate the many local fireworks displays that will occur in the next two weeks? Tomorrow evening, the Portgordon fireworks display will put on a spectacular show for people who come from near and far. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Kenny Gunn and his team of volunteers? This year’s event is the 25th anniversary of the fantastic show that they put on for the local community.
I know that my hon. Friend has volunteered at the event for many years, and I understand that everyone who helps out is treated to a feast of stovies or macaroni in the village hall after the display. I absolutely join him in congratulating Kenny Gunn and all the volunteers for everything that they do to make the event bigger and better every year. Fireworks night has a particular historic resonance for us in Parliament, so it is rather fitting to be talking about it at a time when we could say that the debate here has been quite explosive on a few different fronts.
That was terrible! Resign. Instantly. [Laughter.]
Thank you for that.
As the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware, off-grid gas and heating oils, which are essential in rural communities such as those in the highlands, are unregulated, and there is no way for Ofgem to intervene where there is a monopoly. Will she allow a debate in Government time on the regulation of off-grid fuel and end the great winter rural fuel rip-off?
I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman, because this is an ongoing problem for those who are off grid. I encourage him to seek a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, so that other Members who represent rural areas with similar problems can share their concerns. The Government have made great efforts to try to get people on to the grid and to try to regulate better the prices that are charged, but it is an ongoing problem.
The crisis around Crossrail seems to worsen every single day, with the project delayed by nine months and having overspent by £600 million. Contradictory evidence seems to be being created by the Mayor of London and the Department for Transport, so may we have a Government statement on what is happening to get the project back on track and within budget?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We have all been concerned to hear of the delays to Crossrail. I encourage him to raise it in the Budget debate next week where he can ask Treasury Ministers exactly what steps can be taken.
The Civil Aviation Authority has just published its response to a consultation on flight paths, and it has ignored thousands of my constituents and those in other constituencies by insisting on narrowed flight paths with all the consequences that flow from that. It has also indicated, in an official document, that I did not present to it the petition signed by thousands of my constituents. As I have photographs of me presenting that petition, it means either that it is incompetent or that it is misleading the Government. Either way, it is pretty worrying for all of us. May we have a debate, or at least a statement, on the CAA and flight paths?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s experience. If he wants to write to me, I can take that up with the Department for Transport on his behalf.
I commend the Government on their investment in road infrastructure and their commitment to spend £23 billion by the end of 2020 on improving roads around the country. However, road improvements come with unforeseen consequences. Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time to discuss the upgrading to smart motorways and the impact that closer running lanes have on existing communities along the line of the motorways?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Smart motorways increase capacity, reduce congestion and improve the reliability of journey times by making the hard shoulder available as a traffic lane and by using variable speed limits to smooth traffic flow, which, of course, then supports economic growth because there are fewer queues. Almost a billion journeys have been made on smart motorways. In 2017, Highways England completed a three-year study on the M25 that shows that it is as safe as other motorways. However, if she does have specific concerns, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate about the impact on her own community.
Last week a constituent of mine was tragically murdered outside his home. Yesterday, I held a meeting for the community so that people could voice their concerns, and the community was clear that, for too long, it has been neglected by the local council and by Government. Youth and community services have been cut and police officers taken off our streets. The Home Affairs Committee report today warned that cuts are making policing irrelevant. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss this dire consequence of police cuts?
I am very sorry to hear about the death of the hon. Lady’s constituent. All too often, the rise in serious violence, particularly in knife crime, has had terrible consequences for too many people, especially young people. We are determined to tackle this issue, which is why we have introduced a new £40 million serious violence strategy that will help to tackle the changing nature of crime, and we are giving extra powers to the police to tackle knife crime through the Offensive Weapons Bill. We want to reach a place where every member of the public is served by a force that is rated at least good. Currently, nearly a third of forces are not, so standards do need to be raised and be more consistent to keep our communities safe.
Yesterday, the loan charge action group lobbied Parliament. It represent 100,000 families, including those of nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers and contractors. Retrospective taxation by this Government going back 20 years means that many of these families will lose their home and be forced into bankruptcy and, I am afraid, some will commit suicide. That cannot have been the intention of the Government. May we have a statement from the Financial Secretary next week so that we can ask him questions about something that I am sure the Government did not intend to happen?
I was aware yesterday of a lobby here in Parliament of those affected by the loan charge issue. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise it. I encourage him to seek an opportunity to raise it during the Budget debate next week where Treasury Ministers will be available, or indeed on 6 November in Treasury questions.
My constituent, Mavis Walton, is 99 years old. In her early years, she worked in munitions, building the bombs that served our country. These canary girls have never had the recognition that they deserve. I am sure that the Leader of the House understands the urgency of this question. With Remembrance Sunday just around the corner, could we have a statement from the relevant Minister, announcing medals for these women? It is the least that they deserve.
May I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to her constituent on reaching the age of 99, as well as the work she did as one of the canary girls? It is the most amazing story of self-sacrifice and contribution to keeping our nation safe. There is a debate a week on Tuesday—not on the canary girls, but on the Armistice centenary—so the hon. Lady might choose that opportunity to raise this issue more fully, but there will certainly be other chances to pay tribute to all those who gave such great service to our country.
We have recently returned from a very important—if not tumultuous—meeting of the Council of Europe. Is not it time that we had a debate on the activities and future of the Council of Europe?
My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me previously and I am sympathetic to the idea. We have a lot of discussions about Europe at the moment, but I am keen to consider this matter and to give it time when we can.
I think it is true to say that all Members of the House believe that veterans and ex-servicemen and women deserve the very best care that the state can possibly offer, but it would also be true to say that that is just not happening. It is a scandal that the Ministry of Defence does not record suicides among ex-servicemen and women. This happens in many other countries and we should make it happen here. May we have a debate on the issue?
The hon. Gentleman is right to ask what more we can do to support our armed forces and the amazing work that they do on our behalf. He will be aware that this Government introduced the armed forces covenant into law to improve support for our armed forces, but he has raised an interesting question that I encourage him to raise directly with Ministers at the next Defence questions.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the parliamentary concert next week, when the Parliament choir will sing—together with the German Bundestag choir—Mozart’s “Mass in C Minor” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Perhaps we could have a debate on or consider mentioning —as I am sure you will be at the concert next week, Mr Speaker—the conflict between Britain and Germany that occurred at the same time in east Africa. I speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tanzania. Hundreds of thousands of Tanganyikans died in the conflict as a result of either the violence or the resulting famine, yet they are hardly ever remembered in these circumstances. It would be a great honour to those people, who gave their lives in a conflict that was nothing to do with them, if we were to remember them as well.
My hon. Friend is quite right to mention the appalling events that took place in the great war. Of course, a week on Tuesday we will have a debate on the centenary of the Armistice, which would be a good opportunity to raise all the appalling events and to commemorate the sacrifice of so many right around the world.
In September, I met London Members of the Youth Parliament to discuss the recommendations of the Youth Violence Commission. I was pleased that they had all read the report and understood the importance of adopting a public health approach. I have to be honest; I worry that too many politicians, including the Home Secretary, bandy around the words and do not really understand them. So, for the third time, has the Leader of the House spoken with the Home Secretary to agree when we will debate this very important issue?
I have written to the Minister concerned seeking advice on the next steps, in response to the hon. Lady’s request that I do so. As she will know, there is now a new £22 million early intervention youth fund and a new £3.6 million national county lines co-ordination centre was launched last month. There is a lot more to do and I hope to have an answer for her shortly regarding the next steps.
Last weekend, Ben McAulay from Galashiels in my constituency led a sponsored walk in the borders to thank medical staff from the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow who treated him after he was born with a hole in the heart. Ben is just two years old. Will the Government find time to debate the efforts of local fundraisers, and to congratulate Ben and his family, and all those who took part in Toddle Around Tweedbank?
As always, my hon. Friend raises a really important issue for his constituency. Many of us are aware of the heroic efforts by our constituents to raise money, awareness or support for excellent causes. I am delighted to join him in congratulating Ben, his family, and all those who took part in Toddle Around Tweedbank last week.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the cricketing community at Hanging Heaton cricket club on the edge of my constituency? In the past two years, under the chairmanship of John Carruthers and the captaincy of Gary Fellows, they have won no less than seven trophies, including the Heavy Woollen cup, which is England’s oldest competition, and they are the first Yorkshire team to win the national Twenty20 cup. May we have a debate on the contributions that sporting clubs make in our local communities?
The hon. Lady raises a very significant achievement by that cricket club, and I absolutely join her in congratulating it on all its efforts and achievements. She is right to raise the amazing contribution of sports clubs to life in our communities through keeping people fit and outside, where they can enjoy the fresh air and have a bit of fun. I join her in paying tribute to them. She might well like to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can share her experience with Ministers directly.
Last year, three cyclists died on the roads of Lincolnshire and seven children on bicycles were seriously injured. We would all like to see more people cycling—in my flat part of Lincolnshire, it is very easy—so may we have a debate on what more we can do to make cycling safer and more attractive, and also to work on road safety?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have introduced a £1.2 billion cycling and walking investment strategy to encourage more people to get on their bike or to walk, and also to make roads safer for vulnerable users. We have also invested £7 million in making cycling the natural transport choice in cities right across the UK. That is very important so that we reduce emissions, leaving a cleaner and greener Britain for our children. I absolutely applaud him for raising this important issue. I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate, because there are very strong advantages to encouraging more people to get out of their cars and on to the roads on their bicycles, or on to the pavements on their feet.
The Leader of the House will have seen reports in the Yorkshire Post that for large parts of 2019 and into 2020, east coast main line trains from the north to London will terminate an hour outside London, at Peterborough. This is due to remodelling work at King’s Cross station, with another £250 million to be spent on top of the £500 million already spent. In Hull, we are used to timetabling chaos and trains terminating early, and we are certainly not used to money being spent on our station. With major disruption planned for next year and into 2020, may we have a statement from the Transport Secretary about how this will affect all our constituents?
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this issue affecting her constituents. I was not aware of those reports. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate, because it is right that she should raise this issue directly with Transport Ministers.
The Debenhams store at the heart of Torquay’s harbourside has been an anchor retailer for Torquay for many years, so this morning’s news that 50 stores might close will of course be causing considerable concern back in my constituency. May we have a statement on what actions the Government are taking in response to this news, what reassurances they can offer, and what action will be taken to mitigate the consequences in towns where stores do close?
I realise that this will be a stressful and uncertain time for affected employees. Debenhams has confirmed that it plans to close up to 50 of its stores over the next three to five years following the announcement of the company’s preliminary end-of-year results to the stock market. The company has not specified the number of jobs that will be affected or, indeed, which stores will be closed. However, I can certainly confirm that Jobcentre Plus, through the rapid response service, will be ready to support any employee affected by this announcement.
Last week I raised with the Leader of the House the fact that Facebook is only paying £7.4 million in tax. Today, the Information Commissioner has fined Facebook the maximum amount of £500,000 for sharing our data without our consent. The Leader of the House may be aware that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and I are leading an inquiry into the impact of social media on people’s mental health. Will she find time for a debate on the impact that social media platforms are having on tax, information and public health?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue again. The impact of the online harm that is being tolerated by social media giants is a grave concern to the Government. We are working towards the publication this winter of the online harms White Paper, which will set out measures to tackle online harms and clear responsibilities for tech firms to keep citizens safe. Social media firms must take far more responsibility for illegal and harmful content on their platforms, with robust processes in place for removing content—he is absolutely right about that.
A large number of young people in my constituency have contacted me this week to encourage me to support the private Member’s Bill tomorrow on lowering the voting age to 16. Unfortunately, that Bill is 17th on the list and therefore will not be heard. May we have another debate or statement from the Government on their plans to modernise the private Members’ Bill system so that such Bills can be debated in the House and voted upon?
As I have indicated on a number of occasions, we are extremely pleased with the progress of a number of private Members’ Bills in the House during this Session. In fact, more private Members’ Bills are progressing to Royal Assent than in previous Sessions. Such Bills include some very important measures, such as that which became the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, as well as the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill and the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, which will be considered tomorrow. Some very important private Members’ Bills are coming forward, and it is right that the House needs to support those Bills. We continue to look at the process for the consideration of private Members’ Bills. I am always happy to look at proposals from the Procedure Committee, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to put forward alternative solutions, I encourage him to speak to the Procedure Committee about them.
May I add the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) to the list of those who have fallen in the House? He missed the Trafalgar night dinner on Wednesday because of a fall and is no longer fit to do duty here.
May we have a debate on automated gates? They are increasingly being used to provide security in schools, businesses and housing estates, yet no qualification, inspection or registration regime is required for them. They are classed as machinery and are dangerous and hazardous if not correctly installed and maintained, so can that be looked at?
I join the hon. Lady in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire a speedy recovery. This is an appalling time of year for slips and trips.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue that is certainly worth raising directly with DFE Ministers, perhaps in an Adjournment debate, so that we can get a clear picture.