House of Commons
Tuesday 30 October 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Sexual Violence in Conflict
The UK Government continue to lead global efforts to end the horror of sexual violence in conflict. We have developed tools to improve the chances of justice for survivors and in June secured sanctions against seven Burmese military officials. We will host an international conference in 2019 to galvanise the world into further action.
Given that the recent UN taskforce report highlighted appalling examples of sexual violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, I welcome the announcement that the Secretary of State made on his recent visit to Rakhine of increased support to victims of this terrible crime, but what can be done to increase the resources available to other conflict regions?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the announcement and highlighting the work of that team of experts, who have now been deployed, I think, to 26 countries on a wide range of cases, have helped to train 17,000 people to make sure that evidence is secured and have worked extensively on this important issue in a range of situations around the world.[Official Report, 12 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 2MC.]
The use of sexual violence was an ugly characteristic of the Sri Lankan civil war under the stewardship of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and now the very same man is back in office, illegitimately, as the Prime Minister of that country. Will the Minister now, and the Foreign Secretary shortly during topical questions, condemn unreservedly the turn of events in Sri Lanka and make sure we never see a return to those dark days of appalling human rights abuses under the Rajapaksas?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, which I know has captivated the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will be calling the President today, I think, to discuss this very matter.
What diplomatic actions are being taken to assist with the return of the 113 Chibok girls who were seized from their school by Boko Haram in 2014, four and a half years ago, and are still missing? Tragically, many of them will have suffered terrible, horrific sexual and physical violence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. As many will remember, that campaign is now four years old, yet 113 of the girls have still not been returned. The UK consistently offers its support for the Nigerian Government’s efforts to return these girls to their homes, and we stand ready to do more if requested.
The Minister will be aware that there are many Rohingya children living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Will she set out in more detail what she is doing to support these boys and girls, who are at extreme risk of sexual violence?
The hon. Gentleman is right to widen the question to the extensive part of the population affected by this terrible crisis. He will know that, from a humanitarian point of view, the UK is contributing £129 million to address it, including through the kind of psychosocial support he refers to.
In recent years, the UN Population Fund has operated fearlessly at the frontline of conflict, helping hundreds of thousands of girls and women who have suffered sexual violence. Does the Minister agree that it is utterly reprehensible that Donald Trump has eliminated US funding for that agency to the tune of $700 million? Is that not one more demonstration that the current US President could not care less about women and their rights?
I am happy to be answerable at the Dispatch Box for the actions of the UK Government, and I can assure the hon. Lady that the UK continues to support this important work and, in fact, to do more on things such as access to safe family planning around the world.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
Earlier this month, London hosted the largest ever illegal wildlife trade conference, with representation from more than 70 countries and 400 organisations. Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Development announced additional support for developing countries to tackle IWT. I pay tribute my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for all the work that they have done and continue to do to advance this agenda.
Many of the countries where there is wildlife crime involving iconic species such as elephant and rhino are war-torn. That is a huge problem that makes it dangerous for the rangers and others who try to protect the wildlife. What more can we do to help war-torn countries? It is essential that we do so.
I am sure my hon. Friend is grateful that the London conference highlighted the links he has pointed out between human conflict and IWT. DFID has committed to spend at least 50% of its annual budget in fragile and conflict-afflicted states. Although that does not impact directly on IWT, it should help to reduce it. The IWT challenge fund and the Darwin fund have also supported projects in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Sudan. Trophy hunting occurs in a few countries with well-developed tourist industries, but it is unlikely to be a major feature of war-torn countries.
I congratulate and thank the Ministers for what they are doing to tackle this appalling trade. Does he agree that one of the most important aspects of tackling it is to create mutual economic interest for local tribespeople and farmers to support wildlife? Does he support the work of the excellent Laikipia Wildlife Forum in Kenya, which was set up by the great British conservationist Dr Anthony King?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. A Chatham House study presented at the London conference on transboundary green corridors supported the view that the creation of jobs and local prosperity partnerships can indeed help to protect endangered species. That is why we secured an uplift of some £6 million for the IWT challenge fund, and why DFID is committed to further such work to address these issues.
Now that the Government have confirmed that we will adopt a world-leading ban on the ivory trade that applies to ivory of all ages, what steps is the Minister taking to put pressure on other countries to adopt a similar measure, particularly those in the Chinese area?
We very much welcome China’s closure of the domestic ivory market. It is, of course, the single largest market in the world. It is vital to ensure that the ban is properly and fully enforced, and that the ivory trade is not allowed simply to relocate to other parts of south-east Asia, or indeed anywhere else. We shall continue to work with the Chinese Government and other Governments to ensure that that does not happen.
The illegal poaching trade is worth £16 billion worldwide and is one of the largest organised crimes in the world. What assurance can the Minister give the House that that money is not being laundered through UK banks?
In specific terms, I cannot give direct assurances, but that is clearly something we will work on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the illegal wildlife trade is very much a security issue. One of the real achievements of the conference—something for which I have pushed for some time—was that it made that clear. IWT is often the soft underbelly of the very worst sorts of criminality, not least money laundering, the narcotics trade and people trafficking.
In the media today, there are indications that China intends to lift its ban on the sale of rhino and tiger remedies. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chinese Government to ensure that the ban is retained, not removed?
We are aware of the announcement by the Chinese State Council in the last couple of days concerning the domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn. We are concerned, and we will make representations that any changes should not have a negative impact on the tackling of the illegal wildlife trade. Of course, we will raise this issue at the earliest opportunity with our Chinese counterparts.
I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister speak about the connection between wildlife crime and other forms of instability. Does he agree that the work that is done by several organisations to preserve not just natural heritage but architectural and archaeological heritage is essential in helping people to have the sense of identity, place and belonging that is so essential to resisting forces such as ISIS and other extremist elements?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I spoke earlier about the need globally to recognise that in the case of criminality, we live in an interconnected world. As he rightly points out, a sense of place and being is an important aspect. Many might feel that a concentration on the illegal wildlife trade is, to a certain extent, a Cinderella area, but it is an important aspect of what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is trying to achieve through its soft power initiatives.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his work in making the illegal wildlife trade summit a couple of weeks ago an enormous success. I know he will join me in welcoming the efforts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Botswana to work together to deliver the KAZA programme, a massively ambitious cross-border conservation plan linking their countries together. May I urge him to use all his diplomatic skills to support that initiative and also to ensure that DFID provides whatever support it can?
I should perhaps thank my hon. Friend again: not only is he very committed to this, but a huge amount of his time over the past six months was spent on ensuring that the IWT conference was such a great success. I do not want to step on the toes of my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa on these matters, but I will of course do all that I can. The other important aspect of what we are trying to achieve with elephant corridors such as the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) referred is to recognise that technology has an important part to play in clamping down on the illegal wildlife trade. That is an important aspect of where we see this issue going in the years to come.
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights
I regularly discuss human rights concerns with my Saudi Arabian counterpart Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, most recently on 27 September and 20 October.
Media reports have surfaced this weekend suggesting that UK intelligence services were aware of the Saudi plan to abduct the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and take him back to Riyadh, and of the deployment of the hit squad to Istanbul for that purpose. May I give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to tell the House today that those reports are categorically untrue?
I hope the hon. Lady will understand that I do not comment on intelligence matters, but, if this reassures her, I had absolutely no prior knowledge myself of the terrible Khashoggi murder and was as shocked as I think everyone else was.
It has been reported today that 17 Filipino women are being held in custody in Saudi Arabia for the heinous crime of attending a Halloween party. How much more oppressive does the Saudi regime have to get before it loses its esteemed place as Britain’s greatest friend in the middle east?
Saudi Arabia is a human rights country of concern for the Foreign Office. We have regular discussions with the Saudis about our concerns—the guardianship system, freedom of expression, the death penalty and a range of other issues—but it is because we have a relationship with them that we are able to raise these concerns both privately and in public, and the hon. Gentleman should rest assured that that is exactly what we do.
Do we have any regret about seeking the election of Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council?
All sorts of issues with respect to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record are in sharp relief at the moment, but I think I have spoken more clearly than perhaps any other western Foreign Minister in saying that if the Khashoggi stories turn out to be true, that will be inconsistent with our values.
I was going to ask a question about Yemen, but I am afraid I have to follow up on the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), because if the allegations in this weekend’s report are true they are extremely serious. It was reported that in early September our intelligence services became aware of the Saudi plan to abduct Jamal Khashoggi, and on 1 October they knew that a Saudi team had been dispatched to Istanbul for that purpose. I hear what the Foreign Secretary says that he did not know, but did the intelligence services know, and has he asked them?
I have to repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), and I am sure the right hon. Lady will understand that it is not possible for a Foreign Secretary, or indeed any Minister, to comment on intelligence matters, for very obvious reasons, but I did not know about this attack. It is very important that the right hon. Lady and the House understand that. We are as shocked as everyone else is about what happened.
I understand what the Foreign Secretary is saying, but he must understand that these allegations are extremely serious, and I am afraid it will not do to hide behind a blanket refusal to discuss intelligence matters. So will he, first, agree to attend an emergency session of the Intelligence and Security Committee to answer these questions behind closed doors, and, secondly, if he is not prepared as a point of principle to say what the intelligence services knew, at least reassure us that something will be done about this and that Ministers will find out what the intelligence services knew at the time?
If I am invited before the Intelligence and Security Committee, I will of course consider that invitation, but the right hon. Lady must know that her desire for me to release important intelligence information to the House or anywhere else is totally inappropriate. I do not think for a moment that she would be doing that if she were Foreign Secretary. I respect and understand her concern about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, but I wish that she would show the same concern for what is happening in Venezuela and Russia, and indeed with antisemitism. There seems to be a blind spot when it comes to countries that share Labour’s anti-western world view.
Conditions remain dire for civilians in Syria. Half the population is displaced and some 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance. We continue to engage with agencies and Governments to ensure humanitarian access and the use of supplies. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet Staffan de Mistura here in London.
As the Minister has said, civilians in Syria desperately need calm, and they need a political process to lead them out of this conflict. On Saturday, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia met in Istanbul. How will we bring the UK’s influence to bear to ensure that this is a Syria-led process that puts Syrian civilians at the heart of whatever the political process brings next?
I should like to start by thanking Staffan de Matura for all the work he has put in. As the House will know, the United Nations special envoy will be standing down in November. He has devoted the past few years of his work to trying to achieve a settlement and agreement in Syria that will indeed enhance the rights of civilians. At present, he is still working on the details of the constitutional settlement. It will involve a constitutional committee, for which he has put forward various names. There is an impasse on that at the moment, but his work, and the work of the Syrian high negotiating committee, to ensure that civilians have a recognised role in the future of Syria remain a key part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to these discussions.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but could he take this a little bit further and tell us what conversations he is having with his counterparts in other countries to ensure that civil society and civilians are at the heart of the post-conflict resolution and the peace and reconciliation that are so needed?
That is a good question. We as a Government are engaged in regular consultations with states that have an interest in supporting the UN process. Essentially, this is a UN process, supported by the UN Security Council, to ensure a settlement that involves civil society. All the evidence suggests that conflict will reoccur unless women, civil society and others are involved in the resolution of that conflict. The United Kingdom takes this issue forward very carefully.
But as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the UK was not at Istanbul and it will not be part of the EU-US summit organised to take place in France next month. Is it not a source of profound dissatisfaction and, potentially, shame that the UK will not be at the table? What are the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister going to do about that?
Yesterday, the UN small group met in London with representatives of a variety of countries and the UN special envoy in order to be part of the process that is supporting the special envoy in his work. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been involved, and I was at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with other Foreign Ministers to discuss the future of Syria. We are engaged—we cannot be at every meeting, but the United Kingdom is heavily involved in backing the work of the UN and will remain so.
What update can my right hon. Friend offer the House on the resettlement of the White Helmets in the UK following the joint operation to rescue them in the summer?
The White Helmets and their families were evacuated from southern Syria under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. That support has been delivered, and we continue to work with other countries to ensure the resettlement of the White Helmets’ supporters who left Syria a short while ago.
Mongolia: Diplomatic Relations
Diplomatic relations with Mongolia are flourishing, not least owing to the efforts of the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Mongolia, and his Mongolian counterpart, former Prime Minister Batbold, who I understand is in the Gallery today. I very much look forward to seeing him again on Thursday.
I visited Ulaanbaatar and the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi desert in July to promote our growing trade and investment relationship, as well as our bilateral co-operation on the environment, education, foreign policy and defence.
Does the Minister agree that the land of Genghis Khan is now a beacon of freedom and democracy in the region, and that its foreign policy of encouraging rapprochement between the two Koreas and developing diplomatic and economic third neighbours throughout the world beyond Russia and China is a good opportunity for the United Kingdom?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman recently visited Mongolia—his visit was probably more enjoyable than mine, with fewer diplomatic commitments than I have had recently. Yes, that is important. Mongolia has transformed over the past 30 years, and we want to play our part in continuing that transformation, not least because, as he knows, it is a small country by population between two giants in Russia and China, and very much sees its relationships with third countries, of which we are one of a number, as important.
British Nationals in Pakistan
I cannot even get back to my seat—it is a tough old day on the Asia brief. I appreciate that this is a serious issue for the hon. Lady. We encourage all British nationals visiting or residing in Pakistan to read our travel advice and ensure they have the appropriate insurance. While most visits are trouble free, of course we have a very dedicated consular team ready to provide support to those most in need.
The Minister is much in demand, and I am sure he appreciates that fact.
My constituent Ali Soofi has serious concerns that his nephew, a British citizen, is being held against his will in Pakistan—he has been for more than a year now—and that his life is in danger. A court order issued by the high court in Lahore back on 15 August acknowledged Mr Soofi’s poor health and recommended the assistance of the British high commission in facilitating his return to the UK for medical treatment. To date, he has not been able to return. Consular assistance seems very soft touch, I am afraid to say. Can the Minister intervene in this case to ensure that all means possible are used to ensure that Mr Soofi gets home to Scotland as soon as possible?
Naturally I can. I thank the hon. Lady, who has done sterling work in relation to the case of her constituent Mr Soofi. As she knows, I wrote to her on 24 October with the latest on this case and, in view of its sensitivities, offered to meet her and discuss it privately in more detail. I very much look forward to doing so once our offices have agreed a mutually convenient date.
Many British nationals in Pakistan are involved in trade. A year ago I went to GlaxoSmithKline’s factory in Karachi, which is one of its largest and most profitable in the world. However, given the size of our Department for International Development presence in Pakistan, which is the equal largest in the world, and our consular presence there, what more can the FCO do with the Department for International Trade to boost our commercial activity in Pakistan?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. He will know that the UK shares a long-standing relationship with Pakistan. We have the strongest of cultural and historical ties and, of course, a very large diaspora. On the trade side, I have been working on trying to ensure that that diaspora plays its part in ensuring ever stronger trading connections between our two countries.
Kashmir: Human Rights Abuses
I very much recognise that there are human rights concerns in both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The FCO encourages both states to uphold their international human rights obligations. Any allegations of human rights violations or abuses are concerning and must of course be thoroughly investigated, promptly and transparently.
The all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir’s report on human rights abuses, which was published this summer, reflects the UN’s findings. What discussions have the Minister or the Foreign Secretary had with the Governments of Pakistan and India about those human rights abuses? Will the Minister meet me and other members of the all-party group to discuss taking forward our recommendations?
I am always happy to meet members of all-party parliamentary groups, so I would be glad to do so. We very much encourage the parties to keep the channels of dialogue open as a means of resolving differences. The hon. Lady will recognise that the UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking account of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The relationship between the two countries is very complex, as the hon. Lady will be aware. We encourage both sides to maintain good relations and make the most of all opportunities for dialogue.
The human rights abuses reported to me by my Urdu-speaking constituents are not a complex matter; they are often simple and horrifying. Does the Minister share my concern that a lack of English language news reporting is keeping these abuses out of the public consciousness in the United Kingdom and around the world, and will he join me in calling on journalists to bring forward English language coverage so that the world can be informed?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. We persistently raise the issue of Kashmir, including human rights, with the Governments of both India and Pakistan, but my hon. Friend makes a good point about ensuring that there is at least mutually trusted media coverage of this matter. I know that the BBC’s coverage in south Asia has become more extensive, and I believe that the BBC World Service is looking to extend matters further. I will make sure that that organisation is made well aware of this point.
I hear what the Minister says about the relationship with the two Governments, but, given that we are talking about two nuclear armed powers and that Delhi is increasingly belligerent with a relatively new Government, is there not something more that the Minister can do to bring the two powers together, given our historical relationship with Delhi and the Government in Pakistan?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters very seriously, as do other Members throughout the House who represent constituencies with large Pakistani and Indian populations; I speak for my rather silent Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who does a lot of work behind the scenes on this matter but is obviously not able to speak on it in Parliament. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) will be aware that it is not our place to mediate, intervene or interfere in this issue, but I hope he is also aware that I raise the issue of Kashmir at every opportunity when I see my counterparts—the Indian and Pakistani Ministers—as well as the high commissioners to London, because the matter is so close to the hearts of many hon. Members.
Last week we celebrated the Jammu and Kashmir festival, and the anniversary of the instrument of accession, whereby the whole of Jammu and Kashmir was ceded to India. Sadly, Pakistan refuses to accept this, so what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage the Pakistani Government to dismantle the terrorist bases in Kashmir that are causing human rights abuses in the whole of Kashmir?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong view on this matter. We do all that we can to raise the legitimate concerns brought up by all Members in this House with the Governments in both New Delhi and Islamabad. However, we believe that the pace of progress is for India and Pakistan to determine.
Gaza: Access to Healthcare
The Government remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. I regularly raise with the Israeli authorities the need to ease restrictions there. Our ambassador to Israel discussed Gaza with the Israeli authorities on 17 October. The UK supports healthcare in Gaza through the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is a strong supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which provides basic healthcare in Gaza.
As well as many breast cancer patients not being allowed out of Gaza for treatment, it is very difficult for doctors to get out to access training, so Medical Aid for Palestinians has recruited specialists to bring the training to them. But on our visit last month, I was formally denied permission to enter Gaza and two other doctors on our team never received theirs. This totally wrecked our teaching programme. Will the Minister make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow these medical projects in Gaza to continue unhindered?
First, I have already done so. Secondly, although it is of course a matter for Israeli authorities to make those decisions, the value of the visits of the hon. Lady and her team cannot be overestimated. Thirdly, we are all in her debt for the work that she does to support those suffering conditions in Gaza.
The Save a Child’s Heart programme at the cardiology department of the Wolfson Medical Centre in Israel has now seen or treated around 6,000 Palestinian children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these kind of projects—which bring together Palestinian and Jewish medics, and bring Israelis into contact with Palestinian families—are incredibly powerful and uplifting? Will he look at what more we can do to support such projects?
It is an often understated fact of the complex relationship between Israel and its neighbours that there is cross-border work, and that medical treatment takes place in Israel for those from both the west bank and Gaza—some of it is very high level and done in the most important circumstances. Save a Child’s Heart is not directly supported by the United Kingdom, but we certainly support all efforts to make sure there is even more contact between the Palestinians and the Israeli authorities, particularly in healthcare matters.
The United Nations says that international funding to tackle the humanitarian crisis across the Palestinian territories is at an all-time low, with the shortfall to meet this year’s needs now standing at $380 million. Although we warmly welcome the £7 million increase in September from the UK Government, the Minister of State must know that it is a drop in the ocean. Will he instead do what we have been calling for since January, convene an urgent global funding conference and treat this as the pressing emergency it is?
The support we give to UNRWA continues to be considerable, and we have brought forward support that would have come in the next couple of years, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, compared with the loss from the United States, it is only a small amount. We lobby other states directly on this, and there has been an increase in funding that will see us through a relatively short period of time. After that, it is essential that the issues surrounding UNRWA are dealt with and that funding is found for those who are in need. Ultimately, the issues that UNRWA deals with will only be resolved when we get the final agreement for which we are all searching. In the meantime, we do encourage, and we have seen a response from, other states following the United Kingdom’s generosity.
Following the 4 March Salisbury attack, the UK co-ordinated action among 28 countries and NATO that led to 153 Russian diplomats being expelled, which we think is the largest mass expulsion in history.
Because of recent events, Russia is not currently sitting in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. There are those who seek to change the rules governing the Council of Europe to make it easier to readmit Russia. Although we all want to see Russia welcomed back, does the Secretary of State agree that it is not the Council of Europe but Russia that needs to change its ways?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Russia should pay its dues to the Parliamentary Assembly, it should pay interest on its arrears and it must follow the rules.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing agreement among our European allies for EU sanctions against senior Russians in charge of Russia’s spy networks following the Salisbury attack, but what further action can now be taken in respect of cyber-related attacks, given the growing menace of Russia’s targeting of other countries’ computer networks?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we looked at a map of Europe showing all the places where there have been Russian-inspired cyber-attacks, we would see it is a very busy map indeed. We need to create a new international red line that says these cyber-attacks are unacceptable, which is why it is very positive news that, on 15 October, the EU agreed to set up a sanctions regime for cyber-attacks, but that is just the first of a number of steps.
We need to keep up the pressure on Russia. There is no point in just referring to what we have already done. When will the Government bring forward their first list of people caught by the new Magnitsky legislation in this country? Would it not be a good idea for us now to include those who are gangsters, rather than just those who have abused human rights?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As he knows, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 only comes into effect after Brexit, because it depends on us taking trade measures, which is what has to happen. Ahead of that, however, we are talking to the EU about whether it should introduce a sanctions regime for human rights abuses, and that is relevant not just to Russia but to many countries.
Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on any discussions he has had with NATO partners and allies in relation both to the Salisbury attack and to the rise in cyber-attacks?
I am happy to do that for the right hon. Gentleman. NATO Foreign Ministers recognise collectively that we are starting to see international norms being breached in an extremely dangerous way. One of those breaches is on chemical weapons; we should never forget that the Salisbury attack was the first use of chemical weapons on British soil, and it is extremely serious from that point of view. The other is on cyber, with the general undermining of confidence in democracy when people think that hostile state actors might be trying to interfere in our elections. We need to stop both those things.
Will my right hon. Friend have a word with his successor as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask why the NHS—Pharmacy2U, to be precise—is advertising on RT and so is lining the pockets of Putin’s mouthpiece?
I am very happy to have a word with my excellent successor, but of course this affects us in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well. With the unexplained wealth orders and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, we are starting to tighten the net on people from unfriendly regimes who are financing activities that are against our values.
In reaching the sanctions agreement he referred to, I am sure the Secretary of State was grateful for the support of the former eastern bloc countries, which he welcomed to Chevening before the summit. Did he take the opportunity to apologise to them for comparing their experience under Soviet domination to membership of the EU?
We had a very enjoyable time, including when getting a little lost in the maze. Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly: I stand by exactly what I said, which was that a club of free countries that was set up, in part, to stand against the Soviet Union and totalitarianism should not, in way that is inconsistent with its values, seek to punish someone who wishes to leave.
It was deeply impressive how many states stood by the UK in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack, not least those that know fine well what the Moscow regime is capable of. So I am going to give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity: what message does he have for those states that have thrived since independence in the EU but were deeply offended by his crass remarks comparing the EU with the former Soviet Union?
I think those states agree with what I am saying, which is that a club of free nations should not be seeking to punish someone who wishes to leave. They have been among our strongest supporters in the Brexit process.
I will give the Foreign Secretary a second opportunity, but before I do, let me read out some quotes. The Latvian ambassador said:
“Soviets killed…and ruined the lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”
The Lithuanian European Commissioner was born in a gulag—I want the Foreign Secretary to reflect on that—and he said:
“I was born in a Soviet gulag and was imprisoned by KGB”.
He has offered the Foreign Secretary a history lesson. Will he take the Lithuanian Commissioner up on that?
I will happily send him a copy of my speech so that he can see exactly what I said. What he will see is that I said it was very important that the UK and continental Europe work together to stand against precisely those totalitarian regimes.
Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan
I discussed the proposed United States peace plan with the US President’s middle east envoy, Jason Greenblatt, on 28 September in New York. The Foreign Secretary discussed this with the special adviser to the US President, Jared Kushner, on 22 August. The UK remains committed to a negotiated settlement leading to a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
I am glad the Minister has made that commitment, but does he agree that the time really has come for a re-energising and reinvigorating of a two-state solution? Will he personally take a lead in that? Surely what the world expects from both sides is restrain and statesmanship, with Hamas stopping the constant rocket attacks and Israel drawing a halt to the west bank settlement programme?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s questions. The need to keep the middle east peace process at the forefront of the world’s mind is perhaps greater than ever. Just because it has gone on for so long, that is no reason why it should slip away. I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that, everywhere I go and in every conversation I have in the region, they know that the middle east peace process will come up because the United Kingdom must not let it be as it is, because there will no peace or security for either the state of Israel or its neighbours unless the issue is finally resolved.
After a comprehensive two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch has concluded that
“Palestinian authorities routinely arrest people whose peaceful speech displeases them and torture those in their custody.”
Will my right hon. Friend condemn that deplorable abuse of power and make appropriate representations to the Palestinian Authority?
We read with great concern the report that my hon. Friend quoted. We do not provide any funding to the agencies mentioned in it, although we do support other areas of the security sector. We have raised our concerns about this issue with the Ministry of Interior and continue to encourage the Palestinian Authority to respect human rights and to ensure that complaints of mistreatment or arbitrary detention are properly investigated. We continue to work with the authority to improve the performance of the security sector.
Has the Minister considered the political implications of the recent tragic events at the Gaza border, where Palestinians are encouraged to believe that they have a right of return within Israel’s internationally recognised 1948 boundaries? That makes a two-state solution impossible.
What I can and should say to the House is that it has been clear in recent weeks that Hamas has much greater control over the demonstrations at the border than it had at the start of the summer. Hamas has in effect completely taken over the committee that was responsible for the protests and the march on the right to return, and it is now taking people, including children, to the border. That is a practice that must end. The situation at the Gaza border is very grim. It will take both sides to realise that there can be no future unless Gaza and the west bank are included in the overall settlement for which we work so hard.
Is not it incredible that earlier we had a discussion about the terrible situation in Gaza in which the word “Hamas” was not mentioned once? Is not it the case that the only way in which that terrible situation will be alleviated and improved is through progress being made on a peace process, and that the only way that that is going to happen is when Hamas lays down its weapons, stops using resources that should be used to build houses, hospitals and schools to dig tunnels and to make rockets to fire at civilians in Israel, and stops the incendiary attacks that have caused 1,000 fires on the border?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, although very often Members on one side of the House or the other tend to raise issues of greatest concern to themselves and ignore the other side, the United Kingdom Government have been clear about the responsibilities in Gaza. I just mentioned Hamas in my previous answer—but I understand the point—and it is very clear that Hamas has significant responsibility for the events in Gaza. None the less, Israel also has some responsibility for the restrictions and the issues in Gaza, which is why, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, none of this will be settled by one side or the other; it will be settled only by the comprehensive agreement that we are all working so hard to achieve.
The situation in Yemen is tragic and we are deeply concerned by the humanitarian impact. We play a leading role in efforts to find a peaceful solution by supporting the UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, calling a special session of the UN Security Council, and pressing all parties to join peace talks.
In the past three years, the UK has granted military export licences to Saudi Arabia worth a total of £5 billion. Given that the Saudi-led invasion has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with thousands of civilians killed in the process, does the Minister feel any guilt that those arms sales have helped to enable the Saudi regime to perpetrate war crimes? Or, as with the American President, does money trump ethics for this Tory Government?
I shall say two things. First, on arms sales, which have been discussed comprehensively in this Chamber and elsewhere, every licence is considered on an individual basis. A very comprehensive set of controls are gone through and the United Kingdom sticks to that process. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman referred to an invasion by the coalition. Let me be clear: an insurgent movement usurped a legitimate Government, who were then backed by the UN in order to relieve that Government, and the coalition responded to that call to take action to protect the Government and to protect the civilians in Yemen, who are being comprehensively abused by the Houthi insurgency. The hon. Gentleman should not refer to it as an invasion, as that is just not what it was.
Has our new Foreign Secretary had a chance to review the position of the British Government at the United Nations in respect of Yemen? Will he move from a position of supporting the Saudi coalition where Britain is complicit in creating a famine, to one of constructive neutrality to secure a ceasefire and meaningful constitutional negotiations, as the UN special representative, Martin Griffiths, is consistently urging and trying to secure?
On 15 March, the UK proposed and co-ordinated a United Nations Security Council presidential statement, which called on the parties to agree steps towards a ceasefire. That remains our position. Calling for a nationwide ceasefire will have an effect on the ground only if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties. Given the lack of agreement between those parties, passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council. As soon as the right opportunity arises, we will bring forward a resolution.
Since the last oral questions, I have attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, addressed a special Security Council session on North Korea, joined a meeting of Foreign Ministers on the tragedy in Yemen and convened a roundtable on Burma.
Last week, the UN special rapporteur, Michael Lynk, produced his report on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He concludes that the problem is not with the clarity of international law, but with the unwillingness of the international community to uphold it. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that assessment and, if so, what action will his Government take to ensure the rule of law in the middle east?
We are very concerned about a number of the things that have been happening in the occupied territories. We will study that report extremely carefully. Indeed, we are talking closely to the Americans about their middle east peace plan, which we hope will be launched soon.
We look at those reports with a lot of concern. We had our own diplomats visiting the Xinjiang province in August and they concur that those reports are broadly accurate. I raised it with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, when I went to China and we continue to be extremely concerned about what is happening.
The Burmese Reuters journalist Wa Lone has still not met his 11-week-old daughter. She may be seven years old before he finally sees her. He was jailed for seeking to report accurately the Rohingya crisis. Does not the fate of Wa Lone demonstrate that the Government’s position is too weak in expecting the Myanmar Government to investigate themselves? Will the Foreign Secretary adopt the UN recommendations and refer Myanmar’s military leaders to the International Criminal Court?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about what is happening. With respect to Wa Lone and to the other Reuters journalist, Kyaw Soe O, I have raised concerns directly about due process in their case with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and she assured me that she would relook at whether due process had properly occurred, but we are very concerned about that and indeed about the situation in Rakhine, where there has to be accountability. However, we have made some progress. We had the strongest ever condemnation of what happened by the Human Rights Council on 27 September. I convened a meeting at the UN General Assembly about this. The fact-finding mission has now come before the Security Council and there are lots of things that are happening.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless championing of this agenda. I can confirm that the UK will be supporting it. I can also confirm that we are on course with the blue belt programme to deliver over 4 million sq km of maritime protection around the UK’s overseas territories by 2020.
It is important to remember that President-elect Bolsonaro received a clear mandate from the Brazilian people, and we will of course endeavour to work with his Administration. However, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, our view on racism, homophobia and misogyny is clear—it would never be acceptable. We will remain the strongest of champions on human rights on the international stage and will not shy away from expressing that view where we disagree with other Governments, including our closest allies.
I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Tunisia. Yesterday the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was the target of a suicide bombing—the first attack in the country since 2015. What support are my right hon. Friend and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office providing to Tunisia in the wake of yesterday’s attack to ensure that its tourist economy, strengthened by UK holidaymakers, does not falter as it is starting to gather speed?
We have already expressed our condolences to Tunisia for the attack yesterday. The security situation in Tunisia has been worked on quite intensively by the Tunisian authorities since the attack in Sousse some years ago. We remain in close contact with Tunisia. We constantly update our travel advice to keep people in touch with the situation. We will continue to work with the Tunisian authorities to improve the security situation still further.
We are well aware of the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I can assure him that, should there be any issues in terms of action that the UK can take in this regard, it stands ready to do that, should the situation require our intervention.
May I ask the Minister for Africa what diplomatic support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can give to the English-speaking community in Cameroon, which is being quite widely oppressed at the moment?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important situation. I was in the Anglophone region of Cameroon earlier this year. We are following with great concern the reports we are hearing that the situation has not got any better since I visited. We are urging the President, who has recently been re-elected, to follow through on his assurance that he would engage in meaningful dialogue to address the concerns of the people living in that region.
I completely share the concerns that the hon. Lady has raised. This is one of a number of human rights issues that we raise regularly with the Chinese Foreign Minister, and I will continue to do so.
When my right hon. Friend speaks to the President of Sri Lanka later on in the week, will he point out that his recent actions are in direct contravention of the 19th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, that the international community continues to recognise Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the legitimate Prime Minister, that this can only be changed by a vote in Parliament, and that Parliament must be recalled as a matter of urgency in order that such a vote can take place?
I will certainly be making those points when I talk to President Sirisena. I know that a number of Members are concerned about the safety of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and we are watching the situation with a great deal of concern.
The independent international fact-finding mission has recently spoken of the “enduring catastrophe” in Myanmar. Has not the time come to put forward a UN resolution referring this to the ICC and bringing public pressure to bear, to try to prevent it from being vetoed?
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. As I said to the House at the last oral questions, the issue with the ICC referral is that it has to go through the Security Council, where we think it would be vetoed by Russia or China. We are looking at alternative solutions. We are absolutely clear that there has to be accountability, because without accountability, the Rohingyas will not feel safe to go home.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Britain’s position will be to back the rule of law as a guiding principle in Sri Lanka and elsewhere?
I am absolutely happy to confirm that—and, indeed, upholding the constitution in Sri Lanka.
The most important thing in Yemen is to bring the conflict to a conclusion. Over the weekend, I spoke to representatives of the UN, the United States, the coalition and the Government of Yemen. Intensive work is going on to make every effort to bring the conflict to a conclusion, and the United Kingdom will play a full part in that.
Following the terrible Salisbury attack, the United Kingdom Government expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and about 20 other countries did the same. Given the evidence that has emerged since then—for example, the attempted hacking of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons—does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is a case for the UK to go further in degrading the Russian state’s ability to commit espionage on our territory, by expelling more Russian diplomats?
We are absolutely going to go further. As the Prime Minister said to the House, we will seek to degrade the GRU’s capabilities and will work with our allies to do that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He may not have heard it, but I said earlier on that we are making it very clear that it is not our place to intervene or interfere in this matter, but clearly it is a concern. The UN report on human rights has rightly been referred to. We very much take note of former high commissioner Zeid’s presentation to the Human Rights Council in June this year and the clear recommendations for the Governments of India and Pakistan. We hope that those will be adhered to.
In the light of recent worrying developments in Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government there to make good on their promises to deliver justice for the Tamil people and accountability for war crimes committed against them?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. I was in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the month, and like the Foreign Secretary, I am deeply concerned by the fast-developing political situation in Sri Lanka. As I say, not only do we want to stand up for the constitution, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement fully the commitments it has willingly made to the UN Human Rights Council.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan. This is a serious situation. We continue to advocate the freeing up of political space and the freeing of political prisoners, as some of the cost-free things that the Government of South Sudan could do to show willing in terms of the peace process declared on 12 September.
While the nation and the international community rightly focus on the situation in Rakhine state in Burma, I recently met people from Karen and Chin states, and they told me some horrendous continuing stories. I am also hosting a delegation from Kachin and Shan states—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a busy man—we are all well aware of that—but what is the question?
Will the Foreign Secretary tell me what we are doing to tackle the situation in the whole of Burma?
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest, and he is absolutely right. The fact-finding mission said that there were mass exterminations and mass expulsions in the Kachin and Shan areas as well, and we raised all those issues with Aung San Suu Kyi when I saw her.
I know the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) very well. He has many commitments, he is a very busy man and he has a very full diary. There is no need to advertise it to the House; we are all aware of what an indispensable public servant he is.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For over 70 years, the sons and daughters of Kashmir have been subjected to persecution, oppression and human rights abuses, yet it seems that our position continues to be that this is a matter for India and Pakistan. How many more innocent men, women and children have to die before we at least facilitate peaceful talks between those countries to find a peaceful resolution?
I do understand the passion and the genuine sense of outrage that the hon. Gentleman feels. Ultimately, there can be a solution only if India and Pakistan work together. It cannot be our role to intervene, not least because, as I think the hon. Gentleman will understand, we will be seen by one or other side as intervening on that side rather than on the other. We will do our very best, as I have already mentioned, as far as the UN is concerned—given that a UN report is on the table—to try to bring the parties together. However, on the notion that it is in any way the place of the UK Government to intervene on this matter, I am afraid that we have quite rightly maintained such a position for over 70 years.
Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a British, Han Chinese and Uighur expedition that crossed the Taklamakan desert in western China for the first time. Today, Xinjiang is not a happy region, and there are worrying, wide-scale reports of abuses of the human rights of the Muslim Uighur population. Does the Minister believe that this is something we should be raising at the human rights talks in Geneva?
My hon. Friend is a great expert in Chinese matters. I think this issue is of very great, and growing, concern. We will raise it in all appropriate forums, and that may be a very good thought.
Will the Secretary of State consider all options we have at EU level to prosecute and impose sanctions on those who have committed atrocities against the Rohingya people in Myanmar?
The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that the EU has already introduced targeted sanctions against seven Burmese generals. We are in discussions with the French, as the other EU permanent member of the Security Council, as to what further measures we can take.
What steps have been taken to counter the rise of Russian influence inside Libya?
Increased Russian military activity has been noticed in Libya, and we continue to monitor that. We would reiterate that there is a UN arms embargo in relation to Libya. It should be the role of all parties to work constructively with the efforts of UN special envoy Ghassan Salamé, and Russia should direct its efforts to encouraging parties to work with that process to bring the conflict to a conclusion.
Order. We are running late, which is not exactly novel, but I could accommodate more colleagues if each was kind to every other. I am sure Mr Stewart Malcolm McDonald will volunteer just a sentence.
What discussions have the Government had with the Government of Ukraine regarding internally displaced people and food insecurity, particularly in the illegally occupied Donbass region?
The hon. Gentleman was there recently, I understand. He will be aware that, through the Department for International Development, we do have a programme of humanitarian assistance there, but Russian aggression continues to destabilise the area. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently spoke to Foreign Minister Klimkin to emphasise our commitment to and support for Ukraine, including through Operation Orbital.
Given the extraordinary declaration by the Argentinian Foreign Minister that Argentina will seek to enhance its claims to the Falklands if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, will my right hon. Friend confirm that—deal or no deal—there will be no question whatever of undermining the status of the Falkland Islands as a British territory?
I am happy to confirm exactly that.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is meeting now in Hobart. What progress has the UK delegation made in securing a marine protected area for the Weddell sea, which is absolutely vital to stop run-away climate change?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the important talks that are taking place. The UK is very much a co-proponent and keen advocate of the proposal currently under discussion. We strongly support this marine protection work, not just in the Weddell sea.
I have recently returned from Abu Nuwar, a village close to Khan al-Ahmar. There, I asked some of the mothers about their hopes and expectations. They said their hope was to remain in their village; their expectation was that, if Khan al-Ahmar is demolished, they would be next. What hope can the Minister give the mothers of Abu Nuwar?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his visit and for his continuing interest in this issue. As he knows, and as the House knows, we have made significant representations in relation to Khan al-Ahmar and other Bedouin communities in recent times. There has still been no decision to demolish the Khan al-Ahmar village; that is currently paused—a decision by the Israeli authorities that we welcome. We continue to hope that a resolution will be found that does not involve demolition. The United Kingdom will remain closely involved.
If President Sirisena will not back down on the apparent return of Mahinda Rajapaksa—a man with a terrible human rights record in Sri Lanka—what further steps will the Foreign Secretary take with our European allies to demonstrate the seriousness of Britain’s concern about this matter?
We very much hope that President Sirisena will back down and will adhere to the constitution, which of course means bringing back Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, when he alludes at least to this, that we are actively co-ordinating our response within the international community. We believe that a concerted international response will have the most effect.
During the events that followed the Salisbury attack, the incompetence of the Russian operatives was there to be seen, but so too was their malevolence. Our EU friends were hugely helpful in thwarting their ambitions. Can I have an assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will continue in the future, whatever the future holds, to work closely with our European friends in thwarting this kind of threat?
Does the Foreign Secretary understand the complete terror and horror of my Tamil constituents at the idea that Mahinda Rajapaksa may be coming back? There can be no justice in Sri Lanka; these people will not find out where their disappeared relatives went nine years ago. What is the Foreign Secretary really going to do to support them?
I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that we do a lot already to support them. As I mentioned, I visited Colombo at the beginning of October and made these points to Foreign Minister Marapana. I also met the Tamil National Alliance leader and a number of human rights and other civil society activists. We will continue to do that work. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, and I am as alarmed as she is. It is absolutely essential that we get Sri Lanka back to the table to ensure that it adheres to its UN Human Rights Council obligations.
When will the Government formally recognise Palestine as a state in its own right and a full member of the UN?
The United Kingdom reserves the right to acknowledge and recognise the state of Palestine when it is in the best interests of the peace process to do so.
Why are the Government not doing more to help UK citizens in Yemen who wish to leave?
We have no current presence in Sanaa, so we have no consular staff or anyone available. When people can get to a border, we can offer support, but we cannot physically offer support in Yemen. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a continuing case, and we have done our very best to support him and his constituents in very difficult circumstances. We will continue to do so, but the conflict makes our assistance extremely difficult.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to report on means of requiring tobacco companies to meet the costs of smoking cessation services; to make provision about the advertising and marketing of products that are alternatives to tobacco; to require tobacco companies to publish information about their activities in relation to such products; to create an offence of selling tobacco without a licence; and for connected purposes.
In 1990, almost one third of adults in Great Britain smoked. The most recent figures show that this has almost halved—the prevalence rate is now 15.8%. The Government’s ambition, set out in the tobacco control plan last year, is to reach 12% or less by 2022, with a longer-term aim of achieving a 5% prevalence rate. Despite that relative success, the UK still has 7.6 million smokers, which means that more than 200 people a day still die from smoking-related illnesses that could have been prevented, and that smoking is estimated to cost our economy in excess of £11 billion a year.
In 2017, local authorities cut their budgets for stop smoking services in half. Separately, the number of smokers using NHS stop smoking services has decreased from a peak of 100,000 in 2011 to 40,000 in 2016. The Bill aims to highlight what a package of measures could do to accelerate the decline in smoking prevalence. At the heart of this new approach is the creation of a new fund that would be used primarily to supplement local authorities’ cessation expenditure, while simultaneously encouraging cigarette companies to shift away from combustible products to less harmful alternatives.
I know many are very wary of those products and the fact that many are produced or funded by tobacco companies. We must recognise that the tobacco companies have been extremely dishonest in the past about the harm caused by smoking. Tobacco companies have made a fortune selling cigarettes and they have got the country into this mess. I believe it is only right that they get us out of it. We should and must follow the simple principle of the polluter pays. They have the resources and the customer base to help smoking cessation tools get straight to the people who need them most.
The proposed tobacco transition fund would work in a similar way to the carbonated drinks industry fund, providing incentives for both individual consumers and the tobacco industry to change their behaviour. Over the next decade or so, such a fund could raise up to £1 billion, which would be spent primarily on cessation services in the areas with the highest smoking prevalence. The fund would be paid for by the major tobacco companies according to their market share. The fund would remain at the same level, regardless of the number of smokers in the UK, thereby making it increasingly costly for any company that wished to continue selling cigarettes as the number of smokers declined. The vast majority of the fund would be passed directly to local authorities to fund cessation services, with a particular focus on those with the highest rates of prevalence.
The fund could also provide extra ring-fenced money to Public Health England to promote switching by funding independent research, with the aim of promoting popular understanding and awareness of non-combustible products. The final element of the fund would be to support trading standards in its ongoing efforts to combat illicit trade in combustible tobacco, with the investment based on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment of local need and impact. The fund would need a robust and independent governance structure to oversee spending by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and local authorities. It would also require accurate reporting by the manufacturers of their efforts to switch consumers. This could include publication of sales data, and research and development spend.
The Bill would also need to find a way to encourage more smokers to switch. It is apparent that the Public Health England endorsement, which states that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, has been insufficient in persuading smokers that the alternatives are safer. In a survey last year, 26% of adults thought e-cigarettes were as harmful or more harmful than smoking, up from 7% in 2013.
We also need a new approach to help people receive the required information and support to quit. That must include a new approach to the rules on advertisements. We must recognise that e-cigarettes and other non-combustible products are very different to the products that tobacco companies are better known for. It seems ridiculous that it is possible to advertise these products on outdoor billboards, but the same information cannot be provided using the internet, even with restrictions to limit its audience to adults only. Manufacturers of reduced harm products would adhere to a marketing code similar to that which applies to other highly regulated products, such as alcohol. The Advertising Standards Authority would monitor and enforce the code.
We must also look at reducing access to harmful tobacco products that are still being sold. At the moment, there is no requirement in England to have a licence or to register with a local authority to sell tobacco. Scotland has a model that requires registration, which is relatively simple to complete and free for retailers so that it does not hit small businesses. Introducing a register in England would strengthen tobacco control, making it a criminal offence to sell tobacco without being registered. If retailers sell illicit tobacco or sell to minors, they could then be struck off the register altogether.
I truly believe that if the industry is willing to commit to a future based on e-cigarettes and other reduced-harm products, we should take it up on the offer and allow Government and local authorities to partner with it for the financial and technical help needed to help smokers to quit. I am sure we would all agree that we want a smoke-free society as soon as possible. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and even some tobacco companies are now saying this as well, so the Government could not ask for a better opportunity. The challenge now is to make sure that the reality lives up to those ambitions, and I believe that the measures I have set out give us the best opportunity to do this. I commend the Bill to the House.
To be clear, while I rise to oppose the Bill, I do not intend to divide the House. I do not intend to speak for long either, as I know that many hon. Members want to speak in the Budget debate, but it is important to put the Bill that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) proposes into some context. I commend his dogged determination to reduce the number of people who smoke, but my fear is that, with this Bill, the points that he raises are either unwelcome or largely not necessary.
Yesterday the Chancellor again increased the tax on tobacco products by a rate above inflation, which means that the tax on some products is now more than 90% of the retail price. Around £12 billion of excise revenue is raised from tobacco products in the UK each year, and that does not include VAT. Each year the Government increase the level further above inflation. It was supposedly Louis XIV’s Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who famously said that the art of levying taxes is to pluck the goose so as to get the maximum amount of feathers with the minimum amount of hissing. That is the balancing act that the Government have to perform every year with duties, including tobacco duty, except in this case the only hissing that we can hear is the sound of the criminal gangs who smuggle illegal tobacco into this country rubbing their hands with glee. If the Government thought that they could raise any more from the tobacco industry, I think that they would already be doing it.
The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the House should require the Secretary of State to report on how he is making the tobacco industry pay for smoking cessation services. One is tempted to ask how much more than £12 billion the right hon. Gentleman wants or expects, but of course what he is calling for is some kind of levy on tobacco, which he and a few others have repeatedly asked this and previous Governments about in the House. Indeed, such a question was asked only last month by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), so clearly Members are having no difficulty in holding the Government to account on this issue, and I certainly do not think that we need a new Bill to help us.
The hon. Lady received the same answer in September that the Government have given many times before: a levy would be passed on to consumers and so would have the same effect as a duty increase, which is happening anyway, except for the fact that a levy would complicate the tax system, increase the administrative burden on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and create uncertainty for consumers and businesses. It was a bad idea in 2016 when the right hon. Member for Rother Valley presented a petition to the House about it, it was a bad idea last month, and it is still a bad idea today. The right hon. Gentleman keeps banging this drum, but perhaps it is time to change the tune.
On the advertising and promotion of alternatives to smoking, such as e-cigarettes, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have already committed to examining how they can better support smokers with clear information after we leave the EU and once we are no longer held back by the outdated thinking of the EU’s tobacco products directive—yet another benefit of leaving. The best thing that a smoker can do, of course, is to quit smoking altogether, but it is obvious that those who cannot, or do not want to, deserve to be told the truth about e-cigarettes and other products that could offer them a less harmful alternative. At present, the law prevents manufacturers from giving them that information, but I hope that once we leave the EU, we will be able to change that.
Not all aspects of the tobacco products directive are bad, however; some offer real protections to consumers and deserve to be preserved after we leave the EU. For example, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the directive requires the manufacturers and importers of e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products to share with the Government any market research information that they hold on those products when they place them on the public register of legal products. That seems to be a very proper measure to allow the Government to monitor what is happening in this marketplace. As long as that measure remains in place after we leave the EU, it strikes me that we see another part of the right hon. Gentleman’s proposed Bill that is simply not needed.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asks for the introduction of a tobacco licensing scheme, with tough penalties, but again that simply is not needed. The Government are already at work on implementing a Europe-wide system to track and trace tobacco products. That system will require that manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers are all registered on a public database as “economic operators” in order to handle tobacco. That is a de facto licensing scheme anyway, and it does everything that is needed to support trading standards enforcement against unscrupulous criminals who sell smuggled tobacco or sell tobacco to children—with a bit of luck, we will see a few more of them behind bars as a result. I certainly hope that anyone who is caught committing such crimes would be automatically struck off the list and rendered unable to legally handle tobacco.
As I said, the right hon. Gentleman deserves our respect for his tireless and relentless work to reduce smoking. Although it is not my intention to divide the House, I thought that it was important to put on record the context of his proposed Bill and to point out that its measures are either unwelcome or, more often, not necessary.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Sir Kevin Barron, Norman Lamb, Mark Pawsey, Liz Kendall, Jess Phillips, Crispin Blunt, Mr Charles Walker, Mr Kevan Jones, Adam Afriyie and Tonia Antoniazzi present the Bill.
Sir Kevin Barron accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 280).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just agreed that the Bill is theoretically going to be read a Second time on 23 November. Unfortunately, on that day, 150 private Members’ Bills are going to be considered, 148 of which—now 149—I suspect will not be reached. Under our Standing Orders, the Government have to provide us with 13 days in a Session for private Members’ Bills. They guaranteed that they would provide additional days in this Session, because it is a two-year Session. They are considering having a two-year Session next time as well. Would it not be a good idea if they announced some additional days for private Members’ Bills—today, for instance?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. The Clerk has consulted his scholarly cranium, on the strength of which—and it is a very considerable strength—he was about to proffer me some advice, to which I will listen attentively if I can hear it. In any case, I have a view on what the hon. Gentleman has said, but let us first hear the point of order from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), if it is on the same matter.
It is on that very point, Mr Speaker. Am I not right in thinking that the Standing Orders state that there “shall be” 13 sitting days in a Session for private Members’ Bills, not that there will be a minimum of 13 days? Would it therefore not be quite proper for this Session to have just those 13 days, as that is what the Standing Orders clearly set out?
Conformity with Standing Orders is a very good starting point, but in reality it is possible for there to be differences of opinion about their interpretation. Recalling the sequence of events earlier in this Parliament, I believe that the Government nodded their recognition of the fact that a two-year Session had an implication for Opposition days and private Members’ Bills, and that therefore there would need to be an explicit commitment to guarantee the requisite number of days. I am not aware that that has yet happened, and that, I think, is at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. If he is asking if I think it would be a good idea for there to be an announcement, my answer is: it might very well be, and if there is to be such an announcement, it would probably be a good idea for it to be sooner rather than later, if for no other or better reason than that it would mean he did not have to exercise his knee muscles again by rising to his feet to raise this perfectly legitimate point. I think we will leave it there for now, but I am grateful to both hon. Members for their points of order.
Ways and Means
Income Tax (Charge)
Debate resumed (Order, 29 October).
Question again proposed,
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2019-20.
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.
Four weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised to end austerity. She raised people’s hopes—the hopes of teachers that they would no longer have to rely on begging letters to parents to fund the running of their schools; the hopes of police officers that the safer neighbourhood teams would return to tackle the rise in violent crime; and the hopes of local councillors of all political parties that they would have the resources to support local families in need at a time when a record number of children are being taken into care.
Those hopes were dashed yesterday. At best, those people got what the Chancellor described as “little extras”. No wonder so many teachers, police officers, local councillors and others feel bitterly disappointed at the Prime Minister’s broken promise, because yesterday’s Budget was not the end of austerity. Even with yesterday’s Budget, two thirds of the welfare benefit cuts planned by the Government will still roll out. Outside the NHS, departmental budgets are flat, and the Resolution Foundation this morning revealed that some Departments faced a further 3% cut in their budgets by 2023. Austerity is not ending.
For most people, ending austerity is about not just halting some of the cuts planned by the Government, but lifting the burden that austerity has imposed upon them and their communities over the last hard eight years.
I thank the shadow Chancellor for giving way so early in his speech. May I refer him to page 39 of the Red Book, which shows clearly that, by fiscal year 2023-24, there will be a £30 billion fiscal loosening? He referred to the Resolution Foundation, but it says that under universal credit, more money will be paid out to recipients than under the current system.
To be absolutely clear, the Chancellor gave the impression yesterday that there would be no departmental cuts, but the Resolution Foundation has said that, although some Departments will be protected, others will have a 3% cut as a result. I call that continuing austerity.
Ending austerity is about more than that; it is about ending and repairing some of the damage that has been inflicted on our society and, yes, has undermined some of the social fabric we rely upon. Yesterday, the Chancellor claimed that this was a “turning point”. It is, but not in the way he suggested. This is not the end of austerity, but it is the beginning of the end of the dominance of an economic theory and practice that has wreaked havoc on our communities. People no longer believe the myth that austerity was necessary. They are seeing this Government hand out £110 billion in tax cuts to the rich and corporations while their services are being cut and their children are forced into poverty.
Liverpool’s local authority will have had 64% of its budget cut by 2020. Would not a reversal in austerity mean its budget being reinstated?
We are currently seeing local councils—the first wave has been Conservative—virtually going into administration. That must say something about the impact of a 50% cut in local government funding over the last eight years.
People no longer accept the trickle-down economics that has gripped the Tory party for four decades.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will in due course. The Parliamentary Private Secretary has done his job and handed out the briefings and questions to everyone. I respect the hon. Gentleman for his diligence and I will allow some interventions but, to be frank, people out there are fed up with parliamentary banter and want a debate that reflects the real world.
People no longer accept the trickle-down economics that has gripped the Tory party for four decades—the idea that somehow if we cut taxes for the rich and the corporations, this wealth will trickle down to everybody. They no longer accept “public sector bad, private sector good”. They no longer accept privatisation and deregulation; in fact, those are anathema to most people now. What was surprising yesterday was how lacking in self-awareness the Chancellor and his colleagues were and how out of touch they were with the reality of our people’s day-to-day lives. His speech reflected how ideologically crushed the Tories are. They are so bereft of ideas that the Chancellor yesterday, in a major parliamentary speech, was reduced to toilet gags. They are so bereft of ideas that they made a pathetic attempt to imitate Labour policies.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity. Is the new economic model that Labour is proposing the same one that left 500,000 more people unemployed in 1979 and 450,000 more people unemployed in 2010 than when it came to office?
A former Local Government Minister gets to his feet in this House and does not express a word of apology for what the Government have done to local government.
For some time, I have had concerns about the nature of the whole debate on austerity. First, many—I accept not all—in the Conservative party seem to have no appreciation of what austerity has meant and continues to mean for our society. I thought at one point that that was because many Labour MPs such as me represented constituencies with a different demographic to many Conservative constituencies. I represent a working class, multicultural London constituency. Yes, it is faced with different challenges from those of leafy Surrey, for example, but most of all our constituents, wherever they are, rely on the NHS, local schools, the police and local council services, so all of us should have some idea of what the public services that support our constituents have been going through.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Not at the moment, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
What shocked me yesterday was that the Chancellor delivered a Budget that so clearly failed to address the desperate needs of our society after eight years of austerity. Let us look at just some elements of the human cost of austerity and what the Chancellor brought forward in the Budget.
As part of the number crunching that the right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly been doing, has he worked out how much more would have been available for the police, prisons, schools and local government if the UK had not voted to leave the European Union two and a half years ago? Does he not believe that that reinforces the case for a people’s vote now to restore the level of growth that we saw two and a half years ago?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views on Brexit because I campaigned for remain as well, but it behoves any Liberal Democrat to come to this House with a bit of humility after serving with a Tory Administration that savaged our public services.
Let me look at some of the elements of human suffering. Health workers are having to cope with the biggest financial squeeze in the NHS’s history.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must reinstate nursing bursaries if we are to see the number of nurses we need in our NHS?
That is an essential element of the reconstruction that Labour will have to do when we come to power.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that a rise in health spending of 3.3% was needed just to maintain the current stretched service, and that at least 4% was needed to improve it. Instead, according to the Nuffield Trust, what we got amounts to just a 2.7% increase in overall health spending in real terms next year.
Police officers have seen 21,000 of their colleagues’ jobs cut since 2010. As a result, violent crime is on the rise. The independent police watchdog is warning that
“the lives of vulnerable people could be at risk.”
What did the police get yesterday? Some £160 million for counter-terrorism—far less than is needed—and not a penny more for neighbourhood policing. And that despite the head of counter-terrorism warning that counter-terrorism work relies on regular policing being properly funded.
Teachers’ pay has fallen by 4% since 2011 and the schools budget has been cut by £3 billion in real terms. Some 36,000 teachers have left the profession in a year —the highest since records began.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cuts to education that have left 22 out of 26 Wallasey schools facing cuts and that have seen £3 million cut from their budgets, while teachers are earning £4,000 a year less and having to do more, are an absolute disgrace, and that that demonstrates that this Government give no priority whatsoever to the future of our children?
My hon. Friend has got it exactly.
It takes something, does it not, to have headteachers marching on Downing Street? That has never been seen before. Just what did yesterday’s Budget do to tempt teachers back? What the Chancellor offered was “little extras”. It was an insult, especially when 60% of teachers are not getting a pay rise this year.
There are now 4 million children living in poverty, 500 children’s centres have closed, 500 children’s playgrounds have closed and 128,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. When children’s social care faces a funding gap of £3 billion by 2025, what did the Chancellor offer? Just £84 million for just 20 councils. That will not even scratch the surface of the problem.
We have a record number of children coming into care. I know what coming into care means for a child: they are scarred for life. Why are they coming into care? Because there has been a 40% cut in funding to councils for early intervention to support families. Let the Government justify that.
On young people, the YMCA reports that spending on youth services has fallen by 62% since 2010. The average graduate comes out of university with a £50,000 debt. The IFS describes home ownership among young people as having collapsed completely. Tragically, with the mounting pressure, a decades-long decline in suicide among men has been reversed since 2010.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning suicide. I wonder whether there is anything in this Budget that he can welcome, even though I appreciate that we may differ. Does he not welcome the announcement on mental health or the announcement of a £21 million centre of excellence for public sector leaders?
Of course we welcome more money for mental health, but what was required was £4 billion, not £2 billion; and that £2 billion was contained within the £20 billion that had already been announced, so it is not additional money. There are some things that we can work on on a cross-party basis in this House, but we have to be honest about the needs and the requirements, and we have to be straightforward in saying how they can be funded.
My right hon. Friend is being a little unfair; some people have done very well from austerity. A thousand of the richest people in the United Kingdom have seen their personal wealth increase by £274 billion over the past five years.
The facts speak for themselves.
To make a real difference to the lives of young people, the Chancellor needed to address the housing crisis, deal with the toppling mountain of student loans, and restore work allowances for single people and couples without children. Instead we got piecemeal, unambitious housing announcements and re-announcements, nothing on student finances, and nothing on universal credit recipients who are single and without children.
The Chancellor’s meagre contributions to universal credit will do nothing to reverse the social security cuts for disabled people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for the millions of disabled people, austerity is far from over?
I will come on to the plight of disabled people, who seem to have been a particular target for this Government, given how they have withdrawn funding and services.
On older people, there were more than 31,000 excess winter deaths among the over-65s in 2017, and well over 150,000 elderly people are in arrears in their social care payments. The Local Government Association, which works on a cross-party basis, said that £1.5 billion was needed by 2020 just to fill the funding gap in adult social care. The £650 million that was announced yesterday is less than half of that.
What comes out of the analysis is this. The burden of austerity has fallen disproportionately on who? On the shoulders of women. Yesterday, that did not just continue; it got worse. The share of the Government’s tax and benefit changes impacting on women increased from 86% to 87%—another year with an increase. The 1950s women, who have been treated so unjustly, have been overlooked once again.
The victims of possibly the harshest cruelty inflicted by this Government are disabled people. A UN inquiry into the rights of persons with disabilities found this Government guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of their human rights. When have any UK Government been charged with that by a UN body? Never. To be frank, we know—
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once.
Many have taken their own lives as a result of the welfare reforms imposed upon them since 2010, and the Government—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) has made his point with force and alacrity, but he should not witter from a sedentary position, engaged in an animated conversation with a Member on the opposite Benches. The same goes for Members on both sides of the House. The shadow Chancellor has addressed the House, as in my experience he invariably does, with considerable courtesy. Whatever people think of what is being said, they should extend courtesy to the Front-Bench speakers, as they should to Back-Bench speakers.
I understand the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp); he gets excited at times, but as someone who has been excited myself at times, I completely understand.
The Government have been repeatedly forced by the courts to change how they are treating disabled people. They do not seem to have learned their lesson yet, so yesterday we saw no restoration of disability premiums, no end to the cruel social security freeze, and no end to dehumanising and unreliable work capability assessments.
The Government are also putting the livelihoods of future generations at risk. A few weeks ago the world’s leading authority on climate change said that avoiding dangerous climate change would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented” action. What did we get yesterday? We got no mention of climate change, no reversal of cuts to renewable energy, and no significant environmental policy.
I am curious: the other day the Government voted through a £650 million scheme to improve energy efficiency and home insulation; why did the Labour party vote against it?
Because it was not on a scale that would have had sufficient impact. I welcome interventions, but I think we should have a rule that when Members intervene they should describe their background, in this case as advisor to George Osborne, who cut back on the solar energy industry, who undermined wind power in this country, and who set us back so that we will never meet our climate change targets.
The impact—[Interruption.] Calm down, calm down—George Osborne used to say that to me, and I said “I’ll calm down when you resign,” and he did. The impact on the self-employed and small businesses has been equally stark. Some 51,000 high street stores closed last year. Wages for the self-employed have collapsed to around the same level as 20 years ago.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was a disgrace that yesterday we heard that the Government are going to save the high street by turning our shops into residential properties and risking the very fundamentals of how the high street operates?
My hon. Friend is right. Yesterday we needed serious action to address the bias against high streets, which has led to so many empty shops. Instead we got legislation that will help turn shops into flats.
We then had a huge media presentation about an online tax being introduced: it was said that £400 million will be found from this online tax in a few years’ time. At the weekend the Tax Justice Network said the top five tech companies have avoided £5 billion-worth of tax.
My second concern about the austerity debate is that if we understand and appreciate what people have been forced to go through with austerity, only callous complacency could drive us to inflict those policies on people. Yesterday the Chancellor’s speech, with references to “Labour’s recession,” demonstrated that he is trapped in a time warp of a political propaganda exercise by the Tories of a decade ago. [Interruption.] I thought they would like that one. Let us be clear: the financial crash was the result of greed and speculation, and a lack of regulation that goes right back to the 1980s. Austerity was always a bad idea.
Like my right hon. Friend, I heard the Chancellor try to blame the last Labour Government for the recession, but in actual fact the previous Chancellor said a couple of months ago that it was not the Labour Government’s fault; it was the whole system’s fault, starting with Lehman Brothers in America. We should get the facts right.
I always said George Osborne would get it right one day.
The consensus among economists, and the evidence of recent history, is absolutely clear. The worst possible response to a recession is for a Government to cut their own spending. In a recession, the Government should be there to support businesses and households. Instead, at the moment when Government support was most needed to help people back on their feet, Conservative Chancellors chose to impose the most severe spending cuts in generations. They did not have to, and they should not have done.
The Tories were warned that austerity would lead to slower growth and lower wages, and it has. The economic experts the Tories chose to ignore were proved right. Growth since the financial crisis, under Conservative Chancellors, has been the slowest after any recession in modern times. Real weekly average earnings are still lower today than they were in 2010. The Resolution Foundation reports this morning that real wages will not have fully recovered until 2024.
Ten years after the crash, we should be clear about the causes of the financial crisis. The Chancellor seemed confused on that point yesterday. It was not the deficit that caused the crisis; it was the crisis that caused the deficit. It was a crisis—[Interruption.] They don’t like to hear the truth. It was a crisis that resulted from the casino economy that the Tories helped construct right from the 1980s and supported every step of the way.
The right hon. Gentleman asked us to give our personal history: I was a proud public sector employee for 17 years and I take issue with the way that Labour wrecked the economy and spent money we did not have. Would he like to tell us how he proposes to pay for his current funding system?
Here is an answer: it is called a fair taxation system.
It was the ideology of neoliberalism that said markets were always right, that regulation was simply a barrier to growth, and that, ultimately, greed was good. The financial system this ideology helped design collapsed 10 years ago, and it was Conservative Chancellors who took the political decision to force working people, not the bankers, to pay the price for it.
Mr Speaker, you will admit that I have been generous in the number of times I have given way, and I suggest that, as you have a large number of Members wishing to speak, particularly on the Labour Benches, I should press on.
The result has been a period of stagnation unprecedented in modern British history: a period of falling wages, crumbling public services, and insecurity in an economy visibly failing across great swathes of the country. And because the cuts are still, even now, grinding on, the stagnation will continue, as the official forecasts say: investment forecasts have been revised downwards across the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast period, real wages will barely recover, and growth will remain far below its long-run trend.
The Chancellor cannot use Brexit as an excuse for those dismal figures. The OBR presented its forecasts on the basis of what it called a “relatively smooth exit” from the EU next year, but the Tories are bungling the Brexit negotiations—it is so bad that there is now an impact on the economy. Investment is being delayed and has even been cancelled. Britain already has the lowest rate of business investment in the G7, and even that has fallen this year. It is the uncertainty the Tories have introduced into the whole process that is so terrifying businesspeople. They just want to know where they stand, but the uncertainty was made even worse yesterday. The Chancellor has taken to threatening to revoke his own Budget in the event of a no-deal Brexit, yet on the very morning of the Budget, his Prime Minister was contradicting him. How can any company looking to invest in Britain not wonder where we are heading?
For well over two years, the Government have spent more time negotiating with themselves than with our European partners. With the date for leaving the EU just five months away, time is running out to present a deal that would respect the result of the referendum and win the support of the House. Instead, as the Tories continue to indulge in their squabbling, the economy and the whole country are being confronted with the grim prospect of a no-deal car crash. I have asked the Chancellor before to rule out a no-deal Brexit. A responsible Chancellor simply would not support such a thing, and would not, as he has done before, idly threaten to mutate this country into some form of tax haven off the coast of Europe. Let us put it on record that austerity is not ending. In the weeks and months ahead, people will recognise that the Prime Minister’s promise has been broken. There are rumours that this was possibly a pre-election Budget with pre-election tax giveaways. If the Conservatives are contemplating a general election, let me say on behalf of the Labour party: bring it on.
Yesterday’s Budget proved the time-honoured truth that careful stewardship of the economy, taking difficult decisions, creating the environment for enterprise and generating growth will lead to better days, not just for those with the dignity of employment, now in record numbers, who did not have it in the past, but for the provision of the public services on which we all depend. This Budget reported record jobs, unemployment lower than in a generation, more full-time jobs, the lowest proportion of low-paid jobs for two decades and rising real pay, with the fastest rises in real pay among the lowest paid in our society, thanks to our national living wage.
We have just seen the big difference between the two Front Benches. While we are delivering more jobs, more opportunity and more prosperity, those on the Opposition Front Bench promise more borrowing, more taxes and more debt. We have just heard it again from the shadow Chancellor: no ideas for the future; just talking Britain down. There is a big difference in this Parliament between a party that believes in the future and an Opposition Front Bench that would only take us back. Wherever it has been tried in the world, the programme that the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) proposes has led to bankruptcy and misery for millions, and we cannot fund public services on that. Without a strong economy, we cannot fund an NHS that everyone can turn to in their hour of need, whether that involves a life-threatening condition or falling over some fly-tipping. We are able to put record funding into our NHS only because there are millions more people in work who are earning more and paying their taxes.
On that point, may I thank the Secretary of State for his work on securing the public capital for the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Sandwell, which had some difficulties following the collapse of Carillion? His work with the chief executive and the board of the trust has secured the future of that hospital, which is now on track to be built. It will be a vital resource for my local area of Rowley Regis.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked so hard to get that hospital back on track. It is now being built because we have put in the capital—it is in the NHS budget. We had to rescue it from the failed private finance initiative that was invented by the Labour party. It is only because we have a strong economy that we can give the NHS the longest and largest cash injection ever in its history—
If the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that injection, I will give way to him.
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the rise in health spending. He is Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, so can he tell us by how much social care expenditure is going to rise over the next five years?
Yes, I am going to come on to social care. Yesterday, we put a further £650 million into social care, and we are coming forward with reforms to social care to put it on a sustainable footing for the long term.
I want to ask the Secretary of State about acquired brain injury. We save so many lives now, but if we put in significant investment up front to ensure that everyone got the right neuro-rehabilitation, we could save vast amounts of money for the taxpayer. Is that not rather a good model for us to pursue?
Yes, and the constructive approach that the hon. Gentleman has taken on this subject with me over many months, and for years before that, shows the progress that we can make. We are putting £20.5 billion extra into the NHS, and making an uplift like that means that we can turn resources towards preventing ill health in exactly the way that he describes. I pay tribute to the work that he has done on this subject.
Yesterday, the Chancellor boasted of a “jobs miracle”. If there is a jobs miracle, why is the chemotherapy unit at King George Hospital in my constituency closing because of a shortage of chemotherapy nurses?
We have a plan to improve the cancer workforce and to try to solve some of these problems. Maybe the hon. Gentleman should come over to this side and work with us to put record funding into the NHS. We can only have record funding for the NHS if we have a strong economy.
Is it not critical that every single penny put into the NHS is well spent if we are to tackle waste and bureaucracy, unlike what happened when Labour was in charge, when almost half was not spent on patient care?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People want to see more funding for our NHS, and they are going to get it, but they also want to see all the money being well spent.
The Budget confirms that the NHS is the Government’s No. 1 spending priority, just as it is the British people’s No.1 spending priority. This Budget places the Government four-square in the centre of British politics. It is progressive and optimistic and focused on the future, not just for the many but for the whole country that we serve.
I absolutely welcome the uplift to NHS funding, but will the Secretary of State answer a small technical question, please? In the Red Book, there are separate entries for the increases in the resource departmental expenditure limits for health and for NHS England? Can he confirm that the difference—£6.3 billion versus £7.2 billion—will not result in a transfer from Public Health England, from Health Education England or from capital budgets to fund the discrepancy? That has happened in the past.
Yes, I can confirm that. The £20.5 billion real-terms funding for the NHS in the Budget is for the NHS itself and will be channelled through NHS England. Of course there are budgets in the Department that are outside the NHS envelope, and they will be settled in the spending review. This is exactly as has been planned, and it was made clear in June. I can tell the House that the £20.5 billion is both the longest and the largest settlement for any public service in the history of this country.
We need to be precise and accurate about this, and I have just googled the settlement. In fact, the biggest ever increase in NHS funding happened between 1997 and 2008 when the budget went up from £55 billion to £125.4 billion—
Well, I am talking about being factually correct. The biggest ever funding increase came under a Labour Government. Let us be honest about this.
This is a single settlement for a five-year period so that the NHS can plan again.
I want to make some progress.
I received some representations about what we should do on NHS funding. One was from a John from Hillingdon, who called for a 2.2% increase in funding. John said that would make the NHS the “envy of the world”. Others may preach a gospel of envy, but we are getting on with building the NHS to be there for us all. The £20 billion increase I have talked about is not a 2.2% per year increase—it is 3.4% a year more over the next five years.
I acknowledge the Secretary of State’s contribution to funding the Midland Metro Hospital, which is very important to people in the Black country. However, given that NHS hospital trusts have cumulative debts of around £7.5 billion plus a further £5 billion or so of other debts, can he reassure us that the £20.5 billion will be used not just to pay debts but to provide extra services?
The £20.5 billion is just for day-to-day running costs—the resource costs. Of course there is a capital budget, too, which includes £4 billion of taxpayers’ money. That goes towards ensuring that we can get the capital built. The critical point is that we have not only that £20.5 billion uplift in running costs but a capital budget. We will make further announcements on the allocation of the capital budget later in the autumn.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for clarifying the £20.5 billion figure, which does not include training or capital. Of course, that contradicts the unhelpful briefing from Downing Street during the summer that it was something like £84 billion. Will he confirm that that £84 billion figure, which has been repeated in the media, is, as the Health Service Journal says, a fib, and that we are talking about £20.5 billion purely for resources in the NHS in England and Wales?
No. The £84 billion is the cash figure. The £20.5 billion is the real-terms increase by the end of the five years. If we add up all the extra money, we get £84 billion. It is there on page 36 of the Budget, if the hon. Lady wants to look. The biggest single cash increase comes next year, in 2019-20. It is all there in the Red Book.
I thank the Secretary of State for more good news for the midlands in the form of £70 million for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre just outside my constituency to help civilian rehabilitation. Can he share further details of that with us?
I pay tribute again to my right hon. Friend, who has worked tirelessly in support of that project. The Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough will link world-class military medical facilities with our NHS. That means lessons learned in the medical field from treating our brave troops who come back from the frontline can be brought into the NHS—for instance, surgical techniques that were learned in battle can be adapted to help civilians here. I pay tribute to her and others for the work they have done.
Here is a representation from a Jonathan from Leicester. Further to the question from the Chair of the Select Committee on Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), can the Secretary of State confirm that, in next year’s spending review, the cuts to capital budgets and the £700 million-worth of cuts to public health budgets will be reversed, and that there will be real-terms increases in funding for capital, training and public health? Can he guarantee that?
The spending review is next year. What I can guarantee is a £20.5 billion increase in NHS spending. That is the biggest increase in any spending commitment for any public service in the history of this country. [Interruption.] It is a pity that the Leader of the Opposition is not interested and does not want to hear about it. If he stayed, he could also hear about the reforms we are going to make. He should hear this more than anyone. We are acutely aware on the Conservative Benches that this is not Government money or NHS money but the hard-earned money of taxpayers, and we need to ensure that it is spent wisely. When he sprays his commitments around, Opposition Front Benchers would do well to remember that this is money from taxpayers.
I welcome the fact that taxpayers’ money will be spread across the whole country, including £10 million to support air ambulances, which provide vital services in rural areas.
So many of us know just how important air ambulance services are and the countless lives they save. I am delighted that, on top of the £20.5 billion for the NHS—the biggest ever, longest ever cash settlement for any public service in history—there was £10 million for air ambulances.
If my right hon. Friend will excuse another Leicestershire-based health intervention, I am incredibly grateful for the creation of the new Cottage Hospital in Market Harborough, the gleaming new A&E ward at Leicester Royal Infirmary and the decision to save the brilliant children’s heart unit at Glenfield Hospital. Does he agree that that is a more welcome record than the Labour party’s record of bankrupting the country, giving us the biggest recession since the second world war and putting 1 million people on the dole?
It is true that the Labour party in office has always left unemployment higher than it found it; it is true that, while Labour left the deficit higher, we are bringing it down; and it is true that inequality, too, is coming down. Page 8 of the distributional analysis shows that, contrary to what we heard in that paean of gloom from the shadow Chancellor, the biggest rises in full-time employee gross weekly real earnings over the last three years have been among the 10% least well paid in our country. That is what this Conservative Government are doing—delivering for everybody in our country.
On inequalities, does the Secretary of State recognise that life expectancy is stalling under his Government? In some regions it is getting worse. For women, it is getting worse. Perhaps he can answer the question he could not answer last week—why, for the first time in 100 years, do four babies in 1,000 not reach their first birthday?
As the hon. Lady knows, life expectancy is increasing, and we are forecast to see an increasing number of people live to a good old age. Indeed, the number of people aged 75 and over is set to double in the next 30 years. That is a brilliant achievement, which is in part down to the hard work of our NHS. Cancer survival rates are at a record high, strokes are down by a third and deaths from heart failure are down by a quarter. Of course, those successes have brought new challenges. The biggest health challenge we face is that people are living longer, often with multiple chronic conditions. The money is only one part of the plan to safeguard the NHS and ensure it is fit for the 21st century. The Budget delivers the funding, and later this year we will deliver the plan for how we will set the NHS fair for the future.
I have very little hope for the older people of our country given that the Government have cut £7 billion from the social care budget and replaced it with only £240 million. How is that safeguarding our old people for the future?
Of course, in Scotland social care is devolved, so—[Interruption.] And in York, the amount of money for social care is going up thanks to the decisions announced yesterday.
Is not it true that Labour talk the talk but do not walk the walk? They failed to deliver an effective long-term solution for social care when they were in government. They had 13 years to sort it and they did not. Is not it also true that, even though they said they would use the comprehensive spending review to address that, they left office without delivering? That is what they do time and again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The long-term plan needs to ensure that we address the challenges of today and of tomorrow, including dementia, obesity and the rise in mental ill health. It will set out how we are going to address and deliver these changes. The Government believe in an NHS that is free at the point of use for everyone, for the long term.
The A&E in my local hospital is deeply loved and I am very grateful that it is staying, but it is still under huge pressure. When I have been out at night with the emergency services, I have seen that emergency services personnel have to stay with someone who has an acute mental illness and needs a mental health bed, which means that they cannot get on with other roles. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government’s strong announcement of more funding for mental health will help the whole NHS to do more?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we can only have a sustainable NHS if the social care system is also properly supported.
The social care Green Paper to be published later this year will set out the options to meet the unprecedented demographic challenge—and what a challenge. Some 70% of people in residential care homes now have dementia. The number of people with dementia is set to rise from 850,000 today to over 1 million in less than a decade. The number of people of working age in need of care is rising and is set to increase by almost half by 2035. Yet, despite these pressures, 83% of adult social care settings are now rated good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission. That is the highest level since assessments began. As a society, we need to address the pressures on social care so that everyone can live in dignity and we can have a situation that is sustainable for the long term.
The Green Paper will bring forward a range of proposals to reform our social care system. I pay tribute to the excellent cross-party work of the Health and Social Care Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which are helping to build a consensus behind potential solutions. This is exactly the sort of long-term cross-party work that we need to see, when fair-minded people from across the House come together to address the challenges of the future, and I will work with anyone from any party to get this right.
I listened with care to my right hon. Friend’s very welcome remarks on yesterday’s “Today” programme about having parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, and I welcome the announcement in the Budget of £250,000 for children’s crisis centres. Sadly, people in society now have complex mental health problems at a younger and younger age. In order to make these policies work, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is a sufficient number of well trained staff in the NHS to deal with these mental health problems?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; he has put his finger on an incredibly important point. As we spend £20 billion extra on the NHS, we are going to ensure that we train up and attract the people who are going to do the caring.
On the issue of mental health support and services for children, I was quite disappointed that mental health support for schools was missing from the Budget. A lot of money was promised for child and adolescent mental health services but, as the Secretary of State will know, the Education Committee produced a joint report with the Health and Social Care Committee entitled “The Government’s Green Paper on mental health: failing a generation”, in which we outlined that we were really keen to see additional funding for mental health support in schools. Is there anything that the Minister can do to look again at that issue?
Yes—part of the £2 billion of extra mental health funding that we announced yesterday is to ensure that there is support in schools, particularly for young people. That is one of the elements of the funding that we announced in the Budget yesterday, and I am very happy to talk to the hon. Lady about the details.
The social care Green Paper will address the question of long-term funding reform for social care and how we can help people to plan sensibly so they do not have to fear the risk of losing everything. But the Green Paper will not just look at funding; it will also look at the role of housing, at how we can combine a home with high-quality care, and at the links between the care of children and of the elderly. I have seen how such links can benefit both groups, helping children’s development and tackling the scourge of loneliness that elderly people too often face. The Green Paper will of course also look at how we can better integrate the NHS and the social care system. What matters is what works, so we will look at things such as auto-enrolment, and how and if reforms elsewhere can be applied to social care. Like the NHS, the future of our social care system rests not just on funding, but on reform, and we are determined to rise to this challenge.
Every Member of this House will have their own personal story of the NHS. Whether it was the first few breaths of a child or the final few moments of a loved one, from cradle to grave that care is ever present, whatever the shade of Government. This Government want to ensure that that care will always be there for whoever needs it, and that the NHS remains free at the point of delivery. That is why we are putting the extra £20 billion into the NHS. It is only because our economy is strong, employment is rising and we believe in a free market economy that we can fund this increase, for just as there can only be truth when there is freedom of speech, so can there only be prosperity to fund public services when there is freedom of enterprise. It is a great sadness that, in stark contrast with the greats of his party in the past, the shadow Chancellor opposes both. It is now a combination that we can only get under a progressive, optimistic, future-focused Conservative Government. That is what this Budget delivers. I commend it to the House.
It is an honour to speak for the Scottish National party on the second day of the 2018 Budget debate.
Ten years ago last month, Lehman Brothers collapsed. Excessive risk-taking by financial institutions created an international banking crisis, and a global downturn followed. Since then, people and families across the UK have had to pay for the fall-out. There has been a decade of wage stagnation, a decade of cuts and a decade of the most vulnerable in our society being hit the hardest by Tory austerity. Looking forward, we are staring into the abyss that is Brexit. Mark Carney says that Brexit has already cost householders an average of £900, and the Fraser of Allander Institute estimates that leaving the single market and customs union would cost 80,000 Scottish jobs. After a decade of austerity, households cannot afford to lose £900 each, and they certainly cannot afford a Tory Brexit.
The reality is that the people of Scotland are badly served by Westminster. We did not vote for a Tory Government and we did not vote for Brexit. I cannot think of a time in the past when a country has committed such a foreseeable act of economic self-harm. The Chancellor does not believe that we will be better off after Brexit. Even the Prime Minister does not believe that we will be better off after Brexit. We were promised £350 million pounds a week for public services. We will not be bought off with a commemorative 50p coin.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent start to her speech. Does she agree that, after a decade of Lehman austerity, we could be facing a decade of Brexit austerity?
I absolutely agree. An economic catastrophe is coming down the line as a result of Brexit. It does not matter what kind of Brexit there is; any Brexit is bad for the economy. Staying in the EU is the best possible option for the economy. If we cannot stay in the EU, staying in the single market and the customs union is the second best option.
Further to that point, did my hon. Friend notice in the Red Book that the expected growth that the UK will achieve in the next four to five years equals that of Ireland in only one year? Is that example not a clear signpost to all in Scotland and elsewhere that independence has worked for Ireland and is going to work for Scotland, and that the sooner we get it and the sooner we are clear of this lot, the better?
Absolutely; it is clear that remaining part of the UK is bad for Scotland’s economy. The comparators in the Budget information documents show that the UK economy is growing slower than the EU economy is set to grow in every but one of the next five years.
May I just ask whether the hon. Lady has ever seen the result of a referendum that she likes?
Do you know what? The reality is that we have argued for a very long time—I have argued for my entire adult life—against the current democratic system, because it does not work for the people of Scotland. We do not get the Governments we vote for and we do not get the result that we voted for in the EU referendum. If the democratic system meant that Scotland’s votes were reflected in reality, we would be in a very different situation today.
On a serious note, every week in our communities and at our surgeries MPs from both sides of the House are faced with the consequences of Westminster’s poor decisions. We see working mothers forced to go to food banks. We see and hear about the Home Office-enforced separation of families. We meet young men struggling with mental health problems who have been sanctioned yet again because they are unable to jump through the unreasonable hoops put in their way by the Department for Work and Pensions. I do not know how anybody, even in this Westminster Government, can believe that their policies are having a positive benefit. The tears and desperation with which we are all faced on a regular basis give the lie to that notion.
The Chancellor has failed adequately to fund our public services in this Budget. He has failed to undo the devastating social security cuts, he has failed to legislate for a real living wage and he has failed to provide adequate support for businesses facing the impending cliff edge of Brexit.
The Budget should have included decisions to help support all those who have been hit by a decade of austerity, and all those who will be hit by the forthcoming Brexit. The roll-out of universal credit should have been halted. A third of working-age households will be entitled to some universal credit. Of those, around a third will be at least £1,000 a year worse off than under the legacy system.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government missed an opportunity in the Budget yesterday not only to correct the injustices of universal credit but to compensate councils such as Highland Council that are having to foot a £2.5 million bill out of council tax funds simply for administering this failed and shambolic universal credit roll-out?
Absolutely. The Highland Council area has been particularly badly hit as one of the first areas in which universal credit was rolled out. It is currently rolling out in Aberdeen, and I am hugely concerned about the impact it will have on my constituents. The roll-out needs to be halted, because the issues that happened in the highlands and elsewhere have not been fixed, and they need to be fixed before any further roll-out can occur.
The benefits freeze should have been lifted, the sanctions regime should be scrapped, support for lone parents under the age of 25 must be reintroduced and the WASPI issue must be sorted, with those women being given the money they are owed. I am pleased that the Government have made a commitment to the pensions dashboard, but they now need to legislate to compel companies to comply so that people can access information about the pensions they are owed, and so that they can then get those pensions. That is important, and lots of people have been calling for it.
Workers’ rights are another reserved issue, and the Chancellor should have committed to increasing the minimum wage to the living wage—an amount people can actually live on—by the end of this Parliament. The Office for National Statistics said this week:
“Among the countries of the UK, long-term pay growth has been highest in Scotland… Median pay for full-time workers was 87% higher in Scotland than it was in 1997.”
The Scottish Government are doing all they can, particularly for staff employed in public sector roles, but we need the powers to do more. In Scotland, our Government have focused on uplifting the pay packets of the lowest paid, which is a progressive choice that makes the most positive difference. The UK Government have not chosen to do that.
We have fought long and hard for a single, real living wage rate. The UK Government need to recognise that it does not cost a 24-year-old less to live than it costs a 25-year-old. If the Chancellor will not make the required commitment to a real living wage for all, he should devolve it so that we can.
Statutory paternity leave should be doubled from two to four weeks, giving fathers even more opportunity to bond with their babies. A complete review of parental leave should be undertaken, including consideration of the start date of maternity leave, especially when a baby is born prematurely.
We propose that the Government set up a labour participation committee to consider groups that are currently under-represented or over-represented in certain sectors, and to examine barriers to work for women, disabled people, parents and other marginalised groups.
The Institute of Directors has called for a pot to be set aside so that small and medium-sized enterprises can bid for advice on how to cope with Brexit. The UK Government’s advice thus far has been wholly inadequate, and we have only five months to go until the UK crashes out of the EU.
Businesses need to be able to access finance in order to grow. To do that, they need to have trust in financial institutions and, crucially, financial institutions need to earn that trust. The Chancellor should have committed to setting up a tribunal service so that those affected by business banking fraud—through the Royal Bank of Scotland’s global restructuring group, Lloyds Bank, Halifax Bank of Scotland or others—can seek affordable redress, rather than having to go through a court process that is too expensive to access.
The UK Government must also ensure that current EU funding will continue until the end of the current multi-annual financial framework. Scotland must not be any worse off in respect of the funding allocations that replace those provided from the EU, and any arrangements must fully respect devolution and must be put in place with the consultation and agreement of the Scottish Parliament.
The Chancellor had an opportunity to make a commitment to the oil and gas sector deal, and he failed to do so. Our industry needs the deal to be signed off now, particularly with the impending lack of access to labour and investment following Brexit. I am pleased that he has heeded calls to make a clear statement on the future fiscal regime, because we cannot have unforeseen, sudden tax hikes like those made by previous Chancellors.
The other part of the jigsaw that is missing is a commitment to reducing the harmful climate change effects of the use of fossil fuels. In 2015, the UK Government cancelled their £1 billion carbon capture and storage competition, just six months before it was due to be awarded, after spending £100 million on it. That left Peterhead—a key candidate for support—behind. After three years of research and development, we have missed out on this vital industry of the future. The UK Government need to make an unequivocal commitment to supporting the development of CCS.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about carbon capture, and about the betrayal of the £1 billion project at Peterhead. Does she agree that, if the UK Government are serious about meeting the climate change targets under the Paris agreement, spending £100 million now, when we are behind the pace after abandoning a three-year £1 billion project, is just not good enough?
Absolutely. The potential benefits of CCS are unquestionable and, as my hon. Friend says, we need to get ahead of the curve again. We need the UK Government to commit to putting the money in now. That is especially important because their pulling the plug means there is now a lack of trust among the companies that are developing CCS. The UK Government need to make a clear and unequivocal commitment.
On evolving technologies, Scotland is a global leader in tidal, and the UK Government must work with the Scottish Government on the contract for difference process to support the technology journey from development to commercialisation, which is particularly important for tidal.
On solar power, we have been contacted by so many individuals who are concerned about what is happening to export tariffs for homes, small businesses and community energy projects from next April. The tariff is a vital support that encourages people to invest in solar power, and it must continue.
Lastly, in order to reduce climate change and to increase the use of healthier methods of transport, this Budget was an opportunity to reduce VAT on bikes. Just as we would like to see VAT removed from digital books, reducing VAT on bikes would make them cheaper for all and would be a real statement of intent from the Government on reducing climate change.
Is the hon. Lady not aware that reducing VAT is very difficult while we are a member of the European Union, but it is something that we might be able to do after Brexit?
Actually, reducing VAT is quite possible for a member of the EU. Zero rating things is a problem, but reducing VAT is fine.
The Scottish fire and rescue service and Police Scotland are still owed £175 million of VAT. The UK Government have recognised that the system they had in place was unfair, yet they have refused to pay back the £175 million they owe our two vital life-saving industries. It would be incredibly useful if they could see their way to giving us back that £175 million.
On the subject of the UK Government reallocating funds that should rightly have gone to Scotland, the convergence uplift of £160 million should have been paid to Scottish farmers. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has admitted that the money has been spent elsewhere. We need a commitment that this money will come to Scotland in future years, and we need the previous years’ money to come to Scotland now, so that our farmers can have the cash they have been allocated.
I am pleased that the Budget includes measures to ensure that companies pay their fair share of tax in the digital sphere, but the reality is that this is a consultation and the measures are not going to be in place yet. We also do not have a solid idea of what those measures will be. The Scottish National party would therefore like to propose two measures on digital taxation, and we hope that the Government will take them into account. First, we believe that online retailers should be held liable for tax fraud committed by their suppliers. Sometimes when people order a product from a well-known online retailer it is delivered from China with a customs declaration and a stamp that says “gift”. Large online retailers should be held responsible for ensuring that those who use their platform pay the correct customs duties. We also believe that in order to combat tech firms that avoid corporation tax by registering implausibly low UK profits, the Chancellor should levy corporation tax on an assumed UK share of worldwide profits that is equal to their UK share of worldwide revenue. That could be subject to a dispute tribunal process to ensure fairness. The SNP will submit these suggestions in the consultation process, and we hope that they will be considered seriously.
Scotland’s cities have received city deal funding from both the UK and Scottish Governments. That is welcome, but what is not welcome is the fact that the UK Government have contributed far less to those deals than the Scottish Government. In total, the Tories have failed to match more than £350 million of Scottish Government funding for city deals and growth deals in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Stirling and Clackmannanshire, Tay Cities and Edinburgh. We believe that they should match our contribution, and we call on the Chancellor to make that commitment, as well as to fulfill the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s commitment to provide each part of Scotland with a regional deal.
I come to an ask, for the NHS, that would require only a small financial contribution but would have significant positive benefits. The UK Government could have used this Budget to follow Scotland’s lead on PrEP—pre-exposure prophylaxis. In Scotland, PrEP is available on the NHS, but England has been dragging its heels on making it available. The benefits in terms of the reduction in new cases of HIV are unchallengeable, and it is not fair that those in England cannot currently access the drug on the NHS. That change would not cost a huge amount of money, but it would make a massive difference to people’s lives.
If the UK Government are serious about taking their place on the global stage, they need to reform the immigration system. Countries will be looking for a more flexible immigration policy before signing trade deals with us, and we should start by getting rid of the fees that EU citizens will be expected to pay to acquire settled status. The OBR mentions the ageing population at many points throughout the Blue Book. The UK Government must recognise this challenge, and recognise that we need and want people to come to live and work in our communities. Last year’s Red Book said that a reduction in net migration of 20,000 would reduce GDP by about 0.2% by 2022. The Government need to be honest about the benefits of immigration and be clear that it is good for our country. They need to be clear that, with an ageing population, it is incredibly important that we get people to come to work here, particularly in the care sector and in the NHS. We also need a more flexible working visa policy that gives those who are seeking asylum the right to work, as the current system is dehumanising and unsustainable. Lastly, we should scrap the fees paid that families have to pay to get their children citizenship, which are ridiculously high and are yet another tax on families.
On health spending, the UK Government gave commitment after commitment that they would pass the full Barnett consequentials of the increased health spending on to Scotland, but they have chosen not to do so. They have chosen to short-change Scotland by £50 million. This comes on top of the fact that the Scottish Government’s fiscal resource block grant allocation will be almost £2 billion—or 6.9%—lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11. Despite the addition of consequentials and other non-Barnett allocations in 2019-20 that the Chancellor announced, Scotland’s fiscal resource block grant is still lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11 and at the start of the current spending review in 2015-16.
The Chancellor had the chance to make a real difference. He had political choices to make and at almost every turn he chose the wrong path. Is it any wonder that people do not trust the Tories? This Government need to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, who have put dignity and respect at the heart of decision making, rather than punishing those who are not born rich. The reality is that people in Scotland are faced with a choice of two futures: they can choose to continue to have a Westminster Government, who make political choices that disadvantage those who can least afford it; or they can fight for a fairer Scotland, where our Parliament has the powers and the responsibility to make choices on behalf of our citizens—choices that will make our country fairer, not create further inequality.
Order. We now have a seven-minute limit on speeches.
This is my ninth Budget in this place, and the majority of them have been framed by the fact that my party has had to clean up the mess left behind by the previous Labour Government in 2010. They have been framed by the comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), who wrote:
“I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards—and good luck!”
That was the position that the country found itself in. I feel that yesterday’s Budget was a turning point and we are now starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. We need to give great thanks to the people of this country for their hard work and their determination to see the course through. Yesterday’s Budget means we are now starting to repay the faith of the British people.
I want to focus on three areas, the first of which is public services. The Chancellor was clear yesterday—he was right—that local government had made a significant contribution to tackling the deficit. I firmly believe it needs to be recognised for that, and we need to make sure it is properly funded. I welcome the £650 million package for social care that was announced yesterday, and the £420 million for roads and potholes that will be going to local government.
I also welcome the fact that for probably the first time ever road tax will be paying for our roads rather than being spent on other things. As a consequence, the budget for Highways England will go up by 40%. It is great to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in the Chamber because I warmly welcome the additional £20 billion that this Government are committing to our NHS each and every year. I look forward to seeing the 10-year plan for the NHS and, within that, the use of the £2 billion for mental health services, which are crucial. Mental health provision is important because the mental health challenges we are experiencing underpin many of the social challenges that we face in this country, so it will be great to see his proposals.
Security is the most important thing for and the first duty of any Government, so I really welcome the extra £1 billion for our armed forces and the £160 million that is going into counter-terrorism policing. I noted that the Chancellor referred to the police and the challenges our forces face in his Budget statement, so I hope that when the police settlement comes forward early next year, we will see positive progress. My local Warwickshire force is taking on additional officers, but it also faces challenges down the track, such as the pensions revaluation. I sincerely hope that that will be reflected in the policing settlement.
While the hon. Gentleman is talking about police funding, can he explain why he thinks the Chancellor did not announce any extra money, beyond the counter-terrorism policing increase, for community policing yesterday?
Clearly the police have been given access this year to an additional £450 million, and an extra £160 million was given to counter-terrorism policing. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, who was part of the coalition Government, will recognise that a process needs to be followed and that the police funding settlement will come forward in a few months’ time.
Secondly, on the cost of living, I am delighted that the Chancellor has chosen to freeze fuel duty again. It has not increased in this country since 2011, which is good news for motorists. In that time, the average motorist has saved £1,000 as a result of the decisions made by Conservative Chancellors. I am also really pleased that the rail companies have taken up the railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds, who will get a 30% reduction in fares.
I very much welcome the increase to the personal allowance. The lowest paid will now earn £12,500 before they have to pay income tax. That is a far cry from the £6,500 personal allowance in 2010, and it means that those people will have an additional £1,250 a year in their pockets compared with then. I also welcome the change to the 40p threshold, because although that rate is an important aspect of our tax system, many public servants, such as police sergeants and senior teachers, have been dragged into the 40p rate, as have been many tradespeople such as bricklayers. I do not think that that was ever the intention when that measure was introduced.
It is good to see my the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), on the Front Bench, because I welcome the universal credit changes, which will further underpin the principle that it always pays to work. It is excellent that £1.7 billion will be put into universal credit year on year, and that is in addition to last year’s package. It looks as though tweaks are being made to the system constantly to make sure that it responds to some of the challenges. I hope that another look will be taken at the assessment period, because several of my constituents have had challenges with that part of the process.
Finally, on high streets, I am delighted that 30% will be knocked off rates bills for people who own small retail businesses with a rateable value under £51,000. Business rates are an analogue tax in a digital world, and I am pleased that the Chancellor has started to recognise that. I recognise that larger retailers occupying anchor positions in high streets and town centres will not benefit from that change, so perhaps in future we will need to consider those businesses, too. A £675 million fund for the regeneration of our high streets is a massive start to help high streets throughout the country to regenerate. We need to make sure that we preserve our high streets, but not in their current form. We need to make them fit for the 21st century because they are places of massive community value. They are the community centre of towns and cities throughout the country.
The House of Commons Library tells me that I have listened to Budgets in the House 44 times, so I hope I am an experienced Budget evaluator. I always come to the Chamber to listen to the Budget, and I base my evaluation of its quality on two criteria. The first is the great global issues that we face, which for me are always the fragile planet, the environment, climate change and global warming, and the fact that the planet’s burgeoning population has to be fed, and fed sustainably. We also face the challenge of keeping the peace. Many of us thought that that could be taken for granted, but in the current global circumstances, keeping the peace has become a great concern for us all.
My second criterion for evaluating a Budget is what it will do for my constituents. I believe that I have a sacred duty to come here and represent my constituents, and to make sure that everything that I do—the contribution that my colleagues and I make in the House—adds to the welfare, health and prosperity of my constituents. Those are the twin criteria, and on both I believe that this is an uninspiring little Budget. It is lacking in passion, leadership and values. That is my sincere criticism of the Budget.
Let me go into a little more detail. I have been in the House at times when the country has been in great crisis. At a time of crisis, I have seen people whom one would have thought were pretty ordinary politicians suddenly stepping up to the Dispatch Box and showing the world that they had leadership quality, that they understood what was going on in the wider world, and that they could stand up to do the right thing. I take umbrage at the fact that a Chancellor of the Exchequer could stand in the Chamber yesterday and call the cataclysm of 2009 and the global meltdown of the world economy “Labour’s great recession.” I have to say that it must have been a very powerful Labour party and Labour Government who caused the world recession. What rubbish that the man who is supposed to be our Chancellor of the Exchequer could say such a thing—shame on him!
I saw Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling at that Dispatch Box, calm in the face of a hurricane in the world economy. They stood there and made the right decisions. They bailed out the selfish banks. They did what was necessary to save our country. This bunch over on the Government Benches should not tell us how to rise to our responsibilities. We showed leadership. We showed that we had the values. We worked incessantly to get this country back on track.
We understand that there was a global banking crisis, but is it not right that the Labour Government did not prepare the country for problems that might occur, given their chronic overspending of money that we just did not have, which left us in a great deal of debt when the recession happened?
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but let us be serious. I recommend that she goes away and looks at a rather good book that I have recently read called “Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon” by Gretchen Morgenson. Read it and learn it, because that was what we came through.
The Chancellor’s remarks yesterday did not really touch on many of the issues that affect my community. The fact is that we have a hospital in danger that suffers due to a private finance initiative scheme. All the Chancellor said was that Labour was responsible for PFI. I have been here long enough to know that the great charm offensive on PFIs was led by John Major. PFIs were the fashion among Members on all Benches. As Chairman of the Education Committee, I saw good PFIs and bad PFIs, but I also saw a lot of smart City types who danced rings around local authorities and local health authorities and gave them a rotten deal. That is the truth of PFIs—there were good ones and bad ones, but a lot of City spivs made a lot of money out of them. Nothing that the Chancellor said yesterday will rescue my local hospital and health trust from that burden.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 90% of all PFIs were signed under a Labour Government? Yesterday the Chancellor took steps to make sure that there will be no more.
The Chancellor took no steps to help those parts of the country that are in trouble due to PFIs.
Watching the television and reading the papers, my constituents are not fooled: they know that what was left out yesterday was that whatever Brexit deal is struck, it will not be as good as staying in the European Union—that is the truth of it. I come here to represent my constituents, and I know that we are moving towards a disaster for their living standards, their health standards and everything else that will touch their lives over the coming years. This is a year of crisis. Just as we had the crisis of the great depression and the crisis in 2009, this will be the next crisis, and we need people at the Dispatch Box who will take on their role as leaders. I do not mean people such as the former Prime Minister and Chancellor who, when they lost the referendum, ran away from their responsibilities and from leadership. Where are they now? Writing for the Evening Standard I suppose, or writing their memoirs in their man caves.
Being in this House and representing our constituents is a grave responsibility. The job does not come and go—we do not want people who try a bit of time as Chancellor of the Exchequer and a bit of time as Prime Minister but then disappear. The great people who have been at that Dispatch Box are the people who have had values, showed leadership, and led this country in good time and in bad times. The fact of the matter is that we are heading for a very bad time indeed if we leave the European Union on bad terms, but that was not mentioned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, at this time of crisis and impending disaster for our country, did not have the courage to mention Brexit more than once—that is the truth, and my constituents want me to say that today.
At this time of the year, I am, like many in the Chamber, wearing my poppy. I have just been reading a lovely new history about the first world war. The fact is that right in the middle of that war, everybody knew that it was unwinnable and that more and more young men were going to die. Of course, the real responsibility for the first world war lies with us—the politicians. Politicians failed the people of this country. German politicians failed their people, as did French politicians. It was politicians who did it, and they went on killing more and more young people. That was a failure of leadership, a failure of values, a failure of responsibility and a failure to make courageous decisions at the Dispatch Box. We are heading in that direction—not particularly into war, but into the most troubled times when our people will come out impoverished, miserable and unhappy. That will hurt their health, their education and their chance of a good life. For my part, I will do everything that I can to stop the disaster that those on the Government Benches have wished on our people.
Last year, after the disappointment of the general election manifesto process, I left the Government in order to make the case that we needed to make this a moment of much bolder national renewal, that we needed to move on from the first phase of reducing the deficit through a programme of austerity and that we needed to set a trajectory of higher growth, more public sector enterprise and innovation, and wage increases and tax cuts focused on the poorest—those on the lowest incomes—in our society. Let me start by saying that I strongly welcome the Chancellor’s Budget for all those reasons. He managed to square an almost impossible circle in a clever Budget that has done something important for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
As a constituency MP, I wish to mention in particular the measures to support the high street. In Mid Norfolk, as in many other rural constituencies, we have seen our high streets hit hard by a big transfer to online retail without the digital giants paying tax in return, and I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to support our high streets. In particular, in health and care day of the Budget debate, I want to highlight the £10 billion put aside for social care; the extraordinary announcement, which I strongly welcome, of the launch of the first mental health emergency service; the £10,000 for every primary school and £50,000 for every secondary school; the £400 million a year for our schools; and the £2 billion to make sure that universal credit is properly funded. These, I suggest, are compassionate steps taken by a Government still paying off the legacy of the appalling inheritance from the Labour party, but doing so in a way that tries to put the needs of the most vulnerable in society first.
All of that is made possible because of the extraordinary economic success over which we have managed to preside. It pains Opposition Members, which is why they are all looking away, that the rate of real income growth has been rising. In the next five years, the OBR forecasts that there will be a bigger real-terms rise in real incomes for the lowest paid than for anybody else, and 3 million new jobs. This is a success story, and nothing tells us how important it is more than the howls of derision from the Opposition, so upset are they that more and more people in this country are not in need of Labour party support. People are coming to us because they know that ours is the party that supports growth.
I want to acknowledge that after eight very painful years, there is a weariness afoot among both those on the frontline of public services, who have tightened their belts, and the lowest-paid people in work. Those two groups have tightened their belts far more than those in plum jobs in government, in Whitehall, or even in local government. We need, as a House, to say to them that they have earned it and to send a very sincere thank you. The British people have tightened their belts far harder than the Government have in the past eight years.
Talking of public sector workers and the need for public sector leadership, I want to thank the Chancellor for announcing the new public sector leadership academy—an academy to support those on the frontline of public services, who have one of the hardest jobs in our society. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) might say that is rubbish, but that is because she has never had to run anything. The people on the frontline of our public services are actually running very complex public services. They, alongside the lowest-paid people in work, are the people to we need to support in the next five years in tightening the belt and delivering the innovation and efficiency that the public want to see.
I note that the hon. Gentleman said that I have never had to run anything. I wonder whether he would like to change his mind given that I ran a crime management centre in a police station and two incredibly busy departments in a busy hospital. Perhaps he would like to correct the record.
I will happily correct that bit of the record, as long as the hon. Lady welcomes the public sector leadership academy, because, given her experience, she will know how important it is.
If we are really to tackle the structural legacy of the 13 years of a Labour Government that led to the biggest economic crisis in this country’s peacetime history—[Interruption.] That is a reality that Labour Members now shout down because it is inconvenient. The crisis that a new generation of voters needs to be consistently reminded of was the legacy of 13 years of a Labour Government. If we are to tackle that, we will have to do two important things: yes, we must continue to drive the modernisation of public service, but we must also increase the rate of growth and revenue generation in the economy by the Government. Even more powerfully, over the next five years we need somehow to make those two ambitions work together. I would like to share some thoughts on how we might do that.
The truth is that our growth rate has dropped since the EU referendum, from 3% to 1.5%. Therefore the first thing that we need to do is to get a good Brexit deal for business confidence. I hope that the Opposition will take the opportunity of the forthcoming Brexit votes to put the needs of business, prosperity and the economy ahead of ideology or party politics. We also need to create an environment in which we can unlock business investment in this country. There is £600 billion tied up on businesses’ balance sheets, and we need to trigger the confidence needed to unlock that money in the post-Brexit dividend. We will not get it unless the Brexit deal gives business the certainty that it needs in the years ahead.
We also need to go much faster on infrastructure. I am delighted that, at this point, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has entered the Chamber, because for eight years she and I have been holding meetings to try to accelerate funding for the Ely rail junction. I want the Treasury now to recognise that, across the country, there are infrastructure schemes that could be funded by private finance. I am talking not about PFI, but about giving local authorities and mayors powers to set up infrastructure bonds to create more innovative ways of driving investment into our public services. If we regenerated rail links and rail lines, gave planning permission for stations and developed innovative schemes for capturing the value increase around those lines, we could harness that growth to fund new models of infrastructure.
I particularly welcome the Government’s continued emphasis, through the industrial strategy, on fields such as life sciences, robotics and artificial intelligence so that we can create in this country the research platform needed to support the creation of the jobs and businesses of tomorrow. But if we are to be more than just a research economy—if we are to be a genuine innovation nation that pulls innovation through into practice—we need an economy that uses innovation in the private and public sectors. The great trick is to harness the power of innovation in our public services, and nowhere more than in the NHS. If we are really to lead the world in digital health and digital medicine, and the extraordinary revolution that that offers, we will not do it with an NHS running on paper and cardboard. We need to make the NHS a genuine catalyst for UK leadership in digital health. It is the same in genomics. When I set up the UK genomics programme, the idea was not only that we would launch the world’s first genomic medicines service in the NHS, which we have, but crucially that, in so doing, we would make this country a leader in genomic research and life science investment.
This, in the end, is the key to getting out of the debt that we inherited from the Labour party—the high-debt, low-growth model that yesterday’s Budget acknowledged. We have to somehow unlock innovation in our public services and drive much higher rates of growth in the private sector. With Brexit coming to its resolution here in this House in the next few weeks, we have to make it a catalyst for the renaissance of innovation and enterprise, and the moment at which we set out a vision for public services in the 21st century.
I was really shocked when the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) said that there is weariness. It was Halloween yesterday, and that Budget was damn scary, never mind wearying. As for asking public sector workers to tighten their belts, it was not about tightening their belts—it was about going and accessing food banks. That is what that Budget was about, and what the Government continue to be about.
I sat here yesterday listening attentively