House of Commons
Thursday 29 November 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
University of London Bill [Lords]
Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Farming Policy
The Government’s Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is the first major piece of legislation affecting agriculture since 1947. It provides certainty for farmers through a seven-year transition period and lays the foundations of a new farming policy based on public goods and fairness in the supply chain. At their request, it also includes provisions for Wales and Northern Ireland. This critical piece of legislation will enable us to seize the opportunities to help our farming, horticulture and forestry sectors become more profitable and sustainable.
Many farmers in my constituency are very concerned at the decision of the SNP Scottish Government to opt out of key parts of the Bill. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that the Scottish Government have not presented alternative proposals, so many farmers may not be sure whether there will be a legislative framework to ensure support for farming after we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, agriculture is devolved. At the request of the Welsh Government there is a schedule containing provisions for Wales, and at the request of the Northern Ireland Administration there is a schedule containing provisions for Northern Ireland. Scotland has yet to decide what it wishes to do. We have maintained an open offer to insert provisions in the Bill at later stages should the Scottish Government wish us to do so. Alternatively, they can legislate through their own Parliament, but they will need some legislation in order to be able to pay their farmers in 2020.
Can the Minister confirm that under a clean, global, free trade Brexit the United Kingdom will be able to protect farmers with tariffs just like every other country, and to provide more help for smaller farmers? Can we have more optimism from the Government, and less “Project Fear” with gumboots on?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have always been very optimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit. It is important to note that in a no-deal Brexit, the UK would be free to set its own trade policy unilaterally. The options open to us would be to create autonomous tariff rate quotas, tariff rate suspensions or lower-band tariffs on certain goods if we wished to do so, but we would have an independent trade policy in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Has the Minister had any discussions with the Prime Minister about her withdrawal agreement’s implications for the transport and sale of livestock from Northern Ireland to the rest of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
That was not altogether adjacent to an inquiry about an independent farming policy. The hon. Gentleman might more usefully have shoehorned his inquiry into Question 2. Because he is a very public-spirited fellow, I will let him off on this occasion, but he should not repeat his offence.
The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on a future economic partnership set out the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s approach to trying to deal with issues relating to the Northern Ireland border, and I am sure that we have many days of discussion on those matters to look forward to.
Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will not be replacing one set of bureaucrats with another set of bureaucrats? How can we ensure that the right sort of assistance goes to the less favoured areas that are so important to our countryside?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but I can tell him that the Bill has important provisions that will enable us to strike down and improve some retained EU law, particularly in relation to the burden of administration. We are absolutely clear that we want a totally different culture in how we regulate farmers in the future. The Bill also enables us to target support at farmers who are delivering public goods, including those in severely disadvantaged areas.
Trade Agreements: Environmental and Animal Welfare
Ministers and officials from DEFRA regularly meet their counterparts in the Department for International Trade to discuss a wide range of trade issues. The Government are clear that future trade agreements must work for consumers, farmers and businesses in the UK. We will not water down our standards on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection as part of any future trade deals.
I begin by congratulating DEFRA on the contribution that it has no doubt made to the excellent Government document on the implications of Brexit. In the section on agri-food we see that a no deal could produce a 35% reduction in competitiveness, and even the Prime Minister’s estimates predict a reduction of 7%. So will the Minister confirm today that we will not allow unfair competition from imports from countries that produce to lower standards?
My hon. Friend will be aware of the overwhelming support for a ban on the export of live animals after we leave the European Union, and I know he has great sympathy with that position. Can he confirm that under the terms of the withdrawal agreement that would still be possible?
I recently met the lovely children in the reception classes of St John’s infant school in Dewsbury. They have written to the Secretary of State because they have been learning about the poaching of elephants and rhinos and they are really concerned about it. Can the Minister say something today to reassure them so they know we are taking action on this?
It is good to hear that the children at St John’s school are taking a keen interest in this. We are taking strong action through the Ivory Bill, and I congratulate the Environment Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), on the work she is doing to take that forward.
Yes—again, we will ensure that we do not water down those standards. I am sure that later in these questions we will hear from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who is doing a tremendous job in taking the Agriculture Bill through the House.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said in its report on the Agriculture Bill that the Government should put their money where their mouth is and accept an amendment stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment. I have tabled such an amendment; will the Minister undertake to accept it in order to keep Frankenstein foods off the tables of families the length and breadth of these isles?
The only statutory air quality limit the UK is currently failing to meet is on roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. Members will be aware of our plans to combat air pollution. A £3.5 billion investment has already been set aside, but we are now working with 61 local authorities to tackle their exceedances. I have directed local authorities, including Sheffield, to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time. Some £495 million has been specifically set aside for those councils, but I will take legal action if necessary to make sure that councils do what they need to do.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but she will know that at least 4.5 million children are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matters, with long-term implications for their health. UNICEF is now calling for the Government to introduce legally binding limits to meet the World Health Organisation recommended limit values for air pollution by 2025. Will Ministers consult UNICEF to discuss how that can be achieved?
The issue of particulate matter has grabbed my attention ever since I became a Minister in this Department. It is soot and dust, in essence, and one of our challenges is that a lot of particulate matter is naturally generated; for example, it is sand or sea salt. There are a number of different issues that we need to tackle, and we will continue to work with local authorities to bring the level of particulate matter down, because the Government are very conscious that we need to make sure that the most vulnerable in society, including children who are still of growing age, get the best possible start in life.
The Minister has acknowledged the challenge Sheffield faces. We have multiple sites where nitrogen dioxide levels exceed legal limits and threaten the health of our people. Sheffield’s council has ambitious and innovative plans to tackle the problem, but its resources have been drained by eight years of deep cuts. Will the Minister commit to provide the funds we need to clean Sheffield’s air, and will she meet me and representatives of the council to discuss our plans?
Sheffield City Council could start by stopping cutting down trees, which is not good for the environment and costs money. However, it is making good progress with its plan, and it is considering introducing a charging clean air zone—of course, it has had the power to do that since 2000. It is being funded by DEFRA to make sure it gets on with its plan—it will be able to bid for further funding, but it is being given the funding it needs to do that.
The Government are rightly tackling air pollution, but the proposed diesel ban is having the unintended consequence that people are hanging on to their older, more polluting diesel vehicles rather than investing in the new, cleaner generation of Euro 6 standard models. Will the Minister commend cities such as Birmingham for proposing a distinction between the newer and older models in their low emissions zones, and will she urge London to do the same?
My right hon. Friend is right. It has been a pleasure to work with Birmingham City Council, which is making reasonable progress on producing its plan. There is no doubt that “dieselgate” had a massive impact on people’s willingness to do what the Government were recommending, so it has not had the intended consequences. We will continue to work with car manufacturers, and the Chancellor has changed vehicle excise duty to ensure that people are incentivised to buy the cleanest possible vehicles.
The burning of biomass makes a major contribution to air pollution. The Government have estimated that 1.7 million lives are lost every year because of the burning of biomass, but they have now stopped making those calculations. Why?
I am not aware of the figure to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. I am conscious of the impact that burning has, which is why we have a consultation about the domestic burning of household smoky coal, wet wood and similar materials, but I will look carefully into the issue that he has raised.
Pollution is not just a matter for city centres; it is also about major roads. Around the M1 in my constituency, levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution have got so bad that, for the first time ever, the Department for Transport is bringing in variable speed limits just to deal with pollution. It is also looking at installing barriers to absorb NO2. What involvement does the Minister’s Department have in that? Does she think that those measures will be successful, and will she report back to the House on their effectiveness in due course?
The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), and I work closely together on this issue. My Department and the Department for Transport have a joint air quality unit, and I am in regular contact with Highways England about its progress on improving air quality on the strategic road network. I welcome the work that it is considering to change speed limits and to install the barriers to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The Government’s plans to tackle air pollution are unravelling into a shambolic and piecemeal mess. Exposure to fine particulate matter is linked to poor health, including asthma, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, and new evidence shows impacts on diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We must ensure that we have the highest standards of public health, so will the Minister tell us how she will enshrine the World Health Organisation’s limit on fine particulate matter into UK law?
We have already agreed targets that are now in law regarding PM10 and PM2.5, and we are well below those targets. We will continue to work on this. I know that the House is eager to see the outcome of the clean air strategy, which I expect to be published shortly. I can assure the hon. Lady that this issue is close to my heart, especially the question of particulate matter, because I am very conscious of the impact that it can have. However, we need to be careful when we read some of the reports, because there is often a correlation link but not necessarily a causal link, which means that we still need to do research on these matters. I am pleased that the Department of Health and Social Care, through Public Health England, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are undertaking that research.
Trade Agreements: Environmental and Animal Welfare
Our current high standards, including on import requirements, will apply when we leave the EU. Some of them, such as the ban on the use of growth-promoting hormones, are already in domestic legislation. Others, such as the ban on chlorine washing of poultry, will be brought on to our statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Countries seeking access to our markets in future will have to abide by our standards.
Ministers are naturally keen to raise welfare standards in this country, and to reduce the use of antibiotics and produce greater and better food than we already have, but if we are undermined by imports, that will put farmers out of business and reduce global animal welfare. Will Ministers therefore accept the amendment that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has tabled to ensure that imports are not allowed into this country if they do not meet our standards of production?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, we had a good discussion on these matters in the Bill Committee, and I look forward to discussing his amendment on Report. Our view is that the types of measure that he has outlined would probably not be right, because it is sometimes possible to recognise equivalence, and our standards do not have to be identical in drafting regulations. However, there are a number of other approaches that some countries take, including scrutiny and oversight roles for Parliaments as trade deals are discussed.
I very much support the amendment from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I have also tabled new clause 1 on the same topic. It is estimated that by 2050, antibiotic resistance could cause up to 10 million deaths a year, and we know that 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are sold for animal use. We heard from the chief veterinary officer yesterday at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about what we are doing to reduce antibiotics use here. Will the Minister resist it in US imports too?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Here in the UK, we have made huge progress in reducing the use of antibiotics. Poultry in particular has seen a 50% reduction in the use of antibiotics. US agriculture remains quite backward and some years behind in these matters, but we continue to work together to try to raise its game and approach.
My hon. Friend’s good will on this issue is recognised, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s, but I re-emphasise the seriousness with which we on the Agriculture Bill Committee dealt with this issue. We cannot rely on good will. We need certainty for our food producers across the country on the face of a Bill—it could be the Trade Bill or the Agriculture Bill—that standards will be maintained and that they will not be priced out of the market.
The discussion in the Agriculture Bill Committee was very good, but unfortunately the Government chose not to accept our amendments, so I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and the whole of the Select Committee on tabling theirs. I hope the Minister will confirm today that he will accept that amendment.
As I have explained, I do not believe that that particular amendment is the right way to approach the issue, nor is the Agriculture Bill the right place for such an amendment, as this is a trade issue. Nevertheless, I gave an undertaking to have conversations and discussions with other Departments in time for Report.
Farming: Funding Schemes
Once we leave the common agricultural policy, we will be able to create fairer funding for farmers, with greater freedoms across the four Administrations. On 16 October, the Government announced a review of the intra-UK allocation of domestic farm support funding between 2020 and the end of the Parliament. The review will consider a range of factors that reflect the unique circumstances of each part of the United Kingdom.
I very much welcome the news that we will have fairer funding across all four parts of the UK after we leave the EU. Will the Minister reassure me that this fairer funding will take account of each country’s individual circumstances, particularly the environment, their agriculture and their socioeconomic needs?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the review will indeed will consider all those issues—the environment, agriculture and socioeconomic circumstances of each part of the UK. We have a manifesto commitment to keep the agricultural budget the same until 2022 and a commitment to put in place a new funded scheme thereafter.
Will the Government Front-Bench team stop blaming Europe for everything in farming and recognise that it is modern industrial methods of agriculture that are responsible for denuding our country of wildlife and for species going into extinction? That is the problem. We need a funding system that is equitable but deals with that problem.
It is Government policy to support a more sustainable approach to agriculture. The common agricultural policy has failed to do that. The new policy that we have set out in the Agriculture Bill will deliver a fairer, more sustainable and more profitable agriculture for the future.
Since it was established in the Agriculture Bill Committee that further primary legislation is required for direct payments to be made to Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that Scotland is in the UK Agriculture Bill and that it conforms with the needs of the National Farmers Union Scotland and my constituents?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I said earlier, there is an open offer from the Government to add a schedule for Scotland at a later stage of the Bill’s progress, should Scotland wish us to. This area is devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government have the power to act in this space and they need to make up their mind and decide what they want to do.
How can the Minister talk about ethical funding when Westminster has stolen £160 million of convergence uplift meant for Scottish farmers? What are the Government doing to replace that up to 2020, and what is going to happen beyond 2020?
As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware, the average receipt for Scottish farmers tends to be higher than in other parts of the UK, because Scottish farmers have larger holdings in more disadvantaged areas. We are having this review precisely to address the importance of fair funding in the future.
Leaving the EU: Fishing Industry
I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues and, indeed, with all Members of the House about the benefits for the UK fishing industry of leaving the common fisheries policy and becoming, once more, an independent coastal state. The Government’s vision for this bright future was set out in the White Paper, “Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations.”
We all know we cannot trust the Tories with Scotland’s fishing industry. After all, former Prime Ministers Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major all sold Scotland’s fishing down the water. Now we know that the current Prime Minister has signed an agreement with the EU to
“build on…existing reciprocal access and quota shares.”
Can the Secretary of State help the House understand how that is in any way taking back control of the waters?
I have enormous affection and respect for the hon. Gentleman, and he makes his case with characteristic fluency, but I fear he has been misled. The truth is that, as an independent coastal state, we will be able to decide who comes into our waters and on what terms. It is perhaps rare for me to quote the French President, Emmanuel Macron—[Interruption.]
The soi-disant Jupiterian President was, nevertheless, speechless with rage on Sunday when he discovered that this withdrawal agreement and the future political declaration mean that France will not have access to our waters, save on our terms. His anger should be a cause for celebration on both sides of the House.
Yesterday the Prime Minister told the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) that, as an independent coastal state, the UK will be able to “negotiate access” to its waters with other countries. Constituents have asked me why, at such a pivotal and crucial time for the fishing industry in Scotland, there are no Scottish Tory constituency MPs in the Secretary of State’s Department in order to be a more effective and balanced Government.
Far be it from me to say but, as someone who was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Aberdeen, and who had the privilege of growing up in a household in which my father ran a fish processing business and his forebears went to sea, I think the interests of the fishing industry are very much at the heart of the Department. I would love to extend an open welcome to my Scottish Conservative colleagues to join the ministerial team but, sadly, the size of our ministerial team is a matter for the Prime Minister, rather than me.
One thing I would say, though, is that, in the consideration of our Bills in Committee, and in the shaping of policy in the interest of rural and coastal Scotland, Scotland’s Conservative MPs have been consistently more effective in delivering more money, more freedom and more rights even than the nicest and friendliest Scottish nationalist, which of course the hon. Gentleman is.
The fishing industry has no stronger friend in this House than my hon. Friend, and she is absolutely right to remind us that fishing will not be bartered away in the event of any final deal. I will make sure that we work with her to ensure that consideration is properly given in Committee to all possible safeguards for our fishing industry.
Can the Secretary of State update the House on how his Department is working with the devolved Administrations to adopt common approaches to fisheries management to preserve UK vessels’ right to fish in the waters around all four home nations?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that detailed, practical point, and he is absolutely right. Notwithstanding the occasional disagreements on the Floor of the House, I have to say that the Scottish Government Minister responsible for fisheries, Fergus Ewing, has behaved, I think, in a very mature fashion in making sure that UK vessels can have access across the waters of the UK, while, of course, respecting, and indeed enhancing, the devolution settlement.
Regardless of what happens in the coming days and weeks, we are going to become an independent coastal state, like Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. Like them, we will have to come to a fisheries agreement with the EU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the negotiation of that agreement specifically, he and the officials in his Department should take the lead?
Yes, I do. It is vital that we are there getting the best possible deal for this country. I said that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) was probably the strongest voice for the fishing industry in this House, but there is stiff competition for that role now that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) is here. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues, and those in the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and elsewhere, who recognise that there is a sea of opportunity for our fishing industry as an independent coastal state.
In five weeks, the EU discard ban will kick in. While much attention is on what fishing will look like after Brexit, this poorly implemented discard ban before Brexit risks tying up our fishing fleet, especially mixed fisheries such as those in the south-west. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the concerns of the fishing industry are listened to and that this ban does not result in its boats being tied up alongside?
It is not just Government Back Benchers whom I wish to be kind to; it is also Opposition Front Benchers, because the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is the case that the management of the discard ban in the past, and potentially in the future, is a real issue of contention. My hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been talking to a number of fishing industry representatives to see whether we can make sure that at this December Council we can put in place appropriate mitigation measures. One thing we can be sure of is that as an independent coastal state we can take appropriate conservation measures in a way that does not lead to those who are practising mixed fisheries facing the sorts of problems the hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to.
Protecting pollinators is a priority for this Government and that is reflected in our 10-year national pollinator strategy for England. Our 2017 review of the strategy has highlighted positive progress and the Government recently announced £50,000 to support large-scale pollinator projects in Devon and, of course, in Hampshire, and £60,000, following petitioning from my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), to develop pollinator habitat mapping.
Community groups and local schools play an important role in protecting our pollinators. What support can my right hon. Friend give to those groups? Will he join me in congratulating St Albans Church of England Primary School in Havant on its award-winning work in this area?
I absolutely agree; community groups, including our Wildlife Trusts network, do an enormously valuable job in making sure that the habitats that pollinators depend on are kept in good repair. It is also the case that schools across the country are playing an increasingly important role, and next year’s Year of Green Action will give me and my hon. Friend the opportunity to congratulate those schools and those teachers, who are doing so much to remind us of our environmental responsibilities.
The Secretary of State will be aware that lots of small and medium-sized enterprises that produce honey do an awful lot of work to try to protect bees. For example, Tŷ Mêl farm in my constituency does a lot of work on ethical beekeeping and making sure we produce good Welsh honey. What more support can he give small businesses that are not only producing honey, but supporting bees?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I congratulate the business in his constituency on its initiative. From the Welsh valleys to the rolling acres of Hampshire, and indeed the rich heather-strewn hills of Scotland, UK honey is a world-beater, but we must do more to protect our pollinators.
Deposit Return Scheme
The consultation on a deposit return scheme will be published shortly and it will look at the details of how a scheme could work, alongside the other measures to increase recycling rates. We are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations, potentially on a UK scheme.
A recent BBC documentary showed a dead sperm whale with a large amount of plastic waste in its stomach, including four plastic bottles. So given the urgency, and the keen interest that my constituents have in this issue, can the Minister actually confirm a date of the roll-out of a deposit return scheme?
No, I cannot, because we have yet to consult on the scheme. It is important that we give proper consideration not only to the opportunities but to the challenges. The hon. Lady is right to continue to raise the impact of people being careless with litter, which is how plastic often ends up in the marine environment. That is something that everyone in the House wants to prevent.
The Environmental Audit Committee’s report on the Arctic is published today. Because of weather and tides, most of our marine plastic ends up in the Arctic. It is imperative that the deposit return scheme is introduced as soon as possible. Will the Minister confirm that the measures to introduce the DRS will be included in the draft environment Bill when it is published? Or will it be in separate legislation and thereby further delayed?
Given how successful the plastic bag levy has been, reducing the use of plastic bags by 80%, and bearing in mind that the working group report in February this year showed that Germany’s deposit return scheme delivers the recycling of 98% of polyethylene bottles, will the Minister tell us whether we will have a deposit return scheme, as suggested by the evidence, or whether her decision will be determined by the British Soft Drinks Association?
I note that after 13 years of a Labour Government nothing similar was introduced. I have looked into this issue carefully and visited several countries. The thing is, the front end is similar for everybody, but we must get the back-end solution right, because that is what we need to deliver the scheme effectively, rather than just getting headlines.
I am looking forward to addressing the annual conference of the CLA—the Country Land and Business Association—later today, where I will congratulate the association on its fantastic work in environmental enhancement.
Good farming practice depends on multi-year rotations. The existing financial support system, the common agricultural policy, is multi-year and the proposed transition system is multi-year. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when the Agriculture Bill comes back on Report, it will include a multi-year framework?
The Government have already set out very clear guidelines as to what needs to be done ahead of no deal. The feedback that we have had already tells us that this is being well received.
Absolutely, which is why we have been pleased to provide Transport for London with funding. The Mayor has received additional funding for certain kinds of buses and other things to do; we just want him to continue to get on with it.
The Government obviously did not agree with every element of the Migration Advisory Committee report. The food industry is the most important manufacturing industry in this country and horticulture is one of our most productive agricultural sectors. It is important that we ensure that these crucial industries have the labour requirements that they need in future.
Illegal waste sites such as the Twyford factory in Stoke-on-Trent pose a huge risk to our environment. Despite the £10 million that was in the Budget, that site is not eligible for that help because it remains in private ownership. Court action has ordered a clearance. The local authority and the fire service want it cleared. Will the Minister meet me and those interested parties so that we can find a way forward so the site can be cleared once and for all?
No, I am afraid not, Mr Speaker. I thought that it was a hesitant and fumbling schoolboy attempt of the language, but if it brought you pleasure then my day has not been entirely wasted.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is clear that the Government’s approach to safeguarding our fishing stocks, and indeed enhancing opportunities, is one that we wholeheartedly endorse, which is why it is behind the deal that the Prime Minister has secured.
I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. I find the idea of trophy hunting a difficult one to contemplate as anyone’s idea of a wise use of time or resources. However, it is the case that the current regime allows trophies to be imported, provided that there is no impact on the sustainability of species. We keep these rules constantly under review and I am grateful to him, to Members across this House and to non-governmental organisations for keeping a spotlight on the issue because it is one that troubles many of us.
I look forward to welcoming you to Newcastle this evening, Mr Speaker. I know that you, like many of my constituents, will appreciate the gorgeous Northumberland and County Durham countryside that surrounds it. The US countryside is much different, with wheat farms the size of small counties and pig farms the size of small towns. How will the Secretary of State protect our glorious countryside when he expects our farmers to compete with American farming methods post Brexit?
Exactly. There is a whole gazetteer. From Consett to Sedgefield, there are beautiful parts of our country in the north-east. Thanks to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock), who is enjoying maternity leave at the moment, I had the opportunity to talk to hill farmers in her constituency. I have also received representations from the Members for all the Northumberland constituencies. I am on their side in making sure that we do not dilute our high environmental and animal welfare standards and that we continue to support farmers to produce the high-quality food that they do, which is the envy of the world.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, but we have to consider not just high animal welfare standards and appropriate consumer information, but the sensitivities and traditions of our religious communities. Given the increase that we have seen in expressions of hostility towards religious minorities in this country, this is an area that requires handling with great care, but he is absolutely right to say that we do need to look at ways in which we can improve animal welfare at every stage in the life of the animals with whom we share this planet.
Page 33 of the national flood resilience review highlights how natural upper catchment management must be part of the next comprehensive spending review. How will the Minister ensure that upper catchment management is a major feature of that impending spending review, so that we can particularly protect York with catchment management on the River Ouse and the River Foss?
We do have a £15 million scheme, which is going into much greater detail in assessing the different methods of natural flood management. This will be an important part of flood defences for homes and businesses, but we need to ensure more than just anecdote, although I do recognise that some of these methods are seen to work already. This will help constituents in the hon. Lady’s wonderful city of York.
HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
UK Food and Drink
The right hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to know that there is a lot of promotional activity for British food. For example, Red Tractor Week took place in September, and we worked with British farmers and the National Farmers Union to promote British food. He will also be pleased to know that the wine list in Strangers’ and Members’ includes a good selection of English wines. Something that he may want to consider—if he has not already taken advantage of it—is that individual Members can ask for a specific cask of ale from an independent regional brewer from their constituency to be placed in the Strangers’ bar.
I am certainly aware of the provision for regional breweries in the Strangers’ bar. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the steps that the Commission has taken on this and on reducing plastic use, but will the Commission take the lead from other public bodies in ensuring that our suppliers are, at every possible opportunity, prioritising and insisting on supporting British farmers, manufacturers and workers, and maximising UK-produced food and drink, especially from small and medium-sized enterprises?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in this place we push hard for very high quality produce, which is often British-sourced. The overwhelming majority of food throughout the catering establishments is British. If he is suggesting that we should adopt a “buy British” policy, I am sure he aware that that is not something that we can do in practice.
As the House of Commons Commission is encouraging British-produced food and drink on the parliamentary estate, may I commend to the right hon. Gentleman Weetabix breakfast cereal made in Burton Latimer and Warner Edwards gin made in Harrington—both within the Kettering constituency—as appropriate for the start and end of the parliamentary day?
I am sure that other cereals are available. I commend the moves of the catering outlets and events teams to increasing UK-produced food and drink, but will the right hon. Gentleman recommend to the Commission an increase in the amount of UK-produced healthy food, especially after the success of Vegan November?
Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), may I stress to the right hon. Gentleman that there really is a need for more diversity in the food served by the catering outlets, particularly vegetarian and vegan food? This is an extremely important issue for members of the public and Members of the House.
The Commission has received representations from individuals, companies, the unions, interest groups and hon. Members, for which we are extremely grateful. Correspondence has included general opinion as well as extensive comment on the report’s findings. We have also received offers of assistance from both companies and individuals on the approach that we should take to maximise the opportunities for change.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that any actions taken as a result of this report must be taken at the earliest opportunity, and that while we can all agree that this is a time of particular political turbulence, that should not be held up as a reason for postponing such actions?
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. She will be pleased to know that the Commission has debated this on a number of occasions already. We have issued a statement, and we have two further meetings already planned to ensure that the necessary priority and emphasis is indeed placed on this critical issue.
Female Members in this House were not surprised that 70% of the complainants responding to the Cox report were women. I am the 400th woman to be elected to this place; there are more than 400 men currently sitting as Members of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that until we address this gender imbalance in our representation, this abuse will continue?
I certainly agree that we need to ensure that we have 50:50 representation in this place. No doubt the hon. Lady, like me and others here, has taken part in events to promote that. Clearly, we cannot wait until we have 50:50 representation to address these very serious issues. That is precisely what the Cox report and, indeed, the White report that is now under way are focusing on to ensure that we address this problem as quickly as possible, not in the next 50 or so years’ time.
The Cox report revealed that a culture of bullying and harassment had spread to every part of this place. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me, and give confidence to all those working across the estate, that if a complete, top-down reorganisation is required to effect genuine and lasting change, that will happen, and that seniority, length of service or any other factor will play no part in shielding anyone from scrutiny or criticism where it is warranted?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I think that the House, and everyone in this place, has recognised that there is a serious issue that we need to address. I would draw his attention, and that of other Members, to an email that is sitting in their inboxes encouraging them to take part in the consultation around the grievance scheme to ensure that, for instance, allegations of historical abuse are effectively addressed within the scheme. I hope that he and others will want to contribute to that.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Northern Forest Initiative
The Church Commissioners own 3,500 acres of forestry in England, some of which falls within the focus of the northern forest initiative. The Church Commissioners have had some high-level conversations with the Woodland Trust and would certainly consider being part of this initiative.
With 50 million trees expected to be planted as part of the northern forest initiative to improve air quality and mitigate flooding, as well as to improve wellbeing and be there for us all to enjoy, it is really important that the Church of England estate also participates in that, not least as the 13th biggest landlord in our nation, owning land the size of Iceland, I believe. How many trees will the Church of England be planting, particularly around the area of York, where the archbishop’s palace, no less, was affected by the floods of 2015?
The Church Commissioners own a great deal of agricultural land. The important thing with the planting of trees is that it needs to be on land suitable for that purpose. Prime agricultural land is usually reserved for food production, but land that is, for example, wet—it can be in close proximity to rivers—is better suited to tree production. The hon. Lady, representing the city of York, has every interest in trees being planted that would slow the flow of the river through her city.
Persecution of Christians
The Church of England remains concerned about the increase in violence and intimidation against Christians and all religious minorities across the globe. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) reminded colleagues at this week’s Prime Minister’s questions of the visit of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III, who will be in Parliament next Wednesday. He is regarded as a senior cleric from the Christian communion in Jerusalem, and he is to give a talk about the future of Christians in the Holy Land.
Aid to the Church in Need’s latest world persecution report and Baroness Cox’s “Hidden Atrocities” report, both published this month, state that the religious element of attacks by militants on communities in northern and central Nigeria is increasing. For example, 539 Christian churches have been destroyed in Nasarawa state alone in 2018. Catholic Bishop William Avenya of Gboko has now warned the international community,
“Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda.”
Will the Church of England engage with Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to help fully address those grave concerns?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In fact, on Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury will brief members of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, as part of its inquiry on Nigeria. He knows the country extremely well, as he worked there, and has visited it as recently as October. He is deeply concerned about attacks on Christians and has urged our Government to help Nigeria to enforce security and promote reconciliation between people of different faiths.
The Rev. Steven Saxby organised for me an excellent briefing with Anglicans from the Philippines, where there are serious human rights abuses. Could the right hon. Lady ask the Church of England whether it is tackling that in a structured way?
One advantage of the size of the Anglican communion is that its reach is across all continents, and the persecution of Christians in all continents is a matter of great concern to the Church of England, as part of the Anglican communion. I will certainly look more closely into what is happening in the Philippines, and I thank the hon. Lady for that suggestion.
I attempted to restrict the scope of a question to the holy lands and was summoned to the Table Office to change the offending words. It is not persecution, but does my right hon. Friend resent that secular agenda as much as I do?
That is almost a question for the Chair, rather than the Second Church Estates Commissioner. I am concerned about religious literacy and understanding better the Holy Land. I was fortunate to be able to make a visit with five Members of Parliament, led by the Speaker’s Chaplain, Rose, to the Holy Land for the first time, to see for myself the plight of Christians there and the complexity of the issues in the Holy Land. I do not think we should baulk at calling it the Holy Land, for many of the world’s faith regard it as such.
I can give the hon. Gentleman reassurance, and I sympathise with his concern for Asia Bibi. The information we have is that we need to be extremely careful that we do not exacerbate risks to Asia Bibi and her family. The Prime Minister answered a question during PMQs about what the Foreign Office is doing and confirmed that the UK is in conversations with other Governments, including the Government of Pakistan, on how to make Asia and her family safe.
We had an excellent debate this week on Nigeria, initiated by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Will the right hon. Lady urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit another bedevilled part of the world, South Sudan? Although it is a Christian country, many Christians are being persecuted there.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is very alive to the situation in South Sudan. Every well-read Christian Member of Parliament surely must be. In my tenure as shadow International Development Secretary, I went to southern Sudan, and it is probably one of the most distressing places I have ever visited. The women there told me they had very little confidence of peace being secured, because they fear their men just like to fight.
Dean of Christ Church, Oxford
At this stage, there is little more that I can add to the written answer that I gave my hon. Friend on Monday. A formal tribunal process is under way, following the statutes of Christ Church, and that will enable the complaint made against the dean to be properly investigated.
I can reassure the House that the Bishop of Oxford is giving pastoral support to the Dean, and I know that he went out of his way to speak to my hon. Friend. This is a very unusual case in the Church of England—the dean of a cathedral is at the same time the master of a college—but I must underline that the complaint against the Dean is an internal matter for the college, and neither the Church Commissioners nor the wider Church of England has any role in that process.
I am so glad the hon. Lady has asked that question, as this Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We all look forward to Christmas. The Church of England reached over 6.8 million people with last year’s Advent and Christmas campaign. This year, the Church has launched a Follow the Star campaign. Details of that can be found on the Church website, or indeed in hard copies made available through Church House Publishing.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, and I endorse the importance of Follow the Star to advertise services and signpost the campaign that the Church is running. I say to the right hon. Lady, however, that universal credit is being rolled out in my constituency just before Christmas. I am really concerned about the rising number of people attending the food bank, and I am also concerned about rising levels of homelessness and loneliness in the community. Does she think the Church of England could do more to take practical steps to convey the Christmas message in our communities?
The hon. Lady enables me to give the answer I so much wanted to give to Question 9, which had to be withdrawn at short notice. The Church has surveyed the social action projects in its 16,000 parishes, and 33,000 social action projects are under way in precisely the kind of areas the hon. Lady mentions—food banks, night shelters for the homeless and debt counselling. Indeed, this is living out the message of Christmas to the needy.
The message of Christmas is one of renewal and hope. Will my right hon. Friend bring a message of hope to people with autism in prison? It is essential that those who minister to them understand the condition. In the new year, will she look at ensuring that all prison chaplains are trained in autism? In that way, the Christmas message could be extended into 2019.
The message is that Christmas is for all, including inmates in prison. My right hon. Friend has campaigned so hard for those with autism. Our chaplains are given guidance on helping prison inmates with autism.
I must finish with a heart-warming story for the House, which perhaps those who read The Guardian will have spotted. The Dean of Salisbury cathedral provided stonemasons to a local prison who trained the inmates in how to fashion their own war memorial, and he inaugurated it in time for the Armistice. I just want to reassure the House that, for practical reasons, the number of chisels was counted on the way in and on the way out.
Many children will be in church over the Christmas period, particularly at events such as Christingle services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a great opportunity for the Church to spread the message to our young people in the hope that they will retain that message throughout their lives?
The Church of England has seen increasing attendance at its church services. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that crib services and Christingle services are very important for small people.
I would like to encourage you, Mr Speaker, to have a look at the Follow the Star campaign. It is different for a change: it does not start on the first day of Advent, but covers the 12 days of Christmas. When you and I have finished washing up after our Christmas lunches, we might sit down and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and make sure that our children do get it.
Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the publication of the Attorney General’s legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement.
The Government recognise the legitimate desire of Members on all sides of the House to understand the withdrawal agreement and its legal effect. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed to the House on Tuesday 13 November that the Government will publish a full reasoned statement to set out their position on the legal effect of the withdrawal agreement. That is in addition to the material that the Government have already published, including, for example, a detailed explainer of the withdrawal agreement and a technical explanatory note on the Northern Ireland protocol. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General will also make a statement to the House on Monday 3 December—the next sitting day—about the legal effect of the agreement, and he will answer questions from Members, I am sure in the fullest possible way.
Not good enough.
Mr Speaker, nobody who was present in the debate on 13 November, including the Solicitor General, could be in any doubt about what the House was asking for. During that debate I stated that
“the motion requires the publication of the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement. This must be made available to all MPs. It is to be published after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 235.]
The motion was passed unanimously on those terms, and when it was passed, I made it clear that those were its terms.
It was perfectly clear to Ministers, including the Solicitor General who spoke at the end of the debate, that the House was not asking for a position paper or a summary of the Attorney General’s advice. That was the offer made from the Dispatch Box during the debate, and it was roundly rejected, as the Solicitor General knows full well. The binding motion that was passed was for nothing less than for the full and final legal advice provided by the Attorney General. It is therefore wholly unacceptable, and frankly shows contempt for this House, for Ministers, including the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, now to pretend that the House was asking only for partial or qualified legal advice. If the Government are not willing to comply with the order of the House, why did they and the Solicitor General not vote against the motion?
In 12 days’ time, this House will have to take the most important decision it has taken for a generation, and MPs are entitled to know the full legal consequences of the deal that the Prime Minister is asking them to support. That is why the order was made, and why it must be complied with. Throughout the Brexit process, the Government have repeatedly tried to sideline and push Parliament away. If they now intend to ignore Parliament altogether, they will get into very deep water indeed. I urge the Solicitor General to think again and to comply with the order of the House.
Order. Everybody will have a chance to contribute on this most important and solemn of matters, but just as the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was heard in relative quiet, so must similar courtesy be extended to the Solicitor General. Everybody will get a chance to put his or her point of view—of that there need be no doubt.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Attorney General will come to the House on the next sitting day, and he will make a full statement and answer questions from hon. Members across the House. It might then be for the House to judge whether the Government have discharged their obligations consistent with the Humble Address, but not before.
I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on securing this urgent question. A dangerous pattern is developing here. First, the Government tried to avoid their obligations under a previous Humble Address to release their impact assessments, and on two instances, senior Conservative ex-Ministers were given guarantees by Ministers at the Dispatch Box, which they then claimed publicly had been broken. Now we see the Government trying to wriggle out of yet another binding decision of this House.
Mr Speaker, this is not the time or the place to re-run the discussion about whether it was a good idea for that motion on an Humble Address to have been passed. How ironic that the Government want to re-run a debate on something that has already been voted on—just think about that! This is not the time to discuss its merits. As has been said, if the Government did not want to comply with the instruction, they should have instructed their MPs to vote against it. The reason they did not was that they knew they would have lost the vote.
Does the Solicitor General accept the ruling of the Chair that this decision is binding on the Government? If so, when do the Government intend to comply with the instruction they have had from representatives of the sovereign citizens of these islands?
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave. The Attorney General will be here on the next sitting day. He will make a statement and answer questions. Then the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members can form a judgment on whether the motion that was carried by this House has been satisfied. My argument is that the Attorney General will meet the spirit and intention of the motion passed, but preserve the important constitutional convention relating to Law Officers’ advice.
The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, said during his speech:
“I wanted the Government to see the good sense in putting the legal position before the House, for all the exceptional reasons that have been set out”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 194.]
Accepting that, is that not precisely what the Attorney General intends to do and will be able to do on Monday?
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, is absolutely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is more familiar than most with the position of the Law Officers and their role within the constitution. I would have expected him to do better.
The Solicitor General should be aware that I, and probably others in this House, have written to Mr Speaker asking whether this is a matter of contempt. I suspect we may find it easier to get 48 letters than others have found. Can the Solicitor General confirm whether the Government will fight any contempt proceedings? Has he identified who in the Government would be the subject of contempt proceedings? Does he agree that this latest snub to Parliament leaves Members of Parliament with a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to the vote on 11 December and any votes that come after, the Government may decide to play fast and loose with what is the normal procedure in this place?
The right hon. Gentleman asks me to speculate about matters that might not arise. There is no snub to Parliament. It is a wholly confected controversy that actually detracts from the real issues we should be debating and will be looking at next week.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the national interest. It is rare for a Law Officer, in this case the Attorney General, to come to the House and make a statement of this nature. We accept that these are exceptionally important, unusual and unprecedented times. That is why he is doing it. Members will have the chance to grill him when he comes.
The Solicitor General is repeating the offer that was made during the debate on 13 November and repeating what the Prime Minister said yesterday, but that was not accepted by the House. The House unanimously adopted a binding resolution in the terms that the Opposition spokesperson has outlined, so why does the Solicitor General not listen and the Government start listening? This has been the problem all along. What is it that they have to hide?
May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that when the Attorney General comes here on Monday, he will be able to ask him questions and make sure he is properly examined on these issues? He will have that opportunity. This is not an instance where the Government seek to delay or hide; this is all about providing information at the right time ahead of the important debate that I know he will be playing an important part in.
In my experience, when someone smells a rat, it is usually a good idea to set a trap. The Solicitor General will be aware that the Prime Minister wants everybody in the House to make a sensible decision based on all the information available to us. Should we not, then, have the fullest possible legal advice in as timely a manner as possible if we are to arrive at a sensible decision?
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s question with the seriousness it deserves. That is why the Attorney General is coming here on the next sitting day before we start the five-day debate—so that hon. Members have a chance not just to question him but to digest what he says, come to a judgment and make points appropriately, either in the debate or in other proceedings that might follow.
I must confess that I remain as confused as I was on 13 November about precisely what is being requested. What differences are there between the position now and the position the Government were in when advice was provided concerning Iraq?
My hon. Friend, who is a former Government lawyer, will recall that the circumstances of the publication of the Iraq advice were dramatically different from the current circumstances. In brief, extracts from the then Attorney General’s advice were leaked to the press during the 2005 election campaign, and in those exceptional circumstances, the then Labour Government took a collective decision that the Attorney General should publish the full text. That is the only time it has happened. It was an exceptional case that I do not think sets a precedent here.
Can the Solicitor General outline the legal implications of Northern Ireland entering into a customs union—including, to all intents and purposes, a united Ireland—with no voice or vote for an indefinite period and without the mechanism of a border poll, as called for in the Belfast agreement?
I, too, listened to the debate that afternoon and raised a number of concerns about the motion. My memory is that the shadow Secretary of State asked for full advice on the final deal and not all the advice given during the negotiations and that he actually corrected the motion from the Dispatch Box four times before it was voted on, as I pointed out in an intervention. Does the Solicitor General agree that the motion was incredibly unclear and inconsistent?
My hon. Friend’s recollection is accurate, although to be fair to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he sought to clarify or narrow the terms of reference of his application. I simply say to her what I said in that debate, which is that the Government will provide a full and clear legal position to the House and that it will then be a matter for the House to judge whether that is sufficient.
Order. We cannot have people chuntering from a sedentary position, particularly when they have already spoken. We have heard the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford); we know what she wanted to say and we are most grateful to her for that. We do not need sedentary chuntering. It is not helpful and it is unseemly—stop it.
I welcome the news that the Attorney General will be coming before the House on Monday, but does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern about the precedent that this may set for publishing legal advice? Where would that leave legal privilege, the cornerstone of our legal justice system?
I do not intend to repeat the remarks that I made in the debate, but as I said, there are good reasons why there is a convention for Law Officers. It is not just for the convenience of lawyers; it is for the rule of law to stay at the heart of collective Cabinet decision making. I would have thought that everybody in this House would want that.
Let me refresh the memories of Government Members, who seem to have forgotten the following words:
“any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, on the proposed withdrawal agreement”.
My constituents are entitled to have the will of the House met so that I can read those documents. What on earth has the Solicitor General got against those words and my constituents knowing that I am doing my job?
I think the hon. Lady was reading out the words of the motion, which were not the words adopted by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). He confined himself to a particular document that he wanted to see. Those are the terms of reference that he sought, and it does nobody any good to try to go back on what he said. A statement on the Government’s legal position will be published on Monday, so it will not just be the Attorney General’s words given here orally. Right hon. and hon. Members will have something in writing as well.
Does the Solicitor General agree that if Members have important questions about the Government’s legal advice or the legal position, they will be able to find out the answers to those questions by asking the source of the Government’s legal advice—the Attorney General—in this House? Does he further agree that this is about a very important constitutional principle? If all 6,500 pieces of legal advice are published, all official advice, not just legal, will start to be published and we will have a situation in which candid advice will no longer be given. It will not be written down and, whoever is in government, we will not have proper functioning of Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that if Law Officers, and indeed civil servants, cannot provide candid advice in an unencumbered way, the quality of decision making will deteriorate, as will its transparency. That is deleterious to good government.
The hon. Lady will see on Monday a document setting out the Government’s legal position. She will be able to question the senior Law Officer about that and then, in the debate, she will be able to make further points if she views the information that she has received as somehow insufficient. Knowing my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, he will dilate at length if he is asked to.