House of Commons
Wednesday 19 December 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Leaving the EU: Contingency Planning
The Government’s policy is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a negotiated deal. Individual Departments are responsible for briefing businesses and other interested parties about contingency planning for all eventualities, and the Cabinet Office is co-ordinating contingency planning across Whitehall.
Will my right hon. Friend give details of which Departments have been allocated moneys for no-deal preparation, how much, and the spending timescales?
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced yesterday details of a £2 billion planned spend for 2019-20. These moneys would be available for either a no-deal or a deal scenario. The largest recipient Departments are the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade.
In the event of no deal, we read in the press that the Government are going to inform the public about what they should do to prepare for it. Will the Minister outline for us what exactly the Government will say to the public of this country about how they should prepare for no deal?
As I said in my earlier response, it will be for the Secretary of State in each Department to determine what forms of communication are necessary to businesses or the wider public. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the message that we get back again and again from the general public is that they want Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to get on and agree the deal that is on the table.
With reports of DEFRA making contingency plans to slaughter a large amount of livestock, what reassurance can be given to livestock breeders in my constituency looking at a no-deal Brexit?
I think it unavoidable that, given the World Trade Organisation’s standard tariffs for livestock trade and the position of third countries in relation to the EU’s legal requirement for phytosanitary checks and inspections, there will be difficulties for our livestock exporters in the event of no deal. That is another reason for the House to agree the deal that is available.
After last week’s shambles, we are now 100 days away from our scheduled departure from the EU without having voted on any deal in the House. We are now staring at a cliff-edge no-deal exit, which would be damaging not only for our economy, but potentially for our national security. In the event of no deal, what assurances can the Minister provide the House that the Government have discussed with stakeholders our continued security partnership with the EU, including on cyber-related matters?
The Home Office and other Departments with the responsibilities for security interests are in constant touch with the police and other relevant agencies about those matters. I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said to others in the House, that what is needed is for every Member in the House to take seriously his or her responsibility and not to keep ducking the question—[Interruption.] The challenge that she has to answer is that if she does not like the deal that has been negotiated with the 27 Governments of the EU, what is her alternative and that which the Opposition are proposing?
Civil Service Relocation
We are committed to supporting economic growth across the United Kingdom. We have established the Places for Growth programme to relocate civil service roles into the regions and nations. That creates a presumption that newly created public bodies will be located outside London.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Can I invite him or the Secretary of State to come to Plymouth with me early in 2019 to see for themselves how digital connectivity has transformed our city? It is not just a great place to live, as it has always been, but now a great place to work and run a business. Would it not be very good for the Government to have a Government hub there?
I know, thanks to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, that Plymouth is a great place to work and do business. A number of potential hub locations are under active consideration. I would of course be delighted to meet a delegation from Plymouth, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intends to visit Plymouth shortly.
When the Minister is looking to relocate civil service jobs outside London, will he look at post-industrial areas, which traditionally have high levels of unemployment, as a way to stimulate the jobs market?
That is precisely the idea behind the Places for Growth strategy, which is to ensure Government activity benefits all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we have created hubs across the United Kingdom—for example, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff, to name just a few.
The Minister will be aware—at least, I hope he is aware—of the success of the Oil and Gas Authority being based in Aberdeen, as was presented in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday by both our right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth and the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands from the Scottish Government. Does the Minister agree that moving civil service jobs out of London using that model has the potential to boost local economic growth across the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That forms a core part of the Government’s industrial strategy. As I have said, we have already created hubs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I am open to all representations for further relocations of Government activity.
Mr Speaker, you would be surprised if I did not mention the great benefits in this of the far north of Scotland: a lovely environment, splendid education and cheap housing and accommodation. Positioning civil service jobs in the north of Scotland, alongside Scottish civil service jobs, would be good for the relationship between Scotland and London, and it would help strengthen the Union.
The hon. Gentleman makes the case exceptionally well. That is precisely why we are ensuring that Government jobs are located in all parts—all nations—of our United Kingdom. I know that there is already considerable space activity in his constituency.
Real Living Wage
We are addressing this issue through the application of the statutory national minimum wage and the national living wage. This is based on the advice of the Low Pay Commission. From April, the national living wage will rise again—from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour—handing a full-time worker a further £690 annual pay rise.
This Government like to talk about employment levels, but they stay silent on the fact that many people are now struggling with in-work poverty, which is rising among working parents in particular. Does this Minister believe that his kid-on living wage is more effective at tackling in-work poverty than the real living wage promoted by the Living Wage Foundation?
The hon. Lady is absolutely correct: we do continue to talk about employment, because 2 million jobs have been created under this Government. On the point about the national living wage, we were of course the first Government actually to introduce a national living wage. The aim is that that will rise to 60% of median income by 2020, and it is actually rising faster than the real living wage.
Everyone in the country knows that the Government’s pretendy living wage is not the same as the real living wage. It pays an awful lot less, and it excludes millions of younger workers. At this season of good will, will the Government not commit to making it their policy next year to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and show leadership in the country in taking on low pay?
I think the hon. Gentleman is a little dismissive of the national living wage, which, since it was introduced, has led to a pay rise for people on the lowest incomes of almost £3,000 a year. It is rising faster than his proposal, and it will reach 60% of median income by 2020. Post that, we will look again at further increases.
Leaving the EU: Civil Service Capacity
The Government are equipping themselves with the right people and the right skills for the UK to exit the European Union successfully. Almost 11,000 people are now working on EU exit-related policy and programmes across the Government, and the workforce plans will continue to be reviewed to ensure that our civil service can respond to emerging capacity and capability requirements.
The National Audit Office reports that the additional staff needed to work at UK borders after Brexit may not be in place by March 2019. Will the Minister explain why, almost 29 months since the EU referendum, the Government have not got their act together?
All reports of the National Audit Office are obviously interesting, but I have absolute confidence in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is very confident that the Border Force will be ready—as am I, from my previous experience in that Department—for any eventuality of Brexit.
We are hearing on the news today that the Government are preparing for every extreme eventuality and possible consequence of Brexit. Which promised or commissioned services are already not being delivered because of the thousands of civil servants transferred to EU work and preparation for the various Brexit outcomes?
Departments are continually looking at and reviewing workforce plans, reprioritising and assessing changing needs. We have the beauty of having a fantastic civil service, with the extra funding that the Treasury has put in to make sure that we are able to get the civil service in place at this point, to continue to deliver on the important Government domestic agenda, while ensuring that we leave the EU in an orderly and sensible fashion.
In the field of justice, we have been lucky to enjoy very good civil, mutual judicial co-operation across Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, are there plans in place, and are there the civil servants, for example, to rejoin the Hague conventions in place of the regulations in Europe and so on, to ensure that we have a smooth legal transition?
There is something wrong with the microphone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot be fully heard, and that is unsatisfactory, but I am sure it will be put right.
My right hon. and learned Friend asks an important question. We are now focusing on making sure that we get the deal we want negotiated with the EU—that is our top priority—but it is right that we prepare for every eventuality. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is working with partners around Europe to ensure that, but the best thing we can do in this Parliament to ensure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit, including for the justice system and security, is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when we vote on it in January.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Prime Minister said that no deal need not be the end of the world and that Britain would be fully prepared in that eventuality? With this ramping up and extra investment, will our civil service have the resources it needs to be ready and deliver on time?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right that, with just over three months to go before we exit the EU, we need to accelerate and intensify these preparations. I am confident that the civil service is well equipped to deal with that, but of course our focus and our key priority is to get the right deal with EU and one that we can pass that through this House in January.
Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure that civil servants, both there and in the Department for Transport, speedily come to a conclusion on air passenger duty and corporation tax, thereby giving a considerable boost to the Northern Ireland economy?
My colleagues in the Cabinet Office and in the Department for Transport are working together to ensure that everything is as smooth as it can be. However, I would reiterate that the best way to have a smooth solution to all this is to support the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister is putting before this House.
Voter ID Pilots
The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. A diverse range of local authorities have confirmed that they will be taking part in voter ID and postal vote pilots for the 2019 local elections. The pilots will provide further insights into ensuring the security of the voting process.
I am grateful for that answer. Bishop Auckland has the lowest rate of passport ownership in the entire country. Does not the Minister understand that expensive forms of voter ID will exclude thousands of people from exercising their democratic right to vote?
Yes, I do; so the design of the pilots acknowledges that and makes sure that a free-of-charge alternative will be available.
My previous experience as a Tower Hamlets councillor highlighted to me the significant vulnerability of poorer, more diverse communities to electoral fraud. How can my hon. Friend improve democratic education across all communities so that we can make the electoral system more robust?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing her experience and her voice to this debate; it is very important that we hear that. I also thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who also represents Tower Hamlets, for his cross-party support for this policy. It shows how important that is. It is essential that electors are aware that their voice is theirs alone. That message was promoted through various channels in May this year, including work with the Electoral Commission, Crimestoppers and the police, and we will do more to spread that message.
Will the Minister assure the House that those who do not have the documentation she requires will not be disenfranchised by the new policy?
Yes, I am very happy to repeat that reassurance. When somebody does not have the correct form of ID, local authorities will provide an alternative method free of charge. On top of that, we are working closely with a range of charities and civil society organisations so that everyone who is registered to vote has the opportunity to do so.
Is the Minister not aware that ID is linked to knowing where the children of our country are: are they in school; are they vulnerable? Those in her party stopped us having that identification. Many children are at risk because of their actions on ID.
The hon. Gentleman has advanced that argument over many years in many different formats. I regret to say I am not entirely clear if I follow him this morning, but I would be very happy to have a further conversation with him if there is an important point there.
I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), if he is listening, that I think what the Minister was saying, in a very polite and roundabout way, is that she has not got the foggiest idea what he is on about. No doubt, with some clarifications, she will be perfectly clear on what he is talking about. I thought I knew what he was talking about.
Yes, Mr Speaker. To answer the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), she will know very well that the election manifesto on which this party and Government were elected excluded votes at 16. It is also a little sad if she does not see the merits, in their own right, of ensuring integrity in our voting processes. That means tackling fraud.
This year’s voter ID pilots cost the taxpayer £1.7 million and the only discernible effect was that several hundred people were prevented from voting. The Minister is refusing to publish details of the budget for next year’s voter ID pilots. Why is she keeping that information secret, and what has she got to hide?
There is nothing to hide. I have been extremely clear about what the costs may be. As soon as I have information about the design of the pilots, I will be happy to share it with the House. Indeed, I have undertaken to do so through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman needs to be concerned about how his party says one thing and does another. The Labour party uses voter ID in its own meetings. If it is good enough for them, why is it not good enough for the country?
I call Giles Watling. Not here. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Well, I hope the fella is not indisposed. We look forward to seeing him again. I call Michael Fabricant.
Nobody doubted it for a moment. We always expect the hon. Gentleman to be here, and we can spot him a mile off.
Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, which is supported by nearly £2 billion of investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and infrastructure, to deter our adversaries and to develop the skills and capabilities this country needs.
With major data breaches at the Marriott hotel group and British Airways, with which I hope to be flying tomorrow—[Interruption] Well, I hope so, anyway—what can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that private corporations maintain security for their customers?
My hon. Friend is spot on in his comments. That is why the National Cyber Security Centre has designed new materials aimed at members of company boards. The Cabinet Office will be launching them, along with the NCSC, in the new year.
The Minister will be aware that before the summer recess The Daily Telegraph reported that data breaches on gaining passes to Government buildings, including the Cabinet Office, were made available to the public because of the use of open shared drives that had been condemned six months previously. Can the Minister give a reassurance that that simply will not happen again?
Clearly, any breach of data security is to be regretted, and we have a system whereby we learn from those experiences. We also need to be aware that both criminal gangs and hostile state actors are always seeking innovative new ways to penetrate our defences, and the NCSC is our key source of expertise in combatting that threat.
Today, I am publishing the Government’s “State of the Estate” report, which shows that we have successfully cut the size of the Government estate by more than a third since 2010, saving £760 million in running costs. As well as saving money, we are improving the environmental performance of Government buildings, with emissions having been cut by almost 40% since 2009-10.
What engagement has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Office over the money required to deal with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and what requirement has there been in respect of the allocation of moneys to the Northern Ireland Government?
Consequential sums will flow to the Northern Ireland civil service as a result of the Treasury’s announcement yesterday. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is closely involved in all Government discussions about contingency planning, and I have invited representatives of the Northern Ireland civil service to a meeting with UK Ministers later today where they will have the opportunity to put Northern Ireland’s case directly.
I discuss these matters regularly with both the Secretaries of State my hon. Friend alluded to. I am afraid that there is no getting away from the fact that going to WTO tariffs would impose very considerable additional costs upon our dairy, meat and livestock exports, and upon our vehicle manufacturers. That is another reason why the House should back the deal on the table and not let us be sucked into the damage that a no-deal exit would bring.
Season’s greetings to you, Mr Speaker, everybody in the House and all our staff.
Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting appears to have decided to abandon all non-essential Government business and reveals an Administration in an advanced state of decay. Will the Minister now tell the House which Government functions he regards as non-essential and is now putting into deep freeze?
We have taken no decisions to put anything into deep freeze. We are engaged in prudent contingency planning so that we are prepared for all eventualities. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman yet again has ducked the opportunity to say what the Opposition’s preferred outcome is, if they object to the deal on the table.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have been clearer about both our exit from the EU and the date we will leave. It is important that we leave but do so in a way that protects jobs, investment and living standards in this country. That is why this House has the responsibility to agree to a deal and not go into a no-deal exit.
The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of Capita’s Army recruitment contract. I can tell him that we have a plan to address those challenges. We are working on a manning campaign, and we are in close contact with the chief executive of Capita to deal with precisely that issue.
Yes, I agree that the link with constituencies is extremely important, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are committed to keeping the first-past-the-post system for that reason.
I shall be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues. I know that the independent Office for National Statistics, whose decisions these are, has written to the APPG in some detail, and I know that the ONS will also listen carefully to the hon. Lady’s question and endeavour to answer it.
Are the Government still committed to abolishing the insidious 15-year rule that applies to British expats voting in UK elections?
The Prime Minister was asked—
This Friday marks 30 years since the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, which resulted in the biggest loss of life from a terrorist atrocity on UK soil. I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the 270 people who perished, and with all those whose lives have been affected.
May I wish all Members and staff a merry Christmas and a happy new year? I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our warmest Christmas wishes to all our armed forces who are stationed overseas, and I am sure that I also speak on behalf of the whole House in sending Christmas wishes to all members of the emergency services and those who will be working over Christmas. Their service and sacrifice are inspirational, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I wish everyone here a merry Christmas: the Prime Minister, and all other Members.
The Prime Minister may recall that during the first Prime Minister’s Question Time of 2018, I asked her to do more to support the victims of the leasehold mis-selling scandal. May I use the last Question Time of the year to ask whether she has done anything about that, or whether she is going to kick it into the long grass as she did with the meaningful vote?
We have, in fact, been taking action in relation to leaseholds. We want to ensure that the leasehold system is transparent and fair to consumers, so that their homes truly feel like their own. In July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that no new Government funding scheme would be used to support the unjustified use of leasehold for new houses.
Our technical consultation on how to improve the lease- hold market for consumers has now closed. We have received responses from nearly 1,300 people and organisations, and we are analysing those responses. We will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has consistently raised and championed the needs and concerns of EU citizens here in the UK. Our withdrawal agreement does guarantee those rights, which is important not just for individuals, but for businesses. We are clear that in a no-deal scenario, EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and will be able to continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now. That demonstrates our ongoing commitment; we obviously want to work with, and are strongly engaging with, our EU counterparts to urge them to make the same commitment to protect the rights of UK nationals living in the European Union. We have been clear about the rights of EU nationals here in a no-deal scenario; we want the EU to do the same for UK citizens living in the 27.
I join the Prime Minister in remembering the events at Lockerbie 30 years ago. I remember the silence that fell on this entire building when the news came out of what had happened at Lockerbie. For the people of Lockerbie the trauma lives on, as it does for the families of the victims, and we should remember them today.
May I also take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to wish you and all Members of the House and everyone around our country a very happy Christmas, particularly those who have to work over Christmas and of course our armed services who will also be on duty over the Christmas period? All the best for a peaceful and welcome 2019. [Interruption.] I have gained acquiescence. My Christmas good wishes do extend to everyone over there on the Conservative Benches as well.
However, until then I just have to say this: the Prime Minister has plunged this country into a national crisis. She refused Parliament the right to vote on her Brexit deal. She said that she did that to seek “further assurances”; she failed. She is now claiming that she is still seeking further assurances while all the time running down the clock on the alternatives, so can the Prime Minister explain to us when the European Council will meet to approve the changes that it has already ruled out?
We are indeed still working with the European Union; we have discussions with the European Union to seek those assurances that this House wanted us to seek. May I correct the right hon. Gentleman on one point? He referenced the issue of the meaningful vote; we will have that meaningful vote here in the House. I set out earlier this week—[Interruption.] I set out—[Interruption.] There is absolutely no point in Opposition Members shouting out “When”, because I set out in the statement on Monday when that will take place.
I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that, week after week, he has stood here on this issue and talked about what he is against; he never says what he is for. If he wants to fulfil the will of the referendum—to support jobs, to end free movement, to do those trade deals, to avoid no deal—he needs to vote for this deal. He can talk all he likes about a meaningful vote; all he gives us is a meaningless position.
We should have had the vote a week ago. The Prime Minister denied Parliament the opportunity to have that vote and she is still unclear as to when it will actually take place.
There are no meetings of the EU Council scheduled until 21 March, and the EU has been very clear: there are no more negotiations, clarifications or meetings. The Prime Minister will be bringing back the same deal she pulled last week; this is an intolerable situation, and she is simply playing for time.
On Monday, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) on the backstop, the Prime Minister said:
“I am seeking further political and legal assurances in relation to those issues, which can be achieved in a number of ways.”—[Official Report, 17 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 534.]
The Prime Minister must clearly set out now how she will achieve those legally binding assurances before the House is due to return on 7 January.
We will set out what is achieved in our EU discussions when we return in the new year, when we have had those discussions, when we bring those assurances back. The right hon. Gentleman can get as angry as he likes about this issue, but it does not hide the fact that he has no Brexit plan. I know it is Christmas, and I know that he has looked in his stocking, down the chimney and under the Christmas tree, but he still has not found a Brexit plan. He has to accept his responsibility to deliver on Brexit—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Yasin, you are normally a most composed, almost laid-back individual. You are becoming very hot-headed and I am worried, for your own sake. Calm down! Be a good fellow.
The right hon. Gentleman has to accept his responsibility for delivering on Brexit. There are some people who say that the Leader of the Opposition is just going through the motions, but what we saw this week is that he is not even doing that.
It is the Prime Minister who is supposed to be undertaking the negotiations. It is the Prime Minister who has failed to bring an acceptable deal back. If she does not like doing it, then step aside and let somebody else do it. The reality is that she is stalling for time—[Interruption.]
Order. I made it clear that the Prime Minister must not be shouted down, and no one should even bother trying to shout down the Leader of the Opposition. It will not work against the Prime Minister, and it will not work against the right hon. Gentleman. End of subject.
The reality is that the Prime Minister is stalling for time. There is still no majority in this House for her shoddy deal. It is not stoical; it is cynical. As the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) said:
“we have displacement activity designed to distract from last week’s failed renegotiation”.
The International Trade Secretary said:
“I think it is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop…I’m not even sure if the cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons”.
So can the Prime Minister give us a cast-iron guarantee that the vote in this House will not be delayed yet again?
We have been very clear about the process that we are going through and we have been very clear about when the vote will be brought back to this House. Of course the details of that debate have to be discussed in the usual channels in the usual way. The right hon. Gentleman made a response when I said that he had a responsibility to deliver on Brexit. Every Member of this House has a responsibility to deliver on Brexit, because 80% of the votes cast for Members of this House were for Members who stood on a manifesto commitment to honour the referendum and deliver on Brexit. What people will say to the right hon. Gentleman if he fails to recognise that he has a duty, as has everybody in this House, to deliver on Brexit, is that once again he has just bottled it.
The Prime Minister did not answer my question about a cast-iron guarantee. She is the one who has denied Parliament the right to vote on this subject, so please let us have no lectures to Parliament when it is the Prime Minister who is denying MPs the possibility of a vote. We should have had a vote a week ago, and we should now be debating practical alternatives. She is behaving in a disgraceful way that is frankly an outrage. No deal would be a disaster for our country, and no responsible Government would ever allow it. Just two weeks ago the Chancellor said that preparations for leaving with no deal
“could not be done in a matter of months; they would take years to complete.”
No deal is simply not an option, so why does the Prime Minister not stop the pretence and stop wasting £4 billion in a cynical attempt to drive her deeply damaging deal through this House?
If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to see money being spent on no deal, he has an easy answer: vote for this deal.
What the Prime Minister is doing is a criminal waste of money. She is recklessly running down—[Interruption.]
Order. In this House of Commons, where we are supposed to try to treat each other with respect, no one, under any circumstances, is going to be shouted down, so stop the attempted shouting down, on both sides, abandon the juvenile finger-wagging, which achieves precisely nothing, and let each other be heard. It is called the assertion of democratic principle.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister is recklessly running down the clock, all in a shameful attempt to make her own bad deal look like the lesser of two evils. With rising crime, 20,000 fewer police on our streets, 100,000 vacancies in our national health service, and the worst performance last month of any November on record, how can the Prime Minister justify wasting that money on no deal, which cannot and will not happen?
Until a deal has been ratified, the responsible position of Government—of any Government—is to put in place contingency arrangements for no deal. But I repeat that if the right hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, he has to put into practice what he is saying and actually vote for a deal. He talks yet again about the number of police officers and about money going to the police. We made extra money available to the police this year, and what did the Labour party do? It voted against it.
The Prime Minister should stop dithering and put it to a vote of the House. Let the House make a decision. Her friend the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) was right, was she not, when she said that the threat of no deal is “an absolute disgrace”? The Prime Minister has thrown away two years on her botched negotiations. She is now recklessly wasting £4 billion of public money. She is holding Parliament and the country to ransom. She is irresponsibly risking jobs, investment and our industries. There have been no changes, so she must put her deal to the vote. Parliament must take back control. There is no majority in this House for no deal. Is this not just a deeply cynical manoeuvre from a failing and utterly reckless Prime Minister?
I have to say that it is a bit rich for the right hon. Gentleman to stand here and talk about dithering. Let us see what the Labour party did this week. They said that they would call a vote of no confidence, and then they said that they would not. Then he said that he would, and then it was not effective—[Interruption.] I know that it is Christmas—[Interruption.]
Order. Members must not shout at the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Order. Calm yourselves. Try to get into the Christmas spirit. If you cannot do that, at least listen to the Prime Minister.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
They said they would put down a vote of no confidence, then they said they would not, then they said they would, and then they did it but it was not effective. I know it is the Christmas season and the pantomime season, but what do we see from the Labour Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition? He is going to put a confidence vote. Oh yes he is! [Hon. Members: “Oh no he isn’t!”] I have some news for him. I have some advice for the right hon. Gentleman: look behind you. They are not impressed, and neither is the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his good wishes. In fact, I will not be at Chequers at Christmas, but I will take his good wishes to apply wherever I am at Christmas. As he will know, we are obviously putting more money into social care and the various issues he is concerned about. I do agree that if there is any vote of no confidence in this House it should be in the Leader of the Opposition.
I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on the atrocity of Lockerbie. Mr Speaker, I wish you and everybody a merry Christmas. This is a time to be spent with friends and family, and I look forward to spending it on the Isle of Skye.
The British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors represent hundreds of thousands of businesses, and today they have said that their members are “watching in horror” at the actions of this Government—watching in horror. This Prime Minister and the Conservative party are not fit for government. With 100 days left on the clock, this Government have failed businesses, failed Members of this House and failed citizens right across the UK. Will the Prime Minister move aside and put a vote to the people?
First, what is causing concern for businesses is the fact that Parliament has not been able to come to a decision because people—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members, including SNP Members, pointing across the Chamber. They have a responsibility to deliver on Brexit for the British people as well, and it is high time they took that responsibility seriously. A deal that works for the UK, a deal that works for Scotland—that is what we are offering. It is supported by techUK, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scotch Whisky Association, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and Oil & Gas UK. They are supporting the deal, why isn’t he?
If the Prime Minister thinks the deal is worth putting to the House, why did she pull the vote? The SNP will not stand by and watch this Prime Minister wreck our economy and rob our citizens of their rights.
Yesterday, alongside other Opposition party leaders, the SNP tabled a motion of no confidence in this shambolic Government. When the official Opposition fail to step up, the real opposition to this Tory Government will step in. The Prime Minister is now running scared and denying time for our motion for fear of the result. Is the Prime Minister so frightened of defeat that she will deny Parliament another vote?
We have been clear that Parliament will have a meaningful vote on the deal, and we have set out when that will be. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Scottish economy. If he is concerned about the Scottish economy, why have the Scottish Government taken measures that mean people in Scotland earning £27,000 or more will be paying more tax than they would in the rest of the UK? That is not good for the Scottish economy, and it is not good for the people concerned.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed about this issue. The question of land reform was one I raised with President Ramaphosa when I visited South Africa in August. We recognise the concern there is and the need there is for land reform, but President Ramaphosa has consistently stated that violent and illegal land seizures will not be tolerated and that the process should be orderly within South African laws and take into consideration both the social and economic impact. We want to see a process that is fair and, while it recognises the need to deliver on land reform, does that in a way that is fair to all South African citizens.
Obviously, there are funding arrangements that apply across in terms of the decisions on these sums of money. The hon. Gentleman talks about disparities that occur. Of course funding per dwelling for the local authority in Durham is more than it is in other areas—it is more than it is in my Maidenhead constituency. So there are proper ways of looking at these issues and ensuring, as we are by putting more money into our local authorities, that the money is there for them to do the job they need to do.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I know that he has consistently campaigned on it. I understand that he raised it yesterday in a debate in Westminster Hall. As he said in his question, the events at HBOS Reading—at that branch—constituted criminal activity, and it is right that those responsible were brought to justice. Decisions about whether to launch financial services conduct investigations are the responsibility of the Financial Conduct Authority, as the independent regulator for the sector. I understand that it is currently conducting two investigations into the events at HBOS Reading, including into the bank’s communications with regulators following the discovery of the misconduct. Obviously, we look forward to the conclusions of those investigations. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to champion the needs and concerns of all those who found themselves recipients and victims of what was identified as criminal activity.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Jewish people should be able to feel safe and secure in this country. I never thought I would see the day when Jewish people living in this country questioned whether they should stay in this country. This is a terrible state of affairs that we have come to. There is no place for racial hatred in our society and it is important that we all take every step to tackle it. I was very pleased to host the reception for the recent groundbreaking Sara conference, organised by the hon. Gentleman and the all-party group on antisemitism, along with the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which looked at the twin evils of misogyny and antisemitism. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the need for us all—every one of us—to stand up as we go into the new year and say that 2019 will be the year when we stand up and say there is no place for antisemitism or racial hatred in our society.
Most Members of this House, on both sides, are likely to spend much of the recess working, as I know my right hon. Friend herself will. Given the cost of staffing and security, can my right hon. Friend think of any reason at all, other than grandstanding, for the early recall of Parliament? Will she, with our good wishes, continue her endeavours to seek a solution to what we all know is a very intractable problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we are able to conduct the discussions that are taking place with the European Union. We have been clear that we will bring the meaningful vote back to the House, and it is right that we have set out the timing on which that will be done. I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that when Members of this House leave Parliament as we go into recess, they do not just go away; they go to their constituencies and work in their constituencies and for their constituents. That is all too frequently forgotten by many, so I thank my hon. Friend for raising it and reminding us of it.
First, in the way that the hon. Gentleman put his question he is confusing or putting together homelessness and rough sleeping. These are different issues. Nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets of this country, which is why we are taking action against it. The hon. Gentleman raises the wider issue of homelessness. Why is it that we have this wider issue? It is because Governments, year after year, failed to build enough homes in this country. We need to ensure that we are building those homes. That is what this Government are doing. Last year we saw the number of homes being built at the highest level for any but one of the last 31 years. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that there is a variety of housing available to people in this country, it is this Government who have ensured that councils can borrow more to build more houses, and what did he and the Labour party do? They voted against it.
Twelve young people die each week in this country from sudden cardiac arrest, and that figure could be reduced significantly by the availability of more defibrillators. Will the Prime Minister therefore support my ten-minute rule Bill, which I will present to Parliament this afternoon, and which will require the mandatory installation of defibrillators in all schools, leisure centres and public buildings so that we can end this needless loss of life?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which we take extremely seriously. We are certainly committed to encouraging all schools to acquire defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment. The Department for Education has been working with the NHS to make these life-saving devices more affordable. They have also become easier to use in recent times. I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, but to those many people up and down the country who are campaigning and raising funds to ensure that there are defibrillators not just in schools but in other places, such as outside the hall in Holyport in my constituency. The defibrillator there was paid for by money raised by people in that village. We should commend such people for what they are doing, and we will continue to work to ensure that defibrillators are available.
There are many actions that the Government are taking in relation to the wider issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised about people saving lives over the winter—action is being taken in the NHS and elsewhere. Of course, for people to be able to heat their homes and to have confidence that they can afford to heat their homes, it is important that we help those who find themselves stuck on tariffs that are not right for them—that are higher than they should be. That is why our energy price cap is an important step in this. It will help 11 million households. On average, £76 a year will be saved and for some £130.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that demand for special educational needs is increasing throughout the country and that resources are thinly spread. Will she undertake in 2019 to make it an even higher priority for our Government to provide generous support for these very special children?
I thank my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. The need to ensure that we are providing for children with special educational needs is very important. We are already seeing £6 billion this year going towards children with complex special educational needs; that is the highest level on record. We are also investing £265 million through to 2021 to create new school places and improve the existing facilities for children with special educational needs and those with disabilities. But it is also about the programme we have with our free schools; 34 special schools have opened so far with a further 55 in the pipeline. That is providing for children with special educational needs and we will continue to do so.
While the Government are making contingency arrangements for no deal, of course, what they are working for is to get the agreement on the deal that has been negotiated with the European Union such that we leave with a good deal for the United Kingdom that ensures that jobs are increased in this country, as they have been over the last eight years under a Conservative Government.
Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all NHS, social care and emergency services staff who will be working over Christmas and the new year? Imagine how many more of them could be employed if we were not haemorrhaging billions preparing for a disastrous no deal. Could the Prime Minister end the uncertainty by ruling out no deal and will she also end the uncertainty please by publishing the long-term 10-year plan for the NHS before we break for Christmas?
My hon. Friend and indeed a number of others have raised this question of no deal and not wanting to have no deal. As I said earlier in answer to questions, there is a simple way to ensure that we do not leave with no deal, and that is to back the deal.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about people with motor neurone disease. I note his point and will inquire about these issues with the Department for Work and Pensions. I will look into the issue and respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing.
The Prime Minister is sending Parliament off for a two-week break at the very moment that we have a Brexit crisis and no decisions. Our communities want us here, representing them in Parliament. If we are not even back until 7 January, how can she possibly say that we are doing our job? Is not the message to the British people, “Crisis? What crisis?”
We are in a very simple situation, as I am sure my right hon. Friend understands. Members across the House raised some concerns specifically in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop in the withdrawal agreement. We are having further discussions with the European Union on that matter to achieve the political and legal assurances that will assuage those concerns, and then we will bring the vote back to this House.
Order. Let us have a bit of hush for a midlands Dame—Dame Caroline Spelman.
The Prime Minister was sent a letter on a cross-party basis from those of us who have manufacturing workers and those who support them in our constituencies, who are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on their jobs. Does she agree that the best way to avoid the unnecessary economic damage of leaving with no deal is to leave with a deal and protect those jobs?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The manufacturing industry has been clear with us that it wants the country to leave the European Union with a deal that helps to protect those jobs. That is exactly what we want to do, and that is the decision that Parliament will be faced with when we bring the meaningful vote back.
The hon. Lady is wrong. She says that I will not let Parliament have a vote; Parliament will have a vote when we have conducted those further discussions with the EU.
I am afraid that the Prime Minister is wrong when she says that the choice that will eventually face this House is the choice between her deal and no deal. I gently say that no responsible Conservative Prime Minister—we are, after all, the party of business—would be so reckless as to take us out of the European Union without a deal. Will the Prime Minister now commit to this—[Interruption.]
Order. Some junior Minister presumes to try to shout down the right hon. Lady. Not only unethical, Mr Opperman, but always—everywhere, without exception—doomed to fail.
It is a little dangerous as well, if I may say so.
When the Prime Minister’s deal fails, as we all know it will, will she then commit to allowing this House to consider all the various options that exist, other than her deal, by way of proper meaningful votes, as a matter of urgency, given that the clock is ticking down?
The House will be having the meaningful vote that it asked for. That meaningful vote will be on the deal that has been agreed and negotiated with the European Union, subject to the further work that is being undertaken in relation to the assurances. I recognise the concern about no deal raised by my right hon. Friend and other Members. I come back to the point that the only way to ensure that we do not leave with no deal is to ensure that we leave with a deal.
The Home Secretary is obviously on the Front Bench and has heard the hon. Lady’s question. I will ask him to respond to her.
The Prime Minister originally said that if we left the EU without a deal we would not pay it any money. She has more recently said that if we leave without a deal we would have to pay it some money. She must have taken some legal advice on this issue, as no British Prime Minister would commit billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money without finding out what our strict legal financial liability is. Given that, can she set out exactly what the legal advice is on how much money we would have to give the EU if we left without a deal, which sections of the EU treaties those financial liabilities stem from, and how much she would give over to the EU if we were to leave without a deal, as this is information that this House needs to know and the EU needs to know? I am a generous man—[Interruption.]
Order. I am not having the hon. Gentleman shouted down; he will complete his question.
I am a reasonable and generous man, so if the Prime Minister does not have that information to hand, then perhaps she would write to me after this session with the answers to those specific questions.
I do not have the answers to all of those questions straight to hand, and I will indeed write to my hon. Friend.
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he looks at previous research that has been done by the Migration Advisory Committee that shows that in certain economic circumstances the numbers of people coming to the United Kingdom from the European Union, and overall migration into the United Kingdom, did have an effect on people here already resident in the United Kingdom and their ability to get into the jobs market.
Mr Speaker, you have helpfully circulated an update on the behaviour in this place. This year, when we have been celebrating 100 years of women getting the vote, does my right hon. Friend think it is appropriate language to call people stupid women in this Chamber?
I think that everybody in this House, particularly on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this Chamber and to stand in this Chamber, and should therefore use appropriate language in this Chamber when they are referring to female Members.
May I join with others in wishing everybody a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year? As the Prime Minister ponders over Christmas what might be done to get her withdrawal agreement through this House, can I urge her to consider the necessary changes that need to be made—not just assurances—in order to get somewhere with any realistic prospect of actually winning that vote?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I would like to give him the reassurance that we will of course look at all the options that are available for dealing with the issues that have been raised.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
No, points of order come after statements, as the right hon. Gentleman is well aware. [Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Calm down! I do not need any advice from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). I understand that the point of order flows from the exchanges, and in those circumstances, as I have done on previous occasions, I will take the point of order—[Interruption.] No, I am taking the point of order from the right hon. Gentleman. I will be the judge of these matters.
Mr Speaker, you may not have seen it, but during the exchanges in Prime Minister’s questions, when the Leader of the Opposition sat down, he muttered words that were quite clearly visible, accusing the Prime Minister of being a “stupid woman”. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] Bearing in mind the booklet that you issued this week, and the words that the Leader of the Opposition said last September, would it not be appropriate for him to come back to the Chamber and apologise?
I am pleased to respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order. As he rightly surmised at the start of it, I saw no such thing. I am not making an allegation, and I am not denying or seeking to refute that of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot be expected to pronounce upon that which I did not see, which I did not hear and which was not witnessed by my advisers. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need any advice on how to respond to a point of order from the right hon. Gentleman, which is what I am doing.
What I say in response, with all courtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, who is perfectly entitled to have raised that point of order, is that it is incumbent upon all Members of this House to operate in accordance with its best conventions and to follow the conventions and courtesies. If a Member has failed to do so, that Member has a responsibility to apologise. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that. What he cannot, and I am sure does not, expect me to do is pronounce a verdict in a circumstance which I did not witness, in terms of either seeing anything or hearing anything, and neither did my advisers. I will leave it there. It is perfectly proper that the right hon. Gentleman raised the matter. I have responded to it, and there can be no “further to that point of order,” because I have—[Interruption.] Order.
There can be no “further to that point of order” on that matter, for the simple reason—as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges, with his nod of assent—that he has raised it with me, and I have responded to it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
Is it on an unrelated matter?
No, it is on this.
No. [Interruption.] I am not going to take lectures from Members. It is normal convention in this place and part of the conventions and courtesies of this House that when a matter has been addressed, we do not have repeat points of order on exactly the same—[Interruption.] Order. We do not have repeat points of order on exactly the same matter. [Interruption.] Order. I am perfectly prepared to take a point of order on the matter from the Leader of the House. We have heavy business today, some of which is Government statements, and with which we will in due course—preferably reasonably soon—need to proceed. I will happily take the right hon. Lady’s point of order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would just like to ask, after your finding that individuals who are found to have made unwelcome remarks should apologise, why it is that when an Opposition Member found that you had called me a “stupid woman”, you did not apologise in this Chamber.
No, no. [Interruption.] I will deal with the point. [Interruption.] I dealt with that matter months ago in remarks that I made to the House of Commons, to which the right hon. Lady in our various meetings since has made no reference, and which requires from the Chair today no elaboration whatsoever. She has asked the question. I dealt with it months ago. I have reiterated the rationale for the way in which I responded. The matter has been treated of, and I am leaving it there.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. With great respect to you, I have to say this. If it was one of my male colleagues on the Government Benches who had used that expression against a woman on the Opposition Front Bench, you would take action immediately. This is not acceptable. Please will you deal with it as you often do—in a fair way—but also from the point of view of women in this House, who are fed up with being abused by men over decades?
I am very happy to deal with it. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that if I witnessed an instance of the kind that has been alleged, I would deprecate it unreservedly. [Interruption.] It is no good people shaking their heads. I received assent to the proposition, which I think would command widespread assent, simply and logically that I cannot be expected to deprecate the behaviour of an individual that I did not witness. [Interruption.] Order. If the right hon. Lady—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Lady is asking me whether I deprecate without reservation the use of such language, yes, obviously I do, without any hesitation, but I cannot be expected to pronounce judgment in a particular case on a given individual when I was not privy to the circumstances. If she is asking me whether that language is unacceptable, it is.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I can see Members’ phones—clearly the evidence exists. If we bring it to you within the next two minutes, will you then take action? Again, I make the point that if a male on this side of the House had said this about a woman on the other side, I think you would.
The answer is—forgive me—that it is incumbent upon a Member who has erred and who has used inappropriate language and behaved improperly to come to the House—[Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] It is incumbent upon that person to recognise the misconduct and to apologise for it. [Interruption.] Order. If Members produce what they regard as evidence, of course it is reasonable—[Interruption.] If Members produce what they regard as evidence—[Interruption.] I am in the middle of responding.
Our word is evidence!
I ask the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) to have the courtesy to allow me to respond to the right hon. Lady’s point of order. If evidence is produced, it will be considered, and I will take professional advice, as fair-minded people would expect me to do.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you confirm that it is not acceptable parliamentary language to call a woman a “stupid woman” in this House? As regards the point of order from the Leader of the House, may I add the words “Me too”?
The answer is that I have already made the response to that point perfectly clear. Forgive me—I treat the hon. Lady with courtesy and respect, and she is perfectly entitled to raise a point of order, but of that point I have already treated.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In the leaflet you distributed, you make the point, rightly, that we are all honourable Members. Our word is therefore evidence. I saw it, Sir—I saw him say it.
All I—[Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Order. I am not seeking to refute what the hon. Gentleman is saying—[Interruption.] Order. I am simply saying I did not witness it. The Clerk of the House and the other Clerks at the Table did not witness it—[Interruption.] Order. I am sorry, I cannot be expected immediately—[Interruption.] Order. It is no good somebody waving something at me. I cannot be expected immediately to pronounce guilt or innocence. [Interruption.] No, no I cannot be expected—[Interruption.] What I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Order. I will deal with it in a moment. What I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman is that Members are responsible for their own conduct and should apologise if they have committed a misdemeanour—[Interruption.] It is no good a Member standing by the Chair and trying to show me something. I would say—[Interruption.] What I say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Order. What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Leader of the Opposition will have heard of the allegations that have been made—[Interruption.] He will have heard the allegations—[Interruption.] Order. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the light of those, chose to come to the House and to respond, I am sure that would be appreciated by the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the observations made by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and I hope I bow to no one in my wish to see the courtesies of this House observed, but do you believe that it is in order for what appears to be becoming almost an orchestrated riot to take place? [Interruption.]
Order. No, I am sorry. Hon. and—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. and right hon. Members have raised points of order, and they have been heard and they have been answered. The notion that the right hon. Lady stands to raise a point of order and is then shouted down—[Interruption.] Don’t “no” to me. That is exactly what an attempt was being made to achieve and it is not going to work.
Certainly, Mr Speaker, it does seem to me—and I have been in this House for some many years—that an attempt is presently being made to shout you down. There is much serious business before this House and I would be astonished if a single one of our constituents does not view these scenes with utter contempt.
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she has said.
Yes, of course I will come to the other Members.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is clear that this has raised some significant upset, certainly on the Government side and, I suspect, among some women—[Interruption.] The issue of the Leader of the Opposition being alleged to have called someone a “stupid woman”—to have called the Prime Minister of our country a “stupid woman”—has clearly caused high feeling. It is also clear that many hon. and right hon. Members have evidence to show you. I am really grateful that you are willing to look at that and then to take the advice that you need before coming back to the House. Can I ask within what timeframe you expect to be able to do so?
Yes. [Interruption.] Order. That is a very reasonable point of order. The answer is that I reiterate that I am happy to look at that evidence, if that evidence exists.
Oh, it does.
I do not need the hon. Gentleman to chunter—[Interruption.] I do not need the intervention of the hon. Gentleman, which does not advance matters. What I say to the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), with courtesy, is that I have heard her point of order. I am willing to consider that evidence and I would come back on the matter, as advised by the Clerk, after the two statements to the House. That seems perfectly reasonable. We have two statements to follow. If the evidence exists, it can be looked at, and a response can be provided and we can take the matter from there, but it can perfectly reasonably wait and should sensibly do so until the two statements have been delivered to the House and questioning has taken place on them.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for looking at the evidence—I think they call it VAR in football—but when you come back, would it be possible for the House authorities to have contacted the office of the Leader of the Opposition to make sure that he is present to hear your ruling?
Let us wait to see. If I have a ruling, it would be a great courtesy if the Leader of the Opposition were here, and I very much hope that he will be. I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Calling anybody a “stupid woman” is not acceptable. Can I endorse the words of the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson)—that also what is important, if we want to encourage a wide range of people to get involved in politics, is that we have cool heads, accessible processes and an honest way of proceeding? Right now, the most important thing for this House is to be able to go away and look at the evidence and get on with doing our job, so Mr Speaker, please can you tell us how we move on to the next bit of business?
The answer is—[Interruption.] Order. I do not need the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) continually ranting—[Interruption.] Order. Don’t argue the toss with me, Mr Hoare. I will call the points of order when I am —[Interruption.] I will call them when I am ready. What I say to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is that the best way in which to proceed is to move to the statements, and I will treat of further points of order in the circumstances. Do not forget, I was not aware of this alleged evidence, and it has been brought to light by points of order, but the sooner the points of order come to an end, the sooner we can proceed with the next business of the House of Commons.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You used the word—perfectly properly—“evidence” on a number of occasions. Certainly, I think a number of us will have seen clips—on a variety of Twitter feeds—and anybody who has a basic lip-reading skill will understand what the Labour leader had to say about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Sir, will you undertake to take into evidence things which people have tweeted out to show that—[Interruption.]
I will certainly take—[Interruption.] No, no, I have got the point.
And to show—
Come on, quickly.
And indeed to take the television footage taken by the officials of this place.
Yes. I do not honestly think that added much, frankly. I think the commitment was pretty clear, but yes, I am very happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with the assurance that he seeks.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have the utmost respect for your position and the Chair. If you look at what has been put forward in evidence and you come back with a judgment, would you please call the Leader of the Opposition back to the Chamber so that we can hear the full evidence of what has been put forward?
I think I rather indicated that I expected that to happen, so if the hon. Gentleman seeks the assurance that I would expect the Leader of the Opposition to be here, the answer is yes.
I am saving the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford up—it would be a pity to squander him.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. When you have seen the video replay—and thank God for video replays—and you decide to come back to the House, do you have the power to call the Leader of the Opposition back to make sure that he is here to face us?
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that, technically, I do not have that power, but I think it reasonable to suppose in the circumstances that the Leader of the Opposition would return to the Chamber. I think that is an entirely reasonable assumption—[Interruption.] It is not for me to get into that until the evidence has been assessed, but it is reasonable to suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would return to the Chamber.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not taking part in an “orchestrated riot”, but I would like politely to ask a question. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) was quite right that in these circumstances: you should consult the video referee, and I think you will find that the video evidence is overwhelming. Earlier, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made a very powerful point at Prime Minister’s questions about antisemitism, and there was a great “Hear, hear!” around the Chamber. None of us in any part of the House would countenance an antisemitic statement—particularly made at the Dispatch Box of the Commons. If we are not going to have antisemitic statements, we cannot have misogynistic statements either.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman 100%. I agree with him—for the avoidance of doubt and benefiting by repetition—100%.
If we have concluded the points of order, of which it is pretty clear that I have attempted to treat in detail, we come now to the first of the two ministerial statements.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the UK’s future border and immigration system after we leave the EU.
We all heard the public’s concerns about immigration in the run-up to the EU referendum. These were concerns held by many voters on both sides of the debate. The result of that referendum was clear: the UK will be leaving the European Union on the 29 March 2019. This means we can end freedom of movement so that, for the first time for more than 40 years, we will be able to say who can and who cannot come into this country.
This is an historic moment, but let us be clear. The United Kingdom has a proud history of being an open and welcoming nation, and this will not change. As the son of immigrant parents, I know full well the contribution they, like many other migrants, made to the community I grew up in. We recognise and value the contribution of immigration and the contribution it has made to our society, our culture, our economy and our communities, and this cannot be over-stressed. For example, there is how it has helped to deliver vital public services. It has brought new perspectives, expertise and knowledge, stimulating growth and making us all the more the tolerant, outward-looking nation that we are today.
Britain is going to stay open for business. We will continue to welcome talented migrants from every corner of the globe. We have been clear in saying to the 3 million EU nationals already here, “We value hugely the contribution that you have made to this country. Deal or no deal, we want you to stay, and we will protect your rights.” The future system is about making sure immigration works in the best interests of the UK. We are absolutely not closing our doors. We are simply making sure that we have control over who comes through them, ensuring, as we committed to do in our manifesto, that we are able to bring annual net migration down to more sustainable levels.
Today, we have published a White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals for doing this through a single, skills-based immigration system that will seize the unique opportunities enabled by the end of free movement. Copies are available for right hon. and hon. Members in the Vote Office. I would like to highlight to the House the key proposals and principles in it.
First, free movement will come to an end. Tomorrow, we will introduce the immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) Bill to implement this. It will make European economic area and Swiss nationals and their family members subject to UK immigration control, and it will protect the status of Irish nationals. This means that in the future everyone other than British and Irish citizens will need to get UK permission before they can come here.
Secondly, there will be a single immigration system for all nationalities. The existing automatic preference for EU citizens will end. This approach will give everyone the same chance, regardless of where they are from—levelling the playing field to welcome the most talented workers from anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, this will be a skills-based system, giving priority to those with the skills we need. We are taking this approach to ensure that we can attract the brightest and the best people to the UK—those who will help our economy flourish. This follows advice that has been commissioned by the Government from the independent Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of European migration on the UK economy and society. We believe this is fair, and it will help drive up wages and productivity across our economy.
Following these three principles, we are acting to make the future immigration system work for those coming to our country, for businesses, for our public services and for the UK as a whole. Our approach will maintain protections for British workers while cutting bureaucracy. Fundamental to this will be a new route for skilled workers to ensure that employers can access the talent that they need to compete on the world stage. There will be no cap on numbers and no requirement for the highest skilled workers to undertake a resident labour market test, and there will be a minimum salary threshold.
We are also creating a time-limited short-term workers route to ensure businesses have the staff that they need to fill jobs, as they adapt to a new immigration system. We will ask the MAC to keep this scheme under review, so that it ensures a smooth transition. This route will be open to seasonal and low-skilled workers, along with high-skilled workers who need to come to the UK for longer than the current business visitor visa rules allow. Those who arrive under this scheme will have no rights to access public funds, to settle or to bring in dependants. The White Paper sets out our initial proposals to allow these short-term workers to come to the UK for 12 months at a time, followed by a year-long cooling-off period to prevent long-term working. We will be engaging extensively with businesses and with stakeholders on the length of the stay and the cooling-off period to make sure that we get this right.
These proposals will give protection to British workers, but we have recognised that immigration alone cannot be the solution, so we will continue as a Government, working in partnership with business, to invest in and to improve the productivity and skills of the UK workforce.
Our world-class universities will also benefit from the proposed new system. There will be no limits on the number of international students who will come here, and we continue to encourage them to come and study here. We will make it easier for graduates to stay and to work. This will widen the talent pool for businesses and boost economic growth.
Our plans are about opening Britain up for business, rather than creating new red tape. The future immigration system will be quick and easy to use. We will introduce a streamlined application process for those who are visiting, coming to work or coming to study, and this will use the very latest technology. This will improve the experience visitors and travellers have when they are crossing the border. We will also make it possible for more people to use e-gates. At the same time, we will improve security at the border by introducing an electronic travel authorisation scheme and phasing out the use of insecure national identity cards.
We are proposing a single, skills-based immigration system that will be fit for the future—one that is flexible to accommodate the trade deals that we agree with the EU and with other countries. It will operate from 2021, and it will be phased in to give individuals, businesses and the Government the time needed to adapt. This means that individuals do not need to make immediate changes and that businesses do not need to rush through plans based on guesswork about the future system.
The immigration White Paper outlines the proposals for the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation. However, it is important to note that it is not the final word; rather, it is the starting point of a national conversation on a future immigration system. I am pleased to announce that the Government will be launching a year-long programme of engagement across the UK to ensure that a wide range of views are heard.
I am confident all the measures that have been outlined today will ensure that the UK continues to flourish outside the EU; that the future immigration system is geared towards controlling who can come here and for what purpose, reducing net migration, while ensuring the brightest and the best can work and study here; and that it will boost our economy and benefit the British people. We are building a fair and sustainable immigration system that answers the concerns people have rightly had about free movement—an immigration system that is designed in Britain, made in Britain and serves our national interest. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement.
As the whole House knows, since the 2016 referendum politics has been convulsed by the debate about Brexit, and we have seen ever more heightened convulsions in recent days. At the heart of the debate, as far as many of our constituents are concerned, have been migration issues. That is why it is a disgrace that it has taken the Government so long to produce this long-promised White Paper. It is almost a year late, and this is entirely because of internal disputes in the Cabinet.
The whole House knows that when we leave the single market, freedom of movement falls. The Labour party set that out in our manifesto, and it remains our position. Then there will be an urgent need to fashion a new and, we hope, fairer immigration system, but the important thing is that, going forward, we do not base the new immigration system on some of the myths of the past. The whole House heard the Prime Minister say that the Government were still committed to reducing migration to tens of thousands—a target that has never been met, will never be met, and is a pretext for anti-immigrant measures—but many Members will have heard the Home Secretary on the radio today, repeatedly refusing to commit himself to the tens of thousands target. So which is it? Where do the Government stand? Will they continue with a bogus and unachievable target, or will they genuinely try to shape an immigration system that meets the needs of the society?
If the Home Secretary is allowed to abandon the commitment to a formal target in the tens of thousands, that would be welcome. That target was a purely political device, designed to stress the Government’s intent to crack down on immigration when the Conservatives felt under pressure from UKIP, but the House will wait to see what his attitude to targets means in practice. The danger is that he will abandon formal adherence to targets in principle, but that the Home Office—particularly hearing, as it will have heard, what the Prime Minister has to say—will continue to function in the same way, with all the distortions, all the unfairness and all the inefficiencies that arbitrary targets lead to.
I support a single immigration system for all nationalities. To my certain knowledge, nothing drove pro-leave sentiment among voters of Commonwealth origin more than the sense that they were disadvantaged in relation to immigration compared with EU nationals. So, if Brexit produces nothing else, it ought to produce a system that moves away from that unfairness. We should be a country that treats the doctor from Poland in the same way as a doctor from Pakistan.
Is the Home Secretary aware of the concern that the uncertainty about the Government’s intentions and the delays in producing a White Paper have produced among EU citizens, their friends, their families and their employers? Is he able to tell us when we will know what the minimum salary threshold will be? There is much concern that the minimum salary threshold will be at £30,000, which would actually rule out healthcare workers, social care workers and technicians, and be very damaging to both the private and public sector. When will we know what that threshold will be?
As for the arrangement that the Home Secretary set out in the statement about time-limited temporary short-term workers who have no rights to access public funds, settle or bring dependants—they would come for 12 months at a time, followed by a year-long cooling-off period—that might suit some sectors, notably agriculture, but it is a very alarming prospect for most employers because it will not allow them to establish the continuity of employment that is vital for delivering their services, whether in the private or the public sector.
Does the Home Secretary really think that the Home Office has the capacity to change its established ways of working and its unofficial targets, which it was clearly working towards and helped contribute to the Windrush scandal? Does he accept that on immigration, he cannot have it both ways? He cannot talk about an outward-looking, global Britain and meeting the needs of society and employers, while being part of a Government with a rhetoric of cracking down on migration—a rhetoric that, I might add, implicitly denigrates the parents of many of us in this House. He cannot be part of a Government with photocalls at airports to stress how they are cracking down on migrants. He cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to speak for a Government who are genuinely outward-looking, genuinely global in their outlook, he needs to move away definitively from that anti-migrant rhetoric and he needs to take steps to dismantle the hostile environment, much of which was implemented under this Government.
Conservative Members may say that the Labour party in government sometimes brought forward immigration legislation that was unfair and unsustainable. I should know—I voted against all of it. So please do not come to the Dispatch Box and make that point. Many of us who sit on the Front Bench voted against those items of legislation again and again. The question for this Government is not what previous Governments did, but what they are going to do. On immigration, rhetoric about global Britain is not enough; they need to dismantle the hostile environment, and they need to create a system that is at the same time fair to migrants, fair to employers and fair to the society.
The Windrush scandal upset society as a whole and Members on both sides of the House, but it was not an aberration; it was a consequence of a way to look at migrants that was essentially negative, which was reflected, sadly, in legislation passed under more than one Government. The system that the Home Secretary has set out in his statement will not meet the needs of migrants for certainty. It will not meet the needs of employers for a stable, skilled workforce. Above all, this statement, although it may read well to people who want to see migration cracked down on, does not meet the need of the hour. Brexit offers, if it offers nothing else, the chance to put in place an efficient—no one that deals with the Home Office nowadays can say that it is universally efficient—fair and non-discriminatory immigration system that meets the needs of the society. We should seize that opportunity. I believe that this White Paper statement falls far short of that.
First, I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and for the conversation that we had earlier in the day. We might not always agree on issues, including the approach to immigration that is set out in the White Paper, but she has always approached these issues and debate with courtesy and respect. That is great to see and, sadly, not an attitude shown by every member of the Opposition Front-Bench team, as we have seen a moment ago, but certainly she has always shown that. I may not see her again across the Dispatch Box before the end of the year, so I wish her and her team a happy Christmas.
The right hon. Lady asks a number of important questions. First, she rightly emphasises that we should make it clear that, whatever happens when it comes to immigration, it is fair to say that all parties are united in trying in their way to make sure that we remain an open and welcoming country to migrants from across the world who come to the UK to work, to study or to visit, and it is great to have a Parliament that almost universally accepts that. She, like me, is the child of first-generation migrants. Her parents, like mine and countless others, have made a huge contribution to this country and making it what it is, and we should all celebrate that and try to demonstrate that more as the kind of thing that we want to see in our country. I hope that, as the right hon. Lady and her colleagues have time to digest what is in the White Paper—I appreciate that it has just been published—they have the time to look at it in a way that convinces them that it demonstrates that openness.
The right hon. Lady raised a number of other issues. She used a phrase about slaying the myths of the past. One important aspect of the White Paper is that we have listened to the evidence. There is still more listening to do, which is why I said at the end of my statement that there is work to be done over the coming year to ensure that we engage with other political parties, devolved authorities, businesses and others. The starting point for that evidence was the work done by the Migration Advisory Committee, which is completely independent of Government. The MAC undertook a detailed report. It went to every part of the UK to listen and listen hard. It presented its evidence and we published that in full in September. Much of that—not exclusively—is reflected in the White Paper.
The right hon. Lady asked specifically about targets. We are committed to the Conservative party manifesto for this Parliament, but let me be clear: this is about the future immigration system. It is about emphasising control, but bringing net migration down to more sustainable levels. There are no targets in the White Paper.
I very much welcome the right hon. Lady’s support for the principle at the heart of the new system, which is that it is about an individual’s skills and what they have to contribute, not their nationality. There will be no preference to any particular nationality. To take her example, if a doctor or an engineer is coming to the UK it should not matter to us if that doctor or engineer is from India or France. What matters is what they have to contribute. That is at the heart of the proposals and she is right to highlight that principle.
The right hon. Lady asked me about salary thresholds. This is for the high-skilled worker route. The independent Migration Advisory Committee, based on its evidence, suggests a salary threshold of £30,000. What we have said is that we have listened, but that we need to do more work and have more extensive engagement before we come to a final figure. It will not be set in stone at £30,000 at this point. We will have to have more engagement to ensure that we get it right and come up with a threshold that we believe works for all parts of the UK.
The right hon. Lady asked me about the short-term workers route. One reason we included that in the White Paper is a recognition that, as we move away from freedom of movement, which I think all colleagues see as a very easy system to use with hardly any paperwork or bureaucracy involved, to a new system where everyone requires permission, it is right that we have a transition. The short-term workers scheme is a part of that transition, having a more balanced approach and recognising the needs of businesses across the country.
Lastly, the right hon. Lady talked about being open and welcoming, and about the Home Office learning lessons and changing its approach where appropriate. She will know that earlier this year we made changes to the tier 2 system, under the current immigration system, to remove doctors and nurses from the cap. She also rightly raised the Windrush crisis. All year, there has been a process to learn lessons from what went wrong. She is right to highlight that the Windrush problems began under a previous Government and continued under this Government. They should not have happened under any Government. It is right that we learn the lessons. Wendy Williams is working on an independent report. It will be a thorough independent report and she will go wherever she needs to to get to the evidence. That will be an important moment for us to all learn lessons.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Obviously, I have not had a chance to read the White Paper, but much of what he said today is moving in the right direction. I hope he agrees with me that one of the problems with discussing migration over the past two decades has been that any time it is mentioned, people immediately accuse those who ask about reducing it of being racist. We have to bring an end to that level of debate, which has led to much of the frustration to which the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) referred earlier, about the way the debate has been conducted. As one of those who voted leave, it was clear to me throughout that people did not want an end to migration; what they wanted was controlled migration. That is what I hope my right hon. Friend delivers today.
As far as I can see, the core bit that has caused the greatest problem has been the immediate access to social security benefits for people coming from the European Union. That has caused a big problem. Many businesses have, I am afraid, abused the process, getting them to come in and live in often quite squalid conditions, driving wages down for those who have much higher costs. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to deal with that issue to make sure that that is not a way of bringing in cheap labour? When he gets lectured by businesses and by others who say the health service cannot cope, will he remind them that for the past two decades—[Interruption.] This is a very important point.
The right hon. Gentleman’s point may be important, but it does need to be framed in the form of a question—briefly.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that businesses have failed to invest in training and skilling the domestic population, with the result that only 15% of those who start life at entry level work will ever move beyond entry level work?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the points he raises. First, he is absolutely right to emphasise the need for control. That was clearly one of the messages of the referendum result. It is about control. Like any other major developed economy, there is no reason why Britain should not have control while also being fair in its approach to immigration. On access to benefits, the White Paper sets out—I appreciate he has not had the opportunity to look at it in any detail yet—that on the short-term workers route, for example, there will be no right to public benefits and no dependants’ rights. This is a system that many other countries have followed. It is a fair approach both to people who come to our country to work and to the domestic population.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement and the Immigration Minister for taking the time to speak to me earlier today.
The proposals will make us all poorer economically, socially and in terms of opportunity. They signify not a “global Britain”, but an inward-looking Government and a Prime Minister still obsessed with net migration targets. When the Government talk about taking back control of our borders, what they mean is ripping up mutual rights to live, study, work and enjoy family life across Europe, depriving future generations of the amazing opportunities that our generations have enjoyed. Free movement has been brilliant for our people, and brilliant for Scotland and the UK, too.
When the Government talk about a skills-based system, they mean nothing of the sort. It is, to all intents and purposes, a salary-based system. We are talking about the carers, key NHS workers, lab technicians, researchers, bricklayers, and many other essential workers that this country needs. So why are the Government intent on slashing the family, social security and settlement rights of workers coming here under that income threshold? The proposals are degrading for workers, bad for employers and bad for community cohesion.
Why is the Home Secretary intent on forcing businesses to endure the expense, red tape and dubious reliability of a Home Office immigration system, when free movement has worked perfectly well? This is the opposite of cutting bureaucracy. Will the Home Secretary confirm the revenue that this will cost the Treasury? Will he confirm what the analysis shows about lost growth to the economy?
Finally, these announcements will be utterly disastrous for Scotland—socially and economically. Has the Home Office modelled the effect they will have on Scotland’s population, economy and public finances? Does the Home Secretary seriously think that reducing EU migration to Scotland, possibly by over 80%, is a good thing? If this is the best the Government can do, there is no better illustration of why we need decisions on immigration to be in Scotland’s hands.
First, the hon. Gentleman claims that having one’s own immigration system and ending freedom of movement will make the country poorer. He should perhaps focus his attention on the number of other large developed countries—Australia, Canada, United States—that have their own independent immigration system. They are not poorer because of that. I do not think his logic follows at all.
The hon. Gentleman argues for continuing freedom of movement. He should cast his mind back to just over two years ago when the people of the United Kingdom voted to end it. Scottish citizens are members of the United Kingdom. They voted to end it. Lastly, he raises the issue of the salary threshold. When determining skill levels, it is perfectly reasonable that one of the factors to be taken into account is salary. It should not be based exclusively on that. If he cares to read the Migration Advisory Committee’s report from September, it will provide him with a lot more evidence for why this is a perfectly reasonable approach.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He has addressed the central conundrum of immigration policy, which is how to ensure the necessary controls on the numbers while also attracting not just our fair share, but—preferably—more than our fair share of the brightest and the best from around the world to help our economy and our communities. One issue, however, which I hope he will address, is that some of the brightest and the best are not necessarily in high-paid professions. How will his new system deal with that? I am thinking in particular of sectors such as social care. We want the best and brightest people from around the world, but many in those sectors will probably not be earning over the salary threshold. How will we continue to attract those people?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who speaks from experience as a former Immigration Minister. He asks a perfectly good question about how we can continue to attract the best and the brightest, especially if we are focused too rigidly on salary. One way we intend to do that in the new system is by taking a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee on shortage occupation lists. We will take that further, make it more dynamic and responsive, and review it more regularly. That will allow us, as it does in the current non-EEA immigration system, but much more effectively, to set lower salary thresholds for shortage occupations.
I will look very closely at what the Home Secretary has set out in the Immigration White Paper. We have heard many different stories about what it will include, but I am not sure we can entirely believe all of them, given the disputes we have seen between him and the Prime Minister.
I want to ask the Home Secretary a very specific question about immigration enforcement at our border in relation to no-deal planning. The permanent secretary of his Department told us on the Home Affairs Committee just a few weeks ago:
“It is not part of our contingency planning to deploy the armed forces.”
I pressed him on this, and he said again:
“It is not part of our no-deal planning that we would deploy the armed forces, for example, at the border.”
Was the permanent secretary misleading the Committee, or was it a surprise to the Department this morning when it was told that the Army could be deployed at the border for immigration enforcement and other purposes?
Of course, there is no-deal planning going on in the Home Office, as there is in every other Department. We do not expect it, but we need to plan for all contingencies. We are hiring more Border Force officers, and there will also be a taskforce, which is already being set up, and some of the new funding for those Border Force officers has already been announced. As for the use of soldiers, whether reservists or regulars, there is a broader plan—it is not part of the Home Office’s plan—to have up to 3,500 soldiers available for civil work as and when they are needed.
In my judgment, there is a great deal to welcome in the Home Secretary’s statement, but will he bear in mind that it is completely inappropriate to pinch doctors and medical staff from developing countries? It is a form of reverse aid and it is quite wrong. When it does happen, will he discuss with the International Development Secretary using part of the development budget to replace such staff on a two for one basis, and should we not grow the doctors and medical staff we need in Britain in Britain? In that context, should we not welcome the increase in the last year in the number of doctors trained from 6,000 to 7,500?
My right hon. Friend, who speaks from experience, raises a very important point. Of course, we cannot control who makes an application to come to the UK, or who sponsors them, but still he raises a very important point about other ways of helping or reducing concern in this area. One way is certainly through our international aid budget. He raises a second issue about doing everything we can to train more doctors and nurses here in the UK.
Will the Home Secretary accept that the Home Office and Border Force already struggle to cope and that over the next three years they will have to deal with 3 million extra cases of EU citizens? How does he expect them to cope with this new temporary worker visa scheme, which will involve tens of thousands of employers, many of them contacting the Home Office for the first time, with a 12-month churn of staff? Far from bringing back control, will this not bring chaos?
I will give three answers to the right hon. Gentleman. First, the settlement scheme for the 3 million-plus EU citizens, which he mentions, is being separately staffed—more staff will be hired as the scheme properly rolls out—and much of the extra funding has already been allocated. Secondly, we will make the best use of technology—for example, we are expanding e-gate usage to eight other nations, which will help a lot. Lastly, the new system does not actually come into place until 2021, which gives us more than enough time to prepare.
I seek clarification on three points. First, the Home Secretary talked about this coming in from 2021. When exactly does he mean? Does he mean January? Secondly, can he confirm to employers in my constituency that in the meantime there will be no change to the existing processes, systems and forms they have to use for non-UK workers, whether under the EU or the non-EU worker schemes? Finally, if he is to have a year-long public consultation, that will take us into 2019, and then obviously the Government will want time to look at the results in 2020. Can he assure me that businesses in my community will not suddenly be given a cut-off point on the salary just months before a new system is introduced in 2021?
First, the plan is to introduce the new system from January 2021—so from the end of the implementation period. Of course, if that period is extended—this assumes a deal scenario—it could be later. My right hon. Friend asked for an assurance that there will not be any change to employer checks between now and when the system comes in. The changes here will only come in from 2021, so there will be no changes to employer checks, including for EU citizens. She also asked for an assurance that the salary threshold will not be set suddenly. We will make sure in our work that it is not a sudden change and that businesses have time to prepare.
The Home Secretary was right to pay tribute to his parents. His father, a bus driver, and my mother, who worked at Camden Town tube station, belong to a generation that took so little and gave so much. They were like today’s careworkers, security guards and fruit pickers. He knows that they did not earn anything like £30,000 in the prices of the ’70s and ’80s. How will he look his children in the eyes and say he slammed behind him the door of opportunity that enabled him and me to sit in our seats today?
The door was closed on my parents and people from those Commonwealth countries in 1968 by a Commonwealth citizenship Act brought in by a Labour Government—so it was a Labour Government who closed that door. [Interruption.] This is important. It is important that the right hon. Gentleman has all the facts in front of him. Going forward, it is important that we continue to provide opportunities for people with multi-skill levels to come and help in the UK, to settle and to study, which is why we have presented a system here that is focused on high-skilled workers but which, as he will have heard me say earlier, also includes a short-term workers scheme, and there will be other routes as well.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on attracting high-skilled workers, but is it not true that in recent years the British economy has been thirsty for new labour at all skills levels and that we want that to continue? This is particularly true for those parts of the UK where the local population is getting older and where freedom of movement has been a really good and important thing. Will he please make an effort to take evidence from all parts of the UK so as to understand how the local skills and labour markets operate and to strike the right balance with our new policy?
My right hon. Friend has emphasised the importance of listening to those in all parts of the United Kingdom and ensuring that the new system works for them all. In that regard, there is a commitment in the White Paper to consider, for example, extending the shortage occupation list to Wales. Scotland already has one, but Wales does not. That is just one demonstration of how we can ensure that the system works for every part of the UK.
The Home Secretary mentioned a streamlined application process for visitors. Can he confirm that the millions of visitors who come to this country from the EU every year will in future have to apply for, and receive, a visa or a visa waiver? If so, how much will it cost them?
Under the new system, all people entering the United Kingdom will require a form of visa or visa waiver. That will probably not start in 2021, because it will take longer to develop the system fully and introduce it. However, the electronic travel authorisation scheme, which I also mentioned in my statement, will apply to all visitors. The right hon. Gentleman asked about cost; we have not yet determined what the cost of the ETA scheme would be.
As a first-generation immigrant, I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. I feel that the White Paper represents a move from the 20th century to a much better future immigration system. I especially thank the Home Secretary for removing the annual limits on work visas and on international students: I lobbied for both on behalf of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Anglia Ruskin university, which serve my constituency. Will he elaborate on how removing the work visa cap in particular will give businesses certainty?
As my hon. Friend will know, under the current non-EEA system there is a cap of 20,700 a year, with some exemptions. The work of the Migration Advisory Committee has shown that such a cap is not in our economic interests, and that it is far better to control numbers in other ways that are more reflective of economic needs. I think that removing the cap will lead to an economic boost, while also making it easier for students who have studied at our great universities to stay on if they can find a job at the right level. I think that that is very welcome too.
The Home Secretary says that he will protect the rights of EU citizens who are currently here. Does that include the continued right to work even after they have left the country for a period before returning? The Home Secretary also says that he is against increased red tape. Will he therefore publish, as part of the consultation, a full impact assessment of the cost to the public purse and to businesses of whatever processes he sets up to implement the short-term visas?
Under the EU settlement scheme, there will be a requirement for plenty of time—two years—to be provided for individuals to register, however long they have been here. Even if they have been here for only a day, their rights will be guaranteed. My understanding is that once they have registered they will lose their rights if they leave for more than five years, but within that period there is no change.
This White Paper has been even more delayed than a Southern railway train, but at least it has arrived. I welcome many of the Home Secretary’s comments, but can he explain why, in view of the move to a skills-based system and shortage occupation measures, we still need a net migration target below 100,000 or any other figure, given that nothing can be done about one side of the equation in any case? Can he also confirm that he would prefer to remove students from that net migration figure altogether, given his welcome comments about students coming to this country to invent, innovate and employ?
My hon. Friend asked me very recently whether we would publish the White Paper before the meaningful vote, and we have. I think I told him that we would try our best.
My hon. Friend asked about targets. There are no targets in the White Paper; the system is designed to help to bring down net migration overall, but it sets no targets. As for the question of students, we continue to look at it, and I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to do some more work.
The United Kingdom has a long tradition of observing the 1951 refugee convention. Are the Government currently minded to lift the ban on asylum seekers working in the UK?
We are committed to the 1951 convention, and I think that that commitment is shared across the House. As for the specific issue of work, it is one that we have been considering.
What are the implications of the UN agreement on migration that we have signed in Marrakesh?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is taking the lead on that, but as it is a completely non-legally binding agreement, there are no direct implications for the UK.
Immigration has benefited the UK, and the people who have come here, whether from Europe or from the rest of the world, have overwhelmingly come to work hard and make a positive contribution to this country. On the question of numbers, what is the Home Secretary’s estimate of the effect on immigration from the rest of the world of restricting immigration from the rest of Europe?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the benefits of immigration for the UK, and I hope he agrees that my statement made that clear, but when we talk about benefits it is important for us to take a more holistic look at the impact on the UK and at what is in our national interest. In some cases, low-wage labour from abroad cannot become a substitute for investment in the upskilling of domestic labour or for improvements in domestic productivity.
The Home Secretary will know that there is a dissonance between what liberal political establishments want and what the people want: that was made clear by the result of the referendum and the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe. Can he convince the people that the subtle change of language from “tens of thousands” to “more sustainable levels” does not mean that he is no longer absolutely committed to controlling immigration? After all, many people wonder why, when he has been in charge of immigration from outside the EU, we have so palpably failed to control it. Does he realise that he must convince people that we have a strong immigration policy, because otherwise we will once again see the rise of a right-wing populist party in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of the importance of control. One of the clear messages from the EU referendum was that people wanted to see control of our borders, and the new system will provide just that. Under this system, everyone who enters the UK will need permission, and that will give us a level of control that we have not had for four decades.
I welcome the announcement of the electronic travel authorisation scheme, because it was suggested by the Labour Front Bench of which I was part in 2011. How much does the Home Secretary believe the development costs of the scheme will be, and will he monitor people who are leaving as well as those who are entering?
First, the scheme will give us information about people entering and leaving. As for the costs, we have only just made a decision internally to proceed with the scheme. There will be further information as it becomes available.
As a director—or a member—of the board of a university, I realise how much researchers from around the world contribute, but their salaries are often relatively low. Will the Home Secretary consider not introducing a salary cap but concentrating on skills, given that skills and salaries do not often equate?
My hon. Friend makes an important point; my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration was at the Francis Crick Institute this morning, and one of the things she was rightly hearing about was just this issue. In fact the Migration Advisory Committee has identified this issue as well; it has talked also about lab technicians, many of them working in our universities, and many of whom do not earn as much as £30,000. We are taking this point into account.
I find it terribly depressing that the Prime Minister is still sticking with this language of “tens of thousands”. It is completely undeliverable in relation to outside the EU let alone within the EU. In particular I am conscious that the Rhondda would never have been built if it had not been for miners coming from Ireland; we would never have had frothy coffee and ice cream if it had not been for the Italians who came to work in the mines; we would not have doctors keeping us healthy if it had not been for the Indian subcontinent; and today we would not have enough careworkers if it were not for people coming from Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Spain. So I hope the Home Secretary will manage to change the whole rhetoric and tone behind the Government’s approach to this, and can he also just tell us where exactly we have got to on tier 1 investor visas, which the Government announced they were going to suspend two weeks ago and then announced they were suspending the suspension six days later?
First, I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not mention in his list pakoras and samosas from India and Pakistan; I would have thought that would have been at the top of his list.
I am not a fan.
Well, I am. [Interruption.] And so are those on the Labour Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, however, and I hope that as he has the time to look at the White Paper on the new immigration system he will see that it is still a demonstration of how this country is open to talent from across the world but with more control than we have had before, and of how we can do that in a way that brings net migration down to a more sustainable level, which is good for all our communities. It is important to have public confidence in the level of immigration. The hon. Gentleman also asked about tier 1 visas. They are still available as we speak, but we have set out a number of reforms that we need to put in place to make them more effective.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today as a sensible approach with a single system based on people’s skills. However, does he agree that post-Brexit we will need to attract the brightest and best from across the world to help meet the needs of our country and economy while also always being mindful of the pressures on our public services caused by population numbers?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point: clearly, the higher the population of a country and the more it rises, the more pressure there is on public services. Some communities have seen a very rapid change in population, sometimes to do with high levels of migration to that community. We must keep that in mind; it was one of the reasons why so many people voted to have control of our immigration system, and we must balance that against the economic needs we have to meet through migration.
I am heartbroken. This immigration Bill could have been an opportunity to show the world what an outward-looking nation we really are, and the proud tradition that we have of challenging racism in all its forms. Instead, it seems to be taking a very unhappy and unfortunate turn, with language such as “cooling-off” periods for people who come here to work. There is a global forced migration crisis, so why, on top of all the other things hon. Friends have mentioned, has the Home Secretary failed even to consider that this might have been an opportunity to reform the way this country responds to refugees?
I am not sure that the hon. Lady has read the same White Paper that I have.
It is absolutely right that the people of this country want to see a firm but fair immigration position, so what will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the rules are operated fairly not only for people coming from the EU, but, more importantly, for our Commonwealth partners, in particular from the Indian subcontinent?
My hon. Friend raises the important issue of fairness based on what someone has to contribute, rather than their nationality. During the referendum campaign many British citizens were concerned that family and friends in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the British Commonwealth might not be getting the same treatment or access that others were getting because of the preference that existed through the freedom of movement system. That is changing under this new system, and, when all is taken into account, this system is much fairer in its approach by focusing on skills rather than nationality.
The UK fashion and textile industry contributes £32 billion to the economy but it thrives on a global pool of talent. As chair of the all-party group on textile and fashion I have heard concerns from the industry about the impact of any new measures on freedom of movement. I am sure the Home Secretary would suit Katharine Hamnett’s new t-shirt stating “Fashion Hates Brexit”, but what will he do to reassure this valuable industry that it will remain accessible and open to international talent?
First, the hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of the fashion and textile industry and more generally our creative industries, where the UK is a powerhouse, and one of the things we need to do to keep it that way is make sure it can attract top talent from across the world. There is much in this White Paper that will help to achieve that, and it is also an area where in some cases in the past we have looked at having special visas for entry, including for exhibitions and visitors, and we will continue to look at such things.
The short-term workers route mentioned in the statement will not address the issue that I and Members across the House have raised about access for non-EEA labour on inshore vessels. I have a constituent, Mr Scott in Lossiemouth, who fears he will have to sell his boat and his business unless the Government address this urgently. What can the Home Secretary do to address this issue for Mr Scott and others in Moray, Scotland and across the UK?
My hon. Friend has perhaps raised two points: one is the future immigration system, where I think—I am happy to speak to him in detail about this afterwards—the short-term route can help address the issue he raises. I also detect a more immediate issue, however, that is not just for post-2021 and later, but is more immediate, because he mentioned non-EEA and I am also happy to discuss that with him, too.
The Home Secretary talks about fairness, but in reality the Home Office displays a combination of hostility and inefficiency. Families are split up because visas have been agreed but not issued, and in my local case a Liverpool doctor who has worked in this country for many years after being trained here is having to go back to her country of origin because of a failure in the Home Office. I am still seeking a meeting with Home Office Ministers on that case. Will the year-long conversation that the Home Secretary spoke about include discussing changing the attitude of the Home Office so people are treated fairly and within the rules?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has raised this important issue of fairness. The Home Office makes millions of immigration decisions, whether on visas or otherwise, each year and we cannot pretend that every single decision is going to be right. Earlier, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) raised the issue of Windrush, which was a problem under successive Governments, and we need to learn the lessons from that, and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) raised a live case from her constituency and the Minister for Immigration will be happy to meet her to discuss it.
I welcome the proposal set out by the Home Secretary to have an immigration system that gets the best talent from around the world for our economy and public services. Will he also undertake to cover in this legislation the loophole of descendants from the British Indian Ocean Territory, whose rights have been abused for the best part of half a century?
I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this issue. He has championed it for a while and we have discussed it. It is not specifically addressed in the White Paper in terms of a future immigration system, but he is right to continue to raise the matter, and we are right to continue to work with him and to look at it.
I welcome the assurance that those who are already living in the UK will have their rights protected. It is a great pity that the EU was prepared to use those people as a negotiating ploy in the negotiations. Given the cap of £30,000 suggested in the White Paper, what assurances can the Secretary of State give me that areas such as Northern Ireland will have access to labour from outside the United Kingdom if it is required, owing to skills shortages, to keep production going?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the scheme for the 3 million-plus EU citizens living here, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the UK. They are welcome to stay and indeed we need them to stay. I said earlier, and I say again that, whether we have a deal or no deal, that scheme and their rights will be protected. On the specific issue of Northern Ireland and regional shortages, we have in the White Paper committed for the first time to a separate shortage occupation list for Northern Ireland, which I think will make a big difference.
I, too, visited the Crick Institute this morning and I am sure that it will welcome the White Paper, as I do. I particularly welcome the consultation on the minimum salary requirements because, as my right hon. Friend will know, scientists, researchers and particularly technicians, who contribute hugely to our economy, are not always rewarded in the most profitable way. Salary is not a proxy for skills. I know that my right hon. Friend gets that point, but we cannot say it too often.
My hon. Friend has emphasised an important point. The logic of having a salary threshold is strong, but it is also right that we look at cases where that will not quite work. He has given the example of lab technicians, whose salaries can be around £21,000. There are a variety of ways of trying to deal with that in the White Paper and I hope that he will welcome them.
I am one of those who has valued free movement, but I welcome what the Home Secretary said today about overseas students. Is he in a position yet to offer any relief to those students—who he knows about—who had their visas cancelled after being accused, often wrongly, by an American firm of having cheated in their English language tests?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. As he has pointed out, the White Paper makes it even easier for students, once they have completed their studies, to stay, to continue to contribute to the UK and to settle in the UK. On the specific issue, which I have discussed with him and other colleagues, we are still looking at this but we are taking it very seriously.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State coming to give us this announcement today. I also welcome the fact that international students will still be allowed to come here to study, but there is no dedicated route for unskilled labour or for those earning below £30,000. How will the Department support employers in Taunton Deane—particularly in agriculture, tourism and the care industry—to get the labour that they need under the new system?
There are a couple of things that I can tell my hon. Friend. First, we want to try to get more international students to choose the UK and there are measures in the White Paper to do that. I know that the Department for Education takes this very seriously as well. Secondly, on the need for workers with different skills, especially those who might not be classed as high skills in the White Paper, I believe that the short-term workers route will make a big difference.
At a quick glance, I can find only two paragraphs, in chapter 6 of the White Paper, on self-employment. The Home Secretary will know how important that is, particularly in the construction sector, for filling gaps involving vital roles such as bricklayers, electricians and carpenters. Will it be possible for the industry or industry bodies to have some sort of umbrella sponsorship scheme to ensure that we can continue to recruit workers to those roles in order to meet the Government’s own growth and house building expansion plans?
The hon. Lady has rightly raised this issue because she knows that many of the construction workers who are currently working on house building come under the freedom of movement rules and, once that changes, we will have to find a way to allow such workers still to come in to meet the needs of the economy. She asked specifically about umbrella sponsorship schemes and that is in the White Paper.
I welcome the statement from the Home Secretary. I also welcome this opportunity to set our own immigration policy for the first time in a generation and to ensure that it is fair, compassionate and meets the needs of our economy. However, the needs of our economy will change over time, and from region to region, so will he assure the House that flexibility will be built into our new immigration policy to enable it to respond to the needs of the economy across the whole of the UK, that it will not just be focused on the south-east and that it will meet the needs of places such as Cornwall?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. He rightly says that our needs will change over time and this is an immigration system that will be built for the future. It will have those flexibilities to meet the needs of our economy and our society. I give him one example. When we looked at the short-term workers scheme, we looked at the many needs of the economy, including, in Cornwall, the needs of the hospitality industry and the seasonal nature of much of that demand. So I can happily give him that assurance.
I have the highest immigration caseload in Scotland, and what I see from the Home Office is cruelty, time and time again. Families are being separated, and the relatives of people who have lost babies are not being allowed to come to visit them. A man is working two jobs, as a mortgage adviser and a shelf stacker in Asda, just to meet the minimum income threshold so that his family can come to see him. I have also seen cruelty towards people who are qualified to work in the care industry but not allowed to work by the Home Office and by this Government. Is it not the case that under this policy EU nationals will be treated just as despicably and cruelly as non-EU nationals are at the moment?
I do not recognise the picture that the hon. Lady has painted, and the answer is no.
I welcome the statement. Will the Secretary of State explain how his electronic travel authorisation scheme will work in the common travel area, especially where a visitor arrives in Dublin and travels on to the UK from there? Would that visitor need to get authorisation in that situation?
This will not apply to Irish citizens and British citizens moving within the common travel area. My hon. Friend will know that the EU is planning to introduce a similar scheme; I think it is called ETIAS—the European travel information and authorisation system. As we develop this, we are looking at ways of working together.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that a chapter is closing during which millions of Britons have been able to live freely across Europe and to work, start businesses and begin relationships there, in the same way that European citizens have been able to do in this country? I speak as someone whose constituency has one of the highest proportions of EU citizens. The British Government will want to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with Europe, which is our largest and closest trading partner, so does he agree that there will need to be further concessions on migration, or is the White Paper establishing a set of red lines that will also determine our trade policy?
In the White Paper, we have set out flexibility for the UK in terms of mobility to strike trade deals around the world. With many countries, including the EU, there is often a need to look at mobility arrangements, especially for the service industries, and what we have set out here is perfectly compatible with the future political framework document that has been set out by the Government. Also, as we look to do trade deals with other countries further afield, this document will provide the flexibility that we need.
Largely unskilled agricultural migration has seen Boston’s population change by about a third in the past 10 years, but we have been unable to attract the doctors and professionals we need to cope with increased demand, and the consequences for community cohesion have been genuinely tragic. It led directly to the highest vote to leave the European Union in the referendum. When we get immigration policy wrong, it is a disaster for communities and individuals, so this new policy is long overdue. I ask the Home Secretary to take the year that he has built in to ensure that we get it right, because that is the only way we will undo some of the damage that has been done by the policies of previous Government, of all colours.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, highlighting that when we make immigration policy we must consider not just economic need, but the pace and volume of immigration. He gives an excellent example of a community that has seen dramatic change in a short period, and of the impact on local infrastructure and public services. It is very important to get the balance right.
Many Black Country foundries, which are crucial to the supply chains for civil aviation and the motor industry, are sustained by EU recruits, because they have an ageing workforce and cannot recruit locally. What conversations has the Home Secretary had with the industry on the impact of the short-term visa requirements on the future availability of EU migrants and the potential impact on businesses?
I will make two points in answer to that. First, all the EU citizens who are already here, whether they work in those foundries or elsewhere, will be able to stay—and we want them to stay—so there should be no change in the current EU workforce. Secondly, with regard to the high-skilled workers scheme and the short-term workers scheme set out in the White Paper, we have already engaged with business groups, but I have set out today that there will be much more such engagement, with business in every region across the country, before the schemes are finalised, especially in relation to thresholds and cooling-off periods.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to giving priority to those workers who have the skills we need. I also welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today of a year-long programme of engagement across the UK. May I therefore extend an invitation to him, and indeed to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, to visit Banff and Buchan, an area of very low unemployment, to talk to businesses to see for themselves the specific skills that are much needed in the fisheries sector, both for catching offshore and for processing onshore, and that can be sourced not just from the EU, of course, but from across the world, including Africa and east Asia?
I am sure that the Immigration Minister and I would both like to visit, although not necessarily at the same time, so we are happy to receive that invitation. My hon. Friend makes an important point that relates to many parts of the UK, but particularly to Scotland—many other colleagues from Scotland have raised it—and it is important to look at that. I think that the system we have set out today will have the flexibility to meet those needs, but I am happy to discuss those with him further.
Immigration, whether from Europe or from right around the world, has made an enormously positive difference to my community and to our country, making us rich in every way imaginable. However, given that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are evident proof that being highly paid and highly skilled are not the same thing, why do the Government persist with this nonsense of a £30,000 cap to define what constitutes highly skilled? Plenty of people in this country are paid far less than the Home Secretary, and far less than £30,000, and it would be an absolute tragedy to pull up the drawbridge for them, not just denying them opportunity, but denying our country the skills and prosperity we need.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly lobbying for a pay rise for all members of the Cabinet—I will leave that to him, but it is not something the Cabinet is asking for. It is important that the threshold for the highly skilled visa route set out in the White Paper is based on evidence and works for each part of the country. The MAC has suggested—I emphasise that this is based on its own independent research—that the threshold should be £30,000, but further work and extensive engagement with businesses, devolved authorities, Members of Parliament and others is required to determine what that should actually be.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) actually wanted a pay cut for members of the Cabinet. I had thought that the Home Secretary was a free marketeer, but what he has given us today is a bureaucrats charter to increase paperwork and red tape around business. The White Paper states, on page 47:
“The MAC has recommended lowering the skills threshold for the new skilled workers…while maintaining the minimum salary threshold of £30,000.”
This is clearly not a skills-based immigration policy, but a money-based immigration policy. Will he therefore explain how on earth he thinks our country plans to deal with its demographic challenge?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assertions. She suggests that somehow this will lead to more bureaucracy and red tape, but having no cap and no resident labour market test for high-skilled workers and more use of e-gates are all examples of where there will be less bureaucracy and less red tape.
This is just a Faragist blueprint for drawbridge Britain, a grotesque plan simply to keep people out of this country. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to be absolutely straight with the British people that their freedom of movement will come to an end? What we do to the EU, it will do to us, and all the unrestricted rights that we have had, to live, work and love across a community of 27 nations, will be lost to our young people forever. Is that not an absolute tragedy and shame?
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. That means the end of freedom of movement.
The Home Secretary rightly said in his statement that the UK has a proud history of being an open and welcoming country, so it must sadden him, as it saddens me, that that reputation is being consigned to history by his Government. This White Paper is one further policy that will damage that reputation. He also said that this policy will boost our economy, but that seems deeply implausible, given that EU migrants made a net contribution to this country, and a total contribution of almost £5 billion last year. If it is true, he must have worked it out, so can he tell us by exactly how much he think this will boost our economy?
I do not accept that analysis. What the White Paper does is ensure that we will remain an open and welcoming country to talent and people, for whatever reason they choose to come to the UK, from around the world. The proof of that is that we are, for example, removing caps, making is easier for students to stay and work in the UK, and making it easier for people from around the world to visit the UK. That is an example of an open and welcoming country.
More than 20% of my constituents are EU27 citizens and more than 40% were born outside the UK. I value their contribution to the economic, social and cultural life of Hammersmith, of London and of the UK. I would like to hear the Secretary of State join me in saying that, because the hostile environment fostered by his Government and by the coalition Government has created alienation, fear and distrust for very many migrants.
I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming and commending all the EU citizens in his constituency, in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom. I have said a number of times, and it is self-evident, that they have made a huge contribution to the success of our country not just economically, but in our society and our communities. In many cases they are members of our family. That is why I would like them all to stay.