House of Commons
Thursday 17 January 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: No Deal
I bring apologies from the Secretary of State this morning. He will not be attending this meeting because he is attending vital cross-party meetings in Downing Street—[Interruption.] I am sure that Members across the House will understand that those meetings are vitally important at this stage.
In answer to question 1, in the 2017 autumn Budget, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was allocated an additional £310 million to support its work on EU exit preparations in this financial year, 2018-19, with a further £10 million being repurposed from existing budgets. DEFRA is using that additional funding to prepare for and deliver its ambitious programme of EU exit activities in readiness for all scenarios, including preparations for the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, as is the duty of a responsible Government.
Further to what the Minister has just said, I advise the House that the Secretary of State, in keeping with his usual courtesy, informed me last night of his intended absence. I shall greatly miss him, but we look forward to seeing the fellow again before too long.
Well, I am not sure that the House does understand the Secretary of State’s absence, Mr Speaker. DEFRA questions are only half an hour long; surely those meetings could have been delayed for 30 minutes. My question to the Minister is: will DEFRA be 100% ready in the event of us having to leave with no deal?
The Department is working flat out to prepare for no deal. As the House knows, we are bringing on the onshoring of environment, agriculture and fisheries policies, involving 55 major projects and 120 statutory instruments. We will be recruiting around 2,700 officials to ensure that we are well prepared in a no-deal scenario.
We know that householders are stockpiling food and that businesses are spending money that they can ill afford, as is the Minister’s Department, on a no-deal Brexit that would harm the food industry, the farming industry and of course the chemicals industry, which his Department regulates. In a phone call on Tuesday night, the Chancellor said that a no-deal Brexit would be ruled out and off the table by the end of next week. Does the Minister agree?
The best way to avoid no deal is by agreeing a deal, and that is why we are working constructively—[Interruption.] The House made its views clear on the Government’s proposed deal and we are now working constructively with major parties across the House to get a deal in place. I am just disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition did not turn up to do that, and that he has not even agreed with the advice of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The Secretary of State is sorely missed this morning. I wanted to commend him for his barnstorming speech last night. Hon. Members and others like myself who represent farming constituencies all received letters before Tuesday’s vote from the farming organisations—the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the Tenant Farmers Association—saying that “above all” they wanted to see a no-deal Brexit ruled out. Given the overwhelming majority in Parliament for that, will the Minister give us some reassurance that the Government will support the view of the majority?
Well, I will do my very best to make up for the absence of our esteemed Secretary of State, who did indeed put in a fantastic performance yesterday. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are working closely with the NFU and the farming sector in seeking to find that deal. We know that many farmers voted to leave, but few wanted to leave with no deal. That is why we are working incredibly hard to ensure that we get that deal into place.
The EU has its own challenges, which it is no doubt seeking to take forward. We are clear that we want to take a deal forward. We felt that the deal was a good deal, but Parliament has had its say. We are now responding constructively in these negotiations, and I am grateful to the Scottish National party for taking that forward. I just wish that Labour would take a similar stance.
Last Saturday I had the honour of attending the plough service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Staffordshire NFU, an extremely good organisation representing farmers throughout my constituency. At that service, a number of members came up to me and expressed how concerned they are about any prospect of no deal. Will my hon. Friend set out what the consequences would be for my farmers if there were, indeed, no deal?
The Secretary of State has made it clear in his contributions here and at the recent farming conference in Oxford that there could be significant disruption for the farming sector, which is why we are working very hard to make sure that Staffordshire NFU members and farmers across the country get the best possible protection. I meet the NFU every week to listen to and work through its concerns and, of course, the No. 1 priority is to make sure we get this deal. Again, I am grateful to those parties that have sought to become part of that process and dialogue.
I can assure the hon. Lady that I am not the future Prime Minister. That will not happen. She does not have to worry about that. [Interruption.] Well, I am certainly not. I am merely filling in for him while he is not here.
The hon. Lady asks an important question, which other hon. Members have also asked. We want to make sure that protections are in place, and we want to get this deal in place, because a no deal would potentially have a disruptive effect on farmers. We will work together closely to ensure a deal happens.
It is absolutely right that the Government prepare for all eventualities, including no deal, but does my hon. Friend share my sense of incredulity at hearing those who spent most of this week attacking the deal on the table, and attacking every other deal the EU has ever done, now complaining about the prospect of there not being one?
That is the case we made. The Government and many Conservative Members felt that the deal was a good deal, but clearly we now need to respond to what the House has said, and we are doing that.
The Minister is a well-intentioned fella. Will he take a strong message from those of us who care about DEFRA, the environment and our farming sector that we do care, that we are willing to help get this right and that we are willing to do so on an all-party basis, as long as we can bury this nonsense of a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman is also a good fella with good intentions, and I share his concerns about no deal. What we need to do now is to find a deal that the House can unite behind. The Secretary of State would say that if he were in his place, and it is important that the Leader of the Opposition now joins that process.
I, too, am sorry not to see the Secretary of State in his place at the Dispatch Box after what was quite the bravura audition yesterday. Someone once said:
“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.”
It seems that those cards and paths have been pretty expensive so far. Can the Minister tell us whether his Department’s largesse has sorted out the export health certificate system, which of course relies on a single spreadsheet? Has he made export agreements with 154 countries to replace the EU agreements? Lastly, has this been the worst poker hand ever played?
Lots of questions there, but I can assure the hon. Lady that I am even more saddened not to see the Secretary of State here because I am having to answer all his questions on this subject.
On the hon. Lady’s substantive point, we are working on the export health certificate process, and we are working on the other trade agreements. My hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the farming Minister, is working on those issues as well. Each of those steps is being dealt with.
Animal Cruelty Crimes: Sentencing
The Government will introduce the necessary legislation to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful for that answer, but the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called for five-year maximum sentences in 2016, Ministers promised it in 2017 and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said last June that it would be in place by the end of March this year, but there is still no sign of it happening. Why has there been such a long delay? Can the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs give us a firm, reliable timeframe for when this much-needed change will actually take place?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are moving as fast as we can on this. We need to find the right legislative vehicle, but it is our intention to take this forward, as I told yesterday’s Public Bill Committee on Finn’s law.
Can the Minister confirm whether any DEFRA Minister, including the Secretary of State, has had any discussions on five-year sentencing with either the Leader of the House or the Chief Whip in order to secure parliamentary time for this measure?
A very active dialogue is going on to determine the right vehicle, involving the usual channels within the House; those conversations have taken place.
Can the Government get out of crawler gear and get into first or second, because we have to bring about this five-year sentencing? At the moment, someone who pleads guilty to a horrendous crime of animal cruelty gets a maximum of four months, because they get an automatic 30% reduction. It is crazy that huge amounts of animal welfare abuse happens and we have such short sentences. So please get on with it.
We will get on with it. We take animal welfare seriously; we have introduced a third-party ban on sales of puppies and kittens, and we are working on this very actively.
Leaving the EU: Care and Protection of Animals
The Government have made it clear that our exit from the EU will not lead to a lowering of our high animal welfare standards. Our regulatory system will offer the same level of assurance of animal welfare following our departure from the EU as it does now. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will ensure that existing EU standards are maintained once we leave the EU, and we are actively exploring options for strengthening the UK system in the future.
How will the Minister crack down on puppy farming?
The ban we announced on 23 December will make sure that there is a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens, which will mean that unscrupulous breeders and puppy farmers will no longer be able to hide. This is an important piece of legislation and it shows that we have got into a much higher gear on animal welfare legislation.
The International Trade Secretary has been touring the world negotiating trade deals in the past few months. Will the Minister say precisely what involvement DEFRA Ministers have in ensuring that animal welfare issues are contained in any agreement that that Secretary of State is concluding?
DEFRA leads on agricultural issues in these trade deals and there is a clear intention that our standards will not be watered down.
Can the Minister lay to rest some of the vile scare stories that have been emanating in the past few months about how, in certain circumstances in which we may leave the EU, there will be a diminution in animal care standards? Can he confirm that whatever the circumstances after 29 March we will retain the highest possible standards?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I assure him that we will make sure the existing regulations come over and we will maintain those high standards.
Inside or outside the EU, Boohoo, the online retailer, has been found to be advertising clothing as “faux fur” when in fact it has contained animal fur, including rabbit. So may I ask what checks are in place and what action the Government are prepared to take to ensure that there is no animal cruelty in the clothing industry?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. This is a clear trading standards issue and, as I understand it, action has been taken, as it should be in those circumstances.
Serious and Organised Waste Crime
Last year, the Department commissioned a review of serious and organised crime in the waste sector. Recommendations from that review informed our strategic approach, which we set out in the resources and waste strategy. That includes plans to prevent, detect and deter all forms of waste crime, including with the creation of a joint unit for tackling waste crime and a dedicated disruption team.
I thank the Minister for that answer. We also face the problem of casual fly-tipping. Residents in Guisborough have been appalled by some of the examples we have seen on Wilton Lane and on the moor road. Will she set out what the Government are doing to address that, too?
Fly-tipping is a genuine blight on local communities. Additional powers have been given to councils, and from this month local authorities now have the power to issue penalties of up to £400 to householders who have ignored their duty of care and whose waste is fly-tipped. The message is very clear: when somebody comes to offer to take your waste away, check online and check their licence to see that they are legitimate, because otherwise you could be getting a fine from your council.
Following on from that question, rural crime is a major issue, particularly in the villages around Warwick and Leamington. Across the whole of Warwickshire it is costing about £650,000 to clear up fly-tipping, but wider crime is also an issue. What does the Minister recommend I should be saying to farmers in my communities?
It is important that evidence is gathered to try to tackle the issue. I know that farmers are taking preventive action to try to stop people entering their areas illegally. It matters that we also work together on other issues of rural crime, such as hare coursing, and other significant routes used by serious and organised crime to try to exploit the countryside.
Does the Minister intend to liaise with the Ministry of Justice on increasing the ability of the judiciary to make examples of those who flout the law? The fines are less than the financial advantage of waste disposal, which does not add up.
As I have said, we have set out our intentions in our resources and waste strategy. Fining is one approach and different types of sentences is another. That is the kind of work we are doing with the MOJ and, of course, the Home Office.
Leaving the EU: Farming Policy
The Agriculture Bill is a central part of the Government’s programme of legislation to deliver a smooth departure from the European Union. It is the most significant reform of agricultural legislation in more than 70 years. The Bill creates powers to build a new environmental land management system; to incentivise higher animal welfare; to support technology and investment on farms; and to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain.
I welcome the Agriculture Bill, because for nearly 50 years our farmers have been tied to a fundamentally flawed common agricultural policy where payments are skewed towards the largest landowners. Can the Minister provide further detail on the public goods that will be rewarded under the new scheme?
I thank my hon. Friend for the sterling work he did on the Agriculture Bill Committee and as a member of the DEFRA team until recently. As he says, we are completely changing the focus of our agricultural support for the delivery of public goods. That could include improving habitats, water quality and soil health, promoting biodiversity, advancing animal welfare and allowing public access.
The Minister will have received the letter sent to every single Member of this House from all of the farming leaders asking the Government to take no deal off the table. That would also unlock meaningful cross-party talks on how we get out of this total mess, so why will the Government not do that?
The way to get no deal off the table is to agree a deal and to engage in a discussion about it. I simply say to hon. Members: what kind of deal do they think they would get from the European Union if they are unwilling to countenance no deal? It is nonsense.
I welcome this Government’s commitment to, and Ministers’ earlier responses on, the issues of public goods, the environment and animal welfare. Will my hon. Friend confirm that future agricultural policy will also include a commitment to high-quality food and food safety?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government have been absolutely clear that we will not compromise our animal welfare and food safety standards in pursuit of a trade deal.
Hill farmers are essential to our landscape, food production, biodiversity and water management. Does the Minister realise that 91% of hill farm incomes come from the basic payment scheme, which his Government are planning to phase out over the next seven years? Will he therefore commit to a bespoke scheme or set of schemes to support upland farmers and other upland businesses?
Upland farmers, including sheep farmers, will be able to readily access many of the public goods listed in clause 1 of the Bill. Organisations such as the Uplands Alliance are very excited about the potential for a new scheme based on payment for the delivery of public goods.
The Bew review is looking into the mechanisms for allocating farm funding across the UK post-Brexit, but do the Government intend to launch reviews of the legislative and governance frameworks that may be necessary to maintain a level playing field for Welsh farmers in the UK’s future internal market?
There are two ways in which a UK framework can be delivered. First, it is important to recognise that agriculture is devolved. Although the Welsh Government have asked us to add a schedule to our Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, they also intend to introduce their own future legislation. There are provisions relating to compliance with WTO rules, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will also provide an approach to state aid rules.
On Tuesday, I met members of the Irish Farmers’ Association—there were other things going on as well as the debate—and they made it very clear to me how vital it is to get a long-term customs arrangement in place as soon as possible. They say that that view is shared by farmers in Northern Ireland. What is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs doing to make sure that that happens?
As was made clear at the very start of this session, the Secretary of State is, as we speak, in dialogue with Members of this House to establish a consensus, so that we can indeed have a customs arrangement after March.
The Minister has been quite sanguine in saying that he now supports the Norway option. Is that view shared by the rest of the DEFRA team?
The DEFRA team, which includes me, supported the Prime Minister’s deal, because the deal that she brought forward was the way to most closely deliver the outcome of the referendum. That deal has now been rejected by this House, so of course we must consider all alternatives.
Protection of Pollinators
Protecting pollinators and the habitat is a priority for this Government, and our 2017 review of England’s 10-year national pollinator strategy highlights some positive progress. We have also simplified countryside stewardship and introduced new messages to help farmers put pollinators back into our landscapes through our pollinator package.
Three thousand sugar beet farmers will drill their crop this year, 100 of whom will be in my constituency. Many of them rely on neonicotinoids, but it is vital that we rely on scientific evidence. Eleven EU countries have granted emergency authorisation. What are the Government doing to support sugar beet farmers?
I am sympathetic to the issue raised by sugar beet growers. Of course, sugar beet is a non-flowering crop, and it does have a particular issue with the peach potato aphid and the virus that goes with it. The growers did put forward an emergency application. The advice from our expert committee on pesticides was that it did not satisfy the criteria, but we invited them to make a subsequent application.
The Department has not received any reports of foxes being killed in illegal ways, but I would not expect it to, as people are expected to report that to the local police. It is the Ministry of Justice that keeps the statistics on crime records.
The League Against Cruel Sports reports 32 kills last year, which is the bare minimum because it cannot monitor every hunt. May I suggest to Ministers that the reason why they do not collect these figures is that if they did, they would have to do something about enforcing the laws that already exist?
The Hunting Act 2004 makes it clear that, apart from certain exemptions, there is a ban on hunting with dogs. It is important that people take their evidence to the local police forces. I am aware of the incident in Cheshire through social media, and I understand that Cheshire police are investigating it. It is a crime, and it is up to the police force to investigate.
I call Richard Graham—not here. Where is the fella? It is a great shame—oh dear! Well, never mind, Hannah Bardell is here.
Leaving the EU: Food and Drink Standards
As we leave the EU under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, retained EU law will ensure that we maintain our existing food and drinks standards.
The Secretary of State has previously been reported as promising a genetic food revolution in the new year. In a statement, the National Farmers Union warned in the strongest possible terms against any lowering of food standards post Brexit. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister now put an end to this uncertainty, which the Secretary of State created? Will he accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to ensure that the standards of our high-quality produce are never lowered or diluted?
Order. I see that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) is now scampering into the Chamber. He will have to catch his breath. The fella’s missed his question—dear oh dear! Anyway, it is better later than never. It is good to see the chappie, and I am glad that he is in good health.
We have been absolutely clear that we will not water down or dilute our approach to food standards, food safety or animal welfare in pursuit of a trade deal. Any future treaty establishing a trade deal would of course come back to this House under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and would be subject to a ratification process by this House.
Is the Department considering improving and increasing standards post Brexit?
As we leave the European Union and establish national control in these areas, of course it is possible that we can improve our legislation in a number of areas where EU regulations do not quite work.
The Codex Alimentarius sets the standards used by the World Trade Organisation. Reportedly, the UK hardly ever speaks up in defence of strong food safety labelling and marketing safeguards at those meetings. What confidence can we have that the UK Government will do so post Brexit?
I do not accept that caricature. Indeed, we worked very hard last year to ensure that a British official took the chairmanship of one of the important Codex committees dealing with food standards, and internationally we are always promoting animal welfare and food standards through organisations such as the OIE and Codex.
The Government recently published the resources and waste strategy, which sets out our plans to reduce plastic pollution. We have already consulted on banning straws, cotton buds and stirrers, and are consulting on extending the carrier bag charge. We will shortly be publishing our consultation on the key reforms to existing packaging waste regulations, which will include a deposit refund scheme for drinks containers and increasing consistency in the recycling system.
The “Countryfile” programme on Sunday showed that farms use huge quantities of very thick plastic, which apparently can no longer be recycled and are being kept on airfields. How can the Government ensure that this product does not go into landfill?
It is possible to recycle plastic bales, but I am conscious that the secondary market may not be well established. With the reforms that we will shortly be consulting on, my hon. Friend will see that it will be in the interests of producers to ensure that the materials are recyclable, otherwise it will cost them more.
I recently visited Canning Street Primary School in my constituency, where the children presented to me their “Keep Benwell Clean” campaign, because they are tired of walking to school through rivers of plastic. Will the Minister accept my invitation to visit the school and explain to the children there why their environment has to be polluted in this way, and what she and local authorities can do to change that?
I commend the children for being so concerned about plastic pollution and litter. I am sure that they are being champions in picking up litter where appropriate. That should be seen no longer as a punishment, but as a duty of civic service. Next time I am in Newcastle, which I anticipate will not be before 29 March, I will do my best to visit the children at that school.
Scotland led the UK in tackling the waste produced from single-use polythene bags, and the Scottish Government are now looking at a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. Where such a scheme has been used, there have been recycling rates of up to 95%. Will the UK Government consider following suit with a plastic bottle recycling scheme?
We will shortly be publishing our proposals and the next steps towards introducing a deposit return scheme. I will be meeting Roseanna Cunningham again next month; she will have her plastics summit, and we will have a British-Irish Council meeting. Ideally we would like to work together on a UK scheme, and although we are conscious that that might not be possible, we will do what we can.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continues to progress plans for our departure from the EU, including preparing a comprehensive set of statutory instruments under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to ensure we have a functioning statute book on day one. We are also progressing the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill, which have cleared Committee stage recently.
May I just say to the Minister that it is such a shame that his Government are not willing to rule out a no-deal scenario?
The EU pet travel scheme currently allows pet owners to travel between EU countries with their animals with minimal forward planning. That is especially important for guide dog owners. But the Government are now saying that, under a no-deal Brexit, guide dog owners will have to plan their travel at least four months in advance. This is totally unacceptable, so what are the Government doing to ensure that assistance dog owners do not see inferior travel arrangements in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
The guidance that the hon. Lady cites is obviously for a worst-case scenario, but the reality on pet travel schemes is that we would have the freedom to adopt a risk-based approach, and we would anticipate that the EU would do the same. We already have provisions with Norway, for instance, that enable a pet travel scheme to operate even though Norway is outside the European Union. We are in discussion with guide dog charities to address the issue.
As I outlined to the House earlier, we recently published our resources and waste strategy. It is a key point that we need to tackle this serious and organised crime. We have already given the Environment Agency powers that it is using to do so, and indeed given powers to local councils, but there is more to do. We hope to bring forward future legislation to tackle outstanding issues.
On Tuesday, the National Audit Office published a highly critical report on the Government’s monitoring of the natural environment. The report states that DEFRA
“has not…done enough to engage other parts of government with its approach”.
So what confidence can we have in the Secretary of State, who is clearly busy doing other things today, to deliver his promised green Brexit?
We are currently working on the metrics and targets, as set out in our 25-year environment plan, to have something that is sustainable going forward. It is also important to note that we have laid draft clauses of the environmental governance Bill. In them we refer to a policy statement, which will operate right across Government, embedding into what we do as a Government the need to ensure that we leave the environment in a better place than when we inherited it.
That is all very well, but what we need is not warm words. We get many, many warm words from this Department but very little real action, and we need action to protect our natural environment and to bear down on climate change. So what is actually happening in response to this report?
The report was published only yesterday, so we need to consider it and will then reply. Only this week, we launched the clean air strategy, which was recommended by the World Health Organisation as something for other countries around the world to follow. We are going through with a new Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill. We are preparing an environment Bill. These are all examples of action, which the House has asked for, on issues such as clean air. There is also what we are doing with our local nature recovery networks, and we are doing all sorts of different things to try to improve biodiversity. The hon. Lady will be aware of our commitment to make sure that we achieve a target of 30% marine protected areas around the world by 2030, and we will be launching our final decision on marine conservation zones shortly. So frankly, this Government are acting to make the environment a better place.
It really matters that we work with local authorities to make sure that we improve air quality as quickly as possible. There are broader issues with particulate matter and similar, but we are still behind on nitrogen dioxide. The Greater Manchester area is late in presenting its plan to the Department, and we are continuing to work with it. Where there are those sorts of measures—not a congestion zone but a charging zone for more polluting vehicles—we will work on, and try to fund in the best way we can, the measures needed to mitigate that.
As I have said in reply to earlier questions, we are working very hard to ensure that there is a deal. We want to work with all parties to do that. I was impressed when I met businesses in Scotland with the Food and Drink Federation Scotland. We need to take these steps, and I understand where the company is coming from on those issues.
It was a real pleasure to meet my hon. Friend and a number of his constituents. We will give careful consideration to the amendments tabled to the Bill on Report and also to representations from organisations such as the NFU. The Rural Payments Agency has made significant improvement this year to the delivery of payments under the basic payment scheme, with 94% being paid by the end of December.
The Hunting Act is already tightly drawn, and there has been a mixture of successful and unsuccessful prosecutions so far. It really matters that the police have the evidence presented to them, so that they can make a stronger case to the Crown Prosecution Service to tackle illegal hunting, which we all deplore.
Well, let us hear the fella—I call Richard Graham.
Thank you very much for calling me, Mr Speaker.
One of the most exciting developments of recent times has been the announcement from the University of Manchester of a way of desalinating water through graphene sieves, which can turn it into drinking water. That has huge implications around the world. Does the Minister agree that one of the greatest possible benefits is the decrease in the number of water bottles, which so often find their way into the marine ecosystem?
I also saw that interesting announcement by the University of Manchester, which just shows the benefits of this Government having invested in the university to develop graphene. There are a number of ways in which we can try to reduce the impact of plastics, and we will continue to support water companies in their long-term plans, including on desalination.
Yet another report has been published this morning—this time in The Lancet—highlighting the damage that our food systems are doing to not only public health, with 11 million avoidable deaths, but the climate. I have been banging on about this for more than 10 years in this place. Is there any chance that the Government will ever listen to these reports?
It was a pleasure to have the hon. Lady on the Agriculture Bill Committee, where she raised some of those issues. In particular, we discussed the impact of imported soya on our environment and the steps we are taking to reduce that.
“Banging on” in this place tends to be a prerequisite of achieving anything. It is the colloquial version of my “persistence pays” principle.
Would a Minister be willing to meet me to discuss banning the use of bolt guns as a method of putting down greyhounds that are no longer used in the racing industry?
We need to tackle in a humane way however animals are put down, whether it is wildlife, domestic animals or racing animals. I am sure that a Minister will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.
City of York Council is planning to develop the land adjacent to Askham bog, which is a site of special scientific interest. What discussions has the Minister had with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about development next to SSSIs?
The hon. Lady will be aware that SSSIs have an exceptionally high protection status under the national planning policy framework, which was updated last year. It is really important that these matters are considered carefully and that such development is avoided, but it will come down to a local decision for the local planning authority.
The Minister has talked about amendments to the Agriculture Bill. Will he and the Secretary of State really look at those amendments, and especially those that maintain high standards for imported foods, so that we do not put our own farmers out of business?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that I have already looked closely at some of the interesting amendments he has tabled.
Last week, Heathrow announced that it wanted to have another 25,000 flights a year through the airport, irrespective of runway 3’s development. What advice has DEFRA given the Department for Transport on the noise and air quality implications of that unwelcome development?
As with any development, an environmental impact assessment will be needed to cover those particular items, which will need to be considered with what is regarded as illegal.
Oh, very well. I call Barry Sheerman.
“Oh, very well”, Mr Speaker? I am actually going to ask a topical question, unlike some of our colleagues.
May I remind the ministerial team that until we came under European regulation, we were the dirty person of Europe? We filled our seas with sewage, and we buried our waste in holes in the ground. Did the Minister see the wonderful BBC programme only last Sunday showing the real curse of agricultural plastic waste, which we are doing very little about? Will she and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food get together with others, on an all-party basis, to try to clean up the environment and get a good deal from Europe?
That was nearly as long as a speech in an Adjournment debate, but the last one of those that the hon. Gentleman secured for me to respond to was about the circular economy of left-over paint, and he did not even show up for that.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I would say that he should read the resources and waste strategy. I have already answered the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham): I said that we are working on this. We need to work with farmers to make sure there is a secondary market for that sort of plastic bale.
I do not know whether the Minister managed to see the programme, but I dare say it is available on catch-up TV.
We are most grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
At the last EFRA questions, the Secretary of State was in his place and he was typically effusive in his praise for the glorious north-eastern countryside that so many of my constituents enjoy. However, he refused to say how he would protect small-scale farmers, on whom the beauty and variety of our landscape depend, from the massive American agro-industrial machine. Will the Minister now set out his red lines to protect our landscape post-Brexit?
Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill makes explicit provision to support and incentivise our landscapes and countryside to help some of those smaller farmers. The modelling that has been done suggests that the issue is not actually all about size: some of our smaller family farms are technically the most proficient.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Protection of Historic Church Buildings
The Church of England continues to suffer thefts of metal and other items of historical and architectural interest from its churches. The Archbishop’s Council conducted an inquiry into this, and the trend appears to be gradually moving from east to west and from south to north. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at the Church of England website for ways of protecting his churches more successfully.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. We are blessed with a great many historic churches in Brentwood and Ongar; too often, they have to be kept locked for very long periods of the week, making them inaccessible to the public. What conversations has she or the Government had with Historic England and the police to ensure that more of our historic churches can be open to the people who wish to use them?
My hon. Friend has a real gem in the form of a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church— St Andrews, Greensted—which, despite the fact that it does not have a metal roof, has suffered these kind of thefts. At the end of last year, the Church of England participated in a Historic England review called Operation Crucible as part of the strategy against metal theft. There is no question but that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 needs to be tightened to recognise illegitimate businesses, which often have their own forges and furnaces and melt down the metal before it even reaches scrap dealers’ yards.
In the UK, there are some 340 important historic churches. National lottery funding has made money available to some of them, but there is certainly a shortfall in funds. May I ask the right hon. Lady whether other funding avenues could be made available for preservation works?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Church would direct him, his churches and others with historical churches facing the threat of metal theft, towards a Home Office panel for grants to protect religious buildings from hate crimes. Some churches have been recipients of these grants.
Sadly, many of our most beautiful churches are now closed for worship and have been declared redundant. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that Church Commissioners will continue to do all they can to preserve those beautiful buildings?
The Church of England opens as many churches as it closes—there is often a misunderstanding about that—and whether people come to worship or to visit the historical artefacts, increasing footfall through churches is a deterrent to crime and theft. I encourage all hon. Members with beautiful churches in their communities to use them or lose them, and to encourage people to go into them so that we keep them open and keep the criminals out.
What is the Church of England doing to keep historic church bells ringing in historic church buildings?
The Church of England succeeded in producing a magnificent peal of bells to mark the centenary of the Armistice, and I am sure that churches in the constituencies of many hon. Members took part. Grants are available to restore belfries and bells, and a great effort was made to make churches ready for that historic moment in our nation’s history.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Electoral Commission: Investigatory Powers
The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Minister for the Constitution, and it has raised the need for a significant increase to its current maximum fine of £20,000. That will ensure that sanctions are proportionate and provide a genuine deterrent.
We have heard about dark money being involved in elections and the Brexit vote, including the controversial £435,000 donation channelled via the Scottish Tory candidate, Richard Cook, and the Constitutional Research Council, to the Democratic Unionist party. The source of that donation is still unclear. My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), has written to the Electoral Commission to ask for due diligence on that case to be published. Can the hon. Lady advise when that will happen?
In its recent report on digital campaigning, the Electoral Commission recommended greater transparency around the source of such donations, and proposals have been set out. I am sure that officials from the commission will be happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend.
With respect to the hon. Lady, the Labour party was fined a record amount for failing to declare donations during the 2017 general election. The current shambolic state of affairs in this place means that even if an election is not probable, it is at least possible. I heard the hon. Lady’s answer about increasing fines, but may we have a debate about increasing such fines much higher than £20,000? In that way, political parties would be generally dissuaded from taking such action as it would exceed the cost of doing business.
The Electoral Commission has repeatedly warned that the ability to fine campaigners a maximum of only £20,000 could increasingly be seen as the cost of doing business, and it continues to urge the Government to introduce legislation to strengthen its sanctioning powers for future electoral events.
Transparency in printed literature is partly ensured by the necessity of having an imprint. In my recent report for the Centre for Policy Studies, I argue that digital literature should also have an imprint. Does the Electoral Commission agree?
The Electoral Commission has called for imprints to follow for digital material as they would for printed material. I am sure that officials from the commission will be happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman, and we welcome any steps that he can take to urge the Government to take further action in that area.
Our electoral integrity is so important: when people vote we must ensure that they are exactly who they say they are. Since 2003 Northern Ireland has had photographic identification. What does the Electoral Commission feel about strengthening the situation as regards voter integrity?
The commission completed independent evaluation of the May 2018 voter ID pilot trials, and it published details on that analysis and the background data in July 2018. It found that the trials worked well, but it highlighted the need for more evidence in that area. As 3.5 million electors may not have the type of identification required, the commission continues to recommend that electors should be able to apply for a voter card free of charge, as is the case in Northern Ireland.
The commission has the expertise, experience and a proven track record of delivering well-run elections and referendums at short notice. It maintains contingency plans to ensure it has made all appropriate preparations to deliver a referendum, should there be one.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution of Christians
I do realise that the grouping of these questions will make it sound rather like Foreign Office questions for Christianity—but then, the Anglican Communion is the third largest global organisation in the world, after the United Nations and the Catholic Church.
The Church of England has regular discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on freedom of religion and belief. I am pleased to announce to the House that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), invited the Bishop of Truro, before Christmas, to lead an independent review of UK Government support for persecuted Christians.
The number of Members who attended the meeting in the House yesterday about the Open Doors report shows just what huge interest there is in this issue. It was very disturbing to hear about the significant increase in the persecution of Christians, and indeed of people of other faiths, in the past year or two. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that as the report is compiled, the bishop will talk with as many Members as possible? We hear from our constituents and from around the world about individual cases of persecution.
I am delighted to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I, too, was really shocked by the report presented in Parliament yesterday, which shows that 40 countries out of the 50 on the Open Doors watch list are places where Christians experience very high or extreme levels of persecution. I shall go from this place to a meeting at the Foreign Office with the Foreign Secretary, as well as the bishop, and I will make that request directly to him.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) in welcoming the Open Doors “World Watch List” report, launched here in Parliament yesterday.
With regard to Commonwealth countries on the list, we heard, for example, some very harrowing reports of abuse against Christian communities in Nigeria. What effort can the Commonwealth side of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office make in helping to mitigate such persecution?
Nigeria is high up the Open Doors watch list of countries where Christians suffer persecution. I am sorry to say that in the past year 3,731 Christians were reported killed by the activity of extremists in Nigeria. As it is a former dependency of the United Kingdom, the Government ought to have some way of having greater influence. I know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is knowledgeable about Nigeria, uses every endeavour to bring pressure on the Government of Nigeria to better protect the Christians in their country.
What estimate has my right hon. Friend made of the willingness of International Development and Foreign Office Ministers to actually do something about the persecution of Christians and put it at the top of their priorities?
I am delighted to be able to tell the House that since the last set of Church Commissioners questions, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and I have paid a joint visit to a Minister of State at the Foreign Office to impress on him the importance of officials in the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and other Government Departments, such as the Home Office, taking up the course for a better understanding of religious literacy. We were given assurances by the Minister that this would be impressed on officials.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answers thus far. One area of the world where persecution is at its highest is Pakistan, where there have been a number of high profile cases. What is the Church doing to combat these terrible attacks on Christians, who just want to celebrate their religion?
Pakistan is very high up on the Open Doors watch list of countries where Christians suffer persecution. I am sure that like me, my hon. Friend will have heard the case of Asia Bibi raised with the Prime Minister yesterday in the House. It is important not only that we look for a solution for her and her family that assures her protection, but that we remember that what we do on behalf of Christians in other countries can impact others around the world in the same way. The persecution of Christians in Pakistan is high on our agenda.
As has already been mentioned, yesterday saw the launch of the Open Doors “World Watch List 2019” here in Parliament. Can my right hon. Friend advise me of what use the Church of England makes of the analysis of the trends in the persecution of Christians across the globe in its discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Obviously the watch list is a useful guide to where the focus needs to be. The bishops take special interest in particular countries that are high up on that watch list. Bishops regularly pay visits to countries where Christians are persecuted. In fact, the bishop responsible for the plight of Christians in the middle east and Palestine is currently paying his regular annual visit to look at the decimation of the Christians in that region.
I was interested to hear that the right hon. Lady is about to meet the Secretary of State. He wrote over Christmas in The Daily Telegraph:
“It is not in our national character to turn a blind eye to suffering”,
and that the issue is about
“our deeds as well as our words.”
Will the right hon. Lady say something about the deeds she would like to see from the Foreign Secretary?
The Foreign Secretary has acted by bringing in a bishop—an independent person—to review the work of the Foreign Office in relation to the persecution of Christians abroad. Three areas will be assessed: the level of interaction between Churches and organisations overseas with British or foreign diplomatic missions in the protection of Christians; the experience of staff at the FCO, the Department for International Development and the Home Office, who may have been on the receiving end of approaches from Churches and other organisations seeking help for persecuted Christians; and the feedback of international organisations on British activities and an assessment of the approaches of other countries’ diplomatic missions to the persecution of Christians.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
House of Commons Chamber: Electronic Voting System
The Commission has had no discussions on the costs of installing an electronic voting system in the Chamber. Its responsibility in this matter is limited to the financial or staffing implications of any change to the present system, were a change agreed by the House. If the House agreed to pursue electronic working, further work by the House service in conjunction with the digital service would be needed to accurately identify the investment, planning and development required to deliver electronic voting.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the answer. I accept that a change has to be a decision of the House, but the reality is that this is not just about democracy anymore; it is about health and safety. Six hundred Members trying to get through the Lobby the other night was an incredibly worrying situation: if Mr Speaker had called for the doors to be closed, it would not have been physically possible for the Doorkeepers to do so. There was claustrophobia, and we know the issues of Members with health challenges and Members who are pregnant. The House of Commons Commission needs to consider the issue from the perspective of safety in the workplace environment, with democratic considerations to one side.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for their questions—I think electronic voting will be my specialist subject on “Mastermind”. He has come up with a new angle, and I support the point he makes. Members in the packed Division Lobby when the Government were defeated very heavily will have noticed that the congestion was significant, and there were risks associated with that.
On the back of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will ask the authorities to look at doing a health and safety risk assessment. As he will know, and as I have stated previously, if he wants to pursue the matter—I understand that he has perhaps not yet done so—he needs to ask the Procedure Committee to look at the whole subject of electronic voting.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Promotion of Marriage
The most recent figures published by the Church of England show that in 2017 the Church conducted 41,000 marriages and services of prayer and dedication. The church wedding is affordable: at less than £500, the cost of a wedding in church is not the main part of what it costs to get married. Free of charge, the clergy offer advice to help tailor the ceremony for the couple and, perhaps most importantly, to prepare them for their lives together.
Church wedding fees can put some couples off marrying in church. Will the right hon. Lady commend the excellent initiative led by my own minister, Mike Smith, vicar of St John’s, Hartford? Along with volunteers from the church, he has put together a wedding package for three couples consisting of a church wedding, a photographer, flowers, cake, a reception, and even wedding dress alterations, all for £1,000. Is that not a model that other churches could follow?
I think it is an excellent model. As one with children of marriageable age, I only wish we lived in the diocese that is making the offer, but perhaps it will catch on. I sincerely hope it will.
We availed ourselves of the opportunity to have our children baptised in St Mary’s Undercroft, and our daughters were married at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Are those facilities well known, and are they well used? It is a great tradition. Are Members of Parliament aware of the facilities available to them, and do they use them?
The hon. Gentleman has done the House a service in reminding all colleagues that that opportunity is open to them. I know that many Members have experienced wonderful family occasions. However, in my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, I should warn colleagues that we shall need to look very carefully at what facilities will remain available while the House is being restored.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 21 January—Remaining stages of the Healthcare (International) Arrangements Bill.
Tuesday 22 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill.
Wednesday 23 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Tenant Fees Bill, followed by a motion relating to private Members’ Bills.
Thursday 24 January—A general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2019, followed by a debate on a motion relating to appropriate ME treatment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 January—The House will not be sitting.
I can confirm to the House that a statement and a motion on the Government’s next steps under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will be tabled on Monday. A full day’s debate on the motion will take place on Tuesday 29 January, subject to the agreement of the House.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
Let me say, on the eve of A.A. Milne’s birthday, that that is one of my favourite quotes from “Winnie-the-Pooh”—and, as Eeyore said:
“It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, a very happy birthday for Saturday?
Finally, may I leave the House with an uplifting and rather wise thought from “Winnie-the-Pooh”?
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
I thank the Leader of the House for her birthday wishes. I am looking forward to the occasion, although probably not quite as much as when I was about to be 15 rather than 56—but there you go.
May I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s good wishes to you, Mr Speaker? I am not quite sure about the bit about the fluff in the ear. I do not know whether she suspects that you are not listening to what she says.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. I am pleased that she said that the Prime Minister would make a statement on Monday. The Prime Minister said that the motion would be amendable. Can the Leader of the House confirm that it will be, and can she also confirm what the Government Chief Whip said when he jumped up to the Dispatch Box—he said that 90 minutes was not enough to debate such an important issue and that the Government would provide reasonable time to hold the debate and vote by 30 January?
This is the first Government to be held in contempt of Parliament. The Prime Minister has had a vote of no confidence from within her own party. There was a vote of no confidence in the Government yesterday, which the Government won because they have a confidence and supply agreement. Yet again, however, a record was broken: 432 hon. and right hon. Members voted against the Prime Minister’s deal. That was the biggest defeat of a Government in history.
The Leader of the House said in an interview on BBC Radio 4:
“The Government has been collaborating across the House ever since the beginning of this Parliament.”
Can she say with whom? The Leader of the House also said that the Prime Minister will be “speaking with senior parliamentarians”. Can she say with whom—can she publish a list of those favoured ones, or is this another case of divide and rule? The Leader of the House will note that the House voted against a no-deal scenario. That must be off the table, so could she confirm that that is off the table in any starting point for discussions?
This Opposition and Parliament have been working on behalf of the people. Pressure from Her Majesty’s Opposition led to a meaningful vote, a term coined by the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), and it took a Humble Address for Parliament to be given the impact assessments.
How can we have confidence in the referendum when the donor of the largest political donation in history is being investigated by the National Crime Agency? The leave campaign has been found to have broken electoral law, whistleblowers and journalists have raised alarms about the legality of the campaign, and the previous Government said no analysis of the impact should be given out by our independent civil service.
Yes, the people have voted, but it is our job as elected representatives to look at the evidence of the impact on the country, and not rely on the campaign rhetoric, which we now know to be based on falsehoods. We must rely on the evidence and the facts. So can the Leader of the House confirm whether she will move the business motion to extend article 50 in time? I know friends of the Leader of the House have said she might resign if she had to do that.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) asked the DExEU Minister to explain why the Government thought it appropriate as a matter of law to proceed under regulation 32, for reasons of urgency, extreme urgency and unforeseeable events, when they handed the contract of £14 million to Seaborne Freight, a company with no ships, no ports and no employees. Can the Leader of the House publish a list of all the contracts that have been awarded under this regulation by any Government Department?
As of last Friday, 73% of the time available for the Government to lay their Brexit statutory instruments has lapsed, but only 51% of SIs have been laid. A previous shadow Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Lord Cunningham, said in the House of Lords that there is a Brexit SI that is 630 pages long, 2.54 kg in weight and includes 11 disparate subjects. The Government are clearly doing all they can to avoid proper scrutiny. Baroness Smith, shadow Leader in the Lords, says that she holds both of them in both hands so she does not have to go to the gym. Can the Leader of the House update the House on the progress of the Brexit SIs that need to be laid before the UK exits the EU?
In yesterday’s confidence vote debate the Prime Minister said:
“when you have worked hard all your life, you will get a good pension and security and dignity in your old age”.
Not if you are a WASPI woman, and not if you are a couple where only one of you is over pensionable age, because a written statement on Monday showed that there would be a £7,000 pension cut for the poorest elderly couples. The Prime Minister said:
“where growing up you will get the best possible education, not because your parents can afford to pay for it but because that is what every local school provides”.
Not according to new analysis by the House of Commons Library, showing that total education spending, including spending on schools and colleges, in the UK has fallen by over £7 billion in real terms since 2010. The Prime Minister said:
“where, when you have children of your own, you will be able to rely on our world-class NHS”.—[Official Report, 16 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1185.]
But not if you are on NHS waiting lists, which have grown to 4.3 million. The number of people waiting longer than two months for cancer treatment has almost doubled since 2010 and £7 billion has been cut from adult social care since 2010, leaving 1.4 million elderly and vulnerable people without care and support. The Prime Minister needs to come to the House and correct the record. It is no wonder that, in his speech, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs focused on the Leader of the Opposition rather than on the confidence in his own Government.
May I also ask the Leader of the House if she will in principle talk to the usual channels about proxy voting? I do not want to discuss individual cases, just the principle of proxy voting. What is the timetable for coming back to the House and ensuring that is put in place?
The Leader of the House mentioned the Holocaust Memorial Day debate. The book will be available to sign next week; it was opened this week. On Monday, it is Martin Luther King Day, whose words we must remember:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all”.
I hope that we all heed those words as we work towards tolerance, mutual respect, justice and opportunity and as we work to find a solution.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her various comments. I can confirm that the debate on Tuesday 29 January will not be limited to 90 minutes. The Government will ensure that sufficient time is available so the House can fully consider the matter for the whole day. The arrangements for the debate are subject to the House agreeing those arrangements, and it will be brought forward as a business of the House motion, which will be amendable and debatable.
The hon. Lady asks about my claim that there have been discussions across the House. She will appreciate that the Government have brought forward 46 Bills, 33 of which have received Royal Assent, and that in a hung Parliament there is considerable collaboration. Nearly 1,500 amendments were tabled to the EU withdrawal Bill, and on many of them the Government sought to do cross-party deals to ensure we could get the business through. By definition, given that 33 Bills have received Royal Assent, there has been a great deal of cross-party collaboration. It is important that she accepts that. Those are the facts. That is the truth of the matter.
The hon. Lady asks what the position is on a no-deal Brexit. She will be aware that, Parliament having passed the EU withdrawal Act, the legal default is that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March and, if a deal has not been voted for, it will be with no deal, unless other alternative arrangements are put in place.
The hon. Lady says that the people have spoken and she is absolutely right—the people did speak. She then suggested it is up to Members of Parliament to decide what we do in response. I would slightly disagree with her. The people have spoken and it is our job to fulfil that, in line with the requirements of the people. This House is a servant of the people of this country—the entire United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady asks about progress on Brexit SIs. She will appreciate we have gone further than any previous Government in being open and transparent about the plans for secondary legislation. I remain confident that all required statutory instruments that need to be will be brought forward in time for exit day. I have recently exchanged letters with the chairman of the sifting committee to clarify some of the affirmative SIs that need to be brought forward in Committee. More than 300 Brexit SIs have now been laid, which is more than half the SIs we anticipate will be required by exit day and, as I say, we remain confident.
The hon. Lady makes various assertions about what the Prime Minister said. I gently say that from the Dispatch Box she could welcome, as I do, the fact that the economy is 18% bigger than it was in 2010 and has grown for eight consecutive years, that wages have outstripped inflation for eight consecutive months, and that median household incomes are up by £1,400 in real terms since 2010. She should celebrate the fact that more people are in work than ever before, that wages are growing at their fastest rate for a decade, that 1.9 million more children are being taught in good or outstanding schools than in 2010 and that this Government have committed a bigger investment in the NHS than ever before in its entire history. She should celebrate those things, but I fear she does not.
The hon. Lady made a point about proxy voting. It is a serious point, and the whole House knows my view. It is vital that families get the opportunity to spend time with their new babies. I will be bringing forward a motion as soon as I can on this subject. As all hon. Members will appreciate, there are no clear-cut views—for example, on how far it should extend and to what sort of motions it should apply—but I have been consulting broadly on the matter, but I hope to bring that forward as soon as possible.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on laws governing local authority employees standing in parliamentary elections? At the moment, they are banned from standing for the authority for which they work but can stand in parliamentary elections. That may not be a problem for the House, but personally I think the law rather strange.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The present law excludes local council employees who hold a politically restricted post, as defined in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, from standing in both parliamentary and local authority elections. He may like to raise the matter with Cabinet Office Ministers, perhaps in an Adjournment debate, so that he can seek further information.
I call Pete Wishart.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I wish you a happy birthday for Saturday from everyone on the SNP Benches? Perhaps you can get a game of tennis in if you get the chance. I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
Well, we are all still here! I congratulate the Leader of the House and her Government on winning the no-confidence vote last night. At least they can still win one vote, and the nation is grateful—or perhaps not. Amazingly, this is a Government who treat the biggest defeat in parliamentary history as a mere flesh wound. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, they fight on, armless and legless, prepared to bite the nation into submission. With similar delusion, they fight on as though nothing has happened. The red lines remain in place, there is no sense that other options are being considered seriously, and the Government still believe that a little bit of tinkering around the edges of their deal will be enough to make everything all right. The Government need to start to get real about their position and demonstrate that they are prepared to take Tuesday’s defeat seriously. May we have a statement, to show good will towards the House, to say that the Government will stop the clock and ensure that no-deal is taken off the table? That would be the best way to engage with the other parties in this House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for clarifying the situation around the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday and the debate a week on Tuesday. However, the business statement did not cover the fact that, according to the amended business motion approved by the House relating to the meaningful vote, the Government have three days to bring forward that debate, so why is the debate coming seven days after the statement? Next week’s business is important, but the debate could be held next week. The clock is ticking, and we do not need to wait until Tuesday week. The Leader of the House did not quite confirm this to the shadow Leader of the House, so will she ensure that any motion is fully debatable and amendable and that all options will be considered?
Lastly, this has been raised previously, but we need to review the House’s appalling voting arrangements. Tuesday night was awful, with cramped conditions no better than a cattle wagon while Members of Parliament vote. What will have to happen before we decide to do something? Does somebody have to give birth in a Lobby before the matter is tackled seriously? This is the 21st century, and our voting arrangements should match the times in which we live. Get shot of these ridiculous voting arrangements.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his insight and for his encouragement of electronic voting. I fear that there is no clear view on that and that it may even prove more controversial in this House than leaving the European Union, which is one of the extraordinary things about the Houses of Parliament. Nevertheless, I am always willing to talk to him about such things. Of course, when we decant from this place into temporary arrangements, it might be possible to trial different alternatives if the House wants to do so—[Hon. Members: “No!”] As the hon. Gentleman can hear, it is a controversial thought.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether no deal can be taken off the table, but he must surely appreciate that doing that and then stopping preparations for no deal would be a totally incompetent thing for a sensible Government to do. The Government must continue to prepare for all eventualities, including no deal. It is not possible to remove no deal from the table and still abide by the will of the people, as expressed in the referendum.
The hon. Gentleman asks about next week’s motion. I again confirm, as I thought I already had, that it is debatable, amendable and subject to agreement by this House, on a motion that will be tabled on Monday; the statement and motion will be tabled on Monday. I offer the hon. Gentleman a bit of advice from “Winnie-the-Pooh” that I have been dying to give him:
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
May we have an early debate on collective Cabinet responsibility and what it means in the current circumstances? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to lead that debate, so that she can explain to the House the frustration that we all feel on her behalf at having the 2017 Conservative party manifesto, which she supported on the “Today” programme this week, undermined by treacherous comments from our own Cabinet colleagues?
My hon. Friend is really tempting me, but I shall resist. All my Cabinet colleagues are absolutely in agreement that we will deliver on the will of the people as expressed in the referendum of 2016. We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March. That remains Government policy and we will continue to prepare for all eventualities.
I add my personal good wishes to you, Mr Speaker, and wish you a happy birthday on Saturday. I hope Saturday also brings you three points from your game with Chelsea at the Emirates.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing that next Thursday will be Backbench Business Committee business, with the Holocaust Memorial Day debate and a debate on appropriate treatment for myalgic encephalomyelitis—ME. That will free up the time in Westminster Hall that we had put aside for the Holocaust Memorial Day debate, and Westminster Hall will now host a debate on Home Office resourcing for policing and tackling knife crime, particularly in London, on that Thursday afternoon.
I really welcome the House’s debating Holocaust Memorial Day. Members might not be aware that I represent and live in the midst of a large orthodox Haredi Jewish community in Gateshead. They are my neighbours and friends. Many of them come from families that fled to Gateshead in the 1920s and the 1930s, and that is obviously something that hits home when we remember the Holocaust on that day. I also remind the Government that the Haredi Jewish community, being very orthodox and having its own particular way of living within its culture and creed, has been hit rather hard by the two-child limit on benefits. That is something that we should be aware of across this House, because that limit is having an impact on culturally religious communities.
The Leader of the House talks about the many things she believes the Government have done well, but I am afraid that in my constituency unemployment in December was 1,060 higher than in the same month in the previous year. Everything in the garden is not rosy everywhere.
I totally respect the hon. Gentleman, and I thank him for his remarks about the Jewish community in his constituency. I think all hon. Members appreciate the contribution that they make to our society. I would certainly encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss the specific issues and problems.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for explaining when the Government’s motion will be debated. Will she be arranging the business of the House on that occasion in such a way that there will be an opportunity, if Mr Speaker selects a large number of amendments and if they are pressed to a vote, to vote on each of them sequentially?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the motion to agree how we proceed on the motion will itself be amendable and debatable, and what will take place will require the House’s agreement.
I should like to declare an interest. Some years ago, when we were in a minority Government, I was in our Whips Office. Since then, for some five years, I was either shadow Leader of the House or Leader of the House. I feel an old-fashioned sense of unease when I hear people exploring options that might lead to the Government reducing or losing their control of the business of the House. However, that is of course entirely unnecessary. It is within the remit of the Government, using their access to the Order Paper, to facilitate exploration of where the will of the House lies. I strongly urge the Leader of the House to consider and explore, in consultation with colleagues, ways in which the Government might do that in order to facilitate the House’s expression of its wishes—the Prime Minister says she wants it to come to a decision—rather than, as has perhaps inadvertently happened in the past, almost obstructing the expression of the will of the House.
Order. When the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) served as Leader of the House, she was such a good Leader of the House and so popular and respected on both sides that I recall from 20 years ago that when we feared from press reports that her role as Leader of the House was at risk, the right hon. Members for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Buckingham (John Bercow) all sprang to our feet during business questions to insist that she must remain in her place.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) for her suggestion. She will equally appreciate that when, under her Government, indicative voting was attempted on House of Lords reform, it did not come up with a clear solution—that is the other side of the argument. Nevertheless, I am grateful for her remarks and suggestions.
Following on from the previous question, the Procedure Committee met yesterday and we are doing an urgent inquiry on these issues and on the recent rulings from the Chair. May I encourage the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, to come to our Committee, if you are invited?
As the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) just said, there is a point about those precedents. The shadow Leader of the House hopes soon to be in government, and it would be quite a dangerous precedent if Back Benchers were given precedence over the Government in introducing business. These are major constitutional issues, and we should not play this on the hoof or approach it from our being pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit. We should try to come to some sort of consensus.
My right hon. Friend’s final point is exactly right. There are some very serious issues about the way the House conducts its business and, indeed, about the way our democracy is managed, and we need to consider those very carefully and soberly, although I agree with you, Mr Speaker. I would not storm the Procedure Committee’s meeting uninvited but, if invited, I would of course be available to come along.
Transport for London is in the process of phasing out existing rolling stock on the Barking-Gospel Oak line, which runs through my constituency, but TfL has done it without making sure that new trains will be in place. That means we will have a few weeks, perhaps longer, in which there will not be any trains on one of the big commuter lines across north London. Even for TfL this is incompetence of a pretty high order. Can we have a debate on transport, and particularly trains, so I can get a few more things off my chest?
There will be many hon. and right hon. Members who completely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. The situation sounds appalling, and he might want to seek an urgent Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, because many colleagues are frustrated about issues with rolling stock.
Many charities across the United Kingdom benefit from national lottery funding, including charities in my Angus constituency such as the Forfar Musical Society and the Brechin Photographic Society. I am hosting an event in my constituency on 22 February to show other charities the funding that is available. Can we have a debate in this place on the outstanding contribution of charities in our constituencies and on how they can access further support?
I am sure many hon. Members would agree with my hon. Friend that so many charities benefit from national lottery grants, and I commend her for suggesting a public meeting to spread the news about what is available. Last year, the Big Lottery Fund distributed more than 11,000 grants across the UK including, in her constituency of Angus, to charities as diverse as HOPE organic garden, Keptie Friends, the Brechin Photographic Society, the Forfar Musical Society and Strathmore rugby football club. Congratulations to all of them. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek a Westminster Hall debate at least, because I am sure many Members would like to participate in such a debate.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the deteriorating and serious situation in Zimbabwe: the internet was deliberately stopped by the Government for three days; roads, schools and banks are closed; hundreds of people have been arrested; and there is complete silence, as people cannot communicate with each other. Will she ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement? I have tried to get an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, and I will continue to do so, but this is serious and we must not forget what is happening in that wonderful country.
I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s concern. We all had such high hopes for Zimbabwe’s recovery, and what is happening is very concerning. We have Foreign Office questions next Tuesday, and I encourage her to raise this directly with the Secretary of State then.
Every day, crime blights lives. Those just about managing in hard-pressed communities particularly suffer, as burglars steal prized possessions and trash homes; small shops are regularly burgled, with thieves making life a misery for the shopkeepers; and neighbours, through disorder and threats, spoil people’s peace. Yet we hear that the Government now plan to send fewer thieves and thugs to prison. That might appeal to bleeding-heart liberals who live gated lives in leafy enclaves and see things through the prism of privilege, but it will disadvantage the police, disempower magistrates and disappoint the public. A visit from Ministers will allow them to defend this perverse plan, say why they will not defend those who suffer and give Members a chance to give a voice to victims.
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly serious issue. He will be aware that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee has just announced a debate in Westminster Hall next Thursday afternoon in which my right hon. Friend might like to take part. I agree with him that prisons are there to punish offenders and keep the public safe, but they must also help people to turn their lives around. There is a balance to be struck, but I am sure that the Government will continue to consider the issue carefully.
Many happy returns for when your birthday comes, Mr Speaker.
I make no apology for raising this issue yet again. I had long and successful treatment for claustrophobia shortly after I joined this House. On Tuesday night, I had to be assisted through the Lobby by a right hon. Member—he is not in his place, so I will not name him—because although I did not have a panic attack, I felt very uncomfortable. I know what a claustrophobia panic attack is like, because I have suffered such attacks in the past. I assure Members that I would have caused havoc in the Lobby had I had an attack on Tuesday night. I plead with the authorities, with the Chair of the Procedure Committee and anyone else who is listening to consider having a debate in which we can put forward these points, so that the House can really look at the health and safety issues involved in the nonsense that happened in the Lobby on Tuesday evening.
First, I am really sorry to hear about the experience that the hon. Lady had; that is not acceptable and I am happy to meet her to discuss what more we might be able to do. I do not think it necessarily means changing procedures, but there certainly could be other ways to facilitate her particular situation.
May we have a debate on reducing waiting times? Is the Leader of the House aware that during a lifetime the average motorist will spend approximately six months waiting at red traffic lights? May we have a national audit of our use of traffic lights in this country to see how many of them can be safely turned off?
That could be a very popular debate indeed, and my right hon. Friend raises an important issue. Traffic is not only frustrating for motorists, but harmful to our economic prosperity. I can tell him that we have seen more than a quarter of a trillion pounds of infrastructure investment, public and private, since 2010. A huge amount of money is going into new road building, and trying to re-work towns and cities so that the traffic keeps flowing better. There is a long way to go. He might well want to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate on this subject.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. This week I received correspondence from Cardtronics, which is ending free-to-access ATMs in my and another three constituencies. We have had a Backbench Business debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) has a ten-minute rule Bill. May I urge the Leader of the House to work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and to allow a debate in Government time on the subject of the ten-minute rule Bill, so that we can tackle the scourge of paid- for money?
I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s point. It is really problematic that people are not able to access their own money because of charges that they simply cannot afford. This House has looked at the issue a number of times and I encourage her to raise it directly with Ministers at Treasury questions on 29 January.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. May we have an urgent statement on changes by Barclays bank to its charges for community groups? Previously, anyone with assets worth more than £100,000 would have free banking, but the bank is now going to subject charities and community groups with assets worth more than £100,000 to very expensive charges. That will have a devastating effect on charities in Harlow, such as the Harlow food bank and the Michael Roberts Charitable Trust. Can we have an urgent statement from the Government and can we take action to deal with the issue?
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has raised this point. Charities should not be placed on the same commercial playing field as businesses, and it is right that the money they raise can be spent on their charitable work. The decision taken by the bank is disappointing. I am a big fan of bank account number portability and have campaigned for it in the past. I would, therefore, make a suggestion to charities in Harlow that are concerned about this: vote with your feet and switch your account to a provider that will provide free banking. I hope that the bank concerned will have heard my right hon. Friend’s question, and I suggest that he raises the issue again in an Adjournment debate.
International Christian Concern has reported that Vietnamese Government officials arrested and threatened 33 Christians in Phá Lóm village last November. Police reportedly tried to force the Christians to abandon their faith and worship a statute of the Buddha instead. Four of the group were arrested and beaten after they refused to do so, and Government officials continued to harass Christians in several other raids throughout November and December. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this very important issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a matter of great concern regarding the abuse of people for their faith, and he is right to do so. I encourage him to raise it directly at Foreign Office questions next week.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) about the issue of making up this House’s rules on the hoof. There is a very strong case for a business of the House committee, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House supported in a Conservative manifesto some time ago.
The Leader of the House has referred to next week’s motion on private Members’ Bills. She, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) and I signed a motion that would have provided extra days—one of which would have been this Friday—but it was blocked by the Labour Chief Whip. Does the Leader of the House still plan to give us those extra days, or is there going to be a reduction in their number?
I have announced that the House will have an opportunity next Wednesday to debate additional days for private Members’ Bills. I have listened carefully to representations made by colleagues, and I will table a motion ahead of that debate so that we can continue to make good progress on private Members’ Bills in this Session.
On Sunday evening, 23-year-old Nicole Newman was killed crossing the road in Penge, and her eight-month-old baby remains in a critical condition in hospital. I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in offering condolences to her family, including her partner Charlie. While there has been no suggestion that the driver was speeding, our council in Bromley has failed to implement 20 mph speed limits in residential areas, despite pressure from the Labour councillors to do so. Can we please therefore have a debate in Government time on speed limits in residential areas?
May I first say that that is an absolute tragedy? I am sure that all hon. Members will want to send their deep condolences to the family. The hon. Lady raises a very important point about speed limits. She will be aware that it is possible for local authorities to lower or indeed raise limits where that is felt suitable. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss the details of this tragic case.
Staffordshire police, in order better to investigate and prosecute online child sexual exploitation, has taken on some world-leading software from Semantics 21, which was developed in my own Stafford constituency. This software has been sold around the world—in the United States, Canada, and Australia and to police forces in Europe as well—yet it seems very difficult to get police forces in the UK, even those that would like to do it, to take it up. Will she see how we can have a debate or a statement on whether we can use world-leading software developed in the United Kingdom in UK police forces?
I commend my hon. Friend for raising the possibility of this software, and I absolutely agree that something that is created in the United Kingdom that saves police officers having to spend their time trawling through horrific images is a very good idea indeed. I encourage him to take it up directly with Home Office Ministers so that he can discuss with them what more can be done.
Yesterday, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman launched new guidelines for Ofsted. If adopted, the new proposals would mean that schools practising off-rolling will be punished by inspectors. I am glad to see that the proposals were welcomed by the Government, but will they provide a statement on how they intend to support schools with more resources to meet the new criteria?
I am very pleased to see that the hon. Lady has an Adjournment debate scheduled soon to discuss this directly with Ministers. She is extremely diligent in the way that she tackles this issue and she is right to do that. She will appreciate that Ofsted plays a critical role in our system and its inspection of schools, colleges and early-years providers has helped to drive up education standards right across the country. The Government are working closely with Ofsted as it develops its new framework, and will continue to do so to make sure that we keep raising standards while ensuring that the balance is right between improving school standards and protecting against exclusions.
May I join others, Mr Speaker, in wishing you a happy birthday for tomorrow, and, unusually for me, in hoping that you watch Arsenal win, particularly as they are playing Chelsea?
Across the country, a spate of local authorities is embarking on very dodgy financial deals. In particular, Harrow Council has wasted £25 million on a failed regeneration scheme and is trying to hush it up. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the limits on local authorities to borrow and invest in regeneration schemes?
I am sorry to hear of my hon. Friend’s concern about this particular investment by his local council. I encourage him to take it up either in an Adjournment debate or, indeed, at Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday 28 January.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on her note of whimsy as she opened proceedings today. It was much appreciated. A new harmony seems to be breaking out, which many of us, on all Benches, will welcome.
On a very serious question, as a Member of Parliament for West Yorkshire, I was deeply disappointed to see, yet again, police arrests of gangs suspected of grooming young girls and children. This is possibly the 14th town, city or urban area with such a case. Can we not have a debate on the need to look at the causes and what has been happening in our towns and cities so that we can really understand what has been going on and how we stop it?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman works with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) on a cross-party group that is looking into the issue. It is right that we do that and I commend him on trying to find a way forward. I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate so that that discussion can be had directly with Ministers. It is incredibly important that we do all we can to find out what is causing this problem of grooming young children and that we put a stop to it as soon as possible.
An NCP car park in the centre of Crawley has been sending motorists fines, even though it has not obtained the correct planning permission for signage. I seek assurances from the Government that the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) that is currently in the other place will receive Royal Assent at the earliest possible opportunity.
My hon. Friend raises a point that concerns not just his constituents in Crawley, but many others around the country. Drivers expect the NCP to play by the rules and erect clear signage, making them aware of any charges. The private Member’s Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) has gathered support across the House and with industry trade bodies, creating a single code of practice that applies to all private parking operators. This will be a significant step towards greater fairness, and I look forward to its swift passage in the Lords.
Can we have an urgent statement on the north Wales growth deal that was announced in the autumn Budget? This morning’s announcement by Hitachi concerning Wylfa power station takes away a £20 billion investment in north Wales and completely alters the premise on which the growth deal was introduced. We urgently need to discuss this, as it is as a major infrastructure project not just for north Wales and north-west England, but right across the UK.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. I was a big fan of that project and am disappointed to see what is happening now. He will appreciate that there is a statement following business questions and I encourage him to take this up with Ministers then.
Will the Leader of the House bring forward a debate in Government time for the House to discuss enshrining in law the rights of the 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK now so that, regardless of whether or not a deal can be finalised by 29 March, our great nation’s commitment to these EU citizens—our friends and neighbours—is absolute?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. All EU citizens who have come to the UK to make their lives here and contribute to our economy and society are very welcome, and they will remain welcome under all circumstances, whether we leave the European Union with or without a deal.
The outstanding Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, in conjunction with our local health services and my own Rebalancing charity, are bringing lung scans to Aspley, Bilborough and Strelley this month, following our very successful roll-out in Bulwell last year that detected cancers and saved lives. Might we have a debate in Government time about the importance of lung health and the benefits of rolling out lung health screening across the country?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his constituents on their excellent and incredibly important work in lung screening. I agree with him about the importance of such screening. He will be pleased to know that the new NHS 10-year plan includes a much greater focus on early detection and prevention, with the aspiration of many more people surviving cancers in the future. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise these issues directly with Ministers.
Could we have a debate about local hospitals? This year is the 200th anniversary of Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin. Despite being the smallest district general hospital anywhere in Scotland, the 550 staff provide outstanding care for local constituents. Would the Leader of the House accept my invitation to visit Dr Gray’s to meet the local staff, who provide outstanding care in the hospital?
As ever, my hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituents, and I congratulate Dr Gray’s hospital on its anniversary. I know that he has been working hard to support the “Keep MUM” campaign to reverse the downgrading of the maternity unit at the hospital—an issue that he has raised at business questions previously. I would love to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency if I can find a slot in my diary; he has raised so many fascinating stories about his constituency that I think it would be a truly interesting visit.
I have been shocked at times by the attitudes that are displayed in this House. When I was a Government Whip, I remember being particularly shocked by a Tory Opposition Whip who refused to nod through the Lobby a recently delivered mother—a nursing mother. I was shocked by that. I think that this week many of us in this House are ashamed of the position that one of our colleagues has been put in simply to register her vote on the most important thing that probably any of us will be voting on in our time in this place, whereby she had to put her health into second place in order to do that. I think that many of us feel ashamed. That is not the way, in 2019, that we should treat each other in any workplace. Because we will now be having a series of other very important votes, may I ask the Leader of the House when we will actually see the proposal for proxy voting implemented so that Members are not put in that position ever again?
May I say that I have the greatest regard for the hon. Lady? She raises very important issues in this place and she is right to do so. She is raising the issue of one of our colleagues who chose to come to the House to vote. The usual channels will all confirm, and indeed the Speaker confirmed yesterday, that a pair was offered. That is the normal arrangement for somebody who cannot be present. It was offered well in advance and that offer remains open to her. I myself am extremely concerned about the hon. Lady’s welfare and wish her all health and happiness with her new baby. I do personally wish that she would follow the advice of her doctors. I genuinely do not believe that any of her constituents would possibly require her to turn up here in a wheelchair when it was perfectly possible to have received what is the normal arrangement in this place for people with conditions—and there were others, with long-term health conditions, who were paired on that same day. I really do wish that she would accept that offer.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and the Leader of the House for what she has said. Of course, as we discovered last summer, it is possible for the credibility of the pairing system to be damaged, perhaps irreparably, when it is abused or dishonoured. Moreover, as hon. and right hon. Members are aware, the House has twice debated the matter of proxy voting in circumstances of baby leave, and on both occasions the will of the House in support of such a system was made clear. Therefore, it is imperative, following those two debates in February of last year and September of last year, that effect is given to the will of the House. It would of course be intolerable—literally intolerable—if, for example, a Whips Office, because of its own opposition to such a change, were to frustrate the will of the House. That simply cannot happen, and I very much doubt that Members will be tolerant of it for any length of time. The House has spoken and change must happen. It is a lamentable failure of leadership thus far that it has not done so.
I do not mean to labour the point, Mr Speaker, but I think it utterly incredible that in our employment as Members of Parliament we are treated differently from anybody else across the UK or beyond. There is no other job anywhere where someone would be asked to, and put in the position where they have to, choose to come to work the day before they give birth or to delay the birth of their child. I am sorry, but I am fed up with hearing excuses from the Leader of the House and ridiculous arguments about not putting in place proxy voting, baby leave, and, frankly, electronic voting. We only need to look to Wales and Scotland, where we have Parliaments that have seats for every Member and electronic voting. For goodness’ sake, this is the 21st century—what are this Government doing? It is about time they sorted this out so that we can enjoy a proper status and be able to consider having children. I do not have any children but I may consider having some at some point, and I do not know how that would be manageable in the current circumstance.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments, and I am listening very carefully. She will appreciate that what happens in this place is a matter for Members. A number of Members have raised with me the need for those with long-term illnesses, family emergencies and so on to be accommodated, but I have heard from other Members that that would not command the support of the House. I am seeking to provide a solution that can command the support of the House.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was able to be nodded through. If it was a matter of having her vote recorded—[Interruption.] Members are shaking their heads. The usual channels agreed that she could come to this place at any moment on that day and be nodded through, to have her vote recorded. On this occasion, until we have finalised the way forward, that is my strong recommendation. I hope that the hon. Lady will take medical advice and not come into the House unnecessarily.
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) has had to raise this and that the Government Whips Office is blocking progress on this matter, but let us hope that some progress will be made before too long. [Interruption.] Well, that is the situation—that is the reality, and that is the evidence. It is very clear; there is no doubt about it.
Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker, as we say in Wales. In 1991, 9 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants. By 2016, that figure had gone up to 65 million. In 2004, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommended and approved the science of mindfulness for the treatment of repeat episodes of depression. Can the Leader of the House guarantee a debate in Government time on why the use of antidepressants has shot up over that period, while mindfulness has just bubbled along?
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I certainly was not aware of the shocking rise in the use of antidepressants. He will be aware that mindfulness courses are offered in this place. I have tried to attend one, but due to the busyness of this place, I have not managed to get there yet. I certainly agree that we could all do with some mindfulness at this time.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are investing significant sums in improving mental health and making good on the pledge for parity of esteem between physical and mental health. We will see many more people able to access talking therapies and the kind of support he is talking about, but I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate, because I am sure that many Members would want to contribute to it.
There is a great deal of ambiguity about state pensions for 1950s women, now that the legal challenge by the campaign group BackTo60 is in the High Court. Can the Leader of the House advise whether parliamentarians can continue to discuss and make representations in the House about this very important issue and, more importantly, whether the Government will respond?
I can assure the hon. Lady that Members can always continue to raise issues and concerns in this place. She will be aware that the Government do not comment on judicial reviews that are under way, due to the separation of those powers. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, so that she and other Members can discuss, as we have on many an occasion, the real concerns about the WASPI women.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). On a slightly different point, I have a constituent who entered into two contracts relating to cosmetic machinery for laser treatment. The contract for the training and asset, neither of which were particularly effective, cost my constituent a great deal of money. In addition, great concern was expressed after the training about the value of it and whether it was in fact safe to carry out the procedure. Can we have a debate in Government time on the use of health equipment for cosmetic purposes and companies’ use of dual contracts to, in essence, entrap people to spend money on a product that does not appear to be worth it?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We are all aware of stories of unnecessary procedures and the inappropriate use of so-called medical interventions. He is absolutely right to raise that, and I encourage him to seek either an Adjournment debate on the specific case he wants to raise, or perhaps a Westminster Hall debate so that hon. Members can contribute with their own experiences.
The Leader of the House does not need mindfulness; she should just carry on reading “Winnie-the-Pooh”. For when she sends her card—signed, “Love, Andrea”—to you, Mr Speaker, I would remind her that when Piglet asked Pooh:
“How do you spell ‘love’?”,
“You don’t spell it…you feel it.”
Even a bear of very little brain knows that this House wants to rule out a no-deal Brexit. When is the Leader of the House going to give us an opportunity to do just that?
I am just too tempted, Mr Speaker; you are going to love this. I say in response to the hon. Gentleman:
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
On the hon. Gentleman’s point, a competent Government have to continue to prepare for all eventualities. That is just the reality.
Coventry’s year-long reign as the European city of sport is officially under way. Our city will use the year not only to promote and celebrate the benefits of sport and physical activity, but to act as a catalyst for a fitter, healthier and happier Coventry. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my city on securing European city of sport status, and will she also arrange a debate in Government time on the positive impact that sport can have on individuals and the wider society?
First, I thoroughly congratulate all in Coventry on the fantastic start to their year as city of sport. We all wish them well. It is a brilliant role model for all of us who want to see more activity in schools. In our own lives, we should all get out there and do sporting activities when we can. I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising that in the Chamber, and I will certainly look at whether we can facilitate Government time for such a debate.
The Bridge of Weir village post office in my constituency is run by the community for the community, but it is not recognised as a community post office. It is therefore unable to access the funds set aside to secure the future of village post offices, due to rules set by the Government on distance to retailers and other post offices. However, no other retailer is interested in taking on the franchise, and there is very limited public transport to the next village post office. May we have a debate on the importance of community post offices and the rules surrounding them, particularly in the light of many bank branches closing and people relying on post offices?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of community post offices. They do a fantastic job, and they are often the only retail outlet as well as the only financial services outlet. As he knows, the post office network has agreed to provide basic banking services for communities, which is absolutely vital. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise his thoughts directly with a Minister.
Last April, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a children’s funeral fund in memory of my son, Martin. Nine months later, we have still not seen it. That means that nearly 3,000 families have had to pay to bury their children. In November, I and other Members from across this House wrote to the Prime Minister and asked for an update. We have not received a response. Will the Leader of the House advise me where else I can go to make sure that Martin’s fund becomes a reality?
May I once again commend the hon. Lady for her fantastic campaign, which has had such widespread support across the House? I will be very happy to chase up a response as soon as possible on her behalf.
May we please have an urgent debate on the disposal of local authority public assets? We are seeing an industrial-scale sell-off. It is clear that certain local councils, such as local Warwick District Council, are entering into deals with private companies, such as Public Sector plc, without even going out to tender. Those companies are profiting greatly, as are the Guernsey-based private equity companies that are helping to finance the deals. I am extremely concerned that we are on the verge of a Carillion-style risk, given the concentration of these deals with one company such as PSP.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that concerning issue. Questions to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are on Monday 28 January, and I encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers.
Before 29 March, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must get through something like 80 statutory instruments, and the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill will come back on Report and Third Reading. The Leader of the House might be Superwoman, but how will she do that?
I am absolutely not Superwoman, but I consider the matter carefully on a regular basis—indeed, I consider daily the priorities for legislation and the time available. Obviously we are not flush with time, but I believe we have enough to get all our secondary legislation through, as well as the primary legislation that needs Royal Assent by departure date. I will continue to keep such matters under review, and they will require the co-operation and support of the House.
The National Police Air Service helicopter has been called out 1,044 times by Humberside police in the past year, and deployed only 593 times. May we have a debate in Government time about the need for and availability of shared policing resources, to ensure that areas such as Grimsby get the community safety they deserve?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and it is vital that resources are shared appropriately when they can be, to ensure that all our citizens receive appropriate levels of support from our police and other emergency services. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the matter directly with Ministers.
The Leader of the House’s responsibilities for the restoration and renewal project mean that she has a great opportunity to shape one of the biggest public sector procurement exercises over the next generation. With that in mind, how will she ensure that once this palace is renewed, it is stuffed to the rafters with the best of British manufacturing? When it comes to ceramics—[Laughter.] Yes, I am predictable, but my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and I would be more than happy to facilitate conversations between the ceramics industry and architects here to ensure that, whether for pipes, plates, teapots or tiles, Stoke-on-Trent has its place in the new palace.
The hon. Gentleman got a resoundingly popular response to that. Of course, there is a long way to go with the restoration and renewal of the palace. We have made good progress, and the legislation is now under joint scrutiny under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). Once that has taken place, we can start considering procurement procedures. There is already a commitment to look carefully at maximising the use of UK producers as far as possible, and there will be plenty of opportunities for all sorts of small and medium-sized enterprises in our constituencies.
Ellis, who is the grandson of my constituent Eleanor Haining, has a rare and life-threatening brain disease—indeed, he has the only known case in the world with such early symptoms. As can be imagined, he needs a lot of specialist equipment to get him from home to hospital, and his family urgently need a larger car. The disability living allowance mobility component cannot be accessed until a child reaches three years of age, so may we have a Government statement to address that anomaly and say whether specific exemptions could be applied in such circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises a serious constituency issue, and if he would like to write to me with the details I will take it up with the Department for Work and Pensions on his behalf. I am sure that if he raises it with Ministers they will also be happy to deal with him directly.
I thank the Leader of the House and everybody who has made it possible to debate knife crime next Thursday. This is a serious issue, and I believe that last week, on 9 January, there was a meeting of the serious violence taskforce. I will not stop saying that the Home Secretary should come to the Chamber to make a regular statement to the House about what is happening with respect to knife crime and other serious violence on our streets. Debates are fine, but we need regular statements. Will the Leader of the House speak to the Home Secretary about that so that we get regular updates? I think all Members of the House would appreciate that enormously.
The hon. Gentleman has raised this very serious issue on a number of occasions at business questions, and he is absolutely right to do so. He knows that I share his grave concern about what is happening on our streets. He is also aware that the serious violence strategy and taskforce, the Offensive Weapons Bill, and the various community projects to encourage young people away from an appalling life of crime, pain and death are a real focus for the Government. I can assure him that I will write to the Home Secretary following our exchange today and pass on his concerns.
May we have a debate on the UK’s most common genetic disorder, haemochromatosis, following today’s report that it may be 20 times more common than was previously thought?
I too heard about that report, which was very concerning. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this matter in the House. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate, so that she can discuss it directly with Ministers.
All the best for your birthday on Saturday, Mr Speaker. I do not know about you, but in my experience it is a very fine week to have a birthday, and this year has been more memorable than most.
It was a great pleasure last week to visit the 277th Boys’ Brigade in my constituency, who attend each week at St Monica’s primary school in Milton. I presented them with badges for all their work during UK Parliament Week on the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which led to women’s suffrage. They did a lot of work on that, so it was great to present them with the badges.
Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in Government time on the excellent work of youth organisations, such as the Boys’ Brigade, which was founded in Glasgow by William Alexander Smith in 1883 at Woodside hall, just a small distance away from where the Boys’ Brigade in my constituency meets today? Today, the Boys’ Brigade has over 750,000 members in more than 60 countries around the world. That is a huge achievement and a huge opportunity. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate in Government time on that wonderful achievement?
First, may I congratulate the Boys’ Brigade in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? It is the most amazing youth movement right across the world and it really is an example of what can be done to encourage young people to engage with the world around them, particularly during Parliament Week. Just last year, we celebrated 100 years since some women got the vote. Congratulations to everyone for their work. I do think there would be popular calls from hon. Members to discuss this issue, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to talk to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it could facilitate such a debate.
The Greater Manchester spatial framework is causing a great deal of anxiety in my constituency. The plan, with a Government-imposed housing target, will mean the net loss of green-belt land. At the same time, insufficient funding is in place to redevelop brownfield sites that the community is desperate to see redeveloped. How can it be right that landowners, through no positive action on their part, can be made millionaires overnight through a simple change in land use policy, when brownfield sites, which are desperate for funding from Government, are being left to rot? How can that be a fair settlement for the community?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious point. We all recognise the urgent need for much, much more house building, so that more people can meet the aspiration of owning their own home or being in secure living accommodation. It is vital that we do that, but the way in which we do it is incredibly important. Local government questions are on Monday 28 January, and I encourage him to raise that with Ministers then.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, wish you a happy birthday on Saturday? It seems that all the best people are born in January, especially my mum. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That’s on the record now.
David Bowie was as well.
Indeed, Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House will be aware of my ongoing work to try to tackle the impact of social media, especially cyber-bullying, on the mental health of young people. The inquiry I chaired has recently concluded and we hope to bring a report forward this spring. What is clear from the early findings, including from young people who have given reams of oral and written evidence, is that the Government need to do more to start to tackle the problems relating to the effect of social media on young people’s mental health. May we have a debate soon, so that we can debate these important issues and the Government can start responding to the very real problems that young people are facing across social media platforms?
I have something in common with the hon. Gentleman, as my mum also has her birthday in January—as of course does A. A. Milne, who has been the theme of today’s business questions. Indeed, A. A. Milne’s birthday is tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a very serious point about the harm being done to young people’s mental health, not necessarily only by cyber-bullying and online trolling and abuse, but also by the overuse of social media, which militates against them having an outdoor life whereby people say, “Go outside and play if you’re bored.” A lot needs to be done not only by the social media giants, which have to come to the table and sort out some of the problems we have, but by society generally to make it less acceptable to spend hours and hours online instead of doing other things. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I pay tribute to him for doing so. I encourage him perhaps to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that all Members can share their experiences.
May we have a debate on pension credit and universal credit? Will the Leader of the House say what justification there can be for forcing some older couples to claim universal credit instead of pension credit, thus cutting £7,000 from those low-income households?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have had quite a lot of urgent questions and statements on universal credit, and I hope he has taken the opportunity to raise the issue then. I reassure him that the Government are committed to ensuring that the roll-out of universal credit is fair. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has already put in place some changes. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a further issue, I encourage him perhaps to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following Hitachi’s announcement this morning that it intends to suspend development of the proposed Wylfa nuclear power project, as well as work relating to Oldbury.
The economics of the energy market have changed significantly in recent years. The cost of renewable technologies such as offshore wind has fallen dramatically, to the point where they now require very little public subsidy and will soon require none. We have also seen a strengthening in the pipeline of projects coming forward, meaning that renewable energy may now be just as cheap, but also readily available.
As a result of the developments over the last eight years, we have a well-supplied electricity market. Our electricity margin forecast is more than 11% for this winter, having grown for each of the last five years. While that is good news for consumers as we strive to reduce carbon emissions at the lowest cost, that positive trend has not been true when it comes to new nuclear. Across the world, a combination of factors, including tighter safety regulations, has seen the cost of most new nuclear projects increase as the cost of alternatives has fallen and the cost of construction has risen. That has made the challenge of attracting private finance into projects more difficult than ever, with investors favouring other technologies that are less capital-intensive up front, quicker to build and less exposed to cost overruns.
As I made clear to the House in June, the Government continue to believe that a diversity of energy sources is the best way of delivering secure supply at the lowest cost and that nuclear has an important role to play in our future energy mix. In my June statement, I therefore reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to nuclear. I also announced that we would be entering into negotiations with Hitachi over its project at Wylfa. Given the financing challenges facing new nuclear projects, I made clear to the House that we would be considering a new approach to supporting Wylfa that included the potential for significant direct investment from the Government.
As I am sure the House will understand, while negotiations were ongoing the details were commercially sensitive, but following Hitachi’s announcement I can set out in more candid terms the support for the project that the Government were willing to offer. First, they were willing to consider taking a one-third equity stake in it, alongside investment from Hitachi, agencies of the Government of Japan, and other strategic partners. Secondly, they were willing to consider providing all the debt financing required for the completion of construction. Thirdly, they agreed to consider providing a contract for difference, with a strike price expected to be no more than £75 per megawatt-hour. I hope the House will agree that that is a significant and generous package of potential support, which goes beyond what any Government have been willing to consider in the past.
Despite that potential investment, and strong support from the Government of Japan, Hitachi reached the view that the project still posed too great a commercial challenge, particularly given its desire to deconsolidate it from its balance sheet and the likely level of return on its investment.
The Government continue to believe that nuclear has an important role to play, but, critically, it must represent good value for the taxpayer and the consumer. I believe that the package of support that we were prepared to consider was the limit of what could be justified in this instance. I was not prepared to ask the taxpayer to take on a larger share of the equity, as that would have meant taxpayers’ taking on the majority of construction risk, and the Government’s becoming the largest shareholder with responsibility for the delivery of a nuclear project. I also could not justify a strike price above £75 per megawatt-hour for this financing structure, given the declining costs of alternative technologies and the financial support and risk-sharing already on offer from the Government, which were not available for Hinkley Point C.
Let me reassure the House that Hitachi’s decision to suspend the current negotiations on the project was reached amicably between all parties once it became plain that it was not possible to agree on a way forward. Hitachi has made clear that while it is suspending project development at this stage, it wishes to continue discussions with the Government on bringing forward new nuclear projects at both Wylfa and Oldbury, and we intend to work closely with it in the weeks and months ahead. We will also continue to strengthen our long-standing partnership with the Government of Japan on a range of civil nuclear matters; and, importantly, we will continue to champion the nuclear sector in north Wales, which is home to world-leading expertise in areas such as nuclear innovation and decommissioning and which offers ideal sites for the deployment of small modular reactors.
If new nuclear is to be successful in a more competitive energy market—I very much believe that it can be—it is clear that we need to consider a new approach to financing future projects, including those at Sizewell and Bradwell. Therefore, as I said initially in June, we are reviewing the viability of a regulated asset base model and assessing whether it can offer value for money for consumers and taxpayers. I can confirm that we intend to publish our assessment of that method by the summer at the latest.
Through our nuclear sector deal, we are exploring the possibility of working with the sector to put the UK at the forefront of various forms of nuclear innovation. We are looking into whether advanced nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors could be an important source of low-carbon energy in the future, and we are considering a proposal from a UK consortium led by Rolls-Royce that would result in a significant joint investment.
I began my statement by outlining the challenges that the nuclear industry faces as the energy market changes. I will set out a new approach to financing new nuclear in the planned energy White Paper in the summer. I know that the future of the nuclear sector is of great interest to many Members, and I will ensure that those on both sides of the House, and its Select Committees, have an opportunity to consider the proposals.
I understand the disappointment that the dedicated and expert staff at Wylfa and Oldbury will feel as a result of today’s announcement by Hitachi. New commercial nuclear investments around the world are experiencing the same challenges as new sources of power become cheaper and more abundant. Nuclear has an important role to play as part of a diverse energy mix, but it must be at a price that is fair to electricity bill payers and to taxpayers. We will work closely with Hitachi and the industry to ensure that we find the best means of financing these and other new nuclear projects.
Our commitment to Anglesey—with its nuclear, renewables and deep expertise, it is a real island of energy—will not be changed by this decision. I will work with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the Welsh Government and the local community to ensure that its renown is supported and strengthened, and I will do the same with my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall).
I pay tribute to the staff of Horizon and Hitachi and to my own officials, those in the Department for International Trade and our embassy in Japan, and those of the Government of Japan, who spent many months doing their utmost to support a financing package. I know that they left no stone unturned in seeking a viable commercial model for this investment, and I very much hope that their work and professionalism will lead to a successful partnership following this period of review. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but he must recognise that the Government’s new nuclear strategy, adopted by the Conservatives and spearheaded by their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in 2013, is now in complete meltdown. The Government have reacted far too slowly to ongoing concerns from nuclear partners, such as Hitachi’s UK nuclear arm Horizon, which have been raising concerns over funding mechanisms since purchasing the project from RWE and E.ON back in 2012. Today’s decision to withdraw from the Wylfa nuclear power plant lays a significant blow on our economy.
The company’s statement reads:
“Horizon Nuclear Power has today announced that it will suspend its UK nuclear development programme”.
That sounds very much like not only is Wylfa on the chopping block, but so, perhaps, are plans for Hitachi’s other nuclear project—the Oldbury nuclear power plant in Gloucestershire. The Secretary of State has stated that Hitachi wants to work on new projects at Wylfa and Oldbury. What does that mean in light of the clear statement Horizon has made this morning?
Only two months ago, the Government’s lack of clarity over funding for new nuclear led Toshiba to withdraw from its new nuclear project in Moorside. With the three reactors expected at Moorside and two each in Wylfa and Oldbury, that makes a total of 9.2 GW of new nuclear energy that will not now be built. Can the Secretary of State tell us where he will find this power—not only through the next winter, but over the next 10 years?
The long-term coherence of the UK capacity arrangements is now significantly disrupted. With the capacity market also falling foul of legal challenge, these elements add up to a strategic energy sector that is now being grossly mishandled by this Government. Now that their nuclear plan has gone up in smoke what plan can the Secretary of State spell out to us for finding new backers for these projects? Given the apparent capacity constraint, is he intending to uprate the coming contracts for difference auction, removing the caps on capacity and funding that he has imposed to provide further opportunity to build new renewable energy capacity to replace what has been lost?
For this plant at Wylfa alone, Hitachi had planned to invest £16 billion. Does the Secretary of State have contingency plans, rather than warm words, that he can announce today for the economies of Anglesey and north Wales, where Wylfa was projected to create up to 10,000 jobs at peak periods of construction and 850 permanent jobs? For that matter, what about Moorside and the plant it lost two months ago? Government dithering leading to the cancellation of that plant has seriously undermined the UK’s energy security, its decarbonisation goals and the economy of Cumbria. The people of Moorside expected the plant, and roads, infrastructure and even apartment blocks had been built in preparation, all of which will now go to waste.
I come back the issue of Wylfa. Given that it is the Welsh economy that has lost £16 billion of inward investment, will the Secretary of State think about the £1.3 billion—less than a tenth of the price—required to build the Swansea tidal lagoon?
Given that energy is one of the sectors that creates the most carbon, today’s news deepens our profound concern about the Government’s ability to meet their own climate targets. The Labour party is proud to have announced our goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2050 and we congratulate the Government on attempting to catch up with our green ambitions. But given that the clean growth plan was already falling short and the Government were already failing to meet those targets, can the Secretary of State give us some detail today on how he expects to meet UK carbon budgets in light of today’s developments? Can he assure us he is not intending to replace the low-carbon power that has been lost with new fossil fuel plants?
Finally, there appears to be some confusion about what was and was not said about nuclear power when the Prime Minister met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe last week. Did she raise Wylfa nuclear power station when she met the Japanese Prime Minister? It is an odd coincidence that this decision from Japan-based Hitachi has come so close to those meetings. Either they talked about the project and what was said was unsatisfactory, and the project was cancelled, or the Prime Minister did not think it worth mentioning, and it was still cancelled.
Confidence in the Government is a very live question today. The people of north Wales and Moorside have every reason to have none in this Administration.
I will respond to the hon. Gentleman’s points, but I will start by saying one thing about nuclear investment. I have been clear in maintaining my support and that of the Government for new nuclear, but, for investments of over 60 years, that requires a degree of cross-party support for those commercial investments, which, as we have seen, are difficult to secure.
The hon. Gentleman expressed disappointment that the investment was being suspended, but he himself has said we do not need nuclear power. The Leader of the Opposition has said he is passionately opposed to nuclear power and nuclear weapons in equal measure, the shadow Chancellor said he would end nuclear power within the first 100 days of a Labour Government, and the new Welsh First Minister said:
“I think the attitude to nuclear power we have here in Wales is to be sceptical about it”.
If we in this House want to encourage international investors to invest in new projects, it behoves us to express solidarity and consistency of purpose.
I have been very clear about why Hitachi made this decision. We understand it. It is was commercial decision. The hon. Gentleman did not say whether he would have gone further than we were willing to go. Is he proposing that we take more than one third of the equity—in effect, take Government control and all the risk attached to such an investment? He did not say whether we should be providing a contract for more than £75 per MWh, which would go straight to the bills of customers—both industrial and residential. It is hard to say how we can go beyond financing all the debts. I think, then, that fair-minded Members would accept that we have made a substantial and generous offer, but unfortunately it has not been possible to achieve the outcome that all sides wanted.
The hon. Gentleman asks how we can continue discussions and why the company has suspended, rather than cancelled, the proposals. It is for the reasons I have said. We are going to look at new financing models, including the regulatory asset base model recommended by the Public Accounts Committee. I think it makes sense to do that.
On our future energy needs, the hon. Gentleman was wrong to talk about the next 10 years, because we are talking about supplies beyond that. There is no issue with the future security of supply; the National Grid itself has said that. Plans for Wylfa are long term and there is time for the market to react to this announcement. In many ways, the challenge of financing new nuclear is one of falling costs and greater abundance of alternative technologies, which means that nuclear is being out- competed. Far from there being a difficulty with future supply, those are the reasons why the competitiveness of nuclear is more difficult.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the other projects, including at Moorside in Cumbria. As I said, that decision was taken for different reasons, but in the review and the White Paper we will publish that model will be available to all such sites. Finally, in the case of other renewables, we have seen a great expansion in renewable capacity, and that will continue. He mentioned the case of the Swansea tidal lagoon. No one is more enthusiastic than I about innovation and new technologies, but the truth is that the costs of the proposed project were three times that of Hinkley Point C, and a full programme would make a tiny contribution to our energy supply for a much greater cost.
I hope that we can work together in the weeks and months ahead. The hon. Gentleman is an expert and a dedicated student of energy policy. In considering the White Paper, I hope that we can agree an approach that will command the support of international investors, so that this country can continue to be a nuclear nation.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the extraordinary lengths that he was willing to go to in trying to create the right conditions for this important north Wales project to happen. However, given Hitachi’s decision, given the decision on Moorside and, in fact, given the failure of a whole swathe of Japanese nuclear projects around the world, are the days of relying on mammoth nuclear power stations that make huge demands of taxpayers’ cash over? Should we not be putting more energy into examining smaller nuclear reactor technology?
My right hon. Friend is right that small modular reactors have significant potential. The nuclear sector deal that we agreed with the sector and published last year contains a substantial commitment to small modular reactors, many of which would be deployable on the sites of existing and recently decommissioned nuclear reactors. However, even large new nuclear reactors can make a useful contribution. There is a challenge in every country, and this is by no means just a feature of Japanese investors. I have described clearly and, I hope, candidly the challenges that exist given the abundant availability and falling prices of alternatives. That is why we will take forward a serious assessment of whether a different financing model might make the economics more competitive. Again, the sector deal that we struck contains a programme to reduce the build costs of new nuclear, which would of course also help its financeability.
This statement confirms that the UK Government’s nuclear programme is in tatters, yet the Secretary of State comes to the House, commends this statement, and says that he will carry on regardless, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The National Audit Office confirmed that the Hinkley Point C strike rate of £92.50 per megawatt-hour was a bad deal. We know that offshore wind is currently £57.50 per megawatt-hour, but that is based on a 15-year concession, as opposed to a 35-year concession for the nuclear deal.
The Secretary of State has confirmed that the Government were so desperate for Wylfa that they would take something like a £6 billion stake and provide £9 billion of debt financing, yet he pretends that they were being prudent by limiting the 35-year contract to £75 per megawatt-hour. His use of the word “generous” in the statement could not be more appropriate. When Toshiba pulled out of Moorside with the loss of £100 million, its share price increased. At the time, the Secretary of State said, “Don’t worry. The circumstances are unique.” With this latest setback from Hitachi, the UK Government need a proper re-evaluation of their nuclear policy; they should not look just at alternative funding mechanisms.
Four existing nuclear power stations are due to close by 2024, taking over 4 GW of capacity out of the grid, so what is the Government’s plan for replacing that capacity? New nuclear power stations are clearly not an option that could be completed by 2024. When will we know how much money is going to be thrown at Rolls Royce for the small modular reactors that the Secretary of State mentioned? Why are the Government still blocking onshore wind in Scotland when it is clearly the cheapest mode of generation? When is the cut-off date for the ongoing discussions with Hitachi? When will the plug finally be pulled? When did the Government first find out about Hitachi pulling out? It was already being reported in the press, so how long before coming to the House to make this statement did the Secretary of State find out? When will nuclear power be properly benchmarked against onshore and offshore wind? When will the Government wake up and end their ideological obsession with nuclear?
Given the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the strike price for Hinkley Point C was excessive, I would have thought he would welcome and approve of my statement, which sets a limit on what it is possible to provide to finance a private investment. He asks when the decision was made by Hitachi. My understanding is that it was made in Japan at 9 o’clock this morning, and I hope he would accept that I have come to the House as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman is critical of the nuclear industry, but I would have thought that he might want to pay tribute to Scotland’s proud tradition in the nuclear sector and to the people that have worked and contributed to our energy supply and still do. Chapelcross, Dounreay, Hunterston and Torness have for decades provided good jobs and employment both directly and in the supply chain across Scotland and continue to do so today. My determination to continue our tradition of being a nuclear nation offers continuing opportunities to Scotland, and I would have thought that he would welcome that.
Far from being at the expense of renewable energy, our energy policies have supported Scotland to become a world leader in securing energy from renewable sources. In fact, we heard earlier this month from WWF Scotland that wind output in Scotland has broken through the barrier of 100% of demand for the first time. That comes as a result of the policies that this Government have put in place to bring down the costs of wind, which is highly competitive. As a result, that is causing some competitive challenges for other technologies, including nuclear, but I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the progress that has been made on renewables.
This announcement, although widely anticipated, will be greeted with dismay in north Wales, where Wylfa was and remains an important part of the vision for the future of the north Wales economy, as expressed in the north Wales growth bid. My right hon. Friend will know that the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee North Wales has been working closely with both central and local government in connection with the growth bid. Will he or one of his Ministers be prepared to meet with the group to discuss Wylfa, its future and the potential for other means of energy generation in north Wales?
I pay tribute to the role that my right hon. Friend played in the earlier stages of the discussions for the Wylfa site. As is evident, such matters are complex and difficult to secure, but he laid the groundwork for some of the progress that has been made, and I hope that the process might ultimately be successful. Of course, I have complete commitment to the north Wales growth deal, and I would be delighted to have a meeting with him and my ministerial colleagues. The Secretary of State for Wales will be in Anglesey tomorrow and will be meeting members of the local community.
As I said in my statement, we regard Anglesey and north Wales as having exceptional strengths in our energy future. Bangor University, for example, contributes exceptional world-leading innovation, and we have backed that in the sector deal. Colleagues across Government and I will work closely with colleagues in north Wales to ensure that that potential is realised.
I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House at the earliest opportunity to give this statement. He will know the importance of this matter to my local community, to the Welsh and UK economies and, indeed, to the Government’s nuclear policy. With 10 years of planning, a lot of work has gone into this project, as he rightly acknowledges. It started off under the Labour Government and was continued by the coalition Government and, indeed, the current Government. Wylfa is the best site in the United Kingdom for a new nuclear build, but Hitachi’s announcement puts the jobs of 400 people at risk, many of whom are my constituents. There is the potential for some 8,000 to 10,000 construction jobs, hundreds of operational jobs and, importantly, 33 apprenticeships, so I hope that we can work to ensure that we save as much of that as possible. The supply chain and small and medium-sized enterprises are important as well, and they have been planning for this for years.
So I ask the Secretary of State: can we work together to keep this project alive and ensure that we create the momentum so that it can be ready for a future developer, or indeed this developer, with the right mechanism? We need a better mechanism for financing, not just in the nuclear sector but for all large energy construction, including the tidal lagoon. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) in this regard, because I feel that an opportunity for innovation has been lost with the tidal lagoon, and the Welsh economy needs it. We know that £16 billion has been taken out of the Welsh economy as a result of that announcement, and we need to redistribute that.
I echo the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) in saying that we need extra help and extra resources to plug the gap following this announcement today. We have a mechanism through the north Wales growth deal whereby the Welsh Government work with the UK Government to create jobs, and I urge the Secretary of State to work with the new First Minister and the Economy Minister on this. The north Wales growth bid can be successful. I will be meeting the Secretary of State for Wales as well, but I want to ask the Secretary of State to work closely with us on this. Will he host a delegation involving myself, key stakeholders and his officials to look at a funding mechanism for the future that will work not just for new nuclear but for all large projects? North Wales is a centre of excellence for low carbon, nuclear, renewables and marine energy. It has the potential; let us work together to make this happen.
I repeat my commendation of the hon. Gentleman. He has been a consistent and passionate campaigner not only for the interests of his constituents but for the excellence of the industry in north Wales, and in Anglesey in particular. I can give him that wholehearted commitment. My officials will certainly meet him, but they will also come with me and my nuclear Minister and we will work together in a completely open-book way on all the options. The hon. Gentleman serves with distinction on the Select Committee, which I think will also want to scrutinise the options and the potential for financing. I repeat the commitment I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West that we continue to regard the north Wales growth deal as an excellent base to reinforce the strengths of the area, and I will work very closely with him on this.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned marine energy, which is one of the opportunities that we have in his constituency and around north Wales. Far from having closed the door to marine technologies, we want to continue to invest in innovation. When it comes to deployment, the technologies need to demonstrate value for money, but we will work with them, as we did with the offshore wind sector, to bring costs down so that they can win at auction alongside other technologies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it remains highly desirable to have a diversity of providers and technologies in civil nuclear generation? Will he therefore confirm, particularly in the light of recent concerns expressed about some Chinese investments, that the Government will remain fully supportive of the proposal from China General Nuclear to invest in a new power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in my constituency, subject of course to a generic design assessment and other permissions being obtained?
As my right hon. Friend knows, CGN is an investor in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which is being built as we speak. That is proceeding at pace. When it comes to Bradwell, CGN is again making successful strides through the approval process. All investment is subject to that process, but I can confirm that it has our full support as it goes through the regulatory approvals.
I, too, thank the right hon. Gentleman for coming to the House today to deliver his statement. I also thank him for his openness to meeting with north Wales Members on the issue of Wylfa Newydd. In his statement, he said that central Government were now relying more on renewables. May I put the north Wales picture to him? I can tell him that 1,500 wind turbines—sea turbines—were planned for the Rhiannon field off the coast of north Wales, but those plans have been cancelled by the private sector. The tidal lagoons for Wales were key to the development of the Welsh economy, yet the Government pulled their support for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. That had a knock-on effect for the huge lagoon planned for off the coast of north Wales, and we have heard today about the cancellation of a £16 billion investment in the north Wales economy. This will devastate the north Wales economy. The people of north Wales need to know that the Prime Minister is batting for them and for the UK. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister to place in the House of Commons Library the minutes of her meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan, to ensure that we know that that is what she has been doing on behalf of the people of north Wales?