House of Commons
Thursday 24 January 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Devolved Administrations: Discussions
The hon. Lady asks about recent discussions. Having been in post for just over two months, all my discussions seem fairly recent. She will be aware that on my first day in post I met the devolved Administrations as a priority. I have had meetings with the Prime Minister and the First Minister of Scotland. Indeed, the Prime Minister met the First Minister again yesterday, and they had a phone conversation last week.
This week’s report from the Institute for Government suggests that Whitehall Departments are not yet prepared for Brexit, deal or no deal. The UK Government started talking last summer about stockpiling, so why was the list of critical drugs not shared with the Scottish Government until just before Christmas?
I think that the assessment in Whitehall is that Whitehall is more prepared than the devolved Administrations. We are looking to work closely with the devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has been very clear that medicines and medical products are our No. 1 priority for the supply of goods, and the extra ferry capacity has been purchased with that very much in mind.
If the discussions were about the maintenance of frictionless trade, a customs union of itself will not deliver that, will it?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just about what tariffs apply; it is also about what regulations apply on non-tariff barriers. Much of the debate in this place is about tariffs, but standards and regulations are also relevant.
The Secretary of State will know from his discussions how concerned the Welsh Government are about the prospect of a no-deal exit—the Prime Minister was told that last night. The Secretary of State will also have seen the comments from the chief executive of Airbus this morning, and his stark warning about no deal. Will he therefore take this opportunity to condemn the comments of his Conservative MEP colleague David Bannerman, who described Mr Enders’s warning as
“a German CEO putting EU interests first before his own employees”?
I take very seriously the warning from the chief executive of Airbus, but I remind the hon. Lady that he supports the Prime Minister’s deal. Many in business regard the deal as the way of delivering certainty through the implementation period. There is a lot of positivity with Airbus. If I look at the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has done to champion the “wing of the future” at the research and development centre there, I see that there is huge opportunity. What the chief executive and others in the business community are clear about is that they want a deal in order to avoid the uncertainty of no deal, and that is why they are backing the Prime Minister.
Welsh lamb producers send 90% of their exports to the European Union. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, they will face an effective tariff rate of 46%, so how are the UK Government working with the Welsh Government to support our farmers in this very serious situation?
We are talking closely with the Welsh farming community, as are Members on both sides of the House. The Prime Minister was at the Royal Welsh Show last year as part of that engagement. The hon. Gentleman will know that the National Farmers Union in Wales, and indeed across the United Kingdom, has made it clear that the best way of supporting farmers is by backing the deal.
The Prime Minister has promised that her discussions with the devolved nations and the Opposition parties will be without preconditions, so clearly she will not refuse even to discuss the prospect of extending article 50, because that would be a precondition; she will not refuse even to discuss the prospect of taking no deal off the table, because that would be a precondition; and she will not refuse even to discuss the possibility of giving the people another say, because that would be a precondition. Can the Secretary of State therefore confirm on the record that all those topics will be available for discussion, in honour of the Prime Minister’s promise that there will be no preconditions?
The Prime Minister was clear in her statement to the House on Monday that there are no preconditions. That is why she is engaging not just with the devolved Administrations; today I will be joining her for meetings with trade union leaders as part of that engagement. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the extension of article 50 is not a unilateral decision—it requires the consent of the other 27 member states. However, the main issue, and in fact, probably the only precondition that one could apply, is the fact that we need to honour the referendum result, and that is what the Prime Minister is committed to doing.
The Prime Minister was very clear in her statement to the House that there were no preconditions. She has been equally clear in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) that there are preconditions. The Secretary of State, and indeed the Prime Minister, will be becoming only too well aware that within probably a fairly short time the UK Government will be bombarding Scotland with promises about how much they love us, how equal a partner we are, and how much they want us to stay. Can I suggest to the Secretary of State that if he expects the people of Scotland to be conned by those false promises again in 2019, he should at the very least make sure that his Prime Minister stops breaking the promises she made to the people of Scotland last week?
Let me just say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that the con is to have a referendum and then say that one will not honour the result. We had a referendum on independence in Scotland. The Scottish people spoke very clearly in that. I suspect that one of the reasons for that was that the trading relationship within the United Kingdom is the most economically beneficial to them. Having taken that decision, the next referendum was on a UK-wide basis, and it needs to be respected on that basis.
Support for Farmers
I continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across Government on all aspects of exiting the EU, including support for farmers. The Agriculture Bill will allow us to break free of the common agricultural policy and help our farming sector to become more profitable while sustaining our natural environment.
I, too, want to ask about sheep farming, which is economically very significant in my constituency. It is an industry that, for many decades, has been underpinned by an EU payments system. There is major concern that this support system will be changed too abruptly for the industry to cope as the UK leaves the European Union. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give to the sheep farmers of Montgomeryshire that that will not be the case, and that changes will be gradual and manageable and not destroy the industry?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. One of the main reassurances to those farmers, I suspect, is knowing that they have such a champion of their interests in my hon. Friend. In terms of the policy, the Government have pledged to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support for the duration of this Parliament, providing much needed certainty to farmers and landowners. The Agriculture Bill includes a seven-year transition period for direct payments to provide further stability for farmers, giving comfort to them as they look to a brighter future.
Farmers in my constituency tell me that the majority of grain exports go to the European Union, and they are very concerned about the risk of the imposition of tariffs in the event of no deal, or indeed after the end of the transition period, when arrangements are very uncertain. What assurances can the Government give them?
We have already covered the fact that there is an issue for the farming community in terms of tariffs. That is why I advocate a deal and those voting against a deal need to explain the impact of that issue to farmers. However, polls are obviously selective, but a poll taken in Farmers Weekly showed that a majority of farmers supported leaving the EU. I suspect that that was because they see a brighter future where we can have high animal welfare standards and good environmental standards, building on the reforms set out in the Agriculture Bill. So instead of talking down the opportunity of Brexit for farmers, this House should be looking at the opportunities that a green Brexit will deliver.
The Minister might know that as the chair of my party’s Back-Bench DEFRA committee, I think there are at last real signs that preparation for farming and farmers has been quite significant. However, that contrasts distinctly with what has been happening with the Secretary of State for International Trade. Has the Brexit Secretary seen the disgraceful remarks that his colleague made in Davos yesterday? Has he seen the front page of The Times, which says that 100 companies are going to the Netherlands, to Ireland and to France? What is he going to do, talking to colleagues, actually to get things moving?
The hon. Gentleman talks about disgraceful comments from Davos, but I do not want to dwell too much on what Tony Blair may or may not have said. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, which is that timing is of the essence for the business community. Businesses face decisions about their no-deal planning, and they want the certainty of the deal that the Prime Minister has to offer. Opposition Members who have tabled amendments that seek to delay the level of uncertainty need to ask themselves how that uncertainty and delay is helping the business community, who need to get on in the real world and make those decisions.
With special reference to the farming community in Northern Ireland, what discussions have been held with the permanent secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding the transport of livestock beyond March?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has considerable expertise and takes a deep interest in that issue. He will know that there have been extensive discussions within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on that very issue, and I am happy to liaise with him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on it.
Secretary of State for Scotland: Discussions
The Secretary of State has regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and has discussed EU exit with the Secretary of State for Scotland on a number of occasions, including at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, the most recent meeting of which was on 19 December. We also regularly engage with the Scottish Government, including through the Ministerial Forum on EU negotiations, and I look forward to attending the next meeting of that in Edinburgh next week.
I thank the Minister for his response. Thousands of jobs in my constituency and beyond rely on programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus and the freedom of movement on which universities depend. Given the short timescales, what reassurance can he give to universities that those programmes will continue and that we can fully participate in them?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I have met a number of the Scottish universities to discuss that issue. It is right that universities in Scotland and across the UK are at the forefront of programmes such as Horizon 2020, which is why we have negotiated a deal that specifically envisages participation in them. We have had a positive reaction from the European Union to that. Of course, we need to secure the deal in order to secure the next round of talks and ensure we can take that forward. In the meantime, the Government have guaranteed Horizon funding until the end of the current multi-annual financial framework.
Has the Secretary of State for Scotland told the Minister whether he supports the statement from other Scottish Tory MPs, none of whom could be bothered to be here today, that they will try to block any attempt to include Scottish Government representatives in future negotiations with the EU?
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have been clear that we are committed to giving the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, an enhanced role in the next phase of negotiations. My Scottish Conservative colleagues have been strong champions of the devolution settlement and Scotland’s place in the Union.
Scientific, Cultural and Educational Programmes
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of EU exit, and in particular science, culture and education. The best way for our universities and researchers to continue to benefit from the partnerships we have built with European counterparts is a negotiated deal. The political declaration makes it clear that the UK and the EU intend fully to establish terms and conditions regarding UK participation in EU programmes.
When Southend-on-Sea becomes a city, I am keen that we are seen as a centre of excellence for learning. Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the Government intend to replace the funding for the Erasmus+ programme, which is increasingly popular with university students, if we leave the European Union on 29 March without some sort of agreement?
Of course, we are seeking to reach an agreement with the EU so that UK organisations can continue to participate in Erasmus. We are committed to that. As my hon. Friend will know, a number of countries participate in the Erasmus scheme that have never been members of the EU—I believe Israel is one such country—so there is no reason why we cannot have a similar arrangement.
Organisations such as Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Ballet and many other cultural organisations recruit people from around the world, and some of them come from Europe. What protections will there be for people such as the excellent dancers we need to come to this country to promote tourism?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a cultural ambassador for this country, for the great work she does in promoting the performing arts. It is absolutely the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to support the great range of talent that comes into this country, and there is no reason why that should be in any way impaired as we go forward.
The hon. Gentleman knows all about science, culture and education because he represents Cambridge.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The political declaration makes it very clear that the Government want to maintain a close involvement with EU programmes in future. Will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State, who is a fellow east of England MP, to see if he shares my disappointment at the reports that the long-established and well-regarded East of England Brussels office faces possible closure? Will he join me in making representations to the East of England Local Government Association?
I would of course be very happy to undertake conversations with my right hon. Friend on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, and I suggest that perhaps the hon. Gentleman takes part in them, too. The principal issue is obviously about scientists; offices in themselves are not what this relationship is about. As a fellow graduate of Cambridge University, I applaud his efforts in representing the town and the university in this place.
It would be good to hear the voice of Ceredigion as well.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. In addition to ensuring participation in the European Union framework programme for research and innovation, it is just as crucial that immigration policy facilitates and, indeed, supports research conducted by teams consisting of members from an array of European countries. What discussions have there been with the Home Office to ensure that UK immigration policy aligns with the Government’s priorities in this regard?
We have a labour mobility framework that especially ensures that highly skilled people are able to come into this country. There is a lot of doom-mongering and fear-mongering on this subject. It is absolutely the intention to keep an open policy for highly skilled, highly talented people to come into this country and contribute enormously to our society.
Contingency Planning: EU Member States
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to continue discussions regarding interdependencies in our respective contingency plans. We are pleased to see EU commitments to step up preparations for all scenarios and its recognition of the bespoke preparations needed in different member states. Progress continues to be made. On citizens’ rights, we have called for member states to protect UK nationals’ rights, and countries such as France, Italy and Spain have already taken such action.
Is the Minister as concerned as I am about the EU’s no-deal planning relating to the aviation industry, which would put limits on new flights and new routes by UK airlines and put in place ownership restrictions? Is it not obvious that this is not in the best interests of the EU or the UK? It would, for example, limit the growth of tourism across Europe.
My hon. Friend is extremely knowledgeable in this area, and he is correct to point out that the Commission has indicated exactly what he said. Obviously, we are seeking an ambitious and comprehensive air transport agreement with the European Union in all areas. My hon. Friend should note that nothing has yet been agreed on the Commission’s draft regulations, and we look forward to engaging with the Commission and other member states on the detail of these proposals to ensure that they deliver continuity. The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world. Air travel is vital for both the UK and the EU in connecting people and businesses, and he needs no pointers from me to the statistics demonstrating how important this matter is for many EU destinations for UK tourists.
In a week in which P&O has announced that it is reflagging its entire cross-channel fleet in Cyprus, Sony is following Panasonic in moving its European headquarters from the UK to the Netherlands and Airbus has warned of potentially very harmful decisions if the UK crashes out without a deal, including future investment going elsewhere— I would definitely describe that as sub-optimal— when are the Government going to make their own announcement that under no circumstances will they allow the UK to leave without a deal, so we can stop this slow and damaging haemorrhage?
I thank the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee for his question, but it prompts me to ask in reply why on earth he is not backing the deal that delivers the certainty that all the businesses that he named have asked for. He needs to look once again at the deal, and deliver the certainty that businesses across the UK require.
When the Minister meets his opposite numbers in individual member states, does he take the opportunity to stress that they could stand down their plans for a no-deal scenario if the EU collectively showed some flexibility regarding the Irish backstop, so that a deal could then be settled?
Obviously, I look forward to getting a deal over the line, and as the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee knows, I believe that leaving without a deal is “sub-optimal”. In all conversations that every Minister has with representatives and Ministers from member states, we are pushing exactly the case that my hon. Friend mentioned.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that no deal would be “catastrophic”, and that plants will close and jobs will be lost. I do not understand why the Government do not rule out no deal, but if they will not, why not hold a series of indicative votes, as recommended by the Exiting the European Union Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), on the different options for going forward, such as staying in the customs union? The Government know that their deal does not have a majority and that we must now move to the next stages. Why will they not do that?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She and I co-existed in the European Parliament for a time, back when I was younger and she was the same age as she is now. She will understand that her constituents voted to leave the European Union, and they expect us to deliver on the result of that referendum. The one way of doing that is by having a deal. Over the course of the referendum she and I have debated all the different difficulties that there will be in getting a deal across the line. We have a very good deal on the table—she should vote for it.
Earlier this week the chief executive of the civil service publicly confirmed what Ministers know and the public suspect, which is that despite the huge amounts of money being thrown at it, the Government will not be fully prepared to exit the European Union in 64 days’ time without a deal. Will the Minister finally come clean with the public and admit that a no-deal exit on 29 March is not just “sub-optimal”, it is simply not a viable option?
This House voted to activate article 50, and the legislation before us means that we will leave the European Union on 29 March. I would very much prefer to leave with a deal, as would the hon. Gentleman, and I think he should vote for it.
We continue to have regular conversations across the Government and with ministerial colleagues on all aspects of exiting the European Union, and agricultural policy is a key part of that. The Agriculture Bill is part of the Government’s programme of legislation to deliver a smooth exit from the EU, and as the Secretary of State said, we must seize the opportunities of a green Brexit and break from the EU’s common agricultural policy.
Does the Minister agree that the Agriculture Bill presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help our farmers, protect our environment, and be part of the fourth agricultural revolution?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—I am still trying to work out what the first three agricultural revolutions were, but I fully support his sentiment. The Bill constitutes the first major agricultural reform in the UK for more than 70 years, and we will support our farming industries, as we have done as a Government since the 1920s and long before we joined the European Economic Community. The Bill will also allow us to break from the EU’s common agricultural policy, and it is an incredibly positive and dynamic step forward.
A no-deal Brexit would mean that the UK would not be listed as an approved country for agricultural exports to the EU. Gaining that status could take months to negotiate. Given that almost a third of sheep production in the UK goes to the EU, what discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about compensating sheep farmers for the potential loss of that market?
We are absolutely focused on delivering the deal. The hon. Gentleman has expressed very clearly the dangers and pitfalls of no deal, while at the same time people in his party are complaining about the dangers of no deal, yet refusing to back the deal. That is completely irresponsible. I urge the hon. Gentleman to encourage his colleagues to back the deal.
We do not allow two bites of the cherry at substantive questions, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to chance his arm at topicals, he might be successful. We look forward to that with eager anticipation.
There is a real danger in looking at farming policy dissociated from what happens further along the food chain. This week, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence from the National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation. Those organisations are obviously concerned about things like tariffs if we exit without a deal, but they are also really concerned about packaging, machine parts and so on—everything that is involved in food production.
Of course, the modern economy means that all these issues are integrated. As we said, the Agriculture Bill offers the possibility of a more bespoke policy. That is what Brexit can potentially deliver. So we are completely aware that a lot of these industries are integrated, and have a wide range of problems to solve. That is something that we are fully prepared to deal with.
Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me two weeks ago that he believed other European countries would be looking enviously at the UK’s deal? Is that officially the Government’s position, and if so, are they not concerned that it puts the entire European project at risk, because everyone will want an identical deal, and there will be no European Union left?
Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has said a lot of things in the last three weeks—I am not particularly aware of them. In terms of the sentiment, the hon. Gentleman will understand that agriculture is a devolved issue. As a Government, we still view Brexit in a very positive light. I think there are lots of opportunities, as things like the Agriculture Bill would suggest, for this country going forward. What other countries do is up to them. I do not know what moves there are for other countries to leave the EU, but that is exactly what we intend to do: we want to deliver the deal, and we are leaving the EU on 29 March.
EU citizens will be able to stay in all scenarios under the EU settlement scheme. As the Prime Minister announced this week, we will waive the application fee, removing any financial barrier for them to do so. We are working with member states to understand how they will protect UK nationals in all scenarios. I am pleased that some, like Cyprus and the Netherlands, have published such plans.
That will clearly be good news for the 13,000 EU citizens that live in my constituency, providing certainty going forward, but will the Minister make further efforts to ensure that the European Union provides reciprocal rights to all UK citizens that live in the EU?
Yes, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right: not only are the EU citizens in all our constituencies valued members of our communities, but of course the UK nationals in other EU member states are also valued members of their communities. This is really important. We shall be urging our EU counterparts to echo the reassurances that we have given for UK nationals living in their country, and to provide reciprocal protections.
Although waiving the £65 charge is, of course, very welcome, it still leaves EU citizens as second-class citizens in a country they have chosen to make their home—if not the citizens of nowhere, in that disgraceful phrase used by our Prime Minister. Would the Government consider covering any reasonable costs that EU citizens might incur in securing their settled status, beyond the £65 charge that has been waived?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the Government’s decision in this respect, but it is important to say that this is a simple digital scheme—one that should be easy and straightforward to apply to. The Government are providing help and assistance, ensuring that we invest substantial resources in making the scheme work for EU citizens.
I wrote to the Minister immediately after the no-deal paper on citizenship rights was published on 6 December, seeking clarification on points that appeared to reduce rights previously granted in the withdrawal agreement, but I have had no response. One question was: why have the Government made it more difficult for EU citizens to secure their rights, by bringing forward the deadline for settled status applications, so that in a chaotic period, without a transition, applicants would have not six extra months but six fewer months to confirm their status? If the Government cannot answer such basic questions after five weeks, does it not confirm that they are simply not prepared for no deal?
I am surprised to hear that the hon. Gentleman has not had an answer, because I have certainly signed one off. I am sorry if it has not reached him. I shall investigate that matter and check.
In the unsought-for event of no deal, there would be 21 months after we leave the EU for people to register for the scheme. Obviously, the same implementation period would not be in place, so that actually offers a longer period after the change in circumstances than the six-month grace period on offer in a deal scenario.
The Department has engaged extensively with the automotive sector to understand its priorities as we leave the EU. We met leading manufacturers in summits at Chevening House last year. Those were held with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. It is a dialogue that we are keen to pursue.
Over 800,000 people are involved in the automobile industry. What views did they pass on to the Minister, and what concerns did they express to him, about the Brexit deal? Can he answer that question?
Absolutely. It is a very simple question to answer: people in the automotive sector, the businessmen we talked to—as across many other industries—have all said that they want to see a deal. They want certainty, and they want to be able to plan for the future, which is why, as I have said many times, we want to land the deal—we need a deal.
The Government are pretending that they would take this country out without a deal at the end of March. This morning, the CEO of Airbus said:
“Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong.”
Airbus alone employs 14,000 people in the UK. The Prime Minister is using hundreds of thousands of UK jobs as leverage with her own MPs. Is it not now time for the Prime Minister to tell the truth, that she will not take the UK out of the EU on 29 March without a deal?
The hon. Lady will understand that the current legal position is that if we get to 29 March without a deal, we will leave without a deal. That is the legal position. The hon. Lady will have read the remarks of the CEO of Airbus and she will have noticed that further on he says very explicitly that he, his industry and his business need clarity. We have to vote for a deal. We have always said that the deal is our favoured option, which is why we want to see it over the line.
If the hon. Gentleman insists that his Government are ready to take us out without a deal in nine weeks’ time, what will he do to support the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers whose jobs would be threatened?
We are committed to investing £4 billion in the industry over the next few years. There is no doubt that a deal is our favoured option—that is why we encourage Labour Members to support the deal. It seems ridiculous to me that they complain about no deal while at the same time opposing the deal. That is like complaining about the rain and then rejecting the use of an umbrella when we offer it to them. It is absolute madness. That is why I urge the hon. Lady to back the deal.
Ministers and officials engage extensively with the university sector to understand their issues with and priorities for EU exit. I have held a number of bilateral meetings with university leaders and, later this afternoon, I will join the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), for my regular EU exit meeting with the sector.
Both of my large universities in Canterbury tell me that they have had no communication whatever from the Brexit Secretary, his Ministers or his Department. Given that 10% of their students and 25% of their staff are from the EU, and they are heavily involved in research programmes, as we have heard this morning, will the Minister or his Department reach out to my universities? I am sure that he will be welcome in Canterbury.
I would be happy to do that. We have had contact with universities directly and through their various representative bodies—Universities UK, the Russell Group, MillionPlus and so on. I am happy to ensure that those universities have been contacted directly by our Department, because it is important that we engage with all universities on such matters.
A number of university students have been traumatised by remainers saying that they will no longer be able to participate in the Erasmus programme. Will my hon. Friend—if he is not right honourable, he should be—reassure them that the programme is open not only to students in the European Union, but to those in Canada, Israel and other countries outside the EU?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), mentioned Israel in this context earlier. It is true that Erasmus has a number of non-EU participants, and it is clear that the UK has ambitions to continue its cultural co-operation with the EU even after we have left.
Contingency Planning: No Deal
The Department obviously engages closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that local authorities are prepared for EU exit in any scenario. On Wednesday I had an opportunity to meet the mayoral forum, and later today I shall be speaking to the Local Government Association.
Last week I met representatives of Durham County Council, who told me that central Government had not been able to give them any scenarios or planning decisions, and that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had no money whatsoever to help local authorities to plan for contingencies in the event of no deal. Is this no-deal planning a bluff, or is it just a sign of the Government’s sheer incompetence?
I do not think we recognise the way in which the hon. Lady has characterised the Government’s engagement with local authorities. We have recognised the need for much more localised planning. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has established a delivery board and chief executive-level advisory groups. We have held four national conferences, which have been attended by 350 senior local authority officers and 200 councils. There is much more engagement, and means and money, behind our commitment to ensuring that this country is prepared in the event of a no-deal scenario.
Is it the Government’s position that if we need additional time in which to agree a deal that will pass through the House, they will crash out on 29 March rather than extending article 50 and giving us time to negotiate that position?
As I have said many times, the Government’s position is that we will land a deal and ensure that we leave with that deal on 29 March.
Second EU Referendum
The Government will not hold a second referendum, and will not introduce any legislation to enable one to be held.
I kind of expected that answer from the Secretary of State. However, the Prime Minister will return to Parliament in a week’s time and expect MPs to vote again on her deal. If it is acceptable for them to have a second vote, why is it not acceptable for the public to have one?
It seems to me that some MPs do not want a second vote. They had already voted to give the British public a say in the referendum; then they voted to trigger article 50, and then they voted to include the date in the Bill that became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It is not really a great look for the public for people to say, “We got it wrong three times, but give us a fourth go.”
In the light of today’s deeply concerning statements from Airbus, will the Secretary of State tell us first how many workers the Government are willing to see made redundant in order to keep the Conservative party together, and secondly whether those workers deserve the democratic right to a people’s vote?
The crux of the issue is that the industries concerned want a deal and support the deal. The hon. Gentleman’s party, and indeed he, stood on a manifesto commitment to delivering on the biggest vote in our history. The issue for those workers whose jobs are in question—and the question that the hon. Gentleman needs to answer for them—is why he is going back on a manifesto that he gave his own voters.
The Department has conducted more than 500 meetings with stakeholders, including businesses of all sizes and descriptions. Currently, after two months in the job, I am making visits around the country, and I hope to meet representatives of firms and hear their views.
Concerns have been raised with me by the road haulage industry about the burden of the extra customs paperwork that will be required in the event of no deal. What estimate has the Department made of the additional time and cost that they will incur in that event?
The businesses in my constituency include many international companies that are headquartered there, such as BASF, which produces chemicals. It wants to ensure it can continue to access EU frameworks such as REACH—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulations—and the European Chemicals Agency. It faces tens of millions of pounds in costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, particularly through migrating its EU registration. Does my hon. Friend agree that associate membership of such agencies, for which the withdrawal agreement provides, is vital to the success of these key industries?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and at this very moment we are negotiating the precise arrangements. She is right to mention the withdrawal agreement, because extensive passages in that agreement relate to exactly the type of co-operation and participation that she describes. We are focused on this, and hope that we can reach a good conclusion.
Airbus employs 14,000 people in this country, and we have a valuable and important aerospace manufacturing cluster in Wolverhampton. The chief executive of Airbus said today:
“Brexit is threatening to destroy a century of development based on education, research and human capital.”
Is it not the case that the rich men who drove this project can move their money, their investments and their corporate headquarters abroad, but it now poses a clear and present danger to valuable and important UK manufacturing jobs?
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke about “the rich men”, I thought he was referring to his friends in Davos, such as the former Prime Minister, who seems to be very focused on trying to reverse the verdict of the 17.4 million people in this country who voted for Brexit.
It is very clear where the interests of Airbus and businesses lie. They have said repeatedly over the past six weeks that they want to back the deal—they want an end to this uncertainty, and they want clarity and the ability to plan for the future. Where does the right hon. Gentleman stand on that?
We continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on our fisheries policy after exit. The fisheries White Paper set out the Government’s plans for a bright future for our fishing industry as we become an independent coastal state. By leaving the common fisheries policy, we will be able to make sure, for the first time in over 40 years, that our fishermen get a fairer deal.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Work has just started on preparing a long-term strategy to revive the East Anglian fishing industry. The foundation stone on which this renaissance will be built is taking back control of access to UK waters. Can the Minister assure the House that this right will not be traded away in any future negotiations, however difficult they may become?
My hon. Friend yet again demonstrates his dedication to help to revive the East Anglian fishing industry. Let me be clear that this deal will mean we become an independent coastal state with control over our waters. We have firmly rejected a link between access to our waters and access to markets. The fisheries agreement is not something that we will be trading off against any other priority.
The Government’s focus continues to be on leaving the EU with a deal. However, with just nine weeks until we leave, the Government are responsibly preparing for the alternative.
What impact does my hon. Friend believe that terminating no-deal preparations now would have on the Prime Minister’s ongoing negotiations with the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question—and as someone who worked for me as my parliamentary researcher for five years, I thank him for no sight whatsoever of his supplementary question.
He is much better; that is absolutely true.
Anybody who has been involved in any type of negotiation—perhaps a union representative trying to negotiate a better deal on employee rights or salaries, or just anyone involved in any sort of deal—knows that they need to have the ultimate option on the table at any given time. Reducing any options basically means that you have less room to negotiate—it would be a foolish thing to do.
The best that the Government seem to be able to say about their deal is that it is very slightly less worse than no deal. That is the metaphorical gun that they are putting against our head, and I would appreciate it if they could give us a decent answer as to why they have nothing better than that.
The hon. Lady knows that I have a huge amount of respect for her, but the premise behind her question is so wrong that it is hard to believe. A whole host of employers in her constituency will doubtless have beaten a path to her door to ask her to vote for the certainty and continuity that the Government’s deal delivers. If they have not done so, I would be very surprised, because they are doing it nationally.
A customs union would not respect the referendum result. On this side of the House, we are intending to respect that result.
The statutory instrument covering the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—REACH—regulations relating to chemical production on Teesside and elsewhere is inadequate, according to the industry. Surely a comprehensive customs union, which has been described by the director general of the CBI as a “practical real-world answer”, would solve such complex problems.
The hon. Gentleman might see the approach to this as one of managed decline—
Well, indeed he does, clearly, so he does not see the rich opportunity of an independent trade policy that backs our businesses to go out in the world and succeed, or the opportunities that they would have through a trade policy. In a way, this really goes to the crux of the issue, because there is a lack of vision among Labour Members. They cannot see the benefits of an independent trade policy, and are therefore willing to contract that opportunity out to the European Union and have no say in it.
Like the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), the Secretary of State has no doubt seen the comment by Tom Enders, the chief executive officer of Airbus, that the Government’s handling of Brexit is a “disgrace”. More than 6,000 good-quality jobs in Alyn and Deeside are dependent on Airbus. What share of the blame does the Secretary of State take for this?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that those are good-quality jobs. We see that in the potential of things such as the ring for the future, the research and development centre at Airbus and the apprenticeship programmes that we see in industries—
What about now?
The answer to that is, again, to listen to the voice of business. It is clear that business wants an implementation period, not just for the certainty that it would deliver, but because, from a regulatory position, it does not want to have to take two steps and have two changes.
Second EU Referendum
The Government have been clear all along that we will not hold a second referendum. A clear majority of the electorate delivered an instruction to the Government to withdraw from the European Union, with 17.4 million votes cast in that manner.
I thank the Minister for his unwavering commitment to that position, which my constituents will be very pleased to hear. A clear majority of people in Redditch —62%—voted to leave. That is nearly 29,000 people who voted to leave in that historic vote. Does he therefore agree that to go back on that vote and on our manifesto commitment would cause massive damage to our democracy?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] I hear some murmuring from Labour Members that they refuse to deliver on their manifesto commitments that were made in exactly the same manner. I guess that a fair question to ask those proposing a second referendum: should they not come clean and admit that they are not really after asking the British people, and that they just want to prevent us from leaving the European Union in the first place? That would be a much more honest position for them to take.
Since I last updated the House, the Government have suffered a significant defeat in the meaningful vote, and I think it is right that we recognise that. The Prime Minister has responded to that by listening and engaging—[Laughter.] Well, the Leader of the Opposition has not engaged, but the Prime Minister has. She has engaged with the leadership of the party of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and other parties, and today she is engaging with trade union leaders. Yesterday she engaged with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. The Government have also responded to some immediate concerns of the House, such as by waiving the settlement fee and responding to the concerns of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) by looking at how we can have more targeted engagement with the House in the next phase of negotiations. We are continuing the process, and we look forward to further discussions.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The “Whitehall Monitor 2019” report, which was published on Monday, revealed that the overall number of civil servants is up by 19,900 since the referendum, that the cost of civil servants leaving stands at £74 million a year, and that a third of the entire civil service is now apparently working on Brexit. Despite all that, the Government have passed only five of the 13 Bills necessary for Brexit, and less than a fifth of 133 major projects are likely or probably to be delivered and completed on time and on budget. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the progress that his Department is making?
The right hon. Gentleman will recall from his days as deputy Chief Whip that a range of legislation needs to be passed for various scenarios. Significant progress has been made with the statutory instruments, with over 300 being passed, so he is cherry-picking with his comments about legislation. For example, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill passed through this House this week. That key piece of legislation will enable us to make bilateral payments in the event of no deal. Considerable work has been happening over the past two years, and I pay tribute to civil servants across Whitehall for that. Significant progress has been made, but not all the issues relating to no deal are within the Government’s control, because some are reliant upon responses from business, third parties, EU member states and the European Commission.
Understandably, we have big debates in the House about goods, but 80% of our economy is services, so my hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that. The political declaration contains the opportunity to have a good and constructive relationship that reflects the dominance of the UK position on financial services, for example. That is why the package of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration together is so important.
There are 64 days until 29 March, and the deal has gone down. On Monday, the Prime Minister made a statement about what she is going to do now; to put it politely, she was vague about her intentions. She said that she would “take the conclusions” of any discussions with MPs “back to the EU”, as if she is in a parallel universe in which we are somehow at the start of the process. I have a simple question: when the Prime Minister goes to the EU, will she be seeking legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement, simple reassurances or, still less, clarifications?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is always polite, so I will reciprocate and say that there are 64 days to go but we still do not know what Labour’s position is. It appears—
He asked you a different question.
I will come on to that.
If we are talking about parallel universes and the 64 remaining days, it is worth clarifying that I genuinely do not know what the Labour position is. An amendment has been tabled that would change the operation of the House’s Standing Orders without any proper debate about the constitutional implications, which go way beyond Brexit, and extend the article 50 process until December, which would mean that elections to the European Parliament would have to happen in May. Three years after the people asked to leave, is it now Labour party policy to ask the people to vote for Members of the European Parliament? Everyone else is engaging with the process—even Len McCluskey is joining us for discussions in No. 10 today—yet the Leader of the Opposition is sitting alone in a parallel universe, unwilling to engage with anyone. We are listening to the concerns of Members on both sides of the House, including our confidence and supply partners, and we are working constructively to address the concerns of the business community. The question for the shadow Secretary of State—I hope he will clarify this for the House—is about Labour’s policy. Will he confirm that Labour is no longer committed to its manifesto?
I always listen to the Secretary of State with the keenest possible interest and attention, but I must say to him in all courtesy that he is filibustering his own right hon. and hon. Friends, who might not get in on this session. It must be clear that he is culpable, because the Chair is not.
The Secretary of State gives the definition of a non-answer. [Hon. Members: “What’s your policy, then?”] Our policy is a comprehensive customs union and single market deal—[Interruption.] It is in our manifesto, and I think that there would be a majority for it in this place, if it were put to a vote.
I look forward to tomorrow’s headlines, but I doubt they will say that Len McCluskey and the Prime Minister have agreed on the way forward. I asked the Secretary of State a question, and I would like an answer. Does the Prime Minister intend to put her deal to the House again and, if so, when?
Self-evidently, whatever deal we bring forward will need to secure the confidence of the House, and that will entail a vote. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about his policy and actually, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, he has been quite clear. His policy appears to be to remain in the European Union by triggering a second referendum, and he has indicated his personal view that, following that vote, we should remain. His policy is not consistent with the Labour manifesto, so I ask him again: is his policy the Labour policy, or is his policy different from that of the Leader of the Opposition?
As I would expect, my right hon. Friend asks a detailed, precise and interesting question. I have looked into this issue, and paragraph 5 of article XXIV allows only interim arrangements that are necessary for the formulation of a new free trade area where the parties have “a plan and schedule” for doing so. It does not allow the continuation of previous arrangements under an agreement that no longer applies.
I say to the hon. Lady—this applies to many Opposition Members—that I do not doubt her commitment to the business concerned or to trying to protect jobs. Indeed, that is one of the driving forces that led many Opposition Members to come into politics, but part of that is about listening to what business groups are saying. What they say is that, in the withdrawal agreement, things like citizens’ rights and our security relationships matter. Above all, businesses say that the flow and supply of goods matter, and that not having two sets of regulatory changes matters. That is why the business community says that it wants the certainty of the deal. When the Leader of the Opposition will not even enter into discussions, we are happy to engage with the hon. Lady and others, but this needs a two-way process.
The UK wants to continue to be at the forefront of environmental leadership and tackling climate change. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out plans for a green Brexit. With the environment Bill, we will make sure that we have the institutions set up to police that and to monitor our progress on protecting our environment.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to remind the House of the £20.5 billion extra that the Government are investing in the NHS. In terms of workforce and recruitment, which is key, I remind him that the Government have lifted the tier 2 visa for doctors and nurses as part of increasing recruitment. What matters is not just recruitment from the EU—we have already had an exchange about EU recruitment since the referendum—but the recruitment of doctors and nurses globally. We are very committed to doing that as part of a skills-based immigration system.
I honestly cannot give my hon. Friend the exact answer, so I will happily write to him about that. Arrangements will be needed for paying various taxes and tariffs in the event that we leave without a deal, and they are in progress.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is in danger of rivalling the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), but they both believe in healthy competition, after all.
I humbly suggest to the hon. Lady that that is what UK nationals across Europe, in just about every EU state, do when they reside there. We have offered a very generous package—more generous than that which the EU is currently offering in return regarding citizens’ rights.
I have been contacted, as I am sure many colleagues have, by UK citizens living in the EU who are concerned about their future voting rights locally after we leave the EU. Will the Minister update the House on the progress that the Department has made on that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a concern for UK citizens living across the EU. The UK sought to raise the matter in negotiations, but the Commission was clear that that was outside its competence. It agreed to let us take it up bilaterally with member states, which we have done. I am pleased to say that earlier this week, I signed the first reciprocal voting rights treaty with Spain to guarantee the voting rights of UK citizens in Spain, and Spanish citizens in the UK, in local elections.
Many businesses, particularly small ones, have yet to calculate, or do not want to publicise, the impact on them of a no-deal Brexit. Does the Minister recognise the scale of the sense of betrayal at the idea that a Tory Government should use those businesses’ balance sheets, employees and hard-won market expertise as leverage in an act of economic betrayal and blackmail?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, although the premise behind it is completely incorrect. Small businesses across the country are getting ready for a Brexit with a deal and a no-deal Brexit. She gives me the opportunity to highlight the partnership pack that is online for all businesses to look at, so that citizens, individuals and businesses, small and large, can prepare appropriately for a no-deal Brexit. The partnership pack can be found on gov.uk.
In every answer that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have given this morning, they have declined to recognise that they lost the vote on the deal by 230 votes—by more than two to one. Exactly how are the Government going to listen to Members of this House so that we can agree a deal and move forward?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman came in partway through topical questions, but I opened my response to the first question with a recognition of the result. I have referred in a number of answers to the engagement that the Prime Minister and ministerial colleagues are having. Indeed, in my exchange with the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I mentioned meetings with trade union leaders today, and I spoke about meeting the SNP First Minister. Listening to the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is almost as though the last hour has not happened. We accept that the result of that vote was significant, and we are listening to the result. We have taken a number of measures as a consequence.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the start of today’s business, the Annunciator was showing that Question Time would be followed by the urgent question, which would then be followed by a Justice statement and the business statement. I understand that that has been corrected during questions, but for the benefit of the House, will you clarify the order of business that will follow?
Yes, I am happy to do that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. After this urgent question, we will have the business question, and after that there will be a ministerial statement on the management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences. That is the order, so business questions come after this urgent question. I hope that that is helpful to colleagues.
EU Free Trade Agreements
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if he will make a statement on maintaining EU free trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU.
As a member of the European Union, the UK currently participates in around 40 free trade agreements with more than 70 countries. These free trade agreements cover a wide variety of relationships, including economic partnership agreements with developing nations; association agreements, which cover broader economic and political co-operation; and trade agreements with countries that are closely aligned with the EU, such as Turkey and Switzerland. Of course, more conventional free trade agreements are also part of the package.
Businesses in the UK, EU and partner countries are eligible for a range of preferential market-access opportunities under the terms of the free trade agreements. Those opportunities can include, but are not limited to, preferential duties for goods, including reductions in import tariff rates across a wide variety of products, quotas for reduced or nil payments of payable duties, and quotas for more relaxed rules-of-origin requirements; enhanced market access for service providers; access to public procurement opportunities across a range of sectors; and improved protections for intellectual property.
For continuity and stability for businesses, consumers and investors, we are committed to ensuring that the benefits I have outlined are maintained, providing a smooth transition as we leave the EU. The Department for International Trade, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are working with partner countries to prepare to maintain existing trading relationships.
With just 64 days to go, will the Minister confirm that not only is there the well-known Brexit risk of catastrophic disruption to 44% of our country’s trade, but now, on top of that, a further 12% of our trade could be thrown into chaos because of the Government’s failure to roll over our 40 trade agreements with 70 countries around the rest of the world in time for exit day?
Does the Minister recall the promise made by his Secretary of State at his party conference in October 2017, when he boasted:
“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, we won’t have any’”
free trade agreements
“‘before we leave.’ Well, believe me, we’ll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019”?
Was that bragging not made worse when the former trade Minister Lord Price tweeted falsely in October 2017:
“All have agreed roll over”?
Will the Minister explain why expectations were raised so high back then, when today’s reality is so dangerously disappointing? Can he confirm that the leaked memo reported in the Financial Times was accurate, and that he has been warned by his officials that most of the deals Britain is covered by will lapse because there is no transition period to keep Britain under the EU umbrella once Brexit occurs? Does he agree with the Government official quoted in the FT that
“Almost none of them are ready to go now”?
As well as the 40 free trade agreements, there are more than 700 other trade-related treaties and mutual recognition agreements, so when will we get an accurate update from the Government on how many of those will lapse in March as well? Some 2% of our trade is via the European economic area free trade agreement, with Norway and Iceland, which has still not been settled for roll-over; Canada accounts for 1.4% of our trade; Turkey, with which we currently have a form of customs union, accounts for 1.3%; South Korea accounts for 1%; and Switzerland accounts for 3.1%. All these and more add up to £151 billion of export and import markets. Will the Minister confirm that if we do not roll over the trade arrangements we enjoy by virtue of our EU membership, the full range of World Trade Organisation tariffs will start to apply?
What is the real situation in respect of Australia and New Zealand? Are the press claims that a full free trade agreement has been signed accurate, or are these just mutual recognition agreements being passed off as FTAs? On Switzerland, can the Minister place full details of the allegedly initialled agreement in the Library of the House? It is still not clear which aspects of the existing UK-Swiss relationship are due to be replicated. Will UK-based firms continue trading into Switzerland on exactly the same basis, including the free movement of people, or are there differences? For example, can he rule out tariffs on imported Swiss goods from March?
If British cars are exported, could they face 10% WTO tariffs? What will the tariffs be on Norwegian salmon, Canadian maple syrup, and food and veg from Turkey? When will the Government start telling Parliament about these things? Is it not the truth that all these countries first want to know what the UK’s relationship will be with our largest trading partner, the EU, and that we have little hope of pinning down brand new agreements until we have pinned down that agreement? Will the Minister face reality, slay these fantasy unicorn promises, and admit that Brexit is not going well and presents a clear and present danger to the free trade agreements our economy desperately relies on?
That was a pretty long shopping list, and I am not in a position to answer all the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but I will make one point. I told him in Committee back in November that there was a wide range of reasons why some of these agreements had been challenging in many instances. For example, there have been changing incentives. If this House cannot make up its mind on what Brexit looks like, it will obviously be difficult for some of our interlocutors to decide whether we will be leaving the EU on 29 March. That said, a responsible Government make plans for any eventuality, and we are working extremely hard to make sure that the 40 agreements we have in place are available to those companies that use the preferences they guarantee.
I told the hon. Gentleman earlier that I believed the majority of these agreements would be in place by 29 March, and I continue to believe that, but it would not be appropriate to go into further details on an individual country basis, because these conversations are necessarily confidential, and our partners wish them to be confidential. To go into them, therefore, would not be proper. I am very happy to tell the House, however, that I believe we will have the majority of agreements rolled over, and it is absolutely our objective to have them all rolled over.
Finally, one small detail worth clearing up—it has been a matter of some press speculation—is that the Swiss agreement does not include any provisions on free movement.
It has always been very likely that the counterparties to these deals would want to keep them operable, as it is in their interests to do so, but may I highlight the stinking hypocrisy of the Labour party on this? It voted against adopting many of these deals in the first place—it voted against adopting the comprehensive economic and trade agreement in February 2017 and against adopting the EU-Singapore agreement in September 2018—and now Labour Members complain that the deals will no longer be operable next month. Does my hon. Friend agree that this shows the Labour party at its absolute worst on Brexit, with its members unable to agree among themselves, and unable to do what is in the UK national interest?
The Minister at least pays obeisance to, and I think has genuine respect for, etiquette, protocol and the principle of parliamentary courtesy, so it would not occur to him for a moment to descend into the swamp, disregard his ministerial responsibility to the House, and start prating on about the policy of the Opposition, but let us put it to the test and hear from the Minister.
First, let me pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) for all the work that he did in preparing this country for striking new trade deals, and indeed in maintaining the continuity of our existing free trade deals. He points out an inconsistency in the Opposition’s position on this matter. I agree with him that it is a fairly pointed one, and ask them to contemplate a bit. Yes, he is correct in his assessment.
The tiger that was previously in the library has now been removed, and the immediate danger has been averted. I think the Minister will be familiar with the Merchant Ivory film in which that exchange occurs. [Interruption.] It is fairly obvious, if one applies one’s mind to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) asked a very simple and sensible question. The Minister’s long and rambling answer had a simple summary—clearly, it was no. The Secretary of State repeatedly told us that it was a simple matter to roll over deals on trade with approximately 70 countries, which constitutes 13% of our exports and 12% of our imports—it would be a cut-and-paste job. The Government would be ready on day one after Brexit, he told us. That was never true, was it? Those deals are entirely separate and independent from any deal that we may have with the EU.
If we leave with no deal, can the Minister confirm that these arrangements with third-party countries will fall away, as we have consistently warned? Will he confirm that, without new agreements in place, we could, in the absence of a deal with the EU, have no basis of trade with these countries after 29 March, and would fall back on World Trade Organisation rules? That is an argument for taking no deal off the table if ever there was one.
Will the Minister confirm that many of the terms of those agreements will need to be amended, and could be changed substantively as countries seek to improve on the terms that they have with the EU? Will he also confirm that agreements with countries that have economic partnership agreements are often regarded as being not fit for purpose and are alleged to have been signed under economic duress? The Minister will do well to listen to some of this, as this is the reality of what is going on in his Department. For example, North African countries want to sell their oranges and olive oil to us in far greater quantities than is allowed by the EPAs with the EU, which protect southern European producers.
In the Trade Bill debate in the Lords yesterday, the Minister conceded that the Department had no idea how many countries were ready to roll over their free trade agreements, how many would not, how many would have to adjust their constitutional arrangements, and how long that might take. Will the Minister for Trade Policy confirm that his colleague was right to say so?
The Secretary of State is busy socialising in Davos. Is that not a reminder of the incompetence and overconfidence that he has shown over the past two and a half years?
The hon. Gentleman opened his question by expressing his view that I had given a long and rambling answer. I am pretty confident that the question was longer and more rambling than my previous answer.
Will there be no basis of trade if we fall out without an agreement? No. There will continue to be the basis of trade that exists for everybody, which is the World Trade Organisation. [Interruption.] Indeed, I do confirm that. That is why we are putting such an enormous amount of effort into transitioning these agreements. Will the terms be amended? Yes; plainly, the bilateral partners with whom we are negotiating have different motivations. That is something that I have made very clear to members of the International Trade Committee when I have talked to them. That has led to some extension of the discussions that we are having, but many of those discussions are going extremely well. I reiterate to the House that I am confident that the majority of these trade arrangements will be put in place by the time we leave the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman also treated us to his analysis of EPAs, saying that they were not fit for purpose. He gave us the example of oranges. The last time I stood opposite him in a debate, he gave us the example of the difficulty that EPAs cause Ghana and its chicken, and indeed Tanzania and its fish. On the Ghana agreement, the fact is—I remember this—that chicken had been completely excluded from the EPA. The point about Tanzania and fish is not entirely relevant to EPAs, as there is no EPA with Tanzania.
My confidence is strong on this issue. I believe that we will have the majority of these arrangements in place. Yes, some of them are challenging. One or two of them are even more than challenging; they are close to impossible. Turkey has clearly been identified as an area where the issue of a customs union makes a deal with it very difficult indeed. I have made these things absolutely plain to the House before. However, I believe that we will have the vast majority of these other arrangements in place. We will protect our consumers and our businesses, which will be able to carry on using preferences.
Obviously, behind the debate about the concept of trade are jobs. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of jobs at risk if these agreements are not put in place? Has he identified the companies that will struggle? Is he working with the Department for Work and Pensions on contingency plans for those communities that might be particularly affected by any failure to roll over the agreements?
We are in constant contact with all the businesses that trade on these preferences; we have written to them many times. We have issued technical notices advising businesses on the steps they need to take to ensure that they are prepared for that scenario. Plainly, it is much better to have these agreements in place than not, but as I have just discussed with the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), a change in the arrangements does not mean that trade with those countries will stop; it simply means that the terms will change. I believe that we are doing all we can and should to prepare businesses for some of the deals potentially not being passed, and we continue to do that.
The EU has 14 service agreements with third-party countries and blocs, which UK professional services companies benefit from. Notwithstanding potential tariffs, non-tariff barriers and other regulatory burdens, can the Minister confirm for professional services companies whether there is even the legal basis for that trade with third-party countries and blocs to continue?
I am sorry to duck the question, but that matter should be referred to the Department for Exiting the European Union.
We trade very successfully with our largest bilateral partner, the United States. We do not need trading agreements, do we?
As we have already made clear, it is entirely possible to trade on WTO terms. However, it is far more preferable to reach trade agreements with third parties, because then we can trade on a preferential basis that allows us access to markets, the lowering of tariffs and the reduction in non-tariff barriers behind the border, which makes life much easier for our companies.
I want to ask the Minister a very simple question, to which I would appreciate a direct answer. How many of the 40 or so agreements on which an arrangement has been reached to roll them over have been signed as of this morning?
The answer is that there is not much more that I can say at this stage. [Interruption.] There are no deals that have yet actually been signed, but I want to make it absolutely clear—
Order. A question has been asked. The Minister is an unfailingly courteous fellow, and we must hear his answer.
I want to be absolutely clear with the House that although it is possible to interpret my last answer as meaning that there has been absolutely no progress on the agreements, that would be an entirely, completely and utterly unfair interpretation of where we find ourselves. There are agreements that have had initialling; there are agreements that are very close to having initialling; and there are very many agreements that we believe will have a signature at the appropriate time. There is not an agreement that has had a formal signature yet, but to focus only on that is to misunderstand, or at least mispaint, how these agreements work. I have said to the House that we believe that we will transition the majority of the agreements by exit day, which necessarily means that they will have a signature, and I have every confidence that they will.
To put this into perspective, is it not right that just five countries—Switzerland, Canada, Korea, Norway and Turkey—account for three quarters of UK exports to the 70 countries that the Minister mentioned? Does he agree that it is just a little tiresome that the Opposition are always revelling in highlighting problems and it might be more constructive if they wanted rather to help to work on some of the solutions?
My hon. Friend is correct in his analysis of the scale of these deals, and of course we are putting the most resource into the deals of the largest size. However, I want the House to be clear that we are also signatories to a great many development agreements—EPAs. While those agreements may not be of the greatest importance to the UK economically, they are enormously important to the participant countries with whom we have signed them, and we are putting effort into making sure that they are also transitioned.
I think that people outside this place listening to the Minister’s remarks will be troubled to hear him refer to a “shopping list” of countries. Many people’s livelihoods in this country rely on those countries. People will also be very concerned to hear that he has not today committed to honouring the promise that was previously made on each of these 40 trade agreements. Will he now confirm to the House that he will not be able to honour the promise of every single one being signed by exit day?
I am sorry that this is slightly like “Groundhog Day”, Mr Speaker, but I will repeat what I have said before. We are confident that we will roll over a majority of these agreements. We are working to try to ensure that they are all rolled over by exit day. There are clear indications that in some cases that is going to be challenging. Let me be absolutely clear: if I used the term, “shopping list”, and that was deemed in any way pejorative about any of these important deals, I wish to withdraw and rephrase it. It was simply shorthand for saying that there are a great many of them and they are all important to us. As I just said, EPAs are as important to us as the largest deals, simply because we understand that we have a role in the world in development and understand the importance of these deals to those countries. We also understand the number of jobs and businesses that rely on these preferences. That is another reason why we are so keen to get as many of the transition deals across as we can.
Shopping lists are actually quite important, as are people’s livelihoods. Is it not the case that these 40 roll-over countries represent just 12% of our trade? Can I tell the Minister that we are the biggest nation in Europe, and second in the world only to China and the United States, for investment, and we are the largest export market in the world for German cars and for French agriculture? Unlike remainers, who tend to be rather pessimistic sorts, I and most people are very optimistic about our future outside the European Union.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is interesting to observe, and the House should understand, that a good proportion—I do not have the exact number in my head—of the 12% of trade that is represented by the countries with which the European Union has existing free trade deals is not carried out under preferences in any event because the particular lines in which they trade are not covered by the agreements, so the figure is actually quite a lot less. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) says from a sedentary position, “So it’s all just fine.” No, of course that is not the case. I have tried to make the point again and again that we regard this as extremely important.
On my hon. Friend’s reference to inward investment, Deloitte recently pointed out that the UK is the leading location in Europe for foreign direct investment. In the three years from 2015 to 2017, we enjoyed £140 billion-worth of direct investment from overseas—more than France, at £44 billion, and Germany, at £50 billion, combined.
What is the Minister’s definition of the term, “majority”, which he has used several times? Does he mean 21 out of 40 or 39 out of 40?
Perhaps I am being stupid, but I do not really understand the last part of the question. A majority is more than half; we can be clear about that. I do not think I have anything more to add.
We now know that we will not have 40 of these deals ready to roll over on the stroke of midnight. Some of these deals will be worth proportionately more than others, so it could be said that we have a majority ready to go, but they might be ones of very low value. Can the Minister give us more clarity about the most valuable of these trade deals?
I can report to the House that we are making good progress on a whole range of these deals, including those of high value and those at the other end of the scale.
Donald Rumsfeld’s words spring to mind in relation to roll-overs. We have the known knowns: the countries that are up for a deal, such as Switzerland. We have the known unknowns: the countries that have said yes to a roll-over, but the Government will not give us their name. And we have the unknown unknowns: the countries that will not tell our Government whether they will roll over the deals. For the sake of clarity, is the Minister willing to publish the names of countries that fall into those three categories?
To publish an unknown unknown seems challenging. I regard the Department’s job as putting all the effort it can into rolling these deals over. That is one of the many things we do, but it is a very important part of what we do. It is equally important that we allow British businesses to understand when and if there may be a real and present danger to the preferences that they use. When we judge that we are in a situation where that information needs to be disseminated, we will do so.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) was quite right to point out the seriousness of this issue. I am most grateful to the Minister for tackling this with equal seriousness. Can he clarify whether it makes a difference to the roll-overs if we leave with a deal, as I very much hope we do, or without a deal, which I could never support?
The Government policy, as my hon. Friend knows, is to leave with a deal, and I very much agree with that; it is by far and away the most sensible thing to do. I think most of the House will understand that if we have a deal and an implementation period, it takes the time pressure off and allows us to negotiate these deals in a more orderly fashion. Order has been created, and we are making progress, but if we have a deal and an implementation period, which is crucial to that, it will make negotiation of these deals a great deal more straightforward.
I feel sorry for the junior Minister. This must be one of the worst cases of neglect of duty since Nero fiddled while Rome burned. His boss is in the fleshpots of Davos, rubbing shoulders and having a lovely time, while he is slaving here at the Dispatch Box, on a day when the media tell us that many more companies are fleeing to Holland, Ireland and France. He is not trying to mislead the House—I am not saying that—but he is being very careful with his answers in terms of how many of these agreements have been signed. He is not giving any information to the House or our constituents, while his boss is having a lovely time in Davos.
I anticipated that that subject might arise, and I speculated that the timing of this urgent question was quite deliberate, for that very purpose. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what the Secretary of State is doing in Davos. Believe me, he has not taken his ski suit; he has taken his business suit. He met yesterday with the Israeli Government, from whom he elicited an agreement that our arrangements with Israel will be rolled over. He met the Egyptians, from whom he had a very positive reaction. He met with the Peruvians and the Colombians, and he further met with the South Korean Government. Today he will meet with the Ecuadorian Government, the Canadian Government and the South African Government, and later today—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman pretends to be playing a violin; I suppose he is saying that it is a sob story.
I’m fiddling while Rome burns!
What I am trying to tell the hon. Gentleman is that the Secretary of State is in Davos doing exactly what this House would want him to do. He is at the negotiating coalface, ensuring that our partners in these countries who have not necessarily taken a no-deal Brexit seriously do so. He is incentivising them to sit down around the negotiating table, and he is making good progress. Later this afternoon, he will attend the trade stewards committee, where he will meet nearly every single trade Minister in nearly every single jurisdiction where we are attempting to create continuity in our trade agreements. I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his implication that the Secretary of State is not doing his job, because that is exactly what he is doing.
There is a deal on the table that the Government have negotiated with the EU, and it provides a transition period that would provide certainty for all these trade agreements to be completed in time for our exit. It is my understanding, although I have not checked his voting record, that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), who has posed this urgent question, voted against that deal.
The meaningful vote.
The hon. Gentleman voted against having a transition agreement because he voted against the deal. Does the Minister agree that it might be better for the hon. Gentleman to pose his urgent question to the leader of his own party and ask him why he did not engage in talks with the Prime Minister to get through the deal that would provide certainty for our businesses?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and as we have already discussed, there is plainly some very real inconsistency in the Opposition position. I point out to my hon. Friend that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) is a champion of free trade and actually spoke in this House in the debates on the EU-Japan EPA and CETA back in June, when I have to say he voted with the Government and, indeed, for the deals in that case, unlike his Front Benchers.
Businesses, including one in my constituency, are already moving operations to mainland Europe because of doubts about whether they will have market access to places such as South Korea. There are hints that we will focus on the higher value trade agreements and at least get them in place come Brexit day. However, if an SME’s trade is with one of the smaller countries, that is every bit as important for it and for the people it employs as the trade deal with South Korea. We need all 40 in place, and the Minister did assure us that that would happen. Has he not completely let down those people?
We have staff in post in all the markets where we are attempting to transition these deals. An enormous amount of internal resource has been applied to what we in the Department call TAC—trade agreement continuity. Indeed, we have taken resource out of parts of the other workstreams we do to concentrate on exactly this issue. We have been negotiating on all these agreements, not just the larger ones. There is of course a financial incentive to concentrate on the larger ones, for the sake of our own businesses and for the sake of employees and families who want to put food on their table. At the same time, however, there are small businesses, as I know perfectly well, that trade under the preferences enjoyed through EPAs. There are also developmental reasons why we want to continue those arrangements, because it is the right thing to do, and the hon. Lady may be reassured that we are putting effort into all these agreements.
I must say that I welcome the work the Secretary of State is doing out in Davos to push forward the UK’s trade policy. His work is certainly far more welcome than the pontification of the former Member for Sedgefield there. To put these deals into perspective, will the Minister confirm that the Swiss trade deal on its own is worth 21% of the value of all trade done under these 40 agreements?
Indeed, I can: that is the correct figure. There are two or three other agreements that will add substantially to that if we manage to transition them, and I am very hopeful that we shall be able to do so.
The Minister waxes lyrical about foreign inward investment into the UK. May I remind him that, in north Wales alone, we have had two devastating announcements in the past seven days? Last week, Hitachi said that it is pulling out of Wylfa Newydd, a £16 billion project in north-west Wales, and today, Tom Enders, the CEO of Airbus International, said that it will pull out of the UK, including out of its Airbus factory in north-east Wales, if there is a no-deal Brexit. What type of message does it send out to current and future international trading partners and investors when the UK Government cannot successfully engage with some of the most successful businesses in the world?
It is a complex web we weave, and there are clearly incentives in many different directions for many different companies. I have every sympathy with workers in Wales and others who find their jobs threatened by the decisions that companies make. The UK Government continue to engage with those companies, and to try to mitigate any moves they may make. We engage widely through POST with the parent companies of many of those organisations, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that foreign direct investment continues in the UK. Indeed, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development announced a week or two ago that the UK remains Europe’s primary choice for foreign direct investment.
For the avoidance of doubt, will my hon. Friend confirm at what point we will be able to sign our own independent free-trade agreements with countries around the world?
The withdrawal agreement and political declaration are clear: we will be able to negotiate with third-party countries once we have gone through the process of withdrawal and after Brexit day, but we will not be able to sign and implement those agreements until the end of the implementation period.
Some 24 countries have lodged their opposition to the schedules on goods and services that we have placed with the World Trade Organisation. Does that indicate how complex it is to deal under WTO rules, and was it always misleading to suggest that it would be easy to have 40 trade deals ready on the day we leave the European Union?
There are, give or take, some 165 members of the World Trade Organisation, and if 24 object to new schedules laid by a new partner, that is a relatively small number and there is a well-understood formal process through which those objections will be dealt with. Most objections are on the basis of loss of privilege through the existing relationship with the EU—and therefore access to the UK—being changed, and such things are not unusual. Indeed, the EU operated on uncertified WTO schedules from 1995 until the present.
The Minister tries to reassure us by saying that a majority of these deals will rollover on Brexit day, but that is as reassuring as knowing that the majority of my constituents will not lose their jobs, or that a majority of businesses in my constituency will not shut down. For every deal that stops on 29 March, a business or businesses somewhere in these islands will suffer, and each deal that does not continue in its entirety after Brexit means that businesses lose money and go bust, and people lose their jobs. Is that the cost of this chaotic Brexit?
Nobody wants any family to be affected or anybody to lose their job as a result of us not being able to transition these free-trade deals, and that is why we are making every possible effort to ensure that all deals are transitioned. I have explained to the House why, in some cases, that is extremely difficult, but the Department is ensuring that every effort goes into ensuring as few adverse consequences as possible, and I am confident that the majority of the deals will be passed. It would help to ensure smooth continuity if Opposition parties were not so resolute in trying to vote down the Trade Bill.
Previously, the Secretary of State said that he would robustly defend the UK steel industry, yet a bombshell report today says that only half the steel bought by the UK Government comes from Britain. What is the Department doing for the UK steel industry, given that there is insufficient support from the Government at home?
The Department for International Trade will be responsible for the Trade Remedies Authority, when established. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the principal job of the TRA will be to ensure a level playing field internationally for products where there is potential for unfair international competition, as there is from several source countries. We are clear that the TRA must be in place as soon as possible, and as I said previously, it is not helpful for the terms of the Trade Bill to be blocked by all sorts of manoeuvres in both Houses. The Bill will allow us to establish the TRA, which will produce a robust defence of our industries, and particularly those that are most vulnerable, such as steel. I encourage him and his colleagues who represent areas of steel manufacturing, or indeed car manufacturing and ceramics, to get behind the Bill and put the TRA on a statutory footing, as it is there to help exactly those industries.
Bearing in mind that the EU has 36 other free trade agreements with non-EU countries, coupled with the £40 billion divorce settlement we look set to pay, could the Minister outline why he believes that we will not have access to those free trade agreements, other than some of the bitterness we have heard in this Chamber today, and how does the Minister intend to turn this bitter lemon into sugar-free lemonade?
I will be completely straight with you, Mr Speaker: I am not entirely sure that I totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I shall give it a go. There are a number of agreements that are negotiated exclusively between the European Union and third-party countries. Those are between the European Union and those countries, and we will not be a member of the European Union, and therefore will not be able to benefit from their preferences. The whole point of the trade agreement continuity programme is to transition those into a UK-only form, such that we can continue to benefit from those preferences.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 28 January—Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to proxy voting.
Tuesday 29 January—Debate on a motion relating to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Wednesday 30 January—Remaining stages of the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords].
Thursday 31 January—Debate on a motion relating to settling the debt owed to victims of the Equitable Life scandal, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the sustainability of maintained nursery schools. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 1 February: The House will not be sitting.
Sunday will mark Holocaust Memorial Day—an opportunity to remember the 6 million Jews murdered in the holocaust, and the millions of Roma, Gypsies, disabled people, political prisoners, homosexuals and others murdered under Nazi persecution, just for being who they were. We also remember and mourn all those murdered in genocides around the world.
We should also pay tribute to the wonderful work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which enables 100,000 people every year to hear a survivor’s testimony. The trust has taken more than 38,000 people to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of its holocaust education programme.
Colleagues will recall that the independent complaints and grievance policy, which was established last summer, was to be reviewed after six months. I am pleased to inform the House that an independent reviewer has been identified by the Clerks, and we expect the six-month review to start next week, following final sign-off by the House of Commons Commission on Monday 28 January.
Finally, I wish everyone enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties and a wee dram of whisky tomorrow a very enjoyable Burns night, in celebration of the life and legacy of the great Scottish poet.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week. I note that there is no Opposition day debate, but I am pleased that she mentioned proxy voting. Mr Speaker, I think you and the Leader of the Opposition have signed the certificate to ensure that proxy voting can take place as soon as possible, and I hope that leaders of the other parties will also sign those certificates as soon as possible.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the House will rise on 14 February and return on the 24th? I ask that because the Foreign Affairs Committee has actually cancelled a visit to India during that time, and I understand that builders working on restoration and renewal have been told that they will not be able to carry out their planned programme of work. Could we also have the May recess dates?
Can the Leader of the House confirm that Parliament will not be prorogued? There are some noises off to suggest that that might happen. I know that the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has got a new job; we know that he has access to heavy machinery, but I hope that is not what the Prime Minister meant by chaos and threats to “social cohesion”.
In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister did not say whether her deal would be brought back to Parliament, but the Prime Minister’s spokesperson made it clear that the vote that is due to be held on 29 January is not the second meaningful vote. Is it the Government’s intention to bring back a second meaningful vote to the House? I do not know when the Leader of the House intends to lay the business motion for the debate next Tuesday, but will she ensure that it will be a full day’s debate in protected time? Also, when will the votes be expected?
We need to pass an approval resolution and the EU withdrawal agreement Bill, which obviously has not yet been introduced, before 29 March. The Leader of the House might not be able to tell us today, but will she come back next week to say whether that will be scheduled before 29 March, which it needs to be?
Last week, I raised the issue of the size of statutory instruments. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) and other MPs co-signed a letter to the Chief Whip, because their constituencies will be affected by an SI tabled to replace the REACH regulation—I will set this out because it is important—on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. Right hon. and hon. Members have met industry representatives, who have serious concerns about the legislation and the effects that it might have on the chemical industry. Those industries are staying in the UK, so it is important for all Members to have a chance to debate that. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that statutory instrument is brought to the Floor of House for debate and proper scrutiny?
Many hon. Members have been to see the Prime Minister. The Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee said—yes, I am going to say it again—that the Prime Minister’s door was open but her mind was closed. However, did anyone check whether she was wearing headphones? Perhaps she was listening to the Everly Brothers, “Problems”, or Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”. As it is Neil Diamond’s birthday today, perhaps she was listening to “Everybody’s talkin’ at me”, or all the greatest hits of MP4.
I was going to describe the situation as chaotic, but I suppose “confused” and “reckless” are better words. The Secretary of State for International Trade admitted that preparations for a no-deal Brexit, by falling back on World Trade Organisation rules, are impossible unless the Trade Bill passes through Parliament. I heard the very able Minister, the hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), say just now that the House of Lords has blocked the Bill: it has not. The Lords found that the Trade Bill gives wide powers to Ministers, does not include Parliament or the devolved Administrations, and has no process for making international trade agreements. When will the Government publish the White Paper to set out their policy and proposals for making such agreements?
That is chaos and confusion on the EU, but there is also some domestic confusion. The Prime Minister said that employment in the west midlands has gone up but, in fact, unemployment has gone up. The west midlands is the only region to show a fall in employment. It is important to get statistics and facts right in the House.
Will the Leader of the House clarify policy, because the Government have been saying different things? Parliament passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 with an amendment on public registers. The Act said that such registers would be introduced by 2020 if the overseas territories had not done so voluntarily, and yet a Minister has said that the Government will have
“a requirement for an operational public register by 2023”.
That is three years later than the House agreed and five years after Parliament voted to take action on the issue. Will she clarify that?
What are the Government doing about leveraged debts? The Bank of England has raised a red flag over that new breed of sub-prime loans. Ten years on from the financial crash, banks are doling out those risky loans to indebted companies. May we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor on leveraged debts before it is too late?
Our much admired and efficient justice system is in meltdown, causing the Attorney General to say that the Crown Prosecution Service cannot take any more cuts.
I join the Leader of the House in celebrating—if that is the correct word—or remembering Holocaust Memorial Day. We think of all the survivors and remember that the EU was born from that—people wanted peace. Let us remembers the resilience of the survivors, who have lived without hate throughout their lives.
I, too, of course will celebrate Burns night tomorrow. I thought that alcohol was banned on the premises, but still I am happy to have a dram of whisky. Last year, there was delicious haggis in the Terrace café. It is on the menu tomorrow, and I encourage all hon. Members to have a go. I hope that our talented chefs will also give us a vegan option.
A vegan haggis would be an interesting thing to try. Haggis is certainly a delicious meal, and I join the hon. Lady in encouraging all Members to give it a go.
The hon. Lady asked about the proxy voting certificate. I can tell her that it will be in the Prime Minister’s box this evening. I am grateful for the speed with which Clerks and Mr Speaker’s Office have been able to deal with the matter, and I look forward to our ensuring that proxy voting can take place next week.
I announced in October that
“subject to the progress of business, the House will rise…on Thursday 14 February and return on Monday 25 February.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 800.]
That remains the position, but, as the hon. Lady will know, it is for the House to agree recess dates. I will of course come back to the House with proposed May recess dates as soon as I am able to do so.
The hon. Lady asked whether there would be a second meaningful vote. She will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained the current situation and next steps in her written statement on Monday, but I can tell her that this morning we tabled a further statement under section 13(11)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and have consequently tabled a joint motion in accordance with the procedure allowed under section 13(1)(b). That means that Tuesday’s debate will be on a motion relating to both the statement tabled on Monday under section 13(4) and the statement tabled today under section 13(11)(a). We will seek the House’s agreement to a full day’s debate, and the House will then give its preferred options. The Government will of course listen carefully, and next steps will be set out in due course.
The hon. Lady asked about the EU withdrawal agreement Bill. As she will know, it cannot be introduced until the House has approved its introduction in a meaningful vote, or in accordance with future next steps as agreed by the House. She asked about Brexit statutory instruments, and, in particular, asked for the statutory instrument on REACH to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. It is a parliamentary convention that when a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for that debate. However, as the hon. Lady knows, it is expected that in addition to raising the matter during business questions, Opposition Members should outline what they are requesting from the Government through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady asked about employment figures. I am sure that she, and indeed all Members, will be delighted to know that more people are employed than ever before, that the unemployment rate is the lowest that it has been since the 1970s, and that well over 3 million more people are employed now than in 2010. That is good news for people who will have more opportunities to provide for their families, which is absolutely vital.
The hon. Lady asked about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. I should be grateful if she would write to me about that, so that I can respond to her directly. She also asked about Bank of England lending limits. I suggest that she should raise that issue during Treasury questions on 29 January.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the sentencing rules relating to convictions for dangerous driving? A judge in Bradford recently jailed a man whom he described as a “complete menace” on the roads for dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, failing to provide a specimen, driving while uninsured, and possession of a small bag of cocaine. The man had 18 previous convictions for 33 offences. The judge complained about the fact that he was only able to sentence this individual to a maximum of two years in prison. He said that he would have sentenced him to four years if the law had allowed it, and urged Parliament to address the issue. Dangerous driving is a massive problem in the Bradford district. Will a Minister come to the House to explain what the Government will do to give judges the power that they need to take these menaces off the roads and put them in prison, where they belong?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Dangerous driving has appalling consequences for far too many people across the country. Questions to the Attorney General will take place next Thursday, 31 January, and it would be appropriate for my hon. Friend to raise the issue then.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and may I thoroughly share her comments on Holocaust Memorial Day?
It is, of course, Burns night tomorrow, Mr Speaker, and we know how much you like your haggis. We can never forget the unforgettable Selkirk Grace that you gave at an SNP Burns supper a couple of years ago. Burns summed up Brexit perfectly when he said:
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
For those of my colleagues unschooled in 18th century Scots, “aft a-gley” means “gone to pot,” and nothing can better sum up this self-defeating, isolating, ugly disaster than Burns’ profound words.
On Tuesday we have the joys of Brexit amendment day. The selection of the amendments will be a matter exclusively for you, Mr Speaker, but I am sure the Leader of the House will want to confirm that it will be the Government’s sole objective to facilitate the will of the House on Tuesday: no tricks, no attempts to defy the will of the House, and all that will happen is that the Executive arm of this Parliament will be defeated once again.
Many people are under the misapprehension that Tuesday might mark the end of this nightmare, but unfortunately, of course, that is not the case. There is still to be “meaningful vote 2”—meaningful vote from beyond the grave on whatever form of a dead deal is brought back and resuscitated. So can the Leader of the House explain a little more and say what the process will be beyond Tuesday, and is there any truth in some of the rumours today that the Government now intend to drop the backstop entirely to get this through? I am sure it will delight the rest of the European Union if that is indeed the case.
Will the Leader of the House please confirm that we will be having our February recess? It was suggested—by, I think, Government Whips—that it would be withdrawn as some sort of punishment to a recalcitrant House for not agreeing their Brexit plan, and we would be delighted if that is no longer the case.
With the sheer numbers of all this Brexit delegated legislation there are not enough Members to facilitate that and serve on some of the Committees. Will the Leader of the House have a look at some of the arrangements for these DLs and see if more can be done to bundle them together to ensure that we have enough Members to serve on the Committees? As always, Mr Speaker, best laid plans, best laid plans.
I was going to perhaps borrow that quote from Robbie Burns myself, but what I will say back to the hon. Gentleman is:
“Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing”.
That was perhaps not said with the superbness of the hon. Gentleman’s accent, but we all love the poetry of Robbie Burns and I am grateful to him for raising it in this place.
The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions about the next steps for next week. We will take a decision on the next steps following Tuesday’s debate. It is very important that we see what the House wishes to bring forward for discussion. Any keen readers of the excellent reports produced by the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) will be well aware that when a motion is agreed to, with or without amendment, it becomes either an order or a resolution of the House. Using the words of the Clerk of the House to that Committee:
“an order is when the House orders one of its officers or sometimes...itself to do certain things that are within its ambit of power…A resolution is an expression of the House’s views”
on a particular issue. It is very important to understand the ramifications of Tuesday’s debate and I hope that that clears things up for the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Prime Minister’s deal will be revived, and I can say to him that while the negotiations with the EU have yielded an agreement, that agreement has not yet been agreed by Parliament, so our focus continues to be on what is needed to secure the support of this House in favour of a deal with the EU. The Prime Minister has spent the past week listening to colleagues from across Parliament from different parties and with different views, and she will continue to do so.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Brexit statutory instruments and the capacity of the House to deal with them. He will be aware that over 300 Brexit SIs have been laid now. There are potentially up to 600 of them. That figure moves, as I have explained in this House a number of times; clarifications on policy issues and so on mean it is impossible to set out exactly how many SIs there will need to be in total, but we are confident that there will be enough time to pass all of those Brexit SIs that need to be passed by the date of leaving the European Union.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future for animal welfare after we leave the European Union? Our standards of animal welfare in this country are second to none, and it would be good if we could spread that message throughout the world so that Japan stopped killing whales, Lithuania stopped breeding animals for their fur and 25 million songbirds were no longer netted and eaten throughout the Mediterranean.
My hon. Friend raises a matter that is of huge interest to many Members on both sides of the House. The Government have been clear that leaving the EU will not lead to a lowering of our high animal welfare standards. The UK already has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we are looking at what more we can do in the context of our future agriculture policy. He is also right to raise the issue of what more we can do around the world to encourage others to take the same or a similar attitude to our own preference for high animal welfare standards.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the two debates next Thursday, on the Equitable Life scandal and on the sustainability of our nursery schools. I should also like to express my gratitude to her for announcing that the recess due to start on 14 February—Valentine’s day—will go ahead. That is very welcome, and it just goes to show that romance is not dead. May I also suggest that if Members want to put in to the Backbench Business Committee for debates on departmental estimates, they do so by Friday 8 February? They should not wait
“till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, and the rocks melt wi’ the sun”.
They should get their requests in by 8 February.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his update to the House. As ever, I will facilitate Back-Bench business whenever I can.
Will the Leader of the House clarify the situation in relation to Friday sitting days? Obviously, many Members had expected this Friday to be a sitting day, and my Creditworthiness Assessment Bill was on the list of many private Members’ Bills that could have been debated. It would be helpful to MPs, and to the campaigners who use these Bills and want to see them progress through the House, to hear a bit more about when we can get them debated, as they are an important part of the business of the House and clarification would be worth while.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue, and I absolutely share her enthusiasm for the importance of legislation being brought forward by a number of private Members’ Bills. Examples are the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2018 and the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Act 2018, which have already received Royal Assent and will make a significant difference to people’s lives in our country. It is important that we continue to make progress with private Members’ Bills. There have been conversations in the usual channels, and my right hon. Friend will appreciate that, given that amendments had been tabled to yesterday’s motion, we had to take the decision not to move it so that further discussions could take place to ensure that all Members are given an equal opportunity to bring forward their own important private Members’ resolutions. We believe that consensus can be found, and I expect a further motion to be brought forward next week.
Will the Leader of the House be able to secure time for a debate on knife crime and the public policy responses to it? This is a big issue not only in London but in many of our cities, including Nottingham, and many people are facing challenges in the community. This is not just about the need for tougher sentencing for possession of a knife without just cause; I would also ask her to convey to Local Government Ministers that Nottingham’s bid to the troubled families programme for diversionary activity support to help to reduce exclusions from schools is part of the prevention package that we need.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this incredibly concerning issue. Across the House, we are all worried about the increase in the use of knives as the weapon of choice in lots of gang problems and in the appalling attacks that we have seen in recent days and months. I commend him for raising the matter. He will be aware that there is a three-hour debate on knife crime in Westminster Hall this afternoon, which he might well wish to take part in, but I can also assure him that the Government’s serious violence strategy, our Offensive Weapons Bill and our many investments in community schemes to encourage young people away from this appalling activity are top priorities for us.
The political and economic crisis in Venezuela means that 90% of its citizens are living in poverty. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary met Venezuelan diplomats yesterday, but I understand that they did not discuss the crisis. May we have a debate in Government time to demonstrate that the Government are taking seriously their responsibility to ensure that we undertake soft-power relations across the world?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We have seen an appalling economic crisis in Venezuela, and the Foreign Office is carefully following the situation. Juan Guaidó has widespread support among Venezuelans, and the political crisis has gone on long enough. We want a way forward that leads to a peaceful solution for all Venezuelans, and I encourage my hon. Friend perhaps to seek a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can discuss their views.
At this time of year, I always feel a bit envious of the Scottish poet and, as chair of the John Clare Trust, I wish that we could have John Clare suppers all over the country to celebrate the greatest English poet of the countryside.
On a more sombre note, has the Leader of the House seen the recent evidence about the quality of air that our children are breathing in? Not just in London, but up and down the country, all of us, including pregnant women and even people rowing on rivers, are absorbing high levels of poisonous atmospheric content, and it is causing real health problems. Is it not about time that we had real measures to clean up the filthy atmosphere that our children and our people are breathing in?
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. This Government are committed to doing everything we can to try to improve the quality of our air. He may be pleased to know that the World Health Organisation has praised our clean air strategy as an example for the rest of the world to follow, with particular regard to our tackling of a range of issues, such as domestic stoves, open fires and so on. He will be aware that we are making available a significant £3.5 billion fund to reduce harmful emissions from road transport, including big investments in cycling and walking, supporting the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and helping local authorities to develop and implement local air quality plans. There is much more do, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter.
May we have a debate on local services? Yesterday, the SNP-led Moray Council announced that it was closing two swimming pools, six public libraries and every public toilet and axing every school crossing patroller as part of a series of swingeing budget cuts. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning those SNP cuts in Moray and urge Moray’s representatives to speak to their party at Holyrood and ask Nicola Sturgeon to give Moray a fair deal to stop the cuts happening altogether?
I am disappointed to hear about the cuts in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As a result of our decisions at the most recent Budget, Scotland will benefit from a £950 million funding boost, so it seems extraordinary that the council is unable to continue to maintain services that are significant for his constituents.
Further to the earlier question about Venezuela, will the Government make an early statement to clarify their position on the interim President Juan Guaidó? Given that the Organisation of American States, Canada, the United States, a large number of Latin American countries and now some European countries are beginning to recognise him as president, may we have an urgent clarification of the UK Government’s position?
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. All hon. Members will be worried about what is happening in Venezuela, where we want to see not only stability, but an end to the appalling crisis that is leaving so many people starving. I will certainly take up his request with the Foreign Office.
May we have a debate on recruitment to the judiciary? Our judges are renowned the world over for their calibre and integrity, which underpin the success of our legal sector, but it is proving increasingly difficult to recruit those judges, so can we have a debate to ensure that this important issue for UK plc gets the attention it deserves?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing service on the Justice Committee. I gather that he has just retired from that Committee—he seems far too young to be retiring from anything, doesn’t he? He makes a serious and important point. We have Justice questions on 5 February at which I encourage him to raise his point directly with Ministers.
James Douglas, who died this week aged 30, was your constituent, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am aware that you have no voice in this House to talk of your constituents. James made a huge impact on both of us in the short time we knew him. He leaves a wife and a 14-month-old son. He died, tragically, having contracted motor neurone disease. His benefits assessment gave him zero points, and only days later he received a DS1500, which is given to people who are terminally ill.
James was the inspiration behind my Access to Welfare (Terminal Illness Definition) Bill, which would alter legislation to remove the six-month terminal illness definition. We have no more sitting Fridays, as far as we know. Could we therefore have an opportunity in Government time to debate removing the six-month rule on terminal illness so that we can move things forward?
I send my sympathies to James’s family, and I think the whole House would want to send their condolences. This is a very sad story, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her efforts to get her Bill through. As she may have heard me say in response to a previous question, I hope to be able to table a motion next week, or at least as soon as possible, to provide further private Members’ Bills days. There are discussions through the usual channels to ensure that I can do that, and I hope her Bill will be able to make progress.
I thank the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and the Leader of the House for their comments, which I know will be very much appreciated by James’s family. He was a remarkable, inspiring and very kind young man.
Yesterday, the Labour Towns group sponsored a debate on a town of culture award, and 20 Back-Bench Members spoke in just 40 minutes, which is possibly a record. May we have a debate in Government time on encouraging our national museums and galleries to loan their artefacts and paintings, some of which have never seen the light of day, to pop-up galleries and museums in the poorest towns of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent suggestion that I would be pleased to support. We will have Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions on 31 January, and this would be a good point to raise directly with Ministers.
What has happened to the Agriculture Bill? The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said at the Oxford farming conference that he hoped that the Bill would be with us by the end of January.
In late 2017, the Government fought off a rebellion on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in relation to article 13 of the Lisbon treaty by saying that they would introduce an animal sentience Bill. What has happened to that?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Agriculture Bill is going through the parliamentary process as we speak. It will make a decisive shift in support for farmers and ensure that their contribution to maintaining our countryside and producing healthy food is greater than ever before. She will no doubt also be aware that we have committed to a future Bill that will set out the requirement agreed during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to establish a new body to ensure that we keep environmental standards high to meet our ambition to be a world leader. That Bill will also include a statement and confirmation on the subject of animal sentience.
The Public and Commercial Services Union has launched its booklet “Social security: the case for radical change”. Can we have a debate in Government time on issues such as universalism versus conditionality and a radical overhaul of our social security system?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are seeking to roll out a vastly improved system of support to help people to get into work, and also to provide greater support for those with disabilities to enable them to lead more fulfilling lives. We have had a number of debates, urgent questions and statements about our social security system. I encourage him, if he would value a further debate, to talk to the Backbench Business Committee and seek the views of colleagues from right across the House.
Thirteen years on from the collapse of Farepak, it is good to see the Government finally responding to the Law Commission’s proposals to protect consumers in such things as Christmas savings schemes. On behalf of amazing Farepak campaigner Councillor Deb Harvey, may I ask the Leader of the House to find out when the Government might introduce much-needed legislation in this area?
I pay tribute to Councillor Deb Harvey for her work—she has, as the hon. Lady suggests, contributed a huge amount to pushing this issue forward. I do not know the answer to the hon. Lady’s specific question, but if she would like to contact me after business questions, I will be happy to take the matter up with the relevant Department on her behalf.
We had a little sprinkling of snow on Wednesday, and of course transport chaos ensued. My constituents are mystified as to why, two days later, we still have no trains running on the Ellesmere Port line. Ellesmere Port is a wonderful place, but it does not have its own microclimate, so we do not know why trains all around us are running while we are still without a service. We get the feeling that we are being treated as second-class citizens. Can we have a debate, please, on more accountability and competence in the rail network?
I am sorry to hear about the experience of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. It is appalling when train services are not running, and I completely sympathise. He will be aware that the Government are spending £48 billion—more money than at any time since Victorian days—on the railways to maintain, modernise and renew them so as to deliver better journeys and fewer disruptions. I am genuinely sorry to hear about the problems that he is experiencing, and I encourage him to take the matter up directly in an Adjournment debate so that Ministers can look into those specific problems.
The Leader of the House will recall that hon. Members, including myself, have raised serious concerns on a number of occasions about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Most recently, I tabled early-day motion 1911 highlighting the results of research into FASD by Bristol University, which found that up to 17% of children in its research sample of more than 13,000 could have symptoms consistent with FASD.
[That this House is deeply concerned at the new research undertaken by Bristol University which has concluded that up to 17 per cent of children could have symptoms consistent with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder; notes the results of the research that up to 79 per cent of children in the research sample of 13,495 were exposed to alcohol consumed in pregnancy and that up to 25 per cent of those children were exposed to binge levels of alcohol in pregnancy; and therefore calls on the Government and the health and education services to take urgent steps to reduce and eliminate alcohol consumption in pregnancy so that children do not suffer irreparable alcohol-related lifetime damage that would diminish their chances of leading healthy, happy, successful and fulfilling lives.]
In the light of that, and much other evidence, will the Leader of the House press her colleagues in government to introduce effective means of addressing this scourge in view of the damage it is doing to millions of lives and its enormous social cost across all of society?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this incredibly troubling issue. We have had a number of debates on the subject. He may be aware that the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a cross-Whitehall group to look at what more can be done to support every family with a new baby in the early days, and this issue is in scope of that review.
May I ask the Leader of the House to join me, my constituents, our Cardiff City football club family and fans across the world—especially in Nantes and Argentina—in desperately hoping that our young striker Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson have survived, as the search for them continues?
We have all been really shocked to hear of this potential loss of life. I know that everything is being done to try to find out what has happened. I absolutely share in the hon. Lady’s tribute to the football player and the pilot, and I share in the sadness of all those football supporters.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the recently published “Preliminary report into the law and procedures in serious sexual offences in Northern Ireland”, by Sir John Gillen? It highlights some startling concerns, including the
“lengthy delays in the court process in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK”
and the fact that 40% of complainants in Northern Ireland who raise a sexual offence with the police drop out of the process because they are so harassed in the lead-up to the trial, with those cases never reaching trial.
Given that we have no Assembly in Northern Ireland to make progress on the important recommendations identified by Sir John Gillen, will the Leader of the House ultimately provide time for a debate here and then ensure that procedures are put in place that will allow the enactment of the recommendations for the justice system in Northern Ireland, so that we can bring about good, effective justice for victims of sexual crime in Northern Ireland?
I was not aware of the particular report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but I know that there would be enormous concern across the House about a failure in any part of the United Kingdom properly to consider issues relating to sexual offences. He will be aware that we have Northern Ireland questions on Wednesday 30 January, and I am sure he could seek an Adjournment debate so that he can take up the matter directly with Ministers and discuss what more can be done.
I want to talk about the B-word, but thankfully it is not Brexit today. I want to know why funding for bus services has been halved in the past eight years. It has had a huge impact on my constituents, particularly those who live in semi-rural and rural areas. Social isolation remains a big issue, yet bus companies seem constantly to put profits before people and passengers. May we have a debate on the demise of local bus services?
Should we do such a thing, I would be tempted to join in. Bus services in my constituency have really been cut. I have been looking at community bus services, with some success, and I know that lots of parish councils and communities are seeking to take matters into their own hands and provide themselves with a bus service. I really do pay tribute to all those who do that. The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, which is of grave concern. The taxpayer is spending £1 billion every year on free bus travel for older and disabled people, and £250 million to keep fares down and maintain an extensive bus network, but there are clearly problems, and I encourage the hon. Lady to seek a Westminster Hall debate or a Back-Bench debate so that she can discuss the issue with Ministers.
The Leader of the House may have noted Santander’s announcement yesterday that it plans to close 140 of its branches around the UK, with up to 1,200 jobs at risk. Those planned closures include 15 branches in Scotland, among which is Santander’s Springburn branch in my constituency. I thought the justification that the bank gave was rather dubious, because it suggested that many people were transferring to using mobile and internet banking technology, but in fact the majority of the users of the branch in my constituency do not use internet or mobile banking, and it is the only branch available without their having to get an exorbitantly priced bus ride into the city centre. The closure will clearly have a massive impact, particularly on elderly people and those who are less able readily to use new technologies. We had a debate on this issue a year ago and clearly nothing has changed, so will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in Government time on the community impact of large-scale bank branch closures? It is clearly having an impact and we need to consider legislation.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are quite strict rules regarding consultation and the provision of a proper evidence base before bank branches are closed. He will also be aware of the agreement with post offices such that they can provide basic banking services, which enable small businesses and individuals to fulfil most of their banking needs. Nevertheless, we must recognise that such services are commercially provided and that the banks have certainly seen a significant drop in footfall. The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue for his local communities and I am very sympathetic, so I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss the matter directly with a Minister.
The Department for Education is consulting on proposals to allocate up to £910 million in additional funding to schools and colleges in England to cover higher teacher pension scheme costs in 2019-20. Can we please have a statement clarifying the basis on which this figure was calculated, and whether a Barnett consequential of it will be sufficient to cover the costs in Wales? Given that schools and colleges in Wales will also be impacted by these changes, the UK Government must ensure that funding is made available to them, so that they can fully cover the increased costs.
I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s question. I can well understand it. Schools must be able to cover all the incidental costs arising from changes in pensions policy and so on. He will be aware that we have invested significant sums in schooling to ensure that schools can meet those incidental costs. With regard to his specific question, I would encourage him either to seek an Adjournment debate or to send parliamentary written questions to Ministers.
Planned changes to eligibility for pension credit have recently come to light. They will amount to a loss of up to £7,320 per year for mixed-aged couples, could have a devastating effect on the health and wellbeing of some older people, and could push more pensioners into poverty. It is yet another financial blow to women born in the 1950s, who have had little notice of their delayed pension pay-out. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out why the UK Government believe these changes necessary and how they will improve the lives of some of our poorest pensioners?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. It is incredibly important that we consider all the issues around pension changes. She will be aware that the Government have sought to ensure fairness between pensions for different types of workers, while recognising that as we live longer, affordability needs to be taken carefully into account. She may be aware that there is a debate next week, on Thursday 31 January, on pensions, and she might like to participate in that.
Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the disappearance in Cairo of the Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni. His body was subsequently recovered. He had been brutally tortured and murdered. The case has attracted international attention to issues of human rights and academic freedom. Can we finally have a debate in this place on the work the Government have done to put pressure on the Egyptian authorities to reveal the truth about what happened to Giulio?
I am sorry to hear that it is nearing the third anniversary—it is extraordinary how fast time passes—and I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s request for further clarification. I would encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers at the next Foreign Office questions, so that they can prepare an update for him on exactly what steps they have taken.
The Holmes review explored how to further open up public appointments to disabled people, and recommended a target of 11.3% disabled public appointees by 2022, with a review by the end of this year. Can we have a statement about how this goal might be achieved?
I think all hon. Members would support a target to ensure that those with particular needs are catered for in our housing policy. He will be aware that we have Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday 28 January, and I would encourage him to raise that question directly with Ministers.
My office was recently contacted by a young woman who had fled domestic violence elsewhere in the UK. She was preparing to sleep rough on the streets of Glasgow that night, having been asked to leave a temporary accommodation centre in my constituency and turned away from every other temporary accommodation centre because she was on a student visa and had no recourse to public funds. It was only through the diligence of my caseworker that a charity was found that was able to offer her shelter, and she has now successfully applied for asylum. Can we have a debate in Government time on the gap in support for women in that situation?
The hon. Gentleman raises a horrible case. It is awful to hear of someone fleeing domestic violence and being unable to find shelter overnight, and he is absolutely right to raise it. He will be aware that the Government are committing more than £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including by looking at provision in different areas, but I would encourage him to raise his specific question at local government questions on Monday 28 January.
Last Friday, I joined students at Ellis Guilford School in my constituency as they took part in a “Be Internet Citizens” workshop, hosted by Google and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The day helped those young people learn about fake news and about hate, on and offline. It will really give them the skills to thrive, on and offline, in their daily lives. Can we have a discussion in Government time about the importance of teaching our young people those skills at the earliest possible age?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really valid point about teaching young people how to better protect themselves, and he is absolutely right to do so. There is so much that we can do both in terms of encouragement and legislation to ensure that the big social media companies take responsibility, but nothing could be better than encouraging more young people to understand that they themselves need to challenge what they are seeing online. I commend him for raising that point, and I encourage him perhaps to raise it again at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions next week on 31 January.
May we have a Government statement on reports that the Ministry of Defence is considering destroying the files relating to the RAF helicopter disaster on the Mull of Kintyre in my Argyll and Bute constituency in June 1994? It is still the RAF’s worse peacetime loss of life. Given the controversy surrounding the tragedy, does the Leader of the House share my concern that if the RAF does destroy those files, the MOD could actually be destroying the only future pathway to establishing exactly what happened on that awful night?
I was not aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. I strongly encourage him to write to MOD Ministers directly or, indeed, if he wants to write to me following business questions, I can take it up with the Department on his behalf.
Reports from Yemen say that members of the Baha’i religious community are increasingly being persecuted by Houthi rebels. Many Baha’i leaders are facing spurious criminal charges, and the Houthi leadership has refused appeals to release Baha’is who are imprisoned for their faith. In a televised speech just last year, the leader of the Houthis nullified and denounced the Baha’i faith, further intensifying the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is in that country. Obviously, it is a very important matter. Can we have a statement or a debate on it?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of great concern, which is the religious persecution of minorities. On this occasion, it is in Yemen, which is, in itself, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. What we all want, and what this Government are working towards, is success in the peace talks, and to be able to provide a long-term resolution to the problem in Yemen. He raises a very serious point about religious persecution, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance, which will benefit a number of constituents who have emailed me this morning, following the publication of the amendments for next Tuesday’s business on section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. When will we know Mr Speaker’s selection of amendments? When he has made his selection, can you advise me on whether the amendments will be moved, spoken to and voted on in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper, or in alphabetical order, because there is a difference between the two?
Will you indulge me further, Madam Deputy Speaker? When we know about the selection of amendments, will there be guidance on whether, if one amendment is successful in the Division Lobby, subsequent amendments can stand, or whether they must fall, before we debate the substantive motion?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The selection will be made on the day. The further point that he raised with regard to whether one amendment will fall if another succeeds will obviously depend on the amendments themselves. Mr Speaker will announce his selection on the day.
Joint HMI Prison and Probation Report
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the findings of the report into the management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences.
First, let me begin by acknowledging this incredibly important report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation and, secondly, by passing my apologies to the House, particularly to the shadow spokesmen, for the fact that they were not able to receive advance notice of this statement.
Sexual offences are among the most horrifying and tragic of all the incidents with which we have to deal in this Chamber, or indeed in public law. They inflict unspeakable harm on the victim at the moment at which the offence is created, and lasting harm throughout the individual’s life, leading to trauma, which, in the worst cases, can even extend to that individual committing suicide. No one should underestimate in any way the seriousness of this type of offence, or the obligation on the Government and their agencies to protect the public from sex offences.
This is a journey that begins in custody, but needs to go right the way through probation into the community. We are deeply grateful to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation for the work that they have done to look into this specific issue. I have spoken to both inspectorates this week. I spoke to the new director-general of prisons and the new director-general of probation, and asked them to look carefully at these reports.
At the end of the statement, I will go point by point through the major issues raised, but in essence, the central issues relate to: first, the accommodation provision for sex offenders on release; secondly, the risk assessment process for sex offenders; thirdly, the way in which professional training ties into that risk assessment process; fourthly, the opportunities for rehabilitative programmes; and finally, the question of home visits, and, in particular, issues of children.
Before we move on to those, I want to take this opportunity to reassure the whole House about the overall approach that we take to managing sex offenders, and in particular to public protection. There has been a huge shift over the past 20 years, as hon. and right hon. Members will be aware, in the way that we approach sex offenders. Many more people are now brought to justice for sex offences than were 20 years ago. That does not mean that more people are committing sex offences today; it means that more people are being brought to justice. This is driven by two things in particular: the rise in access to pornography, particularly on the internet; and the prosecution of individuals for historical sex offences—in some cases, committed many, many years ago—and the additional priority that the police have put on bringing those individuals to justice. We therefore have far more people in prison and on probation who are convicted sex offenders than 20 years ago.
When running through this very difficult and unpleasant subject, it is important to be aware of the range of people we include in the term “sex offender”. Some have committed a contact offence; some have not. Let me illustrate for the House what the range could be. Let us look at a recent case: a 50-year-old autistic man in the north of England who became addicted to internet pornography was driven to ever more extreme sites, and was eventually convicted—because we can detect people doing this—of sex offences. He served time in custody and has now come out. In that case, it was possible to work with the individual to get them off the internet and to reduce their offending. It is possible to protect the public from that kind of individual.
However, the range of sex offences goes right the way through to the most extreme high-risk cases, which would be dealt with through particular multi-agency protection arrangements. They would include an adult who was convicted of raping their partner, or an individual who had been in a position of authority, perhaps decades ago, and abused vulnerable children in their care. In thinking about how we deal with sex offenders in prison and on probation, we need to take into account the fact that they are very different individuals. Some of the oldest prisoners are now over 100 years old, and clearly the measures put in place for them will be very different from those put in place for others.
We must consider three things in particular—I would be grateful for an opportunity to discuss this in more detail with right hon. and hon. Members—that we do to protect the public: first, the multi-agency protection arrangements, meaning the way we work with the police and the probation service to ensure that we have a real focus on knowing where an individual is and on ensuring that they adhere to the conditions imposed; secondly, the licence conditions, which are imposed by the Parole Board mostly in cases of high-risk sex offenders; and thirdly, the sex offenders register, which has its own specialised requirements on what can be done with a sex offender.
Given the limited time available, I will focus on the issues raised in the report. The first, which has attracted a great deal of media attention, relates to the accommodation provided to offenders. As right hon. and hon. Members will have seen in the media, the inspectors highlighted cases in which sex offenders were placed in hotel accommodation. The first thing I want to say is that this is something we will work very hard to avoid in future, and I will explain how we will do that shortly. This is a very small number of cases. Every year, over 10,000 people are released from prison under that form of supervision, and of those only 54—sometimes it is 55 or 56—will end up in some type of emergency accommodation.[Official Report, 12 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 1MC.] Of those individuals, only a very few—perhaps half a dozen—will end up in hotel accommodation. Before that can happen, the police and the probation service will conduct a detailed risk assessment to ensure that the individual does not pose a risk of a contact offence against a stranger. The individual will have committed a sex offence of the sort I explained at the start of my statement, or will have risk factors that do not impose that kind of risk on the public.
Nevertheless, we should still not place those individuals in that type of accommodation. With the director-general of the probation service, we are doing two major things to address this. First, we are providing the resources to build over 200 additional places in approved premises, so that individuals have such accommodation to go to. Secondly, in the interim, we will work with organisations such as Langley House Trust to provide alternative accommodation. My objective will be to significantly reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the possibility of anyone going to that form of hotel accommodation in future.
The second issue raised by the report relates to the risk assessment mechanism. Criticisms have been made about ARMS—active risk management system—which is the monitoring and assessment process that considers the risk factors when dealing with an offender. There is more that we can do on that in professional training. I have asked the director general of the probation service to look at moving the ARMS process, if possible, out of the community, where it has generally been located because of flexible changes in risk, and back into the custodial prison environment at an earlier stage in the process.
The third issue that the inspectors raised relates to approved accommodation. In relation to both approved accommodation and home visits, we must ensure that individuals are visited in their home, and that no gaps emerge between the police and the probation service. There are many other issues that we need to touch on, but I am aware that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, wish me to restrict my comments to 10 minutes, on a subject that I could speak about for an hour. I hope that in the questions that follow this statement, we can go into the subject in more detail.
In conclusion, we owe the inspectors a huge debt of gratitude for the work that they have done. We need to acknowledge that they have rated our national probation service as good, and that our public protection mechanisms, which I have mentioned, are among the very best in the world and have been praised by the inspectors, but they have also raised four areas of concern. We will tackle them one by one, because in public protection there is nothing more important than protecting people from the horror and trauma of a sexual offence.
I have not had advance sight of the statement, but the Minister, in his courteous manner, explained the reason to me shortly before the statement. I am somewhat astonished that, during his 10-minute deliberation, he failed seriously to consider and concede the true, damning nature of the joint report, which has public protection at its heart. We expect our criminal justice system to keep us safe, to keep our children protected, and to ensure the effective management and supervision of offenders, but it is clear from this damning report into the state of the management and supervision of sex offenders that this is not the case.
The report reads like a catalogue of failures in public protection. All five areas inspected had cases that presented safeguarding concerns, most often in relation to children, and around one in three of the intervention plans made paid insufficient attention to keeping children safe. Almost one in five plans failed to address sufficiently the need to keep the public, known adults and staff safe. Overall, inspectors found that there was poor release planning for sex offenders: many cases failed to present a comprehensive risk management plan and many initial offender assessment systems in prisons were missing. That created a situation in which proper restrictions on the access of sex offenders to children could not be applied, putting those children in real danger. Those are severe failings by the Ministry of Justice, and the public have a right to know that they have been put at risk by the Government.
Can the Minister tell me how many sexual offenders released since the beginning of the transforming rehabilitation programme have gone on to reoffend? How many adults and children have been put at risk by the serious failures identified in the report? Of particular note is the threat to the public posed by the inadequate and unsafe resettlement of sexual offenders after release, which he has today acknowledged.
The report identifies two instances, in the small sample, of offenders being released into budget hotels or other temporary accommodation instead of approved premises. The inspectorates have said that it was hard to see a defence for that decision in relation to protecting the public. How many offenders have been released into non- approved premises, how long did they stay in such premises, and what supervision and monitoring arrangements were in place? Does the Minister believe that such a decision was defensible? Following the Government’s privatisation of night-watch staff at approved premises, despite repeated warnings, what assessment has he made of this privatisation of public safety, and does he agree with the unions that that, too, will put the public at risk?
It is also evident that the failings found in the report have been caused and aggravated by the Government’s ill-judged and poorly delivered transforming rehabilitation programme, and their relentless, ideological cuts to the Prison Service. The transforming rehabilitation programme has dangerously and recklessly fragmented the probation system, creating a vastly increased and distressing workload that many staff find difficult to manage, with one in four NPS staff saying that they were not properly prepared for sexual offender work, and supervisors in both prisons and the probation service receiving little or no training. Without sufficient support, we risk losing committed and experienced staff in the probation system, just as we have seen in the prisons system.
What assessment has the Minister made of the transforming rehabilitation agenda on the ability of probation officers to monitor at-risk sexual offenders effectively and protect the public? What assessment has he made of the loss of experienced probation officers and thousands of experienced prison officers, and the impact of these losses on the MOJ’s ability to manage and supervise offenders? Ultimately, does he agree with the probation inspector that
“the public are not sufficiently protected”
from sexual offenders?
I thank the shadow Minister for his questions, which essentially focused on three separate issues: the transforming rehabilitation programme, reoffending rates, and accommodation. On accommodation, I absolutely share his concerns. He asked for the absolute numbers. As I said, the current numbers suggest that across the country, of the more than 10,000 people being released, 56 are being put in emergency accommodation—so a very small number. The number of those going into hotels would be a fraction of that—something in the region of half a dozen. However, as I said, we are doing all we can to eliminate this entirely. One of the ways in which we are aiming to do so is by building over 200 additional places in approved premises, of which half will be delivered next year.
The hon. Gentleman’s second question was on reoffending rates for sex offenders. Any reoffending by any offender is a tragedy; reoffending by a sex offender is a horrifying tragedy. The reality is that reoffending rates among sex offenders are significantly lower than reoffending rates among the population as a whole. At the moment, reoffending rates among short-term prisoners are running at about 60%, while reoffending rates among sex offenders are about eight times lower than that. In the case of low-risk sex offenders, the re-conviction rate is 0.8%. That means that 99.2% of people are not re-convicted. But 0.8% is still too high a figure, and there is much more that we can do to try to drive it down.
Where I would disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman is in connecting this matter to the transforming rehabilitation programme. The question of the management of sex offenders is not about the community rehabilitation companies. Almost every sex offender is managed by the national probation service—in other words, managed by the Government, by civil servants, by a public agency. It has nothing to do with a move towards the private sector or the decisions that have been made to bring in the charitable sector. The report is absolutely explicit—both inspectors are clear on this all the way through—that it is on the performance of the national probation service, not the CRCs. The CRCs are not engaged with in this report. There has been investment in the national probation service since the beginning of the transforming rehabilitation programme. There have been many challenges for the national probation service in terms of its caseload and the types of offences that are coming forward, but, when all is said and done, there is a 9.7% budget increase in the resource going into the service.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that we have two very well-subscribed debates this afternoon, particularly the one on Holocaust Memorial Day. I therefore ask colleagues to make their questions, and the Minister to make his answers, as brief as possible.
I welcome the Minister’s frankness about the extent of the problem. Dame Glenys Stacey is a highly regarded and robustly independent inspector, and what she says is grave.
The Minister has rightly highlighted a number of specific areas that need to be looked at, and I have no doubt that the Justice Committee will wish to take this matter further. In addition to the specifics that he is going to work with, what is to be done to deal with an underlying problem highlighted in the report—the disconnect between what the leadership of the national probation service perceives is being done and what is actually delivered on the ground, with the lack of face-to-face contact, the over-reliance on emails, and the sense that staff are not fully supported? That is a systemic problem, and it is not the first time that the Select Committee and the inspectors have found it to exist. What steps will he be taking to deal with that underlying issue?
Resolving that problem is partly about resources. We need to make sure not just that we are putting in the 9.7% extra funding but that we are able to recruit the additional staff to reduce the caseload. It is partly about processes and management systems in order to make sure that we really record any contact with offenders. It is also absolutely about picking up on any issues where our national policy is not being followed at a local level.
Over the past two years in Scotland, we have had the lowest recorded crime for almost 45 years. In particular, violent crime has been halved in the past 10 years because of the work of the violence reduction unit. However, exactly as across the rest of the UK, we have seen an increase in sexual offences. As the Minister said, this has been for different reasons. Some of it is about exposure to pornography and some of it is about new crimes—digital crimes—but, in particular, it is about victims coming forward, which everyone should welcome. We now have the challenge of reducing the re-traumatisation they often face in the criminal justice system.
The report highlights that the national probation service is managing over 100,000 offenders, one in five of whom need supervision. The treatment programme that was being used failed: it increased reoffending and has had to be changed. How will the Minister ensure that there are sufficient staff and that they have training in the new programmes and, particularly, support, because they are often dealing with very harrowing cases that can take a toll on them? How will he improve integration—in the courses, the approach, and the IT— between custody and community? How will he ensure that the MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements—level that offenders are given is consistent across England? How will he provide monitored accommodation where required?
Two years ago, Scotland got the power to introduce sexual harm protection orders and sexual risk orders, but amendment is required so that they can be recognised across the UK. We cannot have it that people can offend and move. I know that the Minister recognises that and that our Cabinet Secretary has written again this week. When will this be changed so that we can take forward these protection orders in Scotland?