House of Commons
Wednesday 30 January 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Border: Use of Technology
Today marks the tragic anniversary of the events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. I am sure the entire House will want to join me in marking this day, and our thoughts are with everyone who lost loved ones or who was injured as a result of the troubles.
In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, everyone agrees that we have to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and I agree with him that technology will play a big part in doing so. In fact, in his excellent and thought-provoking report “Order at the Border”, he identified 25 systems that will have to be updated to cope with our new relationship with the EU. Those systems are owned and operated by different departments across government, particularly Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Cabinet Office. I am sure they will describe their progress to him should he ask.
I thank the Minister for that answer. What work, studies or advice the Northern Ireland Office has sought or commissioned to examine how existing techniques and processes within existing EU customs law can maintain the free flow of cross-border trade between the UK and Ireland? Will Ministers put a copy of this in the House of Commons Library?
I understand that the Cabinet Office commissioned work on what existing software and other technologies are available from other low-friction land borders around the world to see whether they could provide a solution to the problem. The conclusion was that no existing off-the-shelf package could deliver exactly what will be needed in Northern Ireland, so new solutions will be needed. That is why the political declaration outlines that there will be urgent work on alternative arrangements to permanently guarantee no hard border in Northern Ireland.
May I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about Bloody Sunday? He will know that in that same city of Derry/Londonderry just a fortnight ago the dissident republicans tried to take more lives of Northern Irish citizens. Can he understand that the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland thinks that any infrastructure at the border—any technology—will be a target for those same dissidents? Will the Minister offer a guarantee here today that there will be no technology on or near the border, and therefore no violence at the border?
Will the Minister confirm that the alternative arrangements the Government will be pursuing in the next fortnight have to do with technology and systems, as evidenced in the European Parliament’s “Smart Border 2.0” report in 2017, rather than a customs union that may potentially tie the United Kingdom into an arrangement in perpetuity?
All I can do here is go back to the Prime Minister’s point of order after the votes last night, where she explicitly said that she was going to take the decisions that had commanded a majority in Parliament back in not only reaching out to people who tabled amendments yesterday, but in her discussions with the EU. I am sure that none of us would want to rule in or out any particular methods of achieving those outcomes that have mandated by Parliament. We need to make sure that those discussions can move forward as freely as possible while still delivering on the outcomes that Parliament has decided.
This week, the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has indicated that he has a team studying how we could have checks without having any points along the border, including by paperless means and decentralisation—checks away from the border. Will the Minister confirm that he will be seeking to work with the EU to deliver on those things?
I can do better than that. The Prime Minister, in her comments last night, already made the point that she wishes to discuss all these things with the EU. I would regard it as immensely promising if such a team were indeed already working on it from the EU’s side.
I join the Minister in his commemoration of the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, but may I also use this opportunity to recognise the work of and thank the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland? As he announces his forthcoming retirement, I think the whole House will agree that we owe him a debt of gratitude.
The Minister and the Secretary of State know that there is no operable technology anywhere in the world in current use that would not of itself become a target for the terrorists. The Prime Minister has said this in the past. We have to rule out the idea that a technological solution is available. If the Minister and the Secretary of State are going to use their influence to say that there can be no hard border across the island of Ireland, they have to say that they will abandon the attempts to placate those in favour of a no-deal Brexit on their own side and move towards a customs union.
All I think I can do is repeat my earlier comments. After examination, there are no currently available, off-the-shelf solutions, which is why the political declaration says that new solutions will be required. I would not want to rule out what those will be and what they will include or not include at this stage, because clearly they will need to be innovative.
Peace and Reconciliation
May I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about Bloody Sunday? The shadow Secretary of State has pre-empted me, but I too have a debt of gratitude to George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of the PSNI.
The Government fully support efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I was pleased to announce earlier this month that about £300 million of UK Government funding will be committed to projects to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland between 2021 and 2027.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that no discussion of peace and reconciliation can take place without considering the plight of Northern Ireland veterans, both police and military, who put their lives on the line for their country? Will she assure the House that she personally will do all she can to draw a line under these investigations, which breach the military covenant and our pledge to police forces in the UK?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner on these matters. He will know from the extensive discussions we have had that I am committed to delivering on the legacy proposals that were first agreed in the Stormont House talks and on which we have had a consultation. I look forward to working with him further on those matters.
From Caroline O’Hanlon to Carl Frampton, we know the ability of great Ulster sportsmen and women to bring people together. May I ask the Secretary of State about the curriculum sports programme? It receives £1.2 million of funding each year to provide Gaelic football, hurling and soccer coaching in 450 schools in Northern Ireland. That funding has been cut. Will she restore it to bring sport back to the people in all those communities?
The hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this matter. I know he is very keen to make sure that this funding is maintained. He makes a point about the fact that we do not have devolved government, which we will come on to later during questions. We do need Ministers in Northern Ireland to make those important decisions, because the example he raises is a very good one.
The recent events in Derry/Londonderry clearly showed that the peace we have in Northern Ireland is still fragile at times. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as the Brexit process progresses, it is crucial that politicians on both sides of the border and indeed in this House use language that is measured rather than inflammatory?
The Secretary of State will recall the excellent work of the centenary committee that oversaw the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland and sought to promote reconciliation through its work. As we look towards celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland—this landmark in our history—will the Secretary of State assure me that she will work with us to do the same?
The success of the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland was very much down to the right hon. Gentleman’s hard work in ensuring that all parts of the community came together. I think we saw a real moment in St Anne’s cathedral in November, when all parts of the community and the Irish Government came together with the UK Government to recognise what happened 100 years ago. I know he is very keen and we have met to discuss the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland, and we are working with him on it.
To promote peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm that, after Brexit, British and Irish citizens will of course continue to be able to cross freely the Irish border in accordance with the common travel area? Will the Secretary of State confirm that technological solutions are being looked at to ease the flow of other EU nationals across the Irish border?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the common travel area is a very important foundation of the lives of those in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it of course predates our membership of the EU. We are absolutely committed to ensuring the common travel area continues. We want to see that, and it is a very important point.
The restoration of a fully functioning Executive and Assembly remains my top priority. I am focused on bringing the parties together to work towards re-establishing devolved government at the earliest opportunity.
May I draw to the Secretary of State’s attention the very serious comments made to the Women and Equalities Committee last Friday by the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland regarding patient safety for certain women? Will the Secretary of State meet members of that Select Committee to discuss what actions can be taken?
The lack of a functioning Assembly creates real problems for setting Northern Ireland’s budget. Can the Secretary of State explain what steps she is taking ahead of the 2019-20 budget? In particular, is she meeting with all parties represented in the Assembly?
I would very much prefer there to be a devolved Government in Stormont setting the budget for the Departments in Northern Ireland, but sadly that is not the case. Therefore, it is incumbent on me, as Secretary of State, to ensure that we have a proper statutory basis for public spending in Northern Ireland, and I am working on that budget. I will, of course, talk to other parties about the matter.
In relation to budgetary matters, the Secretary of State will be aware of the massive extra boost to the block grant as a result of the confidence and supply arrangement. Will she ensure that the Northern Ireland Office works closely with devolved Departments to ensure that progress is made on all blockages to the proper roll-out of all that money, and the other major infrastructure projects for Northern Ireland, as quickly as possible?
I want to make sure that all projects in Northern Ireland are properly delivered. Clearly, I do not have executive powers to ensure that they are delivered, but I am working closely with the Departments to make sure that money, particularly confidence and supply money, is spent properly.
In relation to devolved issues more generally, does the Secretary of State accept that there could be a greater role for Assembly Members, who are currently not meeting, in input into decision making and policy making in Northern Ireland? It is deplorable that certain elected representatives from Northern Ireland do not take their places here, and that the same party refuses to get the Executive up and running.
I want the institutions in Stormont to be restored as soon as possible, and I want to work with all parties to make sure that that can happen. It is important that where there are roles for Members of the Legislative Assembly, they continue to contribute. I pay particular tribute to the Churches, which have organised a number of meetings to allow civic society, MLAs and others to get together and discuss important matters. Those are great initiatives.
We have heard at first hand in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the detrimental effects of not having devolved government in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has no mental capacity legislation, and in education it is working to statements rather than education, health and care plans. What devolved powers can the Secretary of State give officials in Northern Ireland to help to rectify those problems while there is no devolved government?
We passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 last year to allow civil servants to take decisions based on guidance issued by me, as Secretary of State. I have to be clear that those are not major policy change decisions; they are to allow public services to continue to be delivered. The way to get through this is to get Ministers back into government.
On behalf of the SNP, I join the Minister and the Labour Front-Bench spokesman in marking the tragic and entirely avoidable events of Bloody Sunday. Earlier this month, the former Taoiseach John Bruton accused this Government of seeking to tear up the Good Friday agreement. Last night, the Government did exactly that. As a result of recent events in Northern Ireland and the implications of last night’s vote, it is imperative that we get power sharing back up and running as soon as possible. Is the Secretary of State concerned that increasingly strained Anglo-Irish relations will harm efforts to restore Stormont?
The House has just heard of the sad necessity of the setting of a budget for the coming financial year, in the absence of a devolved Assembly. May I ask the Secretary of State if she has begun discussions with the Northern Ireland civil service on this? While she is in such a warm and inclusive mood, may I ask her if she will follow the example of her predecessor and involve Opposition parties in the process?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that last year when the budget was set, I made sure, as Secretary of State, that all the main parties and the Opposition were part of the process. As I say, I would much rather that Ministers in Northern Ireland were setting the budget, but given the situation, we have to work together to make sure that a budget can be set.
I have regular discussions with the Prime Minister and others about all aspects of our exit from the European Union.
Last October, the Secretary of State gave a guarantee that her Government would not renege on the backstop, saying:
“We are committed to everything we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland.”
Can she explain why there has now been a U-turn and the Government’s policy has changed to ditching the backstop?
The commitments made in the joint report remain. Those commitments were that we would find a solution to the Irish border, ideally through our future relationship. We are still committed to that being the case. Last night, the House showed that there is a majority to pass the withdrawal agreement if changes are made to the backstop. The Prime Minister is working on that basis.
The deputy head of the Irish Government, Simon Coveney, has stated that
“the backstop is already a compromise…And the European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it.”
Again, that was confirmed last night by the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Government are pursuing a dead-end policy by seeking to renegotiate the backstop?
In order to protect the Good Friday agreement, the backstop protocol was designed as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in all circumstances. The only major party in these islands that opposed the Good Friday agreement was the Democratic Unionist party. Did the Secretary of State consult with any other party in Northern Ireland before throwing her support behind the new Government policy of ditching the backstop?
As the Prime Minister develops the alternative arrangements, will the Secretary of State remember that we have an incredibly close working relationship with the Irish Government to deliver the common travel area? It seems to me that that perhaps provides a model for how we might deliver no hard border in the future.
Clearly it would not be appropriate to speculate on what discussions the Prime Minister will have with the European Union and the European Commission, but my right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the common travel area, to which, as I have said previously, we are absolutely committed.
Last night, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) made one of the most reckless and irresponsible speeches I have heard since coming to this place. The comments about the Good Friday agreement do not—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a brief question, and the Secretary of State has no responsibility for the pronouncements of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Single sentence, question mark, and sit down.
I can absolutely do that. This Government are committed to ensuring that we deliver on leaving the European Union in a way that works for all people who live in the United Kingdom, wherever that may be, fully respecting the commitments that we have under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement.
We do not have much time to find new technological solutions. In October, from the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that
“technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 421.]
Does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister?
If the hon. Lady had listened to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, in his answer to the first question, it was clear that we have said as a Government that no technological solutions, off the shelf, exist today that solve this problem, but we are committed to working to find alternative arrangements because we have all agreed that the backstop, should it ever come into force, is a temporary measure. No one wants to be in it, and we want to find ways of avoiding it.
Last year, I passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, which creates a limited period in which an Executive can be formed at any time. I am actively encouraging the parties to use that opportunity to come together to make progress on restoring the Executive.
On 31 October, at the last Northern Ireland questions, the Secretary of State answered questions on restoring devolution and said:
“The point of the legislation is that it provides the space and the time for the parties to come together”—[Official Report, 31 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 895.]
That language almost suggests that she does not have any role in it. Will she therefore outline what she has actually done to convene talks, or have we given up?
As Secretary of State, I clearly have a role in helping to facilitate those talks, but I cannot impose a solution on the parties in Northern Ireland. That must be something that they want to do for the good of the people in Northern Ireland. I am working to find that.
Environmental campaigners in Northern Ireland have raised concerns with me about the fact that the push towards ever-more intensive industrialised farming is continuing unchecked because of the power vacuum. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not seem to be interested. May I urge the Northern Ireland Office to take an interest in the environmental damage that is being caused by that trend?
The hon. Lady will know that DEFRA does not have jurisdiction over environmental policies in Northern Ireland; that is for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. I am sure the permanent secretary has heard her comments.
In endeavouring to restore devolution, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is appropriate emphasis on those who caused devolution to fall in the first place and are refusing to enter in without preconditions being met?
Rural Hospitals: Public Transport
As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, public transport in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 allows Northern Ireland Departments to continue to deliver public services in the absence of a functioning Executive. There are ongoing discussions on all these issues, including services to hospitals.
The brain injury charity Headway recently supported a lorry driver who had to pay £370 in hospital car parking charges to visit his comatose son in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State to scrap hospital car parking charges once and for all?
My right hon. Friend is pursuing one of the energetic and effective campaigns that have become his signature in Parliament. I believe that he is also pursuing the issue at Welsh and Scottish questions. I am sure that many of us have a great deal of sympathy with the case he described, but changing the policy in Northern Ireland to deal with it is best done by a functioning Executive at Stormont. I hope that he will agree that that is the clearest possible illustration of why people in Northern Ireland need the Executive to reform as soon as possible.
The difficulty that everybody faces at the moment is that all budgetary allocations have to be done on a business-as-usual basis. To make more fundamental changes and reforms—to modernise anything in any devolved area—requires the Stormont Executive to be sitting. I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for change, but the answer, I am afraid, is that we have to get Stormont working.
At the autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced £350 million for a Belfast city region deal to boost investment and productivity, and the opening of formal negotiations for a Derry/Londonderry and Strabane city region deal. Furthermore, late last year, I was delighted to announce a £700,000 investment in Randox, a County Antrim life sciences company. That investment, through the Government’s industrial strategy, should help create well-paid manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland.
I can confirm, as I have already mentioned, that the Derry/Londonderry and Strabane city deal discussions have begun, following my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement, and I am sure that everybody here hopes they will progress speedily and successfully.
We know that the business community in Northern Ireland does not want a hard border, so surely, if technology and connected promises do not avoid that, the backstop is an understandable insurance policy for Dublin and the European Union, as indeed the United Kingdom agreed in December 2017. Surely the Government will not be reneging on that promise, which is beneficial to business.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the collapse of the Brumadinho dam in Brazil. We are in touch with the local authorities and stand ready to provide whatever support we can.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about the tragic situation in Brazil.
My son is one of thousands of young people to have their life chances transformed by their studies at Chesterfield College. Its funding, like that of further education colleges across the country, is 30% down in real terms since this Government came to power. Further education funding is in crisis. Why is the education of young people in further education colleges worth so little to the Government?
The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong. It is this Government who are ensuring that by 2020 the funding available to support—[Hon. Members: “Now!”] The funding we are putting into further education is providing the best life chances for young people going into further education. It is this Government who are taking steps to ensure that young people can take up the opportunities that are right for them. For too long in this country, the assumption has been that the only way to get on in life is to go to university, and other ways, such as apprenticeships and further education colleges, have not been similarly respected. It is this Government who are ensuring respect for further education, and for technical education as well.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I certainly agree about the important role a free press and journalists play in our democracies, and I thank him for raising an issue that I know is important to him and many Members across the House. Sadly, as he says, 80 journalists we killed in 2018; 348 are currently in prison and 60 are being held hostage around the world. We are deeply concerned because, as he said, these numbers have risen on the previous year. That is why in 2019 we are placing our resources behind the cause of media freedom. We are helping to train journalists around the world, such as in Venezuela, where we have seen an authoritarian Government suppress their critics, and this year we plan to host an international conference in London on media freedom to bring together countries that believe in this cause and to mobilise an international consensus behind the protection of journalists. This is an important issue, and the Government are putting their weight behind it.
I join the Prime Minister in sending support to the victims of the Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil. I am very pleased that all possible support is being offered to the authorities there to try to deal with the crisis.
Following the vote in the House last night against no deal, the Prime Minister is again going to attempt to renegotiate the backstop on the basis of finding “alternative arrangements”. Will she tell us what those alternative arrangements might be?
Absolutely. Last night, the House set a clear direction on the way in which it could agree a deal, and that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is about dealing with the issue of the backstop. As I said yesterday, there are a number of proposals for how that could be done. We are engaging positively with proposals that have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), have put forward different proposals, such as a unilateral exit mechanism—
I am just telling the shadow Foreign Secretary, if she will listen—let me give her a piece of advice: if she wants to shout things, it might be better to shout them in response to what I am saying.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have put forward proposals such as a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop. The political declaration already refers to alternative arrangements and raises a number of proposals that can be addressed, such as mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes.
None of that was very clear to me; I do not know about anybody else. It would have been really nice if the Prime Minister had acknowledged that she did whip her MPs to try to support no deal, and she was defeated on that.
The EU said at the weekend that it was willing to renegotiate if the Government’s red lines could change. Will the Prime Minister now tell us which of her red lines are going to change?
What has been absolutely clear in my contacts with European Union leaders is that they want a deal. What the House voted for last night was to leave the European Union with a deal, but it also crucially showed what it will take to see support in the House for a deal in the future. I think that the plan that was set out last night shows that we can obtain a substantial and sustainable majority in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about not being clear about positions on various things. I am very pleased that he is now going to meet me, because there are a number of issues that I want to discuss with him. For example, he talks about a strong single market relationship with the European Union in the future. I want to know whether that means that he wants to accept all EU state aid rules, because he has objected to them in the past, and he cannot have it both ways.
We need to know, with greater clarity, what it is that the right hon. Gentleman believes in. Perhaps next time one of his own Back Benchers wants to ask him about his position on a second referendum, he will actually take a question or an intervention.
Last time I looked at the Order Paper, it said “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. The Prime Minister has herself said that “the only possible deal” is within her red lines, so it is perfectly reasonable to ask which of her red lines has changed.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary was asked:
“What is the alternative to the backstop?”
“Well, that is what we’re exploring.”
Can the Prime Minister tell us which options are being explored?
I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister later today, because I want to put forward Labour’s alternatives, which could command a majority in the House and which are about protecting jobs and people’s living standards across the country.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary said that alternative arrangements meant looking at technology. That is a very interesting question. Will the Prime Minister make clear what technological advances she is expecting to be made in the next 58 days?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have pointed out that there are a number of options that people are putting forward that we are working positively with them on. I have already referenced a number of things that are in the political declaration on alternative arrangements that do set out various aspects that could be looked at; I referenced one of them in my answer to his earlier question.
But I would also say to the right hon. Gentleman that last night the House did vote to reject no deal, but it also voted to do what the European Union has consistently asked this House to do since it rejected the withdrawal agreement, which was to say what the UK wanted to see changed. Last night, a majority in this House voted to maintain the commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, to leave the European Union with a deal and to set out to the European Union what it will take to ensure that this House can support a deal. That is a change to the backstop; that is what I will be taking back to the European Union. That is what we will be doing to ensure that we can avoid no deal. The right hon. Gentleman stands up regularly and says he does not want no deal; I am working to ensure we get a deal. He has opposed every move by this Government to get a deal; he is the one who is risking no deal.
I would be grateful if the Prime Minister actually acknowledged that the House has voted to take no deal off the table. Can she assure the House that if she is unable to secure any legal changes to the backstop, she will work to find a solution based on a comprehensive customs union, a strong single market deal and the guaranteeing of rights and protections, rather than go back to the alternative that she has been threatening everybody with for months and months, which was to crash out without any deal whatsoever?
The right hon. Gentleman says “Of course not.” I think that is the first time he has actually accepted that you cannot just vote to reject no deal; you have to vote for a deal, otherwise you leave with no deal. So far, he has opposed everything this Government have put forward in relation to a deal, and he said previously he will reject any deal that the Government put on the table. He says this is Prime Minister’s questions, but people want to know his position as well. Will he ensure that if this Government come back with a revised deal that ensures we do not leave with no deal, he will actually support it?
It really is time that the Prime Minister acknowledges that she has got to move on from the red lines she has put down in the first place, and she does not acknowledge that in answer to my questions or indeed anybody else’s.
Our responsibility is to bring people together, whether they voted—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, we are the Houses of Parliament; we are the House of Commons; we do represent the entire country; and the point I am making is that we should bring people together, whether they voted to leave or remain. Indeed, I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister to discuss a solution that could in my view unite the country. Changes to the backstop alone will not be sufficient. Businesses and trade unions are very clear that any solution must involve a customs union and the strongest possible deal with the single market to avoid the damage of no deal. The Prime Minister may have possibly temporarily united her party, but is she willing—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Ellis, you were at one time a barrister of one rank or another in the courts; there is no way that you would have been allowed to shout from a sedentary position in that way. The judge would have ruled you out of order; I do not know whether that is why you stopped practising law and came into Parliament. Behave yourself young man; you can do so much better when you try.
As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted—[Interruption]—the Prime Minister may have succeeded in temporarily uniting her very divided party, but is she willing to make the necessary compromises, which are more important, to unite the country going forward to secure jobs and living standards right across the UK?
The right hon. Gentleman is a fine one to talk about coming together, when it was only last night that he agreed to actually meet me to talk about these issues. Time and again, he has told me to listen to the views of the House. He has just stood up and said that the backstop is not the only issue in the withdrawal agreement, but last night the house voted by a majority to say that the issue that needed to be addressed was the backstop, so he needs to listen to the House and to recognise that. He put forward a proposal last night that referenced the customs union and the single market, but his proposal was rejected by this House. I will tell him what this Government have been doing. Over the past week, we have been getting more teachers into schools, we have been ensuring that we are giving more money to councils and we have won a majority on Brexit. What did he manage? His Brexit plan was voted down, he opposed ending free movement and he will not rule out a second referendum. He has no plan for Brexit, no good plan for our economy and no plan for our country.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue and points out not only the good news of the 10-year high in the number of first-time buyers but the opportunities available for local authorities to provide for this. We are clear that the planning system has a key role in delivering more affordable homes, and the national planning policy framework, which was revised last year, is central to that. It includes a wider definition of affordable housing, and local authorities are expected to consider the new definition—which includes starter homes and discounted market sales homes—in identifying the types of housing their communities need. There is an expectation that major developments will make a minimum of 10% of homes available for affordable ownership, including starter homes and discounted market sales homes. We have made good progress on first-time buyers, but there is more for us to do and this Government are doing it.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told this House that if we voted down the deal in the hope of going back to Brussels and negotiating an alternative deal, no such alternative deal would exist, yet last night she told the House that she would go back to Brussels to seek an alternative arrangement. So what is it? Has the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House, or has this Government’s incompetence reached a whole new level?
The very simple fact that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have omitted is that the deal was brought to the House of Commons and the House rejected that deal. Therefore, we looked to see what could be changed, what we could take back to Brussels and what we could fight for to ensure that the deal could get the support of this House. I was going to respond to his point of order last night, but unfortunately, when I looked, he had left. I think he had gone to do a Sky News interview—[Interruption.] I want to confirm absolutely the commitment of this Government to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and the remarks that he made last night in relation to that were frankly irresponsible.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman has a right to be heard, the public would expect him to be heard, and he will be heard. Attempts to shout him down are not just rude; they are irresponsible and undemocratic, and they should certainly not have the sanction of anyone who sits on the Treasury Bench. Stop it! It is low grade, it is useless and it will not work.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. That was a graceless response from the Prime Minister, who is acting with sheer irresponsibility. What she demonstrated in that answer was, “Here are my principles. If you don’t like them, you can have some more.”
Last night, a majority of Scottish MPs rejected Brexit. The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly—[Interruption.]
The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and this House of Commons have rejected the Prime Minister’s deal. The UK Government told Scotland in 2014 that being part of the UK meant continued EU membership. The UK Government told us that we would be part of a family of equal nations. Prime Minister, Scotland wants to stay in the EU. We are scunnered by this Government ignoring Scotland. Does the Prime Minister accept that she promised Scotland everything but delivered nothing?
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and voted in 2014 to stay part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the impact on Scotland in the future, perhaps he should look at the figures for exports that came out just this morning. Over 60% of Scotland’s exports go to the rest of the UK. That is more than Scotland’s trade with the rest of the world and over three times more than with the rest of the European Union. However, he represents a party that wants to erect a border between Scotland and England. The biggest threat to the future of Scotland is sitting on the SNP Benches.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about what we are aiming to ensure that we get from leaving the EU, which is the ability to have that independent trade policy. That is so important for us as we leave the EU. Yes, I want to have a good trade relationship with the EU, but I also want to ensure that we are able to have an independent trade policy and have trade deals around the world. This country should be a champion for free trade around the world. That is the way not only to enhance our economy and prosperity and to bring jobs to this country, but to benefit countries around the world, including some of the countries whose economies need to be helped and improved. Some of the poorest people in the world would be helped by those trade arrangements. That is what we are going to deliver and that is our commitment to the British people and, as my hon. Friend says, it delivers on the result of the referendum.
On 12 July last year, my constituents took their son Jack to Leeds Children’s Hospital for surgery on his craniosynostosis. The surgery went well but, after that care, Jack declined post surgery. His parents raised concerns, and he had declined so much by 16 July that a nurse raised concerns regarding sepsis. Jack continued to be treated for gastroenteritis, and the next day Jack died of overwhelming sepsis. Sadly, this is now the subject of a coroner’s inquest, but my constituents want to ensure that this never happens again to another set of parents. Jack was just three days short of his second birthday. The hospital has since introduced an early-warning system for paediatric sepsis, but that came too late for Jack. Can the Prime Minister assure me that she will do everything in her power to ensure that no other parent has to go through what my constituents have been through?
First, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jack. A terrible tragedy has occurred with the loss of such a young life.
We recognise, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) will confirm, that sepsis is a devastating condition, and it is important that the NHS carries on developing its programme of work on recognising sepsis and improving outcomes. I know NHS England and NHS Improvement are working urgently with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to establish a single England-wide paediatrics early-warning system to improve the recognition of sepsis and the response of healthcare services to children and young people.
Obviously, nothing we can do will bring Jack back or compensate for the devastating impact on his family, but I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and I hope he will be able to reassure his constituents, that we will continue to do all we can to improve the care for those with this devastating condition.
When I was Home Secretary, I took measures to ensure that we improved the recording of hate crime because—[Interruption.] Actually, no. We did not have a full picture of what was happening.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently reviewed and revised our hate crime strategy, but the point underlying what the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) has said is that none of us should accept hate crime. We should all be very clear from this House that there is no place for hate crime in our society. Wherever we see racism, in whatever form, we should all take action to eradicate it.
We recognise the importance of buses to local communities, which is why we spend £250 million every year to keep fares down and maintain an extensive network that benefits people up and down the country. We particularly put money into supporting free bus travel for older and disabled people, because we recognise how particularly important buses are to vulnerable people. We are looking at what we can do to further improve access for people with disabilities, but we have been putting money in to ensure that there remains an extensive bus network that is of benefit to local communities.
Last night, a majority of this House voted in favour of a deal to deliver on the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom and leave the EU. In the next phase of the negotiations, will my right hon. Friend continue to stand firm against the fishing nations of the EU and their vain attempts to maintain guaranteed common access to our waters?
I can give my hon. Friend an absolute commitment that I will do that. Leaving the common fisheries policy and becoming an independent coastal state is so important to this country, to enable us to enhance and give opportunities to fishing communities around the United Kingdom. I recognise that fishing is particularly important in Scotland, but fishing communities around the UK will benefit from our becoming an independent coastal state. I am very clear: our position is there, we have that agreement, and it is not up for renegotiation.
Clearly, this is a very serious issue, and I understand that the judiciary and devolved justice authorities in Northern Ireland are keeping it under close and active consideration. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, policing and justice is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, as is the length of custodial sentences. In recently passing the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland enabled Departments to continue to take decisions in the public interest to ensure the continued operation of public services, but that is not and cannot be a replacement for a devolved Government. The example the hon. Gentleman has given is yet another reason why it is important for us all to work to get the devolved Administration back up and running.
The Prime Minister will appreciate that the Government are spending over 50% more per head, in real terms, on education than was spent in the year 2000—and achieving much better results, might I add. However, there are still some challenges with resources and funding in many areas across Hitchin and Harpenden, especially in small rural schools. Will the Prime Minister commit to special consideration for education in the upcoming spending review? I believe that would command widespread support across the House.
I think the Chancellor was listening to my hon. Friend’s remarks and comments on funding. As he says, it is absolutely right that we have been putting more money into schools. It is also right that we now see 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010. We will of course look carefully across all elements of public expenditure when we come to the spending review but, as I said to my hon. Friend, I am sure the Chancellor has heard the lobbying in which my hon. Friend indulged in his question, particularly for small rural schools.
I recognise that this is a concerning time for the employees at Knight & Lee in Southsea. It is obviously a commercial decision for the company to take. We will ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus work with the company to understand the level of employee support required. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if he is worried about jobs in his constituency, the policies that would cause most damage to jobs there are the policies of the Labour party and those on the Labour Front Bench.
Last week, SNP-led Moray Council announced a number of devastating cuts to local services, many of which will impact young people. From the closing of libraries and swimming pools to the ending of the Active Schools programme and increasing of fees for music tuition, young people are affected while the council’s highest-paid senior managers are not. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP in Moray should focus on services rather than managers, and will she call on the Scottish Government to deliver a fairer funding deal for Moray?
Of course, the UK Government have increased the block grant that is going to the Scottish Government next year, so decisions on cutting budgets are a matter of priority for the SNP rather than necessity. Extra money has been given to them. It is a question of where they want to put that money and what they put as a priority. It is time that the SNP empowered local government in Scotland, rather than hoarding power at Holyrood.
With record numbers of women in the workplace now, more and more women will experience the symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause while they are at work. Often, the symptoms are not well understood by the general population and they include much more than just hot flushes and night sweats. Will the Prime Minister please join my campaign, which calls on employers to update their health and wellbeing policies to ensure that women can get full information and proper support so that they can continue contributing at work?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Obviously, this is something that many Members across this House will recognise as an important issue. We recognise the difficulties that women going through the menopause face. We are encouraging employers to adopt menopause-friendly policies such as flexible working and giving women information about healthy lifestyles that may help to improve their experience of the menopause. I will certainly encourage all employers, as she is doing, to take reasonable steps, including those that she has referenced, to support employees so that they can continue to carry out their jobs and contribute to our economy in the way they have done so far.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is right that, last night, Parliament voted to reject no deal. What Parliament also voted for last night was to say that it wanted to leave the European Union with a deal, and it identified what was necessary to change in the deal in order to enable that to happen and for the House to support a deal. That is where we should be focusing. We can only ensure that we avoid no deal by having a deal, by agreeing a deal and by this House supporting a deal and voting for a deal.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her commitment yesterday to return to Brussels and reopen the text of the withdrawal agreement? That is the right thing to do. People in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will welcome it because they want to leave with a good deal for our country. I commend the excellent compromise proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), which has every chance of success in uniting this Parliament and this country behind a good exit.
Obviously, there was a very clear message from the House last night as to what needs to happen in terms of returning to Brussels, but also we are engaging positively, as my hon. Friend said, with the proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and others have put forward in relation to dealing with the issue of the backstop.
Obviously, passengers expect better. I understand from the Department for Transport that the first phase of work to protect the sea wall at Dawlish began in November, with essential repairs to the breakwaters. That is part of the £15 million wider investment to make the railway at Dawlish and Teignmouth more resilient to extreme weather. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that world-leading engineers have been carrying out the detailed ground investigations to develop a long-term solution to protect the railway in a way that minimises disruption for passengers. Network Rail will soon be reporting on how it will deliver this solution. I am clear that delivering this improvement to the south-west’s transport infrastructure is a national priority. It is essential for unlocking the region’s economic prosperity and jobs, and that is why we are giving it the focus that we are.
Cotmanhay Junior School in my constituency has increased its proportion of pupils attaining the required level of key stage 2 standards from 35% to an amazing 67% over the last year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the pupils, the teachers and the head, Simon Robinson, and 13 other primary schools across Erewash, on all improving their key stage 2 performances?
I am delighted to hear of the increase in performance at Cotmanhay Junior School. The education of children is improving, regardless of where they live or their background, so that they can get the education that they need to fulfil their potential. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the pupils and staff of that particular school, and of the other schools she referenced across her Erewash constituency that have seen improvements, which are important for the future of those children.
The Prime Minister knows that I want to ensure that we leave the European Union on 29 March. She also knows that, regretfully, I could not support her deal two weeks ago because of the backstop, its impact on the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its potential to trap us in a customs union. I welcome the fact that the House yesterday voted by a clear majority to renegotiate the backstop. If the Prime Minister can deliver that, I will vote for her deal, and I am confident that there will be a sustainable majority to get it and the legislation through the House. I ask my right hon. Friend to tell the European Union that there is a majority in this House for that deal to get us out of the European Union on good terms. I ask my colleagues to give the Prime Minister space; the EU is not going to crumble tomorrow. We are going to have to hold our nerve and we can be successful.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the vote that took place last night. Winning that vote with a majority—agreeing what it was necessary to change in the withdrawal agreement in order to achieve a majority across this House—gave a very clear message to the European Union that a deal can go through this House, but it has to be a deal that recognises the concerns that have been expressed across the whole of this House in relation to the backstop. I am going to be fighting for the change that this House has been very clear that it wants to see in the future. Then, as my right hon. Friend says, I am confident that we can see a sustainable and substantial majority across this House for leaving with the deal.
Like one of her hon. Friends, the hon. Lady has raised an individual constituency case and the details of that individual constituency case. I will ask the relevant Minister to look into that case and to be—[Interruption.] She is asking me to take a position purely on the question that she has asked me. I am asking the Minister in the relevant Department to look into the case and to be able to assess that case and to respond to her.
This afternoon we shall be debating the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill, which, among other things, will facilitate the cross-border exchange of data, enabling us to investigate crimes such as terrorism and paedophilia. Is it not the responsibility of all of us in this House to wholeheartedly support that Bill?
Absolutely, yes. This is a very important Bill in the impact that it will have. I am sure that everybody across this whole House wants to ensure that we can deal with terrorism, with paedophilia and indeed with other organised crime. Exchange of data is an important way of doing that, and I hope that everybody will see the importance of support for that.
In recent days we have heard the Irish Prime Minister talk about bringing his troops up to the border in the event of no deal. We have heard the Irish Deputy Foreign Minister talking of people jumping out of windows. Is not this highly reckless talk extremely dangerous in the present circumstances? That sort of rhetoric should be toned down and we should instead focus on what Michel Barnier said the other day—that even in the event of no deal, we would sit down and find operational ways to have checks and controls away from the border. Is not that the way forward? And it blows a hole in the entire concept of this backstop.
Obviously it is important—I will be speaking to the Taoiseach later today—for us to work with the Government of Ireland on the arrangements that will be in place in the future. We have obviously sent a clear message from this House about what needs to happen in relation to the backstop. We retain our commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and look to working with the Government of Ireland and with the European Union to ensure that we can all maintain our commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and that commitment to no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Last Sunday, we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remembered the darkest period in Europe’s history. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the Holocaust Educational Trust, its youth ambassadors, and the incredible survivors, who give their personal testimony to young people so that they will remember what the ultimate destination of racial hatred and antisemitism truly is?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the excellent work that the Holocaust Educational Trust does, and the youth ambassadors. I have met some of these youth ambassadors, who have understood the importance of learning the lesson from the holocaust, and understood the importance of acting against antisemitism wherever it occurs—and, indeed, wider racial hatred. As my hon. Friend says, the survivors from the holocaust have given their time to ensuring that nobody is in any doubt about where man’s inhumanity to man can lead. They have done a really important job. I pay tribute to them and to their continuing work. It is important that we all recognise the terrible things that can happen when we let antisemitism occur. We should all be fighting against antisemitism wherever it occurs.
In the cold of Sunday, Kane Walker was found dead on the pavements of Birmingham. He was 31, and he became one of over 2,600 homeless people to have lost their lives in the last five years. When will the Prime Minister recognise that the scale of homelessness today is a moral emergency, and that we cannot wait until 2027 for this Government to end homelessness for good when we need action now?
First, we all want to ensure that everybody in this country can have a safe and secure roof over their head—that nobody has to be on the streets sleeping rough. That is why we are putting money into this. We have taken a number of initiatives like Housing First which are already showing benefits in helping people who would otherwise be homeless and could end up on the streets in having a home and dealing with the issues that ensure that they are able to stay in that home. This is something that we recognise the importance of. That is why we are putting money into it. That is why we are acting. That is why we are ensuring that action is being taken across the country to deal with this.
Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Territorial Extent
The landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we published last week, will help to transform the response to these horrific crimes. It is aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders, to stop the cycle of violence. The Bill will cement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that extends beyond violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse. The Bill does not create new criminal offences in relation to domestic abuse, because those offences are already settled law—for example, section 18 grievous bodily harm, coercive and controlling behaviour and even, in the saddest of cases, murder—and are all devolved.
In line with existing criminal law, the provisions of the draft Bill extend to England and Wales only. Contrary to the suggestion in the hon. Lady’s question, there has been no change in the territorial application of the Bill compared with the proposals in the Government’s consultation published last spring. That was made clear in the consultation paper and reflects the fact that the subject matter of the draft Bill is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We are currently in discussion with the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Department of Justice about whether they wish to extend any of the Bill’s provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. We are seeking to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses as soon as practicable to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, and I encourage the hon. Lady and all Members to contribute to that process.
Domestic abuse affects communities in every nation in the UK, yet last week, after two and a half years of waiting, the Government published a draft Bill that restricts action to only England and Wales. I am asking this question not to debate the nature of devolution, but to ask why this Bill has been restricted when what was promised from the outset was very different.
The original consultation recognised that
“Insecure immigration status may also impact on a victim’s decision to seek help.”
We know that migrant women are much less likely to seek help because they fear deportation. Some may point to other immigration legislation going through this place, but that does not include anything on this issue either. This Bill would have been the vehicle for helping those victims, as immigration is not a devolved matter.
The then Home Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has rightly recognised that financial destitution can hold women in abusive relationships. This Bill contains much to be welcomed regarding action in the courts and an independent commissioner, but because it is restricted, it does not address critical areas of policy. Why, after two and a half years, would the Government do this?
The Sunday Times provided the answer this weekend, with confirmation that the Bill had been vetted by the Cabinet Office and that the Government feared making the Bill UK-wide because of the Democratic Unionist party. Why? Because this Bill is also about implementing the convention on violence against women—a convention the United Nations has said that we are breaching right now, because citizens in Northern Ireland are denied the right to choose not to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
Today, a brave young woman aged just 28, Sarah Ewart, is taking our Government to court to vindicate her human rights. She suffered a fatal foetal abnormality but, as a resident of Northern Ireland, was denied the right to an abortion at home, so she had to travel to England, as 28 women a week currently do. Last June, the Supreme Court told the Government that this situation breached the rights of UK women, but because of a technicality, it could not compel them to act.
This Bill from the outset could have been the remedy, but this weekend’s revelations show that the Government have drafted the Bill with a mind not to the victims of domestic violence but to their partners in the coalition. The Bill talks about domestic abuse protection orders, which are supposed to have effect across the whole of the UK, yet there is no clarity, given the restricted scope, on how the Government intend to compel Scotland or Northern Ireland to act on them. Given that the original consultation talked of working with the Northern Ireland Executive, these problems are clearly of the Government’s own making and a direct response to the call for equal rights for the women of Northern Ireland.
Given this mess, can the Minister confirm at which of the DUP co-ordination committees this decision was taken? It is not minuted in the notes of those meetings from July 2017 to Christmas 2018. The power to veto legislation affecting all of the UK is not in the confidence and supply agreement, which I note was updated on 19 December, so can the Minister explain how the decision to restrict the Bill for this purpose was made? What implications does it have for the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has direct responsibility for upholding the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland? Can the Minister explain why migrant women and those on low incomes in abusive relationships should pay such a price?
Can the Minister stop hiding behind devolution and say sorry to Sarah Ewart for making her relive the trauma of what happened to her, just because the Government need the 10 votes of the DUP to stay in power? We saw that last night, and I have no doubt that we will see it again, but this Bill shows the human consequences for women across the UK of the confidence and supply arrangement.
I know that Members across the House want to see action on domestic violence, and these restrictions will trouble women only our in constituencies but across the whole UK. Given that this is a draft Bill, will the Minister commit to going back to the drawing board and coming up with a Bill that helps to protect every victim across the UK? I ask the Minister to fight us fair and square on abortion rights in this place, not through backroom deals and bargaining. Otherwise, it will take a rape victim having to come to court to make the Government do the right thing and not block this change. Put DV, not the DUP, first.
Home should be a place of safety and love, and yet for 2 million people in this country a year, that is not the case. That is why we are introducing this unprecedented Bill, to try to help the victims of domestic abuse.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted the fact that the Bill applies only to England and Wales at the moment. I set out the reason for that in my initial statement: the raft of offences that would support prosecutions of domestic abuse, including section 18 GBH and coercive and controlling behaviour, are devolved.
We have not rested on our laurels. I have written to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice to ask whether they will replicate this legislation in their own territories. I am delighted to say that the Scottish Government are looking at their own measures. I am sure that Scottish National party Members will have their own thoughts on devolved matters and the UK Parliament respecting that.
I must bring the hon. Lady back to the central subject of the Bill. This is about tackling domestic abuse, which I know she and many Members across the House feel strongly about. We must focus on the Bill. Let us not throw taunts across the Floor of the House. Let us work together to ensure that the Bill is in a good state when it is introduced formally. She asked about scrutiny of the Bill. We have said from the very beginning that this is a draft piece of legislation that will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses. We anticipate that taking about 12 weeks, and once the Committee has produced its recommendations, we will look at those carefully before introducing the Bill.
Whatever the hon. Lady may have read on Sunday, I urge her not to believe everything she reads in the papers. We have to remember the people whom we are trying to help through the Bill. I have been delighted at the cross-party consensus on the Bill. Let us work together to stop this cycle of violence and help the victims of domestic abuse.
I highly commend the Minister and the Government for this very good Bill, but I very much share the concerns of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I am gravely concerned that this is, in effect, a way of stopping what should be happening: a fundamental reform of the laws in Northern Ireland so that women in Northern Ireland have exactly the same rights as women in my constituency. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, for asking the Minister this, but I genuinely do not know the answer: are there any civil remedies in this Bill? If there are, I am afraid that the Minister’s response falls absolutely flat, because civil remedies are relevant across all the UK— [Interruption.] Apart from in Scotland—and therefore the scope of this Bill immediately needs to be changed.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. I know how passionately she has worked to help the victims of domestic abuse, not only in this place, but in her previous career. I note her concerns and she knows that I, too, have my concerns, although those are not for today. I am sure she will join me in urging all those people who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to get around the table so that they can represent people and deal with this in the devolved Administration. On civil remedies, we have sought to consolidate the range of orders that are in existence at the moment, which can be very confusing, not only for victims, but for professionals involved in safeguarding victims. We are seeking to consolidate the range of orders available to protect victims in domestic abuse protection orders. They apply across the courts—family, civil and criminal courts. My understanding does not accord with hers, but I am happy to take that issue away.
As a Welsh MP, I have every confidence that the Welsh Labour Government are working towards delivering an excellent strategy on support for victims of domestic violence—I have no doubt that the same is true in Scotland. I totally respect the concept of devolution—when it works. But with the absence of Stormont, victims in Northern Ireland will see the progress in other parts of the UK only as further evidence of where they are falling behind in the support services and legislation available to them. We already know that in Northern Ireland they have no coercive control law and no stalking law, and the current controversy over the legality of abortion rumbles on. We need the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to take firmer action so that we can see a return to devolved government.
The good people of Northern Ireland deserve the same rights as everybody else in the UK, and currently they are not getting that. They are not protected by a devolved Government because of Stormont’s suspension. Even in today’s Northern Ireland questions we have been calling for the return of devolved institutions. We believe that support and services for victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland are best made in Northern Ireland, but after two years of no Government the situation is stagnant. The people of Northern Ireland are suffering the effects of this political hiatus, none more so than the victims of domestic violence, as their voices reverberate in an echo chamber. I know that no MP in this place would believe that policies and strategies that support our constituents should not be afforded to the people of Northern Ireland, with one of the most notable issues being that of abortion. Human rights issues are not devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and, as such, issues around women’s reproductive health are the responsibility of this Home Secretary and other relevant Ministers. Decisions on the provision of public services, legislation and support for the people of Northern Ireland need to be reached urgently. If there is no likelihood of Stormont reconvening very shortly, this Government need to take responsibility to protect and support victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.
As always, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Indeed, I should call her my hon. Friend, as she and I are agreeing furiously on the hope and aspiration that those who can make a difference and express the wishes of the residents of Northern Ireland—I hope we can all accept that they may not agree with our individual viewpoints on issues such as abortion, but that is why that topic is devolved—will get back round the table to sort this issue, as well as many others. I am sure we all encourage them in that, as I know she does. I gently remind colleagues again that this is about domestic abuse. Although, sadly, some abortions may be as a result of an intimate abusive relationship, not all abortions fall into that category, and I am keen that we try to focus on the victims of domestic abuse in this Bill and our scrutiny of this Bill, because they are the people we really are trying to help with the passing of this piece of legislation.
Let us call this out for what it is: part of an orchestrated campaign to alter abortion laws in Northern Ireland and here, and to replace those laws with extreme proposals for which there is no public appetite whatsoever. Does the Minister agree that it is highly inappropriate for such campaigners to hijack the Domestic Abuse Bill in this way, undermining a Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their families? Does she agree that it is equally inappropriate to interfere in a devolved matter, one that has been devolved for almost 100 years, and set a dangerous constitutional precedent—a precedent of interference that would undermine the Good Friday agreement itself?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She demonstrates the range and depth of views, and the passion with which they are held, across the House on this topic of abortion. I am grateful to her for reminding us that this Bill is, as it says in the title, a draft Domestic Abuse Bill. I very much note her observations about the political structure in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure that this urgent question is the forum in which any changes to that are going to happen. I am grateful to her for her question, which underlines that we have to keep in mind the subject matter of this Bill; we are trying to tackle domestic abuse here.
The situation in Northern Ireland as regards women’s rights, particularly on abortion, is deplorable and requires addressing. However, this Bill could never have been UK-wide, because civil and criminal justice are devolved to Scotland. Indeed, last year Scotland passed its own Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which has already significantly strengthened statutory definitions and protections in respect of domestic violence, for example, by recognising the offence of coercive control.
There is much to be welcomed in the UK Government’s Bill, but I am pleased to hear that they are putting it through pre-legislative scrutiny, which we hope signifies that they are willing to listen to genuine concerns from Members from across the House. There are some UK-wide issues that this Government could and should legislate on. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has led the campaign calling for default separate payments in universal credit, to protect the victims of domestic abuse from financial coercion. Scottish National party Members were dismayed that that was dismissed out of hand by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart at the Department for Work and Pensions so as to urgently introduce default separate payments or at least to create provision for the Scottish Government to do that, because of course that is one of the many aspects of welfare powers that are not yet devolved?
As has been mentioned by others, the insecure immigration status of women who are victims of domestic violence also needs addressing. I want to know what the Minister is doing to extend the eligibility of the destitute domestic violence concession, so that it supports more migrant women. More generally, what discussions will she have with her counterparts to support migrant women, throughout the UK, who are victims of domestic abuse?
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her astute and concise analysis of the legal position. May I put on the record the UK Government’s thanks to the Scottish Government for the work they do with us on this and other associated crimes, such as stalking and harassment?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. I hope the House realises that we are being very open and transparent about the process for this Bill. It is a draft Bill specifically so that there can be a Joint Committee of both Houses—I think it is fair to say that this is an unusual level of scrutiny for the House—to look at the detail of the Bill and see whether improvements can be made.
On the specific issue of universal credit, I very much know about the issues that have been raised on these Benches. There is already a range of special provisions for victims of domestic abuse—for example, temporary accommodation, easements, same-day advances and signposting to expert support. However, I welcome the recent measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding payments to the primary carer.
We will continue to work on this together, but I would make this observation. Those of us who take a particular interest in this subject all know that economic abuse, like all forms of domestic abuse, has no regard to income levels, job status or whatever. We must make sure that our answers are right not just for those on low incomes, but for women who do not need to have recourse to the welfare system.
I echo the words of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), in agreeing that there is a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland at the moment. In Northern Ireland questions this morning, we heard that there is currently no mental capacity legislation in Northern Ireland. In our Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we have heard that it is still working to statements, rather than to education, health and care plans. The suicide strategy is sitting there but cannot be implemented, and we have the issue of equal marriage. This is much bigger than the Bill, and just to change the Bill to deal with one issue undervalues the role of devolution. The priority must be to get the Assembly back and functioning in Northern Ireland and dealing with all the inequality issues that are so important to the people in all communities.
Very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting out the political complexities of this, but also the impacts on people living in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure we can solve the issue of devolved politics in Northern Ireland on the Floor of the House during this urgent question. However, we have contacted the permanent secretary who is currently acting in a temporary capacity in relation to Northern Ireland, because we want to see what can be done to help women in Northern Ireland as well as in England and Wales.
I have a great deal of time for the Minister, but what does she really think about how long it is acceptable to use the problem of there being no Assembly in Northern Ireland as a reason for this House not to act on the breach of women’s human rights in Northern Ireland, which we have debated at length in this Chamber? I would be interested to know what the Minister has to say about that.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I note her campaign on the particular issue of abortion and the decriminalisation of the law regarding abortion. At the risk of overreaching myself, I am not sure it is my place at the Dispatch Box at this time to give an assessment of how long this is taking, other than to say that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and everyone in this Government are very keen and we urge all those parties present in Northern Ireland to get back around the table. There are so many issues that need their attention.
May I ask my hon. Friend to confirm two things? First, is she committed and determined to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms? Secondly, is she determined to improve rights and protections for women across the United Kingdom?
As this Bill passes through pre-legislative scrutiny, but also through this House and the other place, I hope the message will go out to people who are not perhaps as passionate about tackling domestic abuse and those for whom it has not yet become a priority that domestic abuse is not restricted to acts of violence, but can encompass sexual abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, and economic abuse. Interestingly, since we launched the draft Bill last week, I have been inundated with emails from victims of all different forms of domestic abuse seeking help and thanking me for recognising the hell they are going through. If every Member can help us to inform and educate people about the forms of domestic abuse that in itself will be incredibly powerful in helping victims.
My party, the Democratic Unionist party, recognises the importance of tackling domestic abuse and of supporting victims of domestic violence. However, this is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, and the need to strengthen the legislation should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) was to amend the Bill to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, this would breach the devolution settlement. The emphasis should be, must be and has to be to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The Government and all Members of this House on both sides of the Chamber should respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to deal with these matters through their elected Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman of course speaks for his constituency, and I am pleased to hear that he is urging others in Northern Ireland to get back around the table and help to deal with these many issues. As has already been pointed out, however, this is but one of the important issues facing Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
May I thank the Minister for this Bill, which I believe will transform the way in which we deal with this horrific crime? It largely impacts on women, although men can of course be impacted by domestic violence as well. I think it is totally despicable that politicians in Northern Ireland have left such a void in this and other areas for two years now. Will the Minister confirm that the devolved powers, which mean that this Bill has to be only for England and Wales, have actually been devolved for many decades?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am particularly grateful to her for pointing out that, although the vast majority of victims are female—indeed, of the 2 million people affected, it is estimated that 1.3 million are female—men can be victims of domestic abuse as well. That is why, through the non-legislative package of measures that sits alongside the Bill, we are also investing in, for example, a specific helpline for male victims. We understand that they face particular stigmas in being a male victim, and they may feel even greater pressure not to seek help.
On the point about the nature of the criminal laws underpinning the prosecution of domestic abuse offences, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act dates back to 1861.
I would just like to point out that in 1861 there was no devolution—the whole of Ireland was part of the UK—so things have somewhat moved on since 1861. Anyway, that was not my question, Mr Speaker; it was just an indulgence.
I am going to ask about domestic abuse. Specifically, why does the Bill in its current form—I accept that it may well change, and I will certainly be seeking to change it—not have any immigration statutory law changes in it to protect migrant women? I know that throughout the consultation there was a very strong push on how this Bill will not help any women unless it helps all women. We have to leave no woman behind, and currently migrant women are left behind by this Bill. If we extend it to cover immigration law, the extent of the Bill will of course be expanded. Would the Minister welcome that?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who needs no introduction in terms of her experience and expertise in this area. On expanding the Bill to alter the immigration status, the view was taken that, although domestic abuse does, of course, affect women who are not British citizens, or who do not have the right to remain, the Bill as a whole must focus on victims, the types of abuse and how we treat abuse.
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s wish to assist—[Interruption.] I am sorry—I am trying to keep a straight face; the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is gesticulating wildly from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) knows that I will welcome her contributions during the scrutiny process—indeed, I hope that she will be involved in it.
I note that various provisions are in place to help women who, for example, have come across on a spousal visa, but both the Minister for Immigration and I are very alert to the challenges that those women face, and we are very keen to work with the hon. Lady.
I agree that Northern Ireland must get its political system up and running to tackle these really serious issues. I welcome the draft Bill. It is such an important step in tackling domestic abuse, particularly areas that have not been tackled previously—for example, controlling behaviour towards the elderly. I wonder whether the Minister could put the whole thing in perspective, so that we can really understand how important the Bill is. How many people does she think will be helped by the Bill in all its forms?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to draw attention to elder abuse. The number of colleagues and other people who have contacted me since the launch of the draft Bill to tell me their stories of abuse by their children or grandchildren is heartbreaking. Several months ago, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) called a very important Westminster Hall debate on abuse by children of their parents and grandparents.
It is something that we are keen to uncover and shine a light on, because if a parent is being abused by their child, the stigma and shame that victims unfortunately and wrongly feel is compounded even more, because parents feel that they should be able to control the behaviour of their children. We want to shine a light on that, and say to everyone, whether they are parents, children or grandchildren, “Abuse in your home is not right, and we are here to help.”
As the hon. Lady knows, the process is that any Bill that is introduced has to go through various Government committees to ensure, across Government, given that we have collective responsibility, that it meets with approval. I do not know of any such meetings with the DUP. I will happily take that away, but as far as I am concerned, I looked at the Bill, I have examined it very carefully, and I am afraid that the central point about devolved matters seems to me to apply.
I know that that does not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the fact is that the law is the law, and we have to build a Bill around it. As I say, I have written to the devolved Assembly in Scotland and to the permanent secretary in Northern Ireland, and those communications are ongoing.
The Supreme Court judgment made it absolutely clear that lawmakers would have to change the law to give greater rights to women from Northern Ireland in the circumstances that were discussed. The women who my colleagues and I met and women such as Sarah Ewart should not have to go all the way through a court process to get their rights—it adds insult to injury for them. I ask the Minister, who always listens: if not this law, what law will be introduced by this Parliament, which unlike Northern Ireland is responsible for treaty compliance, to give those rights to women, who deserve them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he works on a wide range of issues tackling violence against women and girls. First, on the case that he referred to—I do not want to be legalistic about this, but he asked me about it specifically—he may recall that the Supreme Court judgment was unable to deliver a full ruling, because the litigant bringing the proceedings was not judged to have locus. I have to say that, because that is the situation.
I obviously must not comment on the specific case that has been referred to in the Chamber and that is going through the court process at the moment, but I return to the point that the Bill is about domestic abuse. We have to focus on the subject matter of the title of the Bill, and any matters in relation to devolved powers are part of a much wider debate across Government.
I welcome, as I am sure others do, the Minister’s obvious passion and commitment to tackling domestic abuse, which I think is the central issue for all of us present. I also believe passionately in devolution, but devolution means to transfer, or delegate, power to another body. That body at the moment does not exist. Devolution does not mean to abrogate responsibility.
Those women are citizens of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom Government surely have a responsibility to respect the views expressed by our Supreme Court and the United Nations that the human rights of women in Northern Ireland are not being protected. Does the Minister not agree that that should be the overriding principle, not whether devolution, which is not working at the moment, should be preserved?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments. She has perhaps recognised the situation in which we find ourselves, in that these matters have been devolved. I go back to the point that the criminal laws that underpin the prosecution of domestic abuse, and so on, are devolved. As we have heard, that does not have an impact only in relation to domestic abuse; a wide range of measures are affected by the Assembly not yet being able to be convened in Northern Ireland. I am sorry that it will not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the only answer that I can give is yet again to urge those who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to please get back round the table and start talking to each other.
Although I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of financial abuse as a type of domestic abuse, it is not enough to have that simply as words when Government policy is trapping women in financially abusive relationships. Universal credit payments must be automatically split. Charities have said that not having automatically split payments gives a hand to abusers. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) did not quite get a straight answer. Will the Minister recognise the problem, and meet her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to urge that universal credit payments be split?
If I may just correct the hon. Lady, we are not talking about financial abuse; we talk about economic abuse, because we appreciate that abuse can take many forms—for example, preventing access to food cupboards in the kitchen, taking a woman’s mobile phone away, so who she can contact is restricted, and even hiding the car keys, so that she cannot get to work on time in the morning, which puts her employment at risk, with all the ramifications that that can have.
On the point about universal credit, I am in constant dialogue with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is formerly of the Home Office manor. I very much hope that the fact that one of her first announcements was an important one about looking after primary carers gives reassurance and comfort to the House that we are looking at this matter very carefully.
Criminal justice is not yet devolved to Wales, but I draw attention to, and commend, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which came into force in Wales in 2015. The 2018 progress report raises concern about the lack of collaboration and integration between the devolved and non-devolved organisations charged with taking forward the aims of the Act. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister responsible in the Welsh Government to address that?
I am very concerned to hear that, not least because I visited Cardiff a few months ago, as part of our domestic abuse consultation engagement events, to listen to people who are doing great work in Wales to tackle domestic abuse and to see how we can improve collaboration. I very much take on board what the hon. Lady says. If we need to improve, I hope she knows that I will not rest until that has happened.
I welcome the Minister’s response today. I also welcome the support from the Scottish National party, in particular the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), with regards to women in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that the criminal elements are devolved, but the Supreme Court’s warning from last year is that human rights are not devolved but extended. Is this not a missed opportunity to empower the Minister and the Secretary of State at the Home Office with regard to the human rights of victims of domestic violence and of women in general?
I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s feelings and his reasons for raising that point. At the risk of being legalistic, the Supreme Court judgment was advisory because of the locus. I hope he appreciates that I cannot talk about the case going through the court process at the moment. When that judgment is delivered we will of course look at it very carefully, but I come back to the point that at the moment, on this and on a whole range of issues, domestic abuse is devolved. I gently remind the House, by way of explanation, that the topic of the Bill is domestic abuse and that not every abortion is as a result of domestic abuse.
I would like to start by saying to the Minister that unless she is going to devolve Department for Work and Pensions and UK Visas and Immigration functions, it will be a missed opportunity for the Bill not to tackle the issues those Departments are responsible for, particularly with regards to women in the immigration system and some DWP policies, including the rape clause, which, in the way it is formed, either forces a woman to leave an abusive relationship at a time not of her choosing, which can be extremely dangerous, or denies her support.
I would also like to know a bit more about the recommendations for training DWP staff. I have heard from some organisations that that can be sorely lacking in the advice that is offered to women. I would like to know how exactly that would operate for both England and Scotland.
Lastly, if Mr Speaker will allow, it was announced today that all judges and sheriffs in Scotland will be given specific domestic violence training, particularly around coercive control. Will she consider doing something similar for all judges in the English court system, too?
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. First, I thank the hon. Lady for pointing to the fact that the draft Bill, important though it is, is not the only action the Government are taking to tackle domestic abuse. Indeed, there are some 120 commitments that sit alongside the Bill. She mentioned training. That is a crucial part of our package, not just for DWP or jobcentre workers but across what I would call the frontline, for example housing association officers, police officers and the judiciary. The judiciary in England and Wales already receive training, which we keep under review. I should also say that we are looking at the offence of coercive control and behaviour. It has been in force for three years, but we appreciate that it can be a very difficult offence to investigate and prosecute. We are reviewing it to ensure that it is as effective as possible. On the DWP more generally, I am in conversation with my counterparts there. We want a wraparound approach, which is why the announcement by the Secretary of State was so significant.
Like many Members from across this place, I am very enthusiastic about the Bill and the potential for making a real difference in our communities. That is why it is so disappointing that we are not even at the first hurdle and we are already divided. I have worked very constructively with the Minister on a number of issues, so it gives me no pleasure to ask this question but I feel that I must. When the decision was made to not put things in the Bill such as migration and welfare, therefore allowing the Government to restrict their territorial scope to just England and Wales, was it based on the best interests of women in the United Kingdom or was it a narrow political judgment?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I find myself being held to account by him in pretty much all of my portfolio. On the territory of the Bill, I draw the attention of hon. Members to the consultation that was launched last year. At that point, the consultation’s scope was England and Wales. I would not want hon. Members to leave the Chamber thinking there has been some kind of handbrake turn in relation to the territorial decisions made for the Bill. The fact is that this is a devolved matter. That is why I have written to the devolved Government in Scotland and our Northern Irish counterparts to see if we can reach an agreement on whether they want to implement the measures too. I hope he understands that my motivation all along has been to help the victims of domestic abuse not just today, or for the victims I could not help when I was prosecuting in the criminal courts 15 years ago because none of these measures were anywhere near coming into being, but the victims in the future. We all know the impact domestic abuse can have on children growing up in abusive households and we need to break that cycle of violence.
Earlier, an hon. Member said that there were no devolved institutions in Ireland in 1861. Of course, in 1840, under Daniel O’Connell, the first home rule movement commenced and in 1861 the second movement was well under way, leading to devolution and the creation of two Parliaments in Ireland. I think it is important to have that on the record.
It is unfortunate that some Members have tried to conflate a very important domestic abuse Bill here in England and Wales, which we will support, with what is happening in a very confusing situation in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that that confusion means we have a strange arrangement whereby at one moment in this Parliament some Members talk about protecting absolutely the integrity of the Belfast agreement when it comes to some matters that we discuss, namely Europe, but that when we move on to domestic arrangements that are specifically devolved under the terms of the Belfast agreement we can suddenly cast those arrangements aside? That confusion has to go. We either accept devolution and implement it, or we do what the Labour Front Bench seems to be saying and introduce direct rule.