House of Commons
Thursday 21 February 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government recently launched their resources and waste strategy, which outlines a new approach to addressing food waste. Actions include consulting on introducing regulations to make transparent reporting mandatory for businesses of an appropriate size, and the appointment of Mr Ben Elliot as the food surplus and waste champion to support our strategy.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that some confusion is caused by disingenuous labelling with “use by” and “best before”, including in one example, on a packet of salt. What progress are the Government making in sorting out this nonsense?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that there can be confusion as a result of labelling. There has been leadership from the very top of the Government in pointing out that, when it comes to salt or jam, it is perfectly possible to consume healthy and nutritious food uninhibited by some of the nannying regulations and pointless bureaucracy of the past, and to eliminate waste.
What discussions have the Secretary of State or his officials had with local authorities, for instance, about how they can help with this strategy?
We have had extensive discussions with the Local Government Association and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We want to move towards mandatory food waste collection across all local authorities, and we intend to ensure that resources are available to help them to do just that.
Anaerobic digestion of food waste used to be prohibitively expensive for local authorities, but now there has been a massive drop in the cost so savings are available for local authorities and businesses if they opt for this kind of food waste disposal. What measures can the Government take to promote this as a really good green method of reducing food waste?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Anaerobic digestion can play an important part in dealing with food waste and making sure that we have a truly circular economy. We want to work both with local authorities and with farmers and land managers to make sure that, where appropriate, anaerobic digestion can be expanded.
The Secretary of State will accept that food produced here that cannot go to market in the EU and cannot be sold here profitably will increase food waste. Will he reverse the change in the guidance on protected geographical indications that he issued last week and provide Scotland’s high-quality food and drink exporting industry with all the support that it needs to maintain protections across the EU rather than leaving producers to do it themselves all over again?
All the geographical indications that Scotland’s outstanding food producers and other producers enjoy will be protected in the future. The real danger to Scotland’s food producers is a Scottish Government who are not prepared, I am afraid, to use the Agriculture Bill that is currently before the House to provide our outstanding food producers with the legislative framework that they need. In that respect, I am afraid that the Scottish Government are being negligent, and not for the first time.
The Labour Administration in Wales have instituted household food waste collections across the nation. The anaerobic digestion industry in Wales is flourishing because it guarantees regular feedstock, and the amount of food wasted in the first place in Welsh households has reduced because people are thinking about what they do with their food. Meanwhile, in England, we get yet another consultation to add to the impressive mountain of strategies and consultations produced by the Department. Will the consultation lead to comprehensive doorstep food waste collections in England, will the Secretary of State’s Department seek the funding needed to enable local authorities to do the collections, and why will it take England four more years to do something that is already being done in Wales?
Yes, yes, and I yield to no one in my admiration for Wales.
A lot of food is destroyed before it even lands on the supermarket shelves. Carrots are not straight enough, tomatoes are not round enough. What is my right hon. Friend doing to promote wonky veg, which is just as beautiful and nutritious on the inside, even if it is not visually appealing?
Since my hon. Friend and I were at college together, both of us have been champions of wonky veg, and indeed other unconventional foodstuffs, and he is absolutely right: when it comes to food, the search for symmetry and for perfection is vain and, if the House will excuse the pun, fruitless. The true joy of food comes in appreciating the diversity of British food producers and the way in which wonky veg—or even, sometimes, unconventional cuts of meat—can be a source of great nutrition. In that respect, Mr Speaker, may I say that even though it is awful, sometimes it is a good thing to indulge in tripe?
Well, I must say I rather enjoyed that. I must say to the House that I did exhort the right hon. Gentleman to inject into his answers some philosophy, and I think he has already done that.
Puppies: Welfare Standards
The ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens is an important step forward in improving welfare standards for puppies in England. When introduced, the ban will address welfare concerns associated with the sale of puppies by dealers and pet shops. It will also crack down on unscrupulous breeders who operate with little regard for animal welfare.
Will the Minister join me in thanking the Dogs Trust for all the work it is doing on the issue of puppy smuggling, and will the Government do all they can to stamp out this despicable trade, including reviewing border enforcement and the pet travel scheme?
I welcome the work of the Dogs Trust to highlight the abhorrent issue of puppy smuggling, and I thank it for its support for a ban on third-party sales. The Department is working in close collaboration with the Dogs Trust to tackle puppy smuggling. Our comprehensive approach to this issue encompasses international engagement, enforcement, public communications and tighter regulation. Looking to the future, leaving the EU will open up new approaches to managing our pet travel arrangements.
We all know the welfare of puppies is vital, but will the Minister enlighten us on what his Department is planning to do when it comes to stricter penalties for those who abuse puppies?
There are strict penalties available already, but we will be strengthening sentences for real attempts at animal cruelty from six months to five years. We are just waiting for the right time and legislative vehicle to do that. I know that in Northern Ireland there are already strong standards in place.
Serious and Organised Waste Crime
Last year, we commissioned a review of serious and organised crime in the waste sector. Recommendations from the review have informed our strategic approach to tackling waste crime. We have plans to prevent, detect and deter all forms of waste crime, including the creation of a joint unit for waste crime and a dedicated disruption team to deal with the threat of serious and organised criminal gangs.
Landowners, and particularly farmers, across Burton and Uttoxeter have been having to deal with the scourge of industrial fly-tipping. One farmer who I met in Uttoxeter was confronted overnight with a tsunami-like deposit of waste that was chest-height and went on for hundreds of metres. It was he who had then to deal with the consequences—not just cleaning it up, but paying for that. What are we going to do to support farmers, make sure that the perpetrators get caught and help to keep our countryside clean?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and is an indefatigable campaigner for everyone in his constituency. He is quite right not only that fly-tipping is a horrific crime that leads to environmental damage, but that it is doubly unfair for farmers and landowners who have to bear the costs of clearing the waste. That is why we have talked to magistrates and others to ensure that they appreciate that they have unlimited powers to fine those responsible for these crimes.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but will he further outline whether he intends to liaise with the Ministry of Justice to increase the judicial ability in these cases to make examples of those who repeatedly flout the rules, on the basis that the fine for being caught just once is less than the cost of disposing of ten times as much waste? In other words, will he make the fine fit the crime?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the “polluter pays” principle is central to good environmental management, and we must ensure that every arm of the justice system has the tools required to make sure that those who pollute pay a heavy price for their crime.
The cost of skip hire in Cornwall is disproportionately higher than in many other places around the country. The reason for that is that we do not have an aggregates recycling plant. Will the Department look at that and see whether there is anything we can do in Cornwall to reduce the burden on builders?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I will liaise with him, and of course Cornwall Council, to see what we can do to improve the situation.
Did the Secretary of State see the wonderful young people campaigning for the environment and against climate change last Friday? Some of them are in the Gallery today. Can we not harness the enthusiasm of those young people in tackling waste, waste crime and litter? They are out there plogging—clearing the planet up—so will he put his energy, action and leadership behind those young people?
I should say to the Secretary of State that I think I am right in saying that a couple of little Sheermanites are observing our proceedings today.
I was going to say that we have recently seen a number of new groups emerging in this Chamber. May I say that I welcome the growing number of Sheermanites in the Chamber? I am tempted to join them myself.
The serious point that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) made is absolutely correct. The idealism shown by our young people towards the environment is inspirational. In particular, we hope that through the Year of Green Action we can support youth and community groups across the country in taking practical steps to improve the environment around us and to raise awareness of the threat of climate change.
Cats: Welfare Standards
Cats are cherished members of our families, and it is important that we do all we can to protect their health and welfare. That is why the Government recently updated the welfare code for cats, which highlights the benefits of microchipping, neutering and other aspects of responsible cat ownership. It is also why we are banning third-party sales of kittens in England, which will prevent dealers and pet shops from selling young cats.
In the interests of equality between cats and dogs, will the Minister look at introducing mandatory microchipping for cats, as is currently the case for dogs? Cats Protection says that 62% of cats in shelters are not microchipped, and it would make returning wandering cats to their owners much easier.
I know my hon. Friend is a strong campaigner on this issue. The Government strongly recommend that cat owners get their cat microchipped and keep their records up to date. I am pleased that the proportion of cats that are microchipped has grown in recent years. Lost and stray cats do not pose the same public safety risks as dogs. As a result, our focus should be on publicising the benefits of microchipping rather than making it compulsory at this particular time.
Leaving the EU: Fisheries
The Government’s vision for the future fisheries policy as we leave the European Union and once again become an independent coastal state was set out in our July 2018 fisheries White Paper, “Sustainable fisheries for future generations”.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Brexit provides a great opportunity to revitalise the Lowestoft fishing industry, but to do so local fishermen must be able to catch enough fish to earn a fair living for themselves and to supply local merchants and processors. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Fisheries Bill will deliver the root-and-branch reform that is required to ensure the fair distribution of fishing opportunities?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the benefits of leaving the common fisheries policy is that we can reallocate quota in such a way as to ensure that the inshore fleet and ports such as Lowestoft get a fairer share of the natural resources in our waters. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has pointed out, as well as supporting the inshore fleet, we can also end practices such as pulse fishing, which are environmentally damaging and lead to those who operate out of ports such as Lowestoft being distressed about the way in which other countries have been fishing in our waters.
Over the past 40 years, shellfish producers in my constituency have perfected the art of getting fish out of the sea and on to tables in Europe within a matter of hours, so they are dismayed that the Eyemouth fishing and supplies company D. R. Collin & Son has been refused every single ECMT haulage permit it has applied for. Will the Secretary of State explain why fewer than 1,000 of the 11,000 permits that have been applied for have so far been given out?
I will look at the issue. It is important that we make sure that high-quality fresh produce of the kind that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are responsible for landing on our shores reaches appropriate markets. The one thing I would say is that the significant opportunities available to fishers in Scotland would be undermined by the Scottish Government’s policy of staying in the European Union and not leaving the common fisheries policy.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly given an assurance that there will be no further concessions in the EU negotiations on fishing, but he will be aware that the industry still has some reservations. May I invite him yet again to reassure it that there will be no further concessions and that the Government will hold firm to their present position?
Absolutely. We are going to become an independent coastal state, and as such we will decide who fishes in our waters. The threat to that position comes from Opposition Members who want to thwart our departure from the European Union, and who want us to stay in the common fisheries policy.
Seafood processors in Banff and Buchan have raised concerns about the possibility of them requiring ECMT permits if we leave the EU without a deal. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Department for Transport to ensure that hauliers in the seafood sector can continue to transport to the EU27, regardless of the outcome of negotiations?
We have been talking to the Department for Transport and the European Commission to ensure that in the event of no deal we maintain access to European markets that is as frictionless as possible. As I know my hon. Friend and others are aware, it would be infinitely preferable to secure a deal, and I hope that Members across the House—including Opposition Members—will put the interests of their constituents ahead of ideology, and back the deal in the Prime Minister’s name.
Air Pollution: Deprived Areas
Last month we published the clean air strategy, which sets out concerted action to reduce emissions from a range of sources and to improve public health. The nitrogen dioxide plan is supported by a £3.5 billion investment in improving air quality and cleaner transport. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that air quality is a devolved issue, and the Welsh Government published their revised plan in November 2018.
The Minister knows that we have been successfully taken to court by the EU on four occasions for breaching air quality standards. Is she aware that teenagers are four times as likely to develop depression and other mental health conditions in highly polluted areas, which tend to be deprived, and that that risk is higher than that of physical abuse in bringing about mental health disorders? Will she guarantee that after Brexit we will maintain EU air quality standards, and enforce them as they change and improve so that we do not become the coughing man of Europe?
It is incorrect to say that the EU has taken the Government to court four times. We are in the middle of infraction proceedings, and we will be going on with that. Nevertheless, I am aware of the correlation put forward by scientists between air quality and depression, and that is something we need to tackle. The House will be aware that we have set in statute air quality standards until 2030, and we will continue to drive down emissions and pollution in our air. I am sure the Welsh Government will want to do the same.
The Minister will remember from the joint Select Committee report on air pollution, “Improving air quality”, that the Committees were dissatisfied with our knowledge about air pollution because direct measurements were not being made. What action is the Minister taking to ensure more accurate knowledge and measurements of existing pollution, rather than relying on models?
Local authorities undertake air quality monitoring, but not necessarily to the same level as is required for standards that have been set and agreed across the European Union. We will continue to increase the monitoring network across the country. Local authorities already have powers to tackle such issues, and we are encouraging them to do so.
We have undertaken activities to improve biodiversity through nature conservation sites, where we are looking to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats and support species recovery. Internationally, we have various programmes to tackle species decline in our overseas territories, particularly supported by the Darwin Initiative, and last year we introduced what is effectively one of the toughest bans in the world on the sale of ivory, which we believe will do a lot to preserve species such as elephants and rhinoceroses.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I am sure she is as concerned as I am about the recent report on the decline in insect species. What action is being taken to address the increasing fragmentation of our landscape, which means that pollinator species are left isolated and unable to move between areas?
I think it fair to say that the wildlife corridors we are seeking to extend—some projects, future environmental management pilots, are already under way—give us cause for hope. We have taken effective action —for example, with the restrictions on the neonicotinoids. We need to follow the science and the evidence, and do what it takes to keep pollinators alive and buzzing.
Insect decline will be cataclysmic. Do we have a comprehensive plan?
I have tried to outline the different activities we are already taking and what is being planned. The year 2020 will be key. We have the convention for biodiversity, and we are already in consultation with other countries around the world on how we can tackle this global challenge.
Hon. Members are absolutely right to raise the issue of insect decline, but it is not just about insects. We know there have been huge declines in many birds and mammals, too. I am sure that like myself, Mr Speaker, as a child you enjoyed grubbing around for grass snakes and slowworms.
It is now much harder for new generations to do that. How will the draft environment Bill, which has been roundly condemned as toothless, ensure that this appalling ecological meltdown will be properly tackled?
Alongside the draft clauses we presented on governance in the Bill, we also published a policy paper. I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise that several of the items outlined in it will help us towards tackling the issue. This will be about a shift away from the common agricultural policy, where farmers are in effect just being rewarded for land ownership, and moving towards paying for ecosystem services. I believe that that will benefit all the different species to which she refers.
That is all very well, but another huge concern are the cuts to Natural England. Grants to Natural England have been cut by nearly half, and we now hear that there may well be further cuts of between £3.5 million and £8 million over the next year. How can that be justified?
The hon. Lady will recognise that the Government took a view in 2010 that we had to balance the books after the record deficit from the last Labour Government. There was a realignment of what needed to be done on Government funding. I believe that Natural England has the resources it needs to undertake its role. Natural England will continue to focus on what is best for preserving the environment in England.
Leaving the EU: Farming
Our plans for future farming policy are set out in the Agriculture Bill. At the heart of our new policy in England will be a system that pays public money for public goods, rewarding farmers for enhancing animal welfare, improving soil health and creating habitats for wildlife. We are also introducing measures to support investment in farm productivity and to improve fairness in the supply chain.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he update me on what steps the Government are taking, following a very serious case in my constituency, to give the courts the power to grant injunctions to prevent people who are on trial for animal cruelty from acquiring new animals as they go through that legal process?
I recall meeting my hon. Friend about a particularly difficult and tragic case in his constituency. His local authority did make a powerful case for there to be a power to have an injunction to prevent the restocking of farms while prosecutions were pending. Such injunctions are usually reserved for civil cases. It is already possible to confiscate animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but I will look again at this issue as we consider future legislation.
Will the Minister reassure the House that food production will remain central to agricultural policy and that we will continue to encourage farmers to produce food of the very highest standard?
Yes, I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that guarantee. It is called the Agriculture Bill and it has provisions to allow market intervention to support that. There are provisions to improve fairness in the supply chain. Every five years, we currently have an assessment of our food security. The Bill is absolutely about producing food sustainably, not ceasing to produce food.
John Vernam, the chairman of Cherry Valley, the source of the majority of the world’s Pekin duck breed, came to see me recently to talk about his concerns about the effect of a no-deal Brexit. He says it will have a wide-ranging impact on the industry and on animal welfare and food standards. Can the Minister please prove that he is no chicken and reassure the poultry industry that he is actively encouraging the Prime Minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has also raised the case of Cherry Valley, and I have given an undertaking that I will meet it as soon as possible. The company exports live ducklings and imports ducks, and I am happy to look at its concerns. Obviously, on the wider issue, the Prime Minister absolutely wants to avoid no deal. That is why she is encouraging everyone to back the agreement that she has secured.
It would be nice to know when the Agriculture Bill is coming back to this place, given the months that have now fallen by the wayside. I ask the Minister on behalf of his boss, the Secretary of State: how are discussions going with the Chancellor on whether there will be tariffs on food imports?
The Government are currently in discussions about a tariff policy in the event of no deal. The options that are open to us are to have tariff-rate suspensions, which we are likely to do on goods that we do not produce, and to have autonomous tariff-rate quotas or lower applied tariffs. That issue is being considered by the Government and a statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament in due course.
Pollution: Schools and Hospitals
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched the clean air strategy last month alongside the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. That has been welcomed by the World Health Organisation as an example for the rest of the world to follow. As I referred to earlier, we continue to deliver our £3.5 billion plan to reduce roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations.
In my constituency, parents, schools and our local councils are working hard together to introduce school streets: timed road closures and a drop-off and pick-up time close to schools to reduce pollution, encourage cycling and walking and increase awareness of the urgent need for action on air pollution and climate change. Will the Secretary of State commit to a fully funded nationwide programme of school streets?
The Government are investing £3.5 billion and it is for local authorities to potentially apply to the clean air fund to undertake different activities. A lot of this is about cycling and walking and the strategy on changing transport. I am not aware of what the hon. Lady’s local authority has been directly involved in, but we have also been funding—say, through the London Borough of Islington or Spelthorne Borough Council—awareness campaigns run through schools.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), I have many schools in my constituency that are very worried about air pollution in the surrounding area. The problem is not the powers—they have the powers to monitor it—but the finances. They do not have the resources either to monitor the air pollution or then to fix the problem. Is there any possibility of more resources being made available?
I am conscious that, certainly through Transport for London, London has had a substantial amount of money to improve air quality. I know that it is keen to do more, but local authorities have statutory duties to tackle this issue. They have had funding in the past and they are able to apply for funding in the future, and I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s authority doing so.
Dog and Cat Meat
It is abhorrent to think that our beloved cats and dogs could be eaten. As the Prime Minister said, it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat and there are no abattoirs with a licence to slaughter these animals in the UK. We recognise both the substantive and symbolic nature of the issues raised, and we are exploring what more can be done to address this matter and to send a clearer signal that the consumption of dogs and cats should never be tolerated.
There are extensive restrictions in place on the commercial sale of dog meat for human consumption, and I understand that there are similar restrictions on cat meat. Despite those advances, amazingly, the private slaughtering of dogs and cats for private consumption is still legal in this country, and I want that to change. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to extend the current restrictions to cover the private consumption of dog and cat meat, as my amendment to the Agriculture Bill sets out?
There is no evidence that dogs and cats are being consumed in the UK, although I understand and agree with the sentiment behind my hon. Friend’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill. A ban on consumption raises issues of enforcement and prosecution, but I have asked DEFRA officials to explore what more can be done to address these issues. I look forward to having the opportunity to debate these matters further in Westminster Hall this afternoon.
Food Labelling Laws
The UK has world-leading standards of food information, backed by a rigorous legislative framework, but the Secretary of State has been clear that an overhaul of allergen labelling is needed and DEFRA is working with other Departments to deliver that. We are also committed to reviewing food labelling laws after EU exit, so that consumers’ confidence in the food they buy continues to grow.
My 15-year-old constituent Ethan McColgan has a severe nut allergy. He is one of 2 million people in the UK who have food allergies. Can the Minister reassure Ethan that this matter is an absolute priority for the Government, enabling him to identify and avoid foods that include nuts, and that manufacturers will be forced to comply?
The provision of allergen information to the public is very important. It is essential that all UK consumers have complete trust in the food they eat. I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituent and his family. On 25 January, the Government launched a consultation on how to strengthen the framework on allergens. I encourage her constituent and others in a similar situation to feed their views into that consultation as a matter of urgency.
It was a pleasure to be able to speak to the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham earlier this week. Of course, farmers expressed concern about failures to ensure that environmental and countryside stewardship payments kept pace with reforms in other areas. I was able to assure them that we would guarantee bridging payments to ensure that those who have worked hard to improve our environment receive the support from the state that they deserve.
I congratulate the Department on the future farming plans it has announced today, but does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government’s disengagement with the Agriculture Bill puts at risk payments to Scottish farmers post 2020 and that it undermines the UK internal market if the Scottish Government do not adopt UK frameworks?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a stark contrast with the progressive approach being taken by the Labour Administration in Wales, who have engaged with the Bill and ensured that we legislate to give Welsh farmers confidence and certainty for the future. The Scottish Government, not for the first time, have decided to put separatist ideology ahead of the interests of Scotland’s farmers and food producers. Having visited Scotland twice in the past week, I have to say that Scotland’s farmers and food producers are scunnered with the Scottish Government’s attitude to their future.
There is a clear legislative framework following on from the ban introduced by the Labour Government, and this Government have no intention of changing that ban.
It has been made clear, and it was a manifesto commitment, that once we leave the European Union, we will take early steps to control the export of live farm animals. We are considering all options in the context of our exit from the EU and as part of our broader commitment to further strengthen animal welfare standards.
I assure the hon. Lady that we are working very closely with the EU and making the necessary applications. We want to ensure that the arrangements—particularly on health—fit everyone, but with guide dog owners in particular, we are working to see what more we can do to help.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is not only the vital food produced by farmers in lowland and upland parts of Cumbria but their work to ensure that one of the most beautiful parts of our country remains beautiful that deserves support. The provisions in our Agriculture Bill will ensure not only that food production is given the prominence it deserves but that environmental and other services that farmers are responsible for providing are properly rewarded.
This is an historic issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was his own local council that granted permission for the installation. Through the clean air strategy, we have specifically identified the challenges relating to shipping, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to continue to work with the Government to bring about improvements that would be suitable for his constituents.
The late Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said that his countrymen were a sentimental people,
“easily moved by stories of cruelty”.
In that spirit, will the Secretary of State clamp down on puppy smuggling, by which means sinister foreign traders bring small dogs into this country, causing disease, distress and death?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is absolutely right. From the time of Earl Baldwin to this day, people have looked to the Conservative party to safeguard the welfare of the nation and to stamp out cruelty. Puppy smuggling is one of the vilest types of crime against animals, which is why we have introduced provisions to ensure that it is only from appropriately licensed breeders that individuals can find the companion animals that give us all such joy in our lives.
Last week, as we have heard, thousands of young people, including hundreds in Cambridge, showed that they recognise that we are facing a real climate emergency. Would the Secretary of State like to meet some of them so that they can impress that sense of urgency on him? He might even meet some Sheermanites.
I should be more than happy to do so. This issue is very close to home for me as well. I appreciate that last Friday was an important day for many young people and an opportunity for them to say to my generation that more must be done.
Mr Les Stretton from Stapenhill in my constituency is a regular correspondent, but he is one of many constituents who have written to me expressing concern about the possible implications of a new trade deal with other countries as we leave the European Union, including a possible impact on the quality and standards of food imported into the country. We will debate trade deals later today, but will the Secretary of State confirm that on his watch there will be no diminution—no reduction—of standards in relation to food quality and animal welfare?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a wish expressed across the House—and, indeed, given effect in one or two of the proposed amendments to the Agriculture Bill—that we do everything we can to ensure that the high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards that characterise British food production will be protected in the future, and that is absolutely the Government’s determined intention.
The Secretary of State told me a few weeks ago that he believed that other European countries would be looking enviously at the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement and its attempts to leave the European Union. Is that still his position?
Yes—even more so today than three weeks ago.
Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the thousands of young people who came out last week to demonstrate their concern about the environment and climate change for their enthusiasm? While there is much more to do, does he agree that the Government are already acting on many of their concerns?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course it is important that young people’s voices are heard, and the urgency with which they make the case for change is compelling and attractive. However, it is also true that the Government have taken steps—indeed, steps have been taken by successive Governments, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in this regard—to ensure that we reduce emissions and play our part in the fight against climate change.
Minette Batters, the highly respected president of the National Farmers Union, said last week that the impact of a no-deal Brexit would be “absolutely savage”. She added:
“I cannot imagine how bad it would look…we’d see a long-term future of just bringing cheaper imports in”.
It is clear from her comments that she knows her farmers. I know my farmers, and I know that they are worried. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the Government will take no deal off the table?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her question. She is absolutely right: Minette Batters is an outstanding public servant as leader of the NFU. I also know from the hon. Lady’s consistent work in the House since her election that she is one of the strongest and most diligent advocates for rural Britain, and I entirely understand her concern. Indeed, when I had the chance to speak at the NFU conference earlier this week, I made the case that in the event of no deal, our food producers would face significant tariff and other barriers. That is why it is so important for everyone in the House, when the opportunity comes, to support the Prime Minister in ensuring that we get a deal that safeguards Britain’s interests and allows us to leave the European Union in an effective fashion.
Oh, very well, I will take one more question: Helen Goodman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Further to the Secretary of State’s previous answer, on Monday he sought to reassure sheep farmers by saying that in the event of no deal he would be able to make payments to them, but because he has sat on the Agriculture Bill for 10 weeks surely he will not have the statutory powers to do that?
We absolutely do have the powers to do that and we will not hesitate to intervene if necessary. The hon. Lady, who represents the farmers in her constituency very effectively, knows that all of us recognise that a no-deal outcome is not in the best interests of British farming, so I hope she will join me in supporting the Prime Minister as she negotiates hard in Brussels and brings a deal back to this House, which I know the hon. Lady in her heart will believe is the right thing to do.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Clergy Recruitment: Rural Parishes
With permission, Mr Speaker, as an ex officio member of the Church Commissioners I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
The Church of England has over 10,000 rural churches and 45% of those who attend church go to rural churches. The Church supports these rural churches through its dedicated national rural officer, who provides advice, consultancy and training for dioceses. The Church has recently launched a new recruitment portal which currently displays all jobs in 30 of the 42 dioceses, enabling clergy to sort jobs by postcode and categories.
As rural parishes go, the parish of St Mary on the island of Lindisfarne, Holy Island, in my constituency must be one of the smallest, most rural but most magnificent. It has a permanent population of only 200 people but, living in the cradle of British Christianity, it has hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. So will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming to her post, and with an outreach vocation, the Reverend Canon Dr Sarah Hills, our new vicar of St Mary, Lindisfarne?
I understand that the religious community on Holy Island was founded by an Irish monk called St Aidan in 635 AD. I certainly welcome the Reverend Dr Sarah Hills to her post and wish her well with her ministry. She brings with her considerable experience from Coventry cathedral, where she led the international reconciliation team.
Does the Leader of the House recognise that it is not just in rural churches—it is in rural and urban churches—where the clergy plays such an important role in the community? Particularly at this time when youth services have declined and local authorities cannot afford them, the role of the Church in rural and urban communities is absolutely crucial.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Church plays a huge part in our whole society, whether rural or urban, and I pay tribute to all the excellent work of our clergy and lay preachers right across the United Kingdom.
I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it is not just church buildings that are of importance; it is the people within them and the work they do. Just two weeks ago I was able to do a tour of all the churches in Uttoxeter in my constituency. I talked to the people in those churches and witnessed first-hand the great work they do in our community by supporting people, particularly the sick and the vulnerable. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Christians across the country for the work they do in our communities?
The hon. Gentleman is a busy bee doing this extensive tour; it sounds absolutely enticing.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking all those who do so much right across our country. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Church of England, which operates the single largest group of schools in the UK. Very often those schools are in small rural communities, and the schools and their teachers face big challenges, as do other rural services—distance, access to facilities, cost of living, the reduction in family sizes and so on. The Church has done a great deal to try to improve the sense of community right across our country.
I welcome the right hon. Lady to her place. Does she accept that one of the problems now is that we have so few ministers and so many churches to look after? In my own area, the Stroudwater team has three ministers to look after 15 churches, although we have had a vacancy recently. We ought to recognise that that puts enormous pressure on those ministers, and I hope that the Church is looking after their welfare.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in praising all those clergy who do so much, often working under quite some pressure and with large parishes to deal with. In 2017, the number of clergy who retired was 330, and I am pleased to say that the number that the Church is training is more than the number who are retiring.
Will the right hon. Lady outline whether she has considered the idea of more joint parishes—joining with other denominations—thereby involving the community and making more regular use of our beautiful historic buildings? Coming together, perhaps?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out the excellent work that some churches are doing to help and support their communities across the denominations. I would certainly encourage him to write to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman); she can perhaps tell him a bit more about some of the work that the churches are doing.
Metal Theft from Churches
The Church of England has unfortunately seen a steady increase in metal theft recently. Between 2017 and 2018, reports of thefts were up 25%. The rise is attributed to an increase in international metal prices. Additionally, significant thefts are being co-ordinated by organised criminals working in teams. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 had great success initially, but I understand that the all-party parliamentary group on combating metal theft is working closely with the Second Church Estates Commissioner to see what further work might be necessary to reflect the organised nature of this crime.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Thieves recently took the lead from the magnificent 900-year-old Old Sodbury church in south Gloucestershire, but sadly, only part of the cost of replacing the roof was covered by the insurance. What discussions has the Church of England had with the Government and the insurance industry on the theft of metal and decorative objects from churches, so that we can be sure that these magnificent buildings can be protected for generations to come?
I am so sorry to hear about that theft. It is an unusual theft, in that it does not fit the recent pattern. The church of St John’s, Old Sodbury, estimates that about 150 square metres will need to be replaced at a cost of around £50,000, only some of which will be covered by its insurance. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Church is working with law enforcement, the metal recycling trade, Historic England and the all-party parliamentary group on combating metal theft to find ways to address these crimes.
The Church works closely with the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, which supports local associations with a network of teachers, including one in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Following the recent successful recruitment of new bell ringers for the world war one anniversary, the Church was pleased to hear that many of the new members have decided to continue to ring with their local towers.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will she tell us what the Church of England is doing to encourage young people into bell ringing, so that we can foster the next generation of campanologists?
I hope that my hon. Friend will be encouraged to learn that more than 250 young people will gather in Liverpool this weekend to take part in the national youth ringing contest. The Church of England is delighted to see young people rediscovering the love of these traditional community activities. Church schools and parishes provide a range of support to children and young people, and initiatives such as these show how beneficial exercise and teamwork can be for young people’s wellbeing.
I must say to the House that I have observed bell ringing being undertaken in Winslow and in Lillingstone Lovell in my constituency, and very skilfully undertaken it was too. For my own part, I am bound to say that I think I was very maladroit when trying to bell ring. I found it a most strenuous activity. But there you go—perhaps with practice I might get a little bit better.
Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the loss of income to belfries from letting them to telecommunication companies for their antenna? As a consequence of the cack-handed introduction of the telecommunications code, the loss of income is as disconcerting to bell ringers as it is to the vicar.
My right hon. Friend raises a worrying issue that I am sure the Second Church Estates Commissioner will be pleased to hear about and tackle on his behalf.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Northern Ireland Parties: Donations
The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Northern Ireland Office as the lead Department on the transparency of donations received by political parties in Northern Ireland. Copies of the relevant correspondence will shortly be placed in the House of Commons Library. The commission continues to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional secondary legislation to allow the publication of donations from January 2014 onwards, as envisaged by the original primary legislation.
The Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s interim report into “Disinformation and ‘fake news’” rightly criticised the shadowy and secretive Constitutional Research Council for having
“deliberately and knowingly, exploited a loophole in the electoral law to funnel”
£435,000 to the Democratic Unionist party during the EU referendum. The source of that money remains a secret and is beyond the scrutiny of both this Parliament and the public. Will the hon. Lady add her voice to those on the Select Committee and the Electoral Commission in calling for the publication of the source of that money?
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. However, the law requires the Electoral Commission to keep confidential all information about political donations and loans in Northern Ireland before 1 July 2017. The commission therefore regrets that it is unable to disclose information and its own work in fulfilling its statutory duties to give confidence to the public, parliamentarians and others.
The Electoral Commission has stated:
“We continue to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional legislation to allow the publication of donations from 2014 onwards.”
It is astounding that this Government refuse to allow those donations to be published, so will the hon. Lady call on the Government to remove the shield from those responsible for dark money?
The hon. Lady is right to add her voice to that of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) in expressing frustration. I can only reiterate the Electoral Commission’s position, which is that it is unable fully to disclose information in this regard. However, it is for the UK Government to bring forward further legislation, should they so wish, to make such information available,
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Divisions of the House
The exact time spent on Divisions is not recorded, but there were 198 Divisions in the Chamber in 2018, 28 of which were deferred Divisions. If we estimate that each of the 170 real-time Divisions took 15 minutes, then 42 hours and 30 minutes were spent collectively by Members of Parliament participating in Divisions in the Chamber in 2018.
Indeed, the Institute for Government estimates that we have spent nearly 49 hours trooping through the packed Lobbies, which must be in breach of health and safety. In a week when Westminster is in absolute chaos, does the fact that we wander through the Lobbies like elephants in some sort of circus not just highlight the fact that Westminster is broken and does not work for Scotland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, although I did anticipate that it would be about electronic voting, so he has rather wrong-footed me. However, he makes a point that I would personally support, which is that we waste an awful lot of time trooping through the Lobbies, and I would also support the rolling out of electronic voting as a solution.
The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that I took his advice from the previous House of Commons Commission questions and wrote to the Chair of the Procedure Committee suggesting that it finally get to grips with the issue. I look forward to joining the right hon. Gentleman in giving evidence to the Committee and making the case for reform of the outdated Lobby voting system in the House of Commons.
I am not sure that I detect a question there. However, I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has finally acted on the advice I have given him and his colleagues on a number of occasions by raising the matter with the Procedure Committee, which I am sure will look at this with due consideration and, I hope, will come to the right conclusion.
May I suggest to SNP Members that, if they occasionally voted with the Government, they could use the time usefully in the Division Lobby by lobbying Ministers?
Again, I completely fail to detect a question there for me. However, I am sure SNP Members will have noted the suggestion that they should work closely with the Conservative Government in the Division Lobby.
Escalators: Underground Car Park
The maximum annual energy cost of running the escalator has been calculated as £2,820, including VAT.
This escalator is running all the time yet, compared with the escalator between the main estate and Portcullis House, it is used relatively infrequently. Would it be possible to install a button so that it operates only when required?
It may be that the hon. Gentleman does not burn the midnight oil and therefore may not be aware that, in fact, the escalator is switched off manually by engineers control between midnight and 6 am on sitting days and between 6 pm and 6 am during recess. He will be pleased to hear that the escalator is also switched off at the weekend. It is also fitted with sensors that slow down the motor when it has not been used in the previous few minutes.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Maintenance of Graves
With permission, Mr Speaker, as an ex officio member of the Church Commissioners I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
It is not clear from the hon. Lady’s question whether it relates to an open churchyard or a closed churchyard. For a closed churchyard, the responsibility for maintenance and management is often held by the local authority. The regulation of an open churchyard, however, is managed under the faculty process, which is the Church’s planning process. Each diocese publishes guidelines on its website, and the regulations are there to make sure that churchyards remain places that we can all enjoy for years to come.
My question relates to a constituency case that I have raised with the Second Church Estates Commissioner in advance of this Question Time. Shelley Fleming, my constituent, lost her husband Keith in October 2017—he was aged just 49. When she was arranging his place in the church’s graveyard, she was not notified that there would be any restrictions on her choice of grave at the Great Coates St Nicolas church. I would like the Second Church Estates Commissioner to work with me to encourage the church to review its regulations to permit the laying of flush kerb stones to carefully and respectfully mark parishioners’ final resting places.
I am so sorry to hear of Keith’s passing, and I am sure everyone in the Chamber would pass on their great sympathies. It is such an incredibly young age to die.
The regulations that govern churchyards differ from those that govern municipal cemeteries, where the land is not consecrated. A churchyard almost always surrounds a church building, and memorial stones that may be entirely suitable for an urban municipal cemetery may be out of place when they are close to an ancient church, especially one in a rural setting. If a constituent wants kerb stones installed around a grave, this would generally require the special permission of the diocesan chancellor. I will ask the Second Church Estates Commissioner to write to the hon. Lady with more information about the regulations and processes.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
The House of Commons Commission delegates the negotiation of pay and terms and conditions for House employees to the Commons Executive Board. Formal and informal meetings between House of Commons management and its recognised trade unions take place on a regular basis. Formal discussions relating to changes of pay, allowances and conditions of service for 2019-20 were last held on 3 December. Pay negotiations for 2019-20 will begin shortly, following agreement of the pay remit by the House of Commons Commission.
I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 2025, which I have signed, concerning rates of pay for security officers. How on earth have we got into a situation where our security staff feel it necessary to ballot for industrial action? Will the House of Commons Commission get a grip on the management of the security department and tell it to start treating these loyal and essential men and women with decency and respect, and to pay them and treat them properly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for drawing our attention to this matter. He may be pleased to hear that the Clerk of the House has written to the Public and Commercial Services Union confirming that changes to rest breaks, which was a particular issue of concern, will be reversed as soon as is operationally possible. Initial talks have been held and the House awaits a further proposal from PCS for it to consider.
I have a short statement to make about PC Keith Palmer, who tragically died on 22 March 2017. PC Palmer was nothing short of a hero, in the way in which he ran towards danger to ensure the safety of us all on that day. He paid the ultimate price for doing the job that he loved, and we owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his bravery. Yesterday afternoon, the Police Memorial Trust placed a permanent memorial to PC Palmer at Carriage Gates. Not only will it serve as a lasting tribute to his dedication and courage, but it will ensure that visitors to Parliament never forget his sacrifice and heroism.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 25 February—A motion to approve the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 26 February—Estimates Day (5th allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education and on estimates relating to the Department for Work and Pensions. At 7.00 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates. This will be followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Wednesday 27 February—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No.2) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Thursday 28 February—A general debate on St David’s day, followed by a general debate on the UK’s progress toward net-zero carbon emissions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 1 March—The House will not be sitting.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to this House on 12 February:
“When we achieve the progress we need, we will bring forward another meaningful vote, but if the Government have not secured a majority in this House in favour of a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration, the Government will make a statement on Tuesday 26 February and table an amendable motion relating to the statement, and a Minister will move that motion on Wednesday 27 February, thereby enabling the House to vote on it, and on any amendments to it, on that day.”—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 733.]
I will make a further business statement if necessary.
I was honoured to be at the unveiling of the memorial stone to PC Palmer yesterday at Downing Street, and I would like to pay my own tribute to his selfless bravery—we will always remember him.
This week, the House has heard a number of touching tributes to our colleague the Member for Newport West. It is always sad to lose one of our colleagues, and we will remember and continue to be inspired by his energy for campaigning and the difference he made in the policy areas he cared so much about.
This Government are making great progress. I am of course talking about the five Government Bills that have just received Royal Assent—legislation that will make a real difference to our country. They are: the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, which criminalises the abhorrent practice of upskirting; the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which gives our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the powers to keep us safer from terrorism; the Tenant Fees Act 2019, where we are helping renters by banning unfair fees; the Finance Act 2019, which cuts taxes for 32 million people and cracks down on tax avoidance; and the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019, which makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to convict terrorists, sex offenders and those involved in serious crime. I am proud of the legislation this Government have brought forward to address some of the critical issues of our time.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement for next week. I note that she has provided the Backbench Business Committee with two days of debates, and both subjects are very important. I know that the Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is a cheeky chappie, but the Leader of the House should not have favourites, so as she is being so generous with Government time, may we have an Opposition day? The shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), whose birthday it is today—I wish her a very happy birthday—will be pleased about the St David’s day debate.
Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the House will rise on 4 April and return on 23 April? I understand that some civil servants are being told that their leave is cancelled during that time. Are there any plans to cancel the recess? Will the Leader of the House place in the Library a letter about the costs that were incurred as a result of the cancelling of the February recess? I particularly thank the staff for being here. It is easy for Members to rearrange their time, but it is not so easy for the staff of the House and our own staff to do that. Will the Leader of the House confirm that all the fire and safety works that were due to take place this week will be done at a convenient time?
I thank the Leader of the House for scheduling the statutory instruments—she will know that it is very important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise them—but from next week an average of 24 Commons debates on affirmative Brexit SIs need to be held each week through to exit day, so will she confirm that all the affirmative Brexit SIs will have proper scrutiny in the House?
It is absolutely unacceptable that the Government have failed to effectively plan their Brexit strategy over the past two and a half years. The Prime Minister gave a speech in Lancaster House on 17 January 2017, and speeches in Davos on 19 January and Florence on 22 September that year, and she gave speeches at the Mansion House on 2 March 2018 and at Chequers on 6 July 2018, yet with just five weeks to go until the UK exits the EU on 29 March, the Government are still attempting to secure a negotiated agreement with legal assurances. I am not clear how this works, because I understand that the Attorney General—[Interruption.] No, I was here listening to him, and the Attorney General warned in December 2018 that the backstop provision in the Brexit deal could continue indefinitely
“unless and until it was superseded”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 547.]
by a new agreement. That is according to the Government’s legal advice, but he is now seeking to secure changes and a new legal interpretation. Does that mean he has misled Parliament? Will the Attorney General come to the House and explain his advice, because it is clearly going to change?
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was forced to admit to Conservative MPs that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the Malthouse compromise. The Leader of the House will know that that is not actually a clause in the agreement, and Brussels does not recognise it—it was done only to win the vote. The Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister is going to make a statement on Tuesday and that there is a vote on Wednesday; will she confirm that it is the meaningful vote on Wednesday?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Spring statement will take place on 13 March? New analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that more than half of day-to-day public spending on the NHS, defence and overseas aid has already been allocated. That means that if the Chancellor was right when he said that austerity has ended, the Government will have to spend £5 billion more than is currently planned by 2023-24 to maintain real spending per person on unprotected services.
May we have a debate on the wholly inappropriate use of public money by the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority? He wants to introduce articulated buses—or bendy buses—on one of the routes in Walsall where the X51 already provides a perfectly reliable service. Articulated buses were taken out of use because they caused accidents with cyclists and pedestrians. May we have a debate on that misuse of public money?
I, too, attended the unveiling of the plaque for PC Keith Palmer. No one can forget that day. There were some heartfelt tributes by both the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I can only repeat what the commissioner said to Keith Palmer: thank you and God bless you. We have our own memorial on the estate where PC Palmer fell. People have already been laying flowers.
I want to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said to me and pay full praise to our colleague, Paul Flynn. Newport has lost a famous son. He was a Member of Parliament for more than 30 years. He recalled hearing Aneurin Bevan, the then Minister for Health, speak in the city in 1948, when he established the new NHS. He served on many Select Committees, and, at the age of 81, was very gracious and kind to me both when I first came in and when he handed over to me as shadow Leader of the House. In 1996, he won Back Bencher of the Year award from The Spectator. Hon. Members will be aware of his book “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”. I hold it up to the Chamber because he said that one of the 10 commandments for a Back Bencher was:
“Honour your party and extend its horizons.”
And I think he did that. He also showed us how to live through Private Bills and—Mr, Speaker, you will like this—how to survive the Speaker. On making bogus points of order, he said, “Flatter the speaker subtly.”
Nice tie, Mr Speaker.
I think it’s a nice tie—it is one of the better ones anyway. Paul also said to be cheeky to the Speaker.
In the foreword, the late Tony Banks said that Paul Flynn was
“one of Westminster’s sharpest of brain and tongue”—
“well-merited reputation for forthright and controversial views.”
Paul was ahead of his time in many ways. He was one of the first MPs to use the internet to communicate with constituents and, in 2000, he won the New Media Award for his website from the New Statesman. We all send condolences to his family and we will miss him and his gorgeous voice.
Finally, Mr Speaker, you will pleased to know—I am sure that Paul would like this, too—that there will be a blue plaque to Bob Marley, which shows great diversity on the blue plaque front. I know that some hon. Members will be singing “Exodus”, but those of us on the Labour Benches will be singing, “One Love/People Get Ready.”
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her very interesting insight into our hon. Friend, the Member for Newport West. That was genuinely very interesting and I thank her for that. I also join her in wishing the shadow Secretary of State for Wales a very happy birthday.
The hon. Lady asked about Opposition days. I hope that she will recognise that I have tried to accommodate a number of requests made by colleagues across the House, including those made by the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure that she will welcome the fact that the House will have the opportunity to debate a motion to approve the draft REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 on Monday following her request in business questions on 24 January. She will also appreciate that I have announced some important business for next week, and that we have had a range of key issues to debate this week, including a debate on serious violence, which was requested by Members from both sides of the House, and a number of statutory instruments recommended for debate by the European Statutory Instruments Committee—all very important business.
The hon. Lady asks about Easter recess. We always announce recesses subject to the progress of business, and that remains the case for the time being. She asks for a report on the costs of cancelling the recess. I will certainly look into it. I imagine that that is a matter for the House of Commons Commission, on which she also sits. Perhaps it is something that she and I could raise at the next House of Commons Commission meeting. I would certainly like to join her in thanking all those members of staff who have worked this week to support us as we continue with important parliamentary business.
The hon. Lady asks for confirmation on the position of Brexit statutory instruments. More than 450 EU exit SIs have now been laid, which is over 75% of the total that we anticipate being required by exit day. The sifting Committee, which looks at all the statutory instruments under the key powers of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has now considered more than 190 SIs, recommending 52 of them for an upgrade to the affirmative procedure. I can confirm to the House that there remains a relatively small number of SIs for the sifting Committee to continue to review. I can also confirm to the House that the total number of statutory instruments will be fewer than 600. I will continue to update the House, but I am confident that we have enough time to put in place all the necessary secondary legislation by the date of leaving the EU.
The hon. Lady asks about our Brexit negotiations. She will be aware that the Prime Minister is determined to—and continues to—negotiate legally-binding changes to the backstop to ensure that the requirements of this House in approving the withdrawal agreement and political declaration can be met. If necessary, I will make a further business statement, but my statement today is clear that we will meet our commitment to deliver a debate on an amendable motion next week relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the Prime Minister will update the House next week.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of travelling shows and fairs? As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds, I know that this family-based sector has made representations about falling customer numbers and is concerned about the effects on the workforce of changes to freedom of movement once we have left the European Union.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Travelling fairs and shows are a brilliant source of fun for families, and they contribute a lot to a thriving cultural scene and local economies. The Government have made clear our commitment to EU citizens who have come to the UK to make their living, and they are welcome here beyond our departure from the EU. A Westminster Hall debate might be a good way in which to raise this matter further.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I join in the many tributes to Paul Flynn? He was a brave but kind politician, and we will never forget his sojourn at the Dispatch Box as shadow Leader of the House, which he described as a job creation opportunity for octogenarians.
It is starting to feel distinctly different in here as the Government’s chaotic Brexit starts to play havoc on the UK’s political parties as well as the UK itself. We are all wondering who is next and looking for some willing volunteers on the Conservative Benches—[Interruption.] Oh, there we go; it might be the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). The smart money certainly is not on the Leader of the House; she is more ERG than TIG. Can we have a debate on political defections, particularly on the question of the point at which defections become a realignment of British politics?
Next Wednesday, we are going to have another one of these “I can’t believe it’s not the meaningful vote” debates as the clock is run down further and attempts to blackmail the House into accepting this rotten deal or a disastrous no deal continue apace. Once again, there will be another one of these Christmas tree motions. The Government will be told that this House will not accept no deal, and presumably the Government will just ignore the wishes of the House all over again. But at some point this nonsense has to come to an end. The House simply is not going to accept no deal, and the quicker the Leader of the House accepts that, the better we will all be. With 36 days left until we leave the EU, the Government are going to have to come back to the House with their real meaningful vote, so when will that be?
The Leader of the House has actually invented a new date—29 February next week. As the Leader of the House knows, there is no 29 February. Perhaps this is not so much running down the clock, but extending February forever so we actually never get to a meaningful vote.
I do not know what the Leader of the House has got against the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)—the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill—but it has been almost a year since it passed its Second Reading in this House. Other Bills have been given precedence and his still has no money resolution. Again, the Government are defying the wishes of the House. When will the Leader of the House set out a motion to let this important Bill progress?
Please let us not do this week all over again. The Leader of the House’s hon. Friends gave up their skiing holidays and trips to their villas for barely-debated statutory instruments and general debates. I have been listening carefully to the Leader of the House, and it seems as if the Easter recess is under threat and is not particularly safe now. We know that this costs the House God knows how much money and has put staff at a great disadvantage, so let us make sure that we have our Easter recess. The only notable thing that happened this week was the desertion of MPs from the two big parties. In the week of the TIGgers, this Government have seemed little more than a bunch of Eeyores in a bad mood.
I do not want to make the hon. Gentleman envious, but I am pleased to tell the House that I have a fully up-to-date and, dare I say, sanitised version of the business of the House, and mine very clearly says “Friday 1 March”. [Interruption.] Well, I feel very sorry for colleagues. I am obviously in a privileged position and should be thankful for it.
If the hon. Gentleman had only realised, I put that deliberately on his paper in the hope that he might think that, as it would be 29 February, I might propose to him. Just continuing the love, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman says that I am more ERG than TIG, but he is the one who is desperate for independence, so perhaps he should be the one to go and join the Independent Group. He asks about the debate next week. I have certainly tried to make it clear that the Prime Minister will bring back the meaningful vote just as soon as she feels that she has accommodated the wishes of the House for the legally binding changes to the backstop that will mean that the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration can be approved by the House. All Members need to take that incredibly seriously. It is not the Government’s policy to have no deal; it is the Government’s policy to have a good deal that works for the UK and our EU friends and neighbours. Should we agree to and pass the meaningful vote, we will swiftly be able to move to the withdrawal agreement Bill and give certainty to citizens and businesses right across the United Kingdom. It is in all our interests to do so.
When my right hon. Friend fills in her questionnaire on restoration, which is available in the Library, she will quickly discern from the questions that, far from preserving Barry and Pugin’s masterpiece, what is envisaged is the creation of Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure dome. When can we debate this matter and get it back on track?
I confess that my right hon. Friend has totally thrown me there. That is absolutely not my understanding at all. The idea of the restoration and renewal of the Palace is predominantly to sort out the mechanical and engineering requirements of the House, to restore and preserve this UNESCO world heritage site for many generations to come. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, I will hope to introduce a Bill that will put in place the new sponsor body and delivery authority that will carry out the work, which is in the interests of the entire United Kingdom.
I am glad that I have been elevated to the status of official parliamentary cheeky chappie by the shadow Leader. I add my commiserations to the family of the hon. Member for Newport West, Paul Flynn. He will be greatly missed in this place.
If there is to be a Government statement on Tuesday, could the estimates day debates be given some form of protected time? The applications were very heavily subscribed. More than 50 Members have backed the applications for debates on education and on work and pensions. If the Government statement on EU withdrawal ate into that by a huge amount, it would demean the whole situation on estimates day applications.
I thank the Leader of the House for confirmation that the debate on the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report’s publication will go ahead on Monday, and that time has been put aside for Welsh affairs and St David’s day, and on climate change next Thursday. Thank you very much.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point about protected time. I will see what can be done. I obviously cannot make any commitments because statements from the Prime Minister, as he will be aware, command significant interest in the House, but I will certainly take that away and consider it.
With a diligence that chimes with all of your stewardship, Mr Speaker, and characterises the best of my own endeavours, we listened yesterday to the Home Secretary deal with an urgent question—I use the word “question” generously—on passports and their removal. The Leader of the House surely acknowledges that all those who, regardless of passports, who once fled to fight for our foes must now face the consequences, so will she ask the Home Secretary to return here to address the a priori argument that those who promoted, incited, aided or abetted terrorism, regardless of whether they are British or not, should be prosecuted? The law is in place for that to happen. In the cause of virtue, we should be mindful of what Proust said:
“We should never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.”
My right hon. Friend is right that our priority is to ensure the safety and security of the United Kingdom, and we will not allow anything to jeopardise this. We have tough measures to deal with people who pose a serious threat, including depriving them of their British citizenship or excluding them from the UK. Any British citizen who does return from taking part in the conflict must be in no doubt that they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.
The Leader of the House might recall, not that she was alive at the time, that on 6 September 1620 a little ship, the Mayflower, sailed from Plymouth to America. We still have time to celebrate that great event, so could we have an early debate to discuss how we best do that? We have a strong alliance with the United States and we share that history. Also, she knows my belief that we should use it to celebrate not just that famous journey—there were 102 passengers, 30 crew and some children, waifs from the London streets, went on that boat—but migration, which is not a dirty word. Immigrants bring creativity, energy, great strengths and a great store of knowledge. Can we celebrate in 1620 the Mayflower and all its implications, and have a debate about that?
Personally, I think that is a fantastic idea. I think the hon. Gentleman means, “Can we celebrate in 2020?” I am not sure we have a time turner that would take us back to 1620, but he is right that we should celebrate the contribution of migrants, whether outward or inward, who give so much to our culture and to our communities. This fantastic idea will also celebrate the fact that the UK will have left the European Union and will be re-establishing our close connections with our transatlantic cousins and friends.
The Leader of the House will be aware that I have raised with her before the lack of accountability in our NHS management. In south-west Hertfordshire, the frontline staff do a fantastic job, but they are being let down time and again by the management around the clinical commissioning group and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which seem to be completely unaccountable to parliamentarians or to the public. Can we have a debate to see how we can have more accountability and find out exactly what goes on with these management systems, which seem to be doing their own thing and ignoring the public’s will?
My right hon. Friend has had some sympathy from others across the House on some of the challenges in dealing with CCGs; he is right to raise that. He might like to seek a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can share their concerns, and also possibly propose remedies.
The Scottish Government are in the process of renegotiating pay rises for public sector workers. When that is concluded, they will be backdated to April 2018. While that is welcome, those who are currently claiming universal credit will go beyond their earnings threshold and therefore might be taken off the benefit altogether. May we have a debate in Government time on protecting public sector workers from this penalty?
The hon. Lady will be aware that universal credit is a support that is designed to help people get into work and to increase their earnings, and to keep more of their earnings as they increase their hours and increase their pay, so that nobody needs to face the problem that we had under the old legacy system under which, if someone worked a few extra hours, their benefits would be cut immediately. Universal credit does deliberately seek to ensure a smooth transition that motivates and incentivises people to have extra hours of work and, as they earn extra money, to be more self-sufficient for themselves and their families.
The people of Chelmsford care deeply about the environment and will have been pleased to see the Chancellor taking action on the plastic packaging tax this week. This time last year, 41 Conservative MPs gave up plastic for Lent, and took time to reflect on our own environmental footprint and to think about what more we could do for the planet. It was great that the Leader of the House was one of those 41. Will she again take a pledge for the environment this Lent and encourage colleagues from across the House to do so? Will she perhaps also support the great work of the charity Tearfund, which is partnering with the Department for International Development to address plastic pollution in some of the poorest parts of our planet?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for our environment. I am delighted to take up her challenge and again have a plastic-free Lent, as I did—and enjoyed—last year. I can say to her that our 25-year environment plan aims to ensure that this generation in the UK will be the first to leave our environment in a better place than we found it. We have done a huge amount already, including introducing a world-leading ban on microbeads and taking 13 billion plastic bags out of circulation in the past two years. We have consulted on banning the sale and supply of plastic straws and stirrers and of plastic-stemmed cotton buds. We will be consulting on introducing a deposit return scheme for single-use drink containers and reforms of packaging producer responsibilities. We are doing a huge amount in this Government, and it is right that we do so. As individuals, it is right that we all seek to do as much as we can to protect and preserve our planet for future generations.
Definitely the most important thing I have ever done in my 21 years in this House was to call for the public inquiry into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I welcome the debate on Monday, but it was one of the watershed moments for race relations in this country and this is therefore an important moment. I believe that we are losing the focus on the lessons that Macpherson taught us, so will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary is in his place for that debate to give it the status it really deserves?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital that we continue to learn the lessons from that appalling incident, which is now 20 years old. Stephen Lawrence will never be forgotten for what that demonstrated about the problems and challenges we have in our society today, and the debate on Monday will offer a good opportunity for all hon. Members to give their own thoughts on this. While he will appreciate that it is not for me to decide precisely which Minister comes to this House, I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes a huge personal interest in this issue.
A report in today’s Grimsby Telegraph highlights the cost of missed GP appointments. It points out that the cost to the NHS was £120,000 in north-east Lincolnshire alone. This is a major issue and a big problem that the NHS must tackle. May we have a debate to see how we can focus attention on it?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to raise this issue, which is a huge concern right across the country. People failing to turn up for GP appointments are wasting valuable resources and time from which others might be able to benefit. I strongly suggest that he perhaps seeks a Westminster Hall debate so that he can address this directly with Ministers and enable other hon. Members to put forward the concerns they have in their own constituencies.
May I just say—I learned this from the late Paul Flynn—nice tie, Mr Speaker? It is indeed one of the best. Paul once told me that he was named after the German soldier who spared his father’s life in world war one, and many were the stories Paul shared with us.
First, I would like to say that it is good the business is out and we know what is happening on Wednesday. Again, we will be tabling an amendment to revoke article 50, which is open to all Members.
To turn to the serious matter I want to raise today, this Government keep playing games with the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill. I raised this last week, and the racket still goes on. I want the Leader of the House to put a rocket under the Government Whips to get this moving. Last week, she just read from some bland sheet that was handed to her from behind her. The Government Whips have done nothing in the intervening time: they have not responded to emails, and when they suggested a meeting I was ready to go, but I find out today that the Whip in question is absent today. It is ridiculous, so will she pursue this, or must refugee children yet again be cast aside when it comes to family reunion? What do the Tories have against families? Refugees have the same right to a family life as everybody else. Will she commit today to putting a rocket up the Tory Whips Office—please?
The hon. Gentleman was doing so well until he started accusing the Government of not caring, which is simply untrue. This Government have an excellent record of supporting private Member’s Bills, and more than 50 have received Royal Assent since 2010. We are not blocking progress. The Government are closely following the passage of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, and they continue to look at providing money resolutions for Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis. As I have said before, the Government have helped to reunite 24,700 family members over the past five years. Our policy allows a partner and children under 18 to join refugees in the United Kingdom if they were part of the family unit before their sponsor fled their country. It is vital to do everything we can to help asylum seekers and refugees, but we must also discourage people from making treacherous journeys that end up doing so much damage to lives and people’s futures.
If the media are to be believed, this week is commonly known as “ski week.” I would not know about that, but many of us have had to cancel constituency engagements to be here. May I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House and ask that, if such a move is planned again, the needs of House staff are taken into consideration? I have spoken to many staff this week who have had to cancel family events or simply a much-needed break. If a PR stunt such as cancelling recess is planned again, the needs and wellbeing of House staff must be taken into consideration.
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the need to balance the needs of House staff with those of our Parliament. I received reassurances from senior House staff that all existing commitments would be honoured, and in speaking to many House staff I found them incredibly supportive, and they did not complain that they have had to cancel significant prior engagements. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady raises an important point about the need to take their wishes into account. I totally reject the hon. Lady’s suggestion that this week has been a PR stunt. We have had two statements and five urgent questions, which enabled colleagues to question Ministers on UK nationals returning from Syria and the situations with Flybmi and Honda. Eight pieces of important legislation have been agreed on the Floor of the House, including the annual update of support for our armed forces on Monday. The Home Secretary opened a debate on serious violence for which the House has been calling for several weeks. We had a valuable and well attended short debate on the NHS 10-year plan, which the shadow Leader of the House had called for, and this afternoon we will debate potential future trade agreements. In addition, the Public Galleries have been full this week, with members of the public—including children on their half-term holidays—getting the chance to see their elected representatives holding the Government to account and defending their interests. I simply do not accept that this has been anything other than a valuable parliamentary week.
May I add my name to those paying tribute to Paul Flynn, who was a friend of mine and of many Members across the House? Paul’s hobby was annoying Ministers, regardless of which party they happened to come from, and on Monday evening we will pay tribute to his memory at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party.
The Leader of the House may be aware of a scheme that was introduced by the Government to enable local authorities to take in Syrian refugees. One such council is Waltham Forest, which covers most of my constituency, and the problem is that next year the funding will evaporate unless something is done now or in the very near future. May we have a statement from a Home Office Minister to set out the Government’s plans for continuing that funding beyond 2020?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the Government are grateful to local authorities that provide care for a significant number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are currently reviewing funding arrangements, and more than 50 local authorities have taken part in a consultation. We hope to reach a conclusion soon, but it is right to take time to assess the evidence thoroughly. We are committed to putting in place arrangements that work as well as possible for both unaccompanied children and local authorities.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on antisocial behaviour, so that we can discuss the need for more support and help for police and local authorities to deal with and prevent such behaviour? That problem has recently caused difficulties in my constituency, including some serious incidents.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Antisocial behaviour is a real scourge for many communities right across the UK. He will be aware that we have recently had a debate on antisocial behaviour, and I hope he had the opportunity to raise his specific local concerns then. I keep under review the possibility of further debates on subjects that are of grave concern to this House, and will continue to do so with regard to antisocial behaviour.
On Tuesday 12 February, hundreds of religious hard-liners attacked members of the Ahmadiyya religious community in northern Bangladesh, leaving 25 injured. Some 700 to 800 men wielding sticks and batons, angry at plans to host an Ahmadiyya convention in the town of Ahmednagar, descended on the town and injured 20 policemen and five Ahmadiyyas. I attended an Ahmadiyya convention, along with lots of other people from across many different religions, here in the United Kingdom. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but the authorities blamed the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, which is accused of killing scores of Hindus, Christians, Sufis and Shi’a. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on the matter?
The hon. Gentleman, as he often does, raises a very significant and concerning report of religious hatred and violence. He is right to do so. We have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday 26 February, and I encourage him to raise it directly with Foreign Office Ministers then, so that he can hear what more the UK can do to help to support religious tolerance around the world.
I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their remarks about our friend Paul Flynn. He would have had something to say about the business of the House sheet in which the Leader of the House appears to have abolished St David’s Day. As a proud Welshman, he would not have been very keen on that. However, does that not open up an opportunity? When the amendable motion is discussed, could we put down an amendment that brings forward Brexit day from 29 March 2019 to 29 February 2019, since it is here on the business of the House sheet, and thus avoid the whole thing all together?
All I can say is, nice try.
I have a constituent who wishes to remain anonymous, but who recently applied for a job with a UK Government Department. She has, among other qualifications, an A in higher maths and a B in advanced higher maths. This is a higher standard than an English A-level, yet she was told by Capita, which did the initial sifting, that she did not have the requisite qualifications. May we have a written statement from the Leader of the House, directing the attention of Ministers, HR managers and Capita to an explanation of the value of all qualifications sat by school pupils in the UK, including in Scotland? While she is answering, will she take the opportunity to congratulate the Scottish pupils who have just done their prelims—mock exams in England—and are now studying for their highers and advanced highers before the summer?
I am delighted to congratulate all students, in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, who have just taken mocks and preliminaries. I wish them every success with their exams in the summer. I congratulate in particular the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, who sounds as if she has done extraordinarily well in her maths highers. I sincerely hope that she will be rewarded with a good role. He makes a very important point. It is not clear to me whether he is suggesting that perhaps Capita has not understood the way that the grading system works.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me about this specific case I can take it up on his behalf, or he could raise it directly with the Secretary of State for Education, who I am sure would be very keen to take it up on his behalf.
This year, 2019, marks the launch of the three-year “I am and I will” campaign, which highlights the power of individual action in reducing the impact of cancer. I am sure the right hon. Lady already knows about it. Leading the way are the 1.4 million people who have joined the UK stem cell donor register, part of a community of more than 33 million people worldwide. Despite that, not every blood cancer patient is able to find the match that could save their life. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging more people to join the stem cell donor register, particularly young men, who are under-represented but in the highest demand? Will she look for an opportunity to have a debate in Government time on this really important issue?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue in the Chamber, and I certainly join her in encouraging all people to consider joining the stem cell donation register. It is absolutely vital that we all do what we can to help our fellow man and our communities in the United Kingdom. She will no doubt be aware that we have made progress in treating all forms of cancer. Rates of survival have increased year on year since 2010 and people are more likely to survive cancer than ever before. The NHS is rolling out a new standard, so someone with a referral for suspected cancer can expect to be diagnosed or given the all-clear within 28 days. So often, early detection is absolutely vital to the outcomes for cancer sufferers, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue.
I call Drew Hendry.
I am on a good run, Mr Speaker.
May we have a statement on the responsibility of Government Ministers to respond to Members of this House in a timeous fashion? There has been an increasing pattern of unacceptable delays in responding to constituents’ queries raised by Members of this House. For example, I have been waiting four months for a response from the Department for Work and Pensions, despite having written four letters to two separate Ministers. Does the Leader of the House believe that that is acceptable behaviour from her fellow members of the Government?
I am genuinely sorry to hear that. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Departments sometimes overlook correspondence. They have very clear service standards and seek to turn around letters within a short period of time. If he wants to write to me following business questions, I can certainly take it up on his behalf.
Hon. Members may be aware of TotsBots, a fantastic company in my constituency that manufactures eco-friendly nappies. One of the issues that this company, based in the Queenslie area of my constituency, has raised is nappy companies that falsely tell their customers that they are eco-friendly. The Leader of the House will be aware of the Nappies (Environmental Standards) Bill that I presented to the House. May I therefore ask her to find time for us to take forward this hugely important issue and make sure that we are supporting great companies such as TotsBots?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the company on its efforts to introduce more eco-friendly nappies. The whole issue of nappies is a big challenge in our attempts to improve our environment and reduce waste. I encourage him perhaps to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss directly with Environment Ministers what more can be done to prevent the misrepresentation of how environmentally friendly some resources actually are.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Item 4 on the list of written ministerial statements for today is about the continuity of trade deals. It would have been extremely helpful to have had that written ministerial statement before the debate that is about to take place, and I deeply regret that it has not been made available by the Department for International Trade. This is the second time that such an omission has been made, and I wonder whether there is anything that we can do to ensure that in future, such a lackadaisical approach does not happen.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point in his own way. I must say, on a personal basis, that I have always found the Secretary of State the very embodiment of courtesy. It does seem to me that if it was a deliberate decision that the written ministerial statement would appear later, that is less than considerate to the House as it embarks on this debate. If it was inadvertent, that is unfortunate and perhaps rather inept, but it certainly should not happen again. Whether the statement can be made available fairly quickly, so that Members could at least consult it in the course of the debate, I do not know. It is a regrettable state of affairs, but hopefully there will not be a recurrence.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a momentous debate, called on a Thursday during what would have been half-term, and the statement is not even available. The problem with Brexit is surely that people are talking about the divorce, not what is going to happen to the children. We simply do not know what will happen to trade deals, which are terribly important. I feel that there should be some sort of ruling on whether the debate itself should be deferred, so that we have the information at hand.
Well, I do not think the hon. Gentleman would carry the House with him in suggesting that the debate be deferred. I hope he will not take exception if I say that I think that Members on the whole, at this point, although they may well have benefited from sight of the statement, will have a clear sense of what it is they wish to convey to the House, and I do not exclude from that category the hon. Gentleman himself. Although it is an imperfect situation, I think “needs must” is the principle that should apply here and we should proceed with the debate as scheduled. In that context, I look to the Minister to open the debate—and not any Minister, but the Secretary of State for International Trade himself, Secretary Dr Liam Fox.
Future Free Trade Agreements
I beg to move,
That this House has considered potential future free trade agreements: Australia, New Zealand, US and a comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It is a pleasure to open the debate on Britain’s potential future free trade agreements as an independent trading nation outside the European Union. The Government have consulted widely on the topic and heard a huge range of views, including from the Select Committee on International Trade, businesses, civil society groups, parliamentarians and the wider public. Today is the opportunity for the Government to hear further from Members of this House what their ambitions are for the first agreements we negotiate as an independent trading nation.
Although the Government’s firm intention is secure an ambitious partnership with the European Union, if we are to deliver on the referendum result instruction given to us by the British people, we must remember that there is a world beyond Europe and there will be a time beyond Brexit. Now, for the first time in over 40 years, the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to step out into the world and forge relationships across the globe by negotiating, signing and ratifying new free trade agreements.
Free trade agreements should not be seen in isolation from the wider economic, strategic and security partnerships that we will need to thrive as a truly global Britain; nor should we ignore the enormous potential of multilateral agreements, which can have even greater liberalising effect than bilateral FTAs. Our ability to influence such agreements will be a major benefit of taking up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation on leaving the European Union.
Numerous constituents have contacted me, very concerned about the future of our national health service. If we are to have all these trade deals around the world, can the Secretary of State guarantee that we will never open up our healthcare market to private firms that would deeply damage our NHS?
I have read a number of representations from a number of organisations, particularly in relation to investor-state dispute settlements on matters such as healthcare, but let me say first that the ISDS system does not and cannot force the privatisation of any public services, and under current UK and EU agreements, claims can be made only in respect of established investments; they cannot be made in relation to an alleged failure to open up public services to a potential investor.
In the comprehensive and economic trade agreement, which has been ratified by this House, there is a clear reservation on healthcare services, which the Government have said we want to use as the template for the future. For the sake of clarity, I will read out the provision. Under the heading “Cross-Border Trade in Services”, it states:
“The United Kingdom reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure requiring the establishment of suppliers and restricting the cross-border supply of health-related professional services by service suppliers not physically present in the territory of the UK, including medical and dental services as well as services by psychologists; midwives services; services by nurses, physiotherapists and paramedical personnel; the retail sales of pharmaceuticals and of medical and orthopaedic goods, and other services supplied by pharmacists.”
We have made it very clear that there will be nothing in future agreements that will stop the Government being able to regulate our public services, including the national health service. That is set out in statute; it is there for all those who take an interest to read. There is no point having the same old arguments that were raised by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, because we have already made that specific proposal; it sits there in CETA, which was ratified by this House, although its provisions, including NHS regulation and services, labour law and environmental services, were not supported by the Opposition. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to explain why.
I thank the Secretary of State for that clarification. He has made it abundantly clear that the privatisation threat to our health services lies not with trade deals from which we can be fully protected but from his own Government’s privatisation agenda, which is still ongoing.
While I clearly reject the latter part of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, the rest of it is very important. Trade agreements make it very clear that it is up to the elected Government of the United Kingdom to determine what they do with public services. The matter is therefore decided by the British electorate and not by any forces outside the United Kingdom. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point.
I will make some progress. I will give way again shortly.
New opportunities are clearly available to the United Kingdom, and seeking them will demand some of the agility that is required to respond to the potentially seismic shifts that are taking place in the world economy. The United Kingdom will have to be ready to compete for emerging sources of growth. While our established partners—such as the European Union—will continue to be vital, the locus of economic power is none the less shifting rapidly. It is estimated that 90% of global economic growth in the next five years will occur outside the EU. A centre of gravity that rested in North America in 1990 will have shifted to China and the far east by 2050, and we are already seeing the effects of some of that in the global economy. Those changes in economic development, global trade patterns and population growth in emerging and developing economies will fundamentally alter the opportunities that developed economies will have in the years to come.
Overall, the global population is projected to rise from 7 billion in 2010 to 9.8 billion by 2050, with the increase stemming mainly from Asia and Africa. The world is becoming increasingly well educated, wealthier and more urbanised. It is expected that by 2030, 60% of the world’s population—5 billion people—will be middle-class. In 2009, the figure was only 1.8 billion. In the intervening time, middle-class spending will more than double to $6.38 trillion. The rise of the middle class in Asia means that there is an enormous potential demand for the high-quality products and services in which the UK specialises. By 2030, China alone will have 220 cities with a population of more than 1 million, while the whole of Europe will have only 35.
The Secretary of State is right to refer to the emerging middle class in growing economies—India is one example—but can he give me a cast-iron guarantee that when he is negotiating these trade agreements, human rights and issues such as freedom of religion and belief will be at the forefront of his mind? I am concerned about the possibility that, as we go around negotiating these wonderful free trade agreements, we will start to ignore human rights, particularly in the case of India.
The importance that the UK ascribes to human rights is extremely well documented in the range of Departments that are involved. The Government do not intend to seek any watering down of concepts of human rights, although it is very reasonable for us to have different provisions in countries such as Canada and the United States, whose legal remedies and legal systems are similar to ours, from those that we would have in some other countries. We will want to be flexible on that, and it is one of the issues that I want to see built into real-time parliamentary scrutiny of our trade agreements so that the House can determine whether the values represented by the United Kingdom are reflected in those agreements.
Does the Secretary of State expect the beneficial arrangements that the European Union has made with developing countries to be maintained in the deals that his Department will negotiate?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who takes an interest in these issues, for his intervention. Not only would I like to see those maintained, but I would like to see us use our greater freedom to enhance them. For example, I would like to see a greater convergence of our trade and our development policies; I would like to see us use outward direct investment to help some of the poorest countries develop the ability to add value to their primary commodities; and I would like then for us to be able to use our freedoms in tariff policy to be able to reduce those tariffs on those value-added goods. It cannot be right that countries that produce coffee or fish are penalised for roasting their coffee beans or canning their fish when they try to sell them into our markets. By bringing those two elements together, we would be able to bring enormous benefit and enable people to trade their way to prosperity, rather than being as dependent on our aid policies as they are today. I am grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House who have come forward to us with proposals on that, because I think that we could find a strong bipartisan consensus in this country to be able to do some of that work.
We have already shown that we are very capable of getting contracts, for instance, as the Secretary of State knows and as I saw from direct involvement, with China in terms of the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland. We have a £200 million contract over four years, which is an example of what we can do. Does the Secretary of State feel that the personal, family and business contacts we have with Australia, New Zealand and the USA will inevitably lead to further trade deals that will benefit us all in the UK, and does he share the confidence that I and many others in this House have that the trade deals we will get will benefit all in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman makes several interesting points, and of course not all of the improved openings will come from former bilateral free trade agreements. The case he makes about opening up the dairy sector in China, which as he correctly suggests is worth about a quarter of a billion pounds to the Northern Ireland economy, came from our bilateral engagement with the Chinese Government and looking at their own regulations, so it was produced by a unilateral change by China, rather than a bilateral agreement. In many ways, it will be the opening up of sectors rather than bilateral agreements that will see the UK be able to increase access. The hon. Gentleman also makes a very good point about some of those other countries, because we have strong bilateral and personal links that I hope in the case of the United States, for example, will enable us to be involved at a state as well as a federal level in terms of improving British trading access into those markets.
On scrutiny and transparency, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the legal protections for our NHS that were built into the EU-Canada deal will be replicated in any future UK trade agreement and that, if there is ever a dispute with investors, it would be resolved in a transparent and open manner and not behind closed doors?
The UK as well as the EU have been at the forefront of improving the investor-state dispute settlement system and its transparency; in particular we supported the UNCITRAL—United Nations Commission on International Trade Law—rules on transparency that became effective in 2014. We have always seen this as being a necessary part of agreements, but we do absolutely agree that transparency is one of the ways that will give greater public confidence in the system itself.
It is predicted that the share of global GDP of the seven largest emerging economies—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey—could increase from around 35% to nearly 50% by 2050, which would mean that they would overtake the G7, although of course even with more mature economies the International Monetary Fund has predicted that the United States will grow over 50% faster than the euro area this year, at 2.5%. This historic shift in global economic and demographic power will reshape the opportunities of international trade in the years to come, perhaps faster than many expect.
We cannot wish away this change and nor should we. Providing the employment and economic growth the UK needs means navigating this shift successfully. Happily, the United Kingdom is well placed to take advantage of these new opportunities. British businesses are superbly positioned to capitalise on this new environment, as both established and growing economies drive demand in precisely those sectors in which the UK excels. Anyone who has travelled widely will have seen how impressed global businesses and consumers are by the high quality of British goods and the professionalism of British services.
But surely Team EU collectively, with Britain in it, would have much more negotiating leverage against those very large emerging markets. An extreme example would be China. We are dwarfed by China but, as the EU, we can negotiate the best deal. The EU is negotiating deals with Singapore, Japan and others. Surely the Secretary of State must agree that we would get a better deal as part of the EU than isolated as a dwarf outside it.
I really find it quite insulting that the United Kingdom, the fifth biggest economy in the world, should be described as a dwarf by the hon. Gentleman. We are one of the most successful global economies. It is also worth pointing out that the European Union does not have a trade agreement with China or with the United States because it was too difficult to get an agreement with the 28 nations in those negotiations. He is right to suggest that economies of scale have a role in trade agreements, but so also does the ability to conclude those agreements and to ratify them. That has shown itself to be easier when dealing with single nations, which is why Australia has a trade agreement with China but the European Union does not.
The Secretary of State has given us a good rundown of eastern growth metrics. This is why the EU is making the free trade deals with Japan and Korea that we are worried we are going to fall out of. The percentage that I would like him to give us is the gain to gross domestic product for the UK in any deals. We know that the UK will probably gain about 0.2% of GDP with a United States deal, as opposed to the 6% to 8% that it is going to lose from the European Union. That is only about one thirtieth or one fortieth of the gain. If the right hon. Gentleman is talking percentages, will he give us the percentages in context? He says that there will be a loss from Europe and gains with the United States of America and other places, but sadly those gains will be dwarfed by the losses.
But that is a false prospectus, because we want a full and comprehensive trading agreement with the European Union that maintains that trade for the United Kingdom plus the extended opportunities that will come with increased access to those markets that are growing faster. It is possible to do both. It is possible to maintain our trade with the European Union and to improve our trade with the rest of the world. In fact, Britain will have to do that if we want to generate the sort of income that we require for the provision of our public services. Work done by the Institute of Economic Affairs suggests that in 2017 the big increase in UK exports of about £60 billion fed back into the Exchequer at a level of something like £15 billion to £20 billion. That is an example of how, when we come to balance our budget, it is not simply a choice between raising taxes and cutting spending; it is also about earning more money as a country.
Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously saying that the Treasury’s suggestion that getting out of the European Union and the single market will hit the UK economy by 6% to 8% is not actually the truth? That is what is going to happen; he knows that we will take a GDP hit from that. He also knows that a deal with the USA, which accounts for a quarter of the world’s GDP, will give us only a 0.2% gain. He will need to make about 30 or 40 USA-style deals to make up for that loss. Given that the USA accounts for a quarter of the planet, he is going to have to trade with seven or eight planets to make up the loss resulting from his Government’s policy on Europe.
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this. He did not like the result of the referendum and he does not like the decision to leave the European Union, but we are leaving the European Union and we need to ensure that we have sufficient access to the European market, but in a way that does not tie our hands in relation to increased access to other global markets. He makes assumptions on growth in other markets that I do not accept. Nor is this purely about access to goods markets; it is also about the growing access to services markets. In the global trading environment, we have simply not seen the sort of liberalisation in services that we have seen in goods since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation. There is huge potential to unlock the economic benefits to the United Kingdom in seeking global liberalisation in services trading, which is not factored into any of the equations that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Chair of the International Trade Committee, has got to the nub of this. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said 18 months or so ago that we would lose around 20% of total UK trade even with an FTA with the EU. However, FTAs with the main English-speaking economies and with all the BRICS countries would only see trade rise by 2% or 3% respectively, which goes nowhere close to filling the gap. The point that my hon. Friend is making in GDP terms and the one that I am making in trade terms is at the heart of this. Liberalisation or not, there is no way that we can fill the gap left by what we are about to lose.
As I said, the Government’s ambition is to have a full and comprehensive agreement with the EU, as set out in the Prime Minister’s model. Of course, if the Opposition parties want to avoid what they regard as the terrible scenario of no deal, they can vote for the Prime Minister’s deal. In arithmetic terms—if the hon. Gentleman looks at where Britain’s exports are going—just over a decade ago some 56% of our exports were going to the EU, whereas today that is down to about 44%. Why? It is not simply because the EU has grown more slowly, which it has, but because the economy of the rest of the world is growing faster. Clearly, that is where the markets are going to be for a United Kingdom that has an outward, global vision.
I will make some progress.
Standards have been widely debated in relation to future trade agreements, and I am sure that they will be raised throughout today’s debate. The Government have been clear that more trade does not and cannot come at the expense of the deterioration of our world-class regulations and standards, whether they relate to the recognised quality and safety of our products, our labour laws or our environmental protections. Our current approach both protects our own citizens from sub-standard goods and services and provides the quality assurance that foreign buyers want, which underpins our export success. I remind the House that Britain’s exports are currently at an all-time high.
The United Kingdom has proud and long-standing domestic commitments to protect the environment, to fight against climate change and to uphold high labour standards. We have clear commitments to sustainable development and the protection and advancement of human rights, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who is no longer in his place. We have a proud and long-standing tradition of promoting those values throughout the world, and the Government remain determined to meet our international commitments in that regard. That will not change as we leave the European Union.
To further that agenda, we will also be exploring how those values should be reflected in the design and provisions of future trade and investment agreements. We are absolutely clear in our policy that any future deals must ensure high food safety, animal welfare standards and environmental protections and maintain our excellent labour standards. The Government are committed to ensuring that this House and people across the country will have the opportunity to scrutinise such commitments in any future free trade agreements—a subject on which I will elaborate later.
Taking the Secretary of State back to Honda’s decision earlier this week, the company said that one of its reasons for disinvesting from the UK was the new EU-Japan free trade agreement. Britain was fully involved in the negotiating of that agreement, so did the Secretary of State’s officials get the EU to take account of the FTA’s impact on inward investment into this country, because it has turned out to be disastrous?
That was one of many reasons, with the main reason being changes in the international car market and, for example, the move towards electric vehicles and away from diesel engines. However, the hon. Lady’s argument seems strange coming from the Labour party, because Labour wants to remain in a customs union with the EU, which would keep the EU-Japan agreement in place and prevent us from making changes to it in the future. If it is such a bad agreement, why is it Labour policy to lock us into a customs union with that agreement in place?
We would like to stay in the customs union because we export a lot to Europe. That is the simple answer to the Secretary of State. However, the question that I am trying to put to him is about what he, his officials and his Ministers did to prevent an agreement that has been damaging to the British economy. Will he undertake to ensure that future free trade agreements will not involve the same model, because that would have a similar negative impact?
The liberalisation of global trade is to everyone’s advantage. The hon. Lady says it is a terrible agreement, but her party’s Front-Bench policy is to keep Britain in the customs union, which would mean the agreement is there in perpetuity. Not only that, but we would have no ability to alter it in future, nor would we have the ability to resist any changes made to it, whether or not we think they are to Britain’s advantage. The Labour party cannot have it both ways: it either wants the freedom to create trade agreements or it wants them to be dictated by the European Union. It must be one or the other.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that the wording he read out from the agreement with Canada will be included in these future trade deals, too. Can he give the House that assurance?
I have done so in previous debates of this nature, in which I said that we regard the public provisions in CETA as being the template we would like to see for future trade agreements. We think it is a good agreement, which is why we find it difficult to fathom why the Labour party did not vote for it in the House of Commons.
The world is crying out for the goods and services in which Britain excels, and it will do so even more in future. We have long been a proud and open trading nation. Trade totals some 61% of our GDP, and it is the foundation of an economy that delivers high-quality, high-paid jobs, that delivers better and more affordable products and that creates the conditions for competitive, world-leading businesses to innovate, prosper and grow across all parts of the UK.
Our openness to free trade, founded on a rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its centre, is at the heart of our prosperity. The Government have a clear position that multilateral agreements remain the gold standard of international trade agreements and are the ideal means of pursuing prosperity for the UK and globally across all 164 WTO members. However, this does not mean that bilateral or regional agreements cannot be useful complements to the multilateral system as an adjunct to wider liberalisation. That is why we are also pursuing a range of free trade agreements at both a regional and a bilateral level. Through these free trade agreements, the United Kingdom can work with our partners to establish modern, enduring and impactful trading rules that work for British businesses and for people and communities across our country.
One of the most important trade agreements we are considering is, of course, with the United States, which is our largest single-nation trading partner, with £184 billion- worth in the last year accounting for around a fifth of our exports, and is the single biggest source of inward investment into the United Kingdom. The UK and the US have a deep, long-standing relationship with a strong and enduring bond. We have a shared heritage and shared values, and of course we have deep co-operation across a wide variety of security and defence matters.
We have already taken concrete steps towards this potential trade agreement, including the signing of a mutual recognition agreement last week that confirms both Governments’ commitment to maintaining all relevant aspects of the current EU-US MRA when it ceases to apply to the UK. This will help to facilitate goods trade between the two nations and will guarantee that UK and US exporters can continue to ensure goods are compliant with technical regulations before they depart their home country. Total UK trade in the sectors covered by the deal is worth up to £12.8 billion, with the UK exports covered worth an estimated £8.9 billion.
Similar agreements have been signed in recent weeks with Australia and New Zealand. These agreements ensure continuity and safeguard revenues for British businesses and consumers, and they mark a further crucial step in securing and furthering our vital trading relationships. An ambitious free trade agreement between the US and the UK would further cement our existing strong bilateral partnership and further the interests of our highly compatible economies. It will make it easier for UK and US businesses to trade with each other and identify where we can collaborate to promote open markets around the world.
I have been listening carefully to the Secretary of State, and his argument seems to be that, on our own, we will be nimbler and more able to negotiate good trade deals, but he must know that size matters. As a market of 500 million, there is 10 times the opportunity for profit in the European Union than in the United Kingdom. Why should we get a better trade deal with the United States, for example, given the smallness of our market and of the opportunity for profitability compared with the European Union? If we are not going to get a better deal, why are we doing it?
I hate to point it out, but the EU does not have a trade agreement with the US. Let me give the hon. Lady one example of why it has been unable to have one—data localisation. Although 24 out of the 28 members wanted to move forward with data movement with the US, four countries—France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia—blocked it. That meant that although most of the EU wanted that agreement, it was unable to get it. We would not be restricted in the same way. She is right to say that the bigger the market, the bigger the offer, but that has to be balanced against our ability to be flexible, and how liberal and open we would want to be in that trading environment. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, and I find it ridiculous that we are being told that we are some sort of economic minnow, when, as the fifth biggest market in the world, most countries want to have access to us. Being smaller economies than the EU has not prevented countries such as Canada and Australia from having trade agreements with much bigger economies, because those trade agreements will be completed and signed only if they provide mutual benefits—otherwise, what would be the point in negotiating them? So I counsel this House against the despair of saying, “We cannot do it on our own.” As the fifth biggest economy on the planet, we are more than able to negotiate strong agreements with other political and economic groupings around the world.
I will make a little progress, because I know other Members wish to speak.
When we leave the European Union, an ambitious UK-US free trade agreement will be a key priority for the Department for International Trade, and we have already been laying the groundwork. The US-UK trade and investment working group has now met five times, with conversations focused on what both sides can do towards ensuring certainty and continuity for business on both sides of the Atlantic, and on identifying opportunities to facilitate bilateral trade and investment, consistent with the UK’s obligations as an EU member. Both the Prime Minister and President Trump have made clear their shared commitment to these bilateral discussions, and they restated that in their most recent meeting in July 2018. As US Ambassador Woody Johnson has said:
“Britain is the perfect trading partner for the United States.”
We very much welcome the letter of intent sent to Congress from the United States trade representative stating that the Administration intend to open a negotiation with the UK once we leave the EU. The President’s statement in the Rose Garden last week, pointing to a very substantial potential increase in UK-US trade, makes it clear that we already have a special trade relationship and that there is real ambition on both sides of the Atlantic to embrace this after we leave the EU.
Let me come back to a point about UK-US trade. The Secretary of State will be well aware that so many US corporations have favoured UK membership of the EU because it has given them a bridging point in access to the EU. The US Chamber of Commerce in Europe, for example, has long favoured our staying in Europe. Does he not agree with that?
A lot of US corporations that I speak to are very relaxed about what our relationship with the EU will be, not least when I explain to them the constitutional implications of Britain being in the EU. I say to my American colleagues, “How would you like to have a court that has authority over the Supreme Court but that sits in Ottawa or Mexico City and over which you have no control?” They then soon understand the constitutional reasons why many of us voted to leave the EU.
I will give way, but then I will make some progress.
My constituents are very concerned about animal welfare standards. Will the Secretary of State confirm that a future trade agreement with the US would not expose British farmers, who have our high animal welfare standards, to products from the US that may have been produced to a lower animal welfare standard?
I have already said that we give high priority to those standards, including animal welfare standards. That has been an essential part of what the Government have set out. I know that it would be advantageous for the Opposition if that were not the Government’s position, and they would like it not to be our position so that they could attack it, but we want to maintain our high standards of consumer products, our high environmental standards, our high standard of labour law protection and our high animal welfare standards as part of our approach to global trade. I am not sure that I could be clearer but, no matter how often the Government restate their position, there are those who do not want it to be our position and who want to interpret it in a completely different way.
The Asia Pacific region will be a key engine of global growth in the 21st century. That means that the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, or CPTPP, is a key interest for the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. It is an extraordinarily global free trade agreement, spanning 11 countries on four continents: Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Those 11 countries are collectively home to around 500 million people, constituting some 13% of global GDP and more than £95 billion-worth of current UK trade. If the UK were to accede to it, we would be the second-largest economic member within the agreement, which would then cover a sixth, or 17%, of global GDP—nearly equal to the EU minus the UK.
There has been a positive response across CPTPP members to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the UK’s interest in potential accession. In particular, it has been welcomed by both the Japanese and Australian Prime Ministers.
I thank the Secretary of State for mentioning the welcome developments with regard to the partnership. I hope, though, that accession would not be at the expense of trying to move towards a free trade agreement with our great friends and allies in Australia.
The right hon. Gentleman, as ever, anticipates my very next point. In addition to considering access to that comprehensive international trade agreement, we are at the same time moving forward with ambitious bilateral discussions for future free trade agreements with two of our closest friends and allies: Australia and New Zealand. Both countries are important strategic partners with which the United Kingdom has a deep shared heritage, built on the foundations of democratic values, security, language, our common legal system, culture and, of course, sport—although not all with equal success. It is because of our shared values and our firm belief in free and open trade that we want to strike cutting-edge free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, seeking to go further than CPTPP—indeed, further than any FTA ever before—in areas of shared ambition such as services and digital.
Many UK businesses already view Australia and New Zealand as an attractive base for their regional operations, and their proximity to Asia makes them excellent partners for UK firms in a region that stands to deliver nearly two thirds of global growth to 2030. Unlike the EU, Australia and New Zealand have trade agreements with the world’s second largest economy, China.
The Australian Trade Minister has said that other countries in the Asia Pacific region would be considered before us for membership of the trans-Pacific partnership, because we are not in that region. How does the Secretary of State feel about that? Does it dint his confidence at all about any agreements we could reach?
No. The countries in the CPTPP have been quite clear that they want to finish the ratification process for the 11 countries that are already in the partnership before they consider potential new entrant countries. They have yet to decide whether they want to consider individual countries or to group countries in a timetable for accession. We have simply made it clear that we have an ambition to join the partnership. We have a long way to go in determining what that would look like in respect of both timescale and content.
I am delighted to report that both Australia and New Zealand have shown strong political will to negotiate such agreements. Australia is the 13th largest global economy and has been a flourishing nation in recent times, with an excellent record on GDP growth, and trade already worth some £15 billion per year.
The UK is the second largest investor in Australia while Britain is the second largest destination for Australian overseas investment. Our countries established the UK-Australia trade working group in September 2016 and since that time it has met regularly to lay the foundations for future FTA negotiations in addition to discussing wider trade issues of shared interest. I believe that we can look forward to those discussions with confidence.
Similarly, New Zealand and the United Kingdom enjoy extremely close economic ties. The UK is New Zealand’s largest export market in the European Union. New Zealand exports more goods to the UK than to Germany, France and Italy combined. We are also the largest EU investor in New Zealand. The UK and New Zealand are both ranked in the top 10 countries for ease of doing business and we already boast a strong trade relationship, with UK-New Zealand trade worth around £2.8 billion.
The UK-New Zealand trade policy dialogue has been working since September 2016 to determine how we further strengthen our trade and investment relationship and to prepare the groundwork for the launch of bilateral FTA negotiations. An FTA with New Zealand would be an opportunity to set an ambitious precedent for future agreements and to build our relationship with a key ally in multilateral forums. It will give us the opportunity to pioneer modern and enduring trade rules, to update the global rulebook and to identify where we can collaborate to promote free, fair, rules-based trade in markets around the world.
Free trade agreements also give the United Kingdom the opportunity to design new modern trading rules that play to our unique strengths. To ensure that any future FTA works for the whole of the UK, the Government have sought views from a broad range of stakeholders from all parts of the UK. The Government’s proposal, published last year, set out our approach to pursuing new trade agreements collaboratively by engaging the widest range of stakeholder groups. We are committed to an inclusive and transparent trade policy that benefits the whole of the UK.
We are also creating a new strategic trade advisory group, which will advise Department of International Trade Ministers and trade negotiators on trade policy as we move forward. The group will be co-chaired by the Minister for Trade Policy and we are now finalising the selection process for membership. I will shortly write to the successful candidates, with an announcement to follow. This group is composed of core members, representing a diverse range of interests and expertise, drawn from different groups—from business and the trade unions to consumers and non-governmental organisations among others—but all with an interest in our future trade policy and its impact on the full spectrum of issues facing the UK, from the workplace to consumer choice and the environment. The membership of this group, with its balance of interests and representation from across the UK, is designed to allow the Government to harness advice, insight and evidence from a cross section of experienced voices already actively involved in trade-related issues.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Let me go back to the issues around Australia—as an Australian this area is of particular interest to me. The Japan-Australia economic partnership agreement took seven years from start to finish to establish. How long does the Secretary of State estimate it will take to establish a similar agreement with Australia?
At the other end of the scale, the Australia-US trade agreement was an extremely short one to negotiate. So where there are compatible economies, it is possible to do that. I spoke to my Australian counterpart yesterday, and we hope that, given the openness of our economies and their compatibility in terms of shape, we will be able to conclude an agreement as soon as possible. There is no way, in advance of a negotiation, to say how long it will take. At the beginning of this process, our Australian colleagues are likely to be involved in a general election, which may mean that it will be slightly later when we can get into the process, but I hope to be able to conduct bipartisan negotiations with them to ensure that we can make progress as quickly as possible, which is in our mutual interest.
On 20 July 2018, we launched four online public consultations, providing the public with an opportunity to give their views on potential future trade agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand and on accession to the CPTPP. All four consultations were open for 14 weeks—two weeks longer than the EU’s trade agreement consultations—and collectively attracted more than 600,000 responses, making it one of the largest consultation exercises ever run by the UK Government.
Alongside the consultations, we ran 12 events across the different regions and nations of the UK to seek their views on how prospective trade agreements could support prosperity and growth. The evidence provided in the responses to those consultations will inform the Government’s overall approach to our future trading relationship with these countries, including our approach to negotiating any trade agreements. Decisions made as a result of the consultations will be published before potential negotiations start.
This is the first time that the United Kingdom has consulted on potential future trade agreements independently. The volume of responses across all four consultations, run simultaneously, means that it is only right that we take time to consider the responses and the views of this House in detail. While there are many other markets that the UK will look to for new agreements, our shared values and our strength of trade with the US, Australia and New Zealand make them the right places on which to focus our initial attention, alongside our interest in potentially negotiating accession to the CPTPP.
Let me turn to future scrutiny of our free trade agreements—a topic that has received much discussion in both Houses, including through the inquiry co-ordinated by the International Trade Committee and the published response.
Let me provide a little extra scrutiny. The Secretary of State has talked a lot about trade policy and trade agreements, but these are very different from trade; trade is a different thing. I am thinking about my constituency, where there are guys who travel to the European continent on a weekly rotation basis with lorries containing live shellfish. Now, if we have trade agreements with New Zealand, it is not so easy to drive there on a weekly rotation with a lorry of live shellfish. These guys would also face snarl-ups and there would not be the openness that there currently is to access the French, Spanish, Italian and German markets. How will the interface between trade, trade policies and trade agreements actually work in practice for lorry drivers of shellfish? That is what these people need to know.
The mechanics of the market become immaterial if there is no market to sell into. We are looking to ensure that UK producers have increased market access so they can trade more, sell more of their products and make more profit, which enables us to employ more people. That is what the whole concept of free trade is about. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the mechanics at borders need to be ensured—not only in the United Kingdom, but in many of the other countries that we are selling into. That is what the trade facilitation agreement that we signed last year was all about. There has to be an improvement in global trading mechanics, including through using new technologies.
The Government are committed to the established principle that Parliament must be able to scrutinise trade agreements at the beginning, throughout and at the end of negotiations. We must have a mechanism that balances real and meaningful scrutiny with the need to maintain the greatest possible security for sensitive negotiating positions and potentially market-sensitive data. I am grateful to Members on both sides of the House for their encouragement and the private conversations that we have been able to have on this issue. The Government are considering how best to balance these elements and I will bring forward further proposals very shortly, not least because we need this for the Trade Bill to make progress on Report in the other place. We will of course take account of views expressed on the subject in this debate.
As we leave the European Union, the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements during the implementation period. Working with like-minded partners such as Australia and New Zealand in bilateral agreements and adding our weight to the CPTPP—a modern and ambitious agreement— alongside an agreement with the largest and one of the most innovative countries in the world, the United States, will allow the United Kingdom to take advantage of the opportunities that leaving the European Union affords. This will allow us both to break down barriers that exist with our established partners, and to adapt to the momentous changes taking place in global trading patterns and the growth of the global economy.
Across the world, new markets are emerging that will provide golden opportunities for British goods and services, and it is right that the Government seek out like-minded partners to build the relationships and trading environments that will best maximise those opportunities for the benefit of the United Kingdom and the wider world.
There is a saying that the longest journey begins with the first step. I have always thought that very foolish. Surely the longest journey begins with deciding upon one’s destination. Without a destination, one is simply wandering about aimlessly. Of course, the other part of key journey planning is knowing what we want to do when we get there. Well, it seems to me that today’s debate shows that, when it comes to trade, the Secretary of State has identified the countries that he wants to visit—New Zealand, Australia and the United States—but that he is not really sure what he wants to do when he gets there.
The Secretary of State must persuade the House today that he has a clear itinerary and agenda. What are his objectives in securing these new trade agreements? What are the attack sectors in the markets that he has particularly identified as ones where we need to secure liberalisation and access for our suppliers and exporters? Which are the defensive sectors in our own markets that these other countries may seek to attack in response? What are the measures that he is proposing to use to defend those sectors in the UK?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) intervened on the Secretary of State to elicit a clear statement of his firm intention to safeguard our NHS. Perhaps the Secretary of State would confirm that he was not actually quoting from the CETA, but from its non-legally binding interpretive side document. What sacrifices is he prepared to make in the negotiations to secure his objectives? How do his objectives sit alongside the objectives of his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? Do they compromise our food standards or producer capacity? In the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, do they fit alongside the plans for a low-carbon transition of our economy to net zero? A successful strategy is one that has thought through all these questions beforehand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) exposed how only this week we have seen an announcement by Honda, whose future in the UK has been sacrificed as a result of Japan now being able to export Japanese-made cars tariff-free to Europe. The Secretary of State said, “Well, of course, they’re still going to be able to do that after we’ve left the EU, and we’d have no way of changing it inside.” We have no way of changing it outside, because Honda will still be able to export those cars to Europe tariff-free; The Secretary of State knows that. The point that my hon. Friend was making so powerfully was that the relevant impact assessment was not done and that this Government had therefore not insisted that the relevant protection was made for our industry in the EU-Japan agreement.
I have a philosophical question. There are two schools of thought regarding what is to blame for the Honda situation. It is either Brexit and the anticipation of trouble at the borders either now or in 21 months’ time as the Prime Minister kicks the can down the road and we leave the customs union and the single market; or, as the hon. Gentleman has just postulated, it is the EU-Japan free trade agreement. If it is the latter, is it not negligent for a country within the EU not to raise this issue as a defensive interest and ensure that this situation did not happen? It would seem to be extreme UK negligence for a country within the EU to have burned its car industry on the basis of getting a free trade agreement.
The hon. Gentleman makes two distinct points. Of course, he is right to talk about the impact of Brexit on the automotive sector in the UK. All Members in this House should be concerned about that. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland quite rightly made was that Honda said, as the Secretary of State mentioned, that there was no imputation that this decision was made as a result of Brexit, but there was a clear indication that it was as a result of Japan now being able to import tariff-free to Europe—including the UK, but the whole 28 member states. At the point when this Government should have been making representations during the negotiations on that agreement, they were not doing so.
The Labour party’s position is that it would be inside the customs union, where it would inherit the very agreements it says it does not like—it did not vote for CETA and it does not like the Japan economic partnership agreement. It would not only be bound by those agreements but would have no say in any future policy because it would be applied by the EU through the customs union.
It is always the way with the Secretary of State: when he sees that a valid point has been made and that he is vulnerable to it, he tries to go on the attack. It does not work. It is a pathetic response when he knows and should, with some humility, accept that the proper impact assessments were never made.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is some concern among Japanese car manufacturers about whether the US will end up imposing tariffs on EU products and that that might make exports from the EU to the US very uncompetitive? Is that not potentially a much better reason why, in this case, sad though it is of course, they are consolidating low-volume production models back to Japan?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I will address it because he has done so in an open spirit. It could well be the case that the risk of America doing as he has suggested could have had that impact. I think he will concede that it is more likely to have been the case in the high-value sectors of our automotive industry, such as Jaguar Land Rover, where we export prestige vehicles to the United States, than in the bulk sector—the Nissans, Hondas and Toyotas that form the bulk of our domestic production and of our exports to Europe. He is partially right. It could well have affected their decision making, but it is more likely to have been at the high end of the market than the low.
Does my hon. Friend think it is a cruel irony that Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in creating the single market and getting Japanese car companies to come here as a platform to access that market? The EU-Japan trade deal is one of the reasons they have gone there. The other imperative is that, had we not been Brexiting, those car manufacturers would in all probability stay in the EU, in Britain, where they are already. Given that car workers who voted to leave are now finding that they voted to leave their jobs, should they not have a final say on whether we leave at all? They certainly did not vote to lose their jobs. It is completely farcical.
My hon. Friend tempts me into a discussion about Brexit, but I am sure that if I were to be tempted, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would be on my case in a flash, urging me to deal with the matter of future free trade agreements instead.
This debate was originally promised at the last International Trade oral questions on 7 February, but anyone reading Hansard will not have been blind to the fact that the commitment was made as a response to an entirely different question. We did not ask for a general debate on putative trade deals with specific countries. What was asked was when the Government would bring forward a debate about the scrutiny of trade deals. Even if the Secretary of State has not yet got round to reading my eight-page letter of 21 January on the subject—there are many copies on this side of the House if he wants a spare—he cannot have been unaware of the matter, because, to his embarrassment, the Trade Bill’s progress in another place has been delayed as the Government lost a crucial vote.
Their Lordships required the Government to set out their proposals for the process, the consultation, the mandate and scrutiny of making international trade agreements in the first place, including:
“Roles for Parliament and the devolved legislatures and Administrations in relation to both a negotiating mandate and a final agreement.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 January 2019; Vol. 795, c.506.]
The House will note that no such proposals have yet been brought forward, so perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us what progress he has made in this respect and when he intends to introduce such a debate.
Today’s debate certainly cannot be considered to constitute that important discussion. It is a general debate on a Thursday, in a week that was intended to be recess, talking about potential agreements before Parliament has even debated the whole process of consultation, impact assessment, negotiating mandate, parliamentary debate, transparency of negotiation, ratification and subsequent review and periodic appraisal that should constitute a framework within which the Government intend to bring such agreements into being.
Furthermore, people watching today’s debate will be incredulous that, given that just last week the Secretary of State was forced to come to this House and admit that he had thus far failed to replicate the 40-odd trade agreements that he promised would be ready to sign one second after midnight after Brexit, last week only five had been agreed, nine were off-track, 19 were significantly off-track, four were said to be impossible to complete by 29 March and two were not even being negotiated. If there has been progress since then, I will happily give way to the Secretary of State if he wishes to advise the House. No. In that case, I take it that his silence is an acceptance that that is the state of play of the agreements that we currently have. Indeed, the fact that we are instead discussing a host of entirely new trade agreements when we have yet to secure trade continuation with all the countries with which we already enjoy a trade agreement by way of our EU membership rather calls into question the Government’s priorities at a time when businesses are screaming for certainty, clarity and continuity.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way and for the excellent speech that he is making. When I asked the Secretary of State earlier whether, given the different sizes of the UK market and the EU market, the UK could succeed in negotiating a better deal than the EU, his response was that the EU had yet to negotiate a deal, seeming to imply that no deal could not be worse than a bad deal that he might negotiate. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is contradictory to the Brexiteers’ position, and that a bad deal for us negotiated with the United States of America could have a really devastating impact on our agriculture and automotive trades specifically?
I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. Some in the Secretary of State’s party have been claiming that no deal would be better than a bad deal. Others have been claiming that going on to no deal would be no problem at all, that we would be trading on WTO terms. I am sure that she also wonders, if working on WTO terms is as good as those Conservative Members believe it to be, what the green sunlit uplands are that the Secretary of State is speaking about in terms of getting rid of the WTO terms in all these new trade agreements. I think he was the one who referred to having it both ways earlier, but it rather seems to me as if he is doing just that.
The Secretary of State’s reference to the sunny uplands of post-Brexit trade rather prompts the question why the Government Benches are not a little fuller today. Would my hon. Friend like to comment?
There is no need for me to comment. The empty Benches are screaming my hon. Friend’s point louder than I could amplify it.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will make a little progress.
The Government’s primary focus must be securing a deal with the EU, which accounts for 44% of all our exports. The Department for International Trade’s primary focus must be to secure the so-called roll-over agreements—a promise repeatedly made by the Secretary of State, which he has now only 35 more days to deliver. Thousands of businesses depend on the ability to continue to operate their just-in-time supply chains, and thousands of jobs in this country depend upon the same.
Questions have repeatedly been asked of the Government’s capacity to handle even the volume of work required to get these deals over the line—more so given the UK’s relative lack of trade negotiation experience after some 40 years of not being able so to do under the EU’s common commercial policy—yet today’s debate is to consider a number of potential new free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and the potential accession of the UK to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.
The Opposition want to see progressive, positive trade agreements that benefit the UK, help to grow our export potential and further enhance the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for investment, but we have been clear from the outset that the priority must be securing a deal with the EU and ensuring continuity of trade for British business, including with respect to trade agreements that the EU has with third countries. There is a good reason for that, which is that any major trading partner will want to know what trading arrangements we have with the EU before concluding a trade agreement with us in future. That seems self-evident. If we are not able to conclude the free trade agreement with the EU, perhaps right into the transition period, that will substantially impair our ability to secure a new trade agreement with any of the three countries that we are considering today.
The Secretary of State is like a general who fails to secure his rear before charging off in search of a new enemy to fight, but that is not his only embarrassment. The letter written to the Prime Minister this week by the chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation is excoriating about the total lack of understanding displayed by the Secretary of State of the impact of the proposals he favours for a move to zero tariffs in as many areas as possible. The chief executive sets it out in surgical detail:
“Removing import tariffs gives a leg up to foreign competitors, thus threatening British manufacturing jobs.”
“Our manufacturers would still be paying other countries’ import tariffs including, in the event of no deal, EU MFNs and other countries’ MFNs where we will have just lost our preferential access. The net effect across all sectors could be to increase imports at the same time as exports are being put under pressure with a resulting adverse effect on balance of payments.
No tariffs makes the UK’s emerging trade remedies system ineffective from the outset by lowering the cumulative duty paid on the distorted imports, for example, by 12% in the case of dumped Chinese tableware.
It would weaken the UK’s hand in making free trade deals with other countries. If we give away access to Britain for free, why would anyone need to do a trade deal with us?”
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will, but my hon. Friend has promoted me.
I am grateful; my hon. Friend is making an exceptionally important point. I have had the ceramics industry in touch with me because I have a brick factory, Wienerberger, in my constituency. Zero tariffs would also be catastrophic for farmers. Does he not agree that if the Secretary of State is planning to bring forward a statutory instrument in this form next week, he should have had the decency to announce it at the Dispatch Box today?
I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber just prior to the debate starting, but I raised a point of order with Mr Speaker—obviously, you were not here, Madam Deputy Speaker— to say that the fourth written statement due to be laid before the House today had not been made available prior to this debate. I thought that was a great shame. Mr Speaker expressed his view that, of course, these things sometimes happen inadvertently. If it was advertent, he deprecated it. But of course, there is a pattern here, and my hon. Friend is right to point to that pattern. I share her hope that we will not find next week that there are further documents that either would have been vital for today’s debate or are being produced at exactly the wrong point for Parliament to have the maximum opportunity to scrutinise what the Government are doing.
The British Ceramic Confederation letter continues:
“Some members thought if we are importing, say, a raw material, that was not manufactured or quarried in the UK a liberalisation might be acceptable. Our members are clear this should be an exception rather than a general rule and comprehensive consultation would be needed.”
Of course, the chief executive rightly also points out that most other sectors have not had the same level of discussion with officials that ceramics has had, and so are largely unprepared for the potential impact of a unilateral snap move to zero most favoured nation tariff rates. There has been no comprehensive formal consultation, no comprehensive impact assessment and no prolonged transition proposed. Such a significant decision would have far-reaching consequences for the UK economy and would demand full parliamentary scrutiny.
Consultation, impact assessments and parliamentary scrutiny—those are all the things their lordships are still waiting for before returning the Trade Bill to this House, and all the things this debate ought to have been about, rather than putative future agreements whose working groups have been mired in secrecy and which the Secretary of State sees as his vanity project of restoring the Anglosphere.
The letter continues:
“In a no deal Brexit, already highly damaging and disruptive for our sector, the shock of zero tariffs would be devastating, affecting businesses, jobs and communities across the country as well as affecting UK manufacturing more generally.”
Of course, it is not just the ceramics industry that is horrified by the Secretary of State’s proposals. The Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance, which is made up of eight national trade associations, as well as three trade unions, only yesterday put out an equally strong press release damning the folly of a wholesale reduction to zero tariffs, saying that
“the move could ruin the home market for many sectors. Increased imports would flood the market, jeopardising tens of thousands of jobs and fundamentally changing the British economy.”
Ian Cranshaw, head of international trade at the Chemical Industries Association, said:
“The idea of a new tariff regime is something which should be subject to proper consultation. With less than 40 days to Brexit, British manufacturers already dealing with Brexit uncertainties are now having to assess how their business might be impacted by an increase in non-EU competition should the government remove MFN tariffs on key chemical products.”
Finally, Jude Brimble, GMB national secretary, said:
“Zero tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit is a short-sighted move. While it may lower prices in the short term, it will ultimately put thousands of British manufacturing jobs at risk.”
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment. Jude Brimble continued:
“Manufacturers are often based in the heart of their communities and supporting many more indirect and supply chain jobs.
Zero tariffs could destroy the proud history of making and manufacturing”
in this country.
Is this really what the Secretary of State intends? I will happily give way to him now if he will rise to confirm that he has abandoned that folly.<