House of Commons
Monday 25 February 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Online Platforms: Extremist Content
The Government have been clear that there should be no safe spaces online for terrorists and extremists to operate in. We work closely with industry to encourage them to develop innovative solutions to tackle extremist content, but there is still more to do. A White Paper will be published shortly setting out measures to tackle online harms, including terrorist content.
I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. I understand that his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently met Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and was quoted as saying after the meeting that
“the UK Government wants to keep its citizens safe online”.
Mr Zuckerberg refuses to come before the House’s Select Committee. Can the Home Secretary update the House on what discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleague as a result of that meeting, particularly in relation to what will be introduced to make people safe on social media and online?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am meeting the Culture Secretary later this afternoon, and then I will get a briefing on the meetings he has had in the US. If she will allow me, I will write to her after that. She makes an important point. It may help if I share with the House the fact that Facebook has announced that it has taken action to take down some 9.4 million pieces of Daesh and al-Qaeda content in the second quarter of 2018. That is a substantial rise on what it has achieved in the past, and most of that is due to its own technology and internal reviewers. There is still more to do, but some progress is being made.
The evidence strongly suggests that much more needs to be done to tackle this growing issue. What penalties does the Home Secretary envisage imposing on the internet giants, which have so far proved reluctant to help stamp out extreme content online?
Again, the hon. Lady raises an important point. I know that she, like other Members, has suffered from vile content being directed at her on the internet, which is unacceptable, and that is why more needs to be done. We are working closely across Government—especially my Department with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—on the online harms White Paper. I do not want to prejudge or announce now what is in that paper, but I can assure her that we are taking this issue very seriously, and if it is helpful, I am happy to meet her to discuss it further.
I urge the Secretary of State to take action. I have not had half the vile stuff that my female colleagues have had, but it is disgusting. I get threats and have had people arrested for things they have posted on my website. Can we have action now? There is a culture we have to change of people making horrible threats anonymously and disgusting stalking. Let us put an end to it now.
I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. As he pointed out, there is some action that the police and law enforcement could take today, but it is not enough. I do not think that there are enough rules and laws in place to tackle this. That is why we are working across Government to see what more needs to be done, but I very much share his concerns, and I hope he will welcome the White Paper when it is published.
Until now, the approach even of the more responsible internet companies has been that somebody else has to report something first, and then they will consider taking it down. Surely they should be proactive. If people can search for vile material and find it, why can the companies not search for it proactively and then take it down?
My right hon. Friend is right. We have seen some good examples. As I mentioned, Facebook is starting to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to track down this material and, in some cases, even prevent it from being uploaded in the first place. Given that this challenge is caused by technology—much of which we embrace—we should be using more technology to tackle it.
Campaigners against the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation have highlighted how young girls are often coerced into undergoing the procedure through using online platforms. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government’s online harms White Paper includes measures to prevent FGM victims being targeted in this way?
I would like to give my hon. Friend that assurance. This House and hon. Members across the House have done a huge amount in recent years to fight the abhorrent practice of FGM. My hon. Friend is right to highlight how the internet has been used to promote this vile practice, and I can give her the assurance that it is one of the harms being looked at in the White Paper.
Mr Speaker, you will have heard, as we all have over the weekend, of the vile extremism that has spread over the internet and has encouraged many people to join groups such as ISIS. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity has really come to change the law, and to look at how we can charge people with treason? Will he look at the espionage Bill, which is coming before this House soon, and see whether the Policy Exchange report written by me and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) could be used as an inspiration for some amendments to that law?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that this House recently passed the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and made it into an Act that gives the Government some new powers on fighting terrorism. He has also raised the issue of further potential powers, including in relation to treason. I am taking these issues very seriously. We are looking at this, and I would be happy to meet him and discuss this further.
I worked with the Security Minister on what is now the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to update our laws to deal with those who access online extremist content, but platform providers have to take responsibility too. The Home Secretary says he is concerned about it, indicates he has spoken to the tech giants about it and has promised a White Paper, but what excuse does he have for not acting now?
The Government are acting now. For example, last year I made two visits to meet the online giants in the United States. One of those was for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which the UK Government sponsor, as the hon. Gentleman will know. It is an industry body, but it works both with the large platforms and with the small platforms. We are working with it to see what more can be done to use technology, especially with auto-detection. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support—he did support the measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, and I thank him and his colleagues for that—and I look forward to working with him even more closely.
Asylum Seekers: Right to Work
Our current policy allows asylum seekers to work in jobs on the shortage occupation list, where their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more through no fault of their own. However, there is ongoing work in this area, and I continue to have discussions with stakeholders and right hon. and hon. Members on this very important subject.
I hear the argument the Minister is making, but I remain baffled about why the Government are prepared to allow people, often very highly skilled people, to come to this country and force them to live on £5.40 a day, when they often have the skills we are crying out for, especially in key health service sectors. Does she not agree with me that allowing asylum seekers to rebuild their lives by going into employment and making an economic contribution would make them feel valued and would have benefits for us as well?
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. Of course, this policy is designed to protect the resident labour market so that access to employment is prioritised for British citizens, and it is important to reflect that about 50% of asylum seekers are ultimately found not to be in need of international protection.
The asylum system simply is not working. Between 2010 and 2016, 81,000 asylum applications were either refused or withdrawn, yet only one third of these people were removed and 54,000 are still here. Before considering the employment of asylum seekers, will the Immigration Minister sort out the asylum system itself?
I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to making sure that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay and to making sure that, when decisions are made, they are the right decisions first time. He makes an important point about returns. This Government are committed to working both with stakeholders and with individual people who have failed in their asylum claims to promote voluntary returns and make sure that they are returned to their home countries, where it is safe to do so.
My constituent Ehi Izevbaye has been in the UK for more than 14 years with no right to work and he has a 10-year-old daughter. He has been repeatedly turned down for leave to remain and now faces deportation. They say he has run out of options. The Home Office has made a catalogue of errors and mistakes with this incredibly complex case. Please will the Minister look personally at the case and review it, and either agree to meet me to discuss it further or consider what she can do to help him?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that individual case. I am of course happy to meet her to discuss it in detail. In circumstances in which somebody has had a claim outstanding for a considerable period and has a child, it is important that we continue to act to ensure that we are faster in making decisions.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of work for physical and mental wellbeing and for community integration? Does she agree that we should do everything we can to ensure integration?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of work. I often say, with no irony whatsoever, that I spent a very happy 12 months at the Department for Work and Pensions. I am conscious of the importance of work for people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, not to mention the fact that children are better off when their parents are in work. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention integration. I commend the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on its integration Green Paper, and the Home Office is working closely with it.
I wonder whether in her own surgery the right hon. Lady has ever had to look an asylum-seeking constituent in the eye and explain to them why they are forced to walk around with a plastic card that says, “Not permitted to work”. The right to work is a fundamental human right, so is it not about time that the Government extended that right to all asylum seekers?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening when I made the point that the policy is about protecting the labour market for British workers. Of course I have met asylum seekers in my surgery. Indeed, the ward of Swaythling in Southampton has one of the highest numbers of supported asylum seekers in the entire city, and it falls within my constituency. It is important that we get the balance right and find out how we can best support people into work, but what we do not want to do is create perverse incentives for people to seek to come here by circumventing our important immigration rules, which reserve the right to work for those who have applied through the correct processes.
Windrush Generation: Compensation
Successive Governments have failed the Windrush generation, but it remains this Government’s priority to put those wrongs right. On 8 February, I issued a written ministerial statement to inform the House that the Government response to the Windrush compensation scheme consultation will set out the details of the scheme along with accompanying guidance and rules. The response will be published shortly.
When the Home Secretary was appointed he told this House that it was his first priority to help those affected by the Windrush situation. That was in July last year—over seven months ago. The consultation ended on 16 November, but he still cannot—or will not—tell us when the final details of the scheme will be announced. If this is how he treats his first priority, I would hate to think how he treats the others. When can my constituents expect the compensation they so desperately need and deserve?
It remains a first priority, which is why since I have been appointed we have helped more than 2,000 people through the Windrush taskforce; created the Windrush scheme; helped almost 3,500 people to apply for citizenship; waived thousands of pounds in costs; and set up an urgent assistance programme for exceptional cases. The hon. Lady is right to raise the compensation scheme. It is hugely important that we do it properly and get it right. That is why we have held a consultation, with an independent reviewer, to make sure that we look at all the issues and it is done properly.
Since our urgent question, the Jamaican commissioner has joined calls from across the House to halt deportation flights to Jamaica. After Windrush, where we know that hundreds of people were wrongfully deported or detained, this Government cannot be trusted to follow the correct process. What is their plan for future deportation flights, and will the Home Secretary suspend them until the lessons of Windrush have been learned?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, this issue has been discussed in the House. He refers to the charter flight to Jamaica on 6 February. On that flight were 29 foreign national offenders, all convicted of serious crimes. He will know that in each of those cases—as I said, they were all foreign national offenders—we took extra care to ensure that none were subject to the Windrush scheme. Every single one arrived after 1 January 1973 and there is no evidence to indicate that any had been here before that date. He will know that, under a law passed by a previous Labour Government, the Home Secretary is mandated by law to issue a deportation order for anyone who is given a sentence of more than one year. Surely he is not asking me to break the law.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them all to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so. The scheme will be free of charge, and we are putting in place measures to ensure it is streamlined, user-friendly and accessible to all prospective applicants.
With exit day drawing closer, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will do everything to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether there is a deal or not?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is vital that we give people full reassurance that their rights will be protected as we leave the EU, which is why we have made it crystal clear that, whether there is a deal or no deal, the rights of EU citizens resident here will be protected through the EU settlement scheme. We will continue to work with our friends in the EU, the EU27, asking them to provide the same absolute assurances to UK nationals living in their countries.
The Home Affairs Committee heard in a recent evidence session that those who did not register under the EU settlement scheme in time would be unlawfully resident. Can he confirm whether that is the case? What rights will those people have if they have not registered with the EU settlement scheme?
As the right hon. Lady will know, we want to make sure that all EU citizens who are here know exactly how the process works for them to stay. We want them all to stay and we want to make the scheme that I have just set out as easy and accessible as possible. As with any scheme, there will need to be a cut-off period at some point, not least because this is about protecting the rights of EU citizens so that as we end freedom of movement there is no possibility that we can have another Windrush-type situation, which she knows was created by successive Governments not properly documenting a change in immigration status for people who were already here. It is important that we get this right. In terms of a cut-off, we will take a proportionate and sensible approach.
A whisper may have reached the Home Secretary that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) is going to propose an amendment on Wednesday calling for a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the draft withdrawal agreement as soon as possible. May I invite the Home Secretary to indicate, for the very reasons he has just set out, that the Government are supportive of that position?
I have been very clear, and I am very happy to say so again to my right hon. Friend, that we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are here in the UK, whether there is deal or no deal. She refers to concerns raised by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire. I welcome the interest of both him and my right hon. Friend. I would be happy to meet them to discuss it further.
Further to the question from the Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), does the Home Secretary not realise that there could be a large number of EU citizens living here now who may not, for a number of reasons, manage to register by the June 2021 deadline? Will the Home Secretary therefore look at alternative ideas that are being put forward, for example a declaratory scheme, so that EU citizens can get their rights here and we can treat these people with the respect and dignity they deserve?
I could not be clearer: the rights of all EU citizens who are here in the UK prior to exiting the European Union will absolutely be protected. We will do everything we can, whatever is necessary, to ensure that. The right hon. Gentleman makes a suggestion about a declaratory scheme. I say again—this is a very important point—that that is exactly what was done in the ’70s with the Windrush generation and we all have seen the consequences of that all too clearly. They were not designed by anyone; that was the outcome of a declaratory scheme. We cannot have such a situation again. I am happy to look at any other ideas and thoughts that hon. Members have on this matter, but I think we all share the concern that we must ensure that rights are protected and properly protected.
I was pleased recently to add my name to an open letter from the Cornwall leadership board to all EU citizens living in Cornwall, making it clear that we want them to remain here and that we want to make it easy for them to do so. However, concerns remain about getting the message out about the settled status scheme to the more rural and hard-to-reach communities in Cornwall, so will the Home Secretary reassure me that the Home Office will make every effort to get the message out to the remotest parts of our country?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. That is a very important point: we want to make sure that we are reaching not just people in rural communities outside our big cities, but those who might be more vulnerable, perhaps because they are disabled or are children who are being looked after by local authorities. We need to make sure that we reach out to all of them, which is why we are working with a number of organisations. We have allocated £9 million of funding for them to make sure that they can go out and reach all these vulnerable groups.
The right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has asked the Home Secretary about an amendment to be debated in the House later this week, requiring the Prime Minister to seek to ring-fence the rights of both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether the withdrawal agreement is signed. This ring-fencing has cross-party support across the House, including from many Government Back Benchers. What possible reason could there be for the Home Secretary not to recommend to the Prime Minister that the Government accept that amendment?
The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Prime Minister is not able to speak on behalf of the EU; she can speak only on behalf of the UK. She is not able to force the EU to ring-fence anything—that is ultimately a decision for the EU. What the UK can do, though, is unilaterally guarantee the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Well of course, what the Prime Minister is being asked to do is to seek an agreement from the EU, not to force the EU. However, if the Government are not prepared to do that, will they do this? The British in Europe campaign group told the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee last week that the best alternative to bilateral ring-fencing was to put the settled status qualifying criteria in the Bill along with a clear statement of strong settled status rights. That would be best practice and would give other countries in the European Union significant encouragement to reciprocate. Will the Home Secretary commit to that as a fall-back position?
I absolutely share the hon. and learned Lady’s concerns. It might be useful to point out that we can guarantee people’s rights through secondary legislation, which would be much more straightforward and easier, and that is our plan. As we have set out, we absolutely will be guaranteeing the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of deal or no deal, and when that comes to this House, hopefully through secondary legislation, I hope that hon. Members will support it.
Online Content: Crime
Tackling serious crime online is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and will set out plans to legislate in the online harms White Paper, which will set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, including through protection from serious online crime.
Following an 18-month investigation into fake news and disinformation by the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—I was proud to be part of that—it has published its recommendations, one of which called for comprehensive new regulations. The main detail, however, was to have an independent regulator to ensure that social media companies are forced to take down harmful comment. Does the Minister agree with the recommendations, and does he also agree that speed is of the essence?
My hon. Friend highlights the very good report produced by the Committee, which was full of really good ideas. I do not want to anticipate the online harms White Paper and what may be consulted on—the White Paper will be part of a consultation—but I totally agree with her that speed of action is incredibly important. It is about time for these big, hugely profitable tech companies to take responsibility, step up to the plate and do something about this.
At the moment tech companies are apparently taking down masses of material, but would it not be much more helpful if they were automatically required to pass on to law enforcement agencies the IP addresses and registration details of accounts that abuse their own practices?
The hon. Gentleman highlights something that is already the case for child sexual exploitation images in the US, and we get up to 4,000 referrals a month from US and Canadian ISPs where that has been identified. Exploring broadening that out would be welcome, but we should not forget that a large part of what these companies do is about making profit. The algorithms in their platforms are about hooking people into watching more and more, and they need to get to the heart of their business case as well as their technology so that we can deal with the challenges.
One of my constituents, a teenager whose brother was murdered, has recently been targeted by vile abuse online from a person claiming to be the murderer of her brother. What is the Home Office doing to ensure that social media companies such as Snapchat do much more to help to catch trolls making such malicious communications, who think they can hide behind the keyboard and get away with it?
I hope that the online harms White Paper will address many of those issues, and I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to it.
Too often what happens is that the content that is uploaded does not break the law, but it leads to the law being broken, and is often followed by harassment campaigns against individuals. Too often Facebook is not just a safe space for that stuff—which it is—but actually the weapon of choice. When will we get legislation to properly regulate companies such as Facebook that, from what I can see, do not really give a damn?
First, the online harms White Paper consultation, which as I have said will be published imminently, will be a chance for all of us to contribute to the best policy tools to deal with that threat. Secondly, we need to recognise that under EU law we currently have the issue of mere conduit, whereby one of the statutory defences for the companies is, “We are just a conduit for this material: we do not take responsibility for it.” That is why issues such as duty of care are an attractive policy model that we should look at adopting as a potential solution to the problem.
Given the dangers our children are exposed to on social media platforms, does my right hon. Friend agree that those platforms should look to fund education seminars in schools on how to stay safe online?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Some of the large companies already do that: Google, for example, goes to many constituencies and makes presentations in primary schools. I would recommend that all hon. Members approach the company and ask it to come to their constituencies. I went to a session in my constituency which made a difference for young people in staying safe online. But there is a lot more that companies could do, and that is what we will push for in the online harms White Paper.
Crimes traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales are down by more than a third since 2010. The assessment by the Office for National Statistics is that crime has fallen over recent decades, and overall, levels of crime are currently stable. But we accept that certain crimes, particularly violent crimes, have increased, and we are doing everything possible to address that.
Crime rates are up 13% in North Yorkshire and up in every single category of crime. I met the police this weekend, and our amazing officers are breaking. Cuts have serious consequences. I am dialling 999 for help in York: how will the Minister respond to my call?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the Government have provided up to £970 million more for policing in this year, which means more than £11 million for her constabulary. I am sure she will be delighted that that will be spent by the Conservative police and crime commissioner to fund 50 more police officers and 20 more police community support officers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that greater flexibility for local police and crime commissioners will better enable local forces to solve local problems?
Very much so. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government support police and crime commissioners precisely because we believe that, ensconced in their local communities, they can understand the local policing priorities in their areas better than bureaucrats in Whitehall.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of antisocial behaviour. Indeed, we debated it recently, courtesy of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who is sitting behind him. During that debate, we discussed the fact that the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 had introduced six powers for not just the police but local authorities and even landlords—and Transport for Greater Manchester, for example—that will help to stop antisocial behaviour. However, we are well aware that such behaviour can be a terrible blight on local communities, and we encourage police, local authorities and other agencies to work together to tackle it.
Order. In my usual spirit of helpfulness, I advise the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) that if she were to seek to shoehorn her inquiry at Question 18, which will not be reached, into that of which we are treating now, she would be fortunate.
Oh, very well done!
I am extremely concerned to hear that. The Government are investing more than £48 million over the next 18 months to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime through, for instance, the new National Economic Crime Centre, which will increase the number of financial investigators and improve the regional and local response. However, I know that the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), is keen to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that case with her.
A public health approach to tackling youth violence requires fully funded public services, but in recent years policing, local authorities, schools and youth services have been cut, which has reduced support for local communities. What measures have the Government taken to ensure that new funds are available immediately to support the public health approach that is so desperately needed to tackle the rise in youth violence?
I know that the hon. Lady met my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently to discuss issues in her constituency. She will be aware that, as part of our approach to tackling serious violence, we are not only running a programme of actions to tackle it—as set out in the strategy—but investing £22 million in early intervention and an additional £200 million in the youth endowment fund, which I hope will bring about real changes over the next 10 years.
I proffer the same advice to the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) as I extended to his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. We might not reach his question. His moment could be now. Does he wish to seize it?
I welcome the work of Active Communities Network, and I am delighted that the Home Office has helped to fund it previously to provide diversionary and outreach activities for vulnerable young people in my hon. Friend’s area. As I have said, the introduction of the youth endowment fund means that £200 million will be invested over 10 years to provide—I hope—innovative ways to intervene on young people and divert them from a criminal lifestyle before the gang leaders get to them.
Fire Services: Pensions
I am sure that we all want good public pensions to be affordable over the longer term; and yes, public sector employer contributions will have to rise, including those in the fire and rescue authorities. The Treasury has made clear that it will cover 90% of the additional cost in 2019-20, and following years will be covered by the comprehensive spending review.
The Government have not picked up their fair share of the pension fund contribution, which means that local authorities and fire authorities will have to pick up more. We have to pay the pensions. How do the Government expect fire authorities to maintain the increasing calls on their services, and to meet their target call response times, when they have to contribute extra funds that are not provided by the Government?
What I would say, with respect to the hon. Lady, is that the Treasury is requesting of the fire sector £10 million of additional funding; that is from a sector that will receive £2.3 billion in income and is sitting on almost £600 million of reserves. I think it is affordable, and I hope that she, like me, will welcome the announcement of her local chief fire officer Phil Garrigan about his intention to increase the number of fire engines and firefighters in Merseyside.
We have heard from the Government a number of times that austerity is over, yet this same Government are slashing their financial contributions to fire and rescue pension schemes at the same time as they plan to cut funding by £155 million by 2020. They are piling the pressure on a service which, after nine years of austerity, has fewer firefighters, fewer appliances and rising response times. When will the Minister end the dismantling of our fire service and implement a sustainable funding model to build a service fit for the challenges of the 21st century?
With respect to whoever is informing the hon. Lady, actually the core spending power of our fire system will increase by 2.3% in cash terms in 2019-20, and, as she is well aware, the system is sitting on £545 million of taxpayers’ money in reserves, a sum that has grown by 80% since 2011. It is therefore hard to argue that the system has been cash-strapped, but the hon. Lady has my assurance that the Home Secretary and I are absolutely committed to making sure that through the next comprehensive spending agreement the British public can continue to rely on a world-class fire service.
The Northumbria police and crime commissioner has announced that the precept will increase by £24 in 2020, meaning that funding will increase by £18 million compared with 2018-19. That is increased local investment in local policing.
Since 2010 the Tories have cut Northumbria police’s funding by 25% and given it a 1,000 decrease in the number of police officers on the street, leading to a massive increase in serious crime. Is the Minister proud of this Government’s record?
Of course, the statistic the hon. Gentleman omits is that the other key thing about 2010 was that this country was then dealing with the largest deficit in our public finances in peacetime history. Over the years we have taken action to tackle that and get the public finances under control—opposed by Labour—and we are now creating the conditions for increased public investment in policing, again opposed by Labour.
No, no, no: as I have just been advised, it would require a cross-country train to make the journey from Northumbria, about which the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) asked, to either Coventry or Dudley, which doubtless have many merits, and which can be reached subsequently in other circumstances.
Residents in Lincolnshire, just like those in Northumbria and many other people across the country, will be paying £24 more on their council tax this year, which the Government have claimed is to fund local policing. However, because the force has spent all of its reserves, which the Minister has repeatedly told forces to do and which we have just heard him do again, the force will be losing 40 officers and 30 police community support officers this year from the frontline. So what does the Minister have to say to residents who will be paying more for a much lesser service because their force has faithfully followed Government policy?
Lincolnshire is only marginally nearer; there is a degree of latitude for the Front Bench, but that is mildly cheeky.
We are in regular contact with Lincolnshire police. Of course, the hon. Lady stampeded to a worst case scenario and ignored the fact that, as a result of the police funding settlement that she led her party to vote against, Lincolnshire police will be receiving up to £8.6 million in cash next year, a move welcomed by the PCC and the chief.
Immigration: Workers’ Rights
Foreign nationals admitted to the UK to work under the proposals set out in the White Paper will benefit from the same employment rights and protections as the rest of the UK workforce, such as the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and protection from discrimination.
The Minister might be interested to know that when I criticised aspects of the White Paper last week, particularly the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, her colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland said that he shared my concerns and that he would be making a submission to the consultation about the flawed nature of that arbitrary salary threshold. Does the Minister share her colleague’s concerns about the impact that that threshold will have on young skilled employment in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when the Home Secretary published the White Paper, he made it clear that this was the start of a year-long conversation about the proposal contained therein for us to move to a single system based on people’s skills and not on where they come from. He will also be aware that the Immigration Bill has recently moved into its Committee stage, and we heard evidence the week before last from a range of experts giving us the benefit of their views on salary thresholds, including the Migration Advisory Committee, which proposed the £30,000 threshold.
Part of the immigration White Paper covers seasonal workers. I warmly welcome the seasonal agricultural workers scheme that will be implemented this spring, but can the Minister assure me that she will continue to monitor it to ensure that it fulfils the industry’s requirements and that she will not rule out retaining it as a permanent process?
I commend my hon. Friend for her enthusiasm and determination to see a seasonal workers scheme introduced. As she knows, the pilot starts this month and we are determined to work closely with the horticultural sector and those companies that are piloting the scheme to ensure that we evaluate it thoroughly and look for the best way to take it forward.
Ending domestic abuse is an absolute priority for this Government. On 21 January, we launched a landmark draft Bill that includes the determination to introduce a definition of domestic abuse that includes not only physical but economic and emotional abuse. The draft Bill also includes 120 non-legislative measures to ensure that our response to domestic abuse is absolute in its determination to support victims and tackle the perpetrators of this terrible crime.
Much of the support for domestic abuse is aimed at victims escaping from a physically abusive partner. Violence and extreme abuse in a domestic setting always start with small, often subtle entry-level acts of control, manipulation and deceit. What are the Government doing to help people to recognise those red flags and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by people with narcissistic personality disorder, given that NPD is a key driver of such abuse?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who brings with him his experience of working with his local women’s centre, the Sutton women’s centre, to help the victims of domestic abuse. He is correct in identifying the early signals of an abusive relationship, and this is precisely why the draft Bill includes proposals for a statutory definition that ensures that all forms of domestic abuse are recognised, understood and challenged, both by those who can help the victims and by those who can tackle the perpetrators of these crimes.
I am so pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the very good “Domestic Abuse Matters” project, which is run by SafeLives, the domestic abuse charity. This is being rolled out by the College of Policing, and some 14 police forces have already signed up to it, but there are a number of other training and change programmes available to the police. Part of the important message of the non-legislative measures in the draft Bill is that we need to train police officers and a whole range of other frontline workers, which could include that one person who can reach the person who needs help.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Now that we have seen how narrow the draft domestic abuse Bill is, will the Minister confirm that there is scope to expand it? We have concerns about many areas of the Bill, not least about housing. A joint tenancy can be ended by just one partner, which means that the perpetrators of domestic violence are able to oppress their victims by ending the tenancy and leaving them homeless. We must legislate to stop that.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. I feel as though I am in the middle of a Welsh appreciation society. I am afraid I do not agree with her analysis that the Bill is narrow in its breadth. The legislation and the raft of non-legislative measures are very broad. We have always been clear that this is not just about changing the law; it is also about changing society’s attitude to and understanding of domestic abuse. She will know that we have quite deliberately published it as a draft Bill because we want it to be open to scrutiny by both Houses, and we very much look forward to the Joint Committee looking at it and coming forward with recommendations.
Fishing Industry: Employment
The Government set out their plans for the future immigration system in the White Paper published on 18 December. We recognise the need to provide employers with flexibility as the new system is implemented, and our proposals include plans for a temporary short-term workers route, which will be open to overseas workers at all skill levels and in any occupation.
May I remind the Minister that when she replied to my Adjournment debate on 11 July last year she told us that she was “conscious of the urgency” of tackling this issue, but that she wanted to get the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee and would expect then to “reflect” upon it? Beyond what she has just said, how are these reflections going? When will we get a concrete proposal for a scheme?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He will of course be aware that when the MAC provided us with its report last year it was clear in its recommendation that we should not introduce sectoral schemes to meet labour needs at lower skill levels, except in agriculture. He will be aware that I have held various meetings with right hon. and hon. Members, and undertaken two visits to talk to the fishing sector—one to Kilkeel harbour and one to Troon. I have undertaken to make a further such visit to Banff and Buchan, which I hope will take place around Easter.
As a result of the police funding settlement, we will be investing almost £14 billion in our police system next year, which is £2 billion more than in 2015-16. Up and down the country, police and crime commissioners have set out their plans to use that additional money to hire about 2,700 additional officers, including more than 40 more in Cheshire, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome.
Cheshire police force has lost 135 officers since 2010, and central Government cuts for a ninth consecutive year, in real terms, continue to put real pressures on our local resources. When will the Minister ensure that our PCC gets the resources that he needs?
As a result of the two funding settlements that I have taken through Parliament, the Cheshire PCC is now in a position to recruit an additional 43 officers and seven police community support officers. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will welcome that and wonder why he voted against it.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Sir Charles Farr, an outstanding public servant who dedicated his life to national security.
Yesterday, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report. My thoughts are with the Lawrence family, and I am pleased that our police force is now the most diverse it has ever been.
I recently announced the introduction of knife crime prevention orders. Dame Carol Black has been appointed to lead an independent review of the drugs trade. And I announced new stop-and-search powers to tackle acid attacks and the misuse of drones. We are giving the police the powers they need and acting wherever we can to help tackle serious violence.
The dozens of people involved in the recent violence at Haydock Park racecourse faced ejection from the course rather than arrest. It seems that the bar for getting arrested is very different for someone involved in football-related violence than for someone involved in loftier pursuits such as horse-racing. Will the Home Secretary tell us what he is doing to ensure that violent crime is treated equally, no matter who the perpetrators are?
First, the hon. Gentleman will know that ultimately how violence is treated and whether charges are brought is a decision for the police and the courts, but I take his broader point. He will be pleased to know that when it comes to all types of crime, whether serious violence or other crimes, there has been a decline of some 12% since September 2010 in his Derbyshire force area. I am sure he will welcome the extra resources that have been given to his local police force, which will certainly help it to fight crime.
I am pleased that there has been some progress—albeit, as my hon. Friend describes, in small steps—in the inquiry in Telford. The fact that an inquiry chair has been advertised bodes well for the process overall, but as a good constituency MP she will continue to pressure the local council to ensure that it continues its work expeditiously.
Ministers will remember that last Monday the Home Secretary said:
“We must, of course, observe international law, and we cannot strip someone of their British citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless. Individuals who manage to return will be questioned, investigated and, potentially, prosecuted.”—[Official Report, 18 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1193.]
Ministers will be aware that the Opposition think that the latter would have been the correct course of action. By Wednesday, however, the Home Secretary had stripped Shamima Begum of her citizenship rights. Can he share with the House whether he contacted the Bangladeshi high commissioner or the Bangladeshi Government before taking this decision?
The right hon. Lady will know that I cannot comment on any individual case and that, in order to protect our national security, Home Secretaries have the power to strip British citizenship from someone where it does not render them stateless. While I cannot talk about an individual case, it should be quite obvious that the power set out in the British Nationality Act 1981 cannot be used if someone is rendered stateless as a result. That power has been used by successive Home Secretaries, in successive Governments, only on the basis of expert advice from their officials, including legal advisers, to ensure that its deployment is entirely lawful at all times. The right hon. Lady is the shadow Home Secretary and wants to be the Home Secretary. She should reflect that ultimately it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to use whatever tools are available to keep this country safe.
Like my hon. Friend, I am very concerned about the impact of county lines. She may know that recently I met Devon and Cornwall police to discuss what they are doing to fight these types of drug gangs. She will know that we have allocated some £3.6 million to the new national county lines co-ordination centre, and she may be interested to know that during two separate weeks of activity there have been over 1,000 arrests nationally and 1,300 young people safeguarded.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking the time to raise his important constituency case. I am absolutely happy to confirm that I will meet him to go through the specifics in detail.
I thank my hon. Friend, not least for his representations to me on behalf of Warwickshire in the run-up to the funding settlement. I am delighted that his constituents will have access to more police officers. I give my assurance to him and other Members who are concerned about the fair funding of policing that police funding is the priority for the Home Secretary and me in the CSR, and within that we have made a commitment to look again at how resources are allocated across the system.
What I can say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am so sorry. What I can say to the hon. Lady is that over the past few months, the Home Secretary and I have had very regular contact with Interior Ministers across all our European partners, and he and I have detected a very, very strong interest on their part in continuing to work closely with us and, as far as possible, to maintain the capabilities that exist at this moment in time.
I am keen to encourage a new young Member. I call Mr David Davis.
The Home Secretary quite rightly says that he cannot comment on the individual case of Shamima Begum. However, it does raise a more general issue. In that case, citizenship was removed after the birth of the latest child who therefore presumably has a right to British citizenship herself. What, if anything, are the responsibilities of the British state to that child in this event?
Again, my right hon. Friend will know that I cannot talk about a particular case, and that any children born in that conflict zone deserve our utmost sympathy. He will also know that when it comes to Syria, FCO travel advice has been very clear for a number of years: we have no consular presence, so we cannot provide any consular assistance at all. Should a child reach a location outside Syria, where we do have a consular presence, then it would be possible to provide support with the consent of parents.
Order. I should just emphasise to the House that, as things stand, the case is not sub judice. If the Secretary of State for the Home Department wishes to apply a self-denying ordinance—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and others that if he decrees that he will not comment on individual cases, that is perfectly within his ambit. It is a political judgment, but it is not a procedural requirement. It is quite important to be clear about that. That is his choice, and I respect it, but it has nothing to do with the rules of the House, still less the dictates of law.
A little like the hon. Lady, I am very proud of the heritage of both my parents from Pakistan. I am as proud of my heritage as she is of hers, and she should be. Her question is about the law and about what the law allows in terms of deprivation of British citizenship. That is set out very clearly in the British Nationality Act 1981. It was also debated in this House in 2014 in the Immigration Act of that year when the powers were further extended. On a regular basis, successive Governments have used that power and they have made transparency reports to this House on the use of that power.
An excellent BBC South East report showed that police seizures of ketamine have increased by a third, and are at a 12-year peak. What can the ministerial team do to reassure me that matters are under control, and can I meet them to discuss this local scourge?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Ketamine is just one of the new substances that we are seeing emerge on the street scene and that I was discussing only last week with the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—a body that helps to inform and advise Government on drugs policy. I am very happy to meet him to discuss it, but there is a very clear message: these sorts of substances are very, very harmful and carry huge risks if anyone takes them.
I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are having issues with benefits or with the Department for Work and Pensions, and I would be happy to take that up with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As far as the settlement scheme is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that it has not yet been launched; it is in a testing phase. More than 100,000 people have participated in the testing phase and not a single one has been rejected.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on Members across all parties of the House to be clear to all our constituents from the EU that their rights to stay in the UK will be protected, deal or no deal?
My hon. Friend is of course right. The Government have been very clear that EU citizens living here will be able to stay; more than that, we want them to stay. That is why the settlement scheme has been designed to be easy and straightforward. As the Home Secretary has just indicated, so far the applications of more than 100,000 people have been through the testing phase and not a single one has been refused.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I assure her that we will continue to have the highest standards at all times.
Spencer Hargrave and his business partner Paul from my constituency set up a van and tool theft awareness group on Facebook after being victims of crime themselves. Through their hard work, they were able to track down one of these thieves, who is now serving seven years in prison. What is the Minister doing to increase the sentences of those who prey on hard-working tradesmen, and will he congratulate Spencer and Paul on their fantastic detective work in helping the police to bring this lowlife to justice?
My hon. Friend reminds the House of the eternal truth of, I think, principle 7 of Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing—that the public are the police and the police are the public. I congratulate Spencer and Paul on working with the police to bring criminals to justice.
I am clear that I want the Windrush scheme to be as generous, straightforward and easy to use as possible, and that commitment is shared throughout the Government.
The Home Secretary will know that the Official Secrets Act 1989 is 30 years old this year. Given that espionage has not gone away, would the Home Secretary or the Security Minister meet me and like-minded colleagues to discuss how we can update and reform the Act, particularly around the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The 1911 and 1989 Official Secrets Acts are definitely out of date and need to be updated. A Law Commission report is due out soon that will reflect on some of the challenges, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.
Ah, another new young Member—a rising figure in the House. I call John Spellar.
Does the Minister now accept that although the disclosure and barring scheme was a response to a real concern, it has become a bureaucratic nightmare? It has reversed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and prevented people from turning their lives around and providing for themselves and their families, while also being deeply discriminatory. Following the decision of the Supreme Court, will she rapidly reform the DBS—not with endless consultations, but with some real action?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that Lord Sumption in the Supreme Court described the disclosure and barring scheme as a “coherent scheme of legislation”. The reason for the regime is to protect children and vulnerable people; that is the point of it. As Lord Sumption recognised, it balances public protection with the rights of individuals to a private life. It applies only to certain jobs that are protected, and it is for employers to decide whether they give someone a job once they are armed with the facts. The scheme was supported by the Supreme Court.
What assessment has the Minister made of the success of police and fire service collaboration in boosting frontline response?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Northampton is of course a very good example of where the emergency services work together extremely well, not just to find savings in how taxpayers’ money can be deployed in the most efficient way but in delivering a better service to the public. Armed with that evidence, we will continue down that path.
Does the Minister want to take this opportunity to condemn the bizarre events in the west midlands, where we have a Tory councillor and a member of the Mayor’s staff committing identity fraud in order to influence the outcome of the police and crime commissioner consultation? Surely the police are entitled to a higher standard of probity than that.
I would have thought that a Member of Parliament of the hon. Gentleman’s experience would take a little bit more care with his words in this place, because he will know that any wrongdoing has been denied and that this is the subject of an independent investigation at this moment in time. The Government support the second devolution deal for the west midlands, and that includes incorporating the role and powers of the PCC in the mayoralty as has been done in London and Manchester.
Last but not forgotten, Mr Robert Courts.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
What steps are Ministers taking that will reassure the people of Witney and rural West Oxfordshire that their police have access to the funding and the numbers that they need?
I can say to my hon. Friend, who represents my father’s old seat, that I have every interest in making sure that the people of Witney continue to have access to high-quality policing. That is why, through the most recent police and funding settlement, we have taken steps that will see an additional £30-odd million go to Thames Valley police. I hope he welcomes that.
I am sorry—demand has exceeded supply, as is invariably the case, but we must now move on.
Employment and Support Allowance: Underpayments
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the employment and support allowance underpayments.
The Department is correcting some past underpayments of ESA that arose when people moved from incapacity benefit on to ESA. We realise how important it is to get this matter fixed. Clearly, the mistakes should never have happened, but we know that it is vital that it is sorted as quickly as possible. Last Thursday, I tabled a written statement that updated the House on progress since the previous written statement in October last year. We are on track to complete work on the majority of the original 320,000 cases by the end of April this year. As of 11 February, 310,000 of that overall number have started the reassessment journey. We have paid arrears of over £328 million to 58,000 people, which is significant progress. The Department has also increased the number of staff working on putting these cases right from about 400 staff to approximately 1,200 staff, which will enable us to continue to complete this important activity at pace.
Following the announcement in July last year to pay cases back to the point of conversion, I confirmed in October that this will require us to review an additional 250,000 cases. We have started this activity and will aim to complete this phase by the end of the year. Last Thursday, the Department published an ad hoc statistical publication on gov.uk that sets out further detail on the progress it has made on processing the cases, including an updated estimate on forecast expenditure and the number of people affected. The Department now estimates that about 600,000 cases require review and that by the end of the exercise about 210,000 arrears payments will have been made. The increase, compared with the previous estimate of 180,000, is based on additional sampling and very careful, thorough checking. Alongside the written statement that was published last Thursday, I also published an updated version of the frequently asked questions, and this has been deposited in the House Library.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
On 21 February, the Department for Work and Pensions published a statement saying that 210,000 ill and disabled people could have been underpaid vital employment and support allowance after a grave error by the Department dating back to 2011, when it wrongly migrated them from incapacity benefit on to contributions-based ESA, denying them essential social security, such as the severe disability premium, to which income-based ESA would have entitled them.
The Government initially estimated that 70,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid. In October 2018 that number increased to 180,000 people, and now it has emerged that up to 210,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid, on average, £6,000 in social security. How can we trust that the number will not increase?
Thus far, 20,000 people have died before receiving the social security to which they were entitled. That is 20,000 people who will never be repaid what they were owed by the DWP. The Department estimates that more than £1 billion will be spent to rectify this catastrophic error, and we have now learned that it will employ up to 1,200 staff to do so.
How many people have been pushed into rent arrears, council tax arrears, debt and destitution? Will the Department listen to Labour’s demands and pay compensation to those who have been pushed into debt? What support will the Department provide to the estates of the 20,000 ill and disabled people who tragically died before they received their payment?
Given the scale of the issue in transferring to ESA, how will the Government avoid repeating this error when they transfer ill and disabled people from legacy social security on to universal credit? Given that there are currently seven reviews into ill and disabled people being underpaid, how much of the Government’s total expenditure is spent on underpayments? Finally, will the Minister apologise to the additional 30,000 disabled people, and their families, who have been denied thousands of pounds in social security, and to the 20,000 people who died before justice was done?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Let me make it absolutely clear that, each and every time I have addressed the House, I have thoroughly apologised on behalf of the Department for these administrative errors. This should never have happened, and I am very happy to apologise again today. Although I wish this had never happened, we are working at pace to make sure that people receive the payments to which they are entitled.
The hon. Lady is right to say that we have reviewed the cases of people who have subsequently deceased, but she is not right about the quantities of people who would have actually benefited from this exercise. We are only part of the way through, and we do not know, as yet, the total number of deceased people who, having reviewed their case, would have been eligible for additional payments. Where we review the cases of deceased people—of course, we are reviewing all of the cases—we make the payments to their family. We are working carefully and urgently to find the families so that we can make the payments.
On the additional resources that we have made available to complete this exercise, I am sure the whole House would agree it is vital that we get on and sort this out as swiftly as possible so that people can benefit from the additional sums of ESA and other disability premiums to which they might be entitled. I am pleased that we have been able to find the additional resources to enable us to do this. I made the commitment to the House that we would complete the exercise this year, and that is what we are going to do.
The hon. Lady rightly asks what lessons we are learning, especially as we are now planning for the managed migration of people from ESA on to UC. The key lesson we have learned is to make sure that the claimant is involved in that decision. For all the right reasons I am sure, it was decided to migrate people from incapacity benefit on to ESA without contacting them—just passporting them over. I have heard Opposition Members make that call to me as we approach the managed migration, and that is the key mistake that was made. The opportunity was missed to check in with people claiming the benefit to make sure that their circumstances had not changed and that there were not additional payments to which they might be entitled, and that was the cause of this particular problem. I am determined that those lessons are learned so that, as we do the managed migration in a measured and careful way, the mistake is not made again.
How is it possible for someone with a long-term condition to have their ESA changed and their mobility car taken away without there having been any assessment or contact with them at all?
I point out to my right hon. Friend that we are talking about ESA, and the entitlement or opportunity to have a Motability car comes with personal independence payments. We are talking about a decision that the previous Labour Government made to introduce ESA and migrate people to it from incapacity benefit.
We are extremely disappointed that the Minister had to be forced to come to the House by an urgent question, rather than doing what she should have done and made this announcement via an oral statement. On Thursday, we discovered that the DWP had identified nearly double the number of cases to be re-examined and that the errors we believed to have ended in 2014 actually continued through to 2015. Those ad hoc discoveries are extremely concerning and beg the question: what other errors has the DWP missed?
What investigations is the Department doing to ensure that no other payment is affected in such a way? The most alarming aspect of this entire scandal is that 20,000 people whose claims were due to be reviewed have since died. Are the Government undertaking any investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding those deaths and whether this underpayment in any way contributed to or exacerbated those circumstances? Finally, we know that the Department is putting more resources into investigating this, but will the Minister confirm that that is new money and is not coming out of existing DWP budgets?
The hon. Gentleman asked me a range of questions. First, let me say that nobody has dragged me to the House. I regularly update the House; it is a matter of record how often I update the House through a whole series of written statements and by publishing a lot of data. I have made those commitments to the House and I regularly honour those commitments.
In terms of the additional resources, the hon. Gentleman will know that ESA has not been open for applications since the end of last year because people now apply for universal credit, so we now have extremely experienced ESA decision makers who have the time and capacity to support us with this exercise. We had recruited an additional 400 staff before the announcement that I made today.
In terms of the number of people who sadly will have deceased since we recognised this problem and who could have benefited from additional payments, we are very anxious to ensure that we contact people as soon as possible, and if we can find people’s families, we will make those payments to them. Virtually every time I come to the House or Westminster Hall, Members make allegations about the causal link between people being on benefits and them tragically taking their lives. Members need to be very careful when they say those things. As our deputy chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has said, and as the NHS’s survey data show, we cannot make causal links between people being on benefits and them tragically taking their own lives.
Given that people with learning difficulties find the prospect of a face-to-face interview quite stressful and distressing, what more can the Department do to support people in that situation when they need to claim benefits?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. In not only the process for claiming new benefits but this particular exercise, a lot of effort is going into ensuring that we find people and engage with them to check whether they are eligible for these additional payments. That happens through letters, telephone calls and even home visits, to ensure that we contact people in the most appropriate way possible for them.
What is the Minister’s current estimate for how long it is going to take to complete this exercise and to correct all these very serious mistakes?
We anticipate completing the exercise this year.
What financial support is available for disabled people who incur costs relating to their condition that welfare payments are not designed to meet?
I think my hon. Friend is talking about the benefits that are available for the additional costs of disability. There are three benefits there: disability living allowance, attendance allowance and the personal independence payment. As a country, we are going to spend over £50 billion on those benefits this year, which is a £4 billion increase on 2010, and those benefits are of course uprated each year.
As the Minister knows, I have met a lot of people who suffer from acquired brain injury. Quite often, they find that the system does not really meet their needs, because the trajectory of their condition may not be clear and straightforward. They may have periods when they go through much worse phases, and Wednesday may be considerably different from Thursday. All too often, unfortunately, the way that they have been treated through all of this process has made it more difficult for them to get their minds in the right place. Will she please make sure that all 1,200 of the staff she is talking about are aware of the needs of people with acquired brain injuries?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his active engagement with me in coming into the Department so that we could absolutely get this right. It is very important, for people who have not only acquired brain injury but a whole series of conditions that are variable, that the way we do the assessments truly understands their needs. We are utterly committed to making continuous improvement not only to the work capability assessment but to the PIP assessment processes.
I welcome the overall tone of the Minister’s statement and her replies to questions so far. Will she confirm what work the Department will be doing with advice charities locally to ensure that people are aware of this process and when they can expect to be repaid the moneys they should have been due?
For the first phase of people we have contacted, we have nearly completed the exercise. Most of those people will have been contacted and we will have paid them their arrears by the end of April. As we start on the next phase, we will be contacting people by letter. We have really good stakeholder engagement with a range of disabled people’s organisations and charities to make sure that people know this is happening and, when they do receive the letters and communications, that they understand what we are trying to do, which is to make sure that they get all the benefits to which they are entitled.
I welcome what the Minister had to say about the lessons learned from this catastrophe. Will she assure us that she will take the upcoming migration pilot as an opportunity to ensure that an alternative is found to the hard stop, so that claimants who do not make an application in time for universal credit do not have their benefits cut off?
We are absolutely determined to learn the lessons from this particular situation, but also from all other situations, and to make sure that people have the personal, tailor-made support they need so that they can make a smooth transition on to universal credit.
The incorrect transfer of people from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance since 2011 has been a big and costly mistake, with over 600,000 cases examined, potentially at a cost of £920 million. May I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting on top of this issue and sorting it out? Is not the big lesson here that, when it comes to new benefits such as universal credit, it is important to get these things right before they are rolled out?
I very much thank my hon. Friend for what he says. This is why the Government are taking such a measured and careful approach to the managed migration of people on ESA on to universal credit. It is absolutely essential that this is done accurately, with compassion and treating everyone with dignity, and that nobody has a loss of benefit.
I welcome the work that my hon. Friend is doing to deal with this massive issue. What more can she do, though, for those people who have, quite rightly, received a significant sum of back payments but who find that they have gone over the £16,000 savings threshold as a result?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and I want to reassure him and all other hon. Members. This was an official error, so the additional payment that people will get and to which they are obviously entitled—it is a back payment—is discarded for all income-related benefits, including universal credit.
Administrative errors and other mistakes in strategy and practicality flow from values, so what is the Minister doing to inculcate into her Department a set of clear values, and to narrow the gap between operations and aspiration?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the culture of the DWP and the need to make sure that it is a learning organisation, so that people on the frontline feel empowered to escalate any errors or problems to their managers and that those managers are supported by the Department’s senior officials. I have been working closely with the permanent secretary to make sure that new approaches are brought into the Department to enable that learning culture, which ultimately will safeguard all of the often vulnerable people with whom the DWP works.
These Government errors have led to extreme hardship and destitution for some of the most vulnerable in society—the people who can least afford to find themselves in this situation. Will the Minister agree to examine the case of my constituent Gillian, who as a result of changes to her benefits is unable to attend urgent hospital appointments for a long-term condition, because she cannot afford the transport costs? I was deeply distressed to learn of her situation. She has been told that that she may well have to wait up to 18 months for a resolution. That is not good enough.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would of course be delighted to meet her and discuss Gillian. Clearly something is not right. It does not sound like it is related to what we are talking about today, but clearly something has gone wrong and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady as a matter of urgency.
I thank the Minister for her response so far. Underpayments to my constituents have ranged from £3,000 to one massive sum of £22,000. The issue affects some of my constituents when it comes to housing benefit. Can the Minister assure me that none of my constituents will be disadvantaged by something that is not their fault?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that question. This was an official error, so the income disregards do apply and his constituents should not be disadvantaged in the way he describes.
Given that 20,000 disabled people have died while the review has been going on, it is a shame that the issue had to be investigated via an urgent question rather than an oral statement. We know that the figures have been amended since the last update and that 30,000 more people are being reviewed. Is it likely that the number will continue to change?
I disagree with the hon. Lady about our motivation. Since the issue came to light, we have had ministerial statements, written statements and debates in the House. We are absolutely determined to do the right thing by claimants.
Twenty thousand people have died—that deserves an oral statement.
As I have said, we have repeatedly come to the House and discussed with hon. Members what is happening. It is really important, as I have said, that we do the right thing as urgently as possible.
I will answer directly the question about additional estimates. Because we want to be so thorough in making sure that we are not leaving anybody out of this exercise, we did some additional sampling. We were not satisfied that people had always been given the right benefits since 2015, even though new measures were brought into the Department, and that is why there are some additional numbers. I would have thought that Members on all Benches would welcome the fact that we are being so thorough as to make sure that everybody who can benefit will do so.
ESA passports people to other benefits, so when they get the backdated ESA payments will they be reimbursed for the other benefits they have missed out on?
If people were eligible for additional disability premium, then absolutely they would be backdated and going forward they would have those. Other Government Departments have other schemes which can benefit people who claim ESA, but they are the responsibility of those Departments.
I am dealing with a very difficult case at the moment of a man who is in recovery from drug addiction. He had to apply for universal credit to get himself off the streets and into a house. Unfortunately, that meant he lost his severe disability payment. He is now wondering what the point was of getting clean and getting off the streets. He is much worse off and really in a very bad way. I am going back to him later this week. What should I tell that gentleman?
I am absolutely delighted that he has got off the streets and into a substance misuse programme. That will enable him to really turn his life around. There will be lots and lots of support in the jobcentre from his work coach to help him to take those steps to work. I would really praise him for being so brave in tackling his substance misuse and working with his work coach so he can live a full and independent life.
What breakdown has been done of the type of conditions these ESA claimants have?
Our focus has been to make sure that people receive their back payments as soon as possible, so we have not looked at the particular conditions for which people were applying to ESA. We do produce ad hoc statistics, so I will certainly take away that request on how we might provide that for the House in future.
This feels like a perpetual war of attrition with the DWP. I have a constituent who, despite having numerous chronic medical conditions and depression, recently had a work capability assessment where she was stripped of ESA even though her GP certified her as unfit to work. She now has to go through the mandatory reconsideration process which is already adding to her anxiety. Coupled with that, she has been stripped of her housing benefit. What is the Minister going to do about this situation? Will she meet me to discuss this particular case? Will she review the unacceptable rate of ESA claims that are reinstated after mandatory reconsiderations?
Of course I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that particular case. I assure him that we are absolutely committed to improvements to the work capability assessment, but for the vast majority of people the process works well.
The Carers Outreach Service says that young disabled people in Wales face confusion and possible injustice at the age of 19 when migrating from child benefits and tax credits to claiming ESA. Education, health and social services are all devolved in Wales, and ESA problems could be resolved with proper co-ordination between those services and the DWP. Is it not therefore obvious that it could be very beneficial if key elements of the benefit system were also devolved to Wales?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for a question that goes way beyond what we are discussing today. He makes a very good point about when children are growing up and move from childhood benefits to adult benefits. Those young people will now be applying to universal credit, which has the huge benefit of the personalised tailor-made support that is available through the work coach.
I am a bit concerned that a Minister of State does not understand the difference between making a statement to the House and what an urgent question means. She has been brought to the House. This is not the first time I have made these comments to this particular Minister. I want to ask about the 20,000 people who have very sadly died without receiving the money they were entitled to. Is the onus now on the Department to seek out those families? If so, what steps are being taken to find those families?
I am happy to provide the hon. Lady with that clarification. The onus is on the Department. The Department is working really hard to find the family members of anyone who is deceased, so we can make the back payments of their benefits to them.
The Minister must be aware of the hardship and misery that these errors in payments have caused to some of the most vulnerable in our communities, but does she understand the complete lack of trust felt by the sick and disabled towards the entire DWP system, in which there is a hostile environment towards the sick and disabled in which these administrative errors thrived? What steps will she and her Government take to rebuild trust with these groups?
I reassure the hon. Lady that we are spending record levels of money to support people with disabilities and health conditions. I am absolutely determined to make sure that we are constantly reforming the system to ensure that everybody gets the support to which they are entitled.
On Friday, an email from In Case You Missed It News included an item about my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), revealing that the Department’s presenting officers have not attended 80% of the tribunals that it forces disabled people to undergo to access their ESA and other entitlements. Have those officers been reassigned to address this backlog—one cock-up leading to another cock-up— and does this not reveal that the Department would be better off not wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on avoidable assessments, mandatory reconsiderations, presenting officers and avoidable, unnecessary tribunals, and that it should overhaul the whole process?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely focused on making the right decision the first time, but we do not force anyone to an appeal. It is up to them whether they would like a mandatory reconsideration or whether they would like to go to appeal.
On the presenting officers, we never, ever intended to send a presenting officer to every tribunal. We send them to a sample so that we can learn—[Interruption.] I am very happy to answer questions, but I would appreciate it if people did not chunter from a sedentary position, because it makes it very difficult for me to listen and respond to them in the way I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like. Those presenting officers are there to make sure that we are learning from where things go wrong so that we can get them right.
A number of constituents have contacted me because they thought that they may be entitled to payment, but after some investigation, it does not seem that they are. However, how can my constituents and the rest of us in this House have any confidence in the DWP getting this right when the mistakes have been so rife, so egregious and so huge?
Of course, we will be contacting people who are concerned, but I reassure everyone in the House that the Department has taken this issue extremely seriously and has undertaken a very thorough review to make sure that everybody who can benefit from being back-paid will receive those back-payments.
Given that fraud and error payments are usually published in official Government statistics together, is the Department planning on making sure that they are published separately so that the public are clear that the error lies with the Government and not with individuals claiming falsely?
We published ad hoc statistics last week so that we could very clearly respond to the question that the hon. Lady raised.
We know that many people who fall on hard times can go on and off the radar, and some who have been underpaid may since have become homeless. Will the Minister tell us what efforts the Government are making to find these people to give them the money that they are owed and that they will be in desperate need of?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that people would have been on benefits, so it is not fair to say that—or to characterise the situation as one in which—people would not have had any benefits. Clearly, some people would have benefited from additional payments because we did not give them the right amount of money, but people did have those payments in the first place.
The Minister is sorry and says lessons are being learnt, but where is the sense of accountability for this terrible error, which has had such a profound effect on many thousands of people’s lives? Where are the extra staff and resource coming from to sort out this problem? Which areas of the DWP’s work are being deprioritised to make this right?
On the question about accountability, of course the National Audit Office has undertaken an inquiry into this issue and so has the Public Accounts Committee. There has been a lot of scrutiny, and it is quite right that there has been so much. I do not hold back from saying that this should never have happened. It is a very serious situation that we do take very seriously and are working hard to rectify. Please be assured that that is the case, that we have made the resources available, and that we will complete this exercise this year.
One of the many people in my constituency who have suffered from a catalogue of errors by the DWP is supported by Cantraybridge College. He had no ESA payment from the start of November until I intervened earlier this month. He was told there was a fault on the claim but given no other details. What does the Minister say to people such as my constituent and others who have had to rely on the support of friends and family to get through desperate times while those errors have gone on?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but it does not sound as though that particular case relates to what we are discussing today. Clearly anyone who needs support should receive that support. The person the hon. Gentleman describes will now be claiming universal credit, and the huge benefit of universal credit is that that young man will have a relationship with his work coach, and they can work together to make sure he is getting all the support that he needs.
Many of my constituents fall into debt through arrears of payments, whether of universal credit or of other benefits, particularly PIPs. Can we not reduce the waiting time for people on universal credit from five weeks to two weeks, or even a week, because some of them are in destitute situations?
If people have not got any money and are destitute in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes, they need to go to their jobcentre and speak to their work coach. They can be signed up to universal credit and go away with an advance on the same day. I wholeheartedly agree with the more general point about making sure that we make the right decision the first time so that people are not delayed by going through mandatory reconsideration and appeals, and that is what we are working to do.
When it comes to the 20,000 deaths, the Minister says that we as MPs cannot draw cause and effect in terms of underpayments. But surely, as a Minister, she cannot rule out any contributory factors unless we have a proper review and investigation into the circumstances in which those people died and what the effect of underpayments was. When will that review and investigation take place?
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and other Members that if anyone makes an assertion to the DWP that in some way the treatment of someone’s benefits contributed to them taking their own life, that matter is taken extremely seriously and a full investigation is undertaken into the circumstances.
Some 20,000 people have died since failing their work capability assessment in one way or another. Regardless of the circumstances of their deaths—we have to remember that six Secretaries of State and various junior Ministers have stood at that Dispatch Box and denied any link between social security failure and food bank use—surely it highlights the failure of the veracity of the work capability assessments, which require fundamental review. Will the Minister advise from which work streams the additional members of staff will be moved in order to deal with this problem?
Let me provide some clarification to the hon. Gentleman. What we are talking about today is people who were underpaid benefits. As they came across from IB on to ESA, they were put on to a contribution ESA when they could have been entitled to an income-related ESA. It is nothing to do with the work capability assessment, so the basic premise of his question is inaccurate.
On previous points, the morbidity surveys that the NHS undertakes looking at suicides are a matter of record. They are a very serious matter and are reported by the NHS.
Relationships and Sex Education
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on the Government’s proposals for the draft regulations and guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education, and health education, following public consultation.
It is 19 years since the sex and relationships education guidance was last updated. The world that our children and young people face today is very different, and the way in which they build relationships, interact with their peers and manage their own mental and physical wellbeing has changed significantly. Along with all the positives of modern technology and new media come great risks, as children and young people are exposed to information, content and people that could and do cause harm. For many young people today, there is little distinction between their online and offline lives. That is why I believe that, now more than ever, it is necessary for us to give young people the knowledge that they need in every context to lead safe, happy and healthy lives.
During the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, with strong cross-party support, the Government brought about the introduction of compulsory relationships education for all pupils in primary schools, and compulsory relationships and sex education for all pupils in secondary schools. In July I announced that, in addition, I would make health education compulsory for all pupils in state-funded schools. Thanks and appreciations are due in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her leadership in those historic steps, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and to many other Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). My sincere thanks also go to all the external groups and bodies that have contributed to the process and the tens of thousands who contributed to the call for evidence and consultation, and most particularly to our education adviser, Ian Bauckham CBE. Today we have laid the regulations that, following debate, will finalise the process, and published the accompanying statutory guidance for schools.
It is clear—this was also reflected in the consultation responses—that there are understandable and legitimate areas of contention. In reviewing responses and determining the final content of regulations and guidance, we have retained a focus on the core principles for the new subjects that Parliament endorsed through the Children and Social Work Act. Our guiding principles have been that these compulsory subjects should help to keep children safe, help to prepare them for the world in which they are growing up—including the laws relating to relationships, sex and health—and help to foster respect for others and for difference. Content must be appropriate in terms of age and developmentally, and must be taught in a sensitive and inclusive way with respect for the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils.
Parents and carers are the prime teachers for children on many of these matters, and schools complement and reinforce that role by building on what pupils learn at home. We have retained the long-standing ability for parents to request that their child be withdrawn from the sex education element of RSE. The school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, except in exceptional circumstances, up to and until three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. At that point, if the child wishes to take part in sex education lessons, the headteacher should ensure that they receive it in one of those terms. In response to the consultation, we have further clarified in the guidance how and when a pupil’s special educational needs may be taken into consideration, and the fact that headteachers should document their decision-making process on the right to withdraw.
We believe that after reviewing the consultation responses, we have struck a balance between prescribing clearly the important core knowledge that all pupils should be taught, and allowing flexibility for schools to design a curriculum that is relevant to their pupils. We have made a small number of changes that we felt were important and would further strengthen the intent of the guidance. For example, we have made changes to the content on puberty to reflect the need for menstruation and menstrual wellbeing to be taught in all primary and secondary schools.
Given the lack of distinction that young people make between online and offline contexts, we have expanded teaching about internet safety and harms to include content on the potential risks of excessive screen time, and on how to be a discerning, discriminating consumer of information and other content online. We have included teaching about rape, female genital mutilation and forced marriage in secondary RSE, and we have amended the content on organ and blood donation to include the science relating to stem cell donation. We are committed to ensuring that every school will have the support that it needs to deliver those subjects and maintain a high and consistent quality by September 2020. We will be investing in tools that will improve schools’ practice, such as a supplementary guide to support the delivery of the guidance, targeted support for materials, and training. For the financial year about to begin we have allocated up to £6 million to invest in the development of those tools.
We will also continue to encourage as many schools as possible to start teaching these subjects from September 2019, partly so that we can learn lessons and share good practice about how these subjects are being taught before the full mandatory roll-out. These new subjects will put in place the building blocks needed for healthy, positive, respectful and safe relationships of all kinds, starting with the family and friends and moving out to other kinds of relationships, including those online. Young people will know what makes a good friend, a good colleague and a successful marriage, and what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relationships. They will understand the positive effects that good relationships can have on their mental wellbeing. Alongside CPR and first aid, there will also now be mandatory teaching on mental health and wellbeing, a foundation for our wider transformation programme on support services for children and young people’s mental health.
We believe that these proposals are an historic step in education that will help equip children and young people with the knowledge and support they need to form healthy relationships, lead healthy lives and be happy and safe in the world today. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and let me also say that we welcome its direction of travel.
As the Secretary of State said, the work of many colleagues across the House has led to today’s announcement, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who did so much from the Back Benches. It is only fair to note also, as the Secretary of State did, the contribution of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her initial commitment to these changes.
There are a number of questions that I hope the Secretary of State can address. He said there would be a £6 million budget to support schools. With over 23,000 schools in England, this amounts to about £250 per school; is he confident that this is enough, and how will it be distributed? Will training be available to every teacher who requests it, and how many teachers will receive it over the next two school years? Is this new Treasury funding or money diverted from existing education budgets?
On the guidance itself, giving children a voice in this part of their education is hugely important, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of that vital point. However, can he explain why, since the curriculum will always be age-appropriate, he will not allow children to opt in at a younger age? He referred to “exceptional circumstances” in which the opt-out will not be allowed; can he tell the House what such circumstances might be?
The Secretary of State will know the horrifying figures on bullying and mental health problems that affect young LGBT people. Addressing these issues in the curriculum would be a milestone in ensuring that they and others can grow up understanding more and living in a safer environment. At his last statement, I told the Secretary of State that these issues must not be an annexe to the rest of the curriculum, so I am glad that the draft guidance says they must be fully incorporated into the curriculum and not taught separately. However, paragraph 37 of the guidance says this only has to be taught
“at the point at which schools consider it appropriate.”
I know the Secretary of State’s Department has said it expects all pupils to be taught LGBT content, but how will he address the risk that some might be excluded?
Paragraph 21 of the guidance allows schools to “teach about faith perspectives”, and schools with a “religious character” to teach a
“distinctive faith perspective on relationships”,
and it says that
“balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious.”
The Secretary of State will know there are concerns, particularly in the Jewish and Muslim communities, about both his Department and Ofsted, and I am sure we both want our education system to reflect the diversity of our country and provide the opportunity to learn more about it. But can he also be absolutely clear that his guidance does not permit teaching that could be hostile or damaging to LGBT young people in particular?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s words on health education and on the importance of mental health, but can he assure us that he does not intend simply to shift the burden of diagnosis on to teachers, and that greater provision of professional health services will be available? For example, has he considered matching our commitment to ensuring that access to a counselling service is available in every secondary school? I am glad that he has addressed the issue of menstruation, but that would surely be complemented by concrete steps such as those we have proposed to tackle period poverty in schools. Can he tell us whether subjects such as the menopause are also included?
The Secretary of State’s commitment on online safety is also welcome, but is he pushing for firmer action aimed at the giant businesses that profit from social media without taking any proper responsibility? I welcome the inclusion of education on female genital mutilation in the curriculum, but girls are at risk of FGM when they are very young, so can he explain why this issue will not be included in the primary curriculum and tell us what other steps he is taking to tackle it? I believe that we are all better off through understanding the issues that we each face, and I hope that the whole House can work together to make this a reality for the next generation.
The hon. Lady has raised a number of issues, but I should like to start by thanking her for the collaborative and co-operative cross-party way in which she and her colleagues have addressed this matter. We want the subjects to help young people be healthy, happy and safe, and the building blocks start in primary school—particularly those dealing with healthy family relationships and friendships. At secondary level, this moves on to thinking about young people as potential partners and parents and therefore covers content on intimate relationships, sex, online harms and more complex mental health content. She asked about our wider approach on mental health, and she will know of our commitment—my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is sitting next to me—to ensuring that support teams are rolled out across the country to work with schools, and to ensuring that there is a designated mental health lead to look at mental health first aid. Overall, the recognition that we all have of mental health is higher now than it is ever been.
The hon. Lady asked about LGBT content. Schools should address that, as they do other subjects, in an age-appropriate way. Schools, teachers and headteachers know their cohorts of children better than anyone, alongside their parents. We expect this education to happen, at least in secondary schools, so that by the time someone finishes school they have covered that content, but it could happen in primary school as well. Of course, it should not be hostile to any group, and we need schools to be sensitive to the different kinds of families that children might come into contact with. That is partly about LGBT people, but it is also about other types of family. For example, children might be growing up with foster parents, grandparents or single parents, and schools need to be sensitive to whatever the set-up might be. The hon. Lady also asked specifically about LGBT bullying. That is of course a matter of great concern, and we know from surveys that LGBT-related bullying is quite prevalent. As she will know, we are funding four anti-bullying organisations, and the Government Equalities Office is also working with organisations on transphobic and biphobic bullying.
There is a parental right to request the withdrawal of their child from sex education, but we have carefully balanced that with the right of the child as they get older and become competent to make their own decisions. I think that we have struck the right balance there. The hon. Lady asked about exceptional circumstances. It is difficult to codify exactly what those exceptional circumstances could be—by definition, because they are exceptional—but the guidance sets out how headteachers should go about discussing these matters with parents. That is good practice, and they should honour that right to request withdrawal until three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. More broadly, we encourage schools to work with parents, and there is an obligation to consult parents on the content of these subjects and to publish that consultation on the internet. The hon. Lady asked specifically about faith groups, and it is correct to say that in the guidance we set out that the core content must be covered, but beyond that faith-based schools can reflect the teachings and traditions of their faith to help to build on that.
Overall, we need the right resourcing and support to help schools to deliver this properly, which is why we have budget available to do that. That will cover both online and face-to-face training, but of course we will continue to look at this as the programme gets rolled out to make sure that we have absolutely the right support in place.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Did he see the report in The Times at the weekend suggesting that more than 6,000 sex assaults had taken place in schools between 2015 and 2017, which was an increase of 60% during that time, and that some victims were forced to stay in the same school as those who had conducted the sexual assault? Will he look into that and ensure that it does not continue?
Yes, and of course I share my right hon. Friend’s deep concern. Our “Keeping children safe in education” guidance sets out what should happen on safeguarding in schools. It includes specific guidance on what happens with reports of sexual violence and harassment between children, to ensure that if someone is at risk or is going to be at risk, an immediate referral should be made. If appropriate, that should be to the police.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I hope everyone in this place can agree than this is a long overdue but welcome update. We know that young people are hitting puberty younger than ever before, so it is good to see the inclusion of menstruation in these guidelines. Is the Secretary of State planning to follow the Scottish Government’s example and make free sanitary products available in schools, both primary and secondary, across England?
It is important that parents remain the primary educators of their children, and that there is a partnership between schools and parents. Although I respect the right of parents to withdraw their children from these lessons, I make an appeal to those parents: children talk, so would it not be better that children and young people are taught by trained professionals, in a safe environment, where questions can be answered accurately and with sensitivity, rather than their getting half stories in uncensored chat in the playground?
The Secretary of State has confirmed that diversity, inclusion and tolerance will form the basis of these new proposals, and that young people will be supported in making safe and informed decisions about their sexual and emotional health and wellbeing as they prepare for adult life. Will these guidelines also support the aims of the TIE—Time for Inclusive Education—campaign with respect to LGBT rights and tolerance? Can he confirm that sex and health education will tie in with the Government’s anti-bullying strategy to ensure that pupils are taught the importance of acceptance and are aware of the support available to them?
I am slightly concerned about the age at which FGM is going to be tackled, but perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us at exactly what age he proposes that this should start. We know that this practice is happening at a very young age, so children do need to be aware of it.
Finally, in recent evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology’s inquiry on the impact of social media and screen use on young people’s health, we heard disturbing evidence that 48% of 11 to 16-year-olds had seen online pornography, with many of them having done so simply because it had “just popped up”. What can the Minister tell us about his plans to ensure that children are properly educated about the harmful effects of online pornography, including revenge porn, to ensure that young people are able to stay safe online and are aware of the consequences of this practice on both the victim and the perpetrator? What will he do to ensure that all young people, whether their parents have removed them from the lessons or not, will get these lessons, particularly those on safety online?
Again, there were a lot of questions in what the hon. Lady said. I am not sure I am going to be able to do justice to them by giving them all full answers, but I have a feeling that many of those topics will come up again during the course of questions. This guidance is for schools in England, but of course these are areas of shared concern. The hon. Lady is quite right that children talk, and these days they not only talk but see stuff on a screen. That is why it is much better to receive these messages from, as she rightly said, a trained teacher in a safe and supportive environment. Respect for LGBT people and so on is at the heart of this, and we are absolutely integrating what we are doing in this area with our work on bullying, as I said to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who speaks for the Opposition.
We will ensure that children in secondary school talk about the harmful effects of pornography and are aware of the wider issues around pornography and respect for others. That touches on some other issues, to do with privacy and some of the additional problems that people can run into online. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) says “consent”. She is absolutely right. Consent these days is a multifaceted question, when we are talking about images of people and the control that they lose over them if somebody else comes into possession of them.
Finally, we need a whole-society approach to eradicating FGM, so that there is not another generation coming forward that is at risk of it. When we talk about FGM, we are not talking specifically about girls who are individually at risk. This is also about those growing up who will be the nurses, teachers, police officers, community support workers—you name it—of tomorrow and ensuring that we are aware of these issues throughout our society so that we can do better to stamp FGM out.
I welcome the steps forward being taken today. They are incredibly important for many children and especially young people, whose voices have been listened to. It is very hard for them to protect themselves from a risk if they have never been alerted to its existence in the first place. It is also very hard for them to know what is normal and acceptable online—what they should share, what they should look at and what they should put online themselves—if no one has ever sat down and tried to explain to them the context and how that behaviour affects others, so what we are doing is crucial. Clearly, the online world in particular moves at a pace that often makes it hard for this place to keep up. Will my right hon. Friend set out what plans there are to ensure that it is not another 19 years before a Government revisit and update the guidance?
I said it earlier, but I will say it again because it bears repeating: let me express my thanks and appreciation to my right hon. Friend for the leadership she has shown on these issues over an extended period. I can make a commitment that it will not be another 19 years. During the passage of the legislation, our hon. Friend Edward Timpson, the then Member for Crewe and Nantwich, committed us to updating the guidance much more regularly—every three years or so—although it might need to be updated more quickly because, as my right hon. Friend rightly said, all these things are now moving at such a pace.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today. I know that these are not easy issues to navigate, and he is doing a really good job of it. With that in mind, I urge him to keep going, because there will be those who say that they want exceptions or want to exclude their children, or that their school is somehow different. I have visited many schools, as I am sure he has, where the majority of children are Muslim or of other faiths. They deliver teaching on LGBT bullying, LGBT awareness and all those issues extremely well, resulting in very well rounded children, so the Secretary of State will have our full support if he wants to continue doing this work.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. Of course, many people have been involved in this work, and I know that it has support right across the House. I join her in commending schools—faith schools, community schools; all sorts of schools—that do such a good job of ensuring that all their children feel totally included and supported as they grow up.
The last time sex and relationships guidance was updated, the internet had not been invented, sexting had not been invented, social media had not been invented—the list goes on. All these things have become part of our children’s childhood, so my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench today deserve the wholehearted support of everyone in this House for what they have done.
How will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make sure that parents understand that enabling their children to be part of sex and relationship education is about helping to keep them safe and that it is not a threat to their children’s safety? It is through that work that the Government can most help schools understand how they deliver.
My right hon. Friend characteristically makes a very telling intervention. She is absolutely right. As we have gone through this process, I have been struck by the support that has come from some quite unexpected quarters. Often that is because of the jolt that adults have had from discovering the things that children find out and see on the internet in particular. There have always been stranger dangers, but there are now dangers from people whom children do not consider to be strangers or to be a threat and that has galvanised many people into supporting this kind of action.
I very much welcome today’s announcement, but I should also say that of course 10 years ago the previous Labour Government made very similar proposals to the ones that have been announced today and, unfortunately, the Conservative party at that time could not agree with them or support them. I am delighted that there has been that change of heart.
I want to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State two constituents in my area, Stephanie Trotter and Vicky Parkey, who had a note put through their door on Thursday evening, which basically said that their relationship was immoral. It questioned their right to have a child together and told them that they should move away from the area. That bigotry and prejudice, which is still out there in some communities, has very effectively been challenged in my community by neighbours displaying the rainbow flag and putting up supportive posters for that family. That is why I am really pleased that the Secretary of State talked today about the need for healthy, positive, respectful and safe relationships of all kinds to be taught in our schools and the need for sensitivity to all types of families, so congratulations and well done.
I thank the hon. Lady for her words. I am so sorry to hear about the experience of the couple in her constituency. That does help to illustrate why it is so important that, from a young age, people think about respect for all kinds of people and all kinds of relationships, and understand that families of the other children in their school setting may look quite different from their own.
As far as I am concerned, the best form of sex education is—to coin a phrase—to respect and love your neighbour as yourself whatever their sexuality, just as you would respect and love them regardless of their race, ethnicity or anything else. How boring life would be if we were all the same. This very diversity sums up why all previous Conservative Governments have recognised that religious people, and indeed non-religious people, have their own justifiable formal belief about the best way to teach sex education. All previous Conservative Governments, therefore, have given an untrammelled right to parents to remove their children from sex education, but here, in certain circumstances, that right has been transferred to the headteacher—a fundamental shift of power to the state. How does that square with what Edward Timpson, the then Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, said during the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill? He said:
“We have committed to retain a right to withdraw from sex education in RSE, because parents should have the right, if they wish, to teach sex education themselves in a way that is consistent with their values.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 705.]
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not think I can do any better than read word for word from the guidance:
“Once those discussions”—
that is to say, those on the request to withdraw—
“have taken place, except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16. After that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should make arrangements to provide the child with sex education during one of those terms.”
But the right continues to exist up until the three terms before the child reaches 16.
I too wholeheartedly welcome this guidance. When I was a teacher, these were the lessons that I loved teaching the most. However, without good training, without a full understanding of the full evidence behind them, these lessons are really quite difficult to teach, and not all teachers are adept at doing that. What assurance can the Secretary of State give to all teachers that, if they are going to be teaching this, they will get proper training, not just online tools? Furthermore, will they have the time to be able to engage not just with that, but with the conversations that come naturally after these lessons as well?
I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady really enjoyed teaching these lessons. That is not true, of course, for every single teacher. Some can find it quite difficult, which makes the provision of good training and materials even more important. There are lots of third party organisations that produce high quality materials. We want to make sure that schools are easily able to access them, but I can give her the commitment that we will make sure that good training is in place.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State did not quite answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I agree with most of this, but I remember Edward Timpson categorically saying that parents would have the right to withdraw their children if they wanted to. The Secretary of State has made a very strong case for the three terms before the age of 16 exception, but he keeps adding the words, “unless there are exceptional circumstances”. Why have those words been added? In what circumstances would a headteacher overrule a parent? Is not the likely effect of this going to be that in some cases, instead of children getting necessary sex education in schools, more parents are going to keep their children out of school?
We do not want parents to keep their children out of school. I hope I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the intention is to say that the long-standing right to withdraw children from sex education does not apply to relationships education or the subject of human reproduction in the science curriculum, but that there is that right to request when it comes to sex education. The request is put to the headteacher, and the guidance that we issue to headteachers clearly says that the headteacher should comply with that request up to three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. Why three terms before the age of 16? Because 16 is the age of consent, so the child should be able—if they wish—to have some sex education for at least a term before they reach that age.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the impressive range of reforms that he is introducing, but will he say something about how the increasing number of children who are being home-schooled will benefit from these reforms?
There is a distinction to be drawn between children who are being home-educated and children who are not in school but who are sometimes statistically deemed to be home-educated because they are not in school; those are two different matters. Many parents are home-educating their children, sometimes because their children have had difficult experiences at school or have special needs and so on, and those parents are doing the most amazing and dedicated job in educating their children. The simple answer to the hon. Lady’s question regarding how this reform will help children who are not at school is that it will not because this is about lessons that happen in schools. Where children are able to be in school, we want them to be in school.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and particularly for his reassurances that the primary responsibility for educating children in relationships, sex and health remains with parents. In the light of his answer to previous questions, will he reassure the House that there is no intention whatever in these guidelines to usurp or undermine the rights and responsibilities of parents to educate their children in these matters if that is what they choose to do?
I can confirm that. What schools do should complement what parents do, and I recognise that parents are in many ways the primary educators in these matters.
I welcome today’s announcement about specialist subjects and new learning, but constituents have come to me both applauding these changes and raising concerns. What will the Department be doing to bring parents alongside schools, so that they can assist in their children’s learning?
We want schools to work alongside parents, recognising that there are sensitivities to some areas of the subject matter. There is a requirement to consult parents and to publish the school’s policy on the internet. More broadly than that, we want schools to work alongside parents because this should be a collaborative effort.
The issue of relationships and sex education is causing a huge amount of concern in my constituency. I took a delegation to meet Lord Agnew, who said that his Department set the direction but that the interpretation was being implemented by Ofsted. Now, there are some Members here who feel that the state knows better than parents themselves, but the last time I looked the Conservative party believed in freedom of choice and the freedom for people to decide their own future. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet a delegation of my constituents so that he can hear their concerns at first hand?
I am always happy to hear from my hon. Friend. I assure him that in this process I and colleagues have met representatives from a range of different viewpoints, including a range of different religious groups. There is a balance to be struck, and I think we have struck it. We get criticism from both sides—both from groups who think that this is too liberal and from groups who think that it is too restrictive—and the job of the Government is to try to get a good balance that respects that. Faith is also one of the protected characteristics, and it is right that we acknowledge that and absolutely have due respect for it. We need to make sure that as children are growing up and, sometimes, coming to terms with themselves and the world around them, we support them and make sure that they are equipped as they enter the adult world.
Well, I for one say hoo-bloody-rah—well done! I am absolutely proud of what the Government are doing, because in September 2010 I introduced a private Member’s Bill to this effect. It is just a shame that they have taken such a long time to get round to it. Seriously, though, I am delighted, not least because what passes on poverty in so many cases around the country is teenage pregnancy. A young girl who has a child before she is 15 or 16, apart from the legality of the situation, will end up having a child who grows up to be a teenage mum as well. All the evidence shows that really good sex and relationship education makes sure that children delay their first sexual experience, take fewer risks when they do so, and end up being better, more rounded, more fruitful, happier children. So hoo-bloody-rah!
I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not know if that is unparliamentary language or not, Mr Speaker, but I think we will let it go on this occasion.
I have had parents contact me over the weekend, ahead of the debate that is going on in Westminster Hall and the Secretary of State’s statement, saying that they would like to have the right to make sure that their children do not attend the relationships part of the proposals that he is suggesting. What is the Government’s response to my constituents on that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Our response is that there is a long-standing right to withdraw from sex education. We took the view that that right should not be extended to relationships education, as Parliament also decided during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. It is important that every child has the opportunity to learn about and to discuss the different types of relationship there are in the world. That does not start with intimate relationships. It starts with sharing, taking turns and being kind to people, with an understanding about permission that then moves into discussing consent before getting on to some of these matters about intimate relationships. Obviously, schools do much of that anyway, but grounding the content for later years in school with regard to some of these basic building blocks is really important.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I strongly support the introduction of compulsory relationships education. It is vital that all young people grow up understanding and respecting the diversity of modern relationships and modern families. How will his Department monitor the delivery of these subjects to ensure that all children are taught effectively, including about LGBT issues, and that same-sex relationships are always presented in a positive and respectful way?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Of course we expect schools to follow through on this. It is about core curriculum content, and schools do follow such guidance. It is also in scope for inspection by Ofsted, or aspects of it are, and by the Independent Schools Inspectorate—for example, through the way that inspectors look at pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare, and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. As she will know, the Ofsted framework is a core part of the infrastructure around education.
I welcome the statement, not least because, when I was going through school, sex education was too much about the mechanics and not enough about respect, emotions and, ultimately, the key issue of consent. The 19-year-old guidance is flagrantly in need of updating. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the focus of what we are looking to do is not just about learning about the mechanics—sadly, too much of that can now be done online—but about the key components of what a relationship actually is, particularly respecting others and respecting yourself?
I give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance that that is at the heart of these proposals.
I welcome the statement and the measured way in which it has been imparted to Parliament. However, pursuant to the question of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), in what exceptional circumstances does the Secretary of State foresee headteachers overruling parents, aside from during the term prior to the age of consent?
As a matter of course, I would not expect headteachers to overrule parents. It is difficult to codify what those exceptional circumstances might be because, by definition, they would be exceptional. I make it clear that the intent of the guidance is to say that when a parent requests that their child be withdrawn from sex education, the request will ordinarily be granted up to three terms before the child reaches their 16th birthday, being the age of consent.
I, too, welcome these measures, which help to prepare our children for life in the complicated modern world. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) mentioned the menopause. The Secretary of State referred to menstrual wellbeing, and it is important that we include in that not only educating girls and boys about the start of menstrual life and the start of periods but what will happen at the end, because we know there is a shocking lack of awareness and information for women at that stage. Will he meet me to discuss this further and how it can be included in the curriculum and in the guidance for schools?
I am always pleased to meet my hon. Friend and to get her particularly expert view. There is a long list of things that we could include in this guidance, and we have already included a lot. We have tried to make sure that the guidance is quite comprehensive, but we have to set some limits.
Nearly 750 children across my borough of north-east Lincolnshire have been exposed to domestic violence in the past year, and it is essential that all children understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and recognise unduly coercive and violent behaviour so that they do not go on to repeat it. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating North East Lincolnshire Council, Women's Aid and the NSPCC on the work they do, day in and day out, in my constituency and across my borough in schools and family hubs to protect, inform and support Grimsby’s children and families?
I absolutely join the hon. Lady in commending those organisations. As she will recall, I had the opportunity some time ago to visit her constituency and to meet some of those involved in safeguarding children to hear about some of their strong and innovative work.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about LGBT education, but does he think there are any circumstances in which a school should be allowed not to teach that element of the curriculum? I went to a faith school, and I do not want to be flippant about the sensitivities, but having absolutely no LGBT sex and relationships education did not make me any less gay. Every child in every school has a right to that education.
We are clear on two things: these issues should be taken on in an age-appropriate way, but by the time a person reaches the end of their schooling, they should have covered them. We trust teachers and headteachers to make the decision about when to do that but not whether to do it.
I thank the Secretary of State for bringing forward these reforms, which I broadly welcome, particularly the element of relationship advice and what constitutes a good relationship, but there is no doubt that this is concerning parents in my constituency—I have received a lot of correspondence on this. Clearly we need to get the balance right on our common shared values of understanding and tolerance, but can he give reassurance to parents who are concerned about modesty and appropriateness that the balance will be right and appropriate for the age group?
I too have received a lot of correspondence, and I understand that there are great sensitivities. I think it is true to say that there is no set of guidance on relationships and sex education we could come up with that everybody would be happy with, but we have tried to strike a balance. We have written it into the guidance that there needs to be consultation and co-operative working with parents, and through that, I hope parents will be more reassured. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are a diverse society, and it is important that children growing up in it know about that diversity.
Trade Remedy Measures: UK Interests
As part of the Government’s preparations for leaving the European Union, the Department for International Trade has been determining which existing EU trade remedy measures should be transitioned once the UK operates its own independent trade policy. From the outset, in the October 2017 trade White Paper, the Government made a commitment to maintain those trade measures currently applied by the EU that matter to UK interests. The subsequent call for evidence published in November 2017 sought to establish which goods covered by EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties are produced in the UK and whether UK production met the criteria to be transitioned. Provisional findings were published in July last year, with interested parties given further time over the summer to respond. Having completed their analysis of those responses, the Government will publish their final findings today.
Of 109 existing EU measures, we will maintain 43 where they are directly applicable to the UK and have met the criteria to be maintained. Those measures cover a wide range of goods, from ironing boards to aluminium foil, to ensure continued protection from known unfair trading practices for important industries such as steel and ceramics.[Official Report, 27 February 2019, Vol. 655, c. 1MC.] The measures will be in place and take effect from either 29 March, in the event of a no-deal UK exit from the EU, or at the end of the implementation period with the EU. That will also apply to any definitive safeguard measures that are in place on exit either on 29 March or at the end of an implementation period.
At the same time, the UK will not transition the remaining 66 EU measures that currently apply, because the measures did not meet our criteria as set out in the call for evidence. I remind the House that those criteria were: first, that the Department received an application from UK businesses; secondly, that the application was supported by a sufficient proportion of the UK businesses that produce those products; and thirdly, that the market share of the UK businesses that produce those products is at least 1%.
This is not about picking favourites. As I said previously, we will provide UK industry with a level playing field, enabling businesses to trade fairly with their international competitors. As I just set out, our decision about whether to maintain measures was based on whether those measures mattered to the UK. We cannot, for example, transition measures where there is no UK production, as that is not compliant with our World Trade Organisation obligations, nor is it in the UK’s wider economic interests. Where measures are not transitioned, that will reduce costs for UK users of these products, lead to lower prices for UK consumers and benefit related industries such as food and construction. To provide just a couple of examples across different sectors, the final findings will see the removal of a 34% tariff on imports of solar glass from China, which is used to produce solar panels, and a 10% tariff reduction on imported sweetcorn from Thailand. This is just one of the benefits of the UK being able to operate its own independent trade policy, tailored to the specific needs of our people, businesses and communities.
The European Union has recently imposed safeguards on several categories of steel products in the form of tariff rate quotas. Safeguards can be used to protect domestic industry from surges in imports. They act as a safety valve and provide industry with some breathing space to adjust to increased imports. Under WTO rules, safeguards can only be used if unforeseen surges in imports are causing serious injury or there is a threat of serious injury to domestic industry. The Department for International Trade is working to ensure that these safeguards can be transitioned effectively, including setting the tariff rate quotas at an appropriate level for the UK market and reviewing the product scope, so that the safeguards only cover steel products made in the UK. I will be in a position to update the House on that shortly.
Turning back to the transition of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures, all transitioned measures will be maintained at the same level set previously by the European Commission until the UK Trade Remedies Authority completes a full review. This approach is a clear demonstration to our WTO partners of our continued commitment to a rules-based international trading system. The Trade Remedies Authority review will decide whether transitioned trade remedy measures should continue, and if so, at what level. It is designed to ensure that all interested parties have the opportunity to take part.
Once complete, the resulting measures will fully reflect the UK market situation based on UK-specific market data. The reviews will include an assessment of the risk of dumping or of subsidy recurring if measures are removed, an analysis of injury to UK producers and an assessment against the UK economic interest test. While the time taken for each review and their timing will be a matter for the Trade Remedies Authority to determine, we anticipate each review will take between 12 and 18 months to complete. I would very much like to thank the MPs from across the House who responded to the consultation process and those who made strong representations on behalf of specific interests in their constituencies.
As the House will know, work to establish the Trade Remedies Authority itself is well advanced, with over 80% of staff appointed. As I set out in my letter of 14 February to the International Trade Committee, in the event that the Trade Bill does not receive Royal Assent until shortly after exit day, I have prepared contingency options to ensure that we can deliver a fully operational trade remedy system. This contingency plan means that, until the Trade Remedies Authority is legally established, the staff recruited to and trained for that body can instead carry out their functions as part of the Department for International Trade. Once the Trade Bill receives Royal Assent, the drafting of the contingency regulations is such that trade remedy functions will immediately revert to the Trade Remedies Authority as a non-departmental public body. I intend to lay the secondary legislation giving effect to this option shortly. This will enable staff to begin reviews of transition measures. As far as possible, they will follow the same procedures as those that will apply once the Trade Remedies Authority is finally established.
Whatever the outcome of our negotiation with the European Union, UK industries can be confident that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure we are able to operate our own independent trade remedies framework, avoid exposing them to known unfair trade practices and maintain the existing trade remedies measures that matter to their interests. We are of course committed to ensuring that UK industries receive the protection they need, but I am absolutely aware that trade remedies measures can increase the cost of affected products for user industries and consumers, as well as the competitiveness of both user and producer industries. That is why the principles we have set out for our trade remedy system include the need for proportionality. The system we are introducing ensures appropriate account will be taken of the impacts on users and consumers and on the wider trade agenda. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement today. He is right of course that, as we transition, we will need to have our own trade remedies in place. In his response, he may play fast and loose with our opposition to the Trade Bill, but he will know that our opposition was principled on the basis that we disagreed with many of the measures contained therein. We do, none the less, need to have measures in place.
We are just five weeks away from leaving the UK and possibly operating our own trade remedies, yet the Trade Bill, which establishes the Trade Remedies Authority, is still stuck in the other place due to the Government’s refusal to set out a transparent and democratic approach to trade agreements. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance’s suggestion is correct that it would have been possible to maintain the existing EU remedies until they came up for review? Indeed, if he accepted my party’s proposal for a customs union, he would ensure the continuity of trade remedies and that EU safeguard measures would not apply to British exports.
However, the Secretary of State has proceeded, as he wants, to fast-track the UK into the sort of less regulated economy he has always favoured. Rather than presuming to maintain trade remedies and maintain the status quo, so eager is he to begin cutting tariffs and opening up UK markets to cheaper imports that the Government have decided to presume that all such measures will be terminated, unless a case is made to maintain them. Such measures will undoubtedly increase the volume of imports on UK markets at less than fair market cost. After all, that is why the trade remedy measures were imposed in the first instance, following lengthy investigations by the EU. Indeed, at a time when the Department has faced repeated criticism about Brexit preparedness and priorities, when the Secretary of State has failed to bring forward the Trade Bill, when he has failed to discuss the 40 trade agreements that he promised would be ready “one second after midnight” after Brexit, and when the Government have failed to present a workable Brexit deal, why did he choose to ignore the MTRA?
The Government have failed to produce coherent evidence for these policy decisions; nor have they carried out an impact assessment. Indeed, many will be concerned that today’s findings are little more than policy-based evidence to support the Secretary of State’s free trade quest.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has been absolutely chaotic, no more so than in the extraordinary approach taken to delivering the UK’s trade policy. Any claims that the Government are acting in the interests of British business in ensuring continuity of trade on existing terms completely fall apart in the face of the evidence. The Secretary of State is chasing trade agreements with his gold tier friends across the Anglosphere and prioritising efforts to liberalise UK markets as part of his free trade experiment. In carrying out this consultation, the Government have refused to consider evidence from trade unions and civil society groups, instead only accepting arguments presented by a producer or group of producers who collectively meet what originally was an unspecified volume of production and/or who had an unspecified market share in those goods.
The Government’s intended agenda is clear. While they have explicitly stated that only evidence submitted from producers may be considered in the determination of the continuation of an existing measure, they have welcomed the views of downstream producers and consumer interest groups. That further compounds the concerns of our producers that the Government’s primary objective is cheaper prices, no matter how that might decimate manufacturing in the country. If people lose their jobs, cheaper prices will be of scant consolation.
There have also been recent reports that the Secretary of State wishes unilaterally to reduce all tariffs to zero in the event of a no-deal Brexit—a move that has been met with alarm and shock by our producing industries and which I detailed extensively in our debate last Thursday. Unfortunately the Secretary of State has refused to confirm that he has abandoned that folly. On zero tariffs, 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.
This Government have long stood against the interests of our producers and the jobs they maintain in our heartlands—from the Potteries to the valleys. The UK Government have repeatedly blocked efforts by the European Union to reform trade defence measures and, through the establishment of the Trade Remedies Authority, have taken a substantially different approach from the existing EU regime. The EU has since modernised those measures, as the UK no longer participates in those discussions. That resulted just last month in the EU introducing a range of safeguard measures to apply to steel imported into the EU, taking into account social and environmental factors in determining distortion in production. UK steel exports to the EU are likely to be subject to the additional measures, which will undermine UK steel competitiveness in those markets. Indeed, the vast majority of UK steel exports are to the EU or to those countries with which the EU has a trade agreement. The Government’s trade policy priorities and failure properly to secure trade continuity arrangements jeopardise that.
The concerns of our producing industries are manifold. How will reviews of the maintained trade remedies be conducted? In determining the UK’s approach, will the Secretary of State accept the findings of any separate EU review? Will he accept evidence submitted by producers in respect of ongoing reviews or investigations by the EU as qualifying for automatic inclusion in any subsequent review or investigation to be carried out by the UK? What analysis has his Department carried out in respect of the impact of terminating trade remedy measures, and what assessment has it made of the unilateral reduction of trade tariffs to zero?
We got there just before Brexit, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman did not say very much about trade remedies, so there is very little to respond to. In fact, it is a great example of “If you haven’t got anything to say, don’t say anything”. The Government’s policy is quite clearly correct and is supported by what he calls producers but I call employers. I know it was a slip of the tongue and that he did not mean that his policy is to leave the UK—I am sure that is the policy of the SNP.
The hon. Gentleman says that I want a less regulated economy. Yes, of course I want a less regulated economy, but it is against the rules of the WTO to impose regulations and trade remedies where there is no UK production or where we do not meet the threshold. Is he actually suggesting that we maintain remedies where there is no UK business and industry to protect, to the detriment of our consumers who will pay higher prices without protecting anything in the UK itself?
The hon. Gentleman talks as though cheaper prices are somehow a bad thing. I would love to see an improvement in the disposable income of people across all income ranges. If we can do that by removing tariffs—which are effectively taxes—by procedures such as this, we should be willing to do so. In fact, this is one of the real advantages of our ability to leave the European Union—to set our own tariffs.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Trade Bill. Report stage in the House of Lords will be on Monday 4 March. He does not seem to understand the consultation we have had. We have engaged widely with stakeholders. He said correctly that we have spoken to those who produce these products, but we have spoken to those who are involved further downstream and whose costs may be reduced by what we are doing. We have spoken to trade associations, in particular UK Steel and the British Ceramic Confederation. We have had bilaterals, roundtables and technical meetings. We have written to all MPs twice, which one would have thought covered a very wide range of consultation if MPs are doing what they should be doing in their constituencies.
On the European Union, if we go into an implementation period, all trade remedies will be rolled over and we will adopt any new European trade remedies during that period.
An excellent statement with a good balance: protecting our industries against dumping where needed, but giving our customers more choice and lower prices where we do not have an industrial interest. Will my right hon. Friend promise me that those same excellent principles will be applied when he sets out our full tariff schedule, where I hope, for example, we will have zero tariffs on imported components to give a really big boost to British industry?
The Treasury will bring forward the appropriate statutory instruments relating to that soon.
In evidence given about the formation of the TRA, the Law Society of Scotland said:
“it is important that any assessment of impact of particular trade measures takes into account a wide range of stakeholder interests. This should involve balancing the interests of producers and consumers, which may sometimes be directly opposed, as well as consideration of the wider public interest.”
That, of course, means consideration of measures such as the anti-dumping and subsidy measures that were in the provisional report published last July.
The methodology for determining whether measures would be maintained or rescinded, again published last July, included a great deal about production—supporting firms’ production, total domestic production, opposing firms’ production—and a great deal about the market, UK firms’ domestic sales and total domestic sales including imports. Those who have solely producer metrics are in the tables that were published last July—the producer application received, the support threshold met, the market share threshold met—and that led to some apparently contradictory decisions. Reinforcing bar from Belarus would have its measures terminated, but reinforcing bar from China would have its measures maintained. Tubes and pipes of ductile cast iron from India would be terminated, but welded tubes and pipes of iron or non-alloy steel from Belarus would be maintained. There were contradictions in what were apparently similar items.
May I therefore ask the Secretary of State—I know the updated version will be published soon—why was no weight given to the consumer interest explicitly? Why was no weight given to the wider public interest explicitly? Why do those outcomes seem so arbitrary for what would appear at face value to be similar products?
Our intention is to maintain protection where there is a case to protect British businesses from unfair trading practices. We have looked at the evidence that the EU put in place to have these remedies in the first place and we think there is a suitable case for doing it. The hon. Gentleman asked me a very specific question about rebar steel. The reason that we have maintained measures on China and terminated measures in other cases is because no producer interest was expressed. They made no application for that to happen during the call for evidence and therefore, it did not fall within the criteria that we set out for the consultation and which I reiterated in my statement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the extensive consultation that he has carried out with both industry and Members of this House. Will he confirm, for the 43 EU remedy measures that we are maintaining, that none the less, his new Trade Remedies Authority will, during the implementation period, be able to start to review those measures to ensure that consumers are not paying any higher prices for goods than strictly necessary?
I can confirm that and, as I said, we will want to use British market-sensitive data to do that. At all times, we want to maintain the correct level of protection so that our businesses are not subject to unfair trading practices such as subsidies and dumping, but at the same time, we want to ensure that where we can reduce tariffs and therefore prices for consumers without in any way reducing the protection of British business, we will be able to do so. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) said, it is a subtle, but important balance.
Will the Secretary of State please explain to the House why the Trade Bill is taking so long to gain Royal Assent? Will he also list which trade unions he has included in his consultation on the trade remedies strategy?
As I said, the Trade Bill will be on Report in the House of Lords next week. I hope that the Opposition will ensure that it can pass into law as quickly as possible—the Government will certainly not impede it. I cannot tell the hon. Lady which specific trade unions were involved, but I shall write to her with a response.
I listened very carefully to the question/statement that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), made, and he sounded so not in favour of the Trade Bill that it was rather worrying. May I ask the Secretary of State what would happen to those protections if the Trade Bill were thwarted somehow by the Opposition?
As I said in my statement, if we are unable to get the Trade Bill through, which provides legal underpinning of the TRA, we will use mechanisms under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, but I would want to see the Trade Bill go through as soon as possible, because it gives us the best possible legal underpinnings for the mechanisms that we are putting in place.
When we talk sometimes about national security, we think about military and defensive measures. This is about our economic security and businesses that are potentially under threat of being undercut by unfair subsidies from China or elsewhere, putting our workforce and their livelihoods on the line. Will the Secretary of State give us an absolute guarantee that our economic security is not going to be weakened after 29 March? It is clear that the haphazard way in which he has not managed to give the Trade Remedies Authority a proper, legal basis yet makes this look as though it is all held together by a box of matches and sticky-back plastic. We need strong defences for our country and surely that has to include strong economic defences as well.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We do need to look after our economic interests, which is why we need a Trade Remedies Authority that is able to put these trade remedies in place and review them. We did not vote against the establishment of the Trade Remedies Authority; the Opposition parties did so by voting against the Trade Bill in what would otherwise be an act of economic vandalism, were we not stepping in to ensure that businesses such as steel and ceramics are properly protected.
What is it about ironing boards?
Like all the other elements that I mentioned, they in one way or another provide jobs for people in the United Kingdom, and the Government will ensure that industries whether large or small are given the appropriate protection from unfair trading from overseas.
When does the Secretary of State expect the Trade Remedies Authority to be established, and what additional costs will be incurred before it is?
It is impossible to give a date. The right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in the other place, who have been so holding up the Trade Bill, have more effect on the date than I do. He might want to have a word with them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. Its value for both business and consumers is plain. Does he agree that it underpins the importance of ensuring that we do not have a forever customs union of the sort that has been highlighted as a very bad thing, inter alia, by the Leader of the Opposition?