House of Commons
Thursday 28 February 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
I beg to move that Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County Constituency of Newport West, in the room of Paul Phillip Flynn, deceased.—(Mr Nicholas Brown.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
As this is my first opportunity to do so, may I pay my tribute to the former hon. Member for Newport West? Paul Flynn was a true parliamentarian and he was respected across the House.
The Prime Minister, supported by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and others, has met and continues to meet MPs from across the House to understand what will command the confidence of the House. Those discussions are ongoing.
I pay my compliments to Paul Flynn. He was a lovely man. He put his arm around quite a few of us in the early days when we were new Members.
We have had months of no progress or compromise on the deal from either the UK or the EU, but there has been some good news. Donald Tusk said that the letter from the Leader of the Opposition offered a “promising way forward” to solve the Brexit impasse. Surely the Secretary of State agrees that this could be the basis for cross-party talks, and that we could crack the need to protect jobs, trade and rights, and even help the Irish border question, through a comprehensive customs union?
As the shadow spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said yesterday, there have been discussions between the respective Front Benches. I agree with him that it is right that we do not go into the details of those discussions on the Floor of the House, but there have been discussions and I think that that is welcome. Both the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and other distinguished Members, such as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), noted in the debate yesterday that there had been progress. It is important that we continue to have those discussions, but that those of us on the Government Benches stand by our manifesto commitments in respect of not being part of a EU customs union.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to secure change. The Brady amendment showed that in terms of the legally binding change to which the Prime Minister has referred. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like mine, also want to see us move on. The way that we do that, and end that uncertainty, is to back the Prime Minister’s deal.
Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that in the discussions to which he has just referred the EU has made it absolutely clear that the backstop will not be removed from the withdrawal agreement?
The EU has made clear that it wants a deal that will pass this House. It has heard the concerns about what it says is a temporary agreement—what article 50 says is temporary—and the concern expressed by the Attorney General in his legal advice that it could be indefinite. It has heard the concerns of this House. That has been very much the message that the Attorney General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I have expressed in those discussions. The EU is engaging in a discussion on how we can address that.
There is significant cross-party support to ensure we do not leave the EU without a deal. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister promised that if her deal failed to win support by 12 March the Government would give the House a chance to reject no deal the following day. Can the Secretary of State succeed where the Minister for the Cabinet Office failed yesterday, by telling the House how the Government will vote on such a motion?
I admire the way in which the hon. Gentleman asked a question that has been put to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I very much echo the replies that they gave to the House. He also touches on a wider point. The positions of the parties on the winding-down arrangements in the withdrawal agreement are closer than the debate may sometimes indicate. I think that across the House we agree that we should respect our legal obligations. Across the House there is a shared commitment to avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. As we saw yesterday over the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), there is also cross-party support to protect EU citizens’ rights and the rights of UK citizens in the EU. There is much on which we agree. The question is whether Members across the House will back the deal to end the uncertainty that businesses and citizens face.
The Secretary of State is right to talk about ending the uncertainty. Frankly, this is not good enough. Business demands certainty and the country needs clarity. This House has already passed a motion expressing our opposition to a no-deal Brexit, so the Government risk being in contempt of the House. Let me give the Secretary of State one more chance: when the motion comes forward, will they vote to reject no deal—yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman puts the same question a second time—[Interruption.] The point is that he talks about ending uncertainty, and the way to end uncertainty is for the Labour party not to go back on its manifesto and have a second referendum, because a second referendum will prolong the uncertainty. We may end up with the same result but just a further level of uncertainty as we go through a second referendum. What we need to do is back the deal, move on and give businesses—as he and I agree—the certainty they need.
Further to the Secretary of State’s comments about a second referendum, does he agree that there is considerable cross-party support opposing a second referendum?
As so often on these matters, my hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense. There is no consensus not just about a second referendum, but about what the question would be in a second referendum, because those supporting the second referendum do not even seem able to agree on what question would be put.
European Arrest Warrant
The political declaration provides a basis for agreeing effective arrangements based on streamlining procedures and time limits for the surrender of suspected and convicted persons. That is the operational capability that we want to maintain which is currently in the European arrest warrant.
It should be a source of great anxiety to all of us in this place that the four Children’s Commissioners of the UK have had to write to the Secretary of State expressing their worry about the lack of safety for our children and the clarity in the political declaration. It is very important that we get that clarity. The political declaration is vague, broad and, frankly, unconvincing. When will the Secretary of State give us clarity? How can we in good conscience vote for the deal when we do not know if we will be as safe afterwards?
On this point, the hon. Gentleman and I agree: we want to be in a position where we can surrender those suspected of crimes in Europe to those countries and they can surrender those individuals to the UK. That is in our mutual interest. The political declaration does not rule that out and it is in both sides’ interest. After all, we surrendered far more people—around 8,000—to the EU over the last eight or nine years, compared with around 1,000 that were surrendered the other way. If there is a murderer or rapist who has committed an offence in Germany, the victims of that crime want to ensure that that perpetrator is surrendered there. We also want that to happen. That is why it is in both sides’ interest to reach an agreement.
Of course Germany will not allow the extradition of people held there to the United Kingdom if we leave the European Union. Is the Secretary of State aware that Scotland Yard’s deputy assistant commissioner, Richard Martin, said yesterday that leaving on a no-deal would lead to a significant slowing down of police activities on such things as the European arrest warrant? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Office about what extra resources might be needed by the police to maintain the same level of security in a no-deal scenario as currently applies?
There was a reason that I chose Germany out of the EU27 countries as my example. The point I was seeking to raise is that it is in both the EU’s and our interest to enhance our mutual security by having arrangements. Of course, the EU has other arrangements, but the most streamlined way of doing that is to have the operational capability, and that is the point that the Home Secretary is making.
Obviously, the Government’s priority is to secure a deal, but it is quite true and correct that Ministers and officials have carried out extensive engagement with trade unions to listen to and reassure them on workers’ rights. In fact, we have workers’ rights standards that often exceed EU standards. Whatever the scenario, the Government have pledged to maintain those workers’ rights, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed to giving Parliament, whenever the EU standards on workers’ rights change, a vote to keep up with those standards.
The Government’s own guidance states that workers’ rights will be maintained at the existing level in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the TUC and other organisations have expressed concern that future UK Governments could choose not to enhance workers’ rights in line with the requirements of EU employment standards. Does the Secretary of State agree that there should be a dynamic alignment between the UK and the EU on workers’ rights in the event of no deal?
As I said a moment ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given a categorical undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to vote to keep up with EU standards on workers’ rights as they change. Given the hon. Gentleman’s reference to the TUC, I should mention that Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has said:
“A second referendum could damage the UK’s democratic fabric.”
That is exactly the voice of the TUC. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is chuckling somewhat with embarrassment, but that is the position of the TUC.
I will be supporting the deal because I think that it is in the best interests of our country and will protect our workers, but can the Minister assure me that the Government are committed to making the United Kingdom a gold standard for workers’ rights, not just in Europe but in the world?
As I said in my earlier answer, the UK is currently a leader on workers’ rights, and there is no reason why that position should change after Brexit. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear on a number of occasions that we do not want to see any diminution—any reduction—in the quality of workers’ rights and protections. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must vote for the deal, and we must move forward.
Can the Minister assure me that, whatever the way in which we leave the European Union, workers will receive protection that is commensurate with, or greater than, that enjoyed by others across the continent of Europe?
As I think the hon. Gentleman understands, today the UK enjoys workers’ rights protections which in most cases exceed the EU minimum, and there is no reason why they should be in any way diminished after we leave the EU.
Devolved Administrations: Talks
On Monday I co-chaired the eighth ministerial EU negotiations forum in Cardiff. During the meeting, Jeremy Miles from the Welsh Government, Graeme Dey from the Scottish Government and I discussed the issue of data in the context of our future relationship with the EU, which I know is very important to the devolved Administrations in the discharge of their responsibilities. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attends the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU negotiations), and, indeed, did so on his first day in office.
Does the Minister agree with the submissions made more than two years ago by the devolved Administrations, and confirmed by more recent analysis by his own Government, that staying in the single market and the customs union would be the best outcome for the whole UK economy?
We have, of course, taken careful note of the submissions from the devolved Administrations, but we have Governments led by different parties with different political positions. We discuss that regularly in the ministerial forum. What we need to do is work together to ensure that our approach works for the whole UK, and that is what we will continue to do, recognising the differences of opinion that exist between the respective Governments.
Will the Government now admit that if they had engaged properly with the devolved Administrations two years ago and had meaningful discussions with the Scottish Government about their—the Scottish Government’s—paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, they would not now be in the position of having to blackmail the House into choosing between a bad deal and no deal?
We have engaged on those papers, and we have had a range of meaningful discussions over the years, in many of which I have been personally involved. However, we respect the fact that we will take politically different positions on some of these issues. The UK Government believe that they must discharge their responsibility for the UK to leave the EU, and the Scottish Government do not agree with that. Nevertheless, we will continue to work together to find the best approach to these challenges.
Given that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland has supported a differentiated deal for Scotland in the event that Scotland is removed from the single market by the UK, and given that the Government support a differentiated deal for Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm that a similar option would be possible for Scotland?
The circumstances of Northern Ireland, with the UK’s only land border with the EU, are different in that respect, but more importantly the deal we have negotiated is for the whole of the UK, and it is vital that we recognise that it was a UK-wide referendum and therefore we should deliver on that deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
When my hon. Friend meets Members of the Welsh Assembly does he remind them that the people of Wales voted for Brexit with far greater enthusiasm than they voted for a Welsh Assembly? Will he urge them, along with some of the more recalcitrant members of the Cabinet, to get behind the Prime Minister and deliver Britain out of the EU with or without a deal by the end of March?
My hon. Friend makes his point with his usual force and power, and of course he is absolutely right that Wales did vote to leave the EU. I have indeed in Select Committee sessions at the Welsh Assembly reminded some Assembly Members of that, but the Welsh Government have engaged constructively with us in the ministerial forums and we will continue to work with them to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK.
Last week the Government announced a new fund to help local authorities with ports to manage Brexit. It appears that the fund covers only England, and in Wales the Welsh Government provide no such dedicated ports assistance. Will the Minister please raise this with Welsh Ministers, because information provided by my local authority in Pembrokeshire, with its ferry connections to Ireland, suggest that my county is not getting the assistance it needs?
My right hon. Friend as always is a champion for his county, and may I in advance wish him a happy St David’s Day? I will certainly be happy to take this up with colleagues in the Welsh Government, and I know that my ministerial colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who is in charge of no-deal preparations, will be looking at that in our overall approach to ports.
May I remind my hon. Friend that devolved administrations need not only be the nations of the United Kingdom? They could also include the combined authorities, including the one in the west midlands.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) sitting beside me on the Treasury Bench has engaged in some very useful discussions with the combined authorities, including Andy Street.
I have had correspondence from one of my companies, Clandeboye Yoghurt, and had a second meeting last Friday with another of my companies, Lakeland Dairies, both of them concerned about packaging. The issue is clear: the packaging needs to be in order before 12 March—another D-day—so the products are ready to leave on 29 March. They have been in touch with the Northern Ireland devolved Administration Department—the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—and the Department here; can we have some idea of what is happening?
I will be very happy to take that issue up on behalf of the hon. Gentleman with the relevant Departments—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade—and make sure that they are engaging with the Northern Ireland civil service.
Dynamic Alignment with EU
The UK has a tradition of exceeding EU standards, so we do not need to follow EU rules to continue to lead the way. It is a matter for Parliament to decide, and the Prime Minister has signalled her intent to give Parliament more control on these issues.
The Secretary of State needs to stop playing games on this, because he knows that even if commitments on workers’ rights and other rights are put into primary legislation, once we leave the EU they can be overturned by a future Tory Government, and for years we have heard from those on the Conservative Benches about their aspirations to deregulate the labour market and make it easier to sack people. The single market is the only way of having a binding guarantee on workers’ rights; will the Secretary of State accept that?
I think the person playing games, with respect, is the hon. Lady, who is ignoring the fact that in a number of areas we exceed the European standards. For example, on maternity leave the UK offers 52 weeks, 39 weeks of which are paid, whereas under the pregnant workers directive just 14 weeks are paid. So I do not accept the paucity of the hon. Lady’s ambition: the UK should be looking to go beyond that and provide better workers’ rights than she seems to be seeking.
Article 50: Extension
We do not want to see article 50 extended. Our focus is on getting a deal that Parliament can support and on leaving on 29 March. Extending article 50 simply defers the moment of decision and extends that uncertainty.
The Prime Minister has, since Tuesday, opened up the possibility of extending article 50, subject to EU agreement. From the UK’s perspective, this could be used for three options: to deliver Brexit, a general election or a people’s vote. Can the Secretary of State think of any other options?
We are clear that we want to secure a deal and that we do not want to extend. The hon. Lady should really come clean, because she says that she wants to extend but what she really wants is to go back on the largest vote in our country’s history and revoke Brexit entirely. She does not want to extend in order to secure a deal; she wants to stay in the EU and go back on the deal. She is praying in aid an extension when that is not really her policy.
If there is a vote on 14 March, will the Secretary of State vote to extend article 50?
We have already had this question twice, but I am happy to refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. We are committed to securing a deal; that is the Government’s objective.
Does the Secretary of State really think that, without an extension, he can get the necessary legislation through before we leave the EU? By the way, I am not trying to obstruct us leaving.
I respect the way in which the hon. Gentleman has framed his question, because I know, as he does, that his constituency voted leave and that many of his constituents will be keen, as mine are, to ensure that we get this deal over the line. Clearly, the withdrawal agreement Bill is a significant piece of legislation and we will need to get it through the House, but the key issue is getting the deal through, because once we have done that, we will have the basis for the necessary consensus in the House to approach that legislation.
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that extending article 50 is a very unsubtle way of thwarting the will of the 17.4 million people who want to leave. Does he agree that one way of avoiding having to extend article 50 would be to ensure, in the negotiations, that the Malthouse proposals—which he has asked a taskforce to work up into detail—should be put into the legal text of the treaty with a definitive implementation date?
I pay tribute, as the Prime Minister did, to the work that my right hon. Friend and a number of colleagues have done on taking forward the alternative arrangements work. He will be aware of the time pressure relating to the derogations required as part of that, and that is why this is seen as a phase 2 issue by the European Union. He can be reassured, however, that, as the Prime Minister has set out, there is a commitment to £20 million of funding to take that work forward, together with civil service resource. That shows the goodwill and intent of the Government in relation to progressing the alternative arrangements.
Paul Flynn told me that I had star quality, but as my friend, I do not suppose that he was an objective observer. In the event of the withdrawal agreement being defeated a second time, the Government must be committed to voting in favour of a no-deal Brexit; otherwise, they will in effect have taken no deal off the table, won’t they?
I am sure that the former Member for Newport West was not the only person to say that my right hon. Friend had star quality. The key issue is that we need to give businesses certainty and we need to secure the deal. Unlike my right hon. Friend, I am optimistic that there is an opportunity for the House to come together on the areas on which we agree. This is about the winding-down arrangements, but many of the issues on which there is further debate to be held relate to the future economic partnership. We have already signalled that we want to work much more closely across the House on taking that work forward.
I am very glad that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was heartened by the tribute from Paul Flynn, but it seems to be manifest and incontrovertible that he exhibits star quality. Indeed, it is as manifest, incontrovertible and predictable as the passage of the seasons, for goodness’ sake.
During yesterday’s debate, the Minister for the Cabinet Office clarified that, in the event of the House voting on 14 March for an extension to the article 50 process, the Government would be required to bring forward legislation and that the House would have a chance to approve whatever final extension length might be agreed with the EU. I have a simple question for the Secretary of State: do the Government foresee that legislation being primary or secondary, and will it be the means by which the House could express its view on the proposed length of the transition?
The hon. Gentleman is getting slightly ahead of himself. Before the vote on 14 March, we have a vote on 12 March. This Government are committed to winning that vote, and therefore the vote on 14 March will not apply.
Of course the Government have engaged extensively on EU exit with businesses and industries across all sectors of the economy and all regions of the UK. I am pleased to tell the House that I visited Tees valley to discuss EU exit issues with representatives of the chemical sector, including the bioethanol industry, and they made it very clear that supporting the Prime Minister’s deal is the one way they can get certainty and clarity.
I thank the Minister for his response but, on behalf of the British bioethanol industry, may I highlight the devastating impact that a zero-tariff regime would have on the industry? Tariffs ensure a level playing field, and the UK industry cannot compete with US bioethanol, which has substantially lower energy costs and feedstock prices. The biofuel plant at Wilton in my constituency is only just about to restart after a production pause, but with reduced operations. British jobs are hanging in the balance.
Will the Minister meet members of the bioethanol industry again to reassure them on this point? Will he assure the House today that a zero-tariff regime for bioethanol will not come into force at any point, deal or no deal?
As the hon. Lady knows, I am of open disposition. I am happy to meet representatives of any industry, particularly from her constituency. I make it clear that the political declaration clearly states that the EU and UK will agree on a free trade area for goods. There is no question of having damaging tariffs, in the way she describes, on the industries she mentions.
I call Nick Smith. [Interruption.] I will give the fellow a chance in due course, but I think there may be some domestic difficulty if I do not call the Front Bench.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
Paul Flynn never told me that I have star quality, but he did say that I might have a fighting chance if I bought his book.
Is the Minister, like me, opposed to unnecessary testing on animals? If he is, will he make sure that, as we seek to replicate regulatory regimes on the chemical industry, not a single unnecessary duplicate test is conducted on animals in this country?
This issue definitely came up in the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 last summer, and it was very much the Government’s position at the time that we would try to maintain standards on the protection of animal rights.
What about the regulations?
And the regulations. I am determined to resist any idea of a second referendum, because that would extend the uncertainty and lack of clarity.
I know my place, Mr Speaker.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, my friend, knows his place. If only he could keep his wife’s pegs in the Members’ Cloakroom as tidy as he keeps his own, all would be well in the world. I thank him for his question.
Getting a deal is the best way to give the business community the certainty and clarity it needs and is asking for. This year alone, we have published over 250 pieces of advice to businesses of all sizes to provide the information they need to prepare for our exit from the European Union. This week alone, Ministers have met businesses from across the economy, including the financial services, energy and automotive sectors, to discuss this plan.
If we crash out, what will the Minister say to Welsh farmers when they cannot sell their lamb to European markets because they face tariff rates of 46%?
I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that his constituency is one of the few that voted in greater numbers to leave the European Union than mine did. People took in a whole bunch of factors when they made that decision, and they expect us to deliver on it. The best way to avoid the scenario he outlines is to vote for the deal that is coming before the House.
And at the same time, business investment in the UK stood at almost £47 billion in quarter 3 of 2018, which is an increase of 30% on quarter 1 of 2010. The World Bank considers the UK to be one of the best and easiest countries in the world in which to do business, with it ranking ninth out of 190. Last month, London retained its position as the top tech investment destination in Europe. I could go on and on and on.
Ah yes, star quality personified—Mr Barry Sheerman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I feel really sorry for the Secretary of State and his poor little team. It is going to be Shrove Tuesday next Tuesday and my resolution will be to be a little nicer to them every day for the whole of Lent, because they are the carrying the can that has been kicked down the road by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The truth that has not been articulated this morning is that the mess we are in is the Government’s mess—it is the Tory party’s mess. They called the referendum, they got it wrong and now the British people and the British businesses that I represent are paying the penalty. Why does the Minister not get up, speak up for Britain and sort out our businesses, which are terrified of investing in this country?
The hon. Gentleman is really enjoying himself today.
I should have what he had for breakfast more often, Mr Speaker. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, however, I am pretty aware of what my constituents voted for back in June 2016. I am pretty sure they wanted to leave the European Union. I am pretty sure they are pleased with the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund saying that it is going to invest billions of pounds in our country going forward. He should be positive about the future of the country and not such an Eeyore.
Investment and the UK Economy
The Secretary of State has regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of our EU exit. The UK remains a great place to do business. Only yesterday, INEOS announced £1 billion-worth of investments in the UK oil and chemical industries, something I am sure the hon. Gentleman is about to welcome wholeheartedly.
Yesterday, I met the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership, which told me how the Government’s prolonged approach to Brexit negotiations was already having a major effect on business decisions in our locality—this is a concern spread right across the UK. Will the Government act now to protect jobs in my constituency and elsewhere? Will they remove those red lines and negotiate a customs union, close ties with the single market and proper protection for workers?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I think he can probably guess part of the answer: the best way to do those things that he wants is to vote for the deal. May I gently remind him of something he tweeted in June last year? He wrote:
“I campaigned & voted to remain. As much as I don’t like the result of the referendum, as a democrat I have to respect it.”
He should do so.
Can the no-deal Minister confirm to the House that the UK is No. 2 in the whole world for foreign direct investment after only China and that although the doom mongers before the referendum said that by now we should have been in recession, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, this year we are going to have the fastest growth in Europe, with record numbers of people in employment?
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question, and I can confirm that. I can also confirm that the economy has grown continuously for the past nine years and is expected to grow throughout the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast period. There are now 3.3 million more people in work than there were in 2010, and the employment rate is at a record high of 75.8%. This country is doing well—is that despite Brexit?
Reciprocal Healthcare Arrangements
The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet members on all EU exit-related matters. The withdrawal agreement safeguards the reciprocal healthcare entitlements of UK nationals in the EU and of EU nationals living in the UK. Although we remain committed to leaving the EU with a deal, as a responsible Government we are preparing for all outcomes, including in respect of reciprocal healthcare. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care have written to EU partners to seek to protect healthcare arrangements.
Well done on the 5-1 win last night, Mr Speaker.
Will the Minister confirm that the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill will guarantee reciprocal healthcare rights for all citizens? Will it gain Royal Assent before 29 March?
The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons and is awaiting Report in the House of Lords. We are confident that we will have the necessary legislation in place, with Royal Assent, by exit day. The Bill will enable the UK to strike the reciprocal deals that will provide the certainty for which my hon. Friend asks.
EU Exit: No deal
As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, the only ways to rule out no deal are to revoke article 50, which we will not do, or for Parliament to vote for a deal. We are working to achieve legally binding changes on the backstop, and we have set out commitments to protect workers’ rights and the environment and to an enhanced role for Parliament in the next phase of negotiations. We are determined to address the wider concerns of those who voted to leave. We all know that the House needs to support a withdrawal agreement, and we are working hard to deliver that.
It is not quite as simple as that. Surely the best way to take no deal off the table is for the Government just to say that they are taking no deal off the table, so why, when the SNP put an amendment to Parliament last night, did the Government Whip their MPs, including Scottish Tory MPs, to walk through the No Lobby and not take no deal off the table?
There are a whole host of reasons. First, we want to get a deal over the line. May I just remind the hon. Gentleman what the House voted for, or against, yesterday? It voted against an SNP amendment by a majority of 36. Interestingly, were one to take that result literally, that now means that there is a majority of 36 in this House for keeping no deal on the table.
The Department’s own report shows that almost a third of the Government’s essential no-deal projects will not be ready for 29 March. The Minister will not say how the Government will vote on 12 March, but if the House votes against no deal, will that be respected?
I am fairly hopeful that the vote on 12 March will be carried by the House because it is the one for the deal.
Does the Minister agree that, although it is the Government’s policy to leave the European Union with a deal, the SNP’s position is to accept no deal whatsoever, and they are therefore trying to manoeuvre the debate to the point of no deal, which would suit their argument—chaos, leading to an independence referendum, leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point, with which I mostly agree, although the Government have been preparing for two and a half years for our leaving without a negotiated deal so it would certainly not be chaotic.
I remind the Minister that the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs votes for something does not make it right. Certainly, the experience with the Scottish Tories is that they vote not for what they want to happen but for what they want their Whips to see them voting for.
Will the Minister comment on the statement made by his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland last night? He said that the Government voted to leave no deal on the table to make sure that it did not happen, and the SNP voted to take no deal off the table to make sure that it did happen. Does the rest of the Cabinet share the Secretary of State for Scotland’s particular and idiosyncratic form of logic?
Personally, I think we are lucky to have such a brilliant Secretary of State for Scotland. I completely understand that the hon. Gentleman has taken a very principled position on not wanting to leave the European Union; I just wish that there were others, perhaps on the Opposition Front Bench, who would be honest with the British people—especially those in northern Labour leave seats around Barnsley and south Yorkshire, the east and west midlands, Manchester and so on—and say, “Actually, the new Labour position is to stay in the European Union” and that they disrespect the votes in the referendum.
Yet again we see that, when it suits the Government, they insist on looking at the voting pattern of individual constituencies in the north of England but ignore the voting patterns of entire nations that are supposedly partners in this Union. If the reason why we want to take no deal of the table is that, secretly, we want it to happen, does that give us an explanation of why the Government keep telling the Scottish Government to take independence referendums off the table? Are they secretly wanting that to happen as well?
I might have misheard the hon. Gentleman, but may I gently remind him that the Scottish people voted to stay within the United Kingdom?
Regeneration of Towns
Of course, my hon. Friend will be well aware that leaving the EU creates fresh opportunities to allocate growth funding according to our own UK priorities, including the regeneration of towns. The Government are committed to creating the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to tackle these inequalities across our communities. Leaving the EU with a deal will mean, of course, that we remain in the existing programmes until they close. We have also protected this funding in the case of a no-deal scenario.
Will my hon. Friend confirm how we will make the Shared Prosperity Fund better than the EU programmes that it will replace?
My hon. Friend, and I think everyone across this House who has an elementary grasp of arithmetic, will know that for every €20 that we put into the EU pot we got €10 back, so we were a net contributor. We were the second biggest net contributor, and the logic of that is that we can more than compensate for the loss of EU funding across our communities. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will go some way to meeting those concerns.
Anyone with an elementary grasp of arithmetic can also read the latest studies showing that, had the United Kingdom being staying in the European Union, we would have received far more in regional development funding because of the increase in regional disparities under this Government’s austerity for the past 10 years. Will the Minister tell me that the Shared Prosperity Fund, of which we have no details with only 30 days to go to Brexit, will match the increased funding that we would have had from the European Union?
The point I was trying to make was that we as a country were a net contributor. We were the second biggest net contributor in the system that redistributed those funds. There is no doubt that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund can more than match EU funds. The details of that, as the hon. Lady well knows, will be discussed as we leave the EU on 29 March.
May I quietly and politely encourage the Minister to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make sure that funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will come in once we have left the European Union, is not required to be on a match funding basis? Our small towns up and down the country are unable to raise the match funding to access such funds, so the money ends up in the big cities, where the capital is available.
That is obviously an important part of the ongoing discussion. There is no doubt that, with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, we will be able to have a better, more sensitive regional allocation than is currently the case under the EU system.
UK Citizens: Rights in EU
The UK Government have been unequivocal that, under any scenario including no deal, EU citizens and their family members living here at exit will be able to stay. We are calling on member states to reciprocate that unilateral offer for UK citizens. Alongside that, the Government supported an amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) yesterday to seek to ring-fence the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement. We will write to the European Council to seek its views on this as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Following the Government’s acceptance last night of the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire, which I was pleased to support, what action will they now take to introduce the necessary legislation to safeguard EU citizens’ rights in this country and also to protect UK citizens in the EU?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We have already introduced some of the legislation for the settled status scheme to ensure that it is available for EU citizens in the UK. Of course, safeguarding the overall package for UK citizens in the EU will require a reciprocal agreement. It is for that reason that we will be writing to the European Council to raise the issue and seek to take forward talks on it as early as possible.
Devolved Administrations and Local Government
The Secretary of State engages regularly with Cabinet colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretaries of State for the territorial offices. We will use Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen the Union, and we will engage directly with the devolved Administrations and local government across the UK. For instance, the Secretary of State for Scotland recently met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Engagement with the devolved Administrations is very important on devolved issues, but what steps is my hon. Friend taking to involve MPs from the devolved nations in reserved issues, because every MP in this House is equal to one another?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course, MPs in this House will have an important role to play on UK-wide frameworks, which we are working to develop as soon as possible. Once we leave the EU, directly elected parliamentarians in this House and the devolved Administrations will be responsible for more than they were during the period of our membership.
Since the last departmental questions, this House has given a clear indication of what it needs to support a deal with the EU. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Attorney General and I have held discussions with key EU figures, and the Prime Minister made it clear in her statement on Tuesday that we are making good progress and remain committed to leaving with a deal on 29 March.
The threat of a no-deal exit from the EU means that the ability of businesses to use 2019 emissions trading scheme credits to address 2018 ETS costs is at risk, meaning that businesses may be subject to multimillion-pound bills that they can ill afford. Will the Secretary of State urgently take action to prevent businesses such as British Steel in my constituency from suffering heavy financial penalties through no fault of their own?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important and fair point. He consistently speaks up for the steel industry, and the 2018 emissions surrender under the European emissions trading scheme is an issue of concern to that industry. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and he is happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is undertaking an analysis of the issue, and I am happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman regarding that.
My hon. Friend will have seen the announcements about the Treasury guarantee for the funding measures she mentioned. We are also exploring more long-term alternatives, so this work is ongoing.
Thirty days ago the Government backed the Brady amendment and the Prime Minister said she would try to obtain
“legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop”.—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 788.]
It is clear from yesterday’s debate that some Members on the Government Benches have a high expectation that legally binding changes may yet be agreed, even at the eleventh hour. Against that background, will the Secretary of State confirm that, although discussions have taken place about work streams and possible additional words to further explain the backstop, in the 30 days since the Brady amendment, the Government have not drafted or put forward to the EU any proposed words that could conceivably be described as “legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement” in relation to the backstop?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to refer to the package of measures that we are putting before the European Union, and the Prime Minister touched on that in her remarks on Tuesday. In terms of the specific wording, these are obviously live discussions and need to be given the space to be conducted. As the Prime Minister set out in her statement on Tuesday, we have been very clear with the European Union that the effects of these changes have to be legally binding. That is what the Brady amendment required and it is the clear will of the House; that is the crux of the issue that we are discussing with the European Union.
Well, this may be Brexit questions, but it is clearly not Brexit answers. The Secretary of State can evade questions all he likes, but his evasion tells its own story. He knows and I know that the Government are not even attempting to change a single word about the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, and he knows the expectation among his hon. Friends that there are going to be those changes to the withdrawal agreement. Can he not simply admit that the only plan the Government have is to run down the clock and attempt to force MPs to choose between the same basic deal as was rejected in the first meaningful vote and no deal?
With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, there is an inherent contradiction in his question. He says that the Government are trying to run down the clock while, at the same time, we gave a clear commitment yesterday to give the House a vote, if the meaningful vote does not go through on the 12th, on whether the House would then support leaving without a deal. That is not in the Government’s interest. It is also not in our interest to run down the clock because, as he is well aware, we need to ratify the agreement through the withdrawal agreement Bill prior to leaving, and therefore we need time for that ratification to take place. So there is a contradiction within his question.
It is not in our interest to run down the clock, and, further, it is not in the interests of the business community, because they want the uncertainty ended as soon as possible. I gently say to him, while congratulating him on perhaps winning a battle on his Front Bench on a second referendum when so many of his fellow shadow Ministers have spoken out publicly against it, that a second referendum will prolong the uncertainty, and I do not think that is in the interests of business.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The deal is absolutely essential across the piece, and that is exactly what we are focused on. If we can secure a deal, we will leave in an orderly and timely way. Given the efforts of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), in preparing this country for no deal, I do not believe that a no-deal scenario will lead to the sort of destruction that the doomsayers on the Opposition Benches have suggested. We are doing lots and lots to secure our safety and our prosperity in the case of no deal.
I am very happy to tell my fellow Cambridgeshire MP how I reassure the academics of Cambridge on this issue. If we look at just how many European Union universities are in the top 50 compared with the number of British universities in the top 50, we see that the determination of their success is not based on their membership of the European Union.
The Scottish Government are demanding additional funding for preparations to leave the EU. Can the Minister confirm that in 2018-19, despite receiving £37 million, the Scottish Government allocated only £27 million for that purpose—a gap of £10 million?
My hon. Friend has some good figures, and I have some extra, updated figures for him. The devolved Administrations received a total of £120 million in the 2019-20 EU exit funding allocations. The Scottish Government received £54.7 million for that period. We have been working behind the scenes with the Scottish Government, who have been nothing but professional, courteous and actually quite excellent to deal with on no-deal preparation.
We have had a public vote. The people voted in record numbers, and they gave us a clear instruction to deliver on that. I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that he, like so many Labour Members, stood on a manifesto that committed to give force to that vote. Many voters in his constituency and others across the country will be baffled as to why, given that manifesto, his party now seems to be going back on it and supporting a second referendum. That is not what it was saying at the general election.
Magna Carta states:
“All merchants may leave or enter England”—
of course, now the United Kingdom—
“in safety and security. They may stay and travel throughout England by road or by water, free from all illegal tolls, in order to buy and sell according to the ancient and rightful customs.”
Does that remain the policy of Her Majesty’s Government?
It has been a while since I heard Magna Carta quoted in the Chamber. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to the principles of free trade to which that excerpt from Magna Carta alludes. We want a free trade agreement. We have been a champion of free trade over many centuries, and I strongly urge him to back the deal so that we can craft an agreement that will ensure free trade.
No, I do not agree with that statement. I made it clear in my previous answer that we are negotiating on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. That is why we have forums for engaging with the devolved Administrations. Sadly, Ministers from the Northern Ireland Administration are not available to engage with us, but they will be treated equally to Ministers from the other devolved Administrations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK prosperity fund gives the UK Government and Scottish Government the opportunity to work together to improve all aspects of Scots’ lives?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that the multi-annual financial framework, from which that fund comes, finishes in a couple of years, so more certainty can probably be delivered to businesses such as those in his constituency from the shared prosperity fund.
The Government are stepping up investment in research and development and building up the amount by which the UK leads other countries. As per the Secretary of State’s answer, I expect the strong position of our universities to continue to strengthen in years to come.
Probably better than me confirming that is for me to point the hon. Lady to the written ministerial statement laid before the House earlier this week, which goes into great detail. I will happily give her a copy afterwards.
The Secretary of State or one of his colleagues mentioned the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, but there is also the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and numerous statutory instruments. We are days away from leaving. Why on earth are the Secretary of State or any of his Ministers confident that we will have a functioning statute book at 11.1 pm on Friday 29 March? I am not.
I am surprised that the hon. Lady is not. I believe she has sat on a number of the statutory instrument Committees. We have nearly completed our statutory instrument programme to get ready for a no-deal situation, and we have plenty of mitigating measures in place should other primary legislation be held back inadvertently by Members not wanting as smooth a departure as possible if we are to leave without a deal.
The recent Government report states that only 40,000 of the 240,000 British businesses that trade exclusively with the EU have applied for their export registration number. Businesses say that it could actually be given automatically if they are registered for VAT. Is this just incompetence, or are the Government looking for a scapegoat in the event of a disastrous for business no-deal exit?
No. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have been significantly scaling up our communications to those businesses. We have capacity under the website registration to register 11,000 a day. Part of the challenge has been that many of those businesses are hopeful of a deal, and are therefore holding back until 12 March to await the decision on that deal. However, they can scale up, and we have the capacity to scale up, as the paper provided to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) set out.
In the light of the fact that EU negotiators have said they need a significant reason for extending article 50 on their side, if Parliament votes to extend article 50 on 14 March, what reasons will the Government give, and what preparations are they making now to ensure that it is secured and honoured?
What EU leaders have said is that they want to have the certainty of a deal. They do not want to see an extension, particularly any extension of uncertainty. The hon. Lady, as some other hon. Members have, talked about 14 March. The key issue is the vote on the 12th—the meaningful vote—and getting a deal. That is what EU leaders have said they want, and that is what this Government want.
I voted for Labour’s Brexit deal, but does the Secretary of State agree with the CBI that a no-deal Brexit will mean
“a lost decade, stifling the UK’s potential and leaving us less competitive, productive and prosperous for years to come”?
When the hon. Gentleman says he voted for Labour’s Brexit deal, I am slightly confused about which one, because its position has obviously changed somewhat. Given that his own constituents voted in a majority to leave the EU, I would say that I share their optimism for the future. We are a country that can go out into the world and succeed, and we can make Brexit an opportunity for us, rather than one portrayed in the way he sets out.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 4 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2019.
Tuesday 5 March—Proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill.
Wednesday 6 March—Motion relating to the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General, followed by proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Regional Rates and Energy (No. 2) Bill.
Thursday 7 March—General debate on International Women’s Day, followed by a general debate on the opportunities and challenges facing the modern Commonwealth in its 70th year. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 8 March—The House will not be sitting.
I would like to wish the House a very happy St David’s Day for tomorrow. I thought about wearing a leek, but then I thought a daffodil would be more subtle. Some of my real highlights as leader of the House in the past 12 months have included my visit to the Royal Welsh show, meeting Women2Win Wales and stopping off for a quick half at the Tiny Rebel brewery in Newport.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the House will want to pay tribute to Eve Griffith-Okai, who retires this week after many years of dedicated service to four Speakers. I was delighted that you, Mr Speaker, the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the next Clerk of the House, John Benger, and others raised a glass with me this week to wish our fantastic Clerk, Sir David Natzler—he is in his place—all the very best for his retirement. This is his last day at the Table, and we will miss him. I hear that his retirement balloon has pride of place in his office. We wish both David and Eve, and their respective families, all the best for a healthy and happy retirement.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, but I am surprised that she did so for only one week. The Prime Minister practically told us what will happen in the following week, and I cannot see why the Government did not put that business through. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union actually announced the business and said when the vote will take place.
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to confirm that all fire and safety works that were due to take place in the February recess had been carried out. Is she satisfied that that will be done in time? Again, I ask about Opposition days and the Easter and May recesses. I know what she will say—in a robotic way she will say that a business of the House motion will be tabled—but I ask her to help the House and its staff a bit more, so that they can plan.
Let me help the Leader of the House with a figure for the costs of the Government cancelling recess. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), put the figure at between £300,000 and £400,000. It was the Government who decided to cancel recess and waste those costs.
Is the Leader of the House still confident that there is enough time to put in place all the necessary secondary legislation by the time we leave the EU? During the Government-cancelled recess last week, just eight Brexit statutory instruments were laid before Parliament—the lowest total number out of the past six weeks. Only 59% of affirmative Brexit SIs have now been debated, which leaves more than 100 in this place and the other place. When will they be debated, because we need that scrutiny?
The Labour party has prayed against the Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which is statutory instrument No. 62. Under the serious shortage protocol for medicine, that appalling piece of secondary legislation enables pharmacists to override GPs when deciding what medication to give people. Some people need specific, rather than generic, medication, and pharmacists would be able to lower the dosage. That is absolutely appalling, to such an extent that the Good Law Project has started judicial review proceedings against the Government. When will we have that debate, and when can that SI be annulled? Labour Members also prayed against the Amendments Relating to the Provision of Integrated Care Regulations 2019, which is statutory instrument No. 248. May we have a debate on that?
In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister made no mention of the proposed European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. If the Government manage to get the withdrawal agreement through, they must bring forward that Bill. What is the timeframe for that, and in the meantime, could the draft Bill be published? The Government—not anybody else—have postponed the meaningful vote, and that has led to the possibility of a no-deal scenario. It is the Government who have been appalling and disloyal to this country and the British people, not those who have had to point out what will happen if there is no deal.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House has read the Government’s “Implications for business and trade of a no deal exit on 29 March 2019”, which was published on 26 February. A no-deal Brexit could mean that the UK economy would be 9% smaller in the long term, and the flow of goods through Dover would be “significantly reduced for months”. The Government are behind on contingency planning for a third of their critical projects. Banks will gain access to £300 billion to help them to deal with the financial shock, but what about the rest of us? What about the people of this country who will also face that financial shock? The UK trade and drinks industry has warned that one in eight companies could go out of business if the UK leaves without a deal, and around 70% of the UK’s food imports come from the EU.
On Tuesday, the Government held emergency talks after discovering that we have the wrong kind of pallets for a no-deal scenario. Will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs come to the House and explain what happened at those emergency meetings? May we have a debate or statement on what will happen regarding our food security? That situation is what is appalling and disloyal to this country.
There is some good news. The former chair and current president of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) all-party group, the Leader of the Opposition, has been an advocate for the rights of the Chagossians for some time. The International Court of Justice said that Britain’s acquisition of the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s was “wrongful”, and that Britain must
“bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”
About 2,000 people were evicted, and they want to go home. That was in our manifesto—that is another point fulfilled—and we want the Chagos islanders to return to their homelands. Given that the Government seem to want to cling on to their colonial powers, may we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary? Will the Government abide by the Court’s decision, or are they going to appeal?
Finally, it does not really matter how big your daffodil is; it’s the wishes that count, and I want to wish everybody a happy St David’s Day. I, too, thank David Lionel Natzler, and Eve, for all their work. It is David’s last day today. It is lovely to see him at the Table; I was sorry he could not be there when we all wished him well. I shall miss seeing him in his Lycra as he gets on his bike. I want to wish everybody—those who are obvious, those who are behind the scenes, the admin assistants and unsung heroes who keep this House going—who are also retiring. We wish them well. Thank you for your years of service to the House, good bye and good luck.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her good and thoughtful remarks about Sir David Natzler.
The hon. Lady asks why I am not announcing more than one week of business. To be clear, the Prime Minister said that the meaningful vote would come back by 12 March at the latest. I have announced the business for next week, but, as always, if we can come back to the House before then, we will. She asks about fire and safety measures in the House. I apologise; I did not catch that last week. I will write to her with an update, although she will appreciate that it is a House of Commons Commission matter, and as a member of the Commission, she could equally ask the Director General for that information.
The hon. Lady asks about Opposition days. She will appreciate that I am seeking to balance the many different requests from across the House for business, including from the Opposition, the Backbench Business Committee and Members across the House. As I said last week, I was pleased to be able to find time for a debate on the draft REACH— registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—regulations on Monday, following her request in business questions on 24 January. She also mentions two further statutory instruments that she would like debated in the Chamber. I have seen the official Opposition’s prayer against the NHS and human medicines SIs. I encourage her to raise those through the usual channels, as is the convention.
The hon. Lady asks about recesses, particularly the cost of the February cancellation. She will appreciate that there were several very important debates that week, including on the NHS 10-year plan, which she herself asked for, and the opportunity for many Members to question Ministers on important and urgent matters that arose that week, while several Brexit SIs also passed through their Delegated Legislation Committees that week. The Public Gallery was also full of young people on their half-term school holidays who were able to participate and see their democracy in action. It was a very important week.
The hon. Lady asks about the timeframe for the withdrawal agreement Bill. As I have said several times, we will bring it forward as soon as the House votes to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and future political declaration. She asks about no-deal preparation. As she will appreciate, there has been an enormous operation by a superb civil service, to which we owe a huge debt of gratitude for its enormous contribution to this complex project. The United Kingdom is extremely well prepared. A number of the challenges are around our inability to force third parties to do their bit, but the UK has made significant steps towards being prepared for all eventualities. She will appreciate that we have just had Brexit questions. I am sure she will have listened carefully to the answers.
Finally, on the Chagos islands, the hon. Lady will be aware that what the UN gave this week was an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, the UK Government will look at the detail carefully, but the defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.
I join others in wishing our Clerk a long, happy and healthy retirement. He has been a magnificent servant to this House.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on mechanisms to help people manage personal debt? I recently attended the 10th anniversary of a local charity that does just that, and it told us that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that by the 2022 total household debt will be £2.26 trillion. The message should go from this House that credit card companies and banks should stop ripping people off and making the situation worse with their outrageous interest charges.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was City Minister in 2014, when the Government fundamentally reformed the regulation of the consumer credit market, giving the Financial Conduct Authority robust regulatory powers to protect consumers better. He is right that no lender should be ripping off consumers with appallingly high interest rates. As he will be aware, we are increasing funding for publicly funded debt advice to more than £56 million in this financial year—enough to provide financial advice to help more than 530,000 people. The Government are committed to delivering a well-functioning and sustainable consumer credit market that meets the needs of all consumers.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and I wish everybody a happy St David’s Day tomorrow. I am pleased that the Leader of the House chose to wear a daffodil—there have been more than enough “leeks” from her side of the House.
My party and I wish the very best of retirements to our Clerk, Sir David Natzler, although we might not miss the Lycra quite as much as the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz).
Following meaningless vote No. 3, we are still no further forwards, and there are now only 29 days left until we are supposed to leave the EU. What a waste of another week! Nothing whatever has been achieved in the past few days. The Government’s disastrous no deal remains on the table. There may or may not be a delay to achieve God knows what. In the meantime, there is no sign whatever that the EU will do anything to satisfy the Government’s damaging demands that the backstop be reviewed.
Britain’s biggest post-war political crisis is currently on hold, and at some point the inevitable conclusion will have to be played out. When is that going to be? When will we have the meaningful vote? This Brexit crisis will define the Conservative party for the rest of its wretched future. It is theirs to own—it is a Tory Brexit—and it is something that this nation will have to deal with.
May we have a debate on double-speak? Last night, we had the ridiculous sight of the Secretary of State for Scotland saying that the Scottish National party supported and coveted a no-deal Brexit. That is what he was saying. That was right after the House had voted on an SNP amendment that no deal, forever and a day, be taken right off the table. And the Scottish Tories all voted for this no deal to remain on the table—perhaps in an attempt to have it taken off. That must now rank with “War is peace,” and “This Government are strong and stable,” as an example of Tory double-speak.
Lastly, may we have a debate on a car park tax? [Interruption.] You’ll enjoy this one. Yesterday, the Prime Minister raged against the SNP for introducing such a tax in Scotland—which we have not, but which already exists in England. The English car park tax is, of course, discretionary and remains a matter for local authorities. So far, only one English local authority has taken advantage of the power.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in my huge guffaws of laughter at the absurd sight of Tories in my constituency in Perthshire protesting against their own Perthshire Tory council so that it does not introduce a tax that does not even exist yet and it has already ruled out. Now, Mr Speaker—there you have Tory double-think and Tory double-speak.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, he is really clutching at straws as an SNP Member who has allowed his own Government in Scotland to raise taxes for workers in Scotland. He is guffawing about the question of a car park tax—far more important that he look at the log in his eye over the mainstream taxes on Scottish workers, who now pay more than those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the next steps for the meaningful vote. He will be aware that the Prime Minister has given three commitments—[Interruption.]
Order. I can see that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is in a jovial and jocular mood, but he asked a series of questions. The Leader of the House is answering them, but he seems more interested in having a sort of finger- wagging competition with Conservative Members on the Government Benches. He should do the Leader the courtesy of listening to her replies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the next steps for the meaningful vote. The Prime Minister has set out three steps. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then, in addition to our obligations to table a neutral amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, we will table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. The UK will leave without a deal on 29 March if that vote is passed. Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then also rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50. If the House votes for an extension, the Government will seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and to bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date. That is what the Prime Minister said and I hope that that is very clear to the hon. Gentleman.
What I would also say to the hon. Gentleman is that we on the Government Benches are trying our hardest to deliver on the result of the June 2016 referendum. He and his colleagues in the SNP are trying their hardest to undermine the result of their referendum in 2014.
Edmund Burke defined statesmanship as a combination of
“a disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve”.
In such a spirit, I met representatives of the taxi industry, trade unions and local authorities yesterday to discuss the excellent report “Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing”. This was commissioned during an enlightened period at the Department for Transport and was responded to by the Government a couple of weeks ago in a written statement. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Government to come to this House, with an oral statement or possibly even a debate, to make clear when they intend to bring forward the necessary legislation to give the 30-odd recommendations in that report real life? It is clear that the taxi and private hire vehicle licensing system at the moment is not fit for purpose. Public safety is critical to all our interests and the nation’s. It must never be curtailed, capped or compromised.
First of all, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work, as a former Transport Minister, in actually reviewing this issue himself. He will be aware that the Government are looking very carefully at how to improve the licensing of taxis to ensure that we keep the public safe.
May I add my warmest regards to Sir David on his retirement? Sir David, may you have pleasure by the platter and troubles by the teaspoon in your long and happy retirement.
May I also send my best wishes to all Welsh Members and their constituents for St David’s Day tomorrow? I do know, however, that the Welsh carry a grudge against people from the north-east, particularly the men, because we have always grown much bigger leeks than the Welsh—much, much bigger leeks. [Laughter.]
I am grateful for the business statement and the fact that next Thursday we will have important debates on International Women’s Day and on the Commonwealth. We had a veritable cornucopia of applications in the Backbench Business Committee on Tuesday. With that in mind, we have managed to secure time for: a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday 7 March on short prison sentences, which had been an estimates day application; a general debate, on 12 March, on fire safety and sprinkler systems; a general debate, on 19 March, on the effect of leaving the EU on the UK’s health and social sector; and on 26 March a general debate on forced live organ extraction in China. We have an awful lot still waiting, so the more time we can secure, the happier Back Benchers around the House will be.
Obviously, I am always very happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman about the many and varied subjects that Back-Bench Members want to discuss, and I will always try to accommodate them wherever I can.
Tomorrow, I will be going out with an ambulance crew in my constituency. Across the House, we will know of the challenges that the ambulance service faces, particularly including some horrendous violent attacks on ambulance crews. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the ambulance service and those challenges?
I am glad that my hon. Friend raises this issue and gives me the opportunity to thank all our ambulance crews for the amazing work that they do. He will appreciate that the ambulance service is something that all of us, right across the country, absolutely depend on. I encourage him perhaps to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that right hon. and hon. Members can share their experiences of the amazing work done by ambulance paramedics right across the country.
Cuts to police budgets have left my constituents in Hoyland well over eight miles from their nearest police station. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on how police funding should be based not on how much council tax can be paid, but on the actual demand in our community?
The hon. Lady will be aware that since 2010, we have been tackling crime, reforming the police and toughening sentences for serious offences. We have protected police funding overall since 2015, and in the last police grant settlement we announced up to £970 million of extra investment in the policing system next year. That is more than Labour promised at the last election, and it is for police and crime commissioners to allocate that money to meet the policing priorities in their area.
I add my congratulations to Sir David and Eve on their retirements.
This House has rightly concentrated a substantial amount of time on debating measures to combat antisemitism, but we should abhor all racism, racial hatred and religious hatred. It is now time for a proper debate on a definition of Islamophobia. The all-party group on Islamophobia has come up with a working proposal, on which it is consulting, but that has drawn criticism from a large number of faith communities. It is time for the Government to come forward with a proposal so that we have a clear definition that everyone can support. May we have a debate on this in Government time so that we can reach some solid conclusions on which the whole House can agree?
My hon. Friend is right to raise our disgust at any form of racial or religious hatred or disadvantage. The APPG that he mentions has a very interesting proposition and I am sure that he will find a way to bring that to the attention of Ministers so that we can see what progress can be made.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), was somewhat snippy with me earlier when I asked him about the possibility that we will not have a functioning statute book at 11.1 pm on Friday 29 March, so I ask the Leader of the House for any information that she can give us about the whereabouts of the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill or any of the other statutory instruments that we have to get through. Does she share my lack of confidence about our having enough time to get through all of those by the deadline?
I can certainly reassure the hon. Lady in an entirely non-snippy way that I know exactly where all those Bills are. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill are all currently before the House of Commons. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, the Trade Bill and the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill are also progressing. We have nine exit-related Bills, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which are either already going through Parliament or have already received Royal Assent. I can assure her that we are comfortable that all primary legislation that needs Royal Assent by Brexit date will be achieved. If it does not have that, it will have Royal Assent by the date on which it is needed.
With regards to secondary legislation, the hon. Lady will be aware that over 460 EU exit SIs have been laid to date—more than 75% of the SIs that we anticipate will be required by exit day. More than 240 have already been made and are thus ready to come into force. Good progress is being made and I remain confident that we will be able to get all the urgent SIs that we need through in time for 29 March.
May we have a debate on the respective roles and responsibilities of Back Benchers and Ministers? There appears to be some confusion among colleagues who happily accept the Queen’s shilling. They might well enjoy life more on the Back Benches, and would be able to participate in such a debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who always enjoys full participation in debates. I completely understand the point that he has made, but he will appreciate that it is vital for all members of the Government to retain collective responsibility, and to seek to support the Prime Minister as she finalises these very tense negotiations. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to think very carefully, because at the end of the day we owe it to the country to deliver on the referendum and vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.
More than 50% of the prison population were excluded from school. Last year the Government announced a review of school exclusions, led externally by Edward Timpson. They said that they would publish its report by the end of 2018, and now they are saying they will do so by early 2019. How early in 2019 can we expect to see the report?
The hon. Lady did not mention that she would raise this matter, so I cannot answer her question because I am not aware of the timing. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shouting at me, “When is the report coming?” She will appreciate that had she asked me in advance, I could have provided the answer. If she will write to me, I will seek a response for her.
Colchester Borough Council wants to waste £100,000 of our new homes bonus infrastructure money on a giant elephant sculpture on a roundabout. I am a big fan of elephants, but this is ridiculous. May we have a debate on the appropriate use of new homes bonus money, and the role that it plays in providing infrastructure to support housing growth?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. The question is, is the elephant on a trunk road? [Laughter.] I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. None of us wants to see white elephants, particularly when they are paid for with public money.
Gordon Banks’s funeral will take place on Monday, and lots of people will be lining the streets. My constituents find it upsetting that he never got his knighthood. May we have a debate in Government time about honouring our heroes in their lifetimes rather than after they have departed?
The hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to pay her own tribute to Gordon Banks, and I know that many other Members would like to do the same. I suggest that she seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
Many Members welcomed the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight yesterday. My constituents in Montrose are going the extra mile and launching events as part of the celebration organised by Montrose Fairtrade Forum, which starts on Saturday and which I am delighted to be able to attend. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the forum’s chairman, Ian Sykes, and its secretary, Pam Robinson, on all the fantastic work that they do, and may we have a debate about the wonderful people who give up their free time to spread this positive message?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Ian and Pam on the work that they are doing to celebrate the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight in Montrose. Many events will be taking place throughout the country to mark the fortnight, and I hope that the hon. Lady was able to attend yesterday’s event in the Churchill Room, hosted by our hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I congratulate all those in Montrose who are making the most of this opportunity to provide fair trade for people all over the world.
The Leader of the House will know of the publication of various reports showing that the UK Government’s austerity drive is adversely affecting women more than anyone else. According to Unison Wales’s recent Audit of Austerity, 18,400 of the local authority jobs that have been lost in Wales as a result of that austerity drive were women’s jobs. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the Government’s austerity agenda and the terrible impact it is having on women in the workforce?
The hon. Gentleman is giving his perspective on the current plight of women, but across the country the female unemployment rate is at a record low and there are higher percentages than ever before of women on FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 boards, getting women into the most senior roles in our economy. There is a huge amount more to do to ensure we close the gender pay gap and ensure more women can have the flexible working they sometimes need in order to accommodate caring roles as well as their desire to have a fulfilling career. All of us right across the Government are committed to ensuring women can have fulfilling and decent jobs throughout their careers.
In the Budget, this House increased Scotland’s block grant by £950 million. In spite of this, local councils in my area are facing service cuts, and increases in council tax and tax on their workplace parking. [Interruption.] May we have a debate in this place on local government funding? Although Scottish National party MPs may laugh about these funding measures, but my constituents in Alloa are facing cuts to their Leisure Bowl, constituents in Fishcross are facing threats to their primary schooling, and constituents in Perth and Kinross have to endure council tax increases because increases in funding from this place are not being passed to local councils in my constituency.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this point. It is an issue that a number of our Scottish Conservative colleagues have raised in this House, and the fact is that there is absolutely no need for further SNP tax rises thanks to this Government in Westminster delivering a £950 million funding boost to them. It is absolutely vital that the Scottish nationalists recognise the importance of preserving and maintaining local services to all Scottish consumers and residents.
May I add my voice to those wishing David Natzler all the very best for a long and happy retirement?
The all-party group on Heathrow expansion recently reported that the Department for Transport methodology for assessing major airspace changes is deeply flawed. This has major implications right across the House for many constituents, including mine. May we have a debate or a statement on the report?
I am not aware of the report the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I suggest that in the first instance he perhaps seeks an Adjournment debate so he can discuss it directly with Ministers.
May we have a debate about online dangers for young people? I have been contacted by a constituent in Moray concerned about growing participation in something called the Momo challenge: young people can be watching various social media platforms and messages pop up urging them to contact a number on WhatsApp which then sends them images and instructions on how to harm themselves and others. Unfortunately in some parts of the world this Momo challenge has been linked to young people taking their own lives. May we have a debate and allow the Government to explain what more we can do to protect young people and educate them about the scourge of these online dangers?
My hon. Friend raises an appalling situation; I have also heard of the Momo challenge, and the Government are extremely concerned about it. We have been very clear that more needs to be done to protect young people online, including from cyber-bullying and suicide and self-harm content, and internet companies do have a responsibility to their users. The forthcoming online harms White Paper will set out a range of legislative and non-legislative measures to keep UK users safe online, but I can say that organisations including the Samaritans, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the UK Safer Internet Centre have said there is no confirmed evidence that the Momo phenomenon is posing a threat to British children.
The Leader of the House may be aware of a report by the charity Project 17, “Not seen, not heard”, released on 19 February this year which found that many children of parents whose immigration status means they are not entitled to mainstream benefits are living in extreme poverty and are left feeling socially isolated, distressed, ashamed and unsafe. Local authorities are legally required to support children in this situation through section 17 support under the Children Act 1989. However, the report finds that many local authorities are routinely failing to act and support the children. May we have a debate in Government time on this tragedy of children living in an appalling state of vulnerability imposed on them because of their parents’ no recourse to public funds status?
I share the hon. Lady’s grave concern about anybody who is put into the position where innocent children are disadvantaged, and I am concerned to hear about that report. I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise this issue directly with Ministers.
As a long-term former resident of Tanzania and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tanzania, I am a great admirer of that country and its people. I am also an admirer of the great work that President Magufuli has done to tackle corruption there, but I am increasingly concerned by the fact that a large number of opposition politicians are now in jail or on trial. May we have a debate on the importance of having a responsible opposition and a responsible Government who respect that opposition rather than putting them in jail and bringing charges against them all the time?
I believe that my hon. Friend lived in Tanzania for some years and is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group. I pay tribute to him for the way in which he has raised this issue. He is absolutely right to say that we in the United Kingdom will always stand up for democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that particular issue directly with Foreign Office Ministers.
The Tories in Scotland were fined a mere £400 by the Electoral Commission over a £100,000 donation of dark money to the party in the weeks before the 2016 Holyrood election. Does the Leader of the House agree that such a paltry fine is no deterrent at all? Does she also agree that, when breaking electoral law carries such derisory penalties, it makes it almost worth the risk for those who are minded to be dishonest? Will she make a statement on whether the Electoral Commission has enough tools at its disposal to deal more severely with those who break electoral law, which is the foundation of our entire democracy?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Electoral Commission is independent, specifically to ensure that it can look in an unbiased way at any accusations, from wherever they come. We have Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday 13 March, and I encourage her to raise that question then.
May we have a debate on the governance of city deals and growth deals? As a Scottish Conservative, I am proud of the fact that we have so many city deals and growth deals in Scotland. They are worth billions of pounds, and they show what can be done when the UK Government, the Scottish Government and local authorities work together, but I am really concerned that every penny of the money that is invested should deliver the social and economic transformation that we need in Scotland in the cities that have been chosen for these deals. May we have a debate as soon as possible, and perhaps a statement from the Government on the governance of city deals?
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s great delight at the extent of the city deals that have already been negotiated with Scotland, and there are many others to come. The areas involved include Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Highland, Edinburgh and South East Scotland, Tay Cities, Stirling and Clackmannanshire, Borderlands, Ayrshire, and Moray. We can all be proud that these enormous achievements are contributing to the progress and development of the great cities in Scotland. I would certainly welcome such a debate, and I will see whether Government time can be found for one.
I know that the Leader of the House gets this, but could she have another go at the Home Secretary? Will she ask him if he can yet again come to this House and explain to us what he is doing about the knife epidemic in this country? Since the serious violence statement last Monday, nine young people—some of them young adults—have been slaughtered on our streets by knife stabbings. I know that the Leader of the House finds this appalling, as does every Member, but we should be discussing it in the House. This morning, we heard the announcement that 27,000 young people, including children, are in gangs in this country. That is four times the number that the authorities knew about. We have not got a clue. What does the Home Secretary have to say about that? When is he going to come to the House and tell us what he is going to do about this issue and what urgency the Government are going to bring to it? I say again that Cobra should be meeting to discuss it. Cobra meets for other national emergencies, and this is a national emergency. It is a crisis, and it should be treated as such by the Home Secretary and the Government.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, all Members are incredibly concerned about the levels of violent crime, particularly knife crime. What is going on is absolutely unacceptable.
I have been pleased to give Government time to a number of debates in this Chamber and, of course, I will continue to seek further updates. We have just had Home Office questions, and I am sure the matter was also raised then. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have a serious violence strategy that includes a £200 million commitment to a youth endowment fund that specifically seeks to get young people away from this conveyor belt to the appalling violence and gang crime we see far too often.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Government are proposing a new statutory duty across education, social services and health to tackle serious violence as a matter of public health. All these measures, including funding community groups that seek to get young people away from knife crime, will start to make a difference, but I think we all share his concerns.
I am contacted several times a month by understandably angry constituents who have received extortionate fines from private parking companies. The fines often arise from having been just five minutes late in coming back from their supermarket shopping. The signage is often questionable or incredibly discreet. Can we have a debate in Government time specifically about how to tighten up legislation so that these robbers, who often prey on the most vulnerable in society, can no longer impose such ridiculous fines?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady and, given the murmurs on both sides of the House, it seems all hon. and right hon. Members have constituency examples of shocking practices by private car park attendants, who are really just stealing money from people who are trying to do the right thing.
I am sure the hon. Lady is diligent; I have had some success in tackling some of these companies on behalf of my constituents, and I bet she has, too. She is right to raise the issue. We have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, and I encourage her to raise it then and perhaps see what more can be done from a legislative point of view.
Your tie is not as nice as the one you wore last week, Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House told the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) that she knows where a whole range of Bills are. Where is my Bill to help families and refugees? This is the third time I have raised my Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill at business questions, and the Tory Whips Office say it is down to the stalling of one Whip—they seem embarrassed. At the third time of asking, will the Leader of the House acquit herself well and tell us what she has done, and what she will do, to help families and refugees by getting this process moving along? It would be appreciated.
The hon. Gentleman is right to continue to press for his private Member’s Bill. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the fact that we have had Royal Assent for 50 private Members’ Bills since 2010 including, just in 2018, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 and the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018. These are all important measures.
The hon. Gentleman raises the question of his own private Member’s Bill, and he will be aware that the Government support the principle of family unity and have helped to reunite 24,700 family members in the past five years. Our policy allows a partner and children under the age of 18 to join refugees here if they were part of the family unit before their sponsor fled their country.
The Government are following the passage of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill closely, and we will continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis.
The Leader of the House will know that next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, and then we have Lent. Can we try to do something about the political culture and how we all speak and relate to it? I stand in front of the Jo Cox memorial. During those 40 days, at least, can we remember to think about how we have more in common on so many issues? We have just had a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), my dear friend, who is under ghastly pressure from awful people on social media. Can we stop this nonsense? Has the Leader of the House read Quentin Letts’s so-called political sketch this morning in which he uses disgraceful language about people who work in this House? Can we have a different kind of mood in this place and in our country? Perhaps we could lead that change in these next 40 days.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for making that suggestion and I entirely support it. This is a matter for all of us, and I have made my position so clear. Just yesterday, I opened the all-party group on women in Parliament’s event on its sexual harassment report, making clear again my personal commitment to ensuring that everyone in this place is treated with dignity and respect. That includes on social media, where those awful people sit there abusing MPs for what they are wearing, what they said and what they did. It is absolutely disgraceful, and we are sick of it. We need to be the role model that we want to see, so I absolutely join the hon. Gentleman in saying, “Let’s be nice to each other during lent.” That would be a fabulous thing to do.
May we have a debate on how companies treat their staff? Some 360 Vodafone staff based in Berkeley Square in my constituency were told that they would have to relocate to Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent or Newbury, or lose their jobs. According to “STV News” a senior manager based in England was pictured posing with Irn-Bru and a “See You Jimmy” hat on. That just adds insult to injury for the staff in Glasgow, who are facing losing their jobs on poorer redundancy terms than those who lost their jobs just a few months ago. This is no way to treat employees. Does the Leader of the House agree?
From what the hon. lady is saying, it sounds as though the supposed joke was in extremely poor taste, and I certainly agree with her that where a business has to relocate jobs the greatest sensitivity needs to be paid to those who will have to relocate or lose their jobs. She is absolutely right in that regard, and she may well want to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise her concerns directly with Ministers.
Like many MPs, through my casework I have heard numerous stories of aggressive and inappropriate behaviour by bailiffs, often towards some of the most vulnerable. The Ministry of Justice has just closed a consultation on this issue, so may we please now have a debate, in Government time, about introducing an independent regulator for the bailiff industry and an ombudsman-style complaints procedure?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I understand that, as a member of the Select Committee on Justice, she has played a full part in trying to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on in this sector. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can share their views directly with Ministers.
The regional prosperity fund is the Government’s policy for what happens when Britain leaves the European Union on the important subject of regional investment, but we do not know what it is. Will the Government please come to the House as a matter of urgency to make a statement so that we can begin to address the important issue of infrastructure investment across the UK?
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that that prosperity fund will replace some of the structural funds that we will no longer be party to once we have left the EU. There have been so many opportunities to debate our departure from the EU, and I am slightly surprised that he has not raised the issue in any of the debates we have had in recent weeks or at any of the Brexit questions, such as those we have just had. I encourage him to seek the next opportunity to debate the meaningful vote to raise his questions then.
York is a very welcoming city. We welcome hundreds of international students—young people and children who stay with host families—to our city every year. However, those host families do not have any form of Disclosure and Barring Service checks, so there is a real safeguarding risk. May we have a debate about safeguarding loopholes, to ensure that all children and young people are kept safe?
First, may I say that I am not surprised to hear that lots of people flock to York to see that beautiful city? It really is a lovely place for a visit and I am sure that the many young people who go there thoroughly enjoy it. The hon. Lady raises an important point. Obviously, we would not want to limit the opportunities for young people, but it is an important point and I encourage her to table a written parliamentary question so that she can ask Ministers directly what more can be done to keep that balance between keeping the opportunity open and at the same time safeguarding children, which is vital.
On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I wish Sir David, the Clerk of the House, good health, a long life and happy times. I congratulate him on the story and photograph in The House magazine. If anyone has not yet read it—I am sure you have, Mr Speaker, along with others—they should do so.
In Uttar Pradesh in India on 7 February, 25 Hindu militants ambushed a prayer meeting in the home of a local church leader. They subjected some 40 attendees to verbal abuse and physical assault, resulting in six people requiring urgent medical attention. Bibles and other church property were also damaged in the onslaught. A source close to Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported that the perpetrators threatened to kill the Christians if they continued to gather for prayer meetings. I and many others in the House believe in prayer—at prayer you can move mountains. How despicable it is that anyone should be killed or threatened with being killed for praying to God. There have been reports of similar incidents occurring in Uttar Pradesh. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on the matter?
The hon. Gentleman raises the serious situation in Uttar Pradesh. It is vital that action is taken so that we do not see the situation deteriorate any further. The British high commission in New Delhi meets Christian groups and other minority communities regularly. On 24 January, the high commission expressed concerns to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs regarding the persecution of Christians.
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman does a great job of raising the issue of religious persecution against whomever it takes place, and he is absolutely right to do so. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise this particular issue directly with Ministers.
I thank the Leader of the House for her leadership on the early years agenda, particularly through the cross-Government review that she chairs. I hope she will read and carefully consider the Health and Social Care Committee report published earlier this week on the inquiry that I chaired into the first 1,000 days of life. Many Members share the Committee’s analysis that the first 1,000 days are the most important time for a developing body and brain. Might the Leader of the House find Government time to debate the issue further?
First, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already read the report and I am delighted with it. I congratulate him on his excellent chairing of the inquiry. I am absolutely at one with him on the vital importance of that first period in a baby’s life, from conception to the age of two. I was delighted to be asked to chair the interministerial group. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the findings of his report will be taken into account very carefully. In fact, my office will contact his with a request for a meeting so that we can discuss the issue further.
We have already heard the Leader of the House praise all those involved in Fairtrade Fortnight. This week, my office has been trying to help a Ugandan Fairtrade coffee farmer whose visit visa was turned down by the Home Office, despite her having sponsorship from the Welsh Government to come to the UK for the fortnight. We have managed to overturn that decision, but the Home Office turnaround time means that she will not be able to get here to participate in Fairtrade Fortnight. May we please have a debate as soon as possible on the performance and resourcing of the Home Office?
I am really sorry to hear that; I can imagine it must be incredibly disappointing. I say again: congratulations to all those taking part in Fairtrade Fortnight. The hon. Lady raises a specific constituency issue; I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, because I know that a number of right hon. and hon. Members would be keen to join in a debate on how to speed up processes in the Home Office.
Families in my constituency and throughout the UK rely on the Child Maintenance Service, but for both the paying parent and the receiving parent there are serious failures in the service. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on improving the Child Maintenance Service so that it really works for families?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It is vital that the Child Maintenance Service works in a fair way for families and I commend her for raising it. She will be aware that we have Justice questions on 12 March and I encourage her to raise her specific concerns then.
The Hooton Park gasification site is currently being constructed just outside my constituency, but, despite representations from me and Unite the Union, the developers are refusing to apply the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry terms. Those terms are vital to upholding standards in employment and training. Can we have a debate, please, about what more we can do to prevent the construction industry leading this race to the bottom?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see all workers, including those in the construction industry, treated fairly and, of course, within the law. He will be aware that the Government are fully committed to upholding workers’ rights and to improving them and, as we leave the European Union, to continuing to lead in improving workers’ rights wherever they are. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate because he has some specific concerns that he should raise with Ministers.
Last Friday, the Ministry of Justice admitted that the roll-out of PAVA spray to prison officers, which was due to start in January, will now be delayed for up to two years. In light of that broken promise and the current epidemic of violence engulfing our prisons, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an opportunity to debate how best to protect our brave prison officers to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our prison officers who face daily threats, intimidation and violence, and it is right that we do everything that we can to protect them. She will be aware that we now have over 4,300 more prison officers compared with two years ago, and that we are investing an extra £30 million in our prisons to improve the facilities in those with the most pressing problems. All of those things will contribute to making a safer workplace environment. She will be aware that we have Justice questions on 12 March, and I encourage her to raise her specific question then.
My constituency is best known by many for its shipping history, whether it be John Brown and Company of Clydebank or Denny of Dumbarton. Next week, for the 78th year in a row, my community, including my family and friends, will gather once again to commemorate those we lost in what was described by a Minister in an Adjournment debate three years ago as the “worst blitzkrieg” in the history of the second world war proportionally anywhere in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it is now time that this House considered in a general debate in Government time the long-term economic and social consequences as well as the mental health consequences of aerial bombardment on the communities that suffered it across these islands? It is about time that we learned the lessons from it, given that the impact of it is felt by so many other communities across the world.
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly serious issue and I pay tribute to him for all the work that he does in his community to commemorate the appalling bombardment. He is absolutely right to raise the fact that this is the reality for far too many people right across the world today with appalling consequences not just of physical injury and harm, but to mental health and the long-term effects of suffering from constant bombardment. I encourage him to go to the Backbench Business Committee and see whether there is an appetite for a cross-party debate on this subject so that we can consider together how we might better commemorate these appalling acts.
I am sad to have to report to the House that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has developed a rather nasty habit of creating wholly owned companies, shovelling public money into them and then denying any proper public transparency or scrutiny of the decisions they make on spending that money. On Unitas and Fortior Homes in the city, we are now being told as MPs that freedom of information requests simply do not apply because they are commercial entities. Will the Leader of the House speak to her colleagues in either the Cabinet Office or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and ask them to bring forward the necessary legislation to ensure that, where public money is involved—whether that be a wholly owned company or a company under contract—scrutiny will apply.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion will be very popular. He is exactly right that the use of public money has to offer good value to taxpayers. Scrutiny is therefore essential so that people can see how their hard-earned taxpayers’ money is being used. We have MHCLG questions on Monday, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter directly with Ministers then.
Can we have a debate in Government time on the Department for Work and Pensions policy of treating tax rebates as income for the purposes of universal credit? I have a constituent who was diagnosed with breast cancer and was on statutory sick pay, which triggered a tax rebate and stopped her universal credit. Surely that is not what we should be doing to people in such circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue and he is absolutely right to do so. If he writes to me after business questions, I can take up his concerns with the Department on his behalf.
I have a constituent who works full time but receives universal credit to assist with childcare fees. The Leader of the House will be aware that any universal credit application effectively means an application for housing benefit so, although my constituent does not receive housing benefit, the mere mention of universal credit in paperwork has resulted in the refusal of her mortgage application. This did not happen under working tax credit. Can we therefore have a statement on what the Government can do to improve correspondence on universal credit and how they can engage with mortgage companies to prevent such situations from happening?
The hon. Gentleman raises a concerning issue. I have not personally come across this problem, but if he writes to me following business questions, I can take it up with the Department on his behalf.
A Better Defence Estate
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the progress of our defence estate optimisation programme.
Let me first pay tribute to those who have worn and who wear the uniform as both reservists and regulars, as well as their families and loved ones, who provide them with so much support.
Today marks the start of the countdown for the 100 days leading up to the 75th anniversary of more than 130,000 troops landing in Normandy on D-day—a critical turning point in world war two and a reminder, if ever one was needed, of the importance of co-operation and collaboration with our allies. It also reminds us that Britain should retain its own full-spectrum, hard-power capabilities if we wish to play a continued role as a force for good beyond our shores.
With a forthcoming spending review looming, I make no apologies for raising the issue of defence spending. The world is getting more dangerous and complex, and threats are increasing and diversifying. We now live in a multipolar world with competing powers and diverging views on how the world should look, and we are one of the few nations willing to have the desire and ability to step forward as a force for good.
Discussions about defence spending often focus on equipment, training and operations. I do not deny that these areas require investment, but I would not be doing my job as portfolio holder for defence people if I did not publicly make the case for looking after our armed forces community when they are away from training or the frontline. That means providing them with suitable, modern accommodation and basing requirements that will meet the changing needs of our armed forces community. The defence estate is the rock around which our armed forces revolve. It is the place where our brave men and women work, train and deploy from. It is where they are educated, where they exercise and where they rest.
As I have said in the House before, the defence estate has grown so large over many decades that it now accounts for 2% of the UK’s land mass. This means that it is unwieldy and too expensive to retain in its entirety, and parts of the estate are often in the wrong place so they are no longer fit for purpose. That is why, back in November 2016, this Government launched the defence estate optimisation programme—a long-term plan to modernise our facilities and bring them into the 21st century. It has involved investing £4 billion to create a smaller, more modern and more focused estate. However, the complexities of regrouping air, sea and land assets and upgrading and building new facilities does take time, so this is a 25-year project. This statement provides an update relating to just 30 sites.
Last July, in a written statement, I updated the House on nine sites that had been disposed of. Since then, we have delivered a further three: the Defence Infrastructure Organisation at Aldershot; Fitzwygram House—the Royal Army Veterinary Corps Centre—in Hampshire; and Joint Supply Chain Services in Longmoor. In parallel, our military and infrastructure experts have continued to be busy conducting the necessary site assessments and consulting the local community to support the next phase of delivery and provide greater clarity for the next five years and beyond.
Today I can confirm to the House that over the next five years nearly £1.5 billion will be invested in our estate. This will help us to create regional clusters bringing people and capabilities closer to their training estates in new centres of specialism. In doing so, we will open up fresh opportunities for military families to find work, lay down permanent roots, and organise more stable schooling for their children. I can also confirm the updated status of 33 sites across our establishment. Since time does not permit me to go through the arrangements for each exhaustively, we have placed a table and timeline as an annex to this statement in the Library of the House.
However, hon. Members will note that several significant adjustments have been made to the original programme. First, we have decided that five sites will be part of a phased withdrawal and disposal. They are Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Venning Barracks, RAF Henlow, Chilwell Station, and RAF Halton. These facilities will now close several years later than originally stated, with, in some cases, units staying in place throughout that period. Next, we have assessed that five further sites originally earmarked for disposal will now be retained. They are Norton Manor Camp; Royal Marines Condor Airfield; Royal Marines Chivenor; MOD Woodbridge—Rock Barracks—and RAF Molesworth, which will continue to be used by United States visiting forces. The Secretary of State will visit Royal Marines Chivenor and Norton Manor Camp later today to meet local personnel. Finally, the closure of HMS Sultan, the home of the Defence School of Marine Engineering and the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School, will now be delayed. These decisions have not been taken lightly but after months of rigorous analysis, and they reflect a clear-eyed assessment of the rapidly changing threats facing our nations.
We will continue to work closely with local authorities, the devolved Administrations and Members of Parliament to explore the best ways in which vacated sites may be used. We will do all we can to take into account local plans, infrastructure requirements and the environment. Hon. Members can rest assured that we will continue to keep Parliament fully apprised as our plans mature. At all times, our objective has been to strike the right balance between working with the community, achieving value for money for the taxpayer, and making sure that our armed forces’ operational requirements are met and that they can do their duty to protect our people and advance our prosperity into the future. I believe that the defence estate optimisation programme is getting that balance right and that we are on track to create the world-class bases that our nation needs. With that in mind, I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I would like to wish the House and all members of our armed forces a very happy St David’s Day for tomorrow.
We all recognise that as time passes there is a need to modernise and adapt our defence estate to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century. It is now more than two years since the MOD first announced plans to close some 91 sites across the country. While Members in all parts of the House will want to consider today’s update in more detail, this statement does provide some additional clarity.
MOD facilities are not simply places where our armed forces work and train. Many are home to service personnel and their families, and many have proud histories and a special significance in their local area. The visibility that barracks and other sites provide is important in maintaining buy-in from the local populations, who are always immensely proud of their military heritage.
Given that so many sites act as a clear symbol of the armed forces in their local areas, has the Department considered the effect that these closures could have on recruitment? That is particularly true for reservists, who rely on facilities being within a reasonable travelling distance of where they live. Is the Minister concerned that closing sites that host reserves training could cut off opportunities to recruit and retain those personnel?
MOD sites also support local economies and provide employment to a large number of civilian personnel, many of whom have personal circumstances that would not permit them to commute long distances to work. Can the Minister set out what redeployment opportunities exist for civilian personnel who will be affected by these closures and what discussions he has had with the relevant trade unions?
I turn to the disposal of sites. The Government have previously proposed using more public land for affordable housing, and yet their record in that area is incredibly poor. Clearly this will not be an option for every site, but where it is, what discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government?
Has the Department implemented the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee, which advised the MOD to avoid
“enabling private sector providers to earn excessive profits”,
when companies such as Capita are involved in this process? What work has the Department undertaken to ensure that public money is not spent paying rent on a large number of empty properties when sites close, as has happened in the past?
Finally, the House will recognise the Minister’s commitment to
“continue to keep Parliament fully apprised as our plans mature.”
Given that the delay in closing sites will cause added uncertainty for many, when does he next expect to update the House?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s tone and her general support in this area. She is right to talk of the bond that exists between any unit, garrison or base and the local community. Many of those bonds go back decades and even centuries. We are very conscious that upheaval will provide change and a little bit of instability and hence needs to be managed.
The hon. Lady touched on the fact that the plan for these 90 sites started two years ago and almost suggested that she wanted answers for the 90 sites in two years. It is a 25-year programme. There are lots of pieces to the jigsaw—for example, troops returning from Germany. When we vacate one location, we move personnel somewhere else. We need to ensure that all those parts are in place, which is why there are sometimes delays, but those delays must be kept to a minimum.
The hon. Lady mentioned the housing targets. She is right to say that our Department can contribute to the challenge of meeting Britain’s housing needs. In many cases, it is not the MOD that is the reason why the right houses are not being built, but the chronology of events. We announce an area to be liberated for housing, but if the local authority has not included that in its housing plan, it takes some time for that to happen. She is right that we should not renege on our duty to expedite this.
I want to stress that we are looking at not simply providing housing but building communities. Wethersfield is a great example. In many of the areas we are looking at, I am encouraging local authorities to look at providing jobs too. It is about a dual purpose—housing as well as areas for businesses, schools or academic facilities. We should not have a knee-jerk reaction and say, “Let’s build houses for the sake of it.” The hon. Lady mentioned the role of trade unions, which are an important part of this. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation works closely with trade unions, along with other stakeholders, to ensure that their voices are heard.
The hon. Lady touched on recruitment and retention. One reason that we are investing £4 billion over this period is to ensure we have places that are attractive to the next generation, who will look at them and say, “That’s the sort of place I want to work, train in and live in.” However, she is right to imply that there have been some challenges. I do not think this debate is so much about Capita itself, but it would be a missed opportunity for her not to mention that, and it has certainly been taken into account.
The hon. Lady touches on the issue, which I can add to, of where reserves will continue to train. Many of our reserve regiments and so forth use the regular facilities for their own purposes—I could add the cadets to that as well. It has very much been at the forefront of our minds to make sure that we do not lose the important asset of our reservist capability and our cadets simply because of the defence estate optimisation programme.
I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this in detail. I do not know when I will next update the House, but I assure her that when the next batch of changes is to take place, I would be delighted to come here and answer questions. I should add that, for right hon. and hon. Members who are affected by today’s events, a letter to them has been placed on the letter board with details of what is happening in their constituencies.
May I welcome what the Minister said about the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-day? Are he and right hon. and hon. Members aware that the Royal British Legion is looking for veterans to make a trip to the Normandy beaches in honour of that anniversary? I hope right hon. and hon. Members will alert veterans whom they know to that opportunity.
May I ask the Minister what sort of financial model he anticipates for the development of some of these bases? Questions have rightly been raised in the past about the adequacy of the private finance initiative model. The legendarily close relationship between the Treasury and the MOD should be bringing forth something typically productive, and I wonder how we are doing in that respect.
First, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has mentioned the prospect or possibility of veterans returning to Normandy for the 75th anniversary. He obviously does not follow my tweets, because I have promoted this very thing, and the MOD is involved in chartering—[Interruption.] He is not on Twitter.
Life’s too short.
My right hon. Friend does not do social media—very wise. I will send him a pigeon with the information.
Let me take this opportunity, if I may, to say that if there are veterans wishing to participate and to return to Normandy for this incredible anniversary, a facility has been made available by the MOD, working with Royal British Legion, and we very much look forward to it.
My right hon. Friend touches on the financial packages. He is aware that the PFI model is being moved away from. We do seek recognition from the Treasury that, if it is not a financial vehicle that it wants to continue to use, we will need other support, and I hope that will be forthcoming in the spending review.
I agree with the Minister on the D-day landing commemorations. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention yet again during a defence statement the civilians who died in my home town in the Clydebank blitz. It is the 78th anniversary next week, when I will be joining my community at the mass grave in Dalnottar cemetery—one of two.
I am grateful to have had early sight of the statement. I am delighted, as I am sure other Members in the House will be, about the commitment to RM Condor. I know that my colleague Graeme Dey, the Veterans Minister in Scotland, as well as the local MSP, will be delighted as well.
Yet I have to say that we need to look at the recommendations in the National Audit Report, and the statement is less a commitment than an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, given the complexity of the issues—not only housing and the estate, but the equipment plan—faced by the Ministry of Defence. In reply to the Opposition lead, the Minister mentioned communities, and communities being able to inform the debate on policy is also about being able to hear directly from members of the armed forces.
The issues that the estate has faced are complex, as the Defence Committee knows—the Chair is in their rightful place—because the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces raised these issues before the Select Committee this week. The biggest issue that members of the armed forces face relates to terms and conditions—money and the way in which they live. That is profoundly disappointing, as I know that last week, the Minister stated in response to a question from me that he does not see members of the armed forces as employees. Will he reconsider the Government’s position on the ability of members of the armed forces to engage with the Government, and on whether an armed forces representative body should be set on a statutory footing?
There is grave concern that, although some of these measures are welcome, numbers of armed forces personnel in Scotland are still 25% below the commitment made in 2014. Can the Minister say how this issue will lead to an improvement in the terms and conditions of the armed forces, for example in housing? If housing is to be brought to the fore, I hope that at least in Scotland it will meet the Scottish housing standard. If it does, we might find an improvement across the rest of the UK.
I noted that the Minister made no commitment about Fort George, and there was a lack of commitment to Rosyth, as well as the continued diminution of the RAF footprint in the highlands. Why are the Government opposed to an armed forces representative body that would assist them in understanding the terms and conditions that the ombudsman highlighted in the Defence Committee? Will the Minister guarantee the future of the RAF footprint in the highlands and Fort George as well as in Rosyth, and will he commit, as I asked earlier, to ensuring that housing for the armed forces in Scotland meets the 2015 Scottish housing quality standard ?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s questions and his party’s interest in these matters—perhaps we could meet and discuss them in more detail. He raised issues of representation that he has raised before, and our views on that issue have not changed. I will say that Scotland fares well from our defence posture as a representative nation. Our fast jets will continue to operate from RAF Lossiemouth, and the P-8As are being moved there as well. The Army is well represented at Leuchars Station, and there is Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde—the hon. Gentleman will be thrilled to know that our nuclear deterrent continues to be operated from that neck of the woods, and indeed, all submarines will be moving to those quarters. He welcomes the continuation of 45 Commando at Condor, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) is able to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that she will give her views on that. She has campaigned hard on that issue, and it was a huge pleasure to visit the marines there, and to see the real estate and its importance. I am pleased that we are able to retain that asset for the Royal Marines.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all the money released from the disposal of any defence estates will be reinvested in the defence budget? At the beginning of his statement he mentioned the spending review and defence spending. On the off-chance that the Treasury is listening, what message would he send it?
I am sure that Treasury Ministers are glued to the monitors as we speak. My hon. Friend is right—everybody knows that I am very much in favour of collective responsibility and not speaking outside my brief, but I would not be doing my job in the forthcoming defence spending review if I did not mention the pressures on defence spending. The first line of the strategic defence and security review states that our economic security is dependent on our defence, and if we do not get our defence right we will have no economy or future prosperity. It is important that we continue to invest in security for air, sea and land, as well as in the new dimension of space and cyber-security.
The Minister knows that I have grave reservations about the consolidation of the estate, not least because it could take a military family away from other communities across the country. That presents challenges in recruitment and in the general understanding of the military. How is the Minister engaging with communities and the wider military family, given that we have delayed some of these proposals yet again and are just providing more uncertainty?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the detail and energy with which she pursues these matters. It is important that we scrutinise these issues carefully. As I have said, there is huge engagement, not just with unions and so forth, but with other stakeholders, including the families federations. Operational requirements are hugely important, but we must also recognise the impact on local communities. We are moving towards more of a hub perspective so that we can consolidate our assets, save funds and liberate spaces for the necessary housing commitments, but we should not lose sight of what we are offering and of the need to ensure that it is practical and welcoming so that it encourages the next generation to step forward. I was privileged to speak in front of her all-party group on the armed forces covenant a few days ago, and I would be delighted to sit down with her and discuss these matters in more detail.
I warmly welcome the announcement from my right hon. Friend that RM Condor will remain an integral part of the defence estate. Securing its long-term future was one of my election campaign promises, so I am especially delighted with this result. When he replied to my recent Westminster Hall debate, he hinted that this might be the outcome, and it has been received incredibly warmly by both my constituents and the armed forces personnel at RM Condor. Will he commit to coming back up to Angus to hear about that positive result and to see the day-to-day work that goes on within the base, and may I encourage him to invest further in the base?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the energy and determination that she has put into retaining this asset. It was a huge pleasure to visit Condor a couple of months ago. If I was not here making this statement, I would be there with her to celebrate the news that we are keeping this important asset in Scotland. If there is an invitation there, I would be delighted to take her up on it.
In my debate on 9 January on the long-term basing of the Royal Marines, I called for certainty for the Royal Marines in Plymouth—not only certainty for after the Government close Stonehouse barracks, the spiritual home of the Royal Marines, but certainty around where and when the new super-base for the Royal Marines will be built. Now we are not having that super-base in Plymouth, can the Minister set out why more uncertainty for the Royal Marines in Plymouth is a good idea, and when will he tell us when the new base will be built, where it will be built and what units will be based there?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the Royal Marines as a whole—we have had a series of debates on these matters—but I should make it clear that there is certainty around where the 40, 42 and 45 Commandos will be. He is focusing on 3 Commando Brigade. I can assure him that it will remain in the Plymouth area—detailed analysis is being done on where—but I am conscious that it cannot remain in Stonehouse, which, as he appreciates, is no longer fit for purpose, much as there is a historical connection to the first purpose-built garrison headquarters in Britain. Its departure is a sad moment, but a decision has been made, and it is partly operational. I can give him a commitment, however, as I can to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), that 3 Commando Brigade will remain in the Plymouth area.
I very much welcome the fact that the sale of Middlewick Ranges will be delayed by at least 12 months. Will the Minister commit to working with me and local stakeholders to see if, alongside some housing, an innovative approach that secures a significant part of Middlewick Ranges for a new country park could be explored?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight, as I did earlier, that this is not just about housing—I saw the Housing Minister here earlier; it is important to remember that we are building communities, rather than simply houses. There has been a delay—I appreciate his understanding—because we need to keep the ranges open for operational reasons, but it is only for one year. I would be more than delighted to meet him to see what more we can do to help him realise the vision of securing the proper offering that his community seeks.
I echo the Minister’s praise of armed forces personnel and their families. Does the estates strategy go beyond the United Kingdom to look at bases such Cyprus, which clearly, with Brexit, is particularly affected? Would he be willing to comment on that? Closer to home—I am briefly wearing my invisible House of Commons Commission hat now—is he aware of the issue of the MOD car park and the important role it might play in relation to restoration and renewal? We are quite keen to get our hands on it.
I will resist the temptation to reopen the Brexit debate again, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about future confirmation of what is happening to our sovereign bases in Cyprus—I could add Gibraltar to that, as well. I served in both localities and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the necessary details have been addressed to make sure that they are not affected by any outcome of Brexit.
I note the Minister’s statement that the programme will allow the MOD to maximise the amount of land that could be used to build more homes and help more people on to the housing ladder. As the Minister is aware, the REEMA sites in Carterton already provide land for hundreds of homes.
I also note the Minister’s comment that in some areas local authorities are the block to development; that is certainly not the case in West Oxfordshire, where planning permission for these sites was given some 10 years ago. What is awaited is the money for the MOD to redevelop those sites. Can the Minister tell me whether West Oxfordshire, Carterton and the Royal Air Force can look forward to some of the proceeds from this announcement being invested into the REEMA sites in Carterton or whether there is a blockage elsewhere in the system that I need to explore?
First, I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in liaising with the local authorities and in representing Brize Norton, one of the most significant RAF garrisons across the country and dealing with the heavy lift. He is absolutely right to point out various plans to build extra housing. That has been delayed—not because of the MOD, but because the money was taken away from us given changes to the private finance initiative. That is why I was surreptitiously hinting that I hoped that in the spending review another solution would be provided that allows any PFI project that has been removed to be put back in place, so that we can build the houses that my hon. Friend wants.
Although it is welcome that the closure of Towthorpe and the state of the art medical training facility have been delayed and also Strensall because of the Natural England report saying that the site is not suitable for development, it is disappointing that Imphal barracks is not on the list. That will have a major impact on the local economy in York; it is due to close in 2031. Will the Minister set out what steps he is taking to ensure that there is a proper economic assessment of the impact of the closure of the barracks?
I have had the pleasure of visiting the units in the Yorkshire area. I visited 1st Division and the 4th Infantry Brigade. There will continue to be a huge military footprint in the area that the hon. Lady speaks of. She also mentioned the long-term plan—something that is going to happen a decade away. There is a reason for that: if they are to be moved, those assets need to be housed elsewhere. If that other place has yet to be built, or confirmed, there is a knock-on process. I hear what she says about wanting to expedite the process. [Interruption.] Whatever her long-term view is, I will be more than happy to meet her and discuss the issue in more detail.
My constituents will be sad and disappointed that our friends the 30 Signal Regiment and the Queen’s Gurkha Signals will move from Gamecock barracks to Stafford. But equally, they will very much welcome the Royal Engineers and a number of medical regiments that are coming to the barracks. Will my right hon. Friend say more about what we are doing to improve accommodation for our armed forces personnel? When significantly more people are stationed at barracks, what more can we do to support local areas with provision such as school places?
My hon. Friend touches on two issues. First, there are the complex movement patterns when some assets move from one location and others move in. I am pleased that the overall position is neutral. He also touches on the standard of accommodation that is now expected. One of the reasons why recruitment will improve is that we are building accommodation that youngsters today expect. When I joined the armed forces, someone could end up in a place with eight or 20 people in one room; now people want their own accommodation, cooking facilities and wi-fi. They expect those sorts of things: if they are not there, they will not sign up. That is the standard accommodation that we are now building for our armed forces.
I thank the Minister for the information about the updated disposal date for Redford cavalry and infantry barracks in my constituency. I also join my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) in commemorating the imminent anniversary of the Clydebank blitz.
Although I am glad to get an updated date for Redford, I have written to the Government a number of times about the consequences of the disposal of Redford barracks. I was pleased to hear the Minister talk about consulting local communities. Will he meet me to discuss the need to release the land at Redford to the local authority for community benefit?
I have written to the hon. and learned Lady and other hon. Members as well—there are letters on the letter board—but I will be more than delighted to meet her. She is absolutely right that there is a delay of three years in the disposal of Redford cavalry and infantry barracks. That has been to do with the complex sequencing and plotting that we are doing. There have also been some local planning issues.
I commend the Minister for his comprehensive statement this morning and his handling of this whole defence review. It is absolutely right that we should have a defence review, get good value for the taxpayer and have an estate fit for purpose for our armed forces.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I am going to thank him in particular for his change of mind in keeping open Norton Manor camp in Taunton, home to 40 Commando, and for listening to the case that I have put, with others, in changing his mind. That means a very great deal to the whole community of Taunton, who are celebrating as we speak. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all those involved but particularly 40 Commando for all the great work they do in keeping us safe? What they need to do that is the best facilities for themselves and their families. Keeping the camp open should help to do that.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. I am really pleased that 40 Commando will remain in the locality. I pay tribute to her hard work and dedication and the campaign that she has put forward as well. If the community are celebrating now, I hope she will soon be on a train to go down and join them. The Secretary of State is heading that way as well, to see what more needs to be done.
The camp needs some work, so I make clear my hope that the necessary funds will be provided to upgrade the camp. When diplomacy fails, we count on our elite forces such as our Royal Marines. We need to look after them, and that is why it is good that the camp is being invested in.
Bearing in mind the concerns of the communities who are losing these facilities, will the Minister assure us that the closures are operationally led rather than cost-cutting as a result of the Treasury’s handing the MOD a pensions bill that the Library estimates at £3 billion over the next spending period?
I did mention that the closures were operationally led, but there are cost savings to be made. The huge pressures on the defence budget mean that we have to find better ways to make efficiencies. As I said before, 2% of UK land is owned by the MOD. Much of that is surplus to requirements: we do not need it. We have duplicate assets in different places. It is best to try to bring those together and hub them, but without losing sight of the fact that in some places assets need to be kept for reservist and cadet functions.
May I ask for a meeting with my right hon. Friend to discuss the release of the MOD land at Forthside in Stirling, earlier than the planned 2022? My right hon. Friend will be aware that the land is of absolutely vital importance to the Stirling city deal for development, both commercial and residential. Would he consider, for example, releasing the decontaminated land in parcels?
I will be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend. I should stress that the future use of any land is not for the MOD to determine. That is first handed to the local authorities, but there is a desire and certainly support from the MOD to make sure that whatever use is made is in the interests of the local authorities themselves and also governmental intentions in building housing.
The Minister is absolutely right to talk about the importance of links between local communities and their service personnel. Nowhere is that more true than in Chester. I welcome the delay in the proposed closure of Dale barracks. Will the Minister use that time to bear in mind the facts about Dale barracks in Chester: retention rates are higher; accommodation is of a higher quality: social infrastructure—for example, schools—is well built up to support our service personnel; and the operational footprint in the north-west needs to be maintained to maintain operational efficiency? Will he bear those in mind and see whether we can perhaps push that date back even further?
The hon. Gentleman, quite rightly and eloquently, describes the pieces of the jigsaw that make a successful garrison or Army unit in any locality: links with the community, operational purpose, and recruitment and retention. If we have areas that are high in those across the country, we certainly need to leverage that.
We very much value the presence of three regiments, the Royal Signals, the RAF’s tactical supply wing in Stafford and other units. I have not yet seen the details, as the letter about further changes has not reached me, but can the Minister assure me that the Ministry of Defence will work very closely, as it has done very well in the past, with Stafford Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council to ensure that the integration of any new units is conducted in the best possible manner?
I can provide that assurance. My hon. Friend underlines the importance of a strong bond between Defence Infrastructure Organisation and local authorities dealing with what can be the quite challenging changes we are introducing.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for his very clear commitment to addressing many of the issues facing service personnel, including accommodation and finding work. I put on record my thanks to the service personnel of all three services for all they do. The Minister stated that employment for personnel and their spouses will be offered. We have had the opportunity over the past few years to speak to some of those families, so we know what the issues are. There are only so many job opportunities, however. Will personnel families be given priority? Will those jobs be in MOD camps or in local communities? Will there be local government involvement? Will efforts be made to place them where their camp can benefit both themselves and their local community?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about what happens in succession and the support we need to provide. I can write to him in detail on what we are doing in Northern Ireland. He is aware that I have visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions to ensure that the more nuanced approach we have to take there, because of the sensitivities, is conducted carefully as it continues to have an important military footprint with Aldergrove, Palace and Thiepval barracks, and 38 Brigade, which I know he supports.
May I say how refreshing it is to hear my right hon. Friend speak so knowledgeably to his own brief and say how genuinely pleased I am that he is remaining in government, because, without a dose of sarcasm, Madam Deputy Speaker, he is an excellent Minister and I want him to stay in post to do the valuable work he is doing? How does this strategy tie in with the need to provide affordable housing to our veterans?
I hear the message first, but my hon. Friend raises an important aspect of looking after our veterans. I hope the whole House will join me in paying tribute to those who have worn uniform. Our duty of care does not simply end when they depart. We must make sure that they are looked after for the rest of their lives. There are charities and there are initiatives being looked at to see whether the new batches of housing coming online because of areas being liberated can be focused on providing housing for veterans. I think that that is well worth pursuing.
May I first say how much I welcome the Minister’s comments with regard to the 75th anniversary of D-day? It is fantastic that Portsmouth will be the national home of those commemorations. I am especially proud that my grandfather was a veteran from Portsmouth and left Southsea on his 17th birthday for Operation Overlord. The MOD’s recently published quarterly personnel statistics reveal a further decline in personnel numbers of all services for the eighth consecutive year. Can the Minister be more specific about how he is looking at the impact of the closures on recruitment?
First, on the hon. Gentleman’s particular area, I think the whole House supports the fantastic events that will take place in 100 days’ time, and I join him in saying that Portsmouth can be very proud of the role it played in putting together such a fleet that participated in the event itself. On HMS Nelson wardroom, which affects his constituency, there are some issues to do with the masterplan for the Portsmouth naval base which we hope will be resolved. I hope that he will welcome that update. He talks about recruitment. We must conduct these changes with recruitment in mind. As I have stressed, we must make the kind of 21st century high-standard accommodation that youngsters expect. When they go to university, they see the sort of environment they expect to live in. We need to provide them with that. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) is no longer in his place, but in Stonehouse, for example, we still have British marines living in eight-man accommodation with a very lousy shower. That is not acceptable in today’s modern age.
May I, too, associate myself with the Minister’s comments about the service of uniformed personnel and with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on the anniversary of the Clydebank blitz?
The Defence Secretary stated that Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic has increased tenfold in recent years. It currently takes 24 hours for a ship to be scrambled to Scottish waters, which account for approximately 60% of UK waters. Will the Minister therefore commit to opening a permanent surface vessel base in Scotland, particularly given the increasing importance of north Atlantic security?
The hon. Lady is right to touch on the activities of Russia. It is investing hugely in all three arenas of operations, air, sea and land, but especially submarines. By investing in submarines, there is far greater submarine activity. We do not monitor the north Atlantic on our own; we do it as part of the NATO alliance. She is right, however, that we need the correct assets, which is one reason why our P-8 maritime patrol aircraft will be based at RAF Lossiemouth. I hear her call, and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss her ideas further.
More than 4,000 of my constituents signed a petition opposing the closure of Woolwich barracks, evidence of precisely the bond that the Minister and other hon. Members have mentioned. The Minister knows that the decision to dispose of the site was finely balanced. In the light of the decisions he has announced in his statement today, may I urge him to consider another adjustment and revisit the decision to sell off Woolwich barracks?
I understand the hon. Gentleman is making a strong plea, and I would expect that from the constituency MP. I visited the barracks many, many times and know its history. It is not a part of today’s announcement in any sense, but again I would be happy to meet him to discuss his thoughts.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I note that the remaining stages of the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [Lords] were announced by the Leader of the House this morning. We have had an email from the Public Bill Office to say that the deadline for amendments was the rise of the House yesterday. Now, we are all pretty good in this place at figuring out how things work, but knowing how to do something that I should have done yesterday is quite difficult. Is there anything that you can do, Madam Deputy Speaker, about this incredibly short notice, which gives us little time to table amendments, less time to see other people’s amendments and consider them, and makes it very difficult for us to scrutinise the Bill effectively in the House on Monday?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. The scheduling of business is a matter for the Government, not the Chair, but I can understand her slight confusion. I believe that the letter from the Public Bill Office may well have said that the formal deadline would be yesterday, but amendments can be tabled today. I am sure, having heard the concerns that I suspect other colleagues may share, that Mr Speaker will take those into account when making his decisions on the selection of amendments on Monday. The hon. Lady referred to the Public Bill Office. I recommend that she and other Members visit it for further information, because I know that the staff there will be very happy to assist her and any other colleagues who have inquiries.
Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Karen Bradley, supported by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, Elizabeth Truss and John Penrose, presented a Bill to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland of certain sums for the service of the years ending 31 March 2019 and 2020; to appropriate those sums for specified purposes; to authorise the use for the public service of certain resources for those years; to revise the limits on the use of certain accruing resources in the year ending 31 March 2019; and to authorise the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland to borrow on the credit of the sum appropriated for the year ending 31 March 2020.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 4 March , and to be printed (Bill 346.)
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Karen Bradley, supported by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, Elizabeth Truss and John Penrose, presented a Bill to make provision about the regional rate in Northern Ireland for the year ending 31 March 2020; and amend the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 4 March, and to be printed (Bill 347.)