House of Commons
Thursday 14 March 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Trade and Investment: Switzerland
How are you, Mr Speaker? It has been so long.
I met with Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin during my visit to Switzerland in February. Together we signed the UK-Switzerland trade agreement. This was an important moment, ensuring continuity of a trading relationship worth over £32 billion in 2017.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Recently we had the brilliant ambassador for Switzerland, Ambassador Fasel, visit my constituency looking at the potential for greater trade opportunities between our great countries. Can the Secretary of State clarify this point? He talks about continuity and I welcome the agreement he has signed but, on post-Brexit trading opportunities, the United Kingdom has identified the United States, Australia, New Zealand and trans-Pacific as key priorities. Can he confirm that Switzerland—our bilateral trade totals over £34 billion—will always be a key priority, certainly in looking forward to enhancing sectors such as finance and IT?
The countries my hon. Friend mentions are for new free trade agreements, whereas of course the agreement with Switzerland was a continuity agreement. In fact, it was an unusual agreement because, rather than being a single agreement to roll over, there were some 58 different ones. It was to the tremendous credit of the Swiss Government that they were able to carry out that work as expeditiously as they did and we owe them a great deal of gratitude.
Does not the Secretary of State realise that the Swiss deal is a tiny deal—nothing wrong with it, but it is tiny? Could we have a list of all the trade deals he has secured across the piece because, as I have been tracking them, they are very small indeed? May I also tell the Secretary of State that it was not his finest hour last night when he did not have the courage to take an intervention from the Father of the House?
Sometimes one wonders how small people can actually become in this House of Commons. The Swiss deal is not small, it is not insignificant; it is worth over £32 billion a year. Switzerland is Britain’s seventh biggest trading partner globally. The hon. Gentleman should know that.
I do not want to invest levity into these important proceedings, but equally one must not lose one’s sense of humour. That £32 billion volume of trade with Switzerland is very important, but I always say the best thing about Switzerland is not its watches, its financial services or its chocolate; the best thing about Switzerland is Roger Federer.
I must say that I am tempted to answer questions this morning due to the constitutional innovation of Ministers no longer having to resign when they disagree with Government policy, but I will ask this one. Trade with Switzerland represents about 21% of all the trade of all the countries that have the continuity agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it shows the growing success of this programme and the importance of ensuring that we have those trade agreements in place in the event of a Brexit without a deal later this month?
I half-expected to see my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench with us this morning given the turn of events, but he is absolutely right that this is an important agreement. Over 20% of all the trade done under EU trade agreements is represented by Switzerland.
Mr Speaker, it is unlike me to disagree with you, but I do wonder whether on the morning after Roger Federer has defeated Kyle Edmund it is not a touch unpatriotic to be quite so pro-Swiss.
The Secretary of State may have heard an exchange a couple of days ago in which my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats highlighted the fact that, in the existing EU-Swiss trade deal, 19 technical standards have been brought in in common, whereas under the current UK-Swiss trade deal, only five technical standards have been brought in in common. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of that on UK business?
There are a number of technical interactions and some small technical issues that we shall continue to talk to the Swiss Government about. Of course the trade agreement itself is, we hope, a precursor to a further bespoke agreement as we leave the EU.
My understanding is that, of the 40 potential continuity agreements, five represent 76% of the total trade, of which Switzerland is one. Is not that a good omen for the remaining big four?
Of course a number of those who are engaged in trade continuity discussions with the UK are waiting to see what we will do in terms of Britain’s approach to the EU. They will be much more likely to sign up to those agreements when this House of Commons is clear about what it is going to do.
Leaving the EU: Agricultural Sector and Overseas Goods
I am grateful for the whip on Ministers having been imposed for as long as it was, otherwise I should not be standing here, but credit of course goes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).
When we leave the EU, we will maintain our current domestic standards. We will keep our existing UK legislation, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert EU law into UK law as it applies at the moment of exit. This includes the regulatory regimes for environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Without exception, of course, imports must continue to meet all relevant UK product rules and regulations, as they do today.
What assessment has the Department made of the impact of the tariff barriers introduced yesterday on the farming sector?
The tariff package announced yesterday is a balanced package. It is a temporary package. It is a response to the potential effects of leaving the EU without a deal. There are sectors that are vulnerable to competition from imports, are not as nimble as others and cannot change as quickly—farming is one of those. We believe that the balanced package we have put together will sufficiently protect farming interests in the UK.
If regulatory alignment with the EU is maintained in these goods, to what extent will that constrain our ambitions for wider trade deals?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Of course, if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed through this House in its third iteration, it will provide for regulatory alignment not to continue and therefore we would be able to pursue trade deals internationally. Of course we can do so in any event, as not all trade deals are to do with goods.
During the BSE crisis of the 1990s, the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and the scare of 2007, even some members of the European Union took advantage of these crises to ban British meat imports, even long after any risk had expired. If we leave with a bad deal, such as the one Parliament has now rejected twice, countries will not need an excuse to act with opportunistic protectionism in that way. So how will we make sure that our farmers are protected in the deals we strike in future?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman has a real constituency concern and interest in this. The simple fact is that the UK intends to operate within the World Trade Organisation and subscribe to the world’s rules-based order on trade, and that gives us a great deal of protection. We are always able to bring disputes if we feel that WTO rules are being flouted inappropriately.
In the United States, pork is produced using ractopamine, which causes heart disease, and it is not treated for trichinosis, which can lead to stomach upset. The US National Pork Producers Council wants its standards included in the US-UK trade deal, and it has the support of its Government in that demand. This threat to food safety is completely unacceptable, so will the Minister rule out any reduction in food standards in international trade agreements?
I repeat what we have said from this Dispatch Box and this Department many, many times: we absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that our food standards should be maintained. As for the requirements the US has laid out in its provisional negotiating strategy for its agreement with the UK, if he looks carefully at previous such agreements and previous such outline mandates from the US, he will find that they are almost exactly the same in every respect. That does not mean to say that they are delivered in that form.
Leaving the EU: Health Services and Legal Action
The Government are considering their future approach to investor state dispute settlement. Where included in a trade agreement, ISDS will not oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition, and overseas companies will not be able to take legal action to force us to do so.
The Secretary of State did not rule out the use of legal action against other companies in this country, so what message would he give to all those idealistic people who voted to leave the EU because they thought that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would open us up to hostile lawsuits from US companies? Does he think that now that the truth is out they ought to have a chance for another vote?
I am not sure what the connection was between some of those points. Let me be clear that, through ISDS, investment claims can be made only in respect of established investments; the mechanism cannot be used in relation to an alleged failure to open up public services to a potential investor. It could not be much clearer that what was being put about was a complete myth.
What guarantees can the Secretary of State give us that pharmaceutical companies will not relocate to the EU, meaning that in effect more and more of our drugs would be imported? Will he give a guarantee that that will not happen?
It would be absolutely ridiculous of any Minister to try to tell businesses what they can and cannot do. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, though, that last year foreign direct investment into the United Kingdom rose by 20%; in continental Europe, it fell by 73%. The hon. Gentleman should draw his own conclusions.
In the recent debate on international trade, I cited two examples of the Canadian Government’s having to withdraw public health measures after legal challenges by businesses under the terms of the North American free trade agreement. When the Secretary of State is considering health protections in future UK FTAs, will he ensure that they go wider than direct NHS provision and encompass wider public health policy?
We will look to replicate the success we have already had in bilateral investment treaties. UK investors have successfully brought around 70 cases against other Governments. No private company has ever brought a successful case against the United Kingdom in respect of our bilateral investment treaties.
The British public are clear that they do not want our national health service to be bargained away as part of trade negotiations, and they do not want foreign companies to have the right to sue our Government for decisions taken in the interests of public health, yet that is exactly what could happen if we accept ISDS and the negative-list approaches in the future agreements that the Government are proposing. Will the Secretary of State now rule out agreeing to a single clause of a single trade deal that could threaten our NHS?
There are days when I genuinely have to thank God that the Labour party is the Opposition and not the Government of this country. We have £1.3 trillion of outward stock invested, including things like pension funds that British people will depend on for their prosperity. Were we to abandon the concept of investor-state dispute resolutions, what would happen to the protections for our investment overseas? The Labour party needs to start to think about the wider interests of this country.
Future Trade Deals: NHS and Other Public Services
Existing EU trade agreements, such as the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, contain provisions that ensure that it remains for the United Kingdom to decide how our public services are run. As we leave the EU, the Government will ensure that all future trade agreements continue to protect the UK’s right to regulate public services.
Technically, there is little that MPs and the public can do to prevent the Government from signing trade deals that could negatively impact on the NHS. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will expand the transparency and scrutiny mechanisms that pertain to any future trade deals?
I recommend the Government’s Command Paper on this issue, which we published last week. It sets out the scrutiny plans that will provide greater scrutiny in this country than most of our fellow countries in the European Union have.
Conservative Ministers chose to include the NHS in their approach to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which could have made it impossible to bring privatised NHS services back in-house. The Secretary of State will know that privatisation is proceeding apace in the NHS—it certainly is in my constituency, in our cancer-scanning services—so will he give us a cast-iron legal guarantee? That is what we will need to show that his Government are committed to excluding the NHS from future trade deals.
Where do I start? First, this Government did not negotiate TTIP; the European Union negotiated it on behalf of this country, so it was not for the United Kingdom to determine the mandate. None the less, the hon. Lady should look at the agreements that are already out there. For example, article 9.2 of CETA talks about the exclusion of
“services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”.
It is quite clear from what the Government included in the CETA ratification that we intend to make provision to ensure that Governments have the right to regulate public services. I think that is a good idea, so I cannot understand why the Labour party voted against it.
The Secretary of State has publicly stated that he supports CETA as a model for future trade agreements—an agreement that prevents future Governments from tackling the failed privatisation agenda in both our health and transport services. Does he agree that trade agreements cannot be allowed to constrain future policy decisions?
I do not know where that briefing came from, but the hon. Lady should ask for her money back. There is nothing in CETA that stops the Government regulating their own public services; that is specifically what the exclusion is for. It is in the interests of the country that we get Government regulation of our own public services so that we can have proper scrutiny, including through this House, and that is what is included in the agreement.
Last year I saw at first hand how the New Zealand Parliament handles the scrutiny of trade agreements to ensure that they deliver for the country’s economy and protect key public services. What learnings and reassurances is my right hon. Friend taking from the experience of the New Zealand Parliament in scrutinising trade deals and ensuring that they deliver their promised benefits?
We have looked widely at what other countries are doing, particularly when they have similar legislatures and legal systems, but what we have set out in the Command Paper is a bespoke arrangement for the United Kingdom. For example, our consultation period is longer than the European Union’s because we thought that it was right to have increased scrutiny in the UK. It is a UK policy, made for the UK.
Leaving the EU: Interim Trade Tariffs
The Government announced details of the temporary tariff yesterday in a written statement to the House. This is a balanced tariff policy that aims to minimise costs to businesses and mitigate price impacts on consumers, while also supporting UK producers as far as possible.
Now that the details have been published at last, I noticed that slippers are going to be charged at 17% less under these tariffs. Given the disorientation of some ministerial colleagues last night, perhaps a few might like to invest in a pair and retire early. On a more important point, can we get away from the obscene nonsense whereby, in the past, we have given international aid money to countries such as Ethiopia to encourage cocoa farmers to produce agricultural products—quite rightly—only for the EU obscenely to charge them tariffs of 30% when they try to sell the products of their hard labour back to us?
My hon. Friend is right. The temporary arrangements that we are putting in place recognise that there are developing countries that we have long supported and have agreements with, and which require tariff-free access to our markets to ensure that they can sustain themselves through trade. Sections within the proposal keep tariffs on certain lines to allow those countries preferential access to the UK market to their advantage.
The National Farmers Union is profoundly concerned that it has only two weeks to prepare for the new tariff regime, particularly in view of the fact that cereals and egg producers will have no protection whatever. What discussions has the Minister had with the appropriate Ministers in other Departments to ensure support and compensation for those farmers?
Of course, the farming community is protected by a commitment to the payments they were expecting through to 2020. As the hon. Gentleman will know and would expect, we consulted widely with colleagues across Government, so this is a collectively agreed decision. We have placed tariffs on quite a large number of vulnerable agricultural products, and we hope that the mix is the right decision not just for producers, but for consumers.
I remind the House that, for people in the bottom 10 percentage points of income in this country, food is a very real cost every single day; some 20% of their weekly income is spent on food. If we allowed inflation to roar away on products of this sort, people at that end of the income scale would find it very hard to feed themselves, and we believe that we have to mitigate that situation for them, as well for farmers’ incomes.
Hundreds of my constituents work in the fish processing industry in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area, and the supply of fish from Iceland is essential to them. Can the Minister give an assurance that no decisions on tariffs will be detrimental to those supplies?
There are two points on this. First, we have transitioned the free trade agreements the EU has with the Faroes—something that Opposition Members have derided us for as to the scale of the deal. To certain communities, particularly in my hon. Friend’s part of the world, these fish products are extremely important to keep people in work and keep people in the country. Secondly, we are having extensive discussions with the European Free Trade Association countries and European Economic Area countries about transitioning the free trade deal, and we would hope to be able to get some news on this to the House in due course.
Only yesterday, trade arrangements were announced between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and they give us some concessions. However, the Ulster Farmers Union has indicated that it has some concerns over the arrangements that have been made. What discussions has the Minister had with the Ulster Farmers Union in Northern Ireland to discuss this?
The hon. Gentleman identifies an extremely important issue. I am not going to sidestep the question—I will give him an answer—but of course in the end this is a matter for the Department for Exiting the European Union and, indeed, for the Government more widely. There is no doubt that the choices that have been made for the position on the border in Northern Ireland were made against an extraordinarily difficult backdrop. There were no easy decisions. The decision we have made is temporary. We believe that it is World Trade Organisation-compliant. We recognise that there are real difficulties. I spoke to representatives of the agricultural community in Northern Ireland only yesterday and explained this. While very disturbed by what was going to happen, they understood why the decision had been taken.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion. Following this session, I will be signing the trade continuity agreement between the UK and the Pacific Islands in the event of no deal. This is part of our commitment to reducing poverty through trade, and it will ensure continued supply of key consumer products.
There is a lot of scaremongering on this issue that is concerning a number of my constituents, so will the Secretary of State set out what steps the Government are taking to ensure that contracts for the delivery of NHS services will be excluded from future trade deals?
As I have already said, the Government will ensure that all future trade agreements continue to protect the United Kingdom’s right to regulate public services. It could not be simpler. Any attempts to distort that basic message are political propaganda and they are untrue.
One of our most distinguished former diplomats, the noble Lord Kerr, spoke last week, during the passage of the Trade Bill in another place, of the value of having a mandate as a negotiator. He said:
“Having negotiated against Americans, I know that it greatly strengthens their hand to be able to say, “Here is the proof that I cannot give you what you want, because Congress would turn it down”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 March 2019; Vol. 796, c. 671.]
Recently the US trade representative published the negotiating mandate for a US-UK trade deal—no concern about commercial confidentiality here, just openly and transparently setting out all the objectives they have for penetrating UK markets, with American healthcare and agribusiness to the fore. In the same week, the Secretary of State published his Command Paper. It is against mandates. Indeed, the Government tried unsuccessfully to defeat Lord Kerr and others who supported Lord Balmacara’s amendment. What does the Secretary of State know about negotiations that Lord Kerr does not, and will the Government try to reverse their lordships’ decision when the Bill returns to the Commons?
The Trade Bill was and is about trade continuity, including trade agreements and including the Trade Remedies Authority. It has been used, I am afraid, in the other place to hold debates on future trade agreements that will come in due course here. There is of course a difference between setting out negotiating objectives, which the United States did, and a mandate, which is how the negotiators actually go about it. It seems that the hon. Gentleman has not grasped that point yet.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right; the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund has said that it will continue its investment here. The latest figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development show that the UK strengthened its position last year as the No. 1 foreign direct investment destination in Europe. The hundreds of thousands of jobs and higher wages that result would be threatened by the Labour party if it got the chance to jack up corporation tax rates and put in place other business-unfriendly policies. That would reverse the investment that has brought so much good to this country since Labour left in 2010.
The Government’s policy is that we do not have to have these rollover agreements because we want to get an agreement through the House so that we can continue with the Prime Minister’s plan. If the hon. Gentleman wants to help the businesses that he mentions, he can vote for the Prime Minister’s agreement at the next opportunity.
My hon. Friend is right. Tourism is a great example—I use the word “great” advisedly. The GREAT brand is used across the whole of UK Government. It is that rarest of things—a joined-up government policy that actually works. It has added huge value to our tourism sector. In 2017 we saw record numbers of visitors to the UK, and a contribution to the UK economy of £24 billion.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the interest that he has shown in this issue. The experience of other countries in using the ability of free ports to increase economic activity is valuable and something that the Government are considering in an optimistic and positive way.
UK Export Finance does some excellent work, but some of its funding capacity goes unused. What can be done to change that to raise British exports?
We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the five biggest banks so that they can encourage businesses to utilise UK Export Finance. One of the main areas where it is under-utilised is small businesses, but the positive side is that last year more than 70% of the agreements signed by UKEF were with small businesses. That is a trend that we would like to see continue.
I take the opportunity to praise the work of the Fairtrade organisation, which is so well led and co-ordinated by my very good friend Lord Price. It is essential that we look at these issues because free trade is not a free-for-all. There need to be rules around it and there needs to be fair trade. The Government will look sympathetically at what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Following the visit of the Taiwanese representative and the Philippines ambassador, does my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement that the Qatari ambassador, together with a trade delegation, will visit Southend on 25 March as we move towards city status, to explore the opportunities of trade and business investment as we leave the EU?
I welcome the announcement by Qatar’s ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Yousef Al Khater, and his accompanying delegation of a visit to Southend. I am pleased to say that the UK is one of Qatar’s major investment destinations globally, with more than £35 billion already invested in the UK.
This is an issue that the Government take seriously because we want to ensure that British companies have the right to trade where we think it is appropriate and where the British Government’s foreign policy indicates that. I have had and will continue to have discussions with my American counterparts on that issue.
Given the announcement on tariffs, what progress is being made regarding the steel industry in relation to the trade defence instruments in place at European level being transferred across to UK level at the point of departure?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman missed the statement we had in the House on this, but I made it very clear that those arrangements would be rolled over. It will not be the Government’s intention in any way, shape or form to leave our businesses less protected than they are today, which is why those trade remedies will continue.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Shared Parental Leave Uptake
In 2018, we ran a successful £1.5 million campaign to promote awareness and take-up of shared parental leave. Last month, we launched a further campaign to maintain the high level of awareness achieved. We are currently evaluating the scheme, looking at take-up and the barriers to take-up, and we expect to publish the findings later this year.
I thank the Minister for that response. Since becoming an MP, I have taken a real interest in the close links between Scotland and the Nordic countries. At the Nordic Co-operation conference this week, the Swedish Government said that they wanted to re-emphasise their commitment to sharing care, saying that parental leave was good not just for women, but for the health and wellbeing of men. What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government to support further progress on this approach?
I quite agree, and this Government are committed to delivering the take-up of shared parental leave. We know that it is good for employers, for the family and for employees. The scheme has been in place since 2015. We are evaluating it, and we will continue to consult with all partners on how we can increase take-up.
I call Victoria Prentis—not here.
Will the Minister give a timescale for the extension of shared parental leave to the self-employed?
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that, as I outlined in my last response, we are currently evaluating the scheme, which we are committed to delivering, as I have already said. However, in relation to self-employed people, I must point out that one of the benefits of implementing shared parental leave in the first place is that some people who are employed do not have the flexibility of the self-employed. Obviously, we are not ruling anything out, and we will continue to keep our policies under review. As I say, we will respond on the outcomes of our evaluation later on.
In the future, we will look back at the inequality of parental leave between fathers and mothers, and wonder how on earth we thought it was okay for it to be like that. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to rebalance parental leave between men and women—fathers and mothers—so that parents get equal opportunities to spend time with their children and pursue their careers?
Absolutely. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that both parents are able to spend quality time with their children, particularly in their first year. I would like to highlight to my hon. Friend that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs reported that, in 2017-18, 9,200 employees took up the scheme, of whom 80% were men.
Does the Minister think that that 80% figure is where we want to end up?
No. We want to encourage further take-up. Currently, the take-up is between 2% and 8%, which is in line with our prediction. A figure of 80% is a good start, but I want to see more mothers and more fathers taking advantage of this shared parental leave policy.
With take-up of shared parental leave at 2%, it is clearly not working for families across the UK. If we are serious about closing the gender pay gap and tackling maternity discrimination, the Government must increase statutory paid leave for new fathers. Will the Minister confirm that as part of her ongoing review, she will consider extending statutory paid leave to four weeks, to incentivise fathers to take it up?
In reality, we are looking for a wider culture change. Other countries that implemented such schemes decades ago are still working to increase take-up of shared parental leave. We are committed to looking at what the barriers are, and at why people are not taking up such schemes. When we have that evidence base, we will tweak our policies to ensure that more people are able to take up those schemes.
It is very good of the hon. Member for Banbury to drop in on us, and we welcome her to the Chamber. I hope that she has fully recovered her breath, after what must have been an arduous excursion from wherever she was to the Chamber, and that she is now ready to deliver her question, which we await with bated breath.
I cannot thank you enough for calling me, Mr Speaker, because this is a very important issue. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the research programme announced in September 2018 on gender equality in the workplace, and particularly on parental responsibilities? I know it is an evidence-based research programme, and we are all awaiting its results.
The research programme into the workplace and gender equality will invest £1.1 million in academic research over two years. So far that programme has commissioned an evidence-based review into family-friendly policies and women’s progression, as well as considering how parents share caring for their children, and what motivates employers to improve their offer of shared parental leave. That programme will be based on evidence and advice from employers regarding how we can improve those family-friendly policies.
Highly Paid Professions: Girls and Women
My colleagues in the Department for Education regularly meet Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner, and I will ask them to raise that matter at their next meeting. It is critical to get more women into professions where they are under-represented, not least because that will help close the gender pay gap.
The Minister knows the information and data that those two organisations hold on the fact that so many bright girls are diverted early on away from science and maths, and away from other subjects that have a clear link with progression to high management. Surely that is criminal, and we should do something about it on an all-party basis.
I think the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to discuss this issue again. He is right, and this is an issue on which Members across the House will agree. Progress has been made, including a clear increase in girls choosing those subjects, which shows that effort does pay off, but there are still too few such cases, and we must not let up in our work to encourage women to have such choices and to go forward in those professions.
Women who enter high-paid professions face blatant discrimination—40% experience sexual harassment, 50,000 women a year feel forced to leave their jobs because they are pregnant, and organisations such as the BBC feel that it is okay for them to break the law by paying men and women differently for the same job. Why is there no mention of enforcing antidiscrimination law in the Government’s “Good Work Plan”, which is their employment strategy? Surely that should be at the heart of what they are doing.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is consulting on that matter. My right hon. Friend mentioned a list of issues, and it is important to track the impact that policies are having on women and their choices. We will produce measures and metrics to sit alongside the strategy that the Government Equalities Office will produce on women’s economic empowerment, so that we can all see how we are doing.
On 20 February I raised concerns with the Ofsted Chief Inspector that some schools are not following new safeguarding guidance on peer-on-peer sexual abuse, but at best, the Chief Inspector’s response required improvement. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can enforce safeguarding in schools?e
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. It is a very serious matter indeed. I will certainly ask the relevant Minister at the Department for Education to meet her, and I will also follow up.
We should accentuate the positive. Last year, 68.8% of those accepted on to law undergraduate courses were women. The future for law in this country is bright. Does the Minister agree?
Every human endeavour depends for its success on women’s involvement, so, yes, I am pleased about progress, but more needs to be done.
Further to the question asked by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), one of the barriers to women holding highly paid positions is maternity discrimination. What further steps will the Government take to tackle this issue?
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is leading on a number of pieces of work. The women’s economic empowerment strategy is considering all these policies in the round to look at what more we can do to ensure that women are supported and treated fairly, and can have full careers. It will be published later this spring.
Differential Gender-based Pricing
Although I share concerns on this issue, prices in the UK are set by competition, not by the Government. As intelligent questioning consumers, women should not be afraid to challenge retailers or manufacturers who are trying to rip us off and, where we are not satisfied, to vote with our purchasing decisions. The Government stand ready to back up any woman who wants to do that.
I thank the Minister for her comments. Research shows that women pay more than men for basic products 42% of the time. Manufacturers claim that this is competition or that more is involved in producing women’s products. Scientists tell us that that is nonsense: we all have the same hair and skin types. Given what she has said about women standing up, will the Minister back my Bill on the pink tax, which is currently going through Parliament, or help to encourage manufacturers and retailers to do away with what is a sexist and outdated practice?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her private Member’s Bill. The Government will not be supporting it, but we welcome the focus she is bringing to this important issue. In the 21st century, things like social media will help to get the message out to manufacturers and businesses that they simply cannot rip women off. The work uncovered on Friday in the Rose review of access to finance, which female entrepreneurs are sadly not getting at the moment, is precisely why the Government are looking to help female entrepreneurs to set up businesses that will not rip women off.
Will the Minister kindly provide an update on the projects being supported by the tampon tax fund?
I regret to say that I do not have that list to hand at the moment, not least because I was preparing answers on the pink charge on female products, but I will endeavour to write to my hon. Friend with a list. I know the work he has done on this vital topic. I am sure that, like me, he was delighted at the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that we will be providing free sanitary products to secondary schools.
As the Minister’s reply to the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) will be of wider interest, it might be of service to the House if the hon. Lady places a copy of her reply in the Library.
I am delighted to hear the Minister’s commitment to supporting women who wish to take the matter of the pink tax to task. As it happens, we are in the process of establishing an all-party group concerning the beauty industry. I would welcome the Minister joining the group, so she could, alongside me and colleagues, encourage companies to look at the pink tax. It seems an irony, given that women’s earning potential is less than men’s. We really should be looking at this issue far more closely.
I am extremely grateful, as always, to the hon. Lady for her kind invitation. Sadly, I am not sure that, as a Minister, I am allowed to join an all-party group, but I very much look forward to learning from its work. Of course, if it ever wished to invite me to a meeting, I would be happy to accept the invitation.
I am convening a new taskforce of experts from all sectors to ensure that we end period poverty in the UK. The taskforce will build on good work already being done and recent announcements of funding for sanitary protection in schools and hospitals.
I applaud the Secretary of State for the great work that we are doing in this area in the UK, but we must remember that it is also really important to tackle period poverty abroad, where sometimes women have even more serious problems than we have here.
I absolutely agree. That is why we have also launched a new campaign to step up international action to end period poverty globally by 2030, in line with the global goals. This will be kick-started by £2 million of funding for small and medium-sized charities working in the Department for International Development’s priority countries. We are building on our existing international work, because obviously this is embedded in all our education work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Like me, does she look forward with ever-increasing excitement to the day when we finally leave the EU and can set our own VAT rates on all products, including tampons, and end this injustice forever?
I absolutely agree. The Government strongly believe that VAT should not apply to these products. That is why we took the initiative in 2016 to introduce legislation to enable a zero rate to take effect as soon as possible. In the meantime, we currently apply the lowest rate that we can—5%—to these products.
I welcome the announcement this week, but has the Minister considered the provision of sanitary products in the workplace, perhaps starting with her Ministry or here in Parliament?
Yes, we have. I am sure that all Members across the House will welcome the recent announcements on schools, hospitals and colleges, but we want to look at the issue in the round. That is the job of the taskforce, and it will be about Departments, the private sector and the third sector coming together to create ways to sort this for any woman or girl who may find herself in that situation. On other issues such as primary schools, workplace settings and so forth, the taskforce is looking at all those, but I am also interested in ideas that hon. Members have, because I know that there are many great schemes out there in their constituencies.
I thank Amika George, the Red Box Project, the British Medical Association, the Communication Workers Union, Girlguiding UK, Plan International, Bloody Good Period, Beauty Banks, On The Ball, Hey Girls, Bloody Big Brunch, my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley), and Monica Lennon, the Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament, who helped with the policy on period poverty. I thank the Secretary of State and the Chancellor for the announcement yesterday. I am really pleased to hear that there will be a taskforce, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State would like to work with me and Monica Lennon so that we can make sure that refugee and homeless shelters all have free menstruation products.
Absolutely. This is an issue that can unite the whole House, and we need such issues, especially at times like this. When I launched this, I also paid tribute to many organisations, including those that the hon. Lady mentions, for the fantastic work that they are doing. We do not want to reinvent the wheel. There is great, sustainable work out there, and we want to take those ideas, help them scale up and ensure that we can end this issue for good.
As always, I want to help colleagues with important questions, but we are up against it, so I will take the next question and possibly one after, but they have to be one-sentence questions, and nothing more—we do not have time.
Public Spending: Disabled People
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton)—I am sorry that she is not in her place today and that the sector will be disappointed that it has lost a good Minister. We need to take into account the impact not just of our policies, but of the policies of other areas, such as local government.
Disabled people have been absolutely hammered by this Government, with cuts of £4.8 billion in social security alone, so why was there absolutely nothing in the spring statement yesterday for disabled people, who are at the end of their tether? And please do not say that it was not a fiscal event, because there were spending commitments made yesterday.
The Department for Work and Pensions has been continuing to do the work that was outlined in the health and work review 12 months or more ago and is making progress. The Department is considering how we can ensure not only that the welfare system works better in supporting disabled people, but that it dovetails with other schemes such as Access to Work. I shall make sure that the Department is aware of the specifics to which the hon. Lady refers.
What has happened to total spending on disability benefits since 2010, and what has happened to the employment and unemployment rates for disabled people?
Members will know the figures well. The amount currently spent on disabled people and those with health conditions is £50 billion. We are closing the disability employment gap, but there is still much more to do. One of the things that the Department has been doing well is looking at this in the round, along with other issues such as accessibility. We need to support disabled people in relation to every aspect of their lives and every ambition that they have.
Pension Age: Women Born in the 1950s
The state pension age reform is focused on maintaining the right balance between sustainability of the state pension and fairness between generations in the face of demographic change. Without equalisation, women would be expected to spend an average of more than 40% of their adult lives receiving the state pension.
I should declare an interest: I am a WASPI woman myself, having been born in the 1950s. Many of my friends, neighbours and constituents have been hit hard by changes in their pension arrangements that are forcing them to work for an additional five years beyond their planned retirement date. Does the Minister agree that women who have set aside careers to care for families, unpaid, for many years should not be treated in the same way as men who have been able to pursue their careers unencumbered? Equality is not always achieved by treating men and women in the same way.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. It has been well debated, and additional transitional arrangements have been introduced. One development that we should all welcome is that since 1994, the rate of pensioner poverty has fallen faster for females than for males.
There are many 1950s-born women in my constituency—I, too, should declare an interest, as a 1950s-born woman myself—who are facing real financial hardship because of the pension changes. What steps are the Government taking to relieve their difficulties?
That is exactly why we have continued to deliver the triple lock. We recently announced a £3 billion uprating, and 80% of women reaching state pension age before 2030 will be better off by an average of £550 a year under the new arrangements.
Do the Government accept that the DWP’s communication strategy was well below standard, and many women found out about changes in their pensions only a year—or even a few months—before those changes were made?
That, too, is an issue that has been debated extensively in a number of Parliaments, and it has been encountered by Governments of all political persuasions. On our watch, we redoubled efforts to ensure that there was the maximum amount of communication so that people could make informed decisions.
This is LBT women’s health week. We know that lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are less likely to participate in services such as cancer screening, which means that they face a wide range of health inequalities. That must stop. As part of our LGBT action plan, we will shortly announce the appointment of a national LGBT health adviser to help to improve the delivery of healthcare services for LGBT people. We will also announce the membership of the new LGBT advisory panel before the first conference, which will take place next week.
Will the Minister support calls from my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), other Scottish National party Members and women’s advocacy groups for the introduction of separate payments of universal credit to protect victims of domestic violence and financial coercion?
The hon. Gentleman raises important issues that are being considered by both my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and our colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions, and the new Secretary of State is particularly attuned to them. I will ask Ministers to write to the hon. Gentleman to update him, and I will pass on his concerns today.
I recall the visit that I made with my hon. Friend to see how his local community was looking after vulnerable people in Gloucester. We believe that people who want to leave prostitution should be given every opportunity to find routes out, and this is why we are spending more than £2 million across the Government to support prostitutes and sex workers who are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Indeed, we have a piece of work at the moment involving ongoing research conducted by the University of Bristol into what prostitution in the 21st century looks like, precisely so that we can address the issues that that research identifies.
The primary victims of religiously motivated attacks are women, but how can the Government reassure Muslim women that they are serious about tackling Islamophobia when they choose to ignore and shut down the voices of the British Muslims in their own party who are calling for an independent inquiry into institutional Islamophobia? Speaking as a British Muslim, I believe that it is disgraceful and patronising that the Conservative party continues to refuse to act and tells British Muslims in the party that there is not a problem. Will the Minister at least accept that her party has a problem?
The Conservative party took immediate action to suspend 14 members who put issues in, so we are not going to take any lectures from a party that refuses to suspend people or throw them out of the party for antisemitism.
We are proceeding with this as soon as a suitable legislative vehicle is available. However, I can update my hon. Friend and tell him that the guidance that we promised to publish alongside it has now been produced. It is there to help employers, service providers and individuals to understand the context of the Equality Act, and it is going out for consultation with stakeholders this week.
That is a really excellent question. The Government are investing an extra £16 billion in that sort of primary care and prevention to make sure that we have the public health investment that helps people to tackle alcoholism and ensures that women get the breast cancer support that they need. Today, we have released a written ministerial statement responding to the inquiry on breast cancer screening.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has asked this question, as it gives me an opportunity to thank Alison Rose for her review, which tries to ensure that the business landscape is as fair for women as it is for men. It is a shocking fact that women’s average starting capital is 50% less than that of men. I was at a fantastic reception at No. 10 last week, where there was a room full of female entrepreneurs, some of whom were world-leading entrepreneurs. We have fantastically talented, capable and creative female entrepreneurs in this country, and we absolutely must support them. We must ensure that businesses, banks, venture capitalists and angel investors are all doing their bit to help these women.
We have launched a consultation on the use of NDAs and have proposed to make it explicit that NDAs should not prevent individuals from reporting any kind of harassment, sexual or otherwise, to the police. I hope that that answers her question.
May I ask the Minister for Women and Equalities whether some MPs are more equal than others? Back Benchers—the poor bloody infantry—have to traipse through the Lobby for every three-line Whip, but Cabinet Ministers can sit brazenly on the Front Bench and then slope off in their limousines after betraying the people and the Prime Minister.
All the Ministers on the Front Bench this morning are here and ready for their duties, in particular the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who was ironing his shirt 20 minutes before this session started. We are in turbulent times, but we must trust our institutions and trust in democracy. I am also the Secretary of State for International Development, and I will take messy democracy over any other system in the world.
I am tad taken aback that the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) feels it necessary to disclose to his ministerial boss his personal habits in relation to such matters, but there we go.
There has been an impact assessment all the way through. If the hon. Gentleman highlights a good group, I am sure that the Minister with responsibility for pensions would be delighted to meet its representatives.
I urge the Government to work with NHS England to provide support to women GPs who have left the workforce but want to return after caring responsibilities. They should be supported to return to practice so that patients can get the benefits of their skills and experience.
My right hon. Friend is right. As well as having more GPs in training than ever before, we need to attract GPs who have left the workforce back into work. In March 2017, we launched a major “return to practice” campaign that aimed to attract 500 GPs. So far, 263 have completed the scheme, and a further 266 are in train.
As has been extensively covered in several debates, we have allocated an additional £1.1 billion of transitional support. The recent uprating order included an additional £3 billion to support the uprating of the state pension, and we will continue to support pensioners of all genders.
What measures could be included in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure that parental responsibility does not override restraining orders, especially when partners have been convicted of coercive behaviour?
My hon. Friend raised a constituency case during the International Women’s Day debate last week, and we want the draft Domestic Abuse Bill to support both the victims of the many forms that such abuse can take and the children who live in abusive households. I urge my hon. Friend to write to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is scrutinising the Bill, to make her point.
As the Minister for Women and Equalities knows, the estimated 18% gender pay gap is likely to grow following Brexit as women in public services and retail are disproportionately affected. Does she accept that the women who voted to leave did not vote to leave themselves worse off and that they deserve a final-say referendum on the exit deal?
No. We do not want a second referendum, which would be disastrous. We are doing specific work in those sectors to close the gender pay gap. However, I caution that some companies that are doing the right thing will see their pay gaps widen because they may be recruiting many more young women, so we must look at the figures in detail to see that good progress is being made.
I know that Ministers on the Treasury Bench wish to examine in great detail the work of the Women and Equalities Committee when we issue our reports, but could the Secretary of State perhaps explain to me why it has taken five months for the Government to respond to our very important report on sexual harassment in public places? This issue needs urgent action, not more deliberation.
I am sorry that we have taken a long time over responding to the work of the Select Committee. I would rather publish a response that will actually take the right action, rather than put out something swiftly that is not going to do the job. I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand that we want to be doing things that ensure we address the issues she has raised.
Mr Bradshaw, you are a curious fellow. You were standing up a moment ago. [Interruption.] Very well. We will take one more.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister for Women and Equalities join me in condemning the wording of letter ESA65B from the Department for Work and Pensions—the letter asks general practitioners to cease issuing fit notes to people with disabilities awaiting an appeal for employment and support allowance—and help ensure that such blatant discrimination against disabled people, which resulted in the death of my constituent who was forced back to work against his doctor’s advice, will cease immediately?
It is critical that welfare and healthcare work absolutely together if we are to support people. If the hon. Lady would like to share the details with me, I will certainly get a response from the Department for Work and Pensions.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman courteously gave me notice of his desire to raise this point of order, and I am happy to take it now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland is, as we speak, announcing its intention to proceed to prosecute a number of people in relation to events that occurred on the day known as Bloody Sunday in Londonderry.
It is not my intention to intervene in any way on the legal process, but I was born and raised in the city, which I now represent in Parliament, and as a teenager I was there in the city centre on the day. I watched the events that led up to that day, including the murder of two police officers in the vicinity of the parade just three days before that parade commenced. No prosecutions have ensued as a result of any investigation, either through the Saville inquiry or any other police investigation since.
I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on what a parliamentarian like myself can do to draw attention, for example, to Peter Gilgun and David Montgomery, the police officers who were murdered, and to the massive imbalance in legacy investigations into our troubled past in Northern Ireland? Many innocent civilians, police and soldiers have not had their investigations carried out and no prosecutions have occurred, yet we have the announcement we are having today.
In truth, I think the hon. Gentleman knows that he has found his own salvation. He asks, in essence, what recourse is available to him, and he has found it. He has registered his view, and it is on the record. I know he will appreciate that it is not a matter for adjudication by the Chair. Specifically, however, in the light of what he has said, I hope that it is helpful to the House for me to point out that, in the event that any charges are brought, the House will want to respect the autonomy of the judicial process and to observe our own sub judice resolution. I will leave it there for now, and I think he understands that.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 18 March—A motion relating to the Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion relating to amendments relating to the Provision of Integrated Care Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Organic Production (Control Of Imports) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Organic Production and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Tuesday 19 March—A motion to approve the draft Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Animal Feed (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by motions relating to Select Committee appointments.
Wednesday 20 March—A motion to approve the draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion relating to the draft Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account: Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve The Flags (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Thursday 21 March—A general debate on services for people with autism, followed by debate on a motion relating to NICE appraisal processes for treatments for rare diseases. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 March—Private Members’ Bills.
Mr Speaker, this has been an important week for Parliament. There have been difficult decisions to make and at times some challenging exchanges. With such strongly held views across the House, that is to be expected, but it is vital that we continue to listen to each other with respect and understanding. Over the centuries, the country has looked on as Parliament has faced historic decisions, and even in the most challenging of times we have pulled together and put our duty above all else. I hope the House will come together to find a consensus that delivers on the will of the people to leave the European Union and does so in a way that inspires confidence in Parliament and in us as MPs.
I do not know what to say to that, other than that it feels like a wash-up and that we should be getting ready for a general election. I was going to ask for an Opposition day. With the Government losing votes, it feels like we have already had them, but we have not. When my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) asked the Leader of the House when the next Opposition day debate would be, she said they were announced every Thursday, so, today being Thursday, I invite her to give us an Opposition day. The last one was on 13 November.
I was going to ask for statutory instrument debates, but I see they have already been tabled for next week. Following what has been an absolutely astonishing week this week, we have a series of SIs. More importantly, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who recently resigned, said that a few SIs had been deprioritised and would not be passed by the end of March, which was confirmed by a No. 10 spokeswoman. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a list is published of the prioritised and deprioritised SIs? What criteria are the Government using to deprioritise some of them?
Several Bills have to be passed before exit day. The Trade Bill had its Report Stage in the House of Lords yesterday, but other essential Bills—the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill—are yet to have theirs. When are they likely to be debated? I raised the financial services Bill and the cross-party amendment last week after the debate was pulled. The Leader of the House said that she wanted
“time to look properly at the proposed amendments and consider their impact with the Crown dependencies, which are separate jurisdictions with their own democratically elected Governments.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2019; Vol. 655, c. 1135.]
That is right, but the UK Government are responsible for the good government of the Crown dependencies, and it is already Government policy, passed in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) have said that offshore secrecy represents a threat to UK national security. Could the Leader of the House say whether there are any conflicts of interest in the Cabinet that are preventing the amendments from being debated?
Today we will debate another motion on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It is about the negotiated withdrawal agreement, which was laid before the House and voted upon on 15 January and 12 March. Today’s motion is substantially the same as the previous two, so the House is being asked to vote on the deal once again. “Erskine May” states—I have looked it up, Mr Speaker—that that is a matter for the Chair to decide, because this is the same motion. I do not want to trivialise the matter, but it sounds rather like that line from Morecambe and Wise: the same words, but not necessary in the same order. The motion is effectively the same, with a few other words added. The footnotes in “Erskine May” state that the last time this provision was used was in 1920, and the reason it was put into “Erskine May” was to prevent MPs and the Government from putting motions again and again.
It is the Government who have put us in this position. Their red lines were drawn right at the beginning and formed the boundaries for the negotiations. There are ongoing investigations into how the vote was conducted. There was secrecy and a lack of information, and Parliament was bypassed and ignored. That is pernicious to democracy.
One of the biggest announcements on Wednesday, apparently, was the Chancellor’s spring statement. He used it to set out a “deal dividend”—if Parliament votes to leave the EU with a deal, we can have the money. That is effectively blackmailing us. He also said that austerity is coming to an end. Yes, and the people have said that they want authenticity, not austerity. But the latest figures show that the Office for Budget Responsibility has cut its growth forecast for 2019 to 1.2%, which is the weakest growth rate since 2009. That is a significant cut from its predicted 1.6% expansion, and that is from the Government’s own economic watchdog. Who is right: the Chancellor or the OBR?
It is no good the Leader of the House telling us that there are more people in work. Yes, there are, but they are self-employed, on zero-hours contracts and in insecure work. There was absolutely nothing in the spring statement about local authorities or social care. The Health for Care coalition has said that the Government’s failure to protect social care is “a national disgrace”. When will the social care Green Paper be published? It was expected last summer. The Women’s Budget Group said that there have been cuts to youth services of 65%, cuts to Sure Start of 50%, and cuts to subsided buses of 48%. All of that has to be addressed. When will we have a debate on the spring statement, or do I have to make an application to the Backbench Business Committee?
Next Thursday is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination—importantly, it is also the day when the European Council meets. It is important that we are careful with our language in areas surrounding race and accept that there is unconscious bias. More importantly, tomorrow our young people are being explicit; they are taking action to protect the very thing that gives us life. We must listen to them. I also want to send the House’s good wishes to James Shaw, New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister, who has sadly been attacked.
Finally, on a slightly happier note, I want to wish a very happy birthday—today is a triple birthday—to my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali).
The hon. Lady has asked a number of questions, but I would like to start by sharing in her good wishes to all who are celebrating their birthday today, and I would add to her list my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), who is celebrating the birth yesterday of his new baby boy—fantastic news.
The hon. Lady asks about Opposition days. She will recognise that we have had incredibly important business this week, and for next week I have announced a range of important secondary legislation. I hope she will welcome the fact that I have announced debates on two statutory instruments requested by the official Opposition: the Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and the Amendments Relating to the Provision of Integrated Care Regulations 2019. I will continue to consider carefully the hon. Lady’s requests for different types of business.
The hon. Lady asks about the Brexit SIs generally. I am still confident that we will meet all the necessary SIs required to be laid by 29 March in a no-deal scenario and in a deal scenario; that is what the Government have been working towards. Over 500 EU exit SIs have now been laid, and I pay tribute to the sifting Committee, which has considered over 210 negative SIs, recommending over 60 of them for upgrade to the affirmative procedure. There is a huge amount of work going on, and many thanks to all hon. Members who have taken part in Delegated Legislation Committees.
The hon. Lady asks about primary legislation for Brexit Bills. She will know that in addition to the EU withdrawal Act, nine exit-related Bills are in Parliament or have already received Royal Assent; the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill completed its 10th sitting in Committee last week; the Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill and Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill are currently before the House of Commons; and the healthcare Bill and Trade Bill are progressing through the House of Lords.
The hon. Lady asked particularly about a financial services Bill. She will be aware that as I said last week, which she has pointed out, we are considering the amendment put forward, but on transparency in general it is this Government who are taking the lead on international transparency measures at home and around the world. It was Conservatives in government who led the world with the first public registry of company beneficial ownership in the G20, and it is the Conservatives who have driven the global agenda on tax transparency.
The hon. Lady asked about the Brexit decision today, and particularly the motion on the Order Paper. Today’s debate is not about forcing the House to make a decision on whether the Government should seek a short or a long extension. The Government’s motion simply sets out the factual position so that Members can take a decision on extension in full knowledge of the consequences. The Government’s position is clear, and this is backed up by the comments made in Brussels over the last 24 hours. A short extension only works if a deal has been agreed by the House and the extension period is used to pass the necessary legislation to give effect to, and allow ratification of, a withdrawal agreement. A short extension does not work in any other circumstances, and a long extension would mean the UK having to participate in the EU elections.
The hon. Lady asked about the same question rule. “Erskine May” sets out that a motion
“which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.”
However, any motion that we would table for any further approval would reflect the situation at the time—if it were to be tabled.
The hon. Lady says the economic data in the spring statement was not positive. I simply disagree: borrowing so far this year is at its lowest level for 17 years; our economy has grown for 24 quarters in a row, the longest streak of growth in the G7; wages are growing at their fastest rate for a decade; and from April the national living wage will rise again, taking the total annual pay rise for a full-time worker to over £2,750 since its introduction.
Finally, I join the hon. Lady in commending all the young people who are doing so much to indicate their support for protecting our global climate challenge. I absolutely pay tribute to them, but say again that the greatest gift of any society to its children is a good education, and I urge them not to take valuable time out from school on this subject, but instead to spend their time campaigning for it, which is the right way to do it.
Will my right hon. Friend find time to ban the use of living animals for warfare experiments? In the last year 3,865 animals were experimented on for chemical weapons at Porton Down, which is an absolute disgrace and totally unacceptable in what is supposed to be a civilised society.
My hon. Friend raises an important matter that I know is of interest to many Members of this House. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down has an active programme to minimise the use of animals in experiments, in accordance with the principles of the three Rs—reduction, refinement and replacement. The Ministry of Defence does not conduct animal experiments for the development or testing of offensive weapons, and the Home Office does not grant licences for those purposes.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the almost comical business for next week. We are still considering our whip on the draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 motion, which we will be considering as an important measure next week.
Today is a bit like the morning after the night before, with people collectively asking, “What on earth happened last night?” We had members of the Cabinet failing to support the Government on a three-line Whip against their own motion but still keeping their jobs. Politically, the UK is now close to becoming a failed state, with a Government barely able to function, and now we have today’s Government motion and this woeful business statement. There is only one item of business this Government covet, and that is another crack at their dead deal. Today’s motion is exclusively designed to allow that, in the vain hope that the threat of an extended delay will bring the Brexiteers back on board. How many times are the Government going to try to get this deal through? They are like vampires with an ability to survive a stake through the heart. I know that you will make a ruling on this, Mr Speaker, but as I heard the shadow Leader of the House say, the position on bringing a motion is clear. Page 397 of “Erskine May” states:
“A motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.”
But that is exactly what this Government are intending to do. I am sure you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Therefore, this is a Government who should be certified.
We also need to see the legislation that will honour last night’s decision. The House has now voted three times to take no deal off the table, but the House remains ignored. The Government are right to say that the default position is to leave without a deal—that is what the legislation says—but what we have to do is bring forward legislation to honour and respect the wishes of the House. If the Government are not prepared to do it, let the House do it.
This has been a disastrous week for the Government: they have been defeated on their deal; no deal has been taken off the table; and tonight there will be an extension to the 29 March departure date. Those of us who just despise this chaotic Brexit are beginning just to see this nightmare possibly slipping away, but let us be in no doubt that we are certain in Scotland that we are not going down with this doomed ship.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I, as a democrat, am absolutely determined to fulfil the will of the people in leaving the European Union. He, on the other hand, is determined to ignore the will of the people of the United Kingdom, both on leaving the EU and on the question of independence. So we know where he stands.
I make it clear again that today’s debate is not about forcing the House to make a decision on whether the Government should seek a short or a long extension. The Government’s motion simply sets out the factual position so that Members can take a decision on extension in full knowledge of the consequences. If Members think it would be possible between now and June to agree a new negotiating position in the House, to secure agreement in Europe for a new deal based on that position and to pass the primary legislation needed to give effect to a new deal, that is a matter for hon. Members to put forward in today’s debate, particularly given the frequent representations I get here in business questions from Members from right across the House who have concerns about having the time they need to scrutinise and debate legislation.
I think the hon. Gentleman is in cloud cuckoo land. Do not take that from me, because Donald Tusk today says:
“During my consultations ahead of #EUCO, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its #Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”
Michel Barnier says today:
“Why would we extend these discussions?”
“The discussion on article 50 is done and dusted.”
He then says that they are waiting for the “answer” and that
“the House of Commons says what it doesn’t want”
“Now this impasse can only be solved in the UK.”
That means everybody in this Chamber needs to look at the consequences of what they are doing, and today is a very important day.
May we have a debate on the Vienna convention on the law of treaties? The law is complex, and it is difficult in the big debates to get more than a few minutes to describe it, but the Vienna convention may well provide an exit route out of this impasse, because a state can abrogate part of a treaty if there is a change of the circumstances that are the basis of consent. I tabled an amendment to the first meaningful vote, and since then I have been talking about the idea of a unilateral declaration, but these are complex matters and we need to discuss them in full. Perhaps that would allow the Attorney General to come back with a different opinion so that more of our colleagues can vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.
My right hon. Friend has long championed this idea, and I commend him for that. He will know that the Attorney General has considered these matters in great detail and come to the House to answer questions on them for several hours. If he has more to say on the matter, I am sure he will come to the House to say it.
I need to put something right for the record. The shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), suggested that she might apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the spring statement; I am afraid that as a Front Bencher she does not enjoy the privilege of being able to apply to the Backbench Business Committee. I apologise and wish I could accommodate her, but I am afraid that the Standing Orders prevent me from doing so.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement, and for announcing the two debates next Thursday on services for people with autism and a motion relating to NICE appraisal processes for treatments for rare diseases. My Committee has a hefty queue of important debates waiting for time. There are more than a dozen, including on heavily subscribed subjects such as school funding, fracking, the use of restraint on children and court closures, so we would be very grateful for any more time we can get.
As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me prior notice of urgent debates for which he is seeking time. I will always seek to accommodate the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Leader of the House for being in her place and attending to her duties. May we have a debate about those Ministers who seem to think that supporting the Government is optional, despite their evident willingness to draw a Government salary paid for with our constituents’ taxes?
I absolutely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. He will appreciate that there are widely held views right across the House among different Members, and it is extraordinarily difficult, at this time that is so important for the nation, to try always to deal with every single aspect of all eventualities. My hon. Friend knows that yesterday Government Members were given a free vote on the Government’s motion, but in the end that was not what the Government were voting on. The motion was amended by the House, which is why the challenging whipping arrangements occurred.
The Leader of the House will surely not be surprised to hear me sounding outraged. Nine statutory instruments are to be taken on the Floor of the House next week, of which seven are from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There are also back-to-back DEFRA statutory instruments upstairs on the Committee Room corridor. I know that as the shadow DEFRA Whip, and the Leader of the House and her DEFRA Whip must know that. I cannot see how physically we can possibly get through all these statutory instruments in the time available. It is not proper scrutiny, either, which is another consideration. Is it not time for the Government to admit that we need to extend article 50 and put back the date for leaving the EU?
The hon. Lady will be delighted to know that we have a motion on exactly her suggestion for the House to vote on today. Perhaps she had not noticed. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the DEFRA officials and Ministers who have worked day and night to ensure that they get on top of the many DEFRA SIs that are necessary to prepare either for a deal or for no deal. That is what they have achieved and I am delighted to say that we will be prepared, with all the SIs necessary, for 29 March.
The hand that fate deals can make or break lives, and those with acquired disabilities and those who have always had disabilities pay dearly. The disability equality charity Scope recently published “The Disability Price Tag 2019”, which sets out some of the additional costs faced by those with disabilities—things such as therapies, home adaptions, transport and insurance. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on why too many disabled people continue to pay too much? The Government should make their abiding mission the redistribution of advantage.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that this Government have been absolutely determined to ensure that everybody in our society gets the best possible opportunity. He will know that we spend £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. That is up more than £8 billion in real terms since 2010. I am so proud that the number of disabled people in work has increased by over 900,000 over the last five years under this Government, giving more people the chance to do something meaningful and useful, and to improve their circumstances in life.
Can I ask the Leader of the House for some guidance that would be helpful for all Members? I understand that the House authorities have been notified of possible industrial action for a period of three days next week. This will affect visitors coming to see Members in the House over those three days. Will she assure me that access will not be denied to people who have appointments with Members of Parliament in that time?
The right hon. Lady is right that the Public and Commercial Services Union has announced, following a ballot of its members, that security staff at the Palace of Westminster have voted in favour of strike action. This is a matter for the House authorities, and I am assured that Parliament is putting in place business resilience plans to maintain both the security of the estate and the continued functioning of the business of both Houses. The priority will be to ensure that the business of the Houses, including Select Committees, is unaffected. I will take away the right hon. Lady’s request, but I am aware that priority will be given to people who have appointments with their Member of Parliament.
The stronger towns fund has the potential to regenerate towns in areas such as Erewash that were neglected for so long by the Labour Government. Will my right hon. Friend ask the relevant Minister to bring forward further details of how bids can be submitted to the fund?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for her constituency. She will be aware that the new stronger towns fund will provide £1.6 billion of investment in the future prosperity of English coastal, market and industrial towns; £1 billion of investment will be targeted at the towns with the greatest need and will be distributed by local enterprise partnerships, and £600 million will be available as part of a competitive process that any town will be able to bid into. My hon. Friend might like to table a written question to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for further details on how to apply for that funding.
Tomorrow is the Nottingham North jobs fair, which is a collaborative effort between the council, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Futures Group, my office and my charity, the Rebalancing the Outer Estates Foundation. Last year we helped 150 people to find work in my community, and we will be at the Bulwell Riverside from half-past 9 tomorrow morning. Would the Leader of the House find Government time in which we can have a wider debate on supporting communities such as mine into work?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on organising a jobs fair. I know that many right hon. and hon. Members do so, and it is incredibly appreciated by their constituents. Such fairs are amazingly successful at bringing together employers and those seeking work. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss with Ministers whether more can be done to support these excellent initiatives.
World TB Day is on 24 March. Tuberculosis is the world’s deadliest disease; it still kills 1.7 million people a year globally, which is more than AIDS and malaria combined. There are still thousands of cases in the UK and drug resistance is a growing global health threat. Can we have a debate on this issue and on the importance of the successful replenishment of the global health fund? It is time to end TB.
First, I acknowledge the work of my right hon. Friend as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis. It is an absolutely terrible disease that we must beat. The Government are already doing a great deal, including providing support through our commitment to the global fund. There is more to do, and the UK will continue to lead in this important area, but the whole world must act together if we are to eradicate this terrible disease.
Can I ask the Leader of the House for some Government time for a debate on scamming? This week, my constituents have been contacting my office to say that people are calling pretending to be BT phone handlers asking for information. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has reported that in the six months to January this year it has received 60,000 complaints in relation to scams. Only yesterday, a constituent of mine emailed me saying that he had received an email from me with a link asking for their personal information. That has been referred to the House authorities. Could we have an urgent debate on this very important issue in which the Government can explain what more they can do to deal with scamming?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is important that anybody who receives an email or a call asking them for any personal details should never give them until they are absolutely certain of who the person is on the other end of the phone or the email. He is absolutely right to raise this. I would encourage him perhaps to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that other hon. and right hon. Members can share their views.
The Leader of the House correctly said in her earlier remarks that education is the best gift that we can give to our young people. Yesterday morning, I was pleased to meet Crawley secondary school headteachers. I welcome the more than 10% increase in local school funding, but they told me that they would benefit from multi-year funding settlements so that they can better plan for the future. Can we have a statement on this from the Secretary of State for Education?
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituents, and he is right to raise this matter. We are all grateful for the superb contribution of teachers in our constituencies. He will be pleased to know that there are now 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010, that the attainment gap has narrowed and continues to narrow, that there are over 34,000 new trainee teachers this year—over 2,600 more than last year—and that those from a disadvantaged background are more likely to go to university than ever before. We want to give schools and local authorities as much certainty about funding for future years as possible. The budgets for 2020-21 and beyond will be subject to the forthcoming spending review.
Last week, the Leader of the House said that Timpson’s review of exclusions would be published soon. I am just wondering what kind of soon she is referring to. Is it the kind of soon where your boss asks you for something and you say, “Yes, yes—I’ll get on to that soon”, or is it the kind of soon where your partner is asking you to do chores and you are like, “Yeah, yeah—I’ll get on to that soon”?
It is not the latter—I know that one very well. First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her absolute commitment to eradicating the appalling problem of young people getting into a life of serious crime, and particularly knife crime. She has been absolutely stalwart in her determination to see more done, and she is absolutely right in that. As I said last week, I cannot give her a firm date, but I can say that Timpson’s review is considering how schools use exclusion and how it affects all pupils, but particularly why some groups of children are more likely to be excluded. In particular, it will consider why there are differences in the rates among areas, schools and groups of pupils, given that the power that schools have to exclude and the framework in which they do so apply to all state-funded schools across England. The Government support headteachers in using exclusion as a sanction where it is warranted, but the Timpson review, when it comes forward—which will be as soon as possible—will consider the subject in more detail and should shed some useful light on it.
Last Saturday, I joined about 200 of my constituents who were protesting against the closure of Suggitts Lane level crossing in Cleethorpes. Network Rail is trying to railroad this closure through against the objections of local people when other safety measures could be introduced. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the accountability of organisations such as Network Rail?
My hon. Friend raises a concerning constituency issue. He will know that we have launched a comprehensive review of our railways, to build on the success of privatisation and get the best from both public and private sectors. He might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that Transport Ministers can respond to his particular concerns directly.
The star of the show, Helen Jones.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This morning on the radio, the Chancellor echoed the Prime Minister in saying that this House must decide not just what it does not want but what it does want. Yet next week’s business is filled up with statutory instruments, many of which could be taken in Committee. Given that the Leader of the House is not only the spokesperson for the Government but a champion of the rights of the House, when will she make time for a series of indicative votes to allow the House to express its will on what it does want in negotiations with the EU?
I can assure the hon. Lady that I take seriously my responsibility to be the voice of Parliament in Government, and all the time I reflect the views that I hear in the Chamber. I am pleased to be able, for example, to give time for statutory instruments to be debated in the Chamber on request from the Opposition, and to give a great deal of time for general debates that have been requested by hon. and right hon. Members across the House. In response to her question about the business for next week, I am sure that she will appreciate that today the House is being invited to consider whether it wishes the Government to seek an extension to article 50. Until we have established an answer to that question, we cannot consider what are the next steps.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) is an authentic representative of the Scottish scouting movement, I believe.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. On Friday night I visited Fifth Clyde Broomhouse Scouts group in my constituency, which kindly gave me this necktie. Can we have a statement from the Government encouraging people to join their local scout group? When the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, will she give a firm thank you to the volunteers who go out on a Friday night to invest in young lives?
The hon. Gentleman looks very fetching in his scout tie; it is fantastic to see. I absolutely join him in congratulating all those who volunteer their time to take part in scouting groups, which do so much for young people in our United Kingdom. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can pay tribute to their local scouting groups.
I have a constituent who served in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, and he is extremely scared that, although he has done nothing wrong, he will be dragged through a process to rake over the coals of events of decades ago. When can we have a debate on the imbalance between the treatment of people who served this country bravely in Northern Ireland and of the terrorists who dragged Northern Ireland through the troubles for decades, and when can we have a debate on how we can bring closure and fairness for all those who served this country bravely?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important issue. The Government recognise the terrible loss suffered by all those who lost loved ones during the troubles. We have said that the system needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles, and to treat everyone fairly, including those who served in the armed forces and the police. I will take my hon. Friend’s request back to the Department and seek their agreement to update the House further.
May we have a statement from the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), on the outrageous decision by the Church of England to issue the official invitation to next year’s Lambeth conference and explicitly forbid the same-sex spouses of bishops from attending, when the heterosexual spouses of bishops have been warmly invited? This is a totally unacceptable position for our established state Church to adopt, and this House needs to tell the Church we have had enough of it.
I was not aware of that situation, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising it. If he would like to write to me, I will certainly raise it with my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman).
Ten days ago, Travellers illegally occupied the Anmer Lodge site in my constituency, which has been cleared to provide 120 social housing units and much-needed retail and employment prospects. Hour after hour, tipper lorries turned up bringing contaminated waste on to the site. Last Thursday, the Travellers left, and they left behind a bill for hundreds of thousands of pounds to clear the contaminated waste, ahead of a High Court ruling on Friday. May we have a debate in Government time on measures that can be taken to ensure that the private sector is enabled to clear sites when Travellers illegally occupy them?
My hon. Friend raises what sounds like an appalling situation in his constituency. He will be aware that the Government have done a great deal to try to deal with the problem of illegal fly-tipping and, in particular, of leaving the taxpayer with a huge bill to pick up. We have Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on Thursday 28 March and I encourage him to raise the matter then.
Niloofor Begum is a severely frail 80-year-old suffering from end stage renal failure, hypothyroidism and dementia, and she depends on her granddaughter for 24-hour care. Despite this, the Home Office continues to seek her removal to Bangladesh. Will the Leader of the House find time for a Home Office debate on the removal of a wheelchair-bound 80-year-old lady to a country where she has no one to care for her?
I am truly sorry to hear about the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent. I am sure she is doing everything she can to raise this directly with Home Office Ministers. If she would like to write to me following business questions, I can take it up on her behalf.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the tech giants in this country have accumulated too much power, which means that the digital market is not serving the interests of start-ups that want to innovate in this space to bring more choice to consumers? May we have a debate about the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in the creation of a more stimulating and thriving digital economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be championing greater progress in the digital economy. She is right to do that. As she may have heard, the Chancellor announced in the spring statement yesterday that he will examine proposals in the Furman review and in the “Unlocking digital competition” report. I look forward to hearing more about that.
May we have an early debate on NATO and, in particular, on the work of those Members of this House and the other place who contribute to our country’s foreign policy by their participation in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly?
I think all hon. Members would want to join the hon. Gentleman in praising NATO, the absolute core of our defence for many decades. We are incredibly grateful to all of those who work and serve in NATO and all those in Parliament who take part in all the different organisations that support NATO. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate or a Backbench debate so that all hon. Members can share their views.
In the spring statement yesterday, the Chancellor announced a number of new housing infrastructure fund bids, which was very welcome, but there was no update on the progress of outstanding HIF bids, including the one for the City of York. May I ask the Leader of the House for a statement on the future of ongoing HIF bids, which are so important to cities such as York?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that building new houses is a clear national interest in the United Kingdom, and he will know that one of the top domestic priorities of this Government is to see more homes built for people. The spring statement yesterday was, of necessity, brief and did not go into details on the issues he is raising precisely because the comprehensive spending review will be later this year, as will the proper Budget. Nevertheless, I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise these particular issues directly with a Minister.
Newford residents association in my constituency called my office this week to report 90 aggressive cold calls to elderly residents who have already registered for the Telephone Preference Service. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can tackle this antisocial and illegitimate business practice?
The hon. Lady is right to raise that concerning issue. It can be frightening for elderly or vulnerable residents to receive cold calls from pushy people who are trying to scam them or sell them something. The Government have introduced significant measures to try to prevent such behaviour, but if she is seeing a rise in the number of such incidents, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate and to raise the issue directly with Ministers.
May we have a debate in Government time to welcome the Government’s future high streets programme and the stronger towns fund? Does the Leader of the House agree that, as Britain’s oldest recorded town and first Roman city, Colchester would be an ideal beneficiary for multimillion pound investment?
Nice try, but sadly my hon. Friend will appreciate that that is not a call for me, although I am certainly a big fan of Colchester and his support for it. I encourage him to seek his own bid for some of that £600 million; it is open to any town to compete for it.
British Steel pensioners in Blaenau Gwent have received poor advice, high adviser charges and seen their families’ fortunes put at risk. Being removed from the register and suffering financial penalties is insufficient to deter pension sharks. May we have a statement from the Treasury to promise new criminal charges for rogue financial advisers, so that they are properly held to account?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, as it is worrying for people to receive cold calls that seek to remove their pension rights, or encourage them to invest in non-existent assets. That is an appalling scamming practice. The Government have already done a lot to improve people’s access to information and to stop such practices, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate and to raise his concerns directly with Ministers.
Over a month ago I started to engage directly with the Leader of the House, following engagement since November with the Tory Whips, who have been cynically running down the clock on helping refugee families. Those actions mean that people who should have rights will probably end up taking dangerous journeys from refugee camps across the desert with people traffickers, rather than simply flying. What has the Leader of the House done to get the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill into Committee, and to give children the same rights as adults? If she has done nothing, will she just say so and not waste time?
The hon. Gentleman mentions his private Member’s Bill again, and I commend his commitment to helping the most vulnerable people around the world. He will have received my letter this week in response to his. In addition to what I have said in recent weeks, he will know that the Government have done a huge amount—particularly in the region but also here at home—to help refugees from countries such as Syria. We have expanded our resettlement commitments to provide for more than 23,000 refugees by 2020, and we have committed more than £2.7 billion of humanitarian aid to the Syrian conflict. We must ensure, however, that our focus is on supporting the most vulnerable people who need international protection, and on encouraging those fleeing persecution to seek help in the first safe country they reach, as that is the fastest route to safety.
Demelza House children’s hospice provides outstanding end-of-life care to children in south-east London, yet only 20% of funds for children’s hospices come from central Government. Although the NHS long-term plan provided a welcome boost to the children’s hospice grant, it is still not enough to ensure that hospices are able to deliver their world-class services. May we have a debate in Government time about funding for children’s hospices?
I pay tribute to all the fantastic work done by children’s hospices across the United Kingdom. The Department of Health and Social Care is very aware of the issue of funding for children’s hospices. Questions to that Department are on Tuesday 26 March and I encourage the hon. Lady to raise the issue directly then.
The Co-op party’s food justice campaign is highlighting the extraordinary situation here in the UK, the sixth-largest economy in the world, where some 8 million people still struggle to put food on the table and 500,000 people are using food banks. When might the Government find time for a debate on ending hunger in this country?
I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point. Of course, it is the Government’s clear goal to ensure that nobody needs to go hungry. He will appreciate that there are now 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty, which is a record low. It is the Government’s policy to help more and more people into work, so they have the security of a pay packet to help them and their family to feed and take care of themselves. We now have 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and we have taken 4 million of the lowest paid out of paying any income tax altogether, all of which is helping people to meet their own needs and to be independent.
North Lincolnshire Council has ended its core funding for North Lincolnshire citizens advice bureau. That means that the general advice sessions, which are very much valued locally, will cease. May we have a debate on the value of citizens advice bureaux and their partnership working with councils, which is crucial to their future?
The hon. Gentleman is right: citizens advice bureaux do fantastic work across the country and I think we are all very grateful to them. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise his concerns directly with Ministers.
When can we have a debate to finally sort out the terrible way that women who were born in the ’50s have been treated in relation to their pensions? I have lost count of the number of women in Dudley who left school at 15 or 16, started work straightaway and did hard work all their lives. Some had to take time off to bring up kids or care for relatives. Some have been bereaved. They have had no time to plan for these changes. Women like that have done their bit and it is high time the Government sorted this out.
I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman. As we have made clear previously, the Conservatives in government committed over £1 billion to support those affected so that no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the Pensions Act 1995 timetable. Those with the most significant changes have received at least seven years’ notice. What I would point out to him is that the new state pension is more generous for many women. By 2030, over 3 million women stand to gain an average of £550 more per year as a result of the recent reforms.
Commercial radio is booming in terms of both ratings and revenue but, as a result of totally unnecessary deregulation of FM licence conditions, Global, which owns Capital, Heart and Smooth, is axing local breakfast and drive-time shows. This means that studios will close completely in 10 towns and cities from Kent to Kendal, and more than 100 presenters, producers, journalists, engineers and other staff face losing their jobs in these and other locations, including Nottingham. At a time when many people feel that their area is being left behind, their concerns ignored and their voices unheard, is it not time that we debated the loss of local news and the centralisation of our media in London?
I am genuinely very sorry to hear about the loss of local radio stations and local news. The hon. Lady raises a very important point. We do need to have a thriving local and regional media. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise her concerns directly with Ministers.
Could we change the name of this session to “Potential Business of the House”? I have looked through the entirety of next week’s business and cannot see another vote on the meaningful vote between now and Wednesday. If it is the Government’s intention not to bring a meaningful vote next week, why is it being trailed to the media today that it will be brought next week, and what is the necessity of paragraph (2) of today’s motion if there is no intention to bring one next week?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I announce the business every Thursday, as usual. In the event that it is necessary to bring forward an emergency business statement, I will do so. I would have thought he would realise that, just because he has heard something trailed in the media, it does not necessarily make it true.
With two of Scotland’s most polluted roads in my constituency, I am acutely aware of the public health implications of breathing in toxic air. Yesterday, a study in The Times showed that air pollution now causes more deaths than smoking; smoking is avoidable but breathing in toxic air is not. In the light of that, can we please have a debate in the House on how all areas of Government across the UK can get to grips with this dangerous problem?
The hon. Lady is right that this is an incredibly concerning problem and it is something that the Government are taking very seriously. We are cleaning up our air by ending the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans altogether by 2040. She will be aware that the Government have a £3.5 billion spending commitment to reduce roadside emissions. Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides have fallen by 27% and are at their lowest level since records began. She will also be aware that we will be introducing the first environment Bill in over 20 years, which will establish a world- leading body that will hold Government to account for environmental outcomes in the future.
Under this Government, one in four school support staff and nearly one in three teaching assistants in Barnsley schools have been lost, their national body has been abolished and pay has been driven down. Can we have a debate in Government time on school support staff and when austerity will really end?
The hon. Lady will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced his plans yesterday, if we do achieve a smooth transition out of the European Union, to significantly allow investments in some of our key public services, because of the achievements of our economy and all those who have worked so hard to minimise the damage done by the last Labour Government. I pay tribute to all those teaching support staff who do so much for all our children and young people. She will be aware that the core schools budget will rise to £43.5 billion next year—its highest ever level—and that overall per-pupil funding is being protected in real terms. As well as that, we are introducing a national funding formula to make sure that schools and pupils are fairly and consistently funded.
Organisations such as Best for Britain and People’s Vote UK look, operate and sound a bit like political parties, and I believe, therefore, that they should be subject to the tax and regulatory requirements of the United Kingdom. So imagine my surprise when my office started receiving these postcards, all postmarked from Guernsey, which, last time I checked, was a non-EU tax haven. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Cabinet Office Minister to make a statement on how the regulation of pseudo-political parties in this country operates, so that they are truly transparent?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point and he is absolutely right to do that. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), is in the Chamber and will have heard his comments, but we also have Electoral Commission questions next Thursday—28 March—and I encourage him to raise his question there.
The retrospective loan charge deadline is causing unbelievable stress to tens of thousands of people who thought that they were doing the right thing in respect of their tax affairs, some for up to 20 years. The all-party loan charge group has evidence that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs knows of up to six related suicides, yet yesterday, the chief executive of HMRC denied that. May we have an investigation into this and an urgent debate?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. I also have constituents who have come to me with concerns about the loan charge and I am seeing the Minister responsible shortly to discuss it further with him. She will appreciate that the issue here is one of tax avoidance which HMRC has concluded was not legitimate tax avoidance. It is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to ensure that people are paying the right taxes in this country.
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on Islamophobia, given the crisis that the Tory party finds itself in, and on the definition of Islamophobia from the all-party group on British Muslims. The Leader of the House somehow confused that with a Foreign Office issue, so I would like to give her a second opportunity to answer the question: when will this House have a debate on Islamophobia?
Islamophobia is appalling wherever it takes place, including in the United Kingdom. I must say that I was hurt to see my comments misrepresented last week; the hon. Lady had not made clear in her question whether or not she was referring to a global definition of Islamophobia.
International efforts to combat Islamophobia are led by the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, Lord Ahmed, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is why I suggested that the hon. Lady seek an Adjournment debate involving the FCO. Of course, any form of Islamophobia in the UK would be dealt with swiftly by the Home Office or the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, as appropriate.
May we have a debate on the way in which police forces are funded, and the Government assumptions that underpin decisions on funding? For instance, council tax will contribute 1.9% of the funding for police forces in England, but 4.4% of the funding for those in Wales. This matter needs to be considered urgently. It cannot be right that local taxation in Wales is expected to shoulder a heavier burden to deal with UK-wide issues such as county lines which should be addressed by the central police grant.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point that is specific to Wales. As he will know, overall we have protected police funding since 2015 and next year there will be up to £970 million of extra investment in the policing system, but if he wants me to take up his specific point about Wales, perhaps he will write to me following business questions.
May we have a debate, and Government-commissioned research, on the long-term impact of poverty, stress and mental ill health on children who are bereaved, and who, because their parents are not married, cannot benefit from the widowed parent’s allowance?
As always, the hon. Lady has raised an incredibly important issue, in this case the mental health of young people. She has particular concerns about the impact of bereavement and the consequences for particular benefits. On the subject of mental health generally, however, she will appreciate that at the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the largest expansion of mental health services for a generation. That includes 24/7 mental health crisis care for adults, children and young people through NHS 111, giving them access to vital support when they need it. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise specific issues, I suggest that she seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise them directly with Ministers.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
As was mentioned earlier, on Wednesday the security staff who protect all of us on the parliamentary estate so diligently are set to go on strike in an increasingly bitter dispute over pay parity and the unfair dismissal of a colleague. It is concerning that the Public and Commercial Services Union has warned that staff are not prepared to put up with a culture of fear in the Palace of Westminster. Will the Leader of the House intervene as a matter of urgency, and seek to resolve this dire situation and end this culture of fear?
As I said in an earlier reply, the strike—which I deeply regret—is a matter for the House authorities. It is not a matter for me, as Leader of the House, and I am therefore not in a position to intervene as the hon. Gentleman suggests that I should. Nevertheless, as the representative of the House in the Government, I will always take away any concerns that are raised here and raise them myself with the appropriate authorities.
May we have a debate in Government time on the proposed changes in IR35 tax regulations? The Conservative party claims to be the party of entrepreneurs and small business, but those changes will severely hamper small entrepreneurs and businessmen such as my constituent Steven Smith, who will be stifled by the classing of contractors as company employees. This will ruin the livelihoods of thousands of people in financial services and other key industries. It is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I should appreciate it very much if the Leader of the House would make representations to the Treasury to get the matter sorted out.
I am aware that many Members are concerned about this issue. I know that it is not absolutely the correct Department, but questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will take place on Tuesday 19 March. The hon. Gentleman might like to raise the matter then, because, at the business end, it would be important for BEIS to be aware of the concerns that his constituents are raising with him.
May we have a debate on this Government’s lack of respect for the devolution settlement? I have been unable to get answers on what the Barnett consequentials for the £1.6 billion stronger towns fund will be, and it has emerged that Treasury officials are considering giving the funds straight to local authorities in Scotland, bypassing the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government. This is breaking the vow and breaking the rules. Will the Leader of the House explain why this Government want to ride roughshod over devolution?
It will not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that I completely disagree with her. The Government have enormously sought to show courtesy and respect for the devolution settlement and to collaborate closely with officials in the devolved Administrations to ensure that, apart from anything else, we take carefully into account their views and their preparations as we leave the European Union. We have Scotland questions on Wednesday 27 March, which would be the right place for her to raise her particular question.
I thank the Leader of the House for her response on 3 March to my question on WASPI women, and I apologise for being unable to email her about it last night. There were other things taking our attention. Yesterday, the Chancellor said that he was going to make “no further announcements” regarding WASPI women. Could the Leader of the House seek a statement on the specific questions affecting the WASPI women with regard to the court case and the information that is being given from the Department?
The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Chancellor has just stepped into the Chamber and is now in his place. He will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I am afraid that I cannot give any further information on this subject, but if he wishes to write to me, I will take the matter up with the Chancellor.
The Leader of the House will know that it is becoming more and more difficult for our constituents to get appointments with GPs. Tomorrow, I have a meeting at the Faith House surgery on Beverley Road in Hull North, which is under threat of closure. May we please have a debate in Government time about what more can be done to adopt a joined-up approach to the funding, training, recruitment and retention of GPs, to take the pressure off our A&E departments and to ensure that areas that are under threat of losing their GP practices are prioritised for any additional funding?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the importance of GPs to all our constituents. We all rely heavily on them, and their workload has grown significantly in the recent past. She will be aware that the Government have provided an extra £33.9 billion in cash terms for the NHS by 2023-24. That will make a significant difference, and the profound changes proposed in the NHS long-term plan will mean that more people than ever before will be able to access their GP in a timely fashion.
May we have a debate in Government time on electronic voting? Since my colleagues and I were elected in 2015, this House has spent 205 hours—eight and a half full days, or five and a half working weeks—just on voting, in smelly, sweaty, stuffy voting Lobbies. This is wasting time and thwarting democracy.
I am very sorry if the hon. Lady’s Lobby is smelly and sweaty. I can assure her that the Government’s Lobby is totally charming and full of courtesy and respect. Perhaps she should join us; she might enjoy the experience. I do take her point seriously; it has been raised on a number of occasions by her hon. Friends. As I have said before, were the Procedure Committee to choose to conduct an inquiry into electronic voting and to take views on it from across the House, I would of course consider its recommendations very carefully.
Last week, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. In this House, we recognised the challenges faced by women the world over. Women still face discrimination, harassment and violence simply for being women. Women from marginalised religious or belief communities have it even worse: they suffer because they are the wrong woman, and also because they belong to the so-called wrong faith. For example, the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan has found that at least 1,000 girls from Hindu and Christian families are kidnapped and forced into marriage every year. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this matter?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. He is a strong voice on these issues. We are continuing to tackle forced marriage at home and overseas. We criminalised forced marriage in England and Wales in 2014, we have introduced lifelong anonymity for victims and we are consulting on a mandatory reporting duty. Internationally, we have scrapped loans for repatriation costs for the victims of forced marriage who are helped to return to the UK and, through our flagship programme, 4.8 million people around the world have participated in initiatives designed to change attitudes and practices related to girls’ rights. The hon. Gentleman might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can take up these issues directly with Ministers.
Can we have a statement on contractor liability through the Government’s energy company obligation scheme—the ECO? My constituent Hilary Moore has had her home rendered unliveable following work that was supposed to make it warmer by fitting Kingspan insulation, but she cannot find out who to raise a complaint with due to the Government’s blind auction scheme. Is it not time for a clear redress process for people who are so badly let down?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important matter for one of his constituents. We have Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday 19 March, so I encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.
There are moves by the White House to remove, as part of any future trade deal, the rules that limit what American drug companies can charge NHS services across the UK, which would allow big health corporations to bid for control of large parts of our NHS. Can we have a statement setting out the Government’s commitment to rejecting categorically such an attack on our NHS?
The hon. Lady will know that this Government are absolutely committed to the NHS being free at the point of delivery. That has always been the case. The NHS received its biggest-ever investment following the Government’s latest announcement of billions of pounds more finding. We have Health and Social Care questions on Tuesday 26 March, so she may like to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.
A week ago today, Ayub Hassan, who was 17 years old, lost his life after being brutally stabbed in the street in West Kensington. His death has traumatised his family and the community in White City in which he lived, and a 15-year-old boy has been charged with his murder. Tackling the scourge of knife crime across our country is both urgent and complex, and it will not be resolved by the Chancellor handing back a fraction of the money that has been taken from the police. When will the Government bring forward a comprehensive and adequate response to knife crime?
The death of any young person is tragic, and for it to happen through such horrendous and violent means is totally unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor provided an extra £100 million in his spring statement yesterday for urgent action to be taken by police and crime commissioners—a specific intervention to help the situation now. The Government have an enormous range of different interventions to try to tackle the bigger problem of young people getting into gang membership and a life of crime, including £970 million of extra investment in the policing system next year, the serious violence strategy, and the establishment of a serious violence taskforce. We are also bringing through the Offensive Weapons Bill to make it harder for young people to get into a life of a crime, and we are investing significant sums in local community initiatives to try to get young people away from the attraction of joining gangs and carrying knives. The Government are committed to tackling the problem at every level.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Lyndsey Coleman of the Y Sort It youth group in West Dunbartonshire. Last night, she was a finalist in the Scottish youth worker of the year award while the Y Sort It management board won the youth participation award for the whole of Scotland. Does the Leader of the House not think that it is time for a debate in Government time to discuss the value of investing in community youth work across the entire United Kingdom?
I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating his constituent on their award; it is always great to hear about the success of youth workers. We recently had a debate in which all Members were able to congratulate the work done by community groups, volunteers and youth workers, but I will certainly take away his request for further such discussions.
The Leader of the House has said that next Friday will be allocated for private Members’ Bills, but this is a two-year parliamentary Session and, so far, we have had only 10 sitting Fridays. We would expect seven a year, so we are four short. When will she table a motion for the extra sitting Fridays, as required?
The hon. Lady will know that these matters are decided in Standing Orders, and the Government have certainly complied with the Standing Order requirements for private Members’ Bills. I am proud of this Government’s record in which, since 2010, more than 50 private Members’ Bills have received Royal Assent. This Friday we will have the opportunity to debate Lords amendments to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the remaining stages of the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton). I wish all those Bills well for tomorrow, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) will know that the Government have complied with the requirement for private Members’ Bills.
I feel sorry for the Leader of the House in the hand she has been dealt by the Prime Minister’s incompetence, causing her to pad out the business for next week. Perhaps I can be helpful in suggesting a debate, perhaps between the motions on flags and Select Committee appointments, on how this Government’s policies, including on the benefits freeze and the two-child policy, are impoverishing the people of these isles.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have some very serious statutory instruments to consider next week, which is why I have put them on the Order Paper. It is Work and Pensions questions on Monday 18 March, and I suggest he raises his specific concerns then.
My constituent invested her £60,000 life savings in London Capital & Finance and had put £20,000 in a similar company called Blackmoor, which markets individual savings accounts with 7% interest, using a third party that took 25% commission, but the small print said they were not ISAs but investment bonds. LCF went into administration earlier this year after the Financial Conduct Authority ordered the sale of the bonds to stop, but investors’ money was lent to people with a connection to LCF, including its founder. Can we have a debate on this scandalous and fraudulent issue?
I had heard of this appalling collapse, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it. There will be people who have really suffered financially as a result of this. I suggest that he seeks an Adjournment debate so he can raise it directly with Ministers.
My constituent moved here from France 15 years ago—back to her Scottish mother—and she has had three children born in Scotland, yet the DWP has decided that she does not have a right to reside. It also rejected her universal credit claim, which means she has now lost her child tax credits. With no housing benefit, she is at risk of eviction from her house and she is relying on family support to survive. She has now applied for UK citizenship in a last-gasp effort to get the right to reside here. How can her case be expedited, and when will the Government review their pernicious immigration rules associated with universal credit?
I am genuinely sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituency case. We have Work and Pensions questions on Monday, and I suggest that he raises it directly with Ministers then. He will appreciate that universal credit replaces an old system that trapped people on benefits. Universal credit is a much better, modern benefit based on the principles that work should always pay and that those in need of support should receive it.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for International Trade inadvertently misrepresented my views and those of the Liberal Democrats during his winding-up speech in yesterday’s debate on our withdrawal from the European Union when he said:
“When she says that the will of the people does not matter, it might not matter to the Liberal Democrats, but it matters to the Conservative party.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 449.]
That is a gross misrepresentation of what I said. I said:
“The will of the people is a fig leaf for Members in this House to pursue their own Brexit agenda… The Brexit camp cannot agree what the will of the people is.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 428.]
I continue to say that more than 50% of people in this country now want to stay in the European Union—
Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat. Forgive me; I am trying, as I always do, to accommodate the House. Can I politely appeal to her to have some regard for the sensibilities of the House and the desire of colleagues to progress business? I am sorry if she is disquieted by something that someone said about her that misrepresented her views, and I accept that that is irksome to her, but it does not threaten the future of her Bath constituency. We know her views; she expresses them with force and will have other opportunities to do so. Can we please leave it there, take a wider view of the mission of the House today and not have a lengthy exchange on points of order? I have tried to be extremely accommodating to her, but we must let it rest there.
No, no; I am not debating it with the hon. Lady. I have given a ruling.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that the independent inquiry into child sex abuse is taking evidence. Yesterday, a sitting Member of the House of Lords—a legislator in the other place—was giving evidence in which they publicly stated under oath that they knew that a former Member of this House had conducted child sex abuse. Indeed, they contradicted themselves, because, on 4 June 2018, they publicly stated that such allegations were based on “scurrilous hearsay” and “tittle-tattle”.
I am sure that you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, that it places every single Member of this House in a difficult position when former Members who are also Privy Counsellors seek not to be unambiguous with the truth. We were not assisted either when the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—I advised them that I would be mentioning them—yesterday stated that the money spent on such inquiries had been “spaffed up the wall” and was a waste of public investment. In this matter of a sitting Privy Counsellor and legislator in the other place, can you advise the House, Mr Speaker, that the House of Lords should conduct itself better? If it does not, how might the situation at the other end of the corridor be rectified?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has registered his consternation, and possibly that of others, at the conduct he has described, but I have no responsibility for what is said in the other place. In so far as he is inquiring about redress or recourse, the hon. Gentleman, who is a parliamentarian now of noted adroitness and dexterity, has found his own salvation by expressing himself with his customary force today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, during Cabinet Office questions, I asked about a phone conference that had taken place between the Cabinet Office and regional returning officers at which the preparations for the European Parliament elections had been discussed. The Minister without Portfolio responded, saying it was “simply not true”. In today’s Guardian, however, the Electoral Commission is reported as saying that discussions have been taking place and that this call did happen. I am seeking your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how the right hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity to correct the record, should he have inadvertently misled the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intention to raise it. The right hon. Gentleman is in his place and approached me to acknowledge the likelihood of this matter being raised and to indicate a readiness to respond. Let us hear from the Minister.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not keep the House long. I only want to say that the Government have not asked anyone to start contingency planning for the European Parliament elections. That is our position in public and in private.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is recorded in column 391 of yesterday’s Official Report that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the Government would
“start formal engagement with the Irish Government about…decision making”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 391]
in Northern Ireland. As you will be aware, that would be a complete breach of the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and, indeed, the Belfast agreement. Do you believe that the Secretary of State misspoke, or has he a duty to come to the House, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and announce a new policy shift, if that is the case?