House of Commons
Wednesday 20 March 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
During my time in Bangladesh, I met Ministers to discuss the impact of UK aid across the country and reinforced the UK’s commitment to assisting Bangladesh’s efforts to support both the Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar.
I have visited Bangladesh and saw not only Rohingya refugee camps, but wider UK aid projects. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a huge role to play, that this is a good use of UK taxpayers’ money and that we should continue to support people in Bangladesh?
I thank my hon. Friend for visiting Bangladesh. It is incredibly helpful for us to get as many reports as possible about the difference that UK aid is making and about the situation on the ground. He is right that we should be proud of helping 1.6 million children to gain a decent education and providing nearly 900,000 people with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation and 3.7 million children, women and adolescent girls with nutritional interventions.
It is clear that the conditions are not in place for the safe voluntary return of Rohingya refugees to Burma. Did the Secretary of State have an opportunity to discuss with the Bangladeshis the possibility of something akin to the Jordan jobs compact that could benefit not only the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar but, importantly, the local Bangladeshi community?
Although all the people understandably want to return home, it is important to recognise that they can do so only when the conditions are met, which means that we are in a protracted situation. We have to start thinking about better shelter, jobs and livelihoods for both the Rohingya and the host communities.
Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the Bangladeshi Government what was going to happen to the Rohingya refugees who are being moved from their existing camps to some potentially unsafe places in Bangladesh?
I did discuss those things, as my hon. Friend would expect, and we are sceptical about some of the Bangladeshi Government’s ideas. We watched presentations about the island and the investment made there, but that will only take 100,000 people, and there are many more at Cox’s Bazar. We therefore need to consider other options for how to support Bangladesh in managing the protracted crisis.
The United Nations convention on the rights of the child states that every child has the right to an education, but that is simply not the case for many thousands of Rohingya children in camps in Bangladesh. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts to ensure that adequate educational facilities and opportunities are available to Rohingya children?
I did raise the specifics. Both Bangladesh and the UK are doing a tremendous amount, but we need other donors to lean in and support such initiatives. However, we are pleased that UK aid is making a profound difference, particularly for children with disabilities.
The Global Fund plays a critical role in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, having helped to save 27 million lives to date. The UK is considering the Global Fund’s investment case ahead of determining our contribution to a successful sixth replenishment, and senior UK attendance will be determined in due course.
I saw the devastating impact that HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria can have on communities during the four years that I led health services on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border. Although the UK’s contribution has saved 2.3 million lives, progress is stalling, and the Global Fund is asking countries to increase their contributions by 15%. Will the Minister meet the all-party parliamentary groups on HIV and AIDS, on malaria and neglected tropical diseases and on global tuberculosis to discuss the UK’s response?
First, the House should pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is one of a number of Members who have a background in that sort of work. We are in the hon. Gentleman’s debt for the experience that he has brought to the House’s discussions on the work that needs to be done. We recognise the need to keep the fund at a reasonable level, but we want to do even more, and I will of course meet him and other colleagues to discuss the matter.
If the Minister does go to the replenishment conference in France, will he share with other donors the excellent new UK initiative of an unlimited small charities challenge fund, which is a very real way to tackle some of these preventable and challenging diseases?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done invaluable work in boosting the small charities fund. It will indeed be more accessible for charities around the country that are doing great work in these fields, and we see it as a valuable addition to the work of DFID and the UK’s international contribution.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is very important that HIV/AIDS is not seen as an issue of yesterday. I was present at the Amsterdam conference last year to make the case that there are still target groups that need more support. Sustaining and ensuring that countries’ local health systems have sustainable methods of dealing with this is a fundamental of DFID’s global health work, and it is essential that this work continues.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I have seen the excellent work that the Global Fund has supported over the years, but local contributions from endemic countries are incredibly important. Will the Minister enlighten on whether those contributions have increased over recent years so that they can be put alongside the contributions through the Global Fund?
My hon. Friend is correct that national Governments have a significant responsibility regarding their contributions. Those contributions are increasing, but the question of mainstreaming that support so that it comes into their sustainable health systems naturally has to be considered. We will be working with other donors to boost the fund, and national Governments will have an increasing responsibility as time goes on, but they will not be left to deal with this situation alone.
There is some concern that the figure set out in the investment case by the Global Fund may not represent what is actually needed to get the world back on track, to meet sustainable development goal 3 and to end the epidemics of AIDS, TB and malaria. What avenues are the UK Government exploring ahead of the next replenishment conference to ensure that the global response meets what is actually needed?
We are the second largest donor to the current replenishment, and this is having a significant impact. We are conscious of the need to review the investment case carefully, and we are working with other donors to ensure that it does meet the challenges. Given that a number of different replenishments are going on at the same time, we are bringing our thinking together this year to ensure that United Kingdom support is well spent and covers the replenishments appropriately.
We can all agree on continued UK support for tackling the world’s deadliest diseases, but with so much Brexit uncertainty, the sector is rightly concerned about the future of UK aid and our role as a world leader in global health. I am sure that those in the sector have taken some reassurance from the Secretary of State’s comments on Monday that they should
“calm down and chill out”.
With almost weekly attacks on the Secretary of State’s Department from her own colleagues, and the Department losing 170 staff due to Brexit chaos, it is difficult to know what would be a bigger danger to UK aid—a no-deal Brexit or a Tory leadership challenge. Perhaps the Minister can dissociate himself, once and for all, from attempts to water down the 0.7% of UK aid from public funds.
Good try, Dan. It was the Conservative party that brought forward the 0.7% commitment, and it is a Conservative Government who have worked it through. I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point; it was a good try. The Government are enormously committed to the delivery of aid, to ensuring that aid is constantly reviewed and does the job, to the 0.7% and to the independence of the Department for International Development, so that it remains a self-standing part of the Government. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears. If we wants to avoid the worries of Brexit, perhaps he might vote for the deal.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct—no, there is not. He speaks of the Gavi replenishment, which is again important this year. That refers to global vaccination, which we will of course maintain our support for and position on. I hope that the whole House unites in combating the anti-vaccination campaigns that are taking place in too many parts of the world. As someone who had the benefit of my father’s own polio vaccinations to me as a child, vaccination is very personal to me. We all need to keep it up—and thanks, Dad.
Climate change is a major threat to achieving the sustainable development goals, and tackling it is a strategic priority for the Government and for my Department. The Government are delivering £5.8 billion in international climate finance to help developing countries to reduce emissions and to manage the impact of climate change.
Last Friday, thousands of children took to the streets, including in my own constituency, because they know that we have only 12 years left to make a difference on climate change. So why is the Department still spending money through its prosperity fund on expanding the oil and gas sectors in several countries where that fund is active?
I welcome the opportunity that the interest young people are showing in climate change gives us to highlight the important work that we are doing. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not provide any bilateral assistance for coal-fired power generation, and that CDC, our private sector investment arm, has made no new net investments in coal-fired power since 2012.
Will the Minister update the House on what DFID is doing to follow through on the agreement made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 to support urgent action to address climate change and to increase resilience to prevent 100 million more people from being pushed into poverty by 2030?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of commitments that were made last year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. There is an extensive programme of work to follow through on those commitments, not least the £5.8 billion of international climate finance that we have announced so far, which has already helped 47 million people to increase their resilience to climate change. We will be leading that strand at the United Nations summit in September.
The Minister said that there is no net investment from DFID and the CDC. I would be interested to know what she means by that, because we surely need a greater priority on disinvestment in oil and gas extraction. Is she not worried, as I am, about the possibility of stranded assets as a result of investments we have made in the global south?
We have an important role to play in working with our international bilateral partners to encourage the use of clean growth and clean energy. For example, the week before last, we held an event here in support of sustainable development goal 7 to which we invited African Energy Ministers from developing countries to meet some of the people we have in the UK with expertise on renewable energy.
Solar energy is a relatively clean way to generate electricity. What steps are we taking in Africa to help not only people who are off-grid but those who are on-grid, too?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that solar energy, particularly in sunny places, is a very good idea. Indeed, there is some very windy coastline where offshore wind energy would also be very helpful. In addition to the event that we held for African Energy Ministers the week before last, we have come up with some remarkable inventions using some of our overseas development assistance—for example, a solar-powered fridge.
Will the Minister outline the steps the Department is taking to improve biodiversity and habitat enhancement, particularly through the recent investment in the Darwin initiative?
My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I work closely with my counterparts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to join up the work we are doing to tackle biodiversity, specifically the contribution we have made to the global environment fund.
Mangrove forests are one of the most effective habitats at storing carbon dioxide that might otherwise be released. What are the Government doing to help reduce mangrove forest loss?
We have rebranded them blue forests. We think they are incredibly important, and not only as a way to store carbon; recently it was proven that they also improve resilience to cyclones. They are an important part of the work and have been championed vigorously by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey).
Last Friday, on the same day that 1.4 million children went on climate strike across the world, more than 1,000 people were killed in Mozambique and Zimbabwe during Cyclone Idai. Does the Minister agree that young people and those living in the developing world are the least responsible yet will bear the brunt of the climate crisis? If so, does she agree that the UK Government must make climate justice a key part of their climate change strategy?
That is exactly why the UK is proud to be stepping up our work on international climate finance. We have committed £5.8 billion to work with some of the poorer countries in the world, including those affected by this cyclone in Mozambique. There will be an urgent question later, when I will be able to elaborate on the work that the UK has done to help with the situation there.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastation of Cyclone Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and I would like to share with the House the thoughts of—[Interruption.]
Order. There are a lot of noisy private conversations taking place. It is rather discourteous to the hon. Lady, who is highlighting very grave matters.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastation of Cyclone Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and I would like to share with the House the thoughts of Anabela Lemos, a woman at the forefront of the climate justice movement in Mozambique. She says:
“The people of Mozambique need emergency response and support right now to survive this crisis. But this is also a harsh reminder that the climate crisis is upon us and developed countries need to urgently reduce their emissions and stop funding fossil fuels.”
I welcome the relief package for the region issued by DFID, but it is a tragic irony of climate change that those least responsible are the ones who pay the highest price. A key component of the—
Order. This simply is not on. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Lady, but I need one sentence with a question mark at the end of it. My apologies for interrupting, but this is far too long.
Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have plans to offer any additional climate finance to support vulnerable communities and countries to cope with the consequences of climate change?
I can confirm that we are already committed to spending £5.8 billion over this spending period, which will involve us being able to increase our finance over the next spending review period. There will be an urgent question later, when we can talk about the specific situation in Mozambique. The report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently said that UK international climate finance is showing a very convincing approach, with some good emerging results in terms of influencing others. We aim to continue with that work.
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our concern at the loss and devastation following the deadly cyclone in southern Africa. In Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, hundreds of people have lost their lives and many more their homes. We pre-deployed aid, and the first UK relief flight arrived in Mozambique yesterday, delivering family tents and shelter kits for those forced to flee their homes. In Malawi, we are working with the World Food Programme to enable 140,000 people to access food, and in Zimbabwe, we are working with our partners to provide hygiene kits and essential medicines.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the aid that is being sent to Venezuela, whose people are facing horrendous shortages of food, electricity and medical supplies. Does she agree that, as well as sending aid, we need to send a message from both sides of this House that the failed hard-left socialist policies being pursued by that Government will always lead to economic ruin, wherever they are applied?
This is a tragic situation. It is a man-made crisis, and we are doing everything we can to support the response through the Lima Group. My hon. Friend is right. This is why it is important to remember that keeping economies strong is absolutely vital for human capital and the basics in life, and we must never ever let systems that do not support that take hold—
I am sorry, but we have to move on.
Yes, I did. We looked at what the authorities were doing with the island and we expressed concerns about that and about the fact that many more people—the island will take only 100,000—need to be taken care of in this protracted crisis.
First, I congratulate Ellington Primary School on its work in joining the Department’s mission to help save the world from landmines, and in joining leading UK non-governmental organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group and the HALO Trust, which do fantastic work in this space. We constantly go to those who are not yet signed up to the Ottawa convention to ask them to do so. I hope my hon. Friend will take even further interest in this, and perhaps do some visiting, as I have done in the past.
Last week, I held a telephone conference call with Lise Grande, the UN co-ordinator on Yemen, and a number of UN agencies. We are looking at everything we can do. This morning, I met humanitarian workers—women workers—from Yemen themselves. We will of course work even more closely with all our partners there and support UNICEF in all its work.
My hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday we were able to announce a further £6 million of emergency funding, working with our partners, such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and others on the ground, and we were also able to pre-position aid. I know that you, Mr Speaker, have kindly allowed an urgent question on this subject following Prime Minister’s questions.
In both the work we do through the ILO and some new work we are doing to support trade unions in developing countries, that absolutely needs to be at the heart of the agenda. Of course, the work that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has led internationally on modern slavery absolutely requires this issue to be at the heart of what we do.
The UK has been one of the biggest donors to the Education Cannot Wait fund since it was set up in 2016. What plans does the Minister have to replenish the ECW, and to maintain UK leadership for children in crises?
I thank my hon. Friend for his steadfast championing of this cause, to which we have been one of the leading contributors. I can announce today that we will be scaling up our support, but I cannot yet announce by exactly how much.
We cannot spend any of the 0.7% on military spending. That is the whole point of being in the DAC—Development Assistance Committee—club and committing to 0.7%. We are looking at Her Majesty’s Government maritime capability, which might help other Departments as well as us, but aid money will only be spent on aid.
The Dalitso project in my constituency has been collecting pads to make sanitary products for young women in Malawi. It has had a fantastic response from the community and is doing fantastic work. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating that work to make environmentally friendly sanitary products for those who need them?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and that fantastic organisation on their work. In addition to congratulating them, both my Departments will provide support to make period poverty history in the UK and internationally.
I thank the hon. Lady for that incredibly important question. We have a particular strategy in DFID that is looking at placing the empowerment, especially the economic empowerment, of women at its heart. I pay particular tribute to Lord Bates, who has been considering what more we can do for widows worldwide.
The UN Human Rights Council will vote this week on a one-sided motion that minimises Hamas’s role in the violent Gaza border protest last year. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will continue to oppose one-sided resolutions, particularly given the horrifying scenes this week in Gaza, with brutal beatings of journalists and academics by Hamas?
The UK made clear some time ago that we would oppose matters under item 7 of the Human Rights Council’s determination, and we expect to do that. On Gaza, the international commission was unable to investigate non-state actors, but there is no doubt that the situation was serious, as Israeli authorities have also determined. The UK will maintain its position in relation to that.
In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the Secretary of State has given some limited assurances to NGOs accessing funds from the EU’s humanitarian fund that the Government will underwrite them in future. Are they prepared to do the same for NGOs that access funds for broader humanitarian work?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. Yes, we are looking at widening that support. Our NGOs, whether they are humanitarian or work in other areas, are world class and we want them to continue to work in those settings, so we have issued those guarantees. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he ever gets the opportunity, he knows what he can do to avoid a no-deal scenario.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in condemning the appalling and cowardly attack in Christchurch on Friday. There can be absolutely no place in our societies for the vile ideology that drives hatred and spreads fear. I spoke to Prime Minister Ardern on Sunday. I told her that we stood with New Zealand at this time and that we would provide whatever assistance was needed.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the emergency services for their handling of the terrorist incident in Stanwell on Saturday. I am sure that Members from across the House will want to join me in sending our thoughts to the man who was injured.
I would like to send my deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and those injured in Utrecht on Monday. We are in regular contact with the Dutch authorities and are standing by to offer whatever assistance is required.
I am sure that Members will want to join me in expressing deepest shock at the loss and devastation caused by the cyclone in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. As I think the Secretary of State made clear in International Development questions, we have made £6 million of UK aid available to help meet the immediate needs of people who have lost everything, and we have deployed a UK team of DFID experts to co-ordinate our response to the disaster.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I totally associate myself with everything the Prime Minister has said. We will never allow hate to succeed and we stand in solidarity with the victims of Cyclone Idai.
The Prime Minister’s deal lies in tatters, her Cabinet is in open revolt, she presides over the biggest constitutional crisis this nation has experienced, and where leadership is required, she has once again cravenly caved in to her hard Brexiteers and will now only seek a short extension to article 50, contrary to the expressed will of this House. When will she develop a backbone and stand up to those who would take this nation to disaster? As one of her Ministers said this morning, referencing another feeble Prime Minister: “Weak, weak, weak.”
Perhaps it would be helpful, in response to that question, if I update the House on the forthcoming European Council and the issue of article 50 extension. On Thursday, the House voted in favour of a short extension if the House had supported a meaningful vote before this week’s European Council. The motion also made it clear that a longer extension would oblige the United Kingdom to hold elections to the European Parliament. I do not believe that such elections would be in anyone’s interests. The idea that, three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable. It would be a failure to deliver on the referendum decision that this House said it would honour. I have—[Interruption.]
Order. There is a long way to go and what the Prime Minister is saying must be heard.
I have therefore this morning written to President Tusk, the President of the European Council, informing him that the UK seeks an extension to the article 50 period until 30 June. Copies of the letter are being placed in the Library. The Government intend to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote. If that vote is passed, the extension will give the House time to consider the withdrawal agreement Bill. If not, the House will have to decide how to proceed. But as Prime Minister—[Interruption.] As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June.
I say to my hon. Friend that the Chancellor’s spring statement last week showed that this is indeed a Government who are delivering for Scotland. He mentions the issue of fiscal policy and oil and gas. We have also put in £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, £68 million extra in Barnett consequentials for the Scottish Government, and £79 million for a new national supercomputer at Edinburgh University. While the SNP is obsessed with independence, it is this Conservative Government who are focused on growing Scotland’s economy.
I start by sending my condolences to all the families and friends of victims of the terror attack in New Zealand last week. The terrible events in Christchurch should remind us all that there is no place for hate. I pay tribute to the way in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has responded with such dignity and such compassion to this crisis. I absolutely agree with the comments of the Prime Minister concerning the events at Stanwell and Utrecht. I am sure the whole House will join me and her in sending our deepest sympathies to all those who lost their loved ones and homes in the terrible cyclones that have caused devastation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. I support the Government in sending £6 million of aid. I hope, if more aid is required, we will be able to respond urgently and generously to any demand for help from people who are so desperately suffering at the present time.
We are now in the midst of a full-scale national crisis. Incompetence, failure and intransigence from the Prime Minister and her Government have brought us to this point. Parliament has rejected her deal. It has rejected no deal. The Prime Minister now has no plan. In an effort to break the deadlock, I have held meetings with Members across the House and am having further meetings today to find a compromise that supports jobs and living standards. Tomorrow, I am meeting EU Prime Ministers and officials in Brussels. This is a national crisis. Will the Prime Minister meet me today to discuss our proposals as a way forward to get out of this crisis?
It is a bit rich for the right hon. Gentleman to stand up and invite me to meet him, when for days and days he refused to meet me and he then refused to allow the shadow Brexit Secretary to have a further meeting with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Of course I am always happy to meet Members across this House to discuss the issue of Europe, but I note that when Opposition party leaders came out from their meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, they made it clear that what they did not want was Brexit. We should be delivering Brexit for the people of this country.
I am not sure that there was an answer to my question there. I wanted no-deal taken off the table; the House has taken no-deal off the table; it is time the Prime Minister took no-deal off the table. The CBI said:
“The extension vote is a welcome dose of common sense…Put in place a new process. Drop red lines…Every MP must show leadership through compromise.”
Will the Prime Minister drop the red lines? Is she prepared to compromise to get through this crisis?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about decisions that have been taken by this House. I am sure that it will not have passed you by, Mr Speaker, that of course this House has voted on and rejected a second referendum; it has voted on and rejected no deal; it has voted on and rejected Labour’s deal; it has voted on and rejected a customs union; and it has voted on and supported leaving with a deal. It is time that this Parliament faced the consequences.
The last time the Prime Minister tried her meaningful vote, she only managed 242 votes—slightly up on the previous attempt, but nevertheless a decisive rejection. Our plan received 296 votes—rather considerably more. Her Government are in chaos and she has ignored the House, ignored trade unions, ignored businesses and ignored the concerns of communities all around the country. She told the House that the EU would allow an extension of article 50 only if there was a clear purpose. She is travelling to the Brussels summit tomorrow morning to meet EU leaders. What is her clear purpose?
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer that I gave to the first question posed in Prime Minister’s questions, he would have heard that.
It was not clear at all, other than that the Prime Minister is going to try again with what we will now term MV3. Surely, after two big rejections by the House, she must have noticed that there is not much support for the deal that she negotiated.
We learned this morning that the Prime Minister will ask only for a short extension, which directly contradicts what the Minister for the Cabinet Office told the House:
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted only last night”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
Who is “downright reckless” here: the Prime Minister, ploughing on with an unachievable, unsupported deal, or others in this House who want to achieve something serious and sensible to prevent damage to the British economy, jobs and living standards all over this country?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about trying to achieve something sensible. It is he who abstained last week on a vote on a second referendum, despite the fact that it is Labour party policy, and then had the nerve to stand up in this House and say that he reiterated Labour’s support for a second referendum. He has no idea what he wants on the future of this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about a long extension. I am opposed to a long extension. I do not want a long extension. Setting aside—[Interruption.] Setting aside the issue that it would mean that we would have to hold European parliamentary elections, which I do not think is in anybody’s interest, the outcome of a long extension would be endless hours and days of this House carrying on contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents, their schools—
Order. The Prime Minister’s answer must be heard, and everybody else will be heard.
The outcome of a long extension would be the House spending yet more endless hours contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents, such as schools, hospitals, security and jobs. The House has indulged itself on Europe for too long—[Interruption.]
Order. There is a lot of very noisy barracking. [Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Order. The Prime Minister’s reply will be heard, and colleagues know that I am happy for the exchanges to take place for as long as is necessary to ensure that they are orderly.
It is time for the House to determine that it will deliver on Brexit for the British people. That is what the British people deserve. They deserve better than what the House has given them so far.
To describe the parliamentary process as one of indulgence does not show much respect for the democratic process that sent us here in the first place. The House has twice rejected the Prime Minister’s deal, and she is trying to come back for another attempt on Monday. Further to your ruling on Monday, Mr Speaker, she has to come up with something a bit different from what she has come up with so far. What significant changes will there be either to the withdrawal agreement or to the political declaration that will even allow her to table it on Monday?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about respect for democracy. Respect for democracy means this House delivering the Brexit the British people voted for. He now wants to disrespect democracy by holding a second referendum. It is not this Government who are being disrespectful to the British people; it is the right hon. Gentleman and his Labour party.
The job of Parliament is to hold Government to account, but the Prime Minister does not seem to understand that. When she was first defeated, she promised legally binding changes—I have not seen those legally binding changes; all she is doing is running down the clock after a second heavy defeat. Today marks 1,000 days since the referendum, and the Government have led the country and themselves into crisis, chaos and division. We are still legally due to leave the EU in nine days. Months of running down the clock and a concerted campaign of blackmail, bullying and bribery have failed to convince the House or the country that her deal is anything but a damaging national failure and should be rejected. They have run out of time; they have run out of ideas. People all over the country are anxious and frustrated with the Government’s utter inability to find a way through the crisis. If she cannot get changes to her deal, will she give the people a chance to reject it and change the Government?
I think the right hon. Gentleman has just made the point I was making in my previous answer: he does not want to respect the referendum result in 2016. We have a deal that keeps millions of livelihoods safe and secure, protects the Union for the future and means that murderers and rapists on the run can be brought back quickly to face justice in this country. No deal will not do that. The deal is good for this country, it delivers Brexit and it should be supported.
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the significance of town centres to our local communities. I thank him for highlighting the work that we are doing and the help that we are providing through the future high streets fund. Of course high streets are changing, but we want to help them in that process, and help them to adapt. That is why the future high streets fund is there, as my hon. Friend said, and £675 million is available for it to support local areas. I can also reassure my hon. Friend that we will be promoting partnership across the public and private sectors, including local businesses, in developing those plans for the future of their high streets.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the outrage that we all feel at what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand? We must work collectively to drive hate out of our societies across the globe. Our thoughts are also very much with the people of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. We must do all that we can to support those communities.
All our constituents will be looking on at the crisis and chaos that we are in. We need to reflect on the fact that we are a week away from the intended day for leaving the European Union, and on the responsibilities that we all have. Six days ago, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said:
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
Does the Prime Minister agree with her de facto deputy? Does she agree that her actions this morning are “downright reckless”?
As I have set out clearly for the House in a number of answers that I have now given on this question, I believe that the House has a responsibility to deliver on Brexit. People voted for Brexit, and we have a responsibility to deliver it. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Scottish National party have always taken the position that they want to revoke article 50 and not to have Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman shouts “Correct!” At least that is a firm position, whereas the Leader of the Opposition has continually moved his position on this issue. I also believe that nearly three years on from the vote for us to deliver Brexit for the British people, it is time for the House to face that fact, face the consequences of its decisions, and deliver Brexit for the British people. [Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have people shouting in the middle of the exchanges. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need any help from any Member in dealing with these matters, with which I am very well familiar.
We need to reflect on the fact that the Prime Minister’s deal had the biggest defeat in parliamentary history. She brought it back, and it had the fourth biggest defeat in parliamentary history. Her deal has failed, and the House has voted against no deal. Once again, the Prime Minister is acting in her own interest, not the interest of the whole United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister has failed, this place has failed, and Scotland is watching. The only way forward now is to take the decision back to the people. Will the Prime Minister give the people a say in such a referendum? The people of Scotland deserve a choice on the future, and if Westminster fails, Scotland will act.
There is an enormous responsibility. It is a huge honour and privilege to sit in this Chamber, to be elected as a Member of Parliament and to represent our constituents, and we all have a responsibility. Parliament gave the decision to the British people in a referendum in 2016, and the result of that referendum was that we should leave the European Union. I believe that if people are to be able to have trust in their politicians and faith in this Parliament, it is imperative that this Parliament delivers the Brexit that people voted for.
Order. I am not having the hon. Gentleman denied the chance and the right to be heard; the hon. Gentleman must and will be heard.
Prime Minister, which is it to be?
My hon. Friend has been consistent in challenging me on the 29 March date in Prime Minister’s questions and in statements, and indeed in debates. I have always wanted us to be able to leave on 29 March, but I believe, as was said during the referendum campaign by those who wanted to leave, that it is better to leave with a negotiated deal with the European Union. That is why I am saying that I think we should look again at being able to leave with a negotiated deal, but in order to do that we need time for this Parliament to ratify a deal, and in order to do that we need an extension until 30 June. But, as I have said, as Prime Minister I could not consider a delay further beyond 30 June. This is the point at which this House has the decision to take as to what it wants the future to be. That is what is facing this House, and that is a decision I believe we should take honouring the result of the referendum.
The hon. Lady will be well aware that we are putting more money into our schools, we are ensuring that we have a welfare system that encourages people into the workplace, and we have put more money into various other elements of care for people across our communities. But the best solution for people to ensure they are able to provide for themselves and their families is for us to have a strong economy and for people to be helped into work, and that is why it was so pleasing that this week yet again the employment level is at a record high in this country.
I welcome the action that Essex County Council has taken in relation to new homes and I welcome its bid to the housing infrastructure fund. We have made that money available in the housing infrastructure fund because we understand the importance of infrastructure for new housing developments. We recognise the need for additional affordable housing in the south-east. Of course the Department for Transport will look very carefully at the bid for the second railway station that my hon. Friend has referred to, but I am pleased to be able to say that we are only able to do this because this is a Government who are putting record levels of money into capital investment in our country.
I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the details of the guidance that is given to schools on LGBT education and teaching. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities has been at great pains to ensure, working with the Department for Education, that appropriate guidance is given to schools, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I recognise the issue that he has raised, and I will write to him with the details of the guidance, because it is very clear about what is appropriate.
I am certainly delighted to hear of the aspirations that Cornwall has in relation to being carbon free and the action that is being taken. We are happy to support that, and we have a good record on climate change as a Government, but we are doing more. Our annual support for renewables will be over £10 billion by 2021, and our ambitious clean growth strategy sets out our plan for decarbonising the UK economy through to 2032. We will be putting policies in place that will enable areas such as Cornwall to achieve their commitments in relation to climate change.
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that, in relation to the WASPI women, this Government did put extra money in. We have been very clear that no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the Pensions Act 1995 timetable, and those with the most significant changes did receive at least seven years’ notice. We do want to see the empowerment of women in the workplace and in our economy, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities will be bringing forward a strategy on that very soon.
My hon. Friend has raised a particularly important issue, but if I may, I will pull him up on just one point. The unemployment rate across the UK is actually 3.9%. Employment in Scotland has risen by 239,000 since the 2010 election, and we saw in the spring statement that the economy is growing every year, borrowing is lower than expected and debt is falling, but I absolutely recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns. That is why we will continue to work as a UK Government to deliver more jobs, healthier finances and an economy that is fit for the future across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that politicians at all levels need to think very carefully about the terms in which we address others and in which we put our arguments. There are many Members across this House who have suffered significant verbal abuse and online abuse of various sorts. This is a matter that we should all be taking seriously, and I will be ensuring that, across this House, we work to ensure that people are not subject to the sort of abuse that, sadly, some Members have been subjected to from outside this House.
I thank my hon. Friend for working with the Government on this legislation. We are working to bring it in as quickly as possible, to ensure that these measures are available as soon as possible.
I have answered many questions in recent weeks and months on putting a vote back to the people of this country. I continue to believe it is for this House to recognise that, having asked people their view and having heard that view, we should deliver on that view. That is our responsibility. It is about delivering Brexit.
As the Prime Minister says, this House has voted clearly to reject leaving with no deal and has voted clearly to seek an extension if her withdrawal agreement cannot get a majority, but this House has not yet had the opportunity to debate and vote on the range of options for long-term arrangements such as a customs union, regulatory alignment and so on. Will she arrange for indicative votes finally to be held next week, so that we can see where the consensus and the majority lie? A short extension of article 50 will be completely useless if the Government go into it with no idea of what they have the authority to negotiate in the long term.
As I think my right hon. and learned Friend will have noticed, the House has had many opportunities to put forward motions on those issues. The House has rejected alternatives to the Government’s deal. The House has voted against a customs union. The House has voted against having a second referendum. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, somebody on the Opposition Front Bench says that the Government will not let the House. The House has voted on these issues and has rejected them. We have been clear about our intention to absolutely fulfil the requirement to bring forward an amendable motion under section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and we will indeed be doing that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for writing to me with details of this case and for bringing it to my attention. Obviously, as he will expect, when the Home Office receives applications it looks at them carefully and it looks at exceptional circumstances. I have asked the Home Office to look urgently at this case and asked the relevant Minister to respond to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister knows that if she brings her deal again to the House I will again support it, but will she confirm today that the full length of the extension that she is seeking from the EU will be available to the House regardless of whether it supports her measure or seeks another way forward?
As I think my right hon. Friend will have heard me say in answer to the very first question posed in Prime Minister’s questions today, the Government intend to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote. If that vote is passed, the extension will give the House time to consider the withdrawal agreement Bill, and if it is not, the House will have to decide how to proceed.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very specific case in relation to a certain type of funding. I would be very happy to ask the relevant Minister to respond to him on the specifics of that case in relation to his constituency.
Will my right hon. Friend rule out introducing the withdrawal and implementation Bill if her withdrawal agreement is voted down yet again by the House next week, and then let the United Kingdom leave the European Union on 29 March, as per the people’s vote in 2016, as Parliament has enacted, and as the law requires?
What I have done today in writing to President Tusk is ask for that extension to article 50 until the end of June. I have been clear that, as I have said, I do not believe that Brexit should be delayed beyond that point. That would give us the opportunity to ensure that the House can consider again a deal, and then take forward the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill in the circumstances that a deal was passed. In the circumstances that a deal was not passed, then it would obviously be necessary, as I have just said to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), for the House to consider how we should proceed. I would also say to my hon. Friend that, as he will have heard the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs saying in the debate on no deal last week, there are particular issues, particularly in relation to the governance of Northern Ireland, in relation to leaving the European Union without a deal on 29 March. I continue to hope and continue to believe that the best way for this country to leave the European Union is to do so on the basis of a negotiated deal, and the extension to 30 June would allow us to do that.
Further to the question from the Father of the House, does the Prime Minister not realise that in her answer she is the roadblock to this House reaching a majority, not the facilitator of it? It is blindingly obvious—including, I believe, to members of the Cabinet—that what the House now needs to do is to have a series of indicative votes, precisely so that it can express its will about what it is for, not simply what it is against. Why does not the Prime Minister agree to that? She would be doing a service to the country if she did.
Obviously, I have made it clear that we will bring forward the motion that is required under the legislation, under section 13(4). May I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I did to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), that it is not the case that it has not been possible for this House to bring forward votes of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about? It has been open to this House. In some cases, the House has brought forward such votes and those have been rejected.
My right hon. Friend and this House gave their solemn word to the British people that we would leave the EU on 29 March—on Friday week. I say to my right hon. Friend, if this extension happens, what guarantee can you give the British people that at the end of June, if we still do not have a deal, we honour that referendum result and we leave?
I made it clear in one of the debates last week or the previous week that if it is the case that there is an extension, that does not actually take no deal off the table; it leaves that as a point at the end of that extension. Now, whether or not we have that extension is not a matter purely for the United Kingdom; it is a matter for the European Union Council. Obviously, I will wait to see what the Council say tomorrow, but up until now they have been very clear that any extension could be granted only if there was a clear purpose for that extension, and that we could not go beyond the date I have suggested without holding European parliamentary elections. I do not believe it is anybody’s interest to hold European parliamentary elections. I believe it is time that we actually delivered on the vote of the British people in 2016, and that is why, as I said earlier, in response to the first question, as Prime Minister, as far as I am concerned, there will be no delay in delivering Brexit beyond 30 June.
As the Prime Minister has told us, she is today seeking a short and one-off extension to article 50. Last Thursday, her deputy Prime Minister told this House at that Dispatch Box that any such application would be
“downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted only last night”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
The question is, Prime Minister, what changed?
I seem to see a certain similarity between the right hon. Lady’s question and a couple of the questions that came from the official Opposition on this issue. As I said to them, I think we should all remember the responsibility we have in this House to ensure that we deliver Brexit, and as I have said, I believe a short extension, of the type that I have indicated, that I have written to President Tusk about today, is a sensible request to put forward; but I have also been clear, as I have been in response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), that I also believe that the British people will not thank this House if we do anything other than deliver Brexit, and in a reasonable timetable, and that is by the end of June.
I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to continue to represent the people of Grantham and Stamford from these Conservative Benches.
On 26 February, my right hon. Friend said from the Dispatch Box that
“if the House votes for an extension,”
the Government will
“seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 167.]
When will she give the House the opportunity to approve her extension request? When will she bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date?
The suggestion of the extension to the end of June was of course considered by the House last week. The request has gone into the European Union Council, and before it is possible for that request to be confirmed, it is of course necessary for the EU Council to agree that extension, because the treaty is clear that an extension can be applied for by the country that is leaving the European Union but it has to be agreed by all 28 members of the European Union. That will not be possible until the European Council at the end of this week.
The Prime Minister still has to ask the EU to agree to something. At the moment, all she is asking anybody to agree to is the same plan that she has put to this House twice, and that has been roundly defeated twice. Why will she not just open up, just think again, just allow the indicative votes that others have put forward? What she is doing by sticking to this failed plan is deeply dangerous for our country. In the national interest, I beg this Prime Minister to think again.
What is first and foremost in the national interest is for this country to leave the European Union, and to do so in a way that protects people’s livelihoods, protects their security and protects our Union. That is the proposal that we have put forward. The right hon. Lady has raised again the issue of indicative votes. I say to her, as I have said to others, that first of all we stand by the requirement to bring the motion under section 13(4) of the withdrawal Act, which we will do, and we will bring that motion to this House within the timetable set out in the legislation. I also say to her that it is the case that there have been votes in this House on some of the other proposals that have been brought forward, and those have equally been rejected. There is one thing that this House has agreed to, and that is that it would leave with a deal; it was in relation to changes in relation to the backstop. That is the one positive vote that the House has given.
After much representation from the charity Max Appeal, the national screening committee is, for the first time, considering adding 22q11 syndrome to the newborn blood spot test. This second most common chromosomal disorder after Down’s syndrome can lead to avoidable mental health issues if not diagnosed and managed from a young age. Will my right hon. Friend join me and the all-party parliamentary group, of which I am chair, in calling for this condition to be added to the newborn blood spot test?
First, I commend my hon. Friend and the all-party parliamentary group for the work that they are doing in this area. He has obviously raised a very important issue. I will ask the Department of Health and Social Care for an appropriate Minister to respond to him, and possibly meet and talk to him about this issue.
The Prime Minister has a very selective view of the decisions that this country has made. She mentions the referendum, but she never mentions the general election that denied her the authority for a hard Brexit. She has mentioned the things that this House has voted against, but failed to mention that her deal has been defeated by large amounts now twice. She seems determined to plough on as if nothing has happened to her deal and cause a huge crisis. Surely now it is time for the Prime Minister to recognise that she has to stop banging her head against the brick wall of her defeated deal and reach out across this House in the interests of stability and our democracy, and come to a deal that actually has the support of a majority of this House, rather than kowtowing to her own Brextremists.
The point is that, so far, apart from saying that it would support leaving with a deal with changes to that deal in relation to the backstop, the House has given no positive vote on what it wants to go forward. The hon. Lady talks about the 2017 general election. I remind her that 80% of the votes cast in that general election—[Interruption.] It is no good Labour Members waving their hands. Eighty per cent of the votes cast in that election were cast for parties that stood on a manifesto of honouring the result of the 2016 referendum.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
If it appertains to matters of which the House has just treated, I am willing to take the point of order now. If it does not, I will not, because there is a proper time for such matters.
My point of order relates to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) regarding the comments made by the Leader of the House on the radio this morning about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender education and it relates to forthcoming business later today.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware that an important statutory instrument on sex and relationships education and LGBT inclusive education is due to be debated. Obviously, we understand that you have granted a number of urgent questions and that there will be an SO24 application. What steps can we take to ensure that that debate is not lost, and that we do have it, so that we can debate the comments made by the Leader of the House and ensure that we have an inclusive education across this country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to him is that, if I understand it correctly—and I believe that I do—the time for that matter is protected. That is to say that, notwithstanding the duration of urgent questions and the possibility of a SO24 debate, the House will get to consider that matter. I hope that that brings a smile to the face of the hon. Gentleman.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Does it relate to that of which we have just treated?
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing my point of order. It does relate to the discussions around the extension of article 50 and the agenda this afternoon for the debate. Will you confirm that any extension will require us to take part in the European elections, and that we will have to lay the orders in this House before 11 April, so that local authorities can publish election notices on 12 April for South West England and Gibraltar and 15 April for the rest of the UK? We have a duty to make sure that, if we are extending, we will take part in those European elections and we need to lay the orders.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady and she was as good as her word: her point of order did relate to matters of which the House had just treated. However, notwithstanding her beguiling invitation to me to pronounce on the matter, I genuinely do not think that it is for me to do so. It may very well depend on the length of any extension sought, and it does seem to me that it is a matter that must be pronounced upon by the Government Front-Bench team in the course of upcoming exchanges. If the right hon. Lady wants to be assured that she will have the opportunity to put that proposition directly to a Minister, I think that I can offer her that guarantee, so she will have her chance, but it is not a matter for the Chair. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady and to the hon. Gentleman for their points of order.
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on Britain’s help for those caught up in the cyclone disaster that is afflicting southern Africa.
I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing shock at the loss and devastation following the deadly cyclone Idai across southern Africa.
Alongside the Met Office, we have been tracking this cyclone and supplies were pre-positioned in Mozambique. We have so far committed £6 million to respond to immediate needs. I am pleased to inform the House that more tents and thousands of shelter kits have now landed in Mozambique.
We have teams on the ground in each of the three countries affected, including humanitarian and relief experts. We are working with other international partners, including the UN and the Red Cross, to address immediate needs across the three countries.
This massive disaster has swept across southern Africa, affecting in particular three Commonwealth and suspended Commonwealth countries. The United Nations has made it clear that hundreds of thousands of people are affected and that this is heading towards being the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.
The President of Mozambique says that 1,000 of his citizens have perished, and, as we have seen graphically on our televisions from the reporting by the BBC’s Fergal Keane, the important port city of Beira has been flattened, with almost all port structures destroyed and the collapse of bridges and roads.
In Malawi, nearly 900,000 people have been directly affected, with many having lost everything. The dangers confronting those caught up in this disaster include the loss of everything they own; the difficulty of getting food and medicines through to those affected; and the spread of waterborne diseases including cholera owing to the contamination of the water supply. The risk of starvation and famine is very real, with harvests destroyed and livestock drowned.
I am sure the Minister agrees that the UK has an important role to play given our acknowledged international leadership in this area, and she has set out some of what we have already done. The strong support and generosity that we know exist all across the UK for stepping up immediately when these hideous so-called natural disasters take place is worth bearing in mind, and so too is the huge repository of expertise that exists within the Department for International Development and British non-governmental organisations and charities. That expertise, which is respected all around the world, was greatly boosted by the report on Britain’s international emergency response so brilliantly undertaken by the late Lord Paddy Ashdown.
Will the Government note that the search and rescue response so far has been much slower than in the crisis in 2000. One of those who is today in Beira who was also there in 2000 says that the response then was 10 times as great for a much lesser disaster. Thousands of families remain stranded. A huge global response is now required and the UK has a key leadership role to discharge in that.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this urgent question, which allows me to echo the sentiments that he expressed so eloquently about our solidarity with the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have been hit by what the United Nations has described as potentially the worst-ever cyclone in the southern hemisphere. My opening remarks alluded to the role played by the Met Office, which has been helpful in predicting the likelihood of the landfall location, allowing us to pre-position some food supplies, medicine, cholera kits and shelter and to help to secure a response.
My right hon. Friend rightly mentioned the UK’s leadership in the area. We have shown leadership by being one of the first to announce additional funding to address the disaster. He will know that we already have experts deployed on the ground, and he will have heard from his contacts that the Disasters Emergency Committee will shortly announce a further appeal. The UK is a playing a crucial role in assisting both our Commonwealth and suspended Commonwealth friends and in providing leadership. I was in Beira only last month and can testify to the strength of not only the bilateral relationship between ourselves and the people of Mozambique, but the link between Beira and the city of Bristol.
I begin by echoing the Minister’s feelings. This House is united in our thoughts about the tragic impact of this devastating cyclone, which may be the worst-ever disaster to strike the southern hemisphere.
I welcome the £6 million relief effort from the Department for International Development, and I am delighted to hear that it is now reaching people on the ground. However, unless immediate action is taken to halt catastrophic climate change, extreme weather events such as this will become more frequent, and the poorest people in the global south will suffer the most. This event must be a wake-up call for Governments everywhere to deliver urgently on the Paris agreement target of keeping global warming below 1.5 °C. If we are serious about that, we must start reducing our own global carbon emissions now, so what are the Government doing to ensure that that happens? Another key component of the Paris agreement was a commitment to address the devastation caused to poor nations by climate change through funding for loss and damage. What Government support is being given to fund that strand of the agreement?
Finally, Mr Speaker, Mozambique’s ability to respond and rebuild following this disaster will be seriously impaired by the country’s debt crisis, triggered by $2 billion of secret loans from London-based banks. What action are the Government taking to ensure London banks are held to account for their role in the crisis? Will the Minister work with partners to relieve Mozambique’s debt burden so that the country can rebuild?
I endorse the hon. Lady’s comments about the UK’s important leadership role on climate change. We have already committed £5.8 billion during this spending review period to work with international partners on international climate finance. We are also able to show leadership not only through our track record as one of the leading countries for reducing carbon emissions, but by sharing our technical skills, such as those in the offshore wind and solar mini-grid sectors. The week before last, we hosted an event for African Energy Ministers, and a Mozambique Government representative was in attendance. Through the City of London and the green finance initiative, we have been able to provide not only our own contribution, but a further $25 billion of green finance through more than 90 bond issues in seven currencies.
The hon. Lady referred to the role played by City of London institutions in the hidden debt scandal of a few years ago. She will appreciate that I cannot comment publicly on the specific details of the case, but I assure her that the UK will commit to ensuring that there is an investigation.
I start by declaring my interests in the region. I share the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and his sense of extreme urgency. He mentioned the cyclone in 2000 and the massive damage done to Beira, but lessons were not learned then about the need for permanent sea defences. When it comes to the reconstruction that the Minister promises, will she ensure that emphasis is put on the installation of permanent sea defences along Mozambique’s north-eastern coast?
It sounds as though my hon. Friend has also visited Beira, so he will be aware that Mozambique’s coastline is over 2,500 km long and is particularly vulnerable, but building sea defences is probably not the No. 1 way of improving the area’s resilience when a cyclone hits. Beira’s port has sustained significant damage, and the airport, where supplies are now arriving, has a reduced ability to accept flights. Indeed, many of the roads surrounding Beira are underwater. Unfortunately, heavy rain is still falling, so there is a combination of water from the sea and water from the sky. There are things that can be done to secure resilience, but building flood defences along Mozambique’s entire coastline is probably not, as my hon. Friend will know as a Norfolk MP, the most compelling option in terms of value for money.
The UN has described cyclone Idai as possibly the worst-ever disaster to strike the south hemisphere. I have visited the area and know it quite well, and it does not bear thinking about what it used to look like compared with where it is now. Although the damage and death such cyclones bring with them seem incomprehensible, this is just the beginning of the impact of increasingly extreme weather.
Last year, the International Development Committee heard from Dr Alison Doig, who noted that the UN framework for combating climate change has three pillars for averting such disasters or dealing with their impact: mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. Does the Minister agree that loss and damage of property is a huge consequence of climate change? If so, why do the UK Government allocate official development assistance spending only to mitigation and adaptation? We can no longer pretend that such events are freak accidents, because their frequency will only ever increase. Does the Minister therefore agree that we are living through a climate crisis? If so, why has that not been made a much more urgent Government priority?
Finally, on the behalf of the SNP, I express my shock and sympathy with all the families in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have been affected.
The International Development Committee, on which the hon. Gentleman sits, is doing important work in relation to DFID’s overall approach on climate change, and I look forward to hearing what the Committee has to say. I recently gave evidence to the Committee about the £5.8 billion of international climate finance. He will be aware that that has already helped 47 million people adapt to the impact of climate change.
A lot of the work that we are doing is about ensuring that people can be more resilient to these more extreme weather events, which climate scientists predict will continue to occur. Our work was recently praised in an assessment by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which said that we showed good strategic leadership and that our work was effective. I agree that this is an important issue on which we need to focus, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to play an important leadership role and to spend a significant amount of money in this area.
One of the longer-term effects of such disasters is the loss of the livestock upon which people depend for their livelihoods and to feed their families. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) mentioned the Disasters Emergency Committee. There is not a single animal welfare organisation represented on the DEC. Will the Minister ensure that that shortcoming is addressed so that when people are able to return to their homes, they can also return to the livestock on which they depend?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that, long after the waters have receded, there will be an impact on the local population’s ability to continue to have successful food markets, whether that food is livestock or maize—given that it is a particularly maize growing area. There are early reports that much of the maize crop across the three countries has been damaged. This food is an absolute staple in the region, and any damage to the maize crop and the staple diet will have ongoing knock-on effects for the food resilience of the local population. We will be working with our advisers to understand the impact of that issue, and to see where there is an additional need for programming and international leadership.
Order. I say for the benefit not just of the House, but of those observing our proceedings beyond it, that two wonderful but competing examples of seniority in the House are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. The first is the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who is immensely senior, very distinguished and has a very busy diary. But on the other hand, sitting immediately behind her is the Chair of the International Development Committee—a man of great seniority. I therefore have to be the arbiter of competing greats. I call Harriet Harman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the former International Development Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for bringing this matter to the House; I absolutely agree with all the points he raised. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
The commitment of the Minister to this issue is evident, and it is also evident that everyone is dismayed about the scale of the problem. May I ask her about people in this country who will be particularly distraught about the situation—the people who have come here from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, who have made their home here, live and work here, bring up their children here, pay their taxes here, and contribute to our commercial and public life, but who are also contributors through their remittances to the countries affected by the cyclone? These people are desperately worried about their friends and family caught up in this situation. Will the Minister tell the House how she will engage with the diaspora communities to ensure that she understands the efforts that they are trying to make, and confirm that she will help in those efforts? Will she also inform those communities of what the Department is doing and listen to them, because they will often know what needs to be done? I pay tribute to the work of all the agencies and the Department in this very difficult situation.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for putting the sorority of Harrietts at the forefront in calling Members today.
The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) makes an important point about the links between the UK and people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield alluded earlier. The right hon. and learned Lady also makes an important point about the ways in which we can work with the diaspora here. Let me make a commitment to hon. Members; should colleagues find it useful, I will convene a meeting with colleagues so that they have the opportunity to make representations on behalf of their constituents about what we could be doing differently to help and what information can be found about their relatives. I am happy do that through a face-to-face meeting, on the telephone or through letters of inquiry.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on bringing this important issue to the House. At a time of humanitarian crisis, the British public are always incredibly generous. What arrangements is the Minister making to ensure that the British public, who will want to contribute money, food, clothing or other means of assistance, can do so in a constructive way so that we can immediately help the people who are facing this terrible crisis, rather than delaying?
May I pay tribute to the generosity of my hon. Friend’s constituents? As I mentioned earlier, there will be a Disasters Emergency Committee campaign launch to raise money for the disaster. As we have noted, there is a need for immediate relief—the UK has been at the forefront of prepositioning some of that relief—but there will also be an ongoing need to rebuild the communities and help with food access issues. I urge constituents who want to make a contribution to await the imminent launch of the appeal.
I welcome what the Minister has said today. As she described to the House, the Select Committee is currently looking at climate change. Rightly, today’s focus is on humanitarian relief and the immediate challenges, but of course the long-term development needs of these countries must not be forgotten. What will DFID be doing—working with other donors and the countries concerned—to ensure that Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe can rebuild after this disaster, particularly with regard to necessary health and education investment?
The hon. Gentleman is so right to point to the long-term nature of this work. Although we need to put in place a short-term response, there also needs to be a long-term strategic response. Some of the very poorest countries in the world are also some of the most vulnerable to climate change—I think Malawi is estimated to be the third poorest country in the world, and Mozambique the seventh—so those of us paying in through international climate finance have a special responsibility to do whatever we can to encourage countries such as those affected in this instance to bid successfully for those funds. That is why we had the African Energy Ministers event. As part of our new approach to Africa, we are also hiring a further 20 climate specialists across our African network to help deploy some of that finance into these particularly vulnerable countries.
Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. As has been said, this is not only about feeding and saving people now; it is also about feeding them into the future, and I am sure that the British farming community can help to get cattle and other things back into the region. One particular point that I want to raise with the Minister is about Zimbabwe, which is naturally suspended from the Commonwealth because of corruption, bad governance and a lack of democracy. It is quite right to suspend the country, but it is not the fault of the Zimbabwean people that they have such a corrupt Government. What more help can we give Zimbabwe, given that the country is very weak due to its lack of good governance and democracy?
We have always been a steadfast friend of the people of Zimbabwe. This year alone, we will have put some £84 million-worth of programming through the Department for International Development—none of which money, I must emphasise, goes through the Government of Zimbabwe but is designed to help the most vulnerable people with education, access to healthcare and some of the agricultural resilience work that I have alluded to. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to put on record the steadfast friendship between the people of the UK and the people of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
This is another example of the devastating impact of climate change on the very poorest countries in the world—although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), said, we are debating the humanitarian aspect today. What will the Foreign Office be doing at the UN and other multinational organisations to press the case for not just redoubling our efforts on climate change but re-trebling them so that these incidents do not happen in future?
The other day, I was able to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, on which the hon. Gentleman serves, and one of the things I talked about was our new approach to Africa whereby we are putting increased emphasis on adaptation to climate change across, in particular, the poorest and most vulnerable countries there. With regard to the UN specifically, the UK has been asked to lead the work on resilience at September’s UN climate summit, so that is a piece of work that we are taking forward to show real leadership in that area.
The Minister will know that eastern Zimbabwe, particularly around Chimanimani, has been completely devastated, with roads closed and nobody really able to get in unless by helicopter—and there are of course the special circumstances of Zimbabwe already mentioned by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). Will the Minister add just a little bit more on what our ambassador in Zimbabwe is doing and how we are making sure that we are really going to get the aid to the people who are going to need it most?
The hon. Lady, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, will want to know that we have been at the forefront of trying to work with our partners to assess the scale of the need. The port of Beira is not just the port for a large part of Mozambique but also the port that is most used by Zimbabwe and Malawi for food imports and exports, so that is, in addition, a particular vulnerability. I understand from the early assessments that reports from eastern Zimbabwe suggest that there has been a severe degradation of the infrastructure as well, and it is very difficult to access all the afflicted populations. We cannot over-emphasise how difficult it is for us to be able to reach people. The pre-deployed kits have reached the airport at Beira, but at the moment many roads out of Beira are closed, and that will also affect eastern Zimbabwe’s response. We are at the forefront of working with partners—for example, UNICEF—in eastern Zimbabwe, and that will need to inform, after the rain has stopped, our ability to respond to some of the lasting damage there.
It is World Water Day on Friday, but for people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, there is water everywhere but not a drop to drink. In the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, which I chair, we have been following the effect of devastating floods that had already been hitting the country before the cyclone. The Minister might be aware that the Scottish Government have already made a donation to provide support for that, and civic society is responding as well. Specifically, what steps will her Department take to improve resilience in these countries? Because of climate change, such extreme weather events are becoming more common, so how can countries be supported before a disaster hits to ensure that there is resilience in the infrastructure?
This allows me to pay tribute to the Scotland-Malawi partnership, demonstrated by the statistic that 43% of people in Scotland know someone who is, or are themselves, part of links between Scotland and Malawi. I know that civil society across Scotland will be engaging both with these local partnerships but also more widely through the appeal. I thank everyone in Scotland for their generosity towards this cause.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the work that we will be doing on resilience, which is also for the United Nations. Resilience takes many forms, but one of the most important is the crops that are sown, the ways in which they are sown and the way that the land is used. That is an important part of the work that we are doing—helping farmers to make use of the land in a way that gives them the best resilience to these kinds of climate shocks.
As has been mentioned, Bristol’s links with the fellow port of city of Beira go back a long way—in fact, back to the days of anti-apartheid campaigning when we were officially twinned. There is already a fundraising effort going on in Bristol to try to support people in Beira, but how can we best work with DFID to make sure that we can constructively share information and get the help to the people who most need it?
I thank the people of Bristol. When I was in Beira recently, I met its mayor, who personally asked me to thank everyone in Bristol for all that they do through that very strong partnership between two world-class port cities. I mentioned the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. I also mentioned, in my response to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), that I thought it would be constructive to hold a meeting for colleagues to update them. I will take forward that suggestion and invite the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) to join us.
The port of Beira has a huge role in providing access to the Indian ocean for landlocked countries as well as the three countries that are specifically hit by this appalling disaster. Zambia, for example, has a lot of trade going through that port. What steps are being taken to assess the economic implications for the region as a whole, including other countries, and for the vital humanitarian, medical and other assistance to the countries directly affected?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s extensive knowledge of these issues. He will be aware that I alluded to some of the impacts that are already apparent in terms of access to the port of Beira, and he rightly emphasises how important that port is to neighbouring countries. We are going through a process of assessment in terms of reopening the roads, which, the House should be aware, have already been built on quite high causeways, so there has already been account taken of the fact that this is a flood-prone region with many rivers flowing through it. Steps will need to be taken to ensure that there is access to the port and that it reopens as soon as possible because of the whole region’s dependence on food imports and exports going through it.
There is an increasing body of scientific evidence linking extreme weather to increasing carbon emissions. What diplomatic efforts is the Minister’s Department making, in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to make the case both to our partners around the world and to our own Government that we need to reach our net zero carbon emissions target sooner rather than later?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the work that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth is doing in having commissioned work to see how the UK can show leadership on net zero. We await what comes out of that report. He will be aware of the UK’s leadership so far in terms of our ability to have reduced our own carbon emissions very significantly. He will be aware of the programming that is being done through international climate finance, which has already helped to avoid or mitigate some 10.8 million tonnes of emissions in the atmosphere. He will also be aware that we are leading through our international networks. I mentioned the uplift in our new approach to climate change in Africa, but we will be convening the international community at the United Nations to deal with the all-important issue of resilience.
Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of people across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe who have been affected by this terrible disaster. It reminds us of the huge need to focus on the fight against climate change. I welcome what the Minister says about how important that is, but the DFID departmental plan used to list climate change as a stand-alone strategic priority, and the current version does not. In this time of climate emergency, is that not a case of getting our priorities wrong? We should be increasing the urgency of the action we take to fight climate change, not downgrading it to a subheading.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that, since climate change is a major threat to achieving the sustainable development goals, tackling it is a strategic priority for the Department for International Development. We work across the Government on this with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am glad that the independent ICAI report said that UK international climate finance shows a “convincing approach”, with some “good emerging results” in influencing others and making some good strategic choices.
We hear reports that aid trucks are stuck on impassable roads and that conditions are limiting air operations. Bearing in mind what the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said about the slowness of this response by comparison with some other disasters, what discussions are taking place to overcome those problems? I hear what the Minister says about the pre-deployment packs, but transport is always a problem, particularly in southern Africa, when there is an environmental or health disaster. What short-term and longer-term measures are the Department and the Government looking at?
I take issue with the criticism that this response has been slow. In fact, we were pre-positioning what was needed to relieve the situation in advance of the cyclone. The facts are that it continues to rain very heavily, and a lot of the access by air, water and road is severely hampered. That will be difficult to overcome, and it is at the forefront of the work that our teams on the ground are doing to provide logistic support to this operation.
I welcome what the Minister has said. As she knows, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services. Of course the focus right now is on humanitarian aid, but can she say a bit about what she can do to support constituents like mine—I have a small Malawian community in my constituency—who have family or friends there and want to travel back, and British nationals who are caught up in this horrendous disaster? What work will be done with local communities? We all have local church groups and community groups who will want to fundraise and support the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. What will be done to ensure that grassroots community organisations in our constituencies can contribute to support?
I thank the hon. Lady for her work on the all-party parliamentary group, and I thank everyone in Scotland and the UK for what will no doubt be a very generous response to the emergency that will be declared. I highlight the announcement that the Secretary of State made earlier this week about making it easier for small charities across the UK to access support. There have been a number of requests for a further update when colleagues have had the chance to hear from constituents who have strong links to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. I would like to commit to the House to organise an event next Monday for colleagues, once all the casework has come in from their constituencies.
EU Withdrawal Joint Committee: Oversight
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will outline what checks the House of Commons has over the powers of the “Joint Committee” contained in the proposed EU withdrawal agreement.
As is common in international agreements, the withdrawal agreement provides for a Joint Committee comprising representatives of the UK and the EU to govern the implementation and application of the withdrawal agreement. The Joint Committee will have the powers listed in article 164 of the agreement, to ensure that both parties are able to discuss any issues that may arise concerning the management and operation of the withdrawal agreement. As set out in paragraph 3 of article 166, the Joint Committee will make all its decisions and recommendations “by mutual consent” of the parties. In other words, it cannot act if the UK does not agree. This is an important protection for the UK that Members should welcome.
Clearly Parliament will expect to be able to undertake scrutiny of the work of the Joint Committee, as indeed will the European Parliament. Quite how that will operate is something that the Government will discuss with Members of this House and the other place, should this House give its support to the withdrawal agreement. But this House should be in no doubt: the Government’s approach at the Joint Committee will be underpinned by full ministerial accountability to Parliament.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. The Prime Minister is due to attend the critical European Council tomorrow and Friday. However, despite the imminence of those crucial negotiations, very few Members of Parliament in this House are even aware of the extensive powers of the EU-UK Joint Committee contained within the withdrawal agreement. It is very important that those powers are brought to the attention of the House before the Prime Minister attends the Council tomorrow, hence my request this morning.
The Joint Committee is designed to oversee all aspects of the operation of the agreement and, crucially, managing and supervising the implementation and operation of the future relationship. Its potentially wide-ranging powers are contained in articles 164 to 166 of the withdrawal agreement and its rules of procedure, which are an integral part of the treaty found at annex VIII, almost literally at the back of the 585-page document; there is, in fairness, an annex IX.
The decisions of the Committee have full force in international law, equivalent to the treaty itself, as guaranteed in article 166. The Committee can meet in private. It does not have to publish its agenda, any minutes or even a summary of its minutes and can be chaired by two unelected civil servants, nominated by either side, rather than by Ministers. Under its rules of procedure, the two co-chairmen, acting outside normal meetings, can even make legally binding decisions in its name by an exchange of notes, without any recourse to or consent from Parliament. Rule 9 of the rules and procedures, on decisions and recommendations, clearly states on page 565 of the treaty:
“1. In the period between meetings, the Joint Committee may adopt decisions or recommendations by written procedure, if the co-chairs decide to use this procedure. The written procedure shall consist of an exchange of notes between the co-chairs.
2. Where the Joint Committee adopts decisions or recommendations, the words ‘Decision’ or ‘Recommendation’, respectively, shall be inserted in the title of such acts. The Secretariat shall record any decision or recommendation under a serial number and with a reference to the date of its adoption.”
That is almost exactly the same procedure that is used for notifying and recording EU regulations and directives. Despite all of that, this Committee has hardly ever been mentioned in Parliament, and few Ministers have ever referred to it directly throughout the extensive debates we have had during this Session on the whole issue of Brexit. Crucially, the Joint Committee is contained in the treaty, and therefore has the force of international law behind it, but it is outside the backstop, which is perhaps why it has received less attention than other aspects of the withdrawal agreement to date.
I believe that this has been extremely cleverly drafted to hand control of future elements of this country’s destiny deliberately to unelected civil servants, rather than to Ministers—civil servants who are unanswerable to this House of Commons in the way that Minister are. Those involved have thought of everything, as rule 12 of annex VIII is entitled “Expenses”, and it even lays out how they can reclaim their expenses. At present, Parliament seems blissfully unaware of the ability of the Joint Committee to take legally binding decisions relating to any future aspect of the treaty or the future relationship, in effect, above Parliament’s head.
There are clear issues of accountability to Parliament that, as far as I am aware, have never really been debated in the House at all. I ask the Minister to confirm that everything I have said is true, and if any of it is not true, will he point out what and why? If it is true, which it is, will he explain what checks and balances this House has over the operation of the Joint Committee?
Take back control!
Thank you, Bishop.
In summary, the Joint Committee contained in the draft withdrawal agreement has hardly ever been discussed in the House of Commons or the media, despite the fact that it potentially gives two unelected civil servants the power to make decisions that are binding in international law by an exchange of notes, without the knowledge, let alone the consent, of this House. If we are to approve the withdrawal agreement, we will approve this procedure too, which is why it is so important we should know about it. I believe that these facts must be exposed for debate in this House before the Prime Minister departs for the European Council tomorrow. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and I look forward to hearing—I will be intrigued to hear—the Minister’s reply.
My right hon. Friend asked me which bits of what he said I agree with, or which bits I thought were true or not true. Clearly, I agree with some of the things he said, and I think some of the things he said were slightly off the mark. The assumption underlying his question, as it seems to me, is that the Joint Committee is some subterranean plot with wire pullers attempting somehow to subvert the will of this House or to subvert our democracy.
My right hon. Friend will understand, as will the House, that the structure of the Joint Committee is very common in international agreements. An international agreement with two parties has to have a point of arbitration, and the Joint Committee, comprising representatives of the UK and the EU—[Interruption.] It is true that it is separate from the arbitration panel, but it will decide and govern the implementation and the application of the withdrawal agreement. This is entirely in keeping with what happens in international treaties. I would also suggest—
Is anything not true?
If my right hon. Friend would not insist on heckling me, I would also suggest the key part of all of this is paragraph 3 of article 166, which refers to “mutual consent”. The Joint Committee simply cannot act if the UK does not agree.
On the point about the UK Government’s relationship with this Parliament, there will be full and ample opportunity, as we have provided in the last four months, to debate the provisions or recommendations of the Joint Committee. In this final part of my answer to my right hon. Friend, I would like to stress that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister herself has spent no fewer than 20 hours at this Dispatch Box in the last four months. There is a full and ample range of debate and discussion.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) on securing it.
The Joint Committee has attracted a significant degree of attention over recent weeks in relation to its role in the operation of the Northern Ireland backstop, but as the right hon. Gentleman made clear, it is important to remember that the Joint Committee and its specialised sub-committees are also responsible for the application and implementation of the entire withdrawal agreement. Under Article 166, paragraph 2, any decisions made by the Joint Committee would have “the same legal effect” as the entire withdrawal agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has done this House a service in providing us with an opportunity to scrutinise more carefully this important part of the agreement and to seek reassurances about the role of Parliament in overseeing its operation.
To that end, may I ask the Minister the following questions relating to the role of this House in scrutinising the work of the Joint Committee, should the deal ever be approved? First, will the Government commit now to making a statement to this House before and after each and every meeting of the Joint Committee, and to make all of its documents available to Members? Secondly, what plans, if any, do the Government have to create a dedicated Committee of the House to oversee the withdrawal agreement, including the Joint Committee? Thirdly, the withdrawal agreement makes it clear that the Joint Committee will be made up of representatives of the United Kingdom and the European Union, so what role do the Government foresee Parliament having in the appointment of the UK representatives? Fourthly, is it the Government’s intention that the UK representatives include individuals from the main political parties, as well as those from the devolved Governments and Assemblies? Finally, specifically in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s view that an indefinite application of the backstop would not constitute an unforeseen situation under article 164, paragraph 5(d) in such a way as might provide for amendment of the treaty itself?
On that list of questions, it would be absolutely customary and right for a Government Minister to make a statement when the Joint Committee had opined or made recommendations. That is absolutely in order. With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s request about a Committee, that is a matter for the House. It is not for the Executive to decide which Committees of this House can or cannot be formed.
We have ample and very full discussions with the devolved Administrations. They will of course be involved in aspects of the Joint Committee’s decisions, particular with regard to the question of Ireland and the backstop. There is no way, and this is carefully documented in the withdrawal agreement itself, that the Joint Committee would be making statements or recommendations about the backstop or any other matters relating to Ireland without, on our part, some representation and involvement of the Northern Ireland Government. On that question, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be ample consultation and involvement of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) on securing this urgent question, and you, Mr Speaker, on granting it. May I simply ask my hon. Friend on the Front Bench about a particular point that was made by my right hon. Friend and the Opposition spokesman? With regard to “situations unforeseen” when this agreement was signed, who decides what is unforeseen?
On that specific question, the Joint Committee will have a role in suggesting what has not been foreseen. This is a very hypothetical question. What I find so extraordinary in this whole episode is that all of this is contingent on the withdrawal agreement being passed, yet my right hon. Friends who are asking these questions have consistently voted against the agreement. It seems very bizarre to me—[Interruption.] No, the point is that there is no way, as the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford suggested or seemed to imply, that this is some sort of mystical plot, as I have said, to undermine the democratic processes of this House. The Joint Committee will not be doing that. The British Government will be in wide consultation with the House, there will be ample room for debate and everything will be done with the utmost transparency.
I commend the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for submitting this question. I share some of his concerns, although after listening to his horror story about all the evils in the way this Joint Committee will operate, I have to say that 90% of it applies to the workings of the British Cabinet and 99% of it applies to the way international trade deals will be negotiated on our behalf without our knowledge or consent in the great new world that he seeks to achieve after Brexit.
On accountability and openness, I appreciate that parts of the agreement would insist on confidentiality in some circumstances, but will the Minister give an assurance that the UK Government will publish and lay before Parliament as much about the workings of the Committee as is permitted under the agreement as soon as possible?
Everyone now knows that it was a mistake to exclude the devolved Administrations and other people with potential skills from the Brexit negotiations. Everyone knows that it was a mistake not to ask for views and support from across the House much earlier in the process. Will the Minister therefore answer the question that he did not answer when the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) asked it, and give an undertaking that the UK delegation to this vital and exceptionally powerful Committee will properly reflect the political and social diversity of these nations? Will he also undertake that, particularly when it is looking at items within the devolved competences of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Governments of those nations will be properly represented as part of the negotiating team and not simply left in a side meeting to be told what has been decided on our behalf afterwards?
I want to clarify that there is no scope within the Joint Committee for some form of delegation or negotiating team. Its sole function is to ensure that the terms of the withdrawal agreement are complied with.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) so ably enunciated, all the workings of the Committee are to be found in Annex VIII of the agreement. The annex is some 20 to 25 pages long and very carefully sets out how the Committee will work.
Why do the Government think it acceptable that any legal dispute about European law will be resolved by a decision of the European Court of Justice—a court for one of the two parties to the agreement—given that practically every legal dispute would be about a matter of European law, because both parties would still be under comprehensive European law?
There are two stages to the process. Clearly, there is the period after the end of the implementation period when the CJEU will decide matters of EU law. During the implementation period, as my right hon. Friend knows, it will be as if we were a member state—that is what the implementation period means. As my right hon. Friend suggested, within the implementation period, matters of EU law will be decided by the CJEU. After that, its powers are restricted only to matters of EU law, which we would be outside. That is the position as clearly set out in the withdrawal agreement.
I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but it feels to me that this sorry saga proves that the Conservative party is now entirely run by the European Research Group. It puts me in mind of a limerick, which was much repeated in the 1930s:
“There was a young lady of Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger.
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And a smile on the face of the tiger.”
The Prime Minister has tried to ride the ERG tiger for all this time and frankly, she is now inside it, isn’t she?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have not been consumed by a tiger and I am still smiling. If we get the deal through the House—I look forward to his support in that—we will leave the EU and be able to move forward, I hope, in a progressive and measured way. However, I thank him for his poetic interjection.
I take the Minister’s points about this structure being used in several contexts in international treaties. Many of my constituents would say that it was still unacceptable, and that they would like more transparency. However, even assuming that the structure is acceptable in the context of some international treaties, what is my hon. Friend’s response to the comment that the treaty would be uniquely powerful, were it to be adopted, because it would involve this country and this House being subject to laws made for us by other people, over which we had no say?
I do not accept the premise of my right hon. Friend’s question. Clearly, our relationship with the EU over decades was complicated and involved and the withdrawal agreement is a capable way of getting out. Few of its provisions last beyond the end of the implementation period. It is a clear and orderly way of leaving the EU, and I urge hon. Members, including my right hon. Friends behind me, to support it.
Will the Minister explain precisely, for the benefit of Members on both sides of the House, what input Members will have in advance of any meetings of the Joint Committee?
As I have said to the House, there will be ample scope for debate and consultation. The Government fully understand that the House has to have an active role in shaping and deciding what our position as a country will be. I stress once again that paragraph 3 of article 166 says that no recommendations or decisions can be made without mutual consent. The mutual consent is between the UK and the EU, but as far as the Government are concerned, part of that mutual consent means engaging fully and transparently with the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) on applying for this urgent question and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it.
Ever since the very first Parliaments in Shropshire, the primary function of this House has been to control the manner in which money is levied from taxpayers and the way in which it is spent. I was astounded when I turned up on day one in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where I had the honour of being Secretary of State, to discover the level of disallowance—that is an EU expression for “fine”. For example, Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said of the 2016 accounts that
“the total value of cumulative disallowance penalties incurred under CAP 2007-13 is £661 million”,
which amounts to more than £90 million a year. I therefore view with some horror article 171, which states:
“The Joint Committee shall, no later than by the end of the transition period, establish…an arbitration panel.”
Article 178 states that the arbitration panel
“may impose a lump sum or penalty payment to be paid to the complainant.”
What are the limits on the size of those payments? If the House of Commons objects, what can it do?
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend has too little faith in the UK Government. We have repeatedly said—and he knows this as well as anyone—that such payments or penalties would be imposed only by mutual consent. That is the key element. There is no way that the Joint Committee can unilaterally impose fines on us that we have not agreed to.
That is not correct. That is wrong.
Thank you. I stress that we have been very successful in restricting payments when we needed to. There is no reason to suppose that the Committee will impose swingeing penalties that we will be forced to pay without our consent.
As has already been drawn to the Minister’s attention, under article 174, if the arbitration panel above the Joint Committee cannot agree on a matter of law, it has to be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Does not that confirm that the Prime Minister has been prepared to relax at least one of her red lines to enable binding rulings from the CJEU to be accepted after we have left the EU? Does not that show that it is possible for her to relax other red lines to try to get us out of the mess that we are currently in?
I disagree with the hon. and learned Lady. The terms of the withdrawal agreement relate largely to the implementation period. I remind the House that during the implementation period, we will technically be a member state. [Interruption.] During the implementation period, that is the case. After that, the CJEU will have some role in interpreting EU law, but we will be outside its jurisdiction.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), and since we are treating of matters that are both controversial and complex, may I invite my hon. Friend to commit today—since he must, if he is going to do it—to lay letters and other papers in the House of Commons Library by the rise of the House tomorrow, setting out what the Government know the Committee shall be able to do and shall not be able to do, and the authority for that statement, so that we can all be perfectly clear on the scope and authority of the Committee, and the Government’s view?
The scope, the rules, the jurisdiction, if you like, and the powers of the Joint Committee are very ably set out in the withdrawal agreement. I suggest that my hon. Friend peruses those once again.
I thank the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for securing the question and for the concern that he shows for unelected bureaucrats because, of course, we sit in a Parliament where more than half of parliamentarians are unelected bureaucrats. Will the Minister possibly tell us what role the fully elected European Parliament will play in this Committee?
It is obviously up to them to decide how they would conduct matters with respect to their delegates in the Joint Committee.
May I return to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) to contest my hon. Friend the Minister’s rather doubtful assertion that this is normal for an international treaty? I do not know of any other international treaty where one of the signing parties is submitting to a law-making power by the other, the laws will be made in a Joint Committee that can sit in secret, and any matters of dispute will be referred to the court of the other party. Can he give any examples of an international treaty of this nature where those arrangements exist, and where the laws being made are directly applicable and have direct effect in the domestic law of only one of the states?
What I would say to my hon. Friend in respect of his question is that we were in the EU for 46 years. During that time we were absolutely and totally 100% under the jurisdiction of the EU. The withdrawal agreement essentially seeks to get a tunnel, or a pipe, away from that jurisdiction into a situation where we have left the EU absolutely. Now, my own understanding is that this is a wholly unique set of circumstances. In that respect, the withdrawal agreement seeks to be transitional—it is trying to get from state a to state b—so it is understandable that we will not be able to get immediate freedom, if that is how he would put it, but the withdrawal agreement substantially gets us from one state to another. If it is endorsed, I think we will be able to proceed in an orderly way out of the EU.
The Minister speaks about mutual consent, but where there is mutual consent there are never any problems. The problems come when that consent breaks down. With the Joint Committee, is it not correct that, surely, where mutuality of consent breaks down the final arbiter will be the European Court of Justice, irrespective of why the arguments arise?
That refers to circumstances that relate to EU law. There will be other points of dispute that do not involve EU law. It is clear that after the end of the implementation period the Court’s jurisdiction will be restricted.
There is nothing disorderly, but I must say that I am saddened to see the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) holding, until he just put it away in his pocket, his mobile telephone. I have long been conscious that the hon. Member possesses, and indeed uses, such a mobile phone. However, it does conflict very, very, very heavily with my image of the hon. Gentleman as the embodiment of tradition and as someone who thinks that the 17th century is indecently recent.
Regrettably, I was explaining why I was delayed for a 2 o’clock appointment—so that I would have the pleasure of being in the Chamber to listen to this important urgent question. My apologies for being unduly modern. I hope, Mr Speaker, you will follow in my footsteps of antiquity as a general rule.
To come to the gist of the question, I wonder whether it is correct that the Joint Committee will be subject to article 4 of the treaty, which means that any rulings it provides are senior law in the United Kingdom and therefore could overwrite statute law—making Henry VIII powers, which have been a matter of some controversy in this House, seem relatively minor?
Obviously, this is a rather circular point. Article 4 is the conduit pipe, if you like, through which the provisions of the withdrawal agreement would come into UK law. The point of the Joint Committee is to look at the implementation of the withdrawal Act. There really should not be a conflict between article 4 and the Joint Committee. As I say, if there is a dispute, that would have to be resolved within the Joint Committee. As far as the British Government are concerned, there will be ample consultation, debate and questions in this House.
Scrutiny is always welcome, but I have to say that I believe this urgent question is driven less by urgency and more by a desire on behalf of the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) to continue his deeply unattractive and frankly tin pot tyrant-like attacks on civil servants. Will the Minister deprecate those attacks on civil servants? Will he clarify, in terms of the oversight of the Committee, what the enhanced role for the devolved nations, which the Prime Minister promised at the Dispatch Box just a few weeks ago, looks like?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I would like to put it on the record that we have an extremely fine and professional body of civil servants. I think that that is undisputed in this House. On the second point, as I have said on a number of occasions, we hope and expect to have full involvement and engagement with the devolved Administrations.
Annex VIII of the withdrawal agreement provides that the Joint Committee will be co-chaired by a member of the European Commission and a Minister of the British Government or, alternately, a “high level official”. Given the hugely important role that this Committee will play in the governance of this country, does not my hon. Friend agree that, as far as the British side is concerned, the chairman or chairwomen should always be a Minister rather than an official, so that he or she is answerable to this House? Is he prepared to give an undertaking to this House today that that will always be the case—if, of course, the withdrawal agreement is ever concluded?
It is absolutely the intention of this Government to have ministerial responsibility, ministerial attendance, at meetings of the Joint Committee. We fully envisage that that will be the case.
May I press my hon. Friend the Minister further on his earlier answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)? The Joint Committee will make legal decisions in unforeseen circumstances. [Interruption.] Can he confirm that the Joint Committee will itself decide what circumstances are unforeseen? [Interruption.]
Once again I have to say that I think all my colleagues, all my right hon. and hon. Friends, have very full confidence in our civil service. With regard to my hon. Friend’s question, yes, the Joint Committee will decide, and will have a view on what circumstances are foreseen or unforeseen, but I have to address this point: the Joint Committee’s purpose is not to hoodwink or in any way subvert what we do as a democracy in this House. It is the Government’s full intention to engage extremely attentively to opinion in this House.
Can I be on it? For a fresh approach—and I won’t bang on.
I admire my right hon. Friend’s brevity and succinctness.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) will regard it as the encomium of all encomiums to have tribute paid to him by the junior Minister; he may well feel so uplifted by the tribute that he wishes to have it framed. However, I say gently to the Minister that his tribute suffers from one notable disadvantage: despite its generosity, it offered no answer to the question.
The Minister has referred several times to the devolved Administrations, but he will be aware that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for over two years, so how does he think the Joint Committee will take note of the thoughts coming from the Province on what is, of course, one of the big issues of the whole agreement?
We fully anticipate and hope that the Assembly will be restored, but in the absence of its restoration we will engage, as we have done, with those of all shades of political opinion across Northern Ireland, to ensure that their representations, their feelings, are reflected in the decisions of the Joint Committee.
Can the Minister confirm what he said earlier—that any decision making of the Joint Committee will be subject to ministerial oversight unless it is democratically accountable in this place? Secondly, he mentioned engagement with the devolved nations; can he confirm that that engagement specifically on reserved matters will take place through the MPs who represent those constituencies in this place?
With regard to the Joint Committee, if we assume that the implementation period lasts until the end of 2020, as is set forth in the agreement, there will certainly be ministerial involvement—Ministers will be involved—in, I suspect, every meeting of the Joint Committee. With regard to devolved matters, I know that my hon. Friend, in another capacity, is an extremely active MP who represents the interests of his constituents, and he and other colleagues across the House will be fully engaged in devolved matters, as has already been the case.
I call Mr Marcus Fysh.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and very well done for granting this urgent question. I have been really concerned about this matter for a long time.
I want to talk about the mutual consent provision in article 166. Effectively, in certain circumstances, it gives the EU a hard veto over what the decisions are. The Minister said that no negotiation was planned, but we know that the customs procedure embedded in the plans for a backstop, should we be unable to agree a subsequent agreement, is admitted by the UK Government and the EU to be unworkable in its current form, is non-compliant with the Union customs code and is incomplete with respect to matters such as what happens to VAT at our borders or what happens with the export declarations. The customs procedure itself specifies that unilateral measures can be taken by the EU, should it not be satisfied with that procedure. The whole point is that these matters, and the rectification of these matters, are fundamental to the collection of taxes at our borders. There is no way in the world that we as a House should ever contemplate giving the EU power over how they are changed, as this provision does.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the EU may have a veto, but just as the mutual consent provision gives the EU a veto, it also gives us—the UK Government—a veto over such decisions. On VAT and other matters, much of what my hon. Friend said referred, in my understanding, to phase 2 of the negotiations, in which there will be, one hopes, a more comprehensive free trade agreement. That is the ultimate goal to which we are tending.
For five years from 2010, I was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, which went through reams of directives from the European Union every week. One of the reasons why many of my constituents said that they voted by a majority to leave the EU was the lack of transparency and accountability of that bloc. To continue on the theme of big cats, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant): a leopard does not change its spots, and I do not think that the EU will either. Will the Minister therefore make a commitment that if the withdrawal agreement goes through and this Joint Committee is constituted, we will have a statement from a Minister at the Dispatch Box after every meeting of that Committee?
My understanding is that the Government’s engagement with this House will be full, and as transparent as possible, in respect of decisions and meetings of the Joint Committee. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s participation in further scrutiny Committees when we have got the agreement through the House and when the Joint Committee sits.
Order. I am most grateful to the Minister and colleagues. We now move on to an urgent question from Mr John Baron.
No-deal EU Exit Preparations
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on no-deal Brexit preparations.
I thank my hon. Friend for his urgent question and congratulate him on securing your approval for it, Mr Speaker.
The Government have always been clear that leaving the European Union without a deal is not an outcome that we want. Last week, Parliament voted against leaving with no deal, signalling a clear majority against such an outcome. However, the legal default is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless an alternative is agreed; any agreed extension would not change that. A longer extension would also entail holding European Parliament elections in the UK. As the Prime Minister stated in her letter to Donald Tusk, we
“do not believe that it would be in either of our interests”—
the UK’s or the EU’s—
“for the UK to hold European Parliament elections.”
Will my hon. Friend give way?
It’s a UQ!
Order. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), for whom I have the highest regard, but this is an urgent question—stop the clock, please.
It’s been a while.
Well, the hon. Lady graced the Front Bench with considerable distinction and it is some time since she has sat on the Back Benches. It is entirely understandable that she did not know the procedure, but there is no scope for intervention when the Minister is delivering his mercifully brief oration.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I apologise to my hon. Friend.
The Government have undertaken significant action to prepare for a potential no-deal scenario. We have published 450 pieces of no-deal communications since October 2018, including information on reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU, on driving in the EU after exit, and even on how to take a pet abroad. We have contacted 150,000 businesses that trade with the EU to help them to get ready for no-deal customs procedures. We have held meetings, briefings and events with stakeholders across the economy, including around 300 engagements in the past month alone. We have responded to stakeholder feedback to make sure that communications are clear by updating approximately 1,300 pieces of gov.uk content based on their input.
More than 11,000 people are working on EU exit policy and programmes across the Government. We have launched a public information campaign, which includes information on gov.uk, to help citizens and businesses to prepare for leaving the European Union. TV adverts started today and radio, press and outdoor poster advertising are ongoing. Furthermore, the Treasury has provided £4.2 billion for EU exit preparations, including preparations for a no-deal scenario, and £480 million has been allocated to the Home Office to ensure that it is fully prepared.
Getting ready for this scenario depends on action not only from the Government, but from a range of third parties, including businesses, individual citizens and the European Union itself. Despite Government mitigation, the impact of a no-deal scenario is expected to be significant in a number of areas. Leaving the European Union with no deal is the legal default until Parliament passes a deal or agrees on an alternative. We are focused on achieving that, but until it has been achieved, we will continue to prepare for no deal and we advise businesses to do the same.
I thank the Minister for that response. It is important that the Government recognise the current position. Whatever the possibilities for how Members may vote in this place or how the EU may respond to requests for extensions, he is absolutely right to suggest that the current legal default position is that the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union on 29 March, with or without a deal. It is important in more than one sense that those on the Front Bench recognise that. The narrative that seems to be emerging from No. 10 is that Parliament has not expressed its view as to what should happen. I would suggest to the Minister that it has. In February 2017, by a majority of 384, the House clearly said that with or without a deal we would leave on 29 March 2019. There was no equivocation about; it was black and white.
The Government have said they are making adequate preparations. Many of us on the Government Benches—and, indeed, on the Opposition Benches—have questioned the Government about those preparations. We know that billions of pounds have been spent, and we have had assurances from the Government, including from the Dispatch Box and in Committee. On 12 February, I asked the Prime Minister if she could
“reassure the House that should we leave on 29 March on no-deal WTO terms, we are sufficiently prepared”.
She answered very directly:
“We are indeed. We have ramped up our preparations. We are continuing our preparations for no deal.”—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 752.]
I applied for this urgent question because media reports, including some emanating from this place, suggesting that a no-deal Brexit would prove a profound economic shock mirror the incorrect warnings before the 2016 referendum and are causing—[Interruption.] This is an important point for Members to appreciate, as we sit in this Westminster bubble. These pronouncements are causing concern across the country. It is easy for Opposition Members to say, “Oh, don’t worry about it”, but for a lot of people sitting in their homes, these dire predictions of economic gloom, which are unfounded, are causing concern.
I remind the Minister that prior to the 2016 EU referendum there were dire predictions of 500,000 extra unemployed people that proved unfounded—so much so that the Bank of England, among others, had to apologise. We have had record low unemployment, record manufacturing output and record inward investment. I suggest that economic reality trumps predictions any time. In order to reassure and better inform the public, will the Minister detail to Parliament the extensive preparations the Government have made for a no-deal exit? Especially given the proximity to 29 March—just a week away—the Government need to reassure people that they are prepared, having spent two years and billions of pounds on no-deal preparation. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I found it interesting that my hon. Friend was barracked by Opposition Members for pointing out how strong our country’s economy was. I would have thought they would be proud of that.
I hope that in my opening answer I gave the House a sense of how much preparation the Government have done since August 2016, although preparations have of course been ramped up in the last few months. I will list a handful of points: more than 550 no-deal communications have been sent out since August 2018; we have had 300 stake- holder engagements since February; we have been signing international agreements with our trading partners and rolling over others; 11,000 people are working on EU exit policy and programmes across Government; a number of IT programmes are ready to go should we need to activate them; and we have published the HMRC partnership pack containing more than 100 pages of guidance for businesses on process and procedures at the border in a no-deal scenario. The Government have been preparing assiduously and quietly behind the scenes for no deal, but we want to get a deal over the line; that is the most important thing for us.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.
The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) talked about the wishes of the House, and he was right to do so, but the House has twice ruled out leaving the EU without a deal and twice rejected the Government’s deal by historic margins. It is simply unacceptable that the Prime Minister continues to doggedly press ahead with her Hobson’s choice of her deal or no deal. Resilience is an admirable quality; obstinacy is not. Does the Minister recognise that by their approach the Government risk being considered in contempt of the House yet again?
The Government’s energy at this critical time should be going to find a way forward that can command the support of the House and the country and that is not the Prime Minister’s flawed deal, which the Government themselves have said would shrink the economy by 4%. The situation requires flexibility and the Government reaching out across the House, and that includes flexibility on the length of the extension of article 50. The Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster said last Thursday of a 30 June extension:
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted”—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
Does the Minister agree that rather than this focus on no deal, the Prime Minister’s priority should now be to create opportunities for the House to consider all the options available to get the country out of the impasse she has created?
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that a lot of hon. Members sitting behind him represent seats that voted to leave the EU in big numbers and would be surprised to hear that Her Majesty’s Opposition are trying to stop that happening. As I said in my opening answer, the legal default is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless an alternative is agreed. No agreed extension will change this fact.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Has he noticed that in the last few hours Monsieur Barnier has issued an instruction declaring that the EU must now prepare for the no-deal scenario, claiming that only two elements of its work need to be completed? One is short-term visas and the other is the budget for 2019. Does that mean that the EU considers that if we do not reach a deal we will leave on the 29th?
I have outlined the legal default position a couple of times already. My Department monitors the European Commission’s no-deal announcements and those of individual member states. The Commission has made no-deal announcements on Erasmus, social security, fishing, air transport, aviation safety, road haulage, trade and exports and dual-use systems, EU funding for the Peace programme, energy efficiency, the Connecting Europe Facility, shipping inspection and a whole host of other areas. The European Commission, like us, would be ready in that circumstance.
Save for what one Conservative MP referred to as the headbanger wing of the Conservative party, everybody thinks that Brexit is a bad idea—businesses, medical personnel, universities. Parliament voted to rule out no deal because it represents a colossal political failure. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) talked about what concerns people. I will tell him what concerns people: a decade of Westminster austerity hitting schools, the NHS and other public services. We are spending £4.2 billion on a no deal, including millions for ferries. No one voted to leave on 29 March. No one voted for a no deal. Will the Minister take no deal off the table and invest the money in hard-pressed public services?
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU and that a huge number of them, including in Scotland, will find his comments very disappointing. As I have pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and other hon. Members, the legal default is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless an alternative is agreed.
May I pursue the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)? In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Barnier said, quite correctly, that
“voting against ‘no deal’ does not prevent it from happening.”
He also said:
“Everyone should now finalise all preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
On the EU side, we are prepared…and are working on the two last measures that still need to be adopted, namely on short-term visas and the EU budget for 2019.”
Will those two issues be resolved in 11 days’ time, and how many issues does the Minister think the UK Government still have outstanding?
Unfortunately, although I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years, I cannot honestly comment on how long it would take the European Union to complete its final two measures, although budget rounds are very interesting debates in the European Parliament. There are a number of matters that we are still finishing off in our no-deal preparations, but the vast majority are in a good state.
May I ask the Minister about national security? One thing that is undoubted is that if we leave without a deal, British police forces will no longer be able to use up-to-date information from all the other police forces in Europe, and we will no longer be able to use the present extradition arrangements in the European Union under the European arrest warrant. What will the Minister put in place to make sure that we are safe?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very sensible question.
The continued safety and security of both UK and EU citizens remains our top priority. In a no-deal scenario, the UK would lose access to the mechanisms that we currently use to co-operate with EU member states on security and law enforcement. The Home Office is working intensively with operational partners to put no-deal plans into action, and to ensure that the UK is ready to “transition” our co-operation with our European partners and make best use of the alternative channels with EU member states should that be required. We are preparing to move co-operation to alternative non-EU mechanisms should that be required, and our contingency plans are largely tried and tested mechanisms which we already use for co-operating with many non-EU countries, including making more use of Interpol and Council of Europe conventions. They are not like-for-like replacements, but they would not result in a reduction in mutual capability.
We have been treated to plenty of lurid stories over the past few months about a shortage of the radio isotopes on which a million people in our NHS depend every year. Will the Minister confirm that advanced plans are in place to ensure that in the event of our leaving the European Union with no deal, no one would be disadvantaged?
I can confirm that we have plans for the items to which my hon. Friend has referred. Indeed, a written ministerial statement describing the details of those plans was laid nearly three weeks ago.
If Macron, like de Gaulle before him, says “Non” to the Prime Minister’s request for an extension, we will not get one, because there must be unanimity. Does the Minister agree that in those circumstances—as a matter of fact—the only way to avoid no deal would be to revoke article 50, which the House could do, because, contrary to what the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), suggested yesterday, the House has not as yet voted on a motion to revoke it?
As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent that from happening is to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.
My hon. Friend has acknowledged that the default position is that this country will leave the European Union on 29 March without a deal. Can he tell us in what circumstances the Government will conclude that a deal is impossible, and does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the public are entitled to reassurance in that regard?
I should like to think that we are giving some reassurance through the vast array of publicly available information on how we are preparing for no deal, and, indeed, through the ongoing advertising campaign that I described in my statement. In my personal view, leaving without a deal is—I know that some Members do not like this word—suboptimal. The optimal way of leaving is with a deal that takes no deal off the table completely. However, we are as ready as we can be at this point, and the huge amount of information that is in the public domain should give his constituents and mine the reassurance that they deserve. [Interruption.]
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is concerned, but the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is back in the Chamber. I do not think that I need to dwell on the matter. Suffice it to say that there can, in extremis, be a reason why someone has—very, very, very briefly—to leave the Chamber. When the call of nature sounds, that person cannot pretend to be deaf. I do not say that in a pejorative spirit; I simply mean that one cannot pretend not to be aware of the immediate requirement.
I was relieving myself, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.]
I was trying to signal as much in a somewhat more tactful and seemly manner, but the hon. Gentleman has now blurted out the truth, and the nation is aware of what was his requirement. As he has now returned to the Chamber, he can beetle back to his seat and listen to the remainder of the exchanges.
I will do so. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Very good. Well done.
I understand that the cost of Brexit has been estimated to be £500 million per week. Does that include the cost of school meals, hospital meals, and meals in social care settings?
I am afraid that I do not recognise that figure one bit.
As the Minister will know, it is now being widely reported on Twitter that President Macron is minded to veto any extension of article 50 at the Council tomorrow. Can he confirm that, should that occur, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will initiate Operation Yellowhammer—the Government’s no-deal plan—on Monday? If that is so and there is no extension, why do we not just vote down the rancid withdrawal agreement and sprint for the line?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on whether or not the President of France is active on Twitter at this point in time. He and I disagree on one fundamental issue. Having been involved in European negotiations in the past—albeit of a much more minor nature than anything like this—I know that occasionally there are times when one should bank what one has. My right hon. Friend disagrees with me about that, but it is a principled disagreement.
We do have Operation Yellowhammer, which is working to deliver the biggest peacetime project in the history of the civil service. Leaving the European Union with a deal remains the Government’s top priority, but a responsible Government must plan for every eventuality including a no-deal scenario, and these preparations are taking place alongside work to deliver on the Government’s policy priorities.
It is essential that the largest businesses, and indeed the trade associations that depend on them for information about the progress that is being made on the rollover trade deals, are kept fully informed. Can the Minister explain why the Department for International Trade stopped the roundtables with large businesses?
I have to say that I did not know they had done so, but I do know that there are ongoing engagements throughout the Government with business representatives and organisations, some of which I myself have attended very recently.
It would be stupid to go out panic buying, would it not?
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) seems gravely perturbed that the fact that he is seated behind the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) might disadvantage him. What I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield is that I can almost always see him, and even if I can’t see him I can absolutely certainly hear him, so he has nothing to worry about at all. Mr Barry Sheerman.
May I tell the Minister that I am usually an optimist but I do not know if he shares with me a feeling a dread and doom today? Here we are in the greatest national crisis for 100 years with the Titanic steaming towards the iceberg. He is a nice man but he is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary being sent to reassure the House that the preparations are all in good order. Even at this late stage we can go to Europe and ask for a longer rather than a shorter extension. We can also listen to the voice of reason behind him, the Father of the House the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who made a very serious contribution earlier today. Surely at this stage the Minister could actually speak up for the nation and say, “Enough is enough, let us put this on hold and get a sensible relationship with Europe agreed across these Benches.”
I think I can stand up and speak for the nation when I say the only sense of dread and doom I have is when the hon. Gentleman is ready to speak.
I remind my hon. Friend that we both stood on an election promise that no deal was better than a bad deal, but beyond that can he confirm that aviation agreements are in place so that planes will be flying to and from Gatwick and other UK airports on 30 March?