House of Commons
Thursday 6 June 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, including ambitious global action to tackle climate change, and this will continue. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade policy, including how to tackle climate change. We are working to realise the potential for low-carbon exports from the UK and supporting UK jobs.
While the Department for International Development has a clear strategy for promoting low-carbon development in low-income countries, fossil fuels made up a shocking 99.4% of UK Export Finance’s energy support to low and middle-income countries in the last financial year. Does the Secretary of State agree with the International Development Committee’s finding that his Department’s spending is
“damaging the coherence of the Government’s approach to combating climate change”,
and what steps has he taken to ensure a more joined-up approach among his Cabinet colleagues?
The UK has an enviable record of success in decarbonisation. A target will be agreed of 80% of reduction by 2050; renewable capacity is up four times since 2010; and there will be £10 billion in annual support by 2021. Expertise is being built in offshore, smart energy, sustainable construction, precision agriculture, green finance, electric vehicles and so on. As I travel around the world, I meet many representatives from developing countries who are interested in all these technologies. Our trade policy is focused absolutely on ensuring that our exporters are set up to spread this green technology around the world. UKEF will play its part in funding this global revolution. In the short term, I have no doubt that some fossil fuel investments will be made, but as we progress that will transform into low-carbon development.
The Secretary of State has previously stated that
“poverty reduction objectives are deemed to outweigh the impact on climate change.”
However, his colleague the Secretary of State for International Development has previously stated that unless we tackle climate change with the urgency it requires “100 million more people” will be thrown “into poverty”. Can the Minister confirm who is correct and what the Government position actually is?
Certainly from the Department for International Trade point of view, our job is to promote international trade. We are out there making sure that the deals we do internationally suit those countries with which we do them. We are bringing in the unilateral preferences that are transitioning across from a European perspective. We are confident that the backing we can give developing countries is suitable for their circumstances, and allows them to participate in world trade and so bring their people out of poverty.
I think we are spending £1.5 billion in the current period on climate change for less-developed nations, and the same amount—£1.5 billion—on promoting economic development and trade, so there is some synergy for us to work with, is there not?
There absolutely is. As we grow our capacity in this country, we have more capability of exporting and, indeed, advising others on climate change. Yes, we can work in countries on poverty reduction at the same time as promoting energy sustainability.
Will the Minister say a bit more in relation to climate change and trade policy, particularly vis-à-vis the US, because the President of the United States has said:
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”?
The recent chapters in CETA— the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—and the EU agreements with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam include quite clear climate change commitments. We are of course signatories to the Paris agreement. I recognise that the President of the United States has said it is going to withdraw from that; it has currently not done so. Where it is possible to have chapters in our free trade agreements on climate change and on our climate change policies, we will do so; where not, we have to understand that we can open doors to dialogue through those trade deals. Indeed, we can then create flows of exports on untariffed sales at more favourable rates into those economies and help the transition, even in more developed countries where it is difficult to negotiate such chapters in our FTAs.
May I congratulate the Government on their policies and on what they are doing on the way forward? We should set an example to the rest of the world when it comes to global policies on how we trade. The recent election results have proven that there is a wish among all parties for that to happen, so we need to set an example. What has been done with the regional Administrations to ensure that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England work together to set that example?
As the hon. Gentleman knows well, the UK has extensive funding for climate change mitigation and for sustainability. I would simply say to him that, as and when we manage to reinstitute the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland, we can have discussions between the DIT and other parts of the UK Government to ensure that those issues are taken forward.
The Secretary of State’s damascene conversion to addressing the climate emergency is welcome, but, as we have heard, some of those with whom he wishes to conclude trade agreements are less enlightened. Given what he has just said, will the Minister commit to introducing climate clauses to all future trade agreements? Will he publish specific details of the support his Department offers the fossil fuel sector through export finance, and say how that support conforms with the Equator Principles?
As I have said, we will consider each and every FTA on its own merits, and in certain circumstances we may find partners who are not prepared to put those sorts of clauses in an FTA. On balance, however, we will look at the advantage to exporters of low-carbon products, and ensure that as and when we proceed with those agreements—if we decide to do so—we facilitate the export of low-carbon products so that economies represented by Governments who do not wish to include an FTA clause on the environment can benefit from the transition that lower input costs produce. I have already made clear the Government’s position on publishing the output of UKEF. There will be an element of carbon-based energy generation in UKEF’s mix in the short term. The UK has huge and growing expertise that will no doubt come to the forefront of UKEF financing in due course, as that transition happens.
UK-Israel Medical Research and Development
Before I answer that question, on the 75th anniversary of D-day it is worth our reflecting that we in this House are able to ask and answer questions in a free and democratic Parliament because of the sacrifices made by those who went before us.
Our dedicated team at the UK embassy in Tel Aviv actively promotes UK-Israel trade, and there is extensive collaboration on medical research between the UK and Israel. The UK-Israel Tech Hub, which is based at the embassy, helps to create tech and innovation partnerships across several sectors, including healthcare.
That is very good to hear. My right hon. Friend knows the state of Israeli technology—for example, all our chips, including the Intel fifth, sixth and seventh core chips, are developed in Israel for Intel in America. Magen David Adom, the equivalent of the Israeli Red Cross, has an app that provides live streaming, medical history and the location of people who use it, and that sort of innovation could be of great benefit to the UK. When we leave the European Union, what will be the advantages of doing business with Israel for both our nations?
There are huge advantages to our collaboration in or outside the European Union. To enable us to shine a light on the excellence that my hon. Friend mentions, on my recent trip to Israel I agreed with Prime Minister Netanyahu that we will jointly sponsor a Government high-level trade and investment conference that will enable us to show the world the best of what both countries have to offer in the sector mentioned by my hon. Friend.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on mentioning D-day. My father served in the Royal Engineers throughout the war, and my thoughts are of him and our brave troops today.
The Secretary of State is right to say that global trade can take place only in conditions of peace. Will he back the small group of MPs from across the House who are trying to create close relationships between university research in the UK and university research in Israel?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He is right—where we are able to take advantage of the innovation coming out of universities, we should make every attempt to do so. One reason that international investors give for putting money into the United Kingdom is the access to high-quality innovation that comes from the collaboration between industry and academia. Where we can take full advantage of that, including with bilateral relations elsewhere, we should do so.
I see it going from strength to strength, and as greater investment goes into both economies we will be able to scale up the innovation and creativity that is clearly shown in the tech sector. That will be of benefit not only to our two countries, but to the wider global economy.
I wish to associate myself fully with the Secretary of State’s remarks and pay tribute to the sacrifices of the fallen.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of Israel’s participation in the agreement on pan-Euro-Mediterranean cumulation on the trade in medical products between the UK and the EU? What progress have the Government made in replicating other agreements between the EU and Israel, including the 2013 EU-Israel agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products?
As the hon. Lady is aware, we reached a continuity agreement with Israel on 19 February, which will come into effect as we leave the European Union. The conformity assessment element of that is very important because of the number of generic prescriptions that the NHS takes advantage of that are produced by Israeli pharmaceutical companies. We will want to see as much continuity in all those arrangements as possible.
Global Free Trade
Free trade is a driver of economic growth that can trigger positive changes in a country’s economy, helping to raise incomes, create jobs and lift people out of poverty. The poorest countries have enjoyed some of the benefits of global free trade through receiving preferential access to the UK, the world’s fifth-biggest market.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. However, the risk of protectionism is growing and that threatens both free trade and the millions of jobs in developing countries that come with it. May I therefore urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues actively to oppose protectionism, particularly at the WTO and indeed when expressed in this Chamber, so that we can ensure that more of the world’s poorer citizens benefit by trading themselves out of poverty?
Those countries that have benefited from free and open trade, and enjoy the prosperity that we do today, have not only a duty economically to ensure the best outcomes but a moral duty to ensure that those in developing countries are able to benefit from the same trading systems that we have. Simply to say that we are more advanced and are pulling up the ladder behind us would be a betrayal of all those who have believed in free trade and practised it in recent years.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if it is going to end poverty, free trade also has to be fair trade? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that trade deals, whether through the WTO, the European Union or bilaterally, are checked against the sustainable development goals to make sure that they are poverty and development-proofed?
The Government take those elements extremely seriously, which is why we actually seek a closer alignment between our trade and development policies. For example, we are able to invest in countries to give them greater capability to add value to their primary produce, while at the same time potentially being able to take advantage of tariff reduction to increase market access. By bringing the two together, that can be synergistic for this country and for developing countries.
I certainly believe that the European Union’s common external tariff provides barriers to trade for many developing countries, so they are unable to take advantage of adding value to their primary produce. One of the advantages of leaving the European Union will be that Britain will have the ability to reduce tariffs to enable greater access for some of the poorest countries.
G20 Trade Ministers Meeting
At the upcoming G20 trade and digital economy ministerial meeting I will voice the UK’s continued support for the multilateral trading system. I will work with other G20 members to reduce trade tensions, support WTO reform, and advocate for new rules on e-commerce and services trade liberalisation.
Relations with Japan matter enormously. Our termination of the Anglo-Japanese treaty 1923 was probably one of the worst geo-strategic mistakes we ever made, propelling that country into autarchy and nationalism. Will the Secretary of State confirm that post Brexit my right hon. Friend’s priority will be to ensure a global free trade world, with us and Japan leading the way?
It is absolutely essential, particularly given the rise of protectionism globally, that we commit ourselves to a rules-based system based on the WTO. Of course, we have abilities to augment that by other regional relationships, which is why we have had the public consultation and the debate in Parliament about the potential accession to the CPTPP—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Japanese Government have been key in encouraging the United Kingdom to seek such a membership.
Seventy per cent. of the world’s poorest people live not in the poorest countries but in the middle-income countries, and the G20 has a vital role to encourage these people to work their way out of poverty through encouraging free trade. Does the Secretary of State agree?
I do agree, but if the G20 countries are intent on doing so, they need to reverse the recent trend of increasing non-tariff barriers to trade. The largest number of new barriers to trade introduced since the financial crisis have been in G20 countries, so they do not simply have to do the preaching; they have to do the practising, too.
International Education Strategy
Few do more than my hon. Friend to promote UK education. Since the strategy launch in March, we have established a cross-Government implementation group to turn the strategy’s ambitions into reality, including raising exports to £35 billion by 2030 and lifting student numbers coming here to 600,000. We will appoint an international education champion, and I will chair the education sector advisory group later this month as we build on our plans to deliver the strategy in partnership with the sector.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend will be very busy on that project in the coming weeks. What steps are being taken by his Department to ensure that UK institutions, such as the excellent universities in Manchester, can promote their strong educational brands as world-class centres of teaching and research?
My hon. Friend is right: the UK education sector is world leading. It has four of the top 10 universities in the world and 18 of the top 100. Institutions such as the universities in Manchester stand out for their multicultural campuses and international collaborations, driving global research into important areas such as childhood leukaemia. We plan to work with them and others in the sector to promote it across the world.
Inward Foreign Direct Investment
On almost every measure, the UK has strengthened its position as the most attractive investment destination in Europe since the EU referendum. According to “The fDi Report 2019”, published last month on 3 May, last year saw in-year greenfield investment in the UK grow by 19% to 1,278 projects—more, notably, than France and Germany combined. Despite the slowdown in the world economy, the latest figures show that the total stock of FDI in the UK reached a new high of £1.5 trillion, more than Germany, Poland and Spain combined.
I thank the Minister for that extremely positive and encouraging reply. Is he aware that much of King’s Lynn and west Norfolk’s economy is based on foreign direct investment from a number of firms from America and Europe and that we have some subsidiaries of truly world-class companies? What is his Department doing to liaise with those firms and learn the lessons about why they made that successful decision to come to the UK and Norfolk, in particular?
We have a supplier relationship management programme, where we have built relationships at ministerial and senior official level with the largest investors into the UK. It is notable that in 2017-18, the 2,072 FDI projects that landed in the UK created 75,968 new jobs. Investors are not put off by Brexit, but they are deterred by the threat of nationalisation by the Labour party. It is the fear that job creators most often express to me, which goes to show that Labour does not even need to be in power to damage British jobs and living standards. The threat of Labour is enough.
My father, David Thomas Morgan Davies, was head of economic development at the Welsh Office and got Ford to move to Bridgend in the ’70s, yet this week we find that it is announcing its closure at a time when Donald Trump is saying that we are going to have a great trade deal. Does the Minister agree that the people working in Ford who voted in good faith to leave the EU did not vote to leave their jobs and deserve a say on the final deal, so that they can think again and stay in the EU instead of losing their jobs and being decimated by the Americans?
The hon. Gentleman again wants to frustrate the will of his constituents. The automotive industry is in massive global flux, and trying to link every decision to Brexit leads people astray, just as he and so many of his colleagues do as they come up with these false arguments for a second referendum. The people want the thing they decided to be done and they do not want to hear weasel words from the Labour party, trying to say the opposite.
The export strategy sets out how the Government will encourage, inform, connect and finance UK businesses so that they can take advantage of the international demand for British goods and services. In February we launched the new export champion community, a network of the UK’s leading exporters which will encourage their fellow firms to start exporting and will offer practical advice.
I am thinking very much of the workers at Ford this morning, because my first job was as a foreman at Ford in Bridgend. I hope that a way through can be found.
When it comes to informing and connecting, the Department needs people on the ground, but its budget in Africa, where I am one of the trade envoys, is very small. It has excellent people, but not nearly enough of them. What is the Minister doing to persuade the Treasury to invest more in “feet on the ground” for our trade missions in Africa and across the world?
One of this Administration’s successes is the establishment of the Department for International Trade. For the first time, we have a dedicated, focused international economic Department that seeks to build our global prosperity. Africa, which is expected to double its GDP between 2015 and 2030 and whose population will nearly double in the not too distant future, is an area in which we need to up our engagement. That is why we are organising an African uplift this year, and we will continue to do more.
Implementing the export strategy also requires us to implement the cyber-security export strategy, which relies heavily on UK Export Finance for direct lending, export refinancing and so on. If cyber-security exports are a genuine strategic priority, what proportion of UK export financing will be committed to its support?
UK Export Finance responds to the market. It is there to ensure that no viable British export fails for lack of finance. Therefore, predicting, let alone fixing, the percentage that will be put into any particular sector—even if it is a strategic priority for the Government —would, I think, be a mistake.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion.
Let me take a moment to thank Baroness Fairhead for all her hard work during her time as the Minister for export promotion. She has been an invaluable member of my team: diligent, intelligent and 100% committed, and she will be sorely missed.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise. We are about to publish our first report, which draws attention to the huge potential for encouraging more female-owned businesses to export. What support can the Government give in that regard, particularly by identifying market-ready opportunities abroad for our female entrepreneurs?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does in this area. The Government’s export strategy is about breaking down barriers so that everyone can benefit from trade opportunities, but that includes understanding the distinct barriers faced by women. We will ensure that our independent policy is gender-responsive, and will actively seek to increase the role of women in trade and support female exporters in particular.
Today we remember with profound respect the importance of the multilateral alliance, and the sacrifices made 75 years ago today. Did the Secretary of State take the opportunity of the recent state visit involving those commemorations to express his dismay that UK companies might now fall foul of the Helms-Burton Act, which would subject British businesses and investors to unfair legal challenge in the United States simply because that country has a dispute with the people with whom our companies are doing business?
The extraterritorial jurisdiction that the US claims under the Act was declared unenforceable by the EU under a Council regulation which we have recently replicated in the UK, but does it not send a chill through the Secretary of State that by deciding to activate Title III, the US President is threatening companies based outside the US which are simply going about their legitimate business? Does that not make the Secretary of State question whether the great deal that President Trump says he is already discussing with the UK would be great for the UK, or just for the US?
I agree that there are issues around the whole concept of extra-territorial rules on trade, which is why of course it is fundamental that we get a strengthening of the rules-based system at the WTO in Geneva. That will help us deal with some of those issues, but where the United Kingdom believes we have a unique role to play—for example in upholding the joint comprehensive plan of action—we will continue to do so, and we will resist any attempts to force UK trading entities to behave in a way that we do not believe is legal.
I am delighted to answer that question again. Our team in the north-west works with international trade advisers and partners across Greater Manchester to enable local exporters to showcase their products and services overseas, including through bespoke trade missions, events and the DIT digital platform. I welcome my hon. Friend’s invitation. We have an established export hub that travels the length and breadth of the UK to give face-to-face support and guidance to first-time exporters. I will ask our team to contact my hon. Friend’s office to explore areas of collaboration and I encourage colleagues from across the House to invite the export hub to their area.
Of course post-EU it will be the Government and this Parliament that will determine what trade arrangements we have, not the European Union. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s passionate defence of the NHS: I trained and worked in the NHS as a doctor. Under this Government the NHS will not be for sale, and I would hope that is something we can agree across the House.
The whole issue of the WTO will be at the centre of what we discuss at the G20. The alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, which would suit only the very biggest and most powerful economies, and we would lose the potential to use trade as a means of getting countries out of poverty. The rules-based system is necessary because it applies to everyone—the richest and the poorest, the strongest and the weakest—and we must give every defence to it that we can.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend from Yorkshire who is right to highlight the outstanding contribution from the team in Barnsley. I will leave it to other Departments and Ministers to reply on whether or not a Yorkshire mayor would be the right thing to have, but what I can say is that we will continue to work together cross-party to promote business and employment across the Humber and Yorkshire region.
I visited Iceland just a couple of weeks ago and had constructive discussions with my counterpart there and with a range of businesses. We have already signed the continuity agreement, which I know will be of enormous benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituency and provide a great deal of comfort to those involved in those industries.
In Blaenau Gwent, we have been working with Fujitsu to encourage our young people to go into cyber-security, but I have learned that there is a real shortage of cyber-security specialists here in the UK. What support can the Government give to training in this key sector so that we can boost our exports for the future?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The value of UK cyber-security exports is set to rise from about £1.8 billion at the moment to £3.2 billion by 2022, and 800 companies are currently involved in the sector. He is right to say that one of the elements we will need to provide is the appropriate education, coming from the sector, to give people the appropriate skills as well as in-house training. The Government, through their wider agenda—the skills agenda, the apprenticeship scheme and what we are doing in the Department—are well aware of the point that he has raised. Without the skills, we will be unable to take advantage of the tech and knowledge that we have.
The Secretary of State was asked—
There should be no distinction at all between work that we do—
There should be no distinction at all between the work that we do on international development and the work that we do on climate and the emergency. We face a climate cataclysm, and if we get this wrong, 100 million more people will be in poverty. I would therefore like, as Secretary of State for International Development, to double the amount that our Department spends within our budget on climate and the environment, and to double the effort that the Department puts into that issue.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box in his new Cabinet role, and I warmly welcome his clear and genuine commitment to tackling the climate emergency. Does he accept, however, that there is a contradiction between the excellent work that his Department does in helping to mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency in developing countries and the way in which, through UK Export Finance, we continue to subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of billions of pounds? Will he use his leadership in Government, in whatever form, to ensure that he pushes to stop those fossil fuel subsidies?
This is of course a very serious challenge. That is fundamentally an issue for the Department for International Trade, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that it is extremely important, when we think about an environment and climate strategy for the Government, to be fully joined up, particularly in relation not only to what the DIT does but to what we do through the Commonwealth and through CDC’s investments to ensure that they tie in with our climate and environment priorities.
The $100 billion climate finance commitment made by developed countries including the UK is separate from the international aid commitment, as climate finance is an additional challenge to development, yet the UK’s climate finance currently comes entirely from the aid budget, displacing spending on health, education and life-saving needs. The Minister has just explained that this will come from existing funds, so how are the Government exploring alternative sources of climate finance to take the pressure off the aid budget?
There is a range of climate finance initiatives that we could pursue, including green bonds here in the United Kingdom, but fundamentally, all the investments we make in health, education and economic development need to be proofed for the environment and climate. The distinction between these two things is often deeply misleading because, as the World Bank has just pointed out, if we do not get the climate and environment right, we will have 100 million more people living in poverty.
The United Nations framework for combating climate change has three pillars: mitigation; adaptation; and loss and damage. Does the Secretary of State agree with the United Nations framework convention on climate change that loss and damage to 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?
These are difficult choices that we have to make. We are currently leading in the United Nations on the resilience pillar. It is very important, and I think everybody in this House—indeed, in the country—would want to ensure that the next COP summit is hosted in London next year, so that we can take on the baton from Paris; but in order to do that we need to show a distinctive contribution. It is in resilience that we shall be leading the UN discussions, both in Abu Dhabi and then in the UN in September. I think that is where the UK should position itself.
Foreign National Offenders
The UK aid budget is already building the capacity of security and justice institutions in developing countries. That includes support for improved prison conditions, which can facilitate the return of foreign national offenders. Since 2010, we have removed more than 48,000 FNOs from the UK, with over 5,000 removed in 2018-19.
We spend almost £1 billion a year on incarcerating more than 9,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, many from developing countries to which we already give international assistance. Given that it is far cheaper to build a prison to requisite standards in those countries than here, does it not make sense to use our international aid budget to send these people home, using the funds from the Department for International Development?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) knows very well that official development assistance is dispersible only in accordance with the rules set out by the OECD. There is a good argument for building prisons, in order to remove prisoners from the UK. However, ODA funds could not be used for such a purpose, since the primary intention of ODA funds is to render assistance. I would suggest very strongly that my hon. Friend speaks to our right hon. and hon. colleagues in the Home Office and the Department of Justice.
That is quite a helpful answer. Supporting the justice systems in developing countries is hugely important, but we should not make any move towards the notion of tied aid or a quid pro quo, such as was suggested in the substantive question; that would be worrying. Will the Minister make it clear that that is not a policy of the Department for International Development?
It is not a question of that not being a DFID policy; such a thing would be proscribed by the OECD and its development advisory committee. The proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering has merit, but it would not be proper for international development funds to be used for such a thing, and if we did so, it would not count towards the 0.7% to which we are committed.
Our strategic vision for gender equality focuses on ending violence against women and girls, on girls’ education, on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and on women’s empowerment.
I am so pleased that my hon. Friend can support the “12 years of quality education” campaign that we are leading around the world, together with France and Canada. It is an incredibly important part of development, because evidence suggests that for every year that a girl spends in school, her lifetime earnings increase by 10%. Hon. Members can see how powerful that is in terms of prosperity for our world.
The Women Deliver conference heard this week from Sawsan Al Refai, a Yemeni development researcher and activist, who said:
“It is important for Yemeni women to be at the table, but we need to make sure Yemeni women’s issues are at the table too.”
What is the Minister doing to achieve that?
I am pleased to say that my ministerial colleague Baroness Sugg has been at that conference in Vancouver this week. The hon. Lady highlights a very important issue, because the evidence and the research that we have done suggests that involving women in peace processes very significantly increases the chances of their being successful and sustainable.
Does the Minister agree that if we want to make women more equal worldwide, we have to free them from poverty? And does she agree that a road death or serious injury can plunge a family into long-term poverty? Does she agree that we must act now to stop this greatest epidemic of our times, which kills more women and children worldwide?
May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s tireless work on road safety around the world? He and I have met to discuss this issue, which is one of the biggest killers around the world. Of course, it is a killer of women and girls as well, and often of girls on their way to school. We are thinking about how we can best make sure that, where there is a need to develop growth—where the World Bank is providing finance, for example—the road safety elements are taken into account from the beginning.
In its latest annual review, the CDC claims that, of the jobs it supports, only 32% are for women and 68% are for men. Does the Minister agree it is not acceptable that over twice as many men are being supported with jobs via these investments. Given her Department’s commitment to gender equality, will she take this up directly with the CDC?
We should rightly recognise the important work that the CDC does in creating these jobs in the first place. This is a vital way in which the UK can be one of the significant investors in some of the poorest and most difficult to reach economies in the world. The equality that we are almost beginning to enjoy here in our workplace has not yet reached many of these developing countries. The hon. Lady raises a sensible and valid point that I will be happy to take up.
As China and other developing countries have proved so much over the last decades, the real key to unlocking people’s potential and eliminating poverty is, of course, through economic development, and trade is central to that. The great benefit of trade, and of free trade in particular, is that it unlocks the potential not just for consumers and businesses in developing countries but for countries such as our own, too. That is why our programmes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and, more recently, Jordan are heavily focused on trade.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of local companies in Southend are very keen to be involved in trade and development, including Borough plating and Jota Aviation? Does he see any further business opportunities once we have left the European Union?
First, I pay tribute to those businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is incredibly important that, through every bit of Government policy, we support small and medium-sized enterprises in Britain. There is huge potential around the world. I would just warn, however, when people start talking about a no-deal Brexit, that we need to be very careful in specifying what kind of tariff levels people are talking about and with whom they are negotiating, because certainly farmers in my constituency, the automotive sector and the aviation sector will suffer terribly if we end up with the wrong arrangements.
On that point, we know that Donald Trump favours a no-deal Brexit so that we turn our back on the EU market and sit at his feet—the American economy is seven times our size. We know that Donald Trump does not agree with climate change, but will the Secretary of State ensure that we focus on investing in renewable technologies via overseas development, rather than continuing to subsidise fossil fuels through export credit guarantees, so that we can build a sustainable world together?
This is a very big challenge. There is huge potential for the British economy and, of course, for the world and the climate emergency in getting involved in new technologies. To take one example, I would very much like to put considerably more money from DFID into research and development in renewable technologies at British universities. If we can develop the next generation of solar film—light spectrum technology —it can convince China not to build the next generation of coal-fired stations. That will make a huge difference to the climate and the world, but also to British research.
I strongly disagree; I think it is incredibly important that we have zero-tariff, zero-quota access to European markets, to defend the future of the British economy. We are talking about the climate, which is central to this Department. If Europe needs 300 million electric cars over the next few decades, I would like them to be manufactured in the United Kingdom. We have huge potential in battery technology; we can make the planet a better place; and we can create great jobs for British businesses, and the way to do that is to have the access to those markets.
Civil Society: Lesotho
There are strong links between the UK and civil society in Lesotho. Our support for civil society includes the volunteering for development programme, through which we are working in Lesotho to support young people’s rights, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
First, may I thank the Minister for the recent meeting we had on the subject of Lesotho and thank the Government for restoring the high commissioner in Lesotho? Will she work with the high commissioner to build links with civil society in Lesotho, because of the difficulties that exist in terms of the Lesotho Government and corruption? Massive links between Wales and Lesotho have been built up over many years, and we want to help the good people of Lesotho to improve their lives and not be impeded by payments to Ministers in Lesotho, which are causing massive problems.
Let me put on record our appreciation of the strong links that exist not only, as the hon. Gentleman says, between Wales and Lesotho, but between Wrexham and Lesotho, and of his commitment to them. He is right to welcome the fact that our new high commissioner, Anne Macro, whom I know he has had the opportunity to meet, has now presented her credentials to the Lesotho Government. This will provide an opportunity for those strengthened links with not only the Government but civil society in Lesotho.
At the same time as we were to reopen the new high commission in Maseru, an announcement was made about Eswatini. Will the Minister update the House on the progress being made on the high commission in Eswatini?
I am pleased to tell the House that the progress is on track. Although we are not quite ready to announce the name of the high commissioner in Eswatini, I believe someone has been identified for the post. So good progress is being made, and I am encouraging our Foreign Secretary to go to southern Africa to open these two new high commissions later this year.
Antimicrobial resistance is a major global health threat and tackling it is a UK priority. DFID works alongside the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments to support research on and development of new antimicrobials and diagnostic tools and to reduce the need for antimicrobials by preventing infection and enabling prompt diagnosis and treatment.
The O’Neill review makes the case that high-income countries should help low-income countries do important mitigation works in this area, with one example being reducing pollution from pharmaceutical production facilities that give rise to superbugs, which can travel round the world, including to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend outline the work we are carrying out in this area?
Yes, but before doing so, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work and interest in this area. He may be familiar with this, but I would like to draw his attention to the Access to Medicine Foundation, which is jointly funded by DFID, the Dutch Government and the Gates Foundation. It focuses on low-income and middle-income countries, and I particularly draw his attention to its antimicrobial resistance benchmark of 30 pharmaceutical companies, which prompts the pharmaceutical industry to do much more to bring AMR under control, including by reducing pharmaceutical pollution from the undertakings it operates.
In some countries, 80% of the total consumption of antibiotics is in the animals sector. What are we doing to support the World Health Organisation’s recommendations on stopping really important antibiotics being used for growth promotion and disease prevention in animals, rather than for their proper use, which is to treat disease?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right on that. The use of antimicrobials for food animals in this country is falling, and of course the use of antimicrobials for veterinary purposes features in the Government’s strategy, “Tackling antimicrobial resistance”, which was published in January. She will also be aware that it is important to address this particular aspect of AMR, not least to address our commitments under sustainable development goal 3, which is to do with health and wellbeing.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis kills around a quarter of a million people a year, and there are half a million new cases a year and rising. Do the Government accept that full replenishment of the Global Fund will be essential if this global health threat is to be beaten?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight TB. He will be aware of the various funds to which the UK contributes to address this global scourge, and that includes contributions to the Global Fund’s efforts to discover 150 million undiscovered cases of TB worldwide, on which it has made some inroads. My right hon. Friend will not expect me to commit here and now to the sixth replenishment, but he will be aware that we have been at the forefront of encouraging countries to do so. I expect us to be positive—as we were for the fifth replenishment—in Lyon in October.
The UK was one of the first countries to respond to the crisis, providing up to £36 million. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal raised another £39 million. That has delivered rapid, life-saving relief, supporting food, emergency shelter, clean water and health equipment for more than 500,000 people across the region affected by the cyclone. We are now focusing on longer-term recovery, and the UK made a further £12.5 million available from existing resources as part of the recent Beira pledging conference.
I declare my interests in southern Africa.
Does the Minister agree that one lesson we need to take away from this appalling cyclone is the need to concentrate on longer-term flood and sea defences? Will she elaborate a bit on what her Department is doing in that respect?
Yes. Last time we had exchanges on this subject, I said that I felt it would be impractical to build a sea wall along what is a long and vulnerable coastline, but we are learning that a lot of things do work well. For example, we are making sure that we work on soil erosion and in terms of mangroves, which can provide resistance. There is a lot to do, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to increase our research and commitment in this policy area.
Small Charities: Funding
In the end, the Department for International Development is of course spending taxpayers’ money. To work out how to spend it in a way that resonates with the British people, we must get much better at focusing on the small charities that British citizens back. The way to do that is to learn, from examples such as the lottery fund, how to provide more support for small charities. We will push ahead with that work to make sure that small charities flourish.
The Secretary of State is an extraordinarily brilliant and cerebral fellow. He has not quite yet got the hang of the rather more prosaic matter of the announcement of the desire to group, but I shall do it for him. The Secretary of State wishes to group this question with Question 12. I know that these are comparatively footling matters, but in procedural terms, they are not footling. Footling is a very good word, I think.
Would it form part of a preamble, Mr Speaker?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the support he already gives through his Department, but many Members will have charities in their constituencies, such as Signal in Shropshire, or will individually promote charities, such as the Hotcourses Foundation. What more can my right hon. Friend do to support British charities that do excellent work in Africa?
Two quick points: first, we must understand that Signal in Shropshire, which does work on hearing loss, is a really important symbol of the kind of work that small charities can do, and it is an inspiration to all of us in this country to invest more in technology to deal with hearing loss. We are terribly bad with our technology investments on this issue; we could transform it. Secondly, I return to the idea that we need officials from DFID to work much more closely with these charities to make it easier for them to get our support.
First, it is shocking to hear this from the Archbishop of Erbil. We should pay tribute to what the Kurdistan Regional Government have been doing to look after an incredible number of displaced people in Iraq, but it is certainly true that Christians and Yazidis have suffered terribly through the fighting in Syria and Iraq and through persecution led by Daesh in particular. This Department must do more to protect Christians around the world if they are vulnerable, marginalised and abused.
The primary purpose of the prosperity fund is reducing poverty through inclusive economic growth. Departments that execute prosperity fund programmes are responsible for ensuring that they meet the requirements of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015.
Between 2016 and 2018, the prosperity fund financed 16 fossil fuel projects across the world, including two in fracking. Is not this obsession with fossil fuels, despite the fine words of the Secretary of State, just confirmation that this Government could not care less about addressing the climate emergency, which is, after all, one of the biggest threats to alleviating world poverty?
These funds are obviously administered by other Government Departments in compliance with the wording of the Act, so I am not sighted on the specifics of what the hon. Gentleman refers to. He will know that we do need to work together as a world to reduce emissions. One of the ways in which we are doing that is to encourage people to power past coal. Often we can do that by substituting less polluting fossil fuels. It may be in that context that these disbursements were made.
Global Fund: AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
The Global Fund directs its resources to countries with the highest disease burden and the least ability to pay and within countries to key vulnerable and marginalised populations. The UK was the second largest donor towards the fund’s fifth replenishment, which is currently tackling the three big killers that the hon. Gentleman cites in his question.
Will the Minister tell me what assessment he has made of the work of the Global Fund in co-ordination with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and how his Department is working to foster this collaboration so that the most vulnerable communities receive all the healthcare that they need?
Given the nature of the conditions that the Global Fund principally deals with, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise Gavi. The UK is the biggest contributor to Gavi for a very good reason—vaccination works. In dealing with those three key killers, it is clearly vital that we focus on prevention. That means not just vaccination, and Gavi does not simply vaccinate people, but dealing with a range of public health issues that are necessary in order to prevent infection happening from the beginning. This Government fully support both Gavi and the Global Fund.
There is one big issue at the centre of everything that we do in development, which is climate and the environment. This is a global problem—it is not just a domestic problem—and it needs a global response, which is why the Department for International Development is central to that response. That is why I would like to double the amount that this Department spends on climate and the environment, and why I would make sure that every policy in our Department is properly assessed for its impact on climate and the environment, and it is on that that we will be judged over the next generation as a Department and as a nation.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and wholeheartedly agree with what he just said on climate change. Indeed, climate change has affected Somaliland. As he will know, I am secretary to the all-party group on Somaliland and we recently welcomed the Finance Minister. Can he say what steps his Department is taking to support the upcoming parliamentary elections in Somaliland and also the talks between Somaliland and Somalia? Will he meet the all-party group to discuss what we can do to support that fantastic country?
First, I pay huge tribute to the work of the APPG on Somaliland. As all Members of the House will know, Somaliland is a remarkable success story. Somalia itself has been through a very difficult situation, and Somaliland is a small miracle in a sea of difficulty. We worked very closely with Somaliland on the last presidential elections and we will be supporting the new parliamentary elections. On my last visit to Somaliland, I was lucky enough to meet the gentleman who is now President. There is much more we can do and I would be delighted to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss all those issues.
It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to meet representatives of HUGS in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As the Secretary of State said, we do have a small charities challenge fund, and we need to make it easier for small charities such as HUGS to be able to access some of that funding. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend’s constituents.
May I start by saying how much I am enjoying following the Secretary of State’s novel approach to his party’s leadership contest? He certainly stands out in a field of populists, potty mouths and parliamentary proroguers. I also know that if I do not get satisfactory answers today, I can find him on the high street, at a botanical garden or at #rorywalks. Some of his fellow leadership contenders have called for his Department to be scrapped and the aid budget to be slashed, and his predecessor said that spending 0.7% of national income was unsustainable. Will he take this opportunity to defend an independent DFID and 0.7%, and perhaps call on his fellow contenders to make their positions clear?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his remarks; his endorsement is probably the nail in the coffin of my campaign. I know that I am meant to be campaigning on being the person who can convince people who do not normally vote Conservative to vote Conservative, but this may be going a little far. The commitment to 0.7% is a Conservative commitment that we put into statute, and we are deeply proud of it. At a time when we are facing a climate emergency, to spend not 7% or 1%, but 0.7% of our GNI, makes entire sense. We are facing an emergency to the climate and to people that could cost trillions of pounds if we get it wrong so this spending is exactly the right thing to do, and I am delighted that both sides of the House are following the Conservative lead on the commitment to 0.7%.
I am grateful for that answer. The growing debt crisis in developing countries, with debt repayment increasing by 85% between 2010 and 2018, is of growing concern, and it is a crisis that diverts money away from vital public services. Yesterday Labour announced plans for an overseas loans transparency Act. Will the Secretary of State join us and call on the Chancellor to commit to full transparency on loans to foreign Governments?
Having gone party political, I will now say that I am very happy to reach out and talk about this matter. Clearly, finance is key for development and the City of London is one of the major players. If we can get the right kind of capital into Africa, for example—where there is a huge amount of labour, with 18 million people a year coming on to the labour force—and get that capital connected, we can transform those economies, but we can do so only if these are good loans. The problem at the moment is that too much money has gone in that has not been invested in infrastructure or productivity, but which has instead found its way into some rather dubious bank accounts. It is in the interests of Britain, the City, the Government and the whole nation to ensure that the financing we put into development really drives development. I would be delighted to sit down and discuss this with the hon. Gentleman.
I feel a little bit cheeky standing up to answer this question because the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), made a trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week to see the response on the ground. Essentially, there are three issues in relation to Ebola. The first is co-ordination issues for the World Health Organisation. The second is vaccination resources. The third is political issues between communities and the Government of the DRC. We have now put a considerable amount of resources in and we are getting the vaccines in on the ground. We have put more British staff on the ground to ensure that we can work with the UN, and in Kinshasa we are really focusing on ensuring that we can overcome the political problems that are driving communities away from the vaccination programme. It is a huge crisis, but Britain is stepping up and so, I am glad to say, are the United States.
First, we have to leverage our position. We are almost the major donor—proportionally, certainly—to the World Bank, and we need to leverage that kind of support. There is, though, a bigger point: it is not just about money. For example, British scientists are doing something really interesting at Kew Gardens looking at drought-resistant crops, particularly coffee and cocoa. In somewhere such as Ghana, climate change could wipe out a large sector of the economy. We need to get shade trees in. We need new crops and irrigation techniques. This is of course about resources, but it is also a great deal about using British and international research and development and science to solve these problems in, as the hon. Lady said, the global south.
First, I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend for the passion and commitment that he and many others have put into this issue. We do work on this. We have been particularly focused on the Nepali-Indian border, across which there is terrible trafficking taking place. These are very difficult things to deal with. We are talking about global crime. It involves working with communities in Nepal to educate women and identify instances of trafficking and working with the police and customs and ultimately finding an approach that stops both the misery there and our role in the UK in propagating that misery. I really am delighted that he has taken such a lead on this.
We are very clear that we do not tie aid spending. There may be situations in which it is beneficial. For example, we have just put £70 million into British universities to find a universal cure for snake bites. That is a very good example of how we can solve a global public health problem through investment in British universities, but that is not tied aid; it is because British research and development, particularly the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, is the leader in this area.[Official Report, 10 June 2019, Vol. 661, c. 4MC.] We can do this in many areas without feeling ashamed of ourselves, benefiting Britain and the world, and without tying our aid.
Yes. The absolutely greatest example of this is Scotland and Malawi. It has mapped thousands of amazing Scottish voluntary organisations working in Malawi and uncovered work that we had not begun to understand. It is a fantastic idea. I would love to see different regions of the UK taking the lead in partnerships with different countries and my Department understanding much better what British charities are doing. If we can get that right, we can get the enthusiasm and soul of the British people behind international development, which will ultimately be the best guarantee of the 0.7%.
Yes. As my right hon. Friend said, the Scotland-Malawi partnership is a very strong one, as the hon. Gentleman has shown with his question. In the recent elections, the results of which we have welcomed, some two thirds of the parliamentary seats in Malawi changed hands. I am not sure if they learned that level of turnover from recent experience in Scotland not so long ago.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 10 June will include:
Monday 10 June—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on the mineworkers pension scheme. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 11 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on the UK voluntary national review on the sustainable development goals.
Wednesday 12 June—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on inequality and social mobility, followed by a debate on discrimination in sport. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 13 June—Debate on a motion on social housing, followed by a general debate on making Parliament a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 June—The House will not be sitting.
May I, on this particular occasion, extend the best wishes and thoughts of the whole House to all who are assembled in Normandy today to reflect on and commemorate the D-day landings?
It has been a very crowded field, with many runners and riders, but here I am as the new Leader of the House, and also as the new Lord President of the Council, which means that I have become a leader without an election and a lord without having to be elevated to the peerage. For having quietly achieved that during these tumultuous times, I think I should be congratulated.
Indeed I have.
I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). In so doing, Mr Speaker, may I say that I hope that we can continue in the warm and familiar spirit that characterised your relationship with my predecessor, and hope that I can benefit from your continued indulgence? My right hon. Friend travelled the length and breadth of our country to press the case for our Parliament. She pressed hard to protect the very fabric of our Parliament with all her work around restoration and renewal. She fought for the piloting of proxy votes to make this place a more family-friendly environment. She worked particularly hard to change the culture in the Palace of Westminster so that there should be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind. We owe her a great debt.
I would also like briefly to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), who stood in at such short notice on the previous occasion and performed with such oratorical brilliance and dexterity. His are big shoes to fill, not least because he has very large feet.
For my part, I will strive to be an effective voice for Parliament in Government and to conduct myself in a consensual and inclusive manner. My door will always be open to Members right across this House—especially, of course, to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and all those who speak for their parties and the Committees of this House.
Beyond these walls, I will play my part to defend our democracy, in a world in which the public square has too often become a place of misinformation and abuse. This House is precious, yet sometimes fragile. When it is degraded, we are diminished, but when it is at its best, we are all enriched.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position and congratulate him on his appointment. Perhaps we can talk later about whether he is going to give a speech every time he announces the business; I am happy to have the extra time too. I thank him for giving the forthcoming business and for restoring our Opposition day. I am pleased that he is starting off in the right way—long may that continue.
Can the Leader of the House confirm the dates for the summer and conference recesses? I ask that not because I do not want to be here—we do want to be here—but because I have heard rumours that the House might rise on 19 July. There is a new timetable for the election of the Conservative leader, and we need to ensure that the House is not in recess when the new leader—effectively the new Prime Minister—takes up his or her post. Does he agree that it is vital for the House to have an immediate opportunity to test whether the new leader of the Conservative party commands the confidence of the House?
I remind the Leader of the House that he holds democracy in his hands, which is a very precious thing. This is a minority Government, and he needs to respect that. Can he confirm the status of the confidence and supply agreement and whether it will have to be renegotiated with the new Prime Minister? I am sure that he has been briefed, but I will give him the figure again: it is 715 days since the Queen’s Speech. This is now the longest continuous parliamentary Session since the Acts of Union in 1800.
The Leader of the House is the voice of the House in Government. Can he assure the House that he agrees that Parliament is sovereign, and that Parliament has voted against a no-deal scenario? I say that because there are many candidates up and down the country coming here to have coffee and tea and talk to their colleagues, and they are saying various things. I am sure that he still respects his former colleague at the Treasury, the Chancellor, who said that the Conservative party is at risk of losing its “reputation for fiscal responsibility” as candidates fighting for the top job have made “unfunded” spending and tax-cutting pledges. Are those meaningful or un-meaningful pledges? Are they new policies? We need to know. As a former Treasury Minister, he knows that when someone makes a public spending commitment, they have to honour it. One of them is even talking about repealing the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Given that they have all been in the Cabinet, why did they not do those things at the time? Does that mean they are not very good at persuading their colleagues?
This Government are failing in their duty to bring forward important legislation. The Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill all need their Report stage, and the Trade Bill is stuck in ping-pong. Can the Leader of the House update us on when those Bills are likely to get their Report stage and when the Trade Bill will return to the House?
The House has resolved that there is a climate and environment emergency. I do not know about other Members, but I am already getting emails from people about the Environment Bill. The Environment Bill is required to put in place a domestic structure of environmental governance, but it is still to be published and is only in draft form. The draft Bill seems to exclude our cultural heritage from future environmental improvement plans. When the Leader of the House is having strategy meetings with his candidate, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, can he ask him when the Environment Bill is likely to come before the House?
All the while, the UK manufacturing sector contracted in May for the first time since July 2016. The justice system is under threat while barristers are considering strike action in a dispute over legal aid rates and prosecution fees; that is about the rule of law. A shortage of qualified staff has become hospitals’ most pressing concern. The Royal College of Radiologists recently said that the shortage of cancer doctors “puts care at risk”. Also at risk is the community of Scunthorpe and, we learn today, the community of Bridgend.
Also at risk are children in Northamptonshire. Yesterday two Northamptonshire serious case reviews on the murder of two toddlers were published and widely reported, and they said that there was a serious failure, after child protection workers, police and the local authority missed crucial opportunities to intervene. An Ofsted inspection last year said that social workers and staff are inundated and are “drowning in work”. When will the Government make a statement on this horrific incident, and what steps are being taken to ensure it never happens again?
Mr Speaker, you can see why we need such debates. Given that the Government do not have much business or refuse to put business before this House, could the Opposition have that time because we could put forward how we see the future of this country? That is important because—and I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying this—on this day more than ever, we want to remember and thank the 22,442 British troops who gave their lives over the summer of 1944. They worked together to ensure, and they still ensure, peace and our freedom, fighting antisemitism, racism, fascism and injustice. Let us get this place and this country working so that we honour their sacrifice.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and particularly for welcoming me to my new role. I very much look forward to the great pleasure of working closely with her in the weeks and months ahead.
The hon. Lady asked several questions. She initially asked about recess and when we will be coming forward with the dates for recess. These matters are being considered in the normal manner at the moment, and I will come to the Dispatch Box to announce those dates in due course.
The hon. Lady raised an interesting question about a vote of no confidence and whether such a vote would be permissible. I think the desire to put forward such a motion is really something that originates from her side of the House, so I would suggest she speaks to the leader of her own party. I am aware that there is a lack of communication between the Back Benches and the Front Bench, but I did not realise that there is a lack of communication between the Front Bench and the leader of her own side. She would do well to speak to him in that respect.
The hon. Lady also raised the matter of the confidence and supply agreement. It is of course an agreement between the Conservative and Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party, and I am therefore confident that it will not be affected by any change in the leadership of the Conservative and Unionist party.
The hon. Lady specifically asked whether Parliament is ultimately sovereign. Of course, the answer to that is very simple: it is yes. Parliament is the sovereign body within our constitution.
The hon. Lady raised—rather bravely, I thought—the issue of tax cuts, among other measures. That comes from a party that has pledged unfunded spending commitments approaching £1 trillion in total, and one can only imagine the kind—[Interruption.] I am looking at the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who is smirking away at the thought of all those tax cuts, which he knows he will be bringing in in the course of time. Meanwhile, our party has of course reduced tax left, right and centre, including the latest increase in the personal allowance in the last Budget, taking up to 3 million or 4 million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether since 2010.
The hon. Lady quite rightly turned to the issue of legislation and the Bills that will come before this House. I would remind her that no less than 44 Bills have received Royal Assent in this Session. To go back to her point about tax, that includes the last Finance Bill, which reduced tax for no less than 32 million hard-working people up and down our country.
Perhaps I should finish by saying that it is our joint desire to get business through the House—it seems we both have such a desire—and I very much look forward to working closely with the hon. Lady to make sure that the views and aspirations of those right across this House are fully met.
I join others in paying tribute to the outgoing Leader of the House and congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he find time for a debate on future relations between the United Kingdom and the Maldives? The House will be delighted to know that, following the election of the new President, Ibrahim Solih, the warring factions have joined together and the Majlis is now sitting. The Maldives wants to rejoin the Commonwealth, and it would very much like a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question—I know he is a welcome and regular fixture on these occasions, and I look forward to future questions from him. The Government welcome the growing bilateral relations with the Maldives and President Solih’s commencement of steps to rejoin the Commonwealth. My hon. Friend may wish to raise that issue with Foreign Office Ministers during the next Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on 25 June.
I thank the new Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, and I warmly welcome him to his post. He is only the fourth Leader of the House that I have encountered over the past four years, but I have a feeling that he will be about the best yet. In that spirit, given all the unallotted days that are kicking about, and the lack of business, how about giving the SNP a debate one of these days? Perhaps that could be a starting gift for him to offer the Scottish National party.
The post of Leader of the House is usually offered to those in government who are firmly on their way up, or decidedly on their way down. I will leave it up to the right hon. Gentleman to decide which category he falls into. However, looking at this poor excuse for business, it is not a new Leader of the House that is required—it’s the sandman. We do not need a business statement; we need a cup of Horlicks laced with Mogadon. This business purgatory is where zombies go to die. We have only another six or so weeks of this nonsense to go before we can all go away and do something much more interesting.
May I fully associate myself with what has been said about D-day? This 75th anniversary has caught the whole nation’s imagination, and we pay tribute to all those engaged in providing the freedom that we enjoy in this House today.
I bet Government Members are delighted to be back—that was a good and productive week off! Absolutely and totally gubbed in the euro elections, their Brexit going nowhere, and Farage pulling all the strings once again in their dilapidated party. May we have a debate about beauty contests—specifically, no-deal Brexiteer beauty contests? SNP Members are enjoying watching those Tory beauties strutting their stuff, with their mad plans about the degree of just how disastrous their Brexit will be. One thing that has come out of their hustings thus far, however, is the suggestion that this Parliament could be prorogued to facilitate their no-deal Brexit. The first thing that the new Leader of the House must say this morning is that that subversion of democracy will never be considered or entertained, and that he has no intention of suspending democracy in this country to facilitate that no-deal Brexit.
Lastly, may we have a debate about anything—something with some meaning? We have all this to look forward to when we come back again to hear another business statement that says exactly the same thing next week. Welcome to your new life, Leader of the House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I have observed him from a distance over many weeks performing as he has done—he normally has a tightly knit script of prose that he rattles through at great speed, and we were not disappointed in that respect this morning. With his comments about zombies and other references there was something more of the Rab C. Nesbitt than the Rabbie Burns about it on this occasion—[Interruption.] I do have a soft spot for the hon. Gentleman, so he will make good headway with me on a general basis.
On SNP Opposition days, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Standing Orders are clear that there should be 20 Opposition day debates in any one Session, with 17 for the largest Opposition party, and three for the second largest, which is the Scottish National party. Those days have already been allocated and occurred, but in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s generous opening remarks, I would be happy to sit down with him, at a time of his convenience, to discuss that matter, and perhaps even the vexed issue that he raised about whether I am on my way up or on my way down. Only time will tell.
The hon. Gentleman raised a specific point about prorogation, which of course is ultimately in the gift of the Queen. I think Her Majesty should be kept out of the politics of our Parliament, and I am sure that matter will be in the forefront for those who toy with such decisions in the future. He also mentioned the Bills being introduced, and I think many fine Bills are coming forward in this House, as well as many important debates. It should be borne in mind that debate does not just take place on the Floor of the House, and important work is also carried out in many important Committees.
It is good to see another one of my protégés climb the greasy pole.
Martin Luther King said that law and order exist for the purposes of justice, but the injustice of disorder hurts people and spoils places as too many yobs and crooks penalise, torment, terrorise and taunt their innocent and vulnerable neighbours. Small shops are targeted in particular. The Federation of Independent Retailers said recently that the cost of crimes against the convenience sector alone is £246 million. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on retail crime, which does so much harm in all our constituencies? Then, perhaps, as well as being a Leader, as well as being a President, as well as being a Lord, he will, like me, become a champion of the shopkeepers.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman was legendarily eloquent and mellifluous, but it is extremely important that the proceedings of this House are intelligible to all those observing them. Therefore, for the purposes of clarification and the avoidance of doubt, I inform people that before the Leader of the House attained the giddy heights in the political stratosphere, which is he proud to announce today he has done, he did serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). I fancy that the right hon. Member thinks that that was the apogee of the career achievements of the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride).
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think it is very important to put that important matter clearly on the record. May I say what a privilege and honour it was to have served as my right hon. and gallant Friend’s PPS? I always found him to be visionary, wise, and just occasionally present in the 21st century. [Laughter.] I did stress the word “occasionally”, Mr Speaker, in that context.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his important point about crime and our local communities. We tend to see local communities and high streets through the prism of taxation and, in particular, business rates, but he is right to raise the other issues that impinge on the health of our high streets and communities. If he were to suggest this issue for a Backbench Business debate to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, it might well find favour.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role and look forward to working with him as we try to sort out parliamentary business over the coming weeks and months.
I very much echo the comments about D-day and remember the terrible sacrifice that was made as the liberation of Europe began on 6 June 1944. I wonder whether we could also spare a moment to remember those, like my dad, who were anxiously waiting to be liberated in prisoner of war camps across Germany and other parts of Europe. They had done their bit, but were captured in doing so. They could not perform any further heroics during the war, but they were still serving their country in prisoner of war camps.
The likelihood is that there will be two days of estimates day debates in early July. The Backbench Business Committee is anxiously waiting for applications for estimates day debates by Friday 14 June. The Committee will make its deliberations on Tuesday 18 June and we will then have an idea of what four estimates day debates will take place on those two days in early July.
Finally, last night I attended a function to celebrate the Open University’s 50th birthday. The OU is still a real chance for those already in work or those who missed out on studying for higher level qualifications after school, and for many to requalify in the fast-moving and ever-changing world of work. There is, however, a sting in the tail, which is that we have witnessed a massive reduction in the number of students from the UK signing up to courses because of tuition fees for adult learners. May we have a debate in Government time, so we can highlight the ever-growing need for lifelong learning and the great potential the OU still offers to people across this country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and very much look forward to working closely with him in the coming period. I echo his sentiments regarding D-day and the reference he made to his family and prisoners of war at the time of the second world war. It is important to reflect not only on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the men and women who fought in the war on our behalf, but on all those who were damaged in many different ways by it: men, women and children not just in our country, but in many countries around the world.
The hon. Gentleman said that he seeks applications for estimates days by his deadline of Friday 14 June, so that the Backbench Business Committee can deliberate on 18 June and decide the four debates. If he requires any assistance from me as Leader of the House in ensuring that that process is followed through efficiently, I am entirely at his disposal.
The hon. Gentleman makes important points about the Open University, which has been a great success for our country, and I pay tribute to the Labour party, because the commitment of the former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, saw the birth of that important institution. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) is an alumni of the Open University, and it is good to see her on the Front Bench today.
As for a debate on the matter, perhaps the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) can consider that as a Backbench Business debate. He can ask himself that important question, deliberate and wrestle with the pros and cons and perhaps even come up with the answer that it would indeed be appropriate for a Backbench Business Committee debate.
Parliament matters, and it seems to me entirely proper that a new Prime Minister should face the House before any recess. If the Government fall on a vote of confidence in a newly elected Conservative Prime Minister, I would expect that Prime Minister to take us to the country and return with a substantial majority. We should not be afraid of Parliament; we should encourage it. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the new Prime Minister will be in place to face Parliament before the recess?
The answer to that question is an interplay between when the contest within the Conservative party for the new leader is due to conclude and when the recess is announced to fall. As we certainly do not know the answer to the latter, and I am not sure that we entirely know the answer to the former, I think that the answer, unfortunately, is no, not necessarily.
There are reports today that Ford is planning to close its plant in south Wales. This would be a devastating blow to the 1,700 people who work there and for supply chains across Wales. May we have a statement from the Government on this dreadful situation and a programme of practical support for manufacturing in south Wales?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Clearly, discussions are taking place, and I believe that senior executives from Ford America are taking part in them. We do not yet know the outcome of the discussions. No announcement has been made, although I am led to believe it is possible that one will be made later today. What I can assure him of is that this Government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in particular, will keep a very close eye on developments and respond appropriately.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position and pay tribute to his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who was in her place for a long time and did a lot of valuable work for the House.
May we have a statement or a debate on the Leader of the Opposition leading a student-type protest in Trafalgar Square against the leader of the free world when he purports to become the next Prime Minister? Is this appropriate?
I respect the question, but I do not think it is for me to comment one way or the other on the decisions made by the Leader of the Opposition about which events or demonstrations he chooses to attend or not to attend—other than to say that I am sure the public will have noticed, and I am sure the electorate will draw their own conclusions.
Yesterday we had an excellent debate on hidden disabilities, but there are still several areas in which those with disabilities are disabilities are being badly let down over accessibility. One of my constituents, Shirley Todd, has launched a campaign on that very issue. A particular problem is boarding aircraft. At most airports—including Edinburgh airport in my constituency, which has won several awards relating to accessibility—once passengers are beyond the gate they come up against a completely different set of circumstances, and are often literally manhandled on to the plane by baggage handlers. May we have a debate on the issue, and discuss how airlines and air transport services could be encouraged to tackle it a bit more sensitively?
The hon. Lady raises a very important matter, particularly in the context of her constituent. The Government fund support for those with disabilities and long-term health conditions extensively, to the tune of some £55 billion a year. However, the specific issue of getting on and off aeroplanes might lend itself to an Adjournment debate, which would give the hon. Lady an opportunity to question a Minister in detail. I also refer her to Transport Questions, which will take place on Thursday 13 June.
In a week in which Muslims across the world have celebrated the end of Ramadan, the crisis in Sri Lanka seems to be increasing still further, with the resignation of all the Muslim Ministers and officials in the Sri Lankan and state Governments. Today, in the other place, Lord Naseby is putting a question about travel advice given to UK citizens. I note that there has been no statement from the Government about either travel advice or the crisis. May we have a debate in Government time on the situation in Sri Lanka, so that Members of this House can put their views on record and challenge the Government on what they are doing to assist UK nationals?
I believe I am right in saying that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides travel advice online, so that those who are considering travelling to certain parts of the world can be properly informed. This might well be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate, and my hon. Friend may wish to consider that.
As I told the House earlier today, my thoughts are with those commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings. As a small child I saw very little of my father in the first five years of my life, because he was overseas serving in the Royal Engineers. I think that the House should think very profoundly about those young men and women who fought and lost their lives.
As a fitting tribute, could we seriously consider something that I am passionate about—the planting of trees to remember people and their contribution? Is the new Leader of the House aware that there is to be a new northern forest stretching all the way from Hull to Liverpool, containing 50 million trees? Could we expand that across the United Kingdom, as a real tribute to the people who fought for us in the war and many of whom died fighting for the freedom of this country?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we should seek whatever means we can to pay tribute to those who fought on our behalf in the second world war. He mentioned the planting of trees. I remember that when I was a young boy, we were urged to “Plant a tree in ’73”, and I assume that there are forests of giant trees today as a consequence of that initiative. The planting of the great northern forest is an excellent and imaginative approach; I think that the Government intend to plant about 15 million trees. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, environment questions, on Thursday week, will provide an excellent opportunity him to raise it with Ministers.
May we have a debate about the Queen’s award for voluntary service? This year Forres in Bloom received the honour. Diane McGregor, the chairwoman, Sandra McLennan, the secretary, and all the volunteers do outstanding work throughout the year in Grant park and across Forres with their flowers and displays. This is appreciated by not just locals but the thousands of visitors to the town. Will the Leader of the House also join me in congratulating them on all these efforts, ahead of their 30th anniversary next year, in their three decades of work and agree that their motto is very fitting: “We love where we live”?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point, and I do of course join him in paying tribute to Diane McGregor, Sandra McLennan and the amazing band of volunteers for their outstanding work and for receiving the Queen’s award for voluntary service. The Government recognise the huge importance of volunteering and it would be an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate.
I warmly congratulate the new Leader of the House, although I will not do your trick, Mr Speaker, of reminding him of where we first met as it would be far too embarrassing for me. May I just say that I think his answers on prorogation and whether a new Prime Minister will address the House swiftly after being elected have been wholly inadequate so far? It would surely be on a Venezuelan scale of outrage if we were to prorogue Parliament simply to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of Parliament. Even Winston Churchill—during the midst of war when the British Expeditionary Force was in danger of complete collapse in France and we were trying to get people out of Dunkirk—when he was made Prime Minister in May 1940 addressed the House of Commons just three days later. Even the Marquess of Salisbury in 1885 knew he had to come to Parliament the next day. So surely to God the new Leader of the House should be able to say to us today, “Yes, a new Prime Minister will address the House of Commons within a week of being appointed.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am not quite as shy as him about revealing to the House where we first met: I was very proud to meet the hon. Gentleman I think for the first time as a fully signed up member of the Conservative party at Oxford University. Quite where it all went wrong after that I have no idea, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to me about the error of his ways at any point I will be happy to try to enlighten him on those matters.
The hon. Gentleman raises once again the issue of prorogation, and he will know that these matters and others are all going to be decisions that the future Prime Minister will take and that it is not for me to speculate about what they might be.