House of Commons
Wednesday 26 June 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—
Leaving the EU: Manufacturing
The manufacturing sector is of vital importance to the Welsh economy. The UK’s modern industrial strategy plays a key part in supporting industry. We want to get a deal with the European Union to give a smooth and orderly exit.
The Secretary of State says that he wants to get a deal, yet he is backing a candidate for the Conservative leadership who advocates no deal. With the news from Ford, Airbus, Honda and Nissan, and from so much of the Welsh manufacturing industry and the steel industry, how on earth can he, as Secretary of State, justify that position? Or is he simply trying to keep his job?
The hon. Gentleman is highly selective in what he cites. If he heeds the calls of some of the employers he mentioned, he will know that they supported the deal that came before Parliament and urged him to vote for a deal. By definition, his voting against the deal made no deal far more likely.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Manufacturing in Wales is more productive than the UK average, so is well placed to take the new opportunities both in the UK and globally that will arise as a result of our leaving the European Union. Like both leadership candidates, I would prefer to have a deal than not to have one.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing me with the opportunity to highlight the Welsh economy’s export record. Exports are now at £17.7 billion—that is a 7.5% increase, which highlights how the Welsh economy is exporting strongly and at record levels.
As someone who started his working life at Ford in Bridgend, may I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to ensure that high-quality, high-value manufacturing jobs are going to continue at that excellent site, which has such good rail and road connections?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; with his local knowledge, having worked at the plant, he truly understands the value of the skills that the people there bring. Those skills are a real incentive to attract further investment. Along with the Welsh Government, we have set up a joint taskforce that will be led by Richard Parry-Jones, an industry expert who is best placed to make recommendations to the Government. We look forward to receiving that report shortly.
Given the almost daily news of business closures in Wales as a result of Brexit uncertainty, and the real prospect of no deal, how can the Secretary of State justify his support for a candidate to be Prime Minister who is prepared to sacrifice thousands of manufacturing jobs in Wales to further his own personal ambition? Does the Secretary of State think it is a “do or die” Brexit?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady looks to undermine the Welsh economy. She needs to recognise that unemployment is at record low levels, economic activity is at record high levels, exports are growing and manufacturing is prospering. When it comes to Brexit, she also needs to recognise that when she voted against the deal on 29 March, she was the one who increased the prospect of no deal.
The last thing I would do is undermine Wales. I am proud of my country and I am proud to have represented Wales many times. When you pull on that red jersey, Mr Speaker, there is nothing like it.
I will try again: given the Secretary of State’s apparent support for a no-deal Brexit as a price worth paying to keep his own job, what can he possibly say to people in Wales who stand to lose their manufacturing jobs as a result of his Government’s catastrophic mishandling of the Brexit negotiations?
I highlight the fact that manufacturing is doing well in the Welsh economy, with 12,000 more manufacturing jobs in the economy now than there were in 2010. There are now 4,000 more manufacturing jobs in the Welsh economy than there were last year. Manufacturing employers would like to see a deal with the European Union; perhaps the hon. Lady should explain why she has voted against a deal with the European Union. Furthermore, she needs to explain why she is rejecting the will of the Welsh people, who voted in stronger numbers than the UK average to leave the European Union.
EU Withdrawal Agreement: Welsh Economy
The Secretary of State knows that, if we stay within the EU, British people will get a 20% uplift in structural funding to £440 per person. Will he ensure that, in the event of our leaving with a deal, that money is sustained completely with a new UK prosperity fund? If we have a no-deal outcome, there will, quite simply, be no structural funding and we will hit a cliff edge, and more firms like Tata, Airbus and Ford will leave on his watch.
I do not recognise any of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Let me ask him this one question: does he recognise that Swansea voted to leave the European Union in higher numbers than the national average, and, if so, why does he reject the will of his constituents?
Many Welsh businesses will be able to cope with a no-deal Brexit, but one sector that the Secretary of State and I know will not be able to cope is sheep farming. Will he confirm whether he has had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about an income protection measure or a compensation package for hill farmers when their industry gets decimated under a no-deal Brexit?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point and highlights the importance of the agriculture sector, specifically sheep farming, to the Welsh economy. Clearly, it is our will to protect that sector in every possible way that we can, but the best way to protect it is to get a deal with the European Union. I have voted on three separate occasions for the deal. I think that Opposition Members need to explain why they have voted against a deal, because, by definition, that creates a higher chance of our leaving the European Union without a deal. They would need to explain that to their constituents.
I want a deal with the European Union. I have voted for a deal with the European Union on three separate occasions. I suspect that the employer to whom the hon. Gentleman has spoken would have supported a deal with the European Union. Perhaps he should have explained why he voted against that, because that has clearly increased the uncertainty, which is not good for anyone. He needs to look at himself and his colleagues and consider why they voted to block the deal.
Along with the Secretary of State, I supported the withdrawal agreement the three times it came before Parliament because of the impact that it will have on my constituency, and particularly on the sheep farming industry. Will the Secretary of State go to the Royal Welsh show and explain to the farming unions that he, I and both of the candidates who might be Prime Minister are very supportive of reaching a deal with the European Union that will protect the future of my constituency and the sheep farming industry in particular?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his strong record in this area. Yes, I am looking forward to my visit to the Royal Welsh show. That will give me an opportunity to continue my ongoing proactive dialogue with the agriculture sector and with the farming unions in particular. I have spoken to both leadership candidates, and both recognise the importance of agriculture to the UK economy and the significance of the agriculture sector in Wales. They believe that it is best to leave the European Union with a deal, but will take positive steps to protect those industries in the absence of a deal.
I am excited about our prospects outside the European Union—clearly having had the privilege of travelling internationally. A deal on beef exports was agreed last week between China and the UK, and we continue our dialogues in relation to other products and foodstuffs. That demonstrates the markets that are available. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is better to get a deal with the European Union, because that would give us a smooth and orderly exit, but if he will continually vote against the deal with the European Union, by definition he will increase the chances of a no deal.
The Secretary of State is easy about a no-deal Brexit, which threatens to create a perfect storm for sheep farmers in Wales—and his Government are going to have to own it. Tariffs of 46% are set to kick in on 31 October, to coincide exactly with the season when mountain lambs come to market for export. There is a mart in Bala on 31 October. Will he join me there and tell farmers to their face why the value of their lambs has gone through the floor?
I remind the right hon. Lady that farming unions in Wales strongly supported the deal agreed by the Prime Minister and the European Commission. Would she stand at their mart, look them in the eye and tell them that she voted against their wishes and for a no-deal position? That is exactly what she did on three separate occasions.
So that is the Secretary of State failing to take responsibility, then. He talks up the threadbare benefits of his insular Union while denigrating the real rewards of the European Union. The majority of Tory party members would sacrifice the United Kingdom for Brexit. Will he therefore tell me which is closest to his heart—his beloved Brexit, on which his career depends, or his precious Union?
There is no doubt that Wales prospers fantastically through being part of the United Kingdom, and there are great opportunities for the United Kingdom outside the European Union. I want to maintain a very close trading relationship with the European Union, which is why I would strongly prefer to have a deal. As a passionate Welsh lady, the right hon. Lady will recognise that Wales voted to leave the European Union. We are trying to honour the outcome of the referendum and maintain a close trading relationship so that farmers, manufacturers and service providers in Wales can continue to trade with the European Union and globally.
We continue to work closely with colleagues across both the UK and Welsh Governments to ensure that the industrial strategy continues to deliver for Wales. We have already made funding available for a number of projects for Wales, including recently providing a further £1.4 million to support innovative battery technology through the Faraday battery challenge.
Will the Minister confirm that by refusing to invest in major opportunities such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, the UK Government are denying the Welsh steel industry a significant opportunity to innovate and create quality jobs that would support a new industry with global growth potential?
I am afraid I do not recognise that description, given that the National Infrastructure Commission supported our decision. It is worth noting that the tidal lagoon project would be three times more expensive at producing electricity than other alternatives.
In the light of the very concerning news about the number of jobs that could be lost at the Ford engine plant in Bridgend, and reports of the impact that similar announcements by Nissan in my region and Honda will have on the supply chain companies in Wales, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact that Brexit is already having on the automotive sector in Wales? What discussions has he had with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to provide support to the sector in Wales via the industrial strategy?
It is worth saying that Ford has said that the decision is not linked to Brexit; if Opposition Members are interested in the views of Ford, it said to vote for the deal on Friday 29 March. Let me be clear that there is positive news. Only this month, Aston Martin started production of a new line of vehicles in St Athan in south Wales—in the Secretary of State’s constituency. That shows what can be done when there is positive work on behalf of local people.
The design of the shared prosperity fund will be crucial to Wales’s industrial strategy. Communities and business shareholders are clear on what the fund should look like—not a penny less, nor a power lost for Wales. The consultation on the fund was in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, and was mentioned in a written statement in July last year and by the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box last October. Can the Minister confirm that this consultation has now been withdrawn?
We have regular discussions with the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Transport on a range of matters, including infrastructure in Wales. We are committed to ensuring that Wales prospers on the back of a strong and resilient infrastructure base, supported through our modern industrial strategy and national infrastructure delivery plan.
The Assembly Government have good plans for the Treherbert line, which serves Rhondda Fawr, but people who live in Rhondda Fach and at the top of Rhondda Fawr who need to go over the Rhigos road to get to work, or indeed to the maternity unit at Prince Charles Hospital, need significant investment in the roads. It must surely be unfair that it takes many people in Rhondda, including expectant mothers, four buses to get the hospital, which might mean that a woman would not get there in time to deliver safely and that babies might not live.
The European regional development fund has made a huge contribution to the development of infrastructure in Wales. Will the Minister give a commitment that resources from the new shared prosperity fund will be allocated on the basis of need and not through competition?
We will decide on the future of the UK shared prosperity fund, which I touched on earlier, through consultation and through the comprehensive spending review later this year. What would make a huge difference to roads in south Wales would be getting the M4 relief road back on track. If that was our decision, Wales would now be on the highway to the future; sadly, as it is a devolved one, it is now on the road to nowhere.
At the autumn Budget, we announced £200 million for the hardest to reach areas, and Wales will be included in the first phase of this work. Tomorrow, I will be in Wales with my counterpart in the Welsh Government talking about the north Wales growth deal, and digital connectivity is a key part of that. In addition to the funds in the growth deal, there will be £8 million from the local full fibre networks challenge fund to support increased connectivity.
Ports infrastructure is essential to the economy of Wales and the United Kingdom. Holyhead port is a gateway from the Republic of Ireland. What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Irish Government to ensure that there are adequate facilities in place before Brexit, because the Irish Government are planning to detour freight direct to mainland Europe?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there are ongoing discussions with the Irish Government to ensure that whatever scenario there is for Brexit, there will not be so much disruption at Holyhead. He will also be pleased to note that potential investment in Holyhead port is part of the north Wales growth deal, which I will be discussing tomorrow.
I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his in supporting the steel sector in Corby. He will be well aware that five major steel producers have come together on this. In addition, the Government are supporting a sustained manufacturing hub led by Swansea University that will not only be of direct benefit to the steel industry in Wales but will have a significant impact on the steel sector in his constituency. That demonstrates the great strength of the industrial strategy.
Tata’s Cogent Power in my constituency has huge potential to develop electrical steel in the automotive industry and electrification, but it needs Government support to help to develop the supply chain, which I wrote to the Secretary of State about recently. Will he come and see for himself by visiting the Orb plant?
Ford in Bridgend: Welsh Economy
No wonder the Secretary of State does not want to answer the question, because the Government are being totally complacent. I have no doubt that the closure of the Ford plant in Bridgend will have huge consequences along the M4 corridor, damaging our economy, including in Bristol South. Just when will we see the start of any kind of industrial strategy? Right now, with continued closures and the impact of this closure on the supply chain, we are going backward, not forward, and that damages the economy in Bristol South.
The manufacturing sector is extremely important to the UK economy and Wales specifically. There are 4,000 more manufacturing jobs in the Welsh economy now than there were this time last year, but that is not to undermine the importance of those Ford jobs. The Welsh Government and I are working closely together. We have commissioned Richard Parry-Jones to come up with recommendations for how we can best promote the plant, but I am encouraged by the early discussions we have had with potential investors. Some of those discussions are more mature than others, but the hon. Lady should recognise that they are private and confidential at this stage.
I join the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) in their deep disappointment at the closure of the Ford factory in Bridgend. Does he agree that there is huge potential on the M4 corridor for the development of electric cars and automotive technology of all kinds, right down as far as my constituency in Wiltshire?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The UK’s industrial strategy has invested £1.5 billion in automotive research and development, to ensure that we maximise the opportunities of the shift from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles. A great demonstration of the success of that is that 20% of electric vehicles sold in Europe are manufactured here in the UK.
Former Phurnacite Works, Abercwmboi
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for the proactive approach she is taking to redeveloping this site, which has been an outstanding issue for decades. I was pleased that we were able to bring together the current owners of the site with her to come up with a positive plan for the future.
I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the area and knocking heads together in a way that we have waited for for 30 years. The people of Abercwmboi have lived in dirt and dust on the site of what was the worst industrial polluter in the whole of Britain. I am grateful for the interest he has taken and the way he has managed to knock heads together.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady, who has highlighted this issue for some time. I am keen to work closely with her to bring the landowners together and see what plans can be made. The local authority is playing a key part. We need to establish a clear plan of action, and we are well on our way to delivering that.
Mid-Wales Growth Deal
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive approach he has taken to working with all partners involved in the mid-Wales growth deal. My ministerial colleague in the other place has undertaken extensive engagement with local authorities and the private sector in mid-Wales, most recently at Welshpool on 26 May 2019.
The University of Aberystwyth and the internationally acclaimed Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences—IBERS—are both key partners in the mid-Wales growth deal, and the facilities at the new Gogerddan innovation campus will cement their place as leaders in the areas of agri-food and biotechnology and allow the area to become a centre for expertise in controlled environment agriculture and vertical farming. The benefits that this would bring to the agricultural industry are significant, but rather than take my word for it, will the Minister visit the Gogerddan campus, so that he can see for himself the world-leading research being undertaken in Ceredigion?
That is certainly an invite any Wales Office Minister would find hard to refuse; we will try to co-ordinate. It is vital that the mid-Wales growth deal focuses on sectors such as agri-tech, where there is a significant opportunity to introduce transformational economic change. We encourage our partners to work closely with research institutions such as IBERS to put together a compelling case to both Governments.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am quite a fan of the potential benefits of the western rail access to Heathrow, which could unlock more growth and opportunities across the area served by Great Western. Regular representations are made, and I am sure the Chancellor, who is now on the Front Bench, will have heard those the hon. Gentleman has just made.
The reality, with the potential closure, is 1,700 jobs gone at Ford and between 6,000 and 7,000 in the supply chain. It is no good the Secretary of State saying manufacturing is buoyant, with all these potential job losses coming. We need economic stimulus packages from the UK Government in support of the Welsh Government. What is the Minister going to do about it to protect these jobs?
Assembly Members: Diplomatic Support
The UK Government’s extensive network of diplomatic staff regularly provides support to Welsh Ministers for overseas visits relating to devolved matters. However, we will not support activities intended to undermine the United Kingdom.
Earlier this month, the Foreign Office blocked diplomatic assistance to the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland. In the light of this action, which was an affront to our democratically elected First Ministers, can the Secretary of State explain how this United Kingdom is a partnership of equals?
We will always provide the extensive network of FCO posts abroad and the good offices of the Department for International Trade to support representations from devolved areas, but we will be a platform for the success of Wales, not for separatism in Scotland.
I received excellent support from the diplomatic service abroad when I was the shadow Middle East Minister. May I commend the diplomatic service for working closely with all elected Members of Parliament, the Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament to preserve the integrity and strength of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing the England football team the very best for their game against Norway tomorrow.
This morning, my office hosted a reception to mark Armed Forces Reserves Day, and this coming Saturday, we celebrate Armed Forces Day. This is an opportunity for us all to pay tribute to our servicemen and women here and around the world for their dedication and service and to those who have served in previous generations.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will travel to Japan for the G20 leaders summit. With the threat of climate change putting future generations at risk, vile terrorist propaganda continuing to spread online and rising tensions in the Gulf, this summit is an opportunity to address global challenges affecting all our nations.
As the thousands of people demonstrating outside would tell the Prime Minister, tackling climate change and biodiversity makes the world safer, more beautiful and sustainable for our children and grandchildren. Does she agree that one of the first acts of the next Prime Minister should be —urgently—to introduce a new environment and climate change Bill putting into place all the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change to meet net carbon zero, making the world a more beautiful place?
We are introducing an environment Bill as a Government. We have introduced a 25-year environment plan—I think the first time any Government have done that. We have committed to net zero emissions by 2050. That has gone through this House, but the question the hon. Lady needs to think about is, why is the Labour party in the House of Lords trying to block the net zero 2050 legislation?
I absolutely recognise, as we do across the Government, Yorkshire’s enthusiasm for and dedication to devolution and the potential seen there for harnessing local people’s sense of identity with Yorkshire. We share the ambition of doing what is best for Yorkshire, its people and its businesses. My right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has now met with Yorkshire leaders. Discussions are continuing about a different localist approach to devolution, and officials are having initial meetings with councils, including York, and will be interested in hearing their ambitions for devolution.
I hope the whole House will welcome today’s mass climate lobby, which is coming to Parliament today. We should be proud of it. This House, after all, became the first Parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. I want to pay tribute to the young people and young climate strikers who have done so much to raise awareness of this issue. I hope Members will take the chance today to meet those who are coming to lobby and learn from them, because they feel very passionately on the issue.
I acknowledge that it is Armed Forces Day—celebrations are going on this week—and I think we should be concerned about the welfare of both serving and former serving members of our armed forces. I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Lionesses on reaching the quarter finals of the women’s World cup and wish them well tomorrow night against Norway.
I welcome the judgment of the Court of Appeal last Thursday against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Court found that the Government had
“made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law… during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.
Does the Prime Minister dispute that finding?
We continue to operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world and we take our responsibilities on arms export licensing very seriously. Indeed, in the words of the 2017 judgment, the Government engaged in
“anxious scrutiny—indeed, at what seems like anguished scrutiny at some stages”.
We are disappointed that the Court found against the Government on one ground, and we will be seeking permission to appeal this judgment.
Germany, as an EU member state, has banned arms exports to Saudi Arabia, so has Denmark, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives have voted to ban arms exports as well.
The UN describes the situation in Yemen as “humanity’s biggest preventable disaster”, but the Government see fit to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia during that situation, so may I ask the Prime Minister a very simple question? Does she believe there are serious ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen—yes or no?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that we consider these issues very carefully when we are dealing with these arms export licences, as has just been quoted by the Court, but he references the situation in Yemen. This cannot go on. We need a political settlement in Yemen.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Saudi-led intervention was at the request of the legitimate President of Yemen following a rebel insurgency, which overthrew the internationally recognised Government, and the intervention has been acknowledged by the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary held a Yemen Quad meeting on Saturday, expressing concerns at escalating tensions, but what do we see the Labour party do? One of the right hon. Gentleman’s MPs was inviting rebel leaders of the insurgency into the House of Commons—yet again, Labour on the wrong side of the argument.
The Prime Minister does not appear to understand the depth of feeling at the UN, Parliaments around the world or even the US Senate and the House on this situation. The UN itself has warned that by the end of 2019, if the war continues, 230,000 people will have lost their lives, of whom 140,000 are children under the age of five. The UK and EU law state that the Government must
“not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items used might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
The Government said they had used the following criteria to judge
“an understanding of Saudi military procedures; continuing engagement with the Saudis at the highest level”
“Saudi public commitments to IHL”.—[Official Report, 20 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 375-6.]
If the Saudi Government say they are respecting human rights, do we then ignore all evidence on the ground in Yemen and continue to sell weapons to the regime, which has led to this appalling death toll already in this conflict?
First, as I have made clear, we are seeking permission to appeal the recent judgment. The judgment is not about whether the Government made the right or wrong decisions, but about the decision-making process and whether it was rational. We are considering the implications of the judgment, alongside seeking permission to appeal, and while we do that, we will not grant any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the conflict in Yemen. As I have just said, let us remember what happened and why we are seeing this conflict in Yemen: it was the overthrow of the internationally recognised Government by rebel insurgents. We are all concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. [Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary might like, as this is an area of concern to her remit, to actually listen to what the Government are doing. [Interruption.]
We are all concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. That is why, since the start of the conflict in 2015, our total commitment to Yemen now stands at £770 million. We are one of the major contributors to support for the humanitarian effort. Ultimately, the only way to resolve this issue is through a political settlement. That is why we are supporting the efforts of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths.
If that is the case, why are the Government appealing the judgment instead of promoting a peace settlement in Yemen? Since 2016, for three years, UN experts have been saying that the Saudi coalition has violated international humanitarian law in Yemen. This air campaign has killed tens of thousands of people, and injured and displaced many more. The Government say:
“there can be no military solution to this particular conflict. There can only be a negotiated and political solution.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 380.]
If that is the case, why have they already pumped £4.6 billion of military equipment into this brutal bombardment?
What we do believe, as I have just said—I said it in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s last question and I said it, I think, in answer to his first question—is that the only way to ensure the security and stability of Yemen for the future is through a political settlement. That is why this Government are supporting the work being done by the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, and that is why we are continuing to use our diplomatic efforts, including, as I said, the Foreign Secretary holding a Yemen Quad on Saturday to encourage others around the table. We are very clear that we support the efforts to secure the agreement by the parties to the conflict to implement the Stockholm agreements. That is an important part of the process leading to peace and a political solution. That work is essential so that progress can be made at the next round of these talks and so that the humanitarian supply lines can be opened up.
The Trade Secretary said there could not be a military solution to this conflict. Surely the Government should think on this and stop the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Just last week, the UN special rapporteur, Agnes Kalamar, said that there is credible evidence that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-level officials are personally responsible for the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Does the Prime Minister accept that assessment?
We do want to see accountability for this horrific murder. I raised the death of Jamal Khashoggi with King Salman at the Sharm summit—the second time I have done so. I raised it with the Crown Prince at the G20 last year. I have stressed the importance of those responsible being held to account and of due process being followed. We expect Saudi Arabia to take the action necessary to ensure that such violations of international and national laws cannot happen again. The right direction—the right way—to take this is through a judicial process, and we are obviously closely following the continuing investigation. We expect it to proceed in line with internationally recognised legal standards.
There is overwhelming evidence that war crimes are being committed in Yemen by Saudi Arabian forces—a state that flouts every human rights norm at home and abroad. Its Government believes that it can kill with impunity journalists or civil rights campaigners, Yemenis or Bahrainis. It funds extremism around the world, but the UK has supplied it with over £4.5 billion-worth of deadly weapons. UK weapons have been used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in which over 200,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more stand on the brink of famine, starvation and death from wholly preventable diseases. Surely the Court of Appeal judgment should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister and the Government. Instead of appealing the judgment, why not accept it, stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia now, bring about peace in the Yemen and save those lives?
The right hon. Gentleman says to me, “bring about peace in the Yemen”. That is exactly what we are working with our international partners to do through the United Nations and the Yemen Quad. He talks about our relations with Saudi Arabia. That relationship has saved lives of British citizens in the past, but let us look at some of the relationships that right hon. Gentleman supports. When people were killed in Salisbury, his sympathies were with Russia. When terrorists were killing our people, his sympathies were with the IRA. And in the recent tanker attacks in the Gulf, his sympathies were with Iran. He never backs Britain and he should never be Prime Minister.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, including the importance of the proper training of youth workers. We are absolutely committed to a properly qualified and trained youth sector. Subject to a business case, we have committed to renewing funding for these qualifications and reviewing the youth work curriculum. I know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is in very close contact with the National Youth Agency, is aware of the timing issues and hopes to make an announcement in the near future.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about reservists?
I am happy to be sporting a badge today in support of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I hope that in the days that the Prime Minister has left in office, she will do what she can to secure Nazanin’s release from jail in Iran.
I hope the Prime Minister will join many of us outside Parliament today in support of the climate justice activists. I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition that the Scottish Government were the first Government in the UK to declare a climate emergency; I hope that the UK responds to the leadership that Scotland is giving on this issue.
“Do or die, come what may”—those are the words of the Prime Minister’s likely successor. The truth behind the Brexit chaos in the Tory party is encompassed in those words. The Tory dream is to drag us out of the European Union, no matter what the cost. Prime Minister, before you exit office, will you pledge never to vote for a successor willing to impose a devastating no-deal Brexit on all of us?
I have to remind the right hon. Gentleman—yet again—that he is due to ask me questions about my responsibilities as Prime Minister. I remind him—yet again-that as Prime Minister I voted three times in this House to ensure that we could take the UK out of the European Union with a deal that was good for the whole of the United Kingdom, and he voted effectively for no deal.
My goodness, it is no wonder she is leaving. That was no answer to the question. The Prime Minister is showing gross cowardice. On the one hand, the Tories are asking people to put their faith in the most incompetent Foreign Secretary in a century—a man who has made a career out of lying, and who has spent the week avoiding the media, staging photos and playing to the extreme delusions of the Tory shires. On the other hand, we have the most incompetent Health Secretary in our history, a man who writes books on privatising our NHS. [Interruption.] The Conservatives clearly do not like the truth. Someone so desperate for a chance at his 30-year Downing Street fantasy that he—[Interruption.]
Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman has concluded his inquiry. [Interruption.] Order. If he has not, he needs to do so in a single sentence. [Interruption.] Order! Mr Cowan, I am sure you are a well-intentioned fellow, but I require no counsel from you. One sentence—we have a lot of questions to get through.
Seldom have I had such a welcome in this House. I have to do this more often.
I very much welcome the announcements that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made yesterday. Will the Prime Minister update the House on those plans, and how she feels that they will enable more people living with disabilities and health conditions to play their full part in our society?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she did as Minister for disabled people; she did a lot of the ground work for the announcement that we were able to make on the disability strategy. Many disabled people in our society would love to be able to get into the workplace. One of the key issues underpinning that strategy is support to enable people to take their full role in society, to get into the workplace, and to ensure that they have access to the support that they need. I am very proud of the fact that about 950,000 more disabled people are now in the workplace, thanks to the actions of Conservatives in government. There is more for us to do; the disability strategy sets our path to do that, and to enable disabled people to play their full role in our society.
We are concerned about the situation relating to the Scunthorpe works and British Steel, which is why my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is actively engaging with the official receiver. Obviously, the official receiver has responsibility in relation to this matter, but we are doing all that we can, as a Government. I was pleased to meet—as the right hon. Lady knows—a number of Members of Parliament who have steel interests in their constituencies to talk about the real impact that the closure of the works would have on people, and it is because of that impact that we are working so actively to try to ensure that we can retain employment in the area.
I am due to give birth any day now. I am hoping that there will not be an emergency in the Commons! [Laughter.] May I put on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, to the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), to the Government and to cross-party MPs who have delivered the proxy voting scheme, which will enable my constituents to be represented during my maternity leave?
Eleven-year-old Ruby Lloyd, who is at Hook-with-Warsash primary school, is campaigning for a pedestrian crossing in Warsash Road to encourage more pupils to walk to school, thereby improving road safety and air quality. Hundreds of local residents support her campaign, as do her headmistress and her councillors. Will my right hon. Friend get behind Ruby’s campaign for safer roads in Fareham?
We wish my hon. Friend the very best for the upcoming birth. I feel a certain satisfaction, having played a little role in ensuring that she and her husband got married, as she has acknowledged.
As for my hon. Friend’s point about Ruby, it is very good to see young people caring passionately about their local area and campaigning for it, and it is vital that children go to school in a safe environment. This is, of course, an issue for the local authority, but I wish Ruby the very best for her campaign.
What lay behind universal credit was the need to change our benefits system. Under the legacy system that we inherited from the Labour party, more than 1 million people were left on benefits for nearly a decade. What universal credit does is help people into work, and ensure that when they are in work they are able to earn more. As a result of universal credit, 200,000 more people are in work, 1 million disabled people are receiving more money, and 700,000 people are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. This is a policy that is working.
We are approaching one of your favourite times of the year, Mr Speaker. Wimbledon starts next week, and many Members have already been enjoying hitting a few balls on the court in New Palace Yard. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to wish all the British players the best of luck in the championships, and will she also welcome the Lawn Tennis Association’s announcement that £250 million will be provided for 96 new indoor tennis centres that will open up the sport to 3 million more people across the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue in such a timely fashion. I certainly wish the very best to all the British players who will be participating in Wimbledon, and I congratulate Andy Murray on his win in the doubles at the Queen’s Club over the weekend. I understand that there is a tennis exhibition here in Parliament today, and that pupils from Paddock School in Putney will be taking part. It is very good to see young people having that experience and that opportunity. I welcome the fact that the LTA is directing funding across the country to where it is needed most to grow the sport from the grassroots up.
We take any allegations of Islamophobia very seriously in the Conservative party. Every allegation is properly investigated. We have seen my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), the chairman of the Conservative party, take swift action. We have seen people suspended from the party; we have seen people excluded from the party. I would just say to the hon. Gentleman that that is in direct contrast to the way in which the Labour party deals with antisemitism. Indeed it is easier to be kicked out of the Labour party for voting Liberal Democrat than for being antisemitic.
There is a risk that complex conflicts thousands of miles away sometimes appear deceptively simple at Westminster. Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that the Leader of the Opposition did not mention that Human Rights Watch said last week that Houthi drones targeting civilian targets in Saudi Arabia was a potential war crime? The World Food Programme has recently suspended aid in Houthi-controlled areas because of aid workers not being allowed into Houthi areas and aid being diverted to enrich Houthi forces. Is it not best to recognise the horrors of war on all sides and concentrate not on being one-sided but on getting fully behind the tireless efforts of Martin Griffiths to seek peace in Yemen and support those efforts and bring this conflict to an end?
I thank my right Friend; with his experience in the Foreign Office he has seen and knows the complexities of these issues. He is absolutely right: it is important that we look at what is happening in Yemen and recognise the actions that the Houthis have been taking as well. That is why it is so important to bring both sides around the table to ensure we can get that agreed peace settlement and support Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy, in his efforts to bring the parties around the table.
My right hon. Friend references humanitarian aid. I mentioned earlier the extent of the humanitarian aid we have given. One of the great problems we have had to address is the fact that it is not always possible to get aid to the people who need it most, not because of our inability but because of the insurgents—the way in which the Houthis are preventing that aid from getting to the people who need it most.
On Monday 160 years of food production on the same site in Burton ended with the announcement of the closure of the Kerry Foods plant in my constituency, affecting 900 jobs in Burton and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler). The Prime Minister will obviously have great sympathy for all those workers who are concerned about their future—concerned about paying their mortgages and for the holidays they have booked and their families. Will she commit to a cross-departmental taskforce to try to ensure we not only get those 900 people back into work but find a new use for that plant in Burton?
As my hon. Friend says, I am sure this is going to be a very worrying time for the employees of Kerry Foods and their families. I understand that Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are speaking to my hon. Friend to discuss the situation and that they will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to explore the various options. We will also want to work closely with businesses and local partners to ensure those affected are well supported and indeed to explore options for the future of the site. Our thoughts are with those who will obviously be very concerned at this time.
On the Yemen-Saudi catastrophe that is taking place, is it not the case that Britain should move to a position of far greater neutrality and support a comprehensive ceasefire? While Britain is absolutely right to condemn the Houthi attacks on Riyadh and Jeddah, should we not also condemn the night-after-night bombings by Saudi aircraft, which are killing innocent civilians and radicalising tens of thousands of young Yemenis?
We have called for a ceasefire and we have supported the efforts that have been made for a ceasefire. We supported those efforts around Hodeidah, which is a very important port for getting in humanitarian relief. This is why it is so important that we continue to work with our international partners and with the UN special envoy to bring about that ceasefire and to enable the parties to come round the table to get a political settlement, which is the only way to ensure the future security and stability of Yemen.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The emphasis in the national health service that we are putting on dealing with mental health and on improving the support that is available is a part of this issue. I held a roundtable to look at the outcomes of our review of the Mental Health Act 1983, at which the types of circumstances in which people are provided for were raised. The NHS is looking at this matter very carefully, and we are ensuring that funding is available for further facilities to be provided.
This afternoon, I will meet my Cheadle constituents who have travelled down to Westminster as part of the Christian Aid climate change lobby. With her world-leading commitment to a net zero target by 2050, the Prime Minister has shown that we are already leading the way. As we leave the EU, will she urge her successor to put the environment at the heart of the Brexit negotiations?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, and congratulate her Cheadle constituents who are coming down to Westminster today to discuss it. As she says, the Government have made a major step by legislating for net zero, and I hope that the Labour efforts to stop it in the House of Lords will not be successful, so that we can ensure that the legislation is signed. We will make every effort as we leave the European Union, working with our European partners and others, to ensure that we put this issue at the forefront of discussions and that the right approach is taken to it by countries around the world.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which was put with his normal and natural theatricality in the Chamber. As he will have seen, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has heard his question. Obviously we want to ensure that people who are entitled to benefits actually receive them, but this Government can be proud of our record on what we have done for pensioners. Through the triple lock and in various other ways, pensioners are £1,600 a year better off under this Government.
Today’s mass lobby is about sustainability, but there can be no economic health or communal wellbeing as long as soulless supermarkets make places ubiquitous while exploiting my Lincolnshire farmers and growers, and while heartless internet giants crush their small competitors. Will the Prime Minister use the tax system to redistribute power away from those heartless, soulless corporate monoliths, to all that is small, eclectic, local and particular? For, as you know, Mr Speaker, Schumacher said, “Small is beautiful”.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the importance of small businesses and of local, independent shops on our high streets. We want to see those businesses supported. That is why we have taken steps already, for example in relation to business rates. It is also why, for those who are concerned about the internet and the way it is being used to undermine some of those small businesses in the retail environment, we are of course taking action in relation to those digital companies.
Obviously, we are looking across the board. A number of issues have been raised as a result of the terrible tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower that we have already acted on, and we are continuing to work, as I indicated in response to the Leader of the Opposition last week, and to look at issues such as social housing. While many people focus on the issue of cladding and building standards, it is the fact that people’s voices were not being heard from that social housing that is of particular concern. Ensuring that we have the right approach in relation to regulation is important. On sprinklers, the recommendation after Lakanal was not that every property over a certain height should have sprinklers retrofitted. It is important to be clear about that.
On 15 May, my right hon. Friend welcomed a decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to allow the drug Spinraza, which is for spinal muscular atrophy, to be prescribed, including, we thought, to my constituent, the grandson of Mrs Ogborne. NICE has now written to Mrs Ogborne to say that it accepts that the news story that appeared on the NICE website was not clear enough. That is code for saying that my constituent’s grandson will not receive this drug. When NICE says something, can it be ensured that it does it, and that bureaucratic flannel does not raise people’s hope then to dash it?
I have answered questions on this matter in the past, including, I think, from the hon. Lady. The Government have changed the law. Specialist doctors on the General Medical Council specialist register can now prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where there is clinical evidence of benefit. NHS England and the chief medical officer have made it clear that cannabis-based products can be prescribed for medicinal use in appropriate cases, but obviously we need to trust doctors to make clinical decisions in the best interests of patients.
In Thursday’s Adjournment debate I described the barbaric treatment that my father-in-law received at a clinic in Barbados, which ultimately led to his death. It shows the influence of this Chamber that I have now been contacted by many people from around the country who want to talk to me about similar issues. This morning, I was contacted by a resident of Barbados who told me that the practices that go on in Dr Alfred Sparman’s clinic are far more horrific than we recognised.
Will either my right hon. Friend or the relevant Department meet me so that I may inquire as to how we can work with the Barbadian authorities to shut this man down and to ensure that what happened to my father-in-law cannot happen to any other citizen?
The hon. Lady is right that we want to ensure maintenance payments are made for those children. Normally the payments are made by fathers but, in some cases, they can be made by mothers, and we need to make sure they recognise their responsibilities and take them seriously. This is a difficult area. For many years, efforts have been made by different Governments to ensure that we get this right and that maintenance payments are made.
I am sure every Member has had constituency cases in relation to this issue. The simplified system introduced in recent years has been working better than the previous system, but I will ensure the relevant Department looks at this issue.
In my Harlow constituency, many horses and ponies are tied up and tethered by the roadside, maltreated and put in dangerous locations, often without access to food and water. Will the Prime Minister work to end the suffering of these beautiful animals and to amend the outdated Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the code of practice on the welfare of horses to clarify the Government’s powers and the duties of local authorities to intervene? And will she urge the RSPCA to treat this as a major concern?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very, very sad case. A life full of great promise has been sadly cut short, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the individual concerned.
We have been putting more money into research on brain tumours, which is an important area and one in which my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), the former Health Secretary, started extra work within the NHS. That work continues.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue and, as I say, our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this case.
One in two people in the UK now develops cancer at some point in their lifetime, and around 60% of them will require radiotherapy as part of their treatment. We do not have a single linear accelerator in West Sussex, meaning that my constituents travel long distances every day for treatment. That is not only costly but, of course, gruelling for people who are feeling so unwell. Will the Prime Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure that my constituents have the same access to medical care as others in adjacent counties?
I fully recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has raised. Looking at how we treat cancer is one of the issues in the NHS long-term plan on which the NHS is focusing. I recognise the concern for those who have to travel long distances to receive such treatment. As she said, it is not just expensive, but can be difficult and gruelling in their state of health. It will be looked at as part of future programmes for the NHS.
The Prime Minister and the whole House will be aware of the long-standing campaign for justice and compensation by victims of the Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK. US citizens have been compensated by the Libyan authorities but UK citizens have not. Some £12 billion in frozen assets is held in the United Kingdom and £17 million in tax has been recovered on that money in the last three years. Will she undertake to use that money to help the victims, and will she ensure that the special representative who has been appointed works closely with the victims to obtain the justice that they rightly deserve?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the justice that those victims deserve. I have raised the issue myself with the Libyan Government in the past, and I will certainly ensure that the special representative is able to make every effort to ensure that the victims get that to which they are entitled and that he works with them in doing that: it is important that their voices are a crucial part of that.
Before I take points of order, I have a small number of announcements to make, the first of which draws upon and indirectly relates to something that the Prime Minister said about her good wishes to the England female football team. I think that the House will want to know of the activities of the women’s parliamentary football team, which are regularly communicated to me, not least because I am the president of said team. I hope that the whole House will join me in wishing the women’s parliamentary football team well at the weekend in its Guinness world record attempt for the number of female footballers playing a game, an initiative being undertaken in collaboration with Equal Playing Field, whose mission is to challenge inequality in sport, particularly for girls and women globally.
Secondly, I remind the House that today marks the 40th anniversary of the House’s decision to endorse the proposal from Norman St John-Stevas, an extremely distinguished Leader of the House, to establish the system of departmental Select Committees. Since that momentous decision on 26 June 1979, those Committees have grown and developed into a key—I might almost be tempted to say “the key”—means by which the House holds Ministers to account in detail for their conduct of government. I hope that colleagues will agree that it was a decision that we should all celebrate.
Finally, as I know concern about human rights is widespread in the House, I hope that colleagues will welcome to our proceedings the Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration, Lobsang Sangay. He has been here before and he is here again. In a very important way, he represents the people of Tibet. We identify with you, sir; it is a pleasure to see you again, as colleagues will agree; and I look forward to seeing you later today. Please continue your good and important work, even in the face of considerable pressures.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Diolch yn fawr iawn. On Monday, I received a letter from the Chief Whip confirming an intention to move the writ for the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on Tuesday 25 June. Yesterday came and went, but no writ was moved. It was claimed that an issue with Powys Council, specifically the returning officer, was delaying the process. Powys Council confirmed within a matter of hours that that was not the case, and that it was waiting for the writ to be moved. ITV Wales’s political editor, Adrian Masters, has speculated that the Government have not moved the writ for the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election not because of problems in Powys but because they could not guarantee that Powys would not—as would be its right—hold the election on 25 July, that being of course the first full day of the new Prime Minister’s premiership.
Can you confirm that you have had notification that the Government intend to move the writ today, or will they continue to miss their own deadline and make highly questionable excuses for sparing the blushes of a new Prime Minister by delaying moving the writ?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. I was advised yesterday that the plan to move the writ yesterday had been aborted. Instead, I was advised at that stage, approximately 24 hours ago, that the plan was to move the writ today. However, I was informed earlier that the writ would not be moved today. If the right hon. Lady is asking me, as the Chair, whether I am clear about when the writ will be moved, the honest answer is that I am not aware. It is certainly regrettable for her to have received information privately that it transpired was not borne out by events. If she was given to understand that it would be moved but it was not—and indeed has not been—that is regrettable. I suggest that her best recourse is directly to approach the Government Chief Whip on the matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many of us have visited Richard Ratcliffe, who is now in his 12th day of hunger strike in support of his wife, Nazanin, wrongly jailed in Tehran. The number of messages, flowers and visitors shows that the House and the country are strongly in sympathy with the Ratcliffe family’s long ordeal. Is there anything that you can do to spread the word that other Members visiting him would be extremely welcome?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: it would be very welcome if Members had time and felt inclined to visit Richard Ratcliffe. I am not in the business of announcing my travel plans, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to do so, but I have heard what he has said and I have my own thoughts on the matter. I have indicated that I think it a very good idea, and it would be very welcome if Members from across the House, simply as human beings to another human being, felt inclined to demonstrate solidarity and support. I agree unreservedly with the hon. Gentleman and I rather imagine I will be having another conversation with him at a later date to tell him more.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, people travel far and wide to come to Prime Minister’s questions. Today the imam from the university mosque, Sheikh Mohsen, and his colleague, Mahaboob Basha, are here. Given that people have to travel so far and that the public and private travel networks are not that great, might you consider in the future the possibility of delaying the start time of PMQs to enable more people to travel from further afield to view the proceedings?
That is an ingenious idea. I am not sure that if it were a divisible proposition before the House it would necessarily command a majority. I say that because I noticed some furrowed brows at the suggestion that we should start late. We often start late anyway because I am keen to ensure that Backbenchers have a full opportunity in the previous session. The hon. Gentleman is a discerning and observant fellow, and I feel sure that he will have noticed that I also often allow a full opportunity for Back Benchers in Prime Minister’s questions. Even if someone is a bit late for Prime Minister’s questions, there is a good chance that they will still witness a goodly proportion of them. I will reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s idea, but he should not ring me and I cannot guarantee to ring him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am always troubled when I hear any allegation of bad faith in the Chamber, and today we heard an allegation that a Member has made a career out of lying. Would you please guide me on whether it is in order for Members to accuse others of lying?
I did not hear any allegation of dishonesty. I did not hear that. If there was an allegation of dishonesty, I did not hear it. I heard used another that I do not think was particularly tasteful but that I did not judge to be disorderly. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman—apart from that obviously I can rule only on that which I hear there and then, and there was a great deal of noise in the Chamber—is this: if there is to be an allegation of dishonesty against a Member, that allegation should be made on a substantive motion. That is the long-established procedure in the House and it should not otherwise be done.
Very well, I am happy to hear it, but that is the answer to the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts). Such allegations should be made on substantive motions and not otherwise. That is the answer. As far as each individual situation is concerned, the Chair obviously has to deal with the circumstances as he or, in the case of one or other of my deputies, she finds those circumstances.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Monday, we passed legislation to set net zero by 2050 as our decarbonisation target. It is a hugely important thing to have done and our constituents are very interested in the matter. Mr Speaker, you have done great things to make the proceedings of the House more intelligible to the public beyond, and websites such as TheyWorkForYou have done likewise, yet because there was no Division on Monday, the unanimous support for that legislation will go unrecorded by TheyWorkForYou. At a time when the public think that our politics is hopelessly divided, do you agree that at moments when the House is unanimous in its support for such legislation, TheyWorkForYou should record that, not just the occasions on which we disagree?
We here are not responsible—the Chair is certainly not responsible—for the modus operandi of TheyWorkForYou. If memory serves me correctly, there will have been wording at the end of the debate saying that the question was agreed to, which is itself revealing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a pity, to put it no more strongly, if a situation of consensus in the House is not regarded as noteworthy. I think that is noteworthy. I do not have an immediate solution, but knowing the perspicacity—indeed, the indefatigability—of the hon. Gentleman, I feel sure that he will now beetle back to his office and pen a note or, better still, send an email to TheyWorkForYou, drawing attention to his efforts in the Chamber and imploring them to up their game.
Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister and David Rutley, presented a Bill to make provision about the mode of trial and maximum penalty for certain offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 410) with explanatory notes (Bill 410-EN).
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an independent regulator of football clubs; and for connected purposes.
On 9 March this year, supporters of Blackpool football club went to watch a home match for the first time after a four-year boycott of home fixtures. The reason for their protest was the mismanagement, as they saw it, of the club by its owners, Owen and Karl Oyston. It was more than simply mismanagement, though: the fans believed that the Oystons had been bleeding the club dry, not just failing to invest but taking large sums of money out. Indeed, a High Court judgment found that the Oystons had “illegitimately stripped” £26.77 million from the club.
Previously, as Nick Harris reported in the Daily Mail, Mr Oyston senior was the highest paid person in English football in the 2010-11 season, when Blackpool were in the premier league, receiving an eye-watering £11 million, with only Wayne Rooney reportedly coming close to similar remuneration, yet there was nothing the supporters could do within the existing structures of the game to force a change of ownership and stop their club being ransacked. Unable to prevent the mismanagement by the Oystons, the supporters had to take things into their own hands, and eventually launched a boycott of home games to deny Blackpool’s owners their money. The supporters received support from fans of other clubs and from the national supporters’ organisations, but little support from the football authorities. To get to the point at which the club is now being sold, it has taken four years of their not doing the one thing that binds them together and defines them: watching the football team they love.
If this was a one-off, I would feel sorry for Blackpool fans, pleased that they have almost won their campaign, and move on, but it is not a one-off. Coventry City fans are in an even worse situation. Who can forget the 1987 cup final, with players such as Micky Gynn, Brian Kilcline, Keith Houchen and Steve Ogrizovic, and manager John Sillett dancing on the Wembley turf with the FA cup? This once proud club is being driven into the ground by its owners, Sisu, which is an investment firm based offshore—its ultimate owners are not clear. Coventry City have had to find a ground-sharing option some 18 miles from Coventry, at Birmingham City, as the legal wrangle continues between Sisu, Wasps rugby union football club and Coventry City Council. Sisu is answerable to no one; indeed, according to the Coventry Telegraph, it made no public statement between 2016 and March this year.
Further up the M6, Bolton Wanderers, another of the great names in English football, is now in administration, and is so badly managed that staff have not been paid and other clubs are assisting with payroll and even providing food banks to support employees. I recall going to the old Burnden Park in 1994 to watch Everton play against Bolton in the FA cup, and meeting the great Nat Lofthouse. How can the club of the Lion of Vienna now be resorting to food banks as it is run into the ground?
This is not a recent phenomenon. In 1997, the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion closed the old Goldstone Ground, without making any alternative provision, so that he could sell off the site and make millions from property development. My own hometown club, formerly Chester City football club, was driven into the ground by a succession of owners who used it either as a tax-dodging scheme or in one case—it has been alleged—as a front for laundering ill-gotten gains from criminal activity. The club dissolved and was reborn as a fan-owned club, which has been challenging at times, but those challenges have never included deliberately running the club down and syphoning off cash.
The concern for supporters is that they are only ever one bad owner away from these types of problems, and that they have nowhere to turn for help. The FA and the leagues have an owners and directors test, but this might be relevant only in the case of, for example, previous criminal convictions. A group like Sisu can turn up at Coventry and bleed the club dry, with no intention of investing in its future, and the FA can do nothing.
I have given just a few examples of clubs with question marks over the way they are being or have been run. We can currently add to that list Notts County, Gateshead and Bury—last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) petitioned the High Court on behalf of supporters in his constituency—and in the recent past Portsmouth, Hartlepool, Charlton Athletic and more. There are too many to be isolated cases, which suggests there is a broader problem that needs to be addressed.
When I served on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I raised this issue with Greg Clarke, the chairman of the FA and a decent man who I believe genuinely wants to do his best for football. I asked him whether there was nothing the FA could do about unscrupulous owners; Mr Clarke replied that it can look into the backgrounds of potential owners—he was referring to the owners and directors test—but cannot do anything about a person who is simply bad at running a football club. The FA has devolved such matters to the leagues, but the leagues are membership organisations, and any rules or regulations have to be voted in by their own members—those very same club owners. The worst sanction is a points deduction for going into administration, but that is hardly relevant in the cases I have described.
Football needs independent regulation—that is, regulation independent of the owners, who have a vested interest. The making of rules or regulations about football clubs, and decisions on their application, should not be the task of the professional football clubs or the people who own and manage them. That regulation could and should be done by the Football Association, in the interests of the game as a whole. A regulatory body under the auspices of the FA, adequately funded and suitably staffed, with effective regulations and the power to enforce them, could restore faith in the running of the game.
Of course, there are ways in which the owners and directors test can be improved, but it will never be foolproof. Not all bad owners start out bad. A regulator should be there to educate, advise and support. Punishment and sanctions should be the last resort. The good owners should have nothing to fear; they should benefit from reflective improvements throughout the game. This Bill would bring into being an independent regulator with the powers to undertake independent and forensic audits of clubs’ directors and financial activities, where sufficient concern has been expressed about the management of the club, to report to the FA with recommendations for action, to address any deliberate financial mismanagement, or, of course, to decide that there is no case for further action.
There would be limits. I remember, for example, going to The Valley in November 1998 to watch Everton play Charlton. As I arrived there, I was horrified to learn that the then Everton chairman, Peter Johnson, had just sold our totemic striker Duncan Ferguson to Newcastle, behind the back of the manager. I wanted Johnson out, but a bad decision such as that would not necessarily require independent scrutiny. I am concerned about consistent behaviour to run a club into the ground. Similarly, I recall one previous owner of Chester City, an American, who sacked the manager and started to pick the team himself. That is bad management, as referred to by Greg Clarke, but it is not destructive management, using the club for nefarious means, and is unlikely on its own to fall under the scope of the regulator described in the Bill.
Ideally, it would be the Football Association that would undertake these activities, but in the absence of action an independent regulator is needed so that the scandals of Brighton, Blackpool, Coventry and Chester City are a thing of the past and supporters have somewhere to turn to in their desperation. Perhaps now the Football Association will take the opportunity to consider bringing forward proposals of its own to address this problem. I urge it to consider the suggestions of the Football Supporters’ Association, which I have consulted closely in preparing the Bill.
Although the directors of a football club may be the legal owners, they are surely only the custodians on behalf of the whole family of supporters of each club. If they are unable to act in the best interests of the club and the team, and are seen to be acting in their own interests to the detriment of the club, that cannot be allowed.
If I do not like Tesco, I can go to Sainsbury’s. If I am still unhappy, I can go to Asda, Waitrose, Aldi or Lidl, but we cannot do that with a football team. Football supporters have a profound sense of loyalty, identity and belonging to a club, which cannot be transferred at the first sign of trouble. In my case, I am the fourth generation of my family to support Everton, I was born into that tradition—you cannot manufacture it. Most supporters would say exactly the same of their club.
Football is a great unifier, bringing the nation together—this applies equally to each of our four home nations—in great moments of unity, as well as being something that we can talk about to complete strangers and bond over in the pub or by the coffee machine. That is why, when we have so many other critical issues to consider in this House, this Bill is important. Football matters to so many people. At a time when our country is so divided, football, in common with all sports but perhaps more than any other sport, can bring our country together again. When fans such as those of Blackpool, Coventry or Bolton Wanderers are treated as abysmally as they have been, while their owners bleed the clubs dry, there has to be a mechanism for giving them an outlet to redress their grievances, because at the moment they have nowhere to go. I would prefer the Football Association to do this, and hope that it will do so, but if it cannot we must support the supporters with a tough and independent regulator. The Bill does that. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Christian Matheson, Damian Collins, Mr Marcus Jones, Mr Jim Cunningham, Colleen Fletcher, Gordon Marsden, Jo Stevens, Alison McGovern, Justin Madders, Ian Mearns, Chi Onwurah and Chris Heaton-Harris present the Bill.
Christian Matheson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 411).
[Unallotted Half Day]
I beg to move,
That this House regrets that the outgoing Prime Minister’s legacy will be her hostile environment policy and her unrealistic and damaging net migration target; calls for a fundamental change in the Government’s approach to immigration, refugee and asylum policy to one based on evidence, respect for human rights and fairness; welcomes the contribution made by migrants to the UK’s economy, society and culture; rejects regressive Government proposals to extinguish European free movement rights and to require EU nationals in the UK to apply for settled and pre-settled status; and recognises that a migration policy that works for the whole of the UK will require different policy solutions for different parts of the UK, particularly given Scotland’s demographic and economic profile.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on what is such a crucial subject—the urgent need for Parliament to draw a line under a dismal decade of dreadful and sometimes disgraceful migration and asylum policies. It is sad, but the plain truth is that the Prime Minister takes a massive share of responsibility for those policies, which were driven by her awful net migration target and her ramping up of the horrendous hostile environment policies—the twin pillars of her drastic reign at the Home Office. Rather than tackling burning injustices right across the field of immigration and asylum policy, her policies created them. Yet Parliament must also take its share of the blame, because too often MPs not only failed to oppose her but actively cheered her on, and, collectively, we should put that right today.
Pretty much everybody in this Chamber knows that the net migration target is a load of utter baloney. It was a number plucked from thin air. It was utterly unachievable and undesirable from the outset. It created a numbers-obsessed Home Office pursuing ever more restrictive policies, regardless of the damage to families, our higher education system and our economy. Tens of thousands of couples were split apart and children divided from their parents. Universities were put at a competitive disadvantage not just by more restrictive immigration rules, particularly regarding post-study work, but by the message that was sent right around the globe. Small and medium-sized businesses were effectively excluded from recruiting from beyond the EU. The net migration target and its relentless failure problematised and politicised immigration numbers and has substantially contributed to the political mess that this country is in today.
Last week, the Home Secretary described the net migration target as “crude” and said that it should be ditched, and he is 100% right. Nobody with a brain cell could demur from that view, yet for years this Parliament failed to stand up to that nonsense. Every quarter, a new set of immigration statistics would be published showing the target missed by a country mile—yet again. The Official Opposition would table an urgent question, not to attack the stupid target but to criticise the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat coalition for failing to meet it. In response, the coalition would pledge to get tougher still. What a dreadful climate—a three-party bidding war on who would be better at clamping down on migration to reach an arbitrary number. We must never return to those days.
It is good that the Home Secretary wants to ditch the net migration target, but it makes sense to ditch the hostile environment along with it, as the two are inextricably linked as a package. If one does not make sense, neither does the other. Alongside endlessly restricted visa rules, the hostile environment was a truly wicked means by which a net migration target would be achieved. However, as the independent chief inspector has pointed out, the Home Office never lifted a finger to monitor the impact that the hostile environment was having.
I want to focus on one key component of the hostile environment: the right to rent scheme. These measures have
“a disproportionately discriminatory effect, and I would assume and hope that those legislators who voted in favour of the scheme would be aghast to learn of its discriminatory effect”.
Those are not my words, but the words of Mr Justice Martin Spencer in the High Court, who in ruling the whole scheme unlawful went on to say:
“Even if the Scheme had been shown to be efficacious in playing its part in the control of immigration, I would have found that this was significantly outweighed by the discriminatory effect…In these circumstances, I find that the Government has not justified this measure, nor, indeed, come close to doing so.”
That is a hostile environment in a nutshell: no evidence that it achieves anything positive, hugely discriminatory, totally unjustified and illegal. I trust that legislators who voted in favour of it are aghast. We should tell the Home Office today to accept that ruling instead of appealing it on the shameful grounds that the discrimination can, in some way, be justified.
It is fair to say that we were all aghast when we saw the hostile environment at its most vicious—the utter scandal of Windrush. Yet here we are still waiting for the lessons-learned review and waiting for it to be published in the very near future. As I have said before, it would be charitable to the Home Office and to the Prime Minister to say that they were reckless about the effect that the hostile environment would have. At worst, they took a conscious policy decision in the knowledge that there would be collateral damage, but deemed it acceptable. Warnings from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and many others went unheeded. Concerns expressed by high commissioners from the Caribbean were ignored. The impact assessment for the Immigration Act 2016 did everything but use the term “Windrush children” when explaining its likely negative impact. The Government ignored every single one of these warnings. The outgoing Prime Minister simply pressed on with ramping up the climate of checks at every turn, fully aware that it would be often close to impossible for many Windrush children, and others, to prove their legal position. Jobs and homes were lost; people were detained and removed. Statues and annual Windrush celebrations will not wash. A more fitting response would be to end the hostile environment that caused so much harm and hurt to the Windrush generation in the first place.
Contrary to what we have heard from too many on the Government Benches, this was not just one sad and isolated administrative error that could be quickly rectified. The disastrous impact of the hostile environment—essentially a half-baked, back-door ID card—does not start or end there. Its victims are a huge and varied group: the 9 million British citizens without a passport who struggle because 43% of landlords and landladies say they are less likely to rent to such citizens, now that the hostile environment has made them petrified of getting right-to-rent checks wrong; the thousands of children who are unable to afford the citizenship they are entitled to or the leave to remain that they qualify for; the children who do have leave to remain but who are brought up in families with no recourse to public funds; the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Eritreans who were wrongly refused asylum on the basis of the Home Office’s dodgy country guidance, many of whom are now street-homeless and destitute; and the several thousands of students wrongly caught up in the Test of English for International Communication teaching scandal who were wrongly presumed guilty after the company that messed up the testing in the first place was then allowed to clean up its own mess.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that a little while ago I raised the issue of constituents of mine who do not possess Android telephones, and therefore have to make a 500-mile round trip to the document scanning centre in Edinburgh. The Government say that it will be possible to do complete the process on an iPhone within the year, but the point is that broadband coverage in parts of my constituency is patchy to say the very least. Does that not mean that people who, with the best will in the world, would like to remain are being hampered in their efforts, which will in turn hit businesses in remote parts of my constituency that depend on EU nationals?
I agree wholeheartedly. I will come shortly to the issue of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and how we risk repeating some of the mistakes that were made when the Windrush scandal broke. I just want to finish the list of those who have already been affected by the hostile environment, which includes the people who the Home Office agrees have been victims of trafficking, but who it does not think even merit a short period of leave to remain. The list of people impacted by the hostile environment goes on and on.
The hon. Gentleman said he would come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). Will he also use this opportunity to clarify for anyone watching this debate that cases of constituents needing to travel 500 miles will happen only during the initial trial phase, and that when the full scheme is rolled out people will be able to complete the process through the post office or—[Interruption.] SNP Members are shouting, but we have to put both sides of the story so that we do not unnecessarily raise alarms when there are other methods that people can use to apply for the scheme.
My hon. Friend does an excellent job on the Home Affairs Committee. Does he agree that the hostile environment is alive and well today in Glasgow, with the Home Office contractor Serco threatening to make 300 asylum seekers homeless, after they have been labelled as failed asylum seekers? This is a perfect example of the hostile environment and hostile action in the city of Glasgow.
On the subject of the hostile environment, does my hon. Friend share my horror at a document that I found yesterday on the Government’s website relating to trafficked women from Nigeria, which says that
“trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return”?
Does he agree that this is abhorrent language, and that the Government should immediately change this documentation and this attitude?
My hon. Friend’s point speaks for itself. That is truly abhorrent.
The Prime Minister’s explicit and almost dystopian goal was to create the hostile environment, as if we can hermetically seal off the wicked illegal immigrants while the rest of us go about our business as usual. It was an approach that reached its absolute nadir with the horrendous “Go Home” vans—a disastrous episode that encapsulated everything that is wrong with the policy and precisely illustrated the key point here, which is that the hostile climate that the Government seek to create affects every single one of us. The hostile climate should be destroyed with its partner in crime: the net migration target.
I have outlined the sad legacy of the outgoing Prime Minister on migration policy. With her departure and influence totally removed from the Home Office, this is a time for radical reform, including rolling back most of her policies and putting evidence-based policy making, human rights and fairness at front and centre.
As part of that change in policy, would the hon. Gentleman agree that we have to look at lifting the ban on genuine asylum seekers being able to work and contribute to the economy of the country, rather than forcing them to live on a pittance and not giving them the dignity they deserve?
I wholeheartedly agree; I know the hon. Lady has tabled an amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill on that subject, as we did during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016, so her amendment will have our wholehearted support. I was pleased to be at an event yesterday evening with a coalition of organisations working towards that goal, and I hope the Home Office is listening.
In fairness, there have been little green shoots of recovery under the new Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister. I have welcomed the work to extend the resettlement scheme, for example. There have also been warm words on other possible areas of reform, but they are as yet a million miles away from the fully fledged reform agenda and actions we need.
Many people come to see me in my surgeries about family visit visas. The hostile environment is extending to such a degree that people cannot bring their family members over for a visit, because there is a presumption that they will stay once they are here. The Home Office is so bogged down in its attitude towards anybody who wants to come to the UK that we are not able to make progress. Should there not be wholescale reform of the system?
There should indeed be wholescale reform of the visit visas and related decision-making processes. Families find themselves in a particularly horrendous position because the family visa rules have been tightened so much that so many family members cannot come here permanently. But when they come to visit, they are then accused of coming here under false pretences in order to stay deliberately, so they are in a Catch-22 situation. I will return to family visas in a moment. The point I am trying to make is that if we do not learn the lessons from these disastrous mistakes, we are bound to repeat them, and there is a serious risk that the Government are going to do just that with the 3 million EU citizens.
As an increasing number of voices across the House—including the Home Affairs Committee—have said, the EU settled status scheme has a fundamental flaw at its heart. Even with the best will in the world and even with the Home Office pulling out all the stops to try to make the scheme work, hundreds of thousands of EU nationals in this country will not be aware of or understand the need to apply. They will lose their rights overnight and will be thrown even deeper into the hostile environment than the Windrush generation. The Government must therefore enshrine the rights of EU nationals in law, leaving them to use the settled status scheme as a means of providing evidence of status, rather than actually constituting the status itself. The Home Office must listen; otherwise this Parliament will have to make it listen to protect our EU citizens from the same disastrous fate as the Windrush generation.
The situation is even worse for seasonal workers who are not permanently settled here, is it not? The whole hostile environment attitude has driven perhaps the most stupid policy from this Government, who will ask 60,000 seasonal workers—essential labour—from the European economic area to go home and then perhaps invite 2,500 of them back on an expensive pilot scheme to do the work that the 60,000 people did previously. Has not this whole attitude just delivered some of the most sclerotic policy making that any of us can remember?
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. The Government have shown such a tin ear to calls from across the House to implement a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Our answer to that problem is, of course, continued free movement plus a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and we look forward to the Government actually listening to all those calls—not just from political parties here, but from the industry itself.
I want to take the opportunity of the Minister being here to intervene, because the Scottish Affairs Committee has been looking at the very issue of seasonal workers. We have found that the hostile environment is having an impact on a Government pilot by making it as difficult as possible for visas to be secured in a Government pilot scheme. The Government are asking for extra fees—over and above—to get people here to see whether they can work in the Government pilot. Does not that that just demonstrate the excesses of the hostile environment—that it even applies to Government pilots?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I commend the work that his Committee has done in this area. It would be useful if the Home Office paid close heed to it.
I have discussed what we need to do to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Windrush generation.
The hon. Gentleman is outlining some concerns about the implications of people not applying for settled status. Does he therefore take exception to his SNP colleague, an MEP for Scotland, publicly saying that he will not apply for settled status and in that way encourage others to follow suit, which may see them fall through the gaps?
Every individual must make their own call about whether they want to apply. I, for one, would certainly encourage all my constituents and all the EU nationals watching this to sign up for the scheme, but that does not take away from my essential point that they should not be asked to apply to stay in their own home in the first place. These rights should be enshrined in law right now.
It is not just in terms of the 3 million that we need radical change. All across the field of immigration, there is a massive job of work to do to help to fix the lives that have already been messed up by migration policies and to ensure that we avoid messing up so many more—to build a system that actually benefits our economy and society instead of undermining them and sowing division. Everyone in this House will have had many cases, as we have already heard, where we think that the rules are unfair.
This debate provides an opportunity to make the case for reform as we look ahead to the next chapter in immigration law form. I want to mention four areas very briefly, but there are a million more that I could flag up. First, I turn to the issue of families, which has already been raised. In pursuit of the net migration target, this country has adopted almost the most restrictive family rules in the world, with an extraordinary income requirement and ludicrously complicated rules and restrictions on how that requirement can be met. Over 40% of the UK population would not be entitled to live in this country with a non-EU spouse. The figures are even worse for women, for ethnic minorities, and for different parts of the UK. The Children’s Commissioner previously wrote a damning report about the 15,000 Skype children—there must now be many, many more—who get to see their mum or dad only via the internet, thanks to these rules, which force too many to pick between their country and their loved ones. It is appalling that the Home Office seems determined to extend these rules to EU spouses so that many more thousands of families will be split apart. We should be ditching these awful rules, not making more families suffer.
Secondly, there is citizenship. I have met with the Minister representatives of the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens, and I know that last week she met the organisation, Let Us Learn. The Home Secretary has acknowledged in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that over £1,000 is an incredible amount to charge children simply to process a citizenship application when they are entitled to that citizenship. The administrative cost is about £400, so over £600 is a subsidy for other Home Office activities. There is no excuse for funding the Home Office by overcharging kids for their citizenship. At the very least, the fee must be reduced to no more than the administrative charge. More broadly, we need to reduce the ridiculous fees that are being charged across the immigration system, especially to children.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. I want to mention something that recently came to my attention at a surgery. A former EU national who is now a British citizen is concerned about the implications for them, if we leave the European Union, of the way in which the immigration laws have been written. Even though the settled status scheme might seem unclear, the situation is not clear for those who have already taken out citizenship either.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I do not know whether she is planning to contribute to the debate; if so, she can speak more about that.
Thirdly, our immigration detention system remains outrageously bloated, and detention without time limit makes the UK an outlier in Europe. We detain too many people for too long, including many vulnerable adults, such as torture survivors, who should never be detained at all. It is a national scandal and an affront to the rule of law, as myriad reports have shown. We have had some small forward steps from the current Home Office team, but also some missteps. We need radical reform so that detention is a matter of absolute last resort and not routine.
Fourthly, there is our asylum system, which could command a whole debate in itself. There can be few areas that require as big an overhaul. We need to ensure better-quality decisions and proper financial support. We must support the wonderful coalition urging the Government to lift the ban on asylum seekers working. We need a better managed move-on period and properly accountable and funded systems of accommodation. We need a caseworking system so that we are never left with dreadful mass evictions like those we look set to see in Glasgow.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent series of points, particularly now that he has come on to the asylum system, which is a subject close to my heart. Does he agree that if we want to show the world that we are truly an outward-facing, internationalist country—as I believe everyone in this House would agree we are; it is part of our values—then the asylum system is in urgent need of reform to make sure that refugees are truly welcome, and to live up to the findings of the Home Office’s own recently published report on refugee integration? There is a lot we could do right now. Even in the next three weeks, we could make it possible for asylum seekers to work after six months.
There is a host of opportunities to improve the asylum system. Only last week, we debated refugee family reunion rules. We have already passed on Second Reading a Bill to change those rules, yet it has been held up in the system, thanks to the Government.
I have briefly mentioned four issues, but there are a million others that other Members of Parliament will touch on, such as visas for religious workers, visit visas, lack of appeal rights, lack of legal aid, the complexities of the tier 2 system, visas for fishing vessels, visas for agricultural workers—and so on and so forth. The truth is that our immigration and asylum systems are truly in a mess.
That brings me on to the Government’s proposals for our future immigration system—their White Paper. Next to none of these issues is addressed in the White Paper at all. The bit of the immigration system that is a disaster is the bit that is being left largely unreformed. In fact, it is being rolled out so as to apply to EU nationals in future. The one bit of the immigration system that works perfectly well—free movement of people—is being annihilated. The Government have their priorities completely the wrong way round. I love free movement and my party is passionate about its benefits. We deeply regret that these amazing rights are in danger of coming to an end. All the evidence is that it is beneficial economically—for growth, for productivity and for public finances. In Scotland, in particular, it has transformed our demographic outlook. From a country of net emigration, we are now a country of positive in-migration. We have benefited hugely culturally and socially.
Of course, the quid pro quo is that we will lose our free movement rights too. I have benefited from free movement, as I know many Members in the Chamber have. I regret that this Government want to prevent future generations from enjoying the enormous benefits that so many of us have enjoyed. People did not vote to end free movement, contrary to what the Prime Minister says. This is the Prime Minister’s red line, not the people’s. Simply repeating ad nauseam that we are “taking back control of our borders” is not an argument and it is not leadership. Real leadership is looking at the evidence and saying that free movement is an enormous benefit that we should treasure and keep.
We welcome the gradual change in approach from the Home Secretary towards one-size-fits-all migration policy making. We welcome his announcement that the proposed new £30,000 threshold will be reviewed, including the possibility of regional and sub-state variations within the UK. However, I must emphasise that this is just a small start—baby steps. There are so many other features of the proposed new immigration system that are causing huge concern. Scotland’s economy relies disproportionately on small and medium-sized enterprises. The tier 2 system is not designed for SMEs. Its bureaucracy and expense make it inaccessible for many businesses, which therefore instead recruit from the EU if they cannot do so locally. Reducing the threshold does not fix that; it simply means businesses jumping through administrative hoops and expense simply to recruit workers they could previously have recruited under free movement.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the work done by Hope not Hate and British Future establishes that the British people are behind what he is arguing for? Most people actually value immigration; they just want a system that is fair, accountable and transparent. That is what I believe all of us here would want.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I think that all sensible people would be behind the arguments I am making.
The other point about reducing the threshold is that it does not fix the fundamental problem that ending free movement risks a demographic time bomb for Scotland, with implications for its workforce, its economy and its public finances. The Scottish Government have proposed ways in which additional Scottish visas can help to play a part in addressing that, learning from systems such as the Canadian system. I want the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister to engage constructively with those proposals. But ultimately the best answer to the challenges Scotland faces is continued free movement.
We need to recognise that under the outgoing Prime Minister, migration policy has gone horribly wrong. The current Home Secretary accepts that the net migration target was wrong. The High Court says that key planks of the hostile environment were discriminatory and unjustified. Let us ditch both. Let us learn from the past and not repeat these mistakes, particularly regarding the 3 million. If the new system is to work for all of the UK, it will have to include different rules for different parts of it. Let us seize this opportunity to turn over an entirely new leaf on immigration and asylum policy.